Is (constructive) conversation moving offline?

One thing I have been noticing lately: a good post on this blog will receive two to three comments. But (and that’s new) I will get between five to ten emails following up on what I wrote. Is good conversation moving away from public viewing? So it seems!

Harassment, ignorance, anonymity, spam, all these have taken their toll on online discussion. Some bloggers even stopped writing because of it. We don’t need to reach extremes to make these weight on the general attitude. An opinion expressed online exposes us to more violent answers than in real life. It is much easier to slap me while seating on a desk on the other side of the planet – separated from my 100 kilos by a screen and a few well guarded borders 😉 – than to speak your mind in person. This disintermediation makes it more easy to go beyond the limits, as to feel like words have less consequences than they really do.

And despite what we have been hearing, every piece of information created on the web does not necessarily call for additions or follow ups. I asked a couple of times “can I republish your email online to make the blog’s conversation more complete”, only to get a “not really, it was not meant to start a discussion with anybody else than you”. Totally understandable. Why would we always want our contributions to be exposed and amended by the world? We take it for granted now, like it is a virtue to allow discussion, but why not consider the opposite – contributions that their author wants to be in their final form – also acceptable?


Lift’s brainstorm tables – courtesy of Marcel Kampman and ModoVanGelder, like a blog but on paper.

Now that everybody is on the web (and that Google finds everything) freedom of speech is slightly restricted. That is if you use your real identity of course. If you think your boss could read the particular post you want to comment on, you will think twice before making your point. Blogs are typically federating homogeneous communities around them, people with the same interest, and it’s a small world we are living in.

Last but not least: online might not be well suited for discussion after all. Despite free video chat and twitter accounts, people have never been that mobile, moving around to experience mostly one thing: the real conversation. The one interaction where you can rely on all the stimuli we lose with technology: body language, eye contact, voice tone, what current technologies can hardly replicate, making almost all online interactions very partial, exposing us to misinterpreting messages 50% of the time. This reason does not really apply to the case I am talking about – as email (online) replaces comments (also online) – but it is somehow relevant. An email is more personal, certainly richer and more engaging than a few lines at the bottom of a post.

We certainly haven’t found a more efficient answer to bullies and trolls than disappearance, taking conversations private to stop exposing them. It is both understandable and a shame, much value getting confined in emails while it could become searchable. We need more solutions to make online conversation more civilized, while keeping the liberty of tone, diversity and genuineness that characterized the early days of the web.

Impact of open source harware

What happened in the web/software industry is now happening with hardware: the distance between an idea and its materialization has shortened, and objects can now be created anywhere on the planet, more easily and cheaply than ever .

Slowly but surely, the capability to create objects is going down to the general public. Arduino is the poster child of the revolution, an open source board than almost anyone can use at his advantage to create simple applications in a matter of minutes (read this Wired article for more information).

Buy a board, connect it to your computer, upload one of the code samples in it and here comes the magic of having created an object. Read a few manuals, harass a friend who studied electronics, and you might be able to rebuild a TV B gone, or create a low cost heart rate monitor.

3419907541_f62b168dce.jpg

Tom Boonsiri’s low-cost heart rate monitor, or when a person can create a cheap, easy to replicate, openly documented and useful object.

This is an important evolution, it will impact us in many ways. Innovation will come from everywhere, the price to create and commercialize an object will go down. We will see some shops who create any idea you have, a place where you go and say you want a sky of Leds for the kid’s bedroom and they build it for you. Electronic artisans, a cool new job for all the hackers out there.

Successful designs will end up being copied, cloned, documented so that everyone can rebuild them at home. Fascinating legal questions will emerge (are you allowed to rebuild an iPod at home? can you sell it to a friend), the lawyers will make a lot of money until someone realizes that the only way to protect a product is not to sue the world, but to make it evolve constantly.

Ecological responsibility will be in the hands of thousands of people, not only in those of a few engineers at a global corporation. Emerging countries will have an easier access to expensive objects, probably impacting the designs of the developed world as they tweak existing objects with even more imagination than us.

A big change, around which our next conference in Marseille is built, and that will change forever our relation to objects as they become more fluid, and much less mysterious.

Precharging for life

After the announcement of the super fast recharging battery, cold fusion makes a return to the front news. It is good to see innovators and researchers putting some resources on these questions, and getting some love from mass media. Let’s hope this really works:

[…] a laptop would come precharged with all of the energy that you would ever intend to use. You’re now decoupled from your charger and the wall socket,”

The same would go for cars. “The potential is for an energy source that would run your car for three, four years, for example. And you’d take it in for service every four years and they’d give you a new power supply,”

Link

So what do you do if you are working on an electric car project, or if you are a utility company investing in buiding an electricity network? Could this be something that delays investment in, for example, a network of battery recharging stations for cars? What kind of money will you make if suddenly cars come with 4 years battery? This better happen – or not happen – fast so that we know on what foot to dance on.

More on Lift

Check out this interview made with Jonathan Marks where I discuss the immediate future of Lift. I think the life of a conference organizer is to always be mediatized at the peak of their fatigue, and looking back at these pictures I am really happy I finally took a few days off.

vimeo_marks.jpg

Now back in the plane to speak at Interfacing innovation about the social consequences of innovation.

Taking a break

Time for a break from email, mobile phones, todos, spams, tweets, and all the rest until April 19th. See you in two weeks!


The “better than nothing”, seen in Venice CA last year.