« Makes the world go around | Main | To serve two masters »

April 04, 2020

Comments

12 Monkeys is one of my favorite movies. Let’s a hope a time-traveller is coming from the future to stop this thing.

Second week of teaching remote classes is about to start for me. The first week has all been trying to herd student cats and get them some idea of what and how. A lot of professors, especially the luddites, have simply moved their lectures to streaming and are having their students upload the work to hand it in. I've been shifting the bulk of the mini-lectures and explanation into asynchronous material because 25% of my students have either already returned to China or are set to travel back sometime this quarter.

There were many discussions early on about the different digital tools and their affordances for remote, asynchronous collaboration, but a lot of that (and the hours of work that went into training and creating class materials) have gone by the wayside as we find ourselves confronting the limitations on institutional access. The campus VPN only gets students so much access and it slows imperfect connections. China has limited access to Google, so Google apps are out for collaboration.

Thank goodness for my years of experience with discussion boards, fora, and blogs. I think I'm leveraging all of that pretty well to create a sense of community using text and video. We'll use threaded discussions for unpacking readings and workshopping writing, and I'll run drop in Zoom sessions during the class meeting time to allow people some real-time human interaction.

(Yes, I'm up on the Zoom security issues - see: https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2020/04/security_and_pr_1.html

The students are all overwhelmed with the changes and with the panoply of tools and approaches taken by their instructors, but they are so far being remarkably helpful with each other and appreciating the chance for something like community.

nous -- thanks for that Schneier link.

I have a story about the only online class I ever took. It's just anecdotal, because the online world has moved a long way "forward" since then, so I don't have any useful advice to offer. But maybe the story can be useful as testimony to how well it can work.

About twenty years ago I took a class on "Forgiveness" in the Peace Studies program at the University of Maine. It was entirely online, although late in the term there was a social gathering for anyone who could make it.

The class was about half regular college-age students (18-22ish), and half people who were older than that, some by quite a bit. There were no men. (Hmmmmmmm.) Maybe a couple dozen people in all. The mix of ages made the class particularly special.

We spent the semester on four books, starting with Simon Wiesenthal's "The Sunflower." Another was a book I've mentioned here probably many times: Donald W. Shriver's "An Ethic for Enemies."

There was a reading assignment each week, and we were each asked to write a page a week, taking off from the reading. We were also asked to respond to each other's writing, ad hoc. There was no class meeting time, we just all uploaded our writing whenever. There was one big end of term project, and projects ranged from written papers to a life-sized papier-mâché sculpture. Amazing stuff.

Being able to read other people's thoughts and answer ad hoc meant that we could give our responses some time to ferment before we offered them, creating a very different rhythm from that of an in-person conversation.

Before that class I would have been quite skeptical about an online format for non-STEM-like classes. (Math? who needs a classroom. Even linguistics: I did my first year of linguistics alone with material from the MIT OpenCourseWare site when it was just an infant.) But peace studies? I was a great fan by the time we were done.

As it happens, "Lonely Are The Brave", based on Edward Abbey's second novel "The Brave Cowboy", IS my favorite movie.

In fact, my very best friend and I became friends during a discussion at a party years ago regarding our favorite westerns, in which I was asked to list my top three westerns; the first two I mentioned were the usual "Red River" and another one, but then I said "But .... there is another, with Kirk Douglas, rarely played on TV, not many have viewed it, called "Lonely Are the Brave".

He walked over and shook my hand and said that was his favorite film too.

That friend and I have been pretty much inseparable since, AND he is also a great baseball player which whom I played center field behind his impeccable shortstop, and his songs, on which we collaborate now (I barely keep up), are in their key changes, chord progressions and general musical inventiveness pure Beatle, another sensibility we share.

We still recite lines from the movie.

We're a perfect partnership. I can't start anything and he can't finish anything. But the middle eights of everything we do are pretty entertaining.

On my 30th birthday, well back in the last century, I stayed up late to watch "Lonely Are The Brave", having only seen it maybe once since I was a teenager, and at the ending with his horse Whiskey (no spoiler), I stood up from the couch and threw myself like a jilted ingenue to the carpet sobbing, absolutely inconsolable.

