Why Google's "Real Name" Policy is a Good Thing

Yesterday Google announced a piece of information that frankly, I disagree with. When the company first launched Google+ three years ago, they required all users to use their real names on the platform. They slowly extended this rule outward into their other services like YouTube as they marched forward on their campaign to make Google+ the centre of all things Google.

When I began to think about it more, as the real name policy was something I never really gave much thought to until the announcement, I realized that I actually really liked it, and that's for a number of reasons. Reading through the comments on the official announcement, I could tell that I wasn't alone in that feeling as many other users expressed similar sentiments. The first thought I had was that if I wanted to look up someone, or some information on someone, I could just enter their real name into the search field and find exactly what I was looking for. Before this, and now, I would have to search for their online handle, which often differs across different platforms, making it yet another bit of data I would have to track (much like e-mail addresses). You can change your online handle as much as you want, but not your real name.

The real name policy also helped to create a better web in my mind. When Google first introduced the new comments system on YouTube, largely everyone was pissed, but I was excited. If it meant that forcing a change potentially for the better could help foster actual conversation between people rather than the nonsense we had, I was all for it. And the new comment system actually kind of worked. In the end, it kind of made YouTube comments  a little more tolerable, given that people couldn't necessarily hide behind a false username.

"Before Twitter, texting, and Instagram, Flickr and Tumblr, the weapon of war was a slam book—a spiral notebook with some miserable kid's name written on the cover, passed among frenemies who filled page after page with nasty remarks and devastating criticism. Eventually the book was tossed or lost, and the kid could recover. But with social media, there's no respite, no half-life for rumors and innuendo. On a whim, you can take your target out with the press of a button and sleep soundly. "There is 100 percent a lack of empathy on the Internet. You don't have to deal with the natural consequences of your behavior," says Jamie Howard, PhD, a clinical psychologist at New York's Child Mind Institute. "You say things you wouldn't say, and your conduct is harsher." Empathy develops when we receive cues from in-person interaction—you say something mean to someone, you see her cry, you feel bad. Technology can obstruct empathy's development and foster detachment." Holly Millea, Elle 2014

And that's the problem, the big double edged sword of the online world - anonymity. Personally, whenever and wherever I can, I try and use my real name as my online handle for a number of reasons I find particularly compelling. It lets people know exactly who I am, and it's a uniform, universal handle for myself across Reddit, Twitter Instagram, Google+ etc, making it super easy to keep track of and maintain, (and is one less thing I have to remember myself). The biggest reason, however, is that it helps me control myself online. There have been far too many occasions where I have been ready to reply with something incendiary purely because I was frustrated in the heat of the moment, but then realizing that the Internet is forever, and that it would be forever tied to my name, therefore my offline self, I stopped short. And when I do choose to comment, I remain directly accountable for both my words and actions online, and that is something I have always advocated for - being the same person you are online as you are offline.

However, that's not to say that I don't see the value in remaining anonymous online. There are communities across sites like Reddit and Tumblr, in which people get together because they feel a distinct sense of freedom and safety which they otherwise might not get by using their real names, and in those cases, anonymity is a great tool. However, like everything, it will, and has been, wildly abused. Rather than allowing for the best, most positive interaction, people are rewarded for the most interaction, and that's a distinct problem that the real name policy directly addressed. That's not to say using your real name prevents you from being a total moron - there are plenty of examples everywhere you look.

Personally, I feel like this is largely several huge steps backwards, and is something I wish Google hadn't bent on. However, I wouldn't be surprised if this, at least at some level, had something to do with the ridiculous "Right to be Forgotten" nonsense going on in Europe.

My Thoughts on Amazon's Fire Phone

I tuned in late to Amazon's announcement of their first phone, the Fire Phone and from my first, preliminary look, it seems interesting. It has a dedicated camera button, something more phones should have, and free, unlimited, cloud storage. That's absolutely bonkers. It also comes with this tilt/gyroscopic/dynamic perspective, that's basically iOS' parallax effect on steroids. It uses four front facing cameras to detect motion of the phone, and of your head as well, to make the effect of peeking around the corner all that more immersive. However, those two features pale in comparison to the absolute coolest feature; Firefly. It's a service, similar to Google Goggles, SoundHound, Shazam, etc, that detects anything and everything around you, and then let's you buy it. On Amazon of course.

