By CHRIS BARANIUK // May 24, 2013 - Comments
Think about it. All that physical, analogue, pre-Internet media. Millions upon millions of inanimate resources, each representing some facet of human history, slowly getting sucked into the World Wide Web. From Google Books to the Library of Congress or archive.org, a digital record is being made of as much material as digital archivists can get their hands on. It's not just awesome for opening up history to future generations, it's significant for having accelerated our ability to learn about history through various media.
Many of us seem to get a real kick out of learning about history in a self-motivated way online, with a full array of formats at our fingertips. Online, history is often encountered via the motif, the soundbite, the visual encapsulation of our past. This is history gone viral. Consider blogs like Brain Pickings and Letters of Note. They constantly prove the virulence of the historical and entertain us with anecdotal gems full of colour and personality. [...]
By CHRIS BARANIUK // May 21, 2013 - Comments
"We're all in this together. This [the ISS] is a space ship, but so is the world."
Those were the words of Chris Hadfield, astronaut extraordinaire, in a fascinating interview with members of the press back in January. During that interview he discussed the reasons why he was so eager to document his experiences of life on the International Space Station via the medium of Twitter.
Hadfield's pictures of azure seas, clouds drifting over coastal regions, magnificent mountain ranges and the night-time brilliance of city lights received huge popularity on the micro-blogging site. Suddenly, satellite imagery of our planet - with which we are all now familiar - was being delivered by a self-appointed editor and voice of the human presence in space. [...]
By CHRIS BARANIUK // May 13, 2013 - Comments
By CHRIS BARANIUK // May 1, 2013 - Comments
Paul Miller, technology writer for The Verge, has just ended a year of unbroken and self-imposed offlining. It was an experiment which he had hoped would restore his sanity. "I'd find the real Paul, far away from all the noise, and become a better me," he explains, looking back.
When I first wrote about offlining, in February 2011, I was trying to get a sense of how prevalent the desire to spend time away from the web was becoming. This developed into a feature for the UK'sProspect magazine in which I interviewed Oliver Burkeman, among others.
Burkeman told me about how he positioned the offlining issue: "I've always thought that the really important point when it comes to information overload that it's not the amount of time that you spend connected that matters, but the degree to which you remain in control." [...]
By CHRIS BARANIUK // Apr 22, 2013 - Comments
This month a feature article of mine has been published by the UK-based magazine Oh Comely. My subject was screen technology. During an age in which the pixel density of a smartphone display is considered one of the chief arbiters of that smartphone's quality, it's safe to say that we have developed an obsession with the increasing sophistication of screens.
This is not altogether surprising. Screens are really the only popular way we have devised of presenting information to computer users. And, as touch interfaces and tablet devices have evolved, the relevance of physical keyboards and mice has in certain contexts begun to diminish.
But are we happy with screens? "Retina displays" whose pixels, their manufacturers boast, are so small as to be barely distinguishable to the naked eye, have beguiled us with their high resolution representations of graphics and video content. Ever greater pixel densities will undoubtedly be sought by smartphone and tablet users, but there are those who presently question whether such a pursuit should be all-consuming. [...]
By CHRIS BARANIUK // Apr 16, 2013 - Comments
Whitney Erin Boesel, a Boston resident and sociology grad student, has written a blog post about Vine footage taken during the Boston Marathon bombings. The six second loop of film in question captures the moment of the first bomb's explosion; that instant in which the atmosphere at this well-attended, annual public event was shattered.
Boesel comments: "In shooting a [V]ine of the explosion footage, the person who did so created an easily sharable short story of this afternoon's events that reduces the tragedy of a violent act down to a bright orange flash."
The tyranny of the loop, its fixity and, indeed, inanity - so discordant in loudly dominating our perceived reality of events - is what troubles Boesel here. Back in January, I considered this very quality of looped media in a short history of artefacts from the zoetrope to the animated gif. Loops of all kinds and on all subjects were, I argued, on some level disturbing because of their, "narrative dissonance, this psychotic imagery which implicitly begs to be halted or somehow set free." [...]
