Thought / The (very near) future of online information (Part 1)

We live in an overwhelmingly online world. Every new system, service, platform and framework means a new set of data that will be bombarded to us, incessantly, online.

Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, The New York Times Online, Google Buzz, The Guardian, Venturebeat, Techcrunch, Huffington Post, Chatroulette, Tumblrs, the myriad of blogs we follow, Foursquare, Gowalla, and even IM, email, sms, calls, have become open channels of data, and their model is that of throwing as many bits as they can physically produce. No wonder people still decide to keep themselves to the outskirts of the web.

It be stated that when I say people I mean all people from all the corners of the world, not the sleeve of internet-savvy geeks or the information-thirsty folks that don’t have a problem being attached to a monitor for hours, perusing screen words and photos posted by others like them.

The web is an overwhelming world of stuff thrown to our faces, and everyone and their mothers are trying to make a living on creating more, or as they’ll say, better content to be hosed to you, every minute of every hour of the live of the servers that will pump the data blood all around the open arteries of the internet.

I’d risk to say that the huge success of facebook was (and might not be anymore in a short while) that of giving a concentrated, aggregated way of consuming that huge amount of information, but even facebook, can become an unsurmountable amount of other people’s lives.

Even with the success of some services like twitter and foursquare can be calibrated against our incapacity to digest more data: the former making that data so ephemeral and transient it does not transcend but the glimpse of casual browsing on a lost, idle moment for one too many a user; the latter promising a physical encounter in the best of cases, or channeling it through the idea of it related to our movement through cities and spaces, thus describing something less ethereal than just a thought.

If that was not enough, recently facebook announced a scheme where it’ll support the totally indiscriminate sharing of everything online. It has received many critics, and most of them of a very high level of harshness. I personally see it as an eye opener: the one fact that will show us one factor, one side, one missing perspective about the web: we own the internet, but it is not of much depth, and sometimes even use for us, as like a tsunami of diluvian proportions it might, it will wash us away from all we could grasp, get, understand and process, and will substitute it with just more status, more quizzes, more lines of shared articles and photos and rubbish and pics of what i’m eating right now; just more information.

I say there has come the time for one thing i’ve been thinking, envisioning for a while, one thought I’m sure I’m not alone in fostering and hatching, one thought that has to make sense for once and for all: the internet of mediation, or much better: the mediation of the internet.

Thought / The cigarette, the rabbit story, the experience, the land of opportunity

so I came home, started a movie on Netflix called “Vodka Tonic”, and served me a vodka tonic.

Then 45 minutes later, I had the need of a cigarette. I did not have any, so I felt like going out, for one. So I did get out  in search for one. I had to walk 5 blocks since it was past midnight. So I did.

While I was walking towards the convenience store, I thought of convenience. Why not, it was a matter of convenience. I thought of the fact that I did not get cigarettes before, and I could have, but I did not feel like. A bad experience.

Then I got to the store, got me a nice mozzarella, to go with the convenient vodka I had. And the cigarettes, of course.

On the way back, I thought of a story of a rabbit in a fence that felt alone, and for being alone, without friends, he felt lonely. He decided to have fun by himself. And he did. And suddenly he had some other rabbits jumping outside the fence, asking him to let them in to play. By being alone and playing by himself he attracted all the fellow rabbits, which became friends soon.

New York City is the land of opportunity, sure. But for anyone that has lived here, coming from abroad, and mostly from Europe, Canada, Australia, it is not because opportunity happens. It is because opportunity can happen.

After living in Europe, I found myself restrained, constrained, suffocated while being here. Recently I discovered it was because my quality of life was inferior to my expectations. How can that be if I was doing the same as before, as when in Europe? It happened that when I was in Milano, Wien, London, I used to do exactly what I do now. It also happened that once out of the door, life would happen to me. Any corner hold the possibility of a new wonderful experience. No matter what. Life in the outer world was guaranteed as good, as vivid, as adapted and great.

Here in New York City, life is not guaranteed. Your pocket is the measure, and your imagination, and search capabilities, the thermometre. Life is what you make from it here, in New York City. the land of opportunity is so as long as you make those opportunities happen, every day, every minute, every second. Nothing is for granted, and nothing is for free.

I then thought about the whole story, the diatribes I just told you. They made sense on my mind, but once written, it was just pieces, like a giant puzzle in the table, with lovely, colourful pieces around, untied together.

I couldn’t make sense of all those thoughts.

Once my father told me the quality of a garment is not only in the fabric, but mostly in the sewing. It is the seams that make the garment stand well for years, stand against wind and rain, stand against the weather, what a garment is for.

Like garments, stories are not only the pieces we all find in life that by themselves make sense and are beautiful. A story is not the happenings, the diatribes of mundane life, the assessments of now and then on a busy day, no matter how interesting, incidental and colourful they are. A story builds from the seams sewn together among those pieces, those bits of fantasy and quotidian, the chunks of information, of happenings to come and to go.

A story is not the pieces, but also, and foremost, the way those bits are sewn together, patched into a story that transmits the integrity of it, a perception of life, an idea, a moment, a human condition.

A story is not only what happened, but how it happened, and the difference is in the unions. It might be in the details where god is, but it is in the threads where the story of god comes alive, for us.