That's where the cool ends, and the not-so-cool begins. Because Amazon opted to run their forked version of Android, Fire OS, there is no access to Google Play, or even apps like Instagram, or even the official Gmail.  While they may be coming soon, the fact that they're currently not there will most likely be a huge deterrent to most buyers. The second aspect that I'm not a fan of is the overwrought UI of the device. It's too glossy, too blocky, and just too much. Having gotten used to the simple minimalism of both Android 4.4.x and iOS 7, the UI of the Fire Phone feels like a step backwards into the dark days of Androig 2.3.x Gingerbread and iOS 1-6. It definitely shows a lot of promise though, so I'm hoping Amazon can clean it up by the time it gets into the hands of the users.

Now, because it's an Amazon device, running a forked version of Android, this will be a huge incentive for everyone who wants to use Android, but doesn't want to be tied down to Google. For those already invested in Amazon's ecosystem, the Fire Phone will be the key device in connecting you to and unifying your experience across all their services, from Kindle, to Fire TV, Amazon Music, and Amazon itself. They've done what Google hasn't been able to with Android & Chrome; create a single, unified experience. Because of this deep integration, I wonder if this will be enough to sway even the most diehard of Windows Phone and BlackBerry fans away from their tiny, non-app, ecosystems.

However, despite already having the pre-order site up and running, you're basically dropping $650 for a decidedly mid-tier spec'd phone that's locked to AT&T, and you'd have to wait at least a month before you'd actually get the phone in your hands. Even if you got it directly from AT&T, you're still dropping $200, which frankly is just too much for a phone in its first generation, with no guarantee of a second version. Remember when Facebook wanted to be the centre of your entire universe, and made two phones with HTC, the ChaCha, and the First? Remember how well they did? I'm not faulting Amazon for wanting to take that risk, but they most likely would've had a better shot as just packaging all of the features built into the phone as an app. Or, better yet, revamp the Amazon app itself and update it to modern UI guidelines, and bake Firefly into it, as that seems to be the main feature of this phone as it is.

TL;DR: Amazon made a phone when they could've just made a single app, and wants you to buy stuff with it.

Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation; redundant, and a headache for everyone

Canada's Federal government passed an Anti-Spam legislation that will go into effect on July 1, 2014. While it may sound great at first, it's really not. If anything, it's a redundant headache for everyone; legislation for the sake of legislation. 

The gist of it is that companies that using email to promote their products and services have to now get express consent from everyone they send out email to, or IM, SMS, or call. However, think about it for a second. If you are already on the emailing list for a particular company, chances are you like what they do/sell, and signed up on your own accord to stay up to date. That's pretty much the exact same thing, no it is the exact same thing as this nonsense piece of legislation. 

Retailers that acquire their emails at the cashier checkout also ask for their customer's consent. It's not as if they are placing a gun to their head, forcing them to hand over their work or personal email addresses. Instead of making the process easier, cashiers now have to ask for the email, ask the customer to read the consent statement, type in the email, and then accept, making an already painfully slow process even slower. The only impact that this will have is far fewer people signing themselves up because it will be easier and quicker to say no than to agree and have to go through that million step process for something that should be incredibly simple. 

The end user has the power to already grant consent and take it away, by giving their email or phone number to whomever they choose, or by simply unsubscribing or not handing over that information. 

If the federal government wanted to pass an effective anti-spam legislation, they should have targeted the ISPs. Before iOS 7 was released, my dad had no way of blocking the spam phone numbers that would call him, and I'm not joking with this number, 17 times a day. I had contacted Rogers, and they wanted to charge him $20/month to block only three phone numbers. The best part is that his cell phone number, the one that was plagued by spam calls, isn't listed anywhere. So, rather than placing the onus on the end user that's constantly under attack, why not make it so that the ISPs have to stop giving out their customers phone numbers to the highest bidder? Why not make it so that the ISPs have to provide a flat rate service in which the customer can block as many calls as s/he wants? Why not make it so that every phone has to have a call blocking feature enabled? Why not do a million other things that would actually benefit users and businesses, rather than making it harder?