My dear ex-wife came down from bed to see what the trouble could possibly be. My God, who died?

I woke up the next morning on the carpet where I had fallen.

Not many clips available, but Douglas and Gena Rowlands are spectacular, and you get to see Walter Matthau, George Kennedy, and Carroll O'Conner before they hit the big time. Bill Bixby has a short, goofy turn too.

But Whiskey steals the movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilaeKw8qbAM

I'm a little like Jack Burns, except that I look like John Lennon, but alive. And I'm taller than Kirk Douglas, but who isn't, as Burt Lancaster might point out? And I'm not particularly fond of riding horses.

So really not like him at all. Though I could see myself trying to break into jail for the sake of a friend.

And I could see myself on the run, too.

In fact, I think with an early start I can make it to the top of that ridge by nightfall.

When I say "Hup", Whiskey, you "Hup".

Adios.

Anyway, discuss that, or ERT, or your favorite movies. And stay safe.

OK, I've been wondering where to put this comment, and I'll take that statement as authorisation!

BBC Radio 3 (the channel which is generally considered the most highbrow of the BBC radio channels I would say - Pro Bono or Nigel might or might not agree, and the music on which is traditionally classical music), has for the last 5 evenings been running a 15 minute slot called "The Essay: Paul Robeson in Five Songs". I listened because my father was mad on Paul Robeson, and I knew just enough of his history to know that he was an extraordinary man, and artist. I really hope you US people can find it on a BBC website, if you are interested. But the reason I am posting this is because the last instalment, which was last night, was about Robeson and "Joe Hill", and the history of his involvement with the left. As I listened, I wondered how people like McKinney, who has such an incredibly black and white (ahem) view of socialism and communism, seem utterly impervious to the reasons why various people or groups might have or have had sympathy for the far left, and how even if (like Robeson) they then had occasion to hate, or condemn, some of its manifestations or consequences, yet they might still have an emotional attachment to some of its idealistic underpinnings, which also had consequences.

I was thinking about a woman I knew in middle to old age, a rich white woman who was born in South Africa to a rich white family, and who despite having been very active in the anti-apartheid movement was nonetheless impeccably capitalist and even fairly rightwing as she got older. But she told me she had been in the 30s a member of something called "Friends of the Soviet Union" (a more than fellow-travelling fundraising organisation) in her youth, despite never being a socialist or a communist, just a humanitarian anti-racist. When I asked her why, she looked at me as if I was mad and said "Why? Because they were the only people opposing fascism!"

So I do wonder sometimes why it is so easy and tempting to avoid seeing how complicated the world is, and has been, and what nuances lie behind people's political sympathies.

So I do wonder sometimes why it is so easy...

Really? I mean, it answers itself. ;-)

Slightly more seriously (but not much), some people care about some things more than others. Some people care most about knowledge, some care about fun, some care about companionship -- and some care about winning.

I have lived my whole adult life in various degrees of proximity to someone who will say anything to dominate a conversation, and the opposite tomorrow, if that will help him dominate tomorrow's conversation, and who never steps (metaphorically speaking) onto a playing field where he can't be the player and the ref and both coaches and the commissioner of the league all at once, or, as the saying goes, judge, jury, and executioner. Also prosecutor. Even if he's the one on trial, which he never is, acc' to his rules. Which are the only rules.

Needless to say, he's a lawyer.

A quicker answer: nuance is hard, and scary. QED.

the last instalment, which was last night, was about Robeson and "Joe Hill", and the history of his involvement with the left.

For anybody who is actually thinking of listening to the Paul Robeson series, I think I conflated the last two episodes. Episode 4 was about when Robeson gave a concert in Moscow during the Stalin era, and to great shock and consternation sang a famous freedom-fighter's song in Yiddish by someone who had fought in the Warsaw ghetto, as a kind of protest about the anti-Jewish purges that were then taking place. That episode talked a lot about his feelings about communism, and the Soviet Union, both positive and negative, and the reasons for both. I guess the Joe Hill episode followed on so naturally, but was a night later, so the basis for my comment really should have been both episodes together.

No, I wouldn’t argue, GFTNC.
(Though R3 has made some recent efforts to become more accessible.)

