The lifeblood of political community!

Although a wealth of modern technology effects our lives in a myriad of ways, it fails to alter the fundamental nature of who we are as human beings. Futurists and progressives often view the adoption of said technological wonders as cataclysmic events. Thus, the rules of how we live our lives are in a constant state of flux with their philosophical interpretation of the world. Philosophically freewheeling over human nature and the principles that govern our interactions, using the blunt hammer of technology innovation, irresponsibly erodes communities.  With the advent of social media, the wave of innovation has finally broken and rolled back, uncovering a once familiar landscape that has always existed around us: a human political community.

Technological innovation is taking place today as it has throughout history. We invented fire, the wheel, the gun, the abacus, nuclear fission and other “insignificant” advances such as written language. While any of our tools can be employed in ways both beneficial and detrimental to the human condition, it’s worth highlighting they are just tools. Human choice determines how they are employed. Gadgets may be designed in ways to afford certain uses, but they do not make that choice themselves. Just as the hammer and the screwdriver do not build a house, a Twitter feed and a Facebook profile do not make an entrepreneur successful or bolster community involvement. We must choose to leverage them wisely.

If Twitter and Facebook magically manipulated human nature and morphed the principles that govern us and create supportive communities, then the way we use them would be irrelevant. Want to tweet about how many followers you have reading your tweets four dozen times a day? It wouldn’t hurt your social reputation if certain fixed human principles didn’t exist. Feel like harassing your neighbor with tweets about how you’re going to put a golf club through his front window, and then posting the pictures of yourself in the act on Facebook? Why not! After all, with all of this innovation around the rules are (no pun intended) out the window!

Understanding how to use social technology requires first comprehending what it means to live a good life within a community. Folks who live in small towns (perhaps even close-knit neighborhoods within larger cities) have the good fortune of experiencing community life amplified to its highest level. If you were out doing doughnuts in farmer Jeb’s field, you can bet that the whole town will know who did it after you tell three people. Coincidentally, such communities help discourage burglary and other malicious activities, thus fostering the development of better citizens. Life in any small town USA is often as close as one can get to a modern rendition of Aristotle’s polis (a political community that fosters the greatest conditions for human beings).

Twitter and Facebook are helping create a modern polis, right in the midst of where traditional Internet has largely failed. Want to see what’s taking place in Buffalo, NY, on any given Saturday night? Follow the #Buffalo hashtag and you will quickly be in the loop. Heard about a crime alert around town? You can bet that’s on twitter too. Curious as to what the specials are at your favorite restaurant? Chances are that venue has a presence on twitter of its own that you can check on the fly. Community events, thoughts, and opinions can all flow freely over the streams of information that are the social networks.

Indeed, the promise of the social networks is great. They are the next frontier of the digital age, a tome of knowledge in which we’ve only just read the first page. There will be dark chapters filled with misinterpretation and the gross misuse of these new social tools. We should not let that deter us from exploring their potential prudently.

A couple of things to be mindful of:  information overload (reading and producing so much information as to end up not allowing enough time to give it proper consideration and thought), and surrogate technology syndrome (using said open communication systems as replacements for real personal human interaction).

Newspapers, pubs, and town halls were once capable of supporting our political communities in a similar fashion, and they are in fact still quite useful. Twitter and Facebook are not surrogates for them–they are complements. Their use can bolster support and sustain older one-way forms of communication substantially. One skillfully word-smithed tweet may succeed in putting an otherwise obscure newspaper article or announcement right in front of hundreds of new readers. Many citizen tweeters may become educated and inspired enough to speak out at town halls and pubs. All of this while keeping everyone in their political communities honest and informed.

In the end, technology will always be defined us. Our choices make all the difference. Just as we could choose to use the gun for murder or justice and nuclear fission for mass destruction or public energy, we can likewise use social networking for community and thought development or mindless and incessant chatter. In the end the same human principles that have continued to govern and judge our use of the wheel will ultimately guide our use of social networks. Moreover, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Henry V, we each have to deal with the consequences of the choices we make as our tools come of age.

With that, I’m off to visit family in #Minneapolis!

The Android!

After spending a week with my Google Android powered Motorola Droid smart phone, I have to admit that the remarkable little device has won my praise and support in spades. It is every bit as adept at handling social media as the fabled iPhone–actually excelling in a couple of areas–and makes other competitors appear almost prehistoric by comparison. 

Most importantly, Android has achieved such noteworthy success with a mere fraction of the Apps that Apple has in its marketplace. Android developers are only just getting started. The ingeniously gallery App in the free Android 2.1 update makes the camera more usable and powerful. Photos are automatically grouped and sortable by date, and they’re easier to scroll through by the dozen. Those of you that have used CoolIris have already seen the concept of the Google Gallery App in action. If recent reports from PCWorld are accurate, then Android has only begun to hit its growth spurt. It may soon contend with Apple’s formidable numbers as the greatest purveyor of Apps. 

I digress… Although debating one smart phone’s merits over another is almost as sure to stir up an argument in your favorite pub as saying: “You were raised by squirrels!” It’s beside the point. The smart phone with the most Apps, greatest number of users, or best network coverage doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things. Support, regardless, is building in the developer community like wildfire, and Apps are decidedly here to stay. Nonetheless, the very idea of an App driven Internet raises some serious questions about the future of how we interact with our technology. 

Many of my fellow writers, friends and scholars have recently broached the question: how do Apps effect society in general? After some thought, I thoroughly reject the notion that Apps are a regressive step back to the consumerist, TV-driven society of the 1980′s. To uphold that argument, I would have to demonstrate that we have little more than tangential interaction with our smart phones (no more than can be had with a DVR). Those writing blogs would be falling off the face of the Internet, replaced by vague booking narcissists and other unscrupulous hooligans (I don’t get to use that word enough). The very idea that Apps are destroying everything that Web 1.0 and 2.0 content creators inspired is absolutely ridiculous. 

