Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Google Car? Yes Please. But What About a Facebook Car?

I can't wait to own a Google driverless car, especially if they come out with a metallic blue convertible. I imagine it will be like a den on wheels. Want to cruise around town while having cocktails and watching Downtown Abbey? But of course. Only questions: Where should we go, and will that be a pomegranate martini or a cosmo?

Of course, once there is a Google car for purchase, other corporate-branded, self-driving cars are inevitable. A few examples, if you will.

The Facebook Car

A giant 'Like' button with four doors and wheels, the Facebook car will let you video chat and IM with friends to enliven mundane chores, like driving to the hair salon. In fact, you can have your hair done, even dyed, while driving across town for a dinner engagement. Just pull up to the salon, yell out the car window to your stylist, "Hey barber, get in!," and off you go. Your friends around the globe can give you an instant thumbs up or down on your new style and color. But why stop there? Get a Brazil wax on the way to a Brazilian restaurant. The only downside is that, in keeping with Facebook's privacy practice, the car will automatically post on your timeline, to the entire world, every place you go. And of course, you'll have no way to prevent this from happening. In other words, it will be just like Facebook. So if you're planning a trip to a Las Vegas brothel and you're married, might I suggest a taxi instead?

The Krispy Kreme Car
Imagine a giant glazed doughnut cruising along on the highway and you've got an idea of what the Krispy Kreme Car will look like. This one will also sport a giant neon 'hot light' that automatically turns on whenever a conveyer belt in the backseat produces freshly made doughnuts. Instead of air bags, the Krispy Kreme Car will be equipped with vomit bags that automatically engage once you've consumed more than a dozen doughnuts at once and hit one too many potholes. Just for the fun of it, the vomit bags will be decorated with the Dunkin' Donuts logo.

The Apple Car

The iCar, as it will surely be named, will have only one button, an on/off switch. Everything else will be controlled on a giant touchscreen that replaces the entire windshield. (Who needs to see those tedious pedestrians?) The car will be gorgeous, sleek, cool and sophisticated. Fans will stand in line for weeks to get one. And, in keeping with Apple's corporate philosophy, the car will only take you to places that Apple pre-approves (unless, of course, you get someone to jailbreak your car).

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. Which corporate-branded driverless car are you waiting for? Just don't ask for a 'MySpace car,' however; that one will only take you to dead-end roads.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Facebook & the 2012 Election: Can We Still Be Friends?

You didn't have to look further than your Facebook news feed to see the rancorous divide that grew during the 2012 Presidential election. In fact, here's something that probably won't surprise you: A Mashable poll found that 47 percent of people on Facebook unfriended someone due to the election.

It's been two weeks since the election, so I hesitate to kick this particular hornet's nest. But the election raised a lot of questions for me, ones I'm still mulling over. Such as:

* When someone unfriends another person because of his or her political beliefs, were those people actually friends or just acquaintances? If it's the latter, is Facebook really the place to connect? To me, Facebook is where you connect with people you care about; LinkedIn is for people you do business with; and Twitter is for broadcasting to the entire world.
Image from Mashable
I have only unfriended one or two people in my years on Facebook. It wasn't because I disagreed strongly with their views; it's because they clogged my news feed with way too much meaningless stuff. Seriously, I don't need to be alerted whenever you step out of the hot tub.

* Isn't it unhealthy to only surround ourselves with people who think just like us? I'm not setting myself up as the poster child for diversity, by the way. I'm a Democrat and so are the vast majority of my friends. And I live in San Francisco, where Republicans are as difficult to find as convenient parking spaces.

One reason why many people only engage with those who think similarly is because they want to avoid conflict. I'm guilty here, too. But conflict can have positive results. Recently, I attended an excellent playwriting workshop in which the instructor said one character's driving need, desire or interest is blocked by another character, and that creates conflict. That conflict creates change, and change causes the characters to grow. If in real life we avoid interpersonal conflicts at all costs, aren't we denying ourselves the potential for change? Doesn't conflict, when it's resolved or at least expressed civilly and understood, lead to greater intimacy?