What other radio station features Venetian Baroque and Zappa ?

Sorry to go off the rails here, but Janie's talk about the person who couldn't stand to lose reminds me of the fact that my various feeds of things are flooded with Michael Jordan crap. I understand why, there is some program coming out about him, there is no basketball, so...

Anyway, I marveled at his abilities when he was a player, but god, whatta jerk. Anyway, I try not to click on anything related to that, but when I got one about the thing that upset Michael about Scottie Pippen, I couldn't resist.

https://www.essentiallysports.com/nba-chicago-bulls-that-killed-him-the-one-thing-about-scottie-pippen-that-burned-and-bothered-michael-jordan-most/

The things you learn...

It's always striking, the level of insecurity that drives people like that. Not just being competitive over something; that's no big deal. But the compulsion to be the best at everything.** Someone who really had a high opinion of himself wouldn't be threatened just because someone else excelled at something.

** Applicability to individuals outside sports left as an exercise for the reader.

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin and Madonna and .......

Quite the new departure in ObWi subject matter.

LOL.

It's been 25+ years now since I was doing research into real-time multi-party multi-media communications over IP at one of the giant telecoms. I really thought it would just be routine by this point, without the need for companies like Zoom and their leaky servers. No "emergency" tacked on to the front of remote teaching; everyone would have the basic software, data network, and experience to do it.

Michael -- what got in the way?

I listened earlier today to a talk on YouTube by a certain bioethicist of our pixellated acquaintance about De-Extinction. One of the things it made me think about was the allocation of resources (brains, labs, $, etc.) to various scientific and technical problems that might be interesting to work on. Resources are finite! Not everything can be worked on! So....

"Wouldn't it be cool to bring back the woolly mammoth" has always seemed to me to be the height of arrogant idiocy, a perfect illustration of how smart people can be just as greedy or short-sighted -- or stupid -- as the next person. And I'm glad to say that our favorite bioethicist said something similar, if less ranty. She called it "hubris." (But for very complex reasons. I'm not going to link, because it feels a bit like stalking, but I'm sure anyone can find it who's interested.)

So...to repeat the question: why don't we have what you expected in the realm of "real-time multi-party multi-media communications over IP"? Did other shiny objects just gobble up all the resources? Did greed have anything to do with it? Or......?

I'm going to post on the question of multimedia communication in a few days if you can hold off a bit. But if not, no worries.

Other things, this lovely comic about Wuhan as a place.
https://www.lauragao.com/wuhan

Balloon Juice had a whole series of guest posts by blog regulars about Distance Teaching. If you go over there, go down the RH sidebar to "Features" to "Distance Teaching (Surprise!) Covid-19." Lots of good info there.

I just completed an on-line class in forestry and the main thing I learned is that I cannot stare at a computer screen for hours. I treated the class like a radio. I did laundry and housework and took a bath etc. I simply could not sit and listen and stare at the slides.

On the one hand I am a student at the university and don't know how this semester will look and whether I will be able to cope (given that I am a fossil who does not even has a cellphone and with no idea about things like skype or whatsapp or the like). On the other hand I have an appointment for a job interview for late April for a teaching position on a secondary school (no idea whether this will even take place). So, I can't say on which side I will be on the teaching this year.

I treated the class like a radio.

Do you think you absorbed the material without the slides as well as you would have with them?

So...to repeat the question: why don't we have what you expected in the realm of "real-time multi-party multi-media communications over IP"? Did other shiny objects just gobble up all the resources? Did greed have anything to do with it? Or......?

My opinions. YMMV. This comment is too long.

1) The key technology was/is IP multicasting Everyone who did early internet technology knew multicasting was important. So important that one-sixteenth of the entire IPv4 address space is reserved for multicasting. The companies that were/are the commercial internet never turned multicasting on in their routers. My perception is that this decision is largely greed based. Multicast group management requires memory and processing in the routers, an added expense. Multicast routing reduces the number of packets carried on the networks, sometimes drastically, a revenue loss.

