Can The Tech World Beget A Less Bad Form Of Government?

Published in Online Spin, July 19 2013

“Two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.” “The terrible tyranny of the majority.” “The worst form of government, except for all the others.” A lot has been said about the ills of democracy, but as the last quote (commonly attributed to Winston Churchill) suggests, we are yet to come up with anything better.

But in light of myriad recent events, including Detroit’s filing for bankruptcy yesterday, I figured it was worth tinkering with a little thought experiment. What would happen if a group of people formed a new nation, not a nation under God, but a wikination driven by its own community? Where each person represents him- or herself rather than voting for a representative? What would it look like? How would it be gamed? Could it, in fact, work? And would it be any better than what we’ve got?

Answering these questions fully

The Irony Of Employability

Published in Online Spin, July 12 2013

During an interview by the undergraduate admissions office at the Cornell Hotel School in 1991, I happened to mention that I speak a few languages. “Ohh…” breathed the Dean. “That’s sooo marketable.” At 17 years old, I hadn’t realized I was “marketable,” but there you have it.

As it turned out, one of the big things I learned from my most excellent education was that, in fact, I didn’t want to be in the hospitality industry. After graduation, I went on to have a career that can be described at best as eclectic, at worst as frustratingly vague. I never have a simple answer to the simple question, “So what do you do?”

Over time, I figured out a few things

Alan Cooper's Checklist For Being A Visionary

Published in Online Spin, August 9 2013

“If we want users to like our software, we should design it to behave like a likeable person.” So said Alan Cooper, the father of Visual Basic, back in 1999. He went on to further articulate the characteristics of this mythical “likeable person,” saying that polite software:

  •     is interested in me
  •     is deferential to me
  •     is forthcoming
  •     has common sense
  •     anticipates my needs
  •     is responsive
  •     gives instant gratification
  •     is taciturn about its personal problems
  •     is well informed
  •     is perceptive
  •     is self

Cause And Effect On Social Media

Published in Online Spin, July 5 2013

Studies are wonderful things. Take, for example, studies that show children whose homes have more books do better at school than children who don’t have books at home. In particular, take the detail of that study that shows this to be true whether or not the children read. Interpret. Arrive at obvious conclusion: all children need books in their homes.

Back in 2004, studies such as these led to then-Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich trying to institute a program to get books sent to every child in the state. The program never went through -- which is probably appropriate, suggested Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in “Freakonomics,” as chances are the presence of books in the home is merely correlative of good school performance rather than being causative of it. “Here’s a likely theory: most parents who buy a lot of children’s books tend to be smart and well educated to begin with. (And they pass on their smarts and work ethic to their kids.) Or perhaps they care a great deal about education, and about their children in general. (Which means they

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A Minor Rant On Substance And Distractions

Published in Online Spin, June 28 2013

It’s hard work to stand up for what you think is right. The darkly satirical UK miniseries “Black Mirror” has an episode called “15 Million Merits,” set in a not-so-futuristic world reminiscent of Gattaca or The Island, where identically dressed residents live a gamified existence, exercising on stationary bikes to earn “merits” while being continually distracted by game and reality shows.

Protagonist Bing Madsen, furious at the system, tries to make a statement by working his way onto the “ X-Factor”-esque show “Hot Shots,” where he interrupts his own audition by threatening to commit suicide with a shard of glass he’s snuck in with him. Instead of taking him seriously, the judges commend his performance and give

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Google's Project Loon: Internet For Everyone

Published in Online Spin, June 20 2013

Last week, in Christchurch, New Zealand, Google launched a world-changing initiative: Project Loon, balloon-powered Internet for everyone.

“Sometimes,” the cute kid narrating the launch video said, “everyone doesn’t mean everyone.” Like when we say “everyone’s” online, despite the fact that two thirds of the world’s population doesn’t have access to the Internet.

Depending where they are, these people aren’t just missing out on cute cats and porn; they could also be missing out on education, medical care, and access to markets. It’s a major problem that affects billions, and an effective solution could, quite literally, transform the world we live in.

In short, it’s the perfect situation for a Google moonshot: the magical conjunction of a huge problem, a radical solution, and a breakthrough technology.

Those who have tried to tackle

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Your Data Was Never Yours

Published in Online Spin, June 14 2013

Did you really think it was? Did you really think the government could access none of it, that the miracle of an effectively free Internet was just a gift from the universe? Did you really think the companies that make their money by selling our body parts -- eyeballs, mostly -- could never be compelled, as telecommunications companies and banks can be compelled, to hand over that data to the government?

Did you think that sharing anything with your 300 closest friends left that thing imbued with even the smallest shred of privacy?

Did you think the companies that spill your data like oil, that share it like candy, that hack your WiFi and follow you around could be trusted to protect you?

Did you think their systems are so magical that, even if they did in fact have the world’s most benign intentions, they could never suffer a breach? Did you think the system originally born from the government would somehow morph into being off-limits to its

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A Website's Work Is Never Done

Published in Online Spin, June 7 2013

It's a lucky thing that websites are not babies. Either that, or it’s a lucky thing I’m not a mother. By the time my websites are born, I hate them.

I am tired of the design. I see only flaws.  I realize all my paper prototyping and use-case modeling and beta testing failed to account for the 500 unanticipated ways in which our needs would change and our organization would evolve. Often, by the time we go live, I feel stupid: How could I have not thought of that? Why couldn’t I have seen that far ahead?

Sometimes I feel envious of industries in which you can be “done.” When you sell a pair of shoes, you don’t get to go back and change the lacing system. But when your offering is online, it must be continually updated: to fix bugs, improve the service, keep yourselves up to date. And since the Internet ages in dog years, those updates have to happen all the time.

Every tech start-up worth even half its salt knows this; it’s built into the

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Is It Possible For Web Companies To Be Built To Last?

Published in Online Spin, May 31 2013

 I used to be obsessed with Bejeweled.

Like, obsessed. I played when I woke up. I played at work. I played at night, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, unable to resist the tantalizing, just-one-more-minute lure of Bejeweled Blitz, going to sleep only to dream up more boards, ones that never ran out of combinations.

I played until I made myself sick. Not horribly sick, not hospitalized or institutionalized, but nauseous, unable to look at the sparkly screen without feeling an overwhelming sense of revulsion. At that point, as you can imagine, I stopped playing.

The same thing happened to me with Scramble, and

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The Most Impactful Mobile Revolution Begins Now

Published in Online Spin, May 24th 2013

Sometimes I do not know how to live.

I recycle -- and drive to work. I buy the cardboard milk carton instead of the plastic one -- and emit tons of carbon flying around the world. I pay my staff a fair wage -- and talk on a phone made by people who are earning anything but.

I live a physically comfortable lifestyle in a first-world country, disconnected, complicit, and confused. Do I give away all my belongings except for the hemp cargo pants (note: I don’t actually own any hemp cargo pants) and go live in the bush? Do I not bother with the milk carton since just one international flight destroys years of lactose-inspired conscientiousness? Or do I continue to walk the hypocritical line of sustainability-only-when-it-suits?

The phone thing, in particular, really bothers me, as I sit here connected to the Internet through my phone. After learning about appalling working conditions at the Foxconn factory in China -- where iPhones are made -- I was even more appalled

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