* Have we gotten too comfortable making assumptions about other people because of their political party affiliation? The truth is, nobody I know is all one thing or another. We're complex human beings with sometimes conflicting beliefs. For example, I know Republicans who support same-sex marriage and Democrats who favor the death penalty.

* How long does it take to repair a friendship damaged by political differences? Many years ago, a friend of mine expressed the belief that gays shouldn't be allowed in the military. The statement was made casually, just as many things are expressed today on Facebook, but it stung. I decided that person no longer my friend. Fast-forward to today. We are friends again--on Facebook, of course. And I'd all but forgotten this incident until Nick reminded me of it when reading a draft of this blog post.

* How much is too much when it comes to sharing political, religious, or other potentially divisive views on Facebook? Some people believe such topics are better kept off Facebook; others don't think twice about frequently posting their views. So what is the happy medium? One solution might be to create a Facebook group for your politically like-minded friends and only let that group see your most heated political postings. But that doesn't feel like a good solution, because you're making assumptions again about the people you're excluding. And by including people with different opinions, you might learn something from them.

* My last question is rhetorical but worth asking anyway. Wouldn't we be much better off if each of us considered the rights, needs and feelings of others along with our own, not just at election time but all the time?

Friday, November 2, 2012

True Confessions of a Technology Addict

Hello, my name is Jim, and I'm a technology addict. (This is your cue to say, "Hi Jim!")

New Yorkers waiting to buy an iPad Mini (photo by Fortune)
You probably know at least one tech addict. Maybe you're one, too. If nothing else, just check out the line at an Apple store when a new product is released. Case in point: Today, some 600 people stood in line at the Fifth Avenue Apple store to buy a new iPad Mini, while other long lines formed at gas stations and grocery stores in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Whenever priorities seem so out of whack like that, there must be an addiction lurking.

Fortunately, my childhood was free of technology addiction. Of course, outside of a cute, portable, black-and-white Sony TV, there wasn't much consumer technology to get worked up about in the 1960s. The Sony TV only got a few channels anyway, and they were fuzzier than a Chia head eating a peach.

Somewhere around age ten or 11, my father gave me an electric typewriter, a hand-me-down from his photography studio. I was thrilled; it was as if my efforts to tell stories suddenly acquired power steering. I tapped away for hours at a time, drafting incoherent yarns and adolescent plays that embarrassed me then and would mortify me now.

Kaypro PC
I kept the typewriter throughout college, writing term papers and short stories. By the mid 1980s, something even better came along: a PC. I saved and bought a Kaypro, an MS-DOS computer made by a short-lived, family-run computer company whose demise was due to "too many Kays and not enough pros," according to one wag.

Eventually, the Kaypro led to my first Mac, which led to more Macs as well as more PCs and then to laptops and smartphones and iPads, oh my. Today, our home is filled with everything from an iPod nano to a 40-inch Samsung HDTV.

How did this addiction happen? Maybe its roots can be traced to the typewriter. I loved this machine because it gave me a new, easier way to write my stories, and for whatever reason, I have had a compulsion to tell stories since I was a kid.

My father, the Southern gentleman photographer
At any rate, the addiction kicked into a higher gear 20 years ago, when I was working as an editor for Publish. The working environment at this magazine was often so dysfunctional, we nicknamed it "Punish." But I learned something of lasting value there: how to use technology in new ways to not only tell stories but to illustrate them as well. During this period, I got everyone in my immediate family, and most of those in my extended family, to write down the fondest memories of their lives and send me their favorite pictures. I digitized it all, used page layout software to design a book, printed multiple copies, and had the books bound. It was none too soon. My father died a year later.

Over time, someone we loved who has died inevitably fades in our memories. It's sad, it's even a little scary, but it happens. Stories--their stories, in their words--keeps them alive in ways that a photograph can't. Now that I've come clean with my technology addiction, it occurs to me that preserving the stories of people who won't be here one day to share them is my true addiction. Technology is just the enabler.