Why Apple Buying Beats Makes Sense

It looks like there rumor of Apple purchasing Beats that was floating around yesterday was confirmed by Tyrese Gibson and Dre himself in an expletive laden video posted to Facebook. I'm slightly worried because that totally worked out for HTC during their partnership. Buying Beats to get into music is like if Apple bought Starbucks to get into coffee: low quality product with an insanely high profit margin based purely on the popularity of the brand name.

It seems that whoever buys out or partners with Beats is doomed to fail almost immediately. AT&T, HP, HTC, and next, Apple, verifying the unpopular opinion that they are indeed in a rapid downward spiral, and while I dislike Beats for the simple reason of it not being high-quality audio for it's absurd price-point, I can see why Apple would want to buy them for a few reasons.

The first being that there Beats logo and flat wire headphones have replaced Apple's white earbuds as a sort of status symbol. No longer is it just enough to have an iPhone. You need to have an iPhone AND Beats. Think about it. Apple is all about image. Beats is all about image. People who buy either product are all about image. From a business standpoint, and financial, it makes perfect sense for Apple to acquire Beats, even if the product that they are buying doesn't make sense for a consumer to own, especially when compared to similar products from competitors that are significantly better for audiophiles, and at a much cheaper and affordable price point. Then again, Apple has never focused on affordable price points, so regardless, this is a perfect move for Apple that makes sense.

Secondly, iTunes Match and iTunes Radio, much like their predecessor, iTunes Ping, have been considered radical disappointments in the music streaming industry. Whatever is it, Apple can't seem to build their own music service to match, let alone compete, with the likes of Pandora, Rdio, and Spotify. Having Beats and Beats Music onboard would certainly help, especially if they were to merge it directly into iTunes. Trying to find new music on iTunes is an awful experience, something that Spotify excels at. The other big problem is that with Apple, your music is more or less locked in, with no way or transferring it to other platforms. Spotify alleviates that, by letting you switch from iOS to Android and back, because it's all in the cloud. If Apple were to release a version of iTunes for Android like it did Windows, with Beats Music baked in to help you discover new music, I think Spotify, and similar competitors, would have serious reason to worry.

The final reason is that the iPod and Apple's entrance into music is what saved them from total failure the last time. It makes sense that Apple would want to take the lessons they learned then and re-apply them now, to keep up with the ever changing demands of the music industry. People want options, and I think Apple is finally about to give them a viable one.


EDIT: The Apple/Beats acquisition has been confirmed today (May 28, 2014). Read more here.

The Problems with Social Media

A few days ago, a 14 year old Dutch girl identified only as “Sarah” sent out a tweet to American Airlines.

“hello my name’s Ibrahim and I’m from Afghanistan. I’m part of Al Qaida and on June 1st I’m gonna do something really big bye,” — @bizzledemetriax

The internet caught wind of this latest round of online idiocy, and it spread like wild-fire. Within a matter of time, that tweet garnered over 2000 retweets, even a response from American Airlines, saying that they had reported her tweet and IP address to the authorities. This spurned a serious of replies from “Sarah” back at American Airlines, saying she was joking, sorry, and that she was so scared.

Yesterday, she was arrested by Rotterdam authorities, with an investigation pending.

This leads us to today, where now dozens upon dozens of teenagers are following in “Sarah’s” footsteps by tweeting more bomb-threats at American Airlines (likely in retaliation for arresting the Dutch teen), and bizarrely, Southwest Airlines — a completely unrelated airline.

While Sarah may have just been spouting off the idiotic thoughts that came to her head, like many teenagers before her, the fact of the matter is that she did so on a public, nay, international, platform. She many have genuinely not known that she would cause trouble, and that an airline as big as American, would take it seriously, because y’know, bomb threats. When the lives of their passengers are at stake, the airline has to do everything in their power to prevent anything from happening, even if the threat turns out to be fake. Her copycats, however, know exactly what they are doing, and I hope that they too realize soon how unfunny it all really is.