2) The (very expensive non-IP) existing video conferencing technology at that time set some terrible expectations. The only thing they could provide was a high-quality analog video signal. That forced a conference room model and jamming every medium except audio into the video content. You get a very different model if there's cheap transport to everyone's individual location, you have a smart display device, you have content-neutral transport (IP doesn't care what's in the packets), etc.

3) Because of (2), everyone degrades video quality in the wrong ways when bits are scarce. Eg, if video is the only way to display the slide, then you sacrifice frame rate instead of frame quality. Put the slide (and pointers and markers) into a separate window and you make very different choices about how video should degrade. I often referred to my placeholder video as "the world's ugliest". 240x180 pixels. Literally black and white dots. But it ran at 15 fps, which is enough to tell if the audio and video are synchronized, and to pass body language. From time to time I drag out an old version of the player and a small file I recorded; I am still amazed how much information you could render that way. Two fps video is a slideshow, no matter high quality the individual frames are.

4) Also related to (2), when video went digital the hardware for compression and decompression could be expensive. My placeholder video was ugly, but a 66-MHz 486-class processor could decode and display four streams simultaneously. On a UNIX workstation you could do more, plus encode a stream.

5) Hardly anyone was interested in all of the useful things you do with a white rectangle on a computer screen. It's a piece of paper, with improvements; it's a whiteboard, with improvements; it's a recorder; the whole session can be recorded for later consultation and doesn't take up too many bits on your local disk. Or two independent white rectangles when three of the ten participants decide they need a side session, but don't want to lose track of the main session.

6) For many purposes, the rectangle in (5) really needs to be on an i/o device sitting flat on the desk. It's hard to write well on a computer display with a mouse, at least compared to writing on a piece of paper. The human eye-fingers feedback loop is astoundingly good. Today, we're finally starting to see graphics tablets with displays at a closer-to-affordable price. OTOH, you can make do with just a mouse and your regular display. My daughter still claims I dragged her kicking and screaming through her calculus class in college from a couple hundred miles away with us writing in a shared window that way.

Thanks, Michael. :-)

I cannot stare at a computer screen for hours. I treated the class like a radio. I did laundry and housework and took a bath etc. I simply could not sit and listen and stare at the slides.

I can, and do, stare at a computer screen for hours. (Albeit with breaks to stand up and move around.) I've been doing so for decades. However, when I'm on a video conference (and assuming we have, as usual, not turned on video for the attendees, just for slides/screen displays) I routinely find myself doing other stuff as well.

Maybe it's just gotten harder to totally focus on a single thing. Unless it's a book. Or maybe I just naturally multitask. But maybe, just maybe, not being physically present has consequences for lots of us.

Here's an anecdote that illustrates part of why I thought things would be easy and routine today.

Back in the 1990s there was a multicast backbone (MBONE) connecting hundreds of universities and industrial research labs for multicast. One of the national labs (Berkeley?) had made available software that would (badly) encode a video stream and dump it to a multicast address, and corresponding software for receiving the stream and displaying it.

One day -- in roughly 1994 -- one of the women at that lab set up a camera and workstation borrowed from work at her tiny apartment so she could check on her cat, who had had minor surgery the day before. She made a mistake in the configuration and the feed was available globally. The feed's address was spread by word of mouth and at some point 10,000 people all over the world were watching the damned cat.

Today, a Raspberry Pi W with power supply, micro SD card, and Linux that can compile and run the MBONE software costs $20. (I'm sure that copies of the source are available somewhere.) A cheap video webcam costs less than that. It should be trivial to put up a live cat feed. The hard part of a classroom feed ought to be restricting access.

However, when I'm on a video conference (and assuming we have, as usual, not turned on video for the attendees, just for slides/screen displays) I routinely find myself doing other stuff as well.

I interpret that as "the information content is not dense enough." Granted, that's also true for a lot of in-person meetings :^) The near-universal availability of "handouts", and the unfortunately common practice of presenters just reading the slides, certainly contributes. (One of the people here who teach for pay ought to write a post about the new research suggesting that taking notes by hand is important for memory reinforcement.)

The hard part of a classroom feed ought to be restricting access.

That's a problem for lots of multilateral network communications. Someday, MLS (Message Layer Security) may provide a solution. But nobody, at least nobody who's willing to sell it, has figured out an implementation yet. Indeed, the technical specs haven't been worked out in any detail.