By CHRIS BARANIUK // Apr 12, 2013 - Comments
It's not unusual for bellicose rhetoric to emanate from Pyongyang. It's not even unusual for that rhetoric to threaten acts of war against its enemies Japan, South Korea and, of course, the United States of America.
It is somewhat unusual, however, for this rhetoric to unfold in the form of a regular series of statements over the course of weeks. These statements have taken the form of a crescendo which has prompted international condemnation, even warnings from allies like China, and activated the repositioning of US military hardware in case a missile is launched or some other act of 'hot' aggression occurs.
Every time a new statement is made, either by North Korea or one of the states it has threatened, Twitter jumps a little. A small spike in tweets about the region occurs and it's been increasingly hard to stay on top of the latest reports as they arrive, especially since they are occurring several times a day but not so frequently that they are the subject ofconstant news coverage. [...]
By CHRIS BARANIUK // Apr 6, 2013 - Comments
"Ugh. It's all just... babies now." This is what a lot of people I know, who grew up with Facebook as the habitual digital appendage to student life, now say when I ask them what they think of the social network. The universal refrain of, "But it's good for keeping in touch with people I don't see often" usually follows a few seconds later.
But it's that visceral resentment of seeing other people's lives get a little more serious that seems to linger. There is even a Google Chrome extension, unbaby.me, which offers to remove baby pictures from your newsfeed and replace them "with awesome stuff".
If OkCupid does not create new kinds of awkwardness or self-doubt when dating, but simply exposes or makes those things more apparent, then Facebook does the same for a long-established feature of being twenty-something: life envy. [...]
By CHRIS BARANIUK // Apr 1, 2013 - Comments
My friend shows me his online dating profile. I then - probably egotistically - offer him some advice on how to maximise its potential. The same advice was given to me by other friends, in fact, and I edited my profile accordingly.
"That's funny," I say, smiling at something he's written. "But you should take it out." I explain that it's only really funny because I know him. For strangers, who might not "get" his sense of humour, I explain that the line could seem odd, even off-putting. The joke isn't at all controversial in terms of its content, it's just delivered in a deadpan way. The potential for misinterpretation, I argue, is too great. He dutifully removes the joke which, I decide later, was one of the most interesting bits about his profile in the first place.
Perhaps I provided bad advice, but going on my own experiences and the slight uptick in messages my friend reports following his profile revamp, I think it's safe to assume there's some truth in what I said. [...]
By CHRIS BARANIUK // Mar 26, 2013 - Comments
"Sometimes the conference would come to you, unannounced, just you picking up your ringing phone and a dozen people would call out your name and drag you into the never-ending conversation."
That's how Jason Scott captured phone phreaking in the 80s: an amorphous mass of chatter waiting to be explored - but also something big and active. Something that hunted you down once you were known to the network. It included you.
Last month, in The Atlantic, I wrote about phone phreaking and how it experienced a glorious intersection with computer hacking during the 90s. The primary stimulus for this piece was a fantastic new book by Phil Lapsley, Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws who Hacked Ma Bell. [...]
- Terrified Together: The Online Cult of Slender Man
- How We Started Calling Visual Metaphors “Skeuomorphs” and Why the Debate over Apple’s Interface Design is a Mess
- "The Wheel of the Devil": On Vine, gifs and the power of the loop
- Facebook, the Projected Self and Narcissism
- Self-Sacrifice in the Age of the Gadget
- The Quality of Offline and Online Friendships
- The Interface and Hyperreality
Interfaces express not that a journey has been eliminated, but that a new one may be created.
Networking, in many senses, gives rise to a new perspective on the London Riots of 2011.
Does abstinence from the web ever last? Is it even a good idea?
Computer viruses are not just computer viruses. They spread in pathological as well as technological ways.