If anything, our smart phones are helping increase our production of thoughtful content, all while making the use of technology more efficient and less frustrating. Feel the need to update your blog while taking a walk in your nearby beautiful park on a pristine sunny day? WordPress has an App for that! Wish you didn’t have to wait to transfer and sort those photos from an exciting night with your friends over to your computer before uploading them to your Facebook profile? Android and iPhone have you more than sufficiently covered with Apps for that too! 

So if the production of content fits so seemlessly into our lives, how then are we to claim that we’re being reduced to the level of incompetent consumers? Using the Wall Street Journal’s Mobile Reader as a justification for the return of consumerism is an indication of a unjustified, fallacious argument.

Assuming Apps slow our thoughts down at all, they thereby help develop them more clearly (more reading, contemplation and research may take place before writing). The fact that we can read our content when it’s convenient for us–not to mention contribute social feedback–is the antithesis of blind consumerism. If practiced regularly, it might even help make us more intelligent, informed, active and aware citizens.

We’re on the verge of yet another revolution in the way we use technology. Apps are the vehicle delivering us to the other side. Those who spent hours reading in front of a computer screen might be able to see the light of day again enjoying an e-book or newspaper outdoors! Whether you own an Kindle, Nook, iPad, iPhone, Motorola Droid or Palm Pre, you’re actively contributing to the most innovative application of technology since perhaps Arpanet. It’s not just consumers who will benefit, businesses can leverage the power of Apps too. Amazon’s Android App, using image and bar-code recognition, is just the tip of the potential iceberg of rewards that Apps can help reap for businesses of all types and sizes.

All told, I guess you could claim that I’m pretty satisfied with my new Google Android phone!


Taken with the Motorola Droid

On Thursday I decided to finally make my foray into the world of smart phones. The reason for such a prolonged hesitation: lack of acceptable alternatives for the AT&T beholden iPhone. Apple’s iPhone is the gold standard of smart phones, much like many of Apple’s innovations in their respective markets. Circumstances, however, dictate that I stay with Verizon. Thus, I have adopted the Google Android driven Motorola Droid. All told, the first few days with the Droid have proven a rather pedestrian experience punctuated with brief moments of excitement.

Droid is not entirely without its own merits in the shadow of the Apple juggernaut. Most appealing is its vast Android Marketplace arsenal and its flawless ability to synchronize with Gmail accounts. The phone is quite adept at handling email in the cloud. Messages are stored temporarily and always available via Google’s web archive unless explicitly deleted. It provides all the functionality of an IMAP account (a form of email that stores messages on your computer and email server simultaneously) without the inherent storage space hassles.

Almost all smart phones and their less sophisticated cousins are suitably capable of email synchronization, but in today’s technological environment social media is king. Juggling emails in the cloud isn’t enough to sweep phones off the shelves. They must tweet, manage Facebook profiles, manipulate complex web pages, aggregate blog data, and track our geographical locations to within feet of where we stand–all on demand. In those areas, the Droid falls short of its competitors.

All future updates aside, I am considering the Droid the way it functions in my hand today. The first sign of trouble occurred when I discovered that the Droid Facebook app was incapable of tagging friend’s names in status updates. Even worse, were the equally substandard photo uploading functions for Facebook: the Android app actually downsized photos, reducing their quality to levels inferior to those uploaded via standard web browsers for years. Adding to that: the inability to tag photos, edit photos online, and clunky notification updates were all nuisances. Despite some of the blame falling on the shoulders of the app programmers, the Droid promises much and fails to effectively deliver in this area.

When it comes time to upload pictures to Facebook, the phone must be held horizontally, or pictures will end up sideways (rotating them before uploading doesn’t appear to make a difference). The Droid is often heralded for it’s remarkable 5 Mega-pixel twin-flash camera. After the first couple of uses, it’s clear that the camera is decidedly no slouch. Picture quality is absolutely stunning for a phone camera. Upon closer examination of several shots, however, the Droid camera introduces a slight but obvious level of pixelation when compared to my five-year-old Kodak digital camera.

Disappointment with Droid’s social media capabilities doesn’t stop with its Facebook app. The device ships without a proper Twitter application. Users are left searching the Android Marketplace for an acceptable app to publish and aggregate tweets. Several decent paid apps do exist, but out-of-the-box Twitter integration should not have been an oversight.

The bulk of my complaints with Droid are aimed squarely at its lack of social media prowess. It remains, nonetheless, a remarkably powerful marvel from the folks at Google and Motorola. The usability the Android interface is impeccable.  Droid’s GPS location technology is near perfect for navigating roads (or at least par with the average TomTom). Thus, it plays well with cutting edge social apps such as Foursquare. When you factor in the slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a battery life that’s nothing short of revolutionary (also note that it’s a user-replaceable battery), you’ve actually got a pretty nice little smart phone.

The potential to easily building my own apps for the Android Marketplace have tempered my initial displeasure with the persistent social media shortcomings of Droid. In the end I’ve come to appreciate the device for what it is: a reasonable alternative to the iPhone on a decidedly better network. With Google’s support behind them, Android powered phones will only get better with time. After all, it is one of the fastest growing market segments in the mobile industry.

So there you have it: a pedestrian experience with the Motorola Droid. Yet, there’s still a lot potential in the Android platform. Perhaps with a little programming help from you and me, Android will come to dominate the market. Until next time, if you have stories about your own mobile smartphone, or tips to share from your own experience with an Android phone, feel free to share them for all the readers here!