One of the people here who teach for pay ought to write a post about the new research suggesting that taking notes by hand is important for memory reinforcement.

And then there's doodling, although the linked article also mentions that taking notes longhand seems to be more effective than typing them on a keyboard.

I won a prize from the local arts center at the end of my senior year in high school with a collection of the doodles I had been making all year in class. ;-)

I worked mostly at home (i.e. alone) as an adult. But in the last few years of my employment I was part of a team that met every Monday for two or three years; I dialed in via Citrix or GoToMeeting unless I was in Cambridge. So now I had a context in which to doodle again...and in fact I doodled even when I was in Cambridge. I was beyond caring if anyone looked askance.

I filled the better part of a sketchbook -- but with nothing quite as systematic as the doodles I did in high school, just lots of experiments with color and with mixing the textures of different kinds of writing implements.

As to treating the presentations like a radio: I massively prefer visual over auditory learning. College classes where the prof just repeated the stuff in the text, or read the slides -- I skipped. I can read the book on my own time, thanks very much. Playing Magic: The Gathering with my kids years ago -- I almost had to grab the cards and read them myself, I found it so hard to take in the info by ear.

So maybe doodling during meetings somehow improves my auditory channel functioning......

me: I worked mostly at home (i.e. alone) as an adult.

That's actually irrelevant to the doodling aspect. What's relevant is that for many years I worked on projects alone, i.e. I had to attend very few meetings. Then my company got new management and it was all teams and meetings almost all the time. I'm at least grateful that our meetings tended to start and end on time.

Someday, MLS (Message Layer Security) may provide a solution.

I know that back in the day there was considerable work done on secure multicast, and that at least some of those protocols were implemented. IIRC, a lot of it fell into the category I would call "good enough" security. The level of security needed for Mike's weekly Raspberry Pi lecture used by the local community college is different than that needed by the National Security Council (which ought not be running on a public network at all).

I was more interested in some of the kinds of extra cooperation protocols that different uses might involve. I was reading the other day about a class running on Zoom and a student replaced their webcam feed with a pornography stream. One of the control messages I had in my classroom experiment was "ignore student X." When a conforming student got that message from the teacher, the software discarded packets from student X until the restriction was lifted. It was the old Socrates answer to his friends' question about what argument they could make that would convince him to stay the night. He said there was no argument that would work because he wasn't going to listen. You can't trivially play porn on the screen of other students' app if they throw your packets away unprocessed. Sure there are obvious things involving source address forging and such, but 99.9% of students won't make that effort.

Everyone in my department has received instructions on how to handle Zoom Bombing. We are fortunate in that our classes are small and there is no anonymity for avoiding responsibility (it's all going through a layer of UC security before the students get to Zoom in the first place).. Were someone to stream porn or do anything harassing, I'd just turn them over to the appropriate authorities on campus and they would be out of my class and in academic remediation as quick as you can say "hostile work environment."

But with all of the concerns about access speeds and bandwidth and what sites our students in different countries are able to access from home, I'm seriously considering reverting to 1990s era pedagogy and building a class MUD. No bandwidth concerns there, and there's a lot of room for doing interesting things.

back in the day there was considerable work done on secure multicast, and that at least some of those protocols were implemented. IIRC, a lot of it fell into the category I would call "good enough" security.

Security, all security, has improved drastically over the years. Anything and everything that was "good enough" back in the day, no longer is. And something better is now available.

The big problem with secured multicasting products at the moment is that they're not scalable. You can use them to do an interactive class securely (assuming you just don't take the defaults, ala Zoom), but if your group gets big enough, they break down.

A bit off topic...anyone need a gig?

"The coronavirus crisis has sparked all manner of unexpected consequences, including the Tokyo summer Olympics being postponed and auto insurers reaping extra profits as people stay home. In New Jersey, it’s resulted in something that few people outside that state’s tech department would have foreseen: a dire need for COBOL coders.
...
In New Jersey, experts are now needed to fix COBOL-based unemployment insurance systems—more than four decades old—that are overwhelmed due to pandemic-related job losses. At a press conference yesterday, governor Phil Murphy asked for the help of volunteer coders who still knew how to work in COBOL."