Thought / 5 ways to improve your design and user experience skills

  1. Work harder
  2. Work harder
  3. Work harder
  4. Learn from the masters
  5. Stop reading “5 ways to…” articles

Thought / The Future of Reading (according to me)

The future of digital reading will be marked by the convenience of having books when and where you need them. These three scenarios might help you get an idea of it:

——

Paul wakes up early in the morning, given that his commuting trip to Manhattan is rather long, about an hour and twenty minutes. Groomed and dressed, he goes for a quick stop at the corner cafe, where he gets his usual cappuccino and the book he’s reading currently: On The Road by Jack Kerouac.

The book is a simple digital-ink book from the DBook service, pages made of that plastic resine that feels like papyrus in your hand. Cover is monotone with the book title delicately composed, giving it that dignifying air of an old book On The Road deserves after all these years. Coffe and book in hand, he waits for the train, and while en route, enjoys chapter 12 and the smooth java cup.

After one chapter and a half, two changes and finally the arrival at his subway station, he crosses and locates the DBook vending machine, where he deposits it, so as not to have to carry it around in the day. Later in the evening he’ll pick up another copy of the same book to entertain him on his trip back home, leaving it at the supermarket DBook box just in time for getting some exquisite pret-a-porter gourmet lamb chops for a simple and succulent dinner.

Paul is subscribed to DBooks by the month, allowing him to exchange as many DBooks as he wants and keeping up to six of them per month for his library.

——

Since his operation, Björn spends large amounts of time at his home in the outskirts of Reykjavyk, mostly alone with Perro, his black labrador. Thankfully he’s an avid reader, so he gives his mail subscription to DBook all the use he can. Reading a book in three or four days and mailing it back to receive the next one in his online list has become his favourite pastime.

He has long thought of buying the DBook Typesetter, that little device which will allow him to connect any DBook and download new book’s content to it (which adapts to the number of pages by modifying the layout, spacing and font while keeping the style of the book’s design), thus reducing the waiting time to a minimum, but Björn is so affectionate to receiving the short but passionately waited book in the mail, he is subscribed to 2 books at a time, and just can’t wait to check his mailbox every morning a book should be arriving!

He also enjoys the casual exchange of a book with the regular friend and odd faculty colleague that comes now and then to check on him and see how well he’s doing. Knowing he does not have to read the whole book, or even read it gives him an openness to try literature casually, a behaviour that has opened him many unknown doors to pieces and authors he wouldn’t have wondered into before. Now he feels he finally can try all the books in the world, “as long as they’re the good ones, of course!” he says, wittily.

——

Akio lives a fast paced life since he was relocated to his company’s Paris office. In order to catch up with the local culture and manners, he has subscribed to the pay-per-keep version of the DBook service. Now he can order any book he wants, have it ready the next minute downstairs in his favourite café and pick it up just after that stroll around Saint Germaine he longs to do every Saturday morning.

Just after arriving home, and with a hurried feeling, he settles in his comfortable sofa and attacks vehemently his new ‘possible’ acquisition; after a couple of chapters (even paragraphs in some cases) he knows if the book’s a keeper, but being anew to french literature and French language itself, those two chapters/paragraphs can take the best hours of that bucolic Saturday afternoon, so he has become very selective with the books he finish, and keeps, as his father taught him how to carefully groom a decent and beloved personal library. The ones that capture his fancy he’ll read, finish and archive in his bookshelves, letting the DBook service to know he’s keeping by sweeping the book in the buying scanner that is attached to the shelf, after what his account is deducted of the book’s price.

Knowing he can return any book he does not want to keep makes the all discovering experience the most pleasing, just like when he used to take out books form his local Public Library in Tokio. After all, French and his french tenure are no small task for him, but DBook helps in making it a joyous, relaxed experience.

——

As you can see, I envision the future of digital reading as a simple, flexible, social, ubiquitous service that will allow books to become more and more part of our lives, no matter at what pace we stroll or bolt around it, while letting the reading to adapt to our lives, conveniently and convincingly, bringing the joy of discovering new worlds in the books we read into anyone’s life.

Thought / Growing Up With Processing

Long long time ago, I was but an architect so attracted to the Interaction Design world I got a shot helping a research project at the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea along mastermind Michael Kislinger.

I was in charge of designing an interface for a Java mobile service called Fluidtime (www.fluidtime.com). I did so and while in the makings I was proposed to explore the possibility of using a project, from then IDII faculty member Casey Reas, called Proce55ing (www.processing.org) to deliver a working prototype.

I said ‘Yes!’, and embarked on a journey of Java-programming learning, that at the beginning, fearfully daunted but enticed me. As I had some knowledge of the already obsolete-driven Macromedia Director’s Lingo, this was a proper programming language challenge, and I decidedly took it.

Some months after, I was, to my utter astonishment, able to fulfill the creation of a working version of what later will become a java developer’s proper version of a Fluidtime mobile java applet. It came to life from my tiny prototype, which could humbly run on a desktop and let you be aware of the bus traffic around your location in lovely Torino, Italy.

I can still look back to those days where, thanks to proce55ing (later Processing) I was empowered to create what has became my first Java working application, and the starting point to years of indulgent, delightful programming, the very hands-on base to my Interaction Design passion.

Thanks to Ben Fry and Casey Reas for letting me envision and produce what my designer’s mind created, and for letting me know that I could be part of that previously elusive world of Software Programming that Processing so easily put into my naïve designer’s hands.