Social media is amazing. It lets me connect and contact some of my favourite people I otherwise would have absolutely no access to, and have conversations with them. It allows disgruntled people to voice their opinions about companies, letting their public voice enact some sort of positive change. It lets me, sitting at home, get real-time updates about the situations going on all over the world. It lets important people reach out to the masses to talk about things that matter to them; to spur conversation in an effort to help better the world. The downside is that it lets everyone think that what they have to say is important, even if 99% of the time it’s just verbal diarrhoea turned into digital text.

The problem, however, lies in the fact that it creates a sort of disconnect, in that people do not associate their online persona’s with their real-life selves. They think that just because they hide behind an online handle, they can get away with anything, because the online world is different from that of the real world, and that doing something online cannot have consequences offline. That is entirely untrue, as seen in the case with “Sarah”, and something that more people need to realize.

And that’s the issue with having everything instant — there’s no longer any time to sit and think about what you want to say. You see something, react, and post said reaction, and then move onto the next thing. We’ve become addicted to this, and go crazy inside until we get it out of our system in a way that the whole world can know.

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media and think that it’s a great tool when used properly, but when idiots get a hold of it and use it to spew their idiocies across the web for the rest of us, it ruins it for the rest of us.

Perhaps arresting “Sarah” was the right thing to do. She’s no longer a child, but is not quite yet an adult either, but she also needs to learn a lesson, and be used as an example of what not to do.

People like to say that this newest generation is going downhill, and there are many instances where I’d normally like to disagree, but in this case, I simply cannot. I’m frankly quite scared for when these maladjusted teens grow up and have to face the real world with real consequences.

My Thoughts on Microsoft's //build/ Conference 2014

It's been two months since Satya Nadella took over as CEO of Microsoft and it looks like he's done everything that Ballmer was afraid to.

Cutting the licensing fees for Windows and Windows Phone, releasing a mobile version of Office, and finally getting Cortana, the Google Now/Siri competitor out into the wild.

Speaking of Cortana, Microsoft's Siri/Google Now competitor is insane. It completely blows the latter two out of the water.

One thing that will be great for the Redmond giant is their propensity for really excellent cross-platform sync. Having Cortana everywhere is going to be HUGE for Microsoft, allowing them to become truly competitive once again. After all, competition spurs innovation.

This just might be the only Windows Phone feature I'm pretty jealous about. They certainly tool their time, but it looks like it's paid off.

Cortana; so simple, yet so intuitive.

Facebook Buys Oculus Rift for $2 Billion

Facebook bought the Oculus Rift VR company for a cool $2 billion today. With that came a few immediate and visceral reactions, the most prominent being, "Facebook ruins everything!" which isn't entirely untrue.

However, the purchase could be beneficial, and just might spur the right amount of competition we so badly need.

Think of it this way; Facebook has never been particularly shy about wanting to be the dominant player in the IM market. Their recent purchase of WhatsApp only served to further that notion. With Oculus, Facebook can do three things. The first is step away from their Zynga days of casual, social gaming, and make their first steps into real, console level gaming. No longer will you just have trophies and achievements to unlock and compete against - gaming will happen with real-time news feed updates. And this will only be possible if Facebook forces the player to login in through Facebook in order to connect and communicate with other gamers.

The second is taking the IM idea one step further. Facebook Messenger is already cross-platform, so having it extend into the world of VR gaming seems like a natural extension. Imagine Chat Heads inside games. You won't have to pause, find the message, respond, and then unpause. Chat Heads would work in game as they do on our mobile devices. Forcing players to use Facebook Messenger would be similar to Google forcing it's Google+ service into every Google application.

The third and final, and what I think is the most interesting idea, is that Facebook could take the Oculus Rift VR technology and turn it into a Google Glass competitor. Right now, in the new wearable market, Google has the strongest, and only, foothold on glass-type wearables. The Oculus could provide Facebook with enough traction to push out the perfect Facebook hardware. Facebook has never had a successful smartphone, but they just might work out in the wearables. Imagine Facebook Home, but through glass. It would essentially be the spiritual successor to the augmented reality app, Layar, and once again, would have deep Facebook Messenger integration built right into it.

There is a flip-side to this, and that's Facebook is dipping it's resources into too many different fields without really perfecting any of them. Their design aesthetic is constantly changing, and many of the products are revealed, quickly adopted, and just as quickly abandoned. That, and games could be so inundated with ads, that the platform is dropped entirely as players leave in droves. 

Facebook could be going the way of Apple in the 90s, before Jobs took the helm again, and MySpace in the mid 00s. Unless Facebook is able to make this $2 Billion purchase work out for them, we might not have a viable future of VR.

While I don't trust Facebook with any of my personal information, the social giant is trying to expand in a way not to dissimilar to Google, and the acquisition of Oculus Rift is a step into huge new territory for them.

100 Days Until I End A 6 Year Relationship (With My Phone Carrier)

Today, after I got home from my shift at work, I noticed a small package from TELUS, my current phone service provider. Normally, it’s just my monthly phone bill in the mail, or what they call TELUS Perks; small gifts such as movie passes or a charitable donation in your name. Today, however, it was something different.

Seeing this made me really excited.

 

I’ve been with TELUS for nearly 6 years now. It’s my longest relationship with anything ever. My first phone was a Motorola RAZR V3C, and my second, and current phone, is my HTC Desire. Yes, the original Desire, the one that shipped with Android 2.1 Eclair and never officially received any Android 2.3 update. But that’s besides the point. Well, not really, because since I was with TELUS, and my particular plan was that I’d have a credit spending limit of $200 (meaning I wouldn’t have to pay my phone bills until I hit that dollar amount), I couldn’t upgrade without jumping through a number of insane hoops. First, I’d have to pay off the remaining balance of my device, which is $10/month for however many months I had left. Then, I’d have to pay my $200 to get off that credit spending limit program I was on, and then to top it all off, a $275 cancellation fee. So it could eventually come close to $700 before I could even do anything else.

In case you can’t read the text in that image, the booklet basically says that I am currently eligible for a phone upgrade and they’ll make it easy for me to do so by:

  1. Waiving my device balance (the $10/month and the $200 credit limit program would be gone)
  2. Offering special discounts on select phones so I can save more
  3. Giving me access to the hottest phone at the best in-market prices

Naturally, this got me pretty excited, seeing as despite the fact that my 3-year old phone with 512 MB RAM/ROM is running Android 4.2.2 fairly well, I desperately need a new phone as a daily driver. I flipped the page over and saw the phone that they were offering me:

Seeing the three phones that they were offering me immediately bummed me out.

The Samsung Galaxy Ace Q, The BlackBerry Curve 9320, or the Nokia Lumia 620, all phone, maybe with the exception of the Lumia 620 (which is a Windows Phone 8 device, thus, has no app ecosystem), that are lower spec’d than my current device. Why on earth would I want to pay $25 to buy a phone that is arguable far worse than what I am currently working with?

But, to make sure that I wasn’t being stupid and missing anything in this sparsely detailed booklet, I called TELUS customer support, and they clarified that yes, those were the only three phones I could “upgrade” to at the $25 price point. If I wanted, say the Nexus 4, I’d pay $30, or if I wanted the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, I’d pay approximately $180, the current subsidized cost of those devices. The real kicker was that I’d be locked into another 2 year contract, with a ridiculous monthly rate plan of a base $55/month with unlimited calling and texting and 250 MB of data. For another $8 per service, I could tack on Caller ID, Voice Mail, Call Waiting and Conference Calling. The only one I’d require are the first two, a $16 additional charge.

Then, because 250 MB of data is nothing, for another $30/month, I could tack on another, wait for it, another whole 750 MB of data. $30 for 750 MB?! TELUS, you have to be kidding me. Again, this is if I went with the cheapest phone out of the best that they can offer me.

That brings the total charges per month on a new two year contract to around $100/month, more than my current $80/month with unlimited texting, 300 minutes of calling, Call Waiting, Conference Calling, Voice Mail, Caller ID, and 1 GB of data. So with spending more, I’d be getting less than I currently have with my now grandfathered rate plan.

I decided to shop around a bit more, and looked at Rogers, the next best bet. The plans are relatively the same, but for another $150/month, you can bump you 250 MB of data to 20 GB. 20 GB for $150? The numbers seemed skewed to me, and they are. For home internet plans, you can roughly get 1 GB of data for $1, if you’re at the 80 GB data cap with Rogers or Bell.

It gets even better.

I then wanted to know why they charge so much per text message, $0.20/text. The customer services client told me it’s because of the infrastructure charges and the cost to actually send such a large file over the airwaves. That, is not true. The most a text message will ever come to in size is 160 kb. Even for your 5-6 pagers, they get split up, which is why the person who receives them receives 5-6 texts from you, even if it doesn’t look like that on your end. So that cost per text argument is frankly total bull.

To end the phone call with the customer services client, a woefully ignorant lady who kept having to refer to her manager on duty for basic questions such as, “how much longer do I have until my contract is over?” To answer that question, it is 100 days, as of writing this.

So, this was in essence, a horribly long-winded way of basically saying that the big three Canadian telecommunications companies are no longer economically viable for someone like me, a recent university graduate in their early 20s. It’s no wonder why so many people my age really want Verizon, the largest American telecommunications and phone service provider, to come and enter the Canadian market. It’s no wonder why almost everyone that I talk to is so bitter with Rogers, Bell, and TELUS, as well as their respective subsidiary companies, Koodo, Virgin, and Fido. It’s no wonder why so many more people, including me, want to jump ship to companies like WIND Mobile as soon as they are able to, and it’s no wonder why you will not be getting my money ever again.

We, as the consumer, want, and demand better choice that’s actually affordable. Paying over $100 a month for a phone service is ridiculous, and needs to stop. The big three have had their chance, in fact, many, chances, to change their practices and give the consumers what we’ve all been clamouring for since we all clued into what was going on.

The good news is that I only have 100 days left in my six year long, monetarily abusive relationship, with TELUS. 100 very long days until I can finally begin voting with my wallet.

Until then, I only have one last thing to say, and that is a big screw you to TELUS.

I wrote a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star regarding this issue. You can read it here.

Letters to Editor: More Options for Canadians

Re: Canada doesn’t need fourth wireless carrier, says Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed, Business, July 24

Canada doesn’t need fourth wireless carrier, says Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed, Business, July 24

Bell recently published a two-page ad bemoaning the entry of Verizon into Canada’s mobile market, stating that it would hurt the consumer in the end. Frankly, I no longer feel any sympathy for the Big Three, as they have had, and lost, multiple chances at creating a fair and open market for the consumer, as well as newer and smaller companies. Both Bell and Rogers claim to have our best interests at heart, but really, they are scared stiff that they will have to compete in an open market against Verizon, the one company that could actually help create the market Canadians have been longing for this entire time.

The ideal, truly competitive market would be one where we would have five major carriers, Rogers, Bell, Telus, Wind and Verizon, and their subsidiaries, Fido, Virgin, Koodo and Mobilicity, as well as the provincial options such as Videotron. This would ensure that Canadians have the best possible options to choose from because, after all, competition spurs innovation.

Note: This originally appeared in the Toronto Star's Letters to the Editor Section on July 29th, 2013. You can find a link to that post here.

(dis)Connection Is Awesome

Recently, I had a conversation with one of my close friends. I had sent her a link, and asked her opinion on the subject matter. Her response was, “I’ll be the first to admit that I’m ignorant to more than 50% of what the Internet has to offer. I prefer tangible things, and fresh air, and books.” Her response got me thinking, and while I agree with her position, albeit to a very minor extent, I offered up my position in that the Internet is actually a very awesome place, and is very much so tangible.

Something doesn’t necessarily need to trigger a direct response from your senses for it to be tangible. For something to be tangible, it should have a real, lasting effect on the world around us. For instance, look at Google. In their 2013 I/O conference back in May, they spent a portion of their time discussing their Google Maps platform. In short, they said that by giving the tools to countries in which their physical maps were horribly outdated, the users were then able to create real world, real time, and editable maps that were far more accurate than the ones they had. That had a real, tangible, and lasting effect on those people and those countries.

You can watch the Maps portion of Google I/O 2013 here.

My friend further argued that the Internet, due to it’s status as a man-made creation, is not natural, and will lead to our demise as it allows for us to communicate through an instant medium, even though we are thousands of kilometres away. She also stated that we are being pushed farther away from what we once were, in that we no longer actively seek the physical, but rather are far more content in the virtual, as we seek out and build new friendships via Facebook and Twitter. She summed her argument up by saying that, “we forget that absence makes the heart grow fonder due to this instant world that we live in. That we’re so caught up in our phones, social media, and our laptop,s that we forget to stay and take a moment to process the information we are in taking in order to create an educated opinion. It’s addictive. And all emotion and sense of peace and stillness is lost while doing so.”

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not claiming that the Internet is absolutely perfect. I agree with my friend when she says that it’s a volatile place in a state of constant flux. It’s far from perfect, but so are we. However, using my friends logic, most of what we enjoy in this world is not natural, due to its status as a man-made creation. Books are included in this, as they too allow for the transmission of ideas from one person to another despite them being separated by thousands of kilometres. Where the Internet excels at is the sharing of ideas; it’s an amazing tool for discovering new ideas like none we’ve ever known before. All that the Internet is doing is cutting down on the amount of time it used to take us.

However, this is where I get to the part where I agree with my friend (to an extent). She does have a point in that there is a whole new generation of kids who don’t have the proper tools to actually meet new people outside in the real world (real being used in the sense as outside of the Internet). We are so caught up in following celebrities and sharing our every thought and emotion, that we forget that when we type out “lol”, we are no longer actually going through with the act of emoting.

Think of it this way. How many times have you personally had a panic attack when you’ve forgotten your phone somewhere, only to feel that sense of relief when you realize it’s in your other pocket. We can no longer go through a meal without constantly checking our phones, and there are even tips and tutorials on how to get by and handle without being connected. You can no longer go to a concert without seeing a see a tiny glowing screens and behind them, their owners craning their necks to view the musician through the tiny glowing screen.

The Internet is an awesome place to discover and connect with people along similar lines of interest. It’s a great place to share new ideas, and get feedback, and to educate yourself. That being said, it shouldn’t completely take over your life. Every once in a while, unplug yourself, and take in the world around you simply for what it is, and let your imagination run wild and think about what it could be.

The Internet is awesome, but sometimes it’s also awesome to just disconnect.

A Culture Of Indiscriminate Over-Sharing

Recently, after having a conversation with my close friend, Dave, and after watching Sherry Turkle and her TED Talk, Connected But More Alone?, I have realized that we live in a culture of indiscriminate over-sharing.

Let me explain.

What I mean by a culture of indiscriminate over-sharing is that not everything you post from status updates to photos is relevant or necessary. Do your friends really care about seeing the 200 photos of you and architecture from Europe, or the 300 photos you’ve taken of your food with a million filters applied? The answer is simple: no, no they do not. Not everyone needs to know, nor cares, whether or not you can sleep, if you’re at the bar with your girlies, or if you hate the new layout of the social networking site that you’ll continue to use.

After coming to that realization, I began thinking; how did that process even begin, and it’s incredibly simple — it started with ourselves. Humans, by nature, are attention seeking, and we’re always looking for ways to one-up our peers. We see our friends and their amazing escapes around town, and sometimes the world, and we feel compelled to show that our lives are just as exciting. Susan Cain, in her TED Talk, The Power Of Introverts, says:

“It turns out that we can’t even be in a group of people without instinctively mirroring, mimicking their opinions. Even about seemingly personal and visceral things like who you’re attracted to, you will start aping the beliefs of the people around you without even realizing that that’s what you’re doing.”

Cain makes the argument that it’s a vicious cycle that we unknowingly perpetuate, and how it’s a cycle in which we need to break.

This isn’t just specific to Facebook; a recent study showed how nearly 40% of tweets were pointless babble from saying how much fun people had last night at that party in which they got SOOOOO wasted, or how they’re at 10,000 tweets! But, if you look, how many of those tweets were of any real importance that made people want to read more, think, and get engaged? Barely any, so much so, that almost 75% of all tweets go unread. Google+ is a unique networking site, because almost as an unwritten rule, you do not have people clogging up their “newsfeed” with one million photos of food, status updates, and pointless check-ins.

I’ve been a long time advocate of not being on Facebook. When the site originally launched, and had the VIP status of being associated only with top tier colleges and universities, it made sense. This was before advertising and the site in general opened up to the general pubic world-wide; it was the discussion between you and your classmates that kept you logging in every time, and not the steady decline to your five buddies clogging up your news feed by checking into the bar down the street. I mean, do we care if you’re at one bar and not the other? Once again, the answer is no.

While sites like Facebook might still hold some relevance, I see it going the way of Myspace very soon as users flock to other networks like Twitter and Google+. As Derrick Wlodarz puts it,

“If Facebook’s loss of 2 million users over the past six months is telling about anything, it’s that the social media craze of yesteryear has peaked — or is even on the slight decline already.”

From what I’ve been able to tell, the main reason as to why people aren’t satisfied with Facebook is due to their horrible privacy settings, and because Facebook continues to abuse it. Yet, what the same user base fails to realize that (pardon my slight anti-Facebook bias) besides Facebook being evil incarnate, they watch the trends of their users and adjust the site accordingly. So, for example, if they see users interacting with each other more than others, those users will see more of each other in their news than anyone else (Eli Pariser, in his TED Talk, calls them Online Filter Bubbles, and tells us to be wary of them). The same goes for with the way they upload information about themselves from personal phone numbers, to their sexual orientation, to photos of them doing kegstands. Facebook sees this indiscriminate over-sharing and once again, adjusts their site accordingly, because it thinks that the users simply do not care. It’s as much the fault of the user base as it is the fault of Facebook (and it’s evil, oh so evil, shenanigans).

Yes, I understand Facebook is seen as a convenient way to stay in touch with people long distance, but there are other ways as well, such as Skype, e-mail, and you know, by using the device you can’t go 5 minutes without; your phone! But, as we continue to make a shift from a world in which we once used online accounts and connections to stay in touch with relevant and important topics of the day and discuss them, to a more me-centric world, I fear that we will lose our ability to be truly social.

As my incredibly good friend Dave said to me,

“This is why we lack privacy these days. Smartphones will do our networking for us, and [not] as much effort will be required on our part to stalk and interact with people. Remember that shitty knock-off Android phone I had? I’m only making the connection now, but it had features I never got around to telling anyone. One was the option to send canned messages, like, “I love you.”…That is both hilarious, and seriously f-cked…it’s an unsettling thought to have in anyone’s head that your significant other’s texts are pre-written, so to speak.”

Dave was completely right, and his sentiments only further echoed what Sherry Turkle said in her TED Talk:

“And what I’ve found is that our little devices, those little devices in our pockets, are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are…People talk to me about the important new skill of making eye contact while you’re texting. Why does this matter? It matters to me because I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble — trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together.”

This raises another interesting point; filters. This goes back to Eli Pariser’s talk; I think we like being online because it allows us to create this persona of ourselves in which we can interact with one another without actually having to interact. Another friend of mine once said that she tried online dating, and found that it the people she met in the flesh were different from their online selves, and she faced that same problem too; that she couldn’t live up to this character she had created for herself. This is a huge problem that stems from being online, and being able to edit, retouch ourselves not too much, nor too little, but rather, just right into the people we wish we could be, rather than who we are.

Personally, as much as I live on the internet and use it for almost everything I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if social networking was but simply a passing fad. What I’m more interested in is the world post-social networking.

My father has always told me that within my life time, the world’s most precious commodity will no longer be oil, or anything of material presence, but will shift to our own sense of privacy. Generally, I’d debate him on that, but in this case, I couldn’t agree more.