Why Covid-19 has resulted in New Jersey desperately needing COBOL programmers

Volunteer? Charles, doesn't that chafe your chaps? Surely they should charge the market price...

If people want to volunteer, it's fine with me.

I volunteered.

experts are now needed to fix COBOL-based unemployment insurance systems

Freaking COBOL - every 20 years, you get a gig.

If people want to volunteer, it's fine with me.

This is probably one of those situations where X cannot fail, it can only be failed, but I hope against hope that you can see the inefficiency involved here?

Touches on some of the points raised in this thread.

"We were once told that nothing could replace sitting down with a teacher, the camaraderie of an office, a face-to-face business deal, or seeing a movie in the theater.

But when the grim COVID-19 pandemic is finally defeated, the question we'll be asking ourselves isn't Why would you want to do that online? but Why would you want to do that in real life?
...
For all the talk about Americans moving back to traditional, densely populated cities, suburbs were already making a "comeback," according Brookings Institution demographer William H. Frey. Suburban and small-town living will become even more attractive as goods and cultural offerings become increasingly dispersed via the internet."

How Coronavirus Is Kickstarting the 21st Century: A global pandemic has done what 30 years of internet manifestoes never accomplished: a mass migration into our screens.

counterpoint: people are going run from their homes, screaming for joy, when the All Clear is sounded. and for a long time, the thought of being at home is going to trigger memories of weeks of boredom and screaming children and running out of TP.

Certainly a lot of stuff, done in person strictly due to tradition/inertia, could be moved online permanently. On the other hand, having a couple decades' experience by now with both in-person and online meetings, I can say that nothing can really replace meeting in person.

Not, really, for the meeting itself (although body language is a loss) so much as for the casual conversations before and after. Things come up which would never make a meeting agenda, which would never generate a phone call or an email. But which turn out to be quite important, once the conversation gets kicked off informally like that.

Could we learn to have "water cooler conversations" (do they still get called that?) remotely? Perhaps. But it would require a massive cultural shift for all involved. And I'm not sure there is another way to check that the other party is similarly unengaged at a particular moment, and therefore "interruptable".

wj -- I agree that there's nothing like being physically together with other people. Some things you gain by that are (IMHO) irreplaceable. (For better and worse.)

On the other hand, lots of work forces are scattered across the globe these days.

I worked for a company that had one office in Cambridge, three in Europe, and one in Asia. Plus -- a good sprinkling of people like me, scattered around here and there and not in any of the offices most of the time. The whole work force wasn't much more than 100 people, so it wasn't like a big multi-national, it was a pretty intimately connected group.

The earlier owners were very big on everyone meeting everyone else to the extent that that was possible, so the travel budget was pretty lavish. The later owners pretty much wanted to maximize profit, so frivolities like intramural travel were discouraged.

The watercooler thing -- the nearest equivalent for someone like me was that I was always in close contact with the people I was working closely with -- phone, GoToMeeting, email. Some of them were in the offices, some were mostly remote. As far as the work itself went, that worked fine.

But to your point from a different angle, there's a lot of interpersonal stuff that goes on when people are all in the same place most of the time, and being remote cuts you out of that. Sometimes that's a relief, but it's also limiting. for instance, I wouldn't advise it for someone who wants to, so to speak, rise in the ranks....

If all teaching - especially all higher education - moves online, we are doomed.

If everything becomes a suburb or a small town, we are doomed.

The greatest purpose that a university serves is getting people out of their bunkers and forcing them to live, talk, and understand each other as a larger community. This is synergized by the concentration of information and expertise, and the cross-talk that happens as a result of that, but IMO the latter is less important than the former for transforming our social worlds. And the former is the part of the modern college experience that is most threatened by social media and ubiquitous computing.

We need physical distancing in the age of pandemic, but social distancing of the sort that motivates people to flee to the suburbs is going to accelerate the breakdown of our social bonds and leave us all with less ability to deal with collective problems. It's already what killed civil rights in the US and crippled our education system and gutted our infrastructure, and it will corrode what is left of our collective notions if it keeps going.

Unless we can find a way to promote more engagement, we are all headed for fragmentation, conflict, and decline.

It's as if Facebook, to let that stand in as representative for social media/online everything in general, has been forcing the fire hose of the wide world down our throats (not mine) and now, Covid-19 is forcing us to reject our face to face, up close and personal lives and migrate to ... social media coming the other way.

It's win win for them, for whatever value of them denotes.

We have no choice, and those who are capitalizing on both trends presume on us with their force:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NR7_TbMIVnA

Janie, certainly the online meetings, etc. are a boon to anyone with a global workforce. Although scheduling can be a real pain. Not to get meetings during everyone's working hours, which isn't possible. But just to find a time when everyone is awake -- i.e. outside 1 AM to 4 AM local.

Indeed, it's a boon when you are only scattered across one continent. But we have still found it critical to haul everybody to a single location every year or two, just for a couple days. It seems to make a world of difference.

Indeed, it's a boon when you are only scattered across one continent. But we have still found it critical to haul everybody to a single location every year or two, just for a couple days. It seems to make a world of difference.

Indeed. A couple of decades ago, our research found that online collaboration worked better when everyone in the group occasionally met face-to-face. The psych people never came up with a reason to explain why you respond differently to a person in a little video window if you've met them in the flesh, or how that problem might be fixed, just that it was a real effect.

A person at Stanford built their dissertation around how badly older people from rural areas of some eastern European countries reacted to people in little video windows. In the culture where/when they grew up, people still went through the motions of appeasing the Little Folks, whom they believed to be at least mean-spirited if not outright vindictive if you didn't treat them with the proper respect.

If y'all haven't yet read Sherry Turkle's groundbreaking work, _Life on Screen_, you should.There's a lot in there about how people feel about virtual interactions during the formative years of the Internet. The environment the book analyzes is entirely dated at this point, but the insights remain as valid as ever.

Remember the old Microsoft ad from 1994: "Where do you want to go today?" Well, all of this online collaboration happens in a weird context where we are shifting between screens (and locations) with a gesture, we are never limited to being in one place with one set of people, so we are never fully immersed in that social world. It doesn't mean that these different attention windows are not real to us, just that none have a full claim on us. If we get bored or annoyed, we can opt out and shift our attention to another window and another social world with a different context. We get to go wherever we want, but we are never really there because we never have to be *only* there.

nous @ 2:05 -- this was my characterization of life in the early years of cell phones: "People are never where they are any more."

we do a yearly beach trip with friends. for the past few years, i've been getting more and more bothered by the fact that most people are content to just peck away at their phones instead of being at the beach.

i mean, we pay a lot of money to rent these enormous houses for a dozen people and we bring all these games and puzzles and things to do... and everyone is just glued to their phone. all the time.

you can do FB from home! you can not be here with us, at home! why did you spend the money?!

and i'm the least social person there.

My ex-wife had an uncle, long gone, formerly a broker at Merrill Lynch, who took up commodities day trading in his retirement (not to mention trying to write quasi-blue Ian Fleming spy novels, never finished; one of the female characters was named Chlamydia Sweatlova; actually not; I made that up, but it was close).

Anyway, once on road trip, he and his wife were stopped at a train crossing just outside a small town. This was way before cellphones. He needed to make a trade pronto and there was probably a phone booth in town. The train stopped for some interminable amount of time at the crossing and in a great sweat, he ran down the track and found a boxcar open on both sides, climbed in, jumped out on the other side, and jogged into town to get a quote make his trade.

We've been playing a game called Codenames with friends on Friday or Saturday night for the last few weeks, using our phones for the video chat and our laptop to see the cards. It's a game we've been playing with more or less the same group of people, but it was in person before we stopped going to each other's houses.

At any rate, I already know these people well, so I don't have to get familiar with them in an online environment. And I'm doing something with them online that I've done with them IRL. What this results in is that, the next day, I feel like we all hung out in person the night before. It's like my brain takes all the stuff we did online and places it in a false memory of having physically been together.

I'll be walking my dog in the morning thinking things like, "Chuck said such and such when he was over last night."

R.I.P., Al Kaline

Not a particular hero of mine, but a great ballplayer I remember from my youth.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad