It’s Fun To No Longer Trust Your Eyes…Isn’t it?

I used to be a bit disturbed over how simple it was to manipulate photographs. Now the video/film manipulation has far outpaced that and can make whatever vision the director has possible. I’ve now watched this video ten times and I still find it delightful to see what can be done with strategically placed green screens and matching footage. My favorite parts are the walk through Red Square in Moscow, the ship on fire and the snow scene probably shot in July in L.A.

Watching this also is heightened if you have an appreciation for the challenges in matching the lighting in the scene and other environmental conditions.

What happens when fun, photorealistic 3D characters are matched with this kind of realism? Though many say we’re a long ways off from being able to faithfully recreate a human digitally, I’m not so sure that we’re closer than people think. The fun aspect still exists with many 3d photorealistic characterizations — and it’s easier to pull off believability when it’s basically a major stepup from a cartoon (e.g., Toy Story, Up, Shrek) but what happens as the creation and rendering technology gets so good that it is indistinguishable from reality?

Heavy Rain is an upcoming game that has gamers all abuzz about its photorealism and you should watch this HD trailer (you have to watch a lo-res advertisement first so hang in there) to see why there is so much excitement. Yeah, it’s awesome. OK…it’s still easy to tell it’s a game.

But for how much longer?

TV = Brain Off / Computer = Brain On

In 2004 Steve Jobs famously said about TV vs. computers, “We think basically you watch television to turn your brain off, and you work on your computer when you want to turn your brain on.” It was one of those statements that seemed like a throwaway (and one most of us did the old head bobbing up-n-down about), but it’s become more and more true since then.

My wife and I often take our laptops upstairs and lie in bed finishing up the days emails, exploring, and increasingly watching “TV”. In fact, my brain gets SO turned on that I find it hard to go to sleep…so I’ve actually stopped doing that in order to relax, quiet down and nod off (and older relatives have cautioned on how “you’re going to ruin your marriage” by playing with our laptops at night vs. with each other).

When I first saw the delightful Alec Baldwin Hulu ad on the Super Bowl — with its clear and humorous reference on how TV watching turned your brain into a gelatinous mush they could scoop out and eat (since they’re aliens, after all) — the brilliance of the campaign took my breath away.

It did so because of the NBC team’s recognition that most of us in the always-on, always-connected participation culture — increasingly turning our attention away from all traditional mediums like TV, radio, newspapers and magazines — view television watching as the mind numbing, brain mushing pursuit it is, but still one we turn to when we choose to be entertained passively.

The team obviously recognized that doing a fun advertisement to get our attention, directly addressing this obvious fact within it and, of course, delivering a service that meets our needs whether we’re watching an actual television set or have our brains turned on with our computing devices, they nailed it.

Jobs nailed it too over four years ago with that statement. He didn’t say anything about turning your brain on to perform tasks, but rather computers as an extension, a stimulator of our brains.

As we all move away from purely linear, serial tasks and processes toward a world where we drink in information, news, entertainment while connecting with others in a parallel and associative way, I’m eager to live in this time of awakening where more and more of us are living in a perpetual state of having our brains turned on.

Virtualizing Your Organization as a Risk Management Strategy

Depending on where you live or work, chances are natural disasters, avian flu pandemics, earthquakes or other catastrophic events won’t impact you, but have you done any planning for the possibility something could happen besides making certain you’re in good standing with your insurance company or that you can locate a copy of the organization call tree so you can notify others of a business or organization work stoppage?

Over two years ago, I had the privilege to be a leader of a session at the Collaborative Technologies Conference in Boston (now called Enterprise 2.0) on “Business Continuity and Collaboration” which focused on what are typically two discrete and separately funded initiatives in any company.

At the outset, I laid out my premise that business continuity investments are usually made to ensure that information technology and telephony systems have backup, failover and redundancy so the company isn’t suddenly out of business if disaster strikes. To a very limited degree, work processes (and the people that perform them) are detailed along with possible ways in which they could continue to function in the event of a disaster, all in an attempt to ensure the business keeps going.

Continuing on with an overview of collaboration investments, I briefly laid out how these are typically driven by the desire to make work processes more efficient and reduce cycle times, but also to find ways to drive more innovation with people that connect and work with each other.

The problem? In almost every single organization I’ve been a part of or involved with as a consultant, these two don’t intersect and leaders don’t seem to realize that unless the people in their organizations have the company, directory, work processes and information at-their-fingertips and are using these systems day-in and day-out, if there is a disaster there’s no way they’ll be learning it then!

The opportunity? That these systems should be ones that are funded together as both innovation infrastructure as well as business continuity systems, and that people should be using them all the time. If virtual collaboration systems such as VoIP, groupware, web conferencing, webcams, and other “2.0-like” communication methods are something that everyone uses and knows how to work with at home or within the organizations walls, then if disaster strikes they’ll simply find an internet connection, log on and do their work.

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Virtual Communications: Using Lessons Learned Elsewhere

Moviemakers of the suspense, horror and drama genres learned long ago that in order to build tension in the audience, slowly lowering the sound makes moviegoers start to strain to hear the dialogue (and yes, music and other sound is added to build to a crescendo). Tension builds, the muscles in the bodies of the audience tighten, they begin to lean forward slightly and THE HAND FLIES INTO THE SCREEN, GRABS OUR HERO AND THE AUDIENCE JUMPS IN THEIR SEATS SCREAMING!

Works every time.

Now take a technology we’ve used for a long time — conference calling on the Plain Old Telephone System (POTS) — and realize that people calling in on a variety of devices (headsets, cell phones, office phones) add noise and the telephone system (and conference bridge) sample at only a measly 8khz. The result? Tension builds, our muscles tighten and we actually shift our attention (you know who you are….you surfin’ the web folks when you’re supposed to be listening to us on the call!) and the quality of the conference and what we’re trying to communicate to one another suffers.

Let’s look at Skype and how using it decreases tension and increases the quality. Sampling at 16khz means the quality is substantially higher than POTS and is so good that you can hear people breathe, move something on their desk or even click their mouse. The “resolution” of the audio is much higher and thus the call quality is better. The result? Lower tension (or none at all), the callers are relaxed and the communication is higher. Thankfully there are emerging conference bridges that can handle call-ins via Skype and sample at 16khz to maintain call quality (e.g., HighSpeedConferencing).

Let’s take this one step further to other forms of social media: Imagine you hosted a party and when your guests arrived, no one greeted them at the door, clusters of people were broken up into little cliques ignoring them, and as you glanced over at them in the doorway thought, “They’re on their own and are just going to have to figure out how to participate.

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The Cognitive Age: Why Social Media Matters

Our economy is down, gas prices are up, jobs are being lost and outsourced, we’re at ‘war’ with possible escalation (e.g., attacking Iran), and there is tremendous uncertainty in nearly every industry being disrupted in some way by the connecting of the globe and the increasing influence of the Internet.

Let me submit for your consideration that the impact of social media — technologies, software and approaches connecting any of us willing to participate with them online — is pointing the way toward new systems and behaviors that will enable us all to move higher up the value chain as we learn how, together, we can create and deliver what the world needs in new and innovative ways.

One of the best op-ed pieces I’ve read in some time, The Cognitive Age, was published in the New York Times on Friday by David Brooks.

In this piece he’s putting globalization in context in this election cycle, which is chiefly on competition with other countries and the policies of government that ostensibly is accelerating job loss in the US. Brooks puts forth this premise which bears emphasis:

“The chief force reshaping manufacturing is technological change (hastened by competition with other companies in Canada, Germany or down the street). Thanks to innovation, manufacturing productivity has doubled over two decades. Employers now require fewer but more highly skilled workers. Technological change affects China just as it does the America. William Overholt of the RAND Corporation has noted that between 1994 and 2004 the Chinese shed 25 million manufacturing jobs, 10 times more than the U.S.

Then he outlines his central argument which, I should add, I completely agree with:

“The central process driving this is not globalization. It’s the skills revolution. We’re moving into a more demanding cognitive age. In order to thrive, people are compelled to become better at absorbing, processing and combining information. This is happening in localized and globalized sectors, and it would be happening even if you tore up every free trade deal ever inked.”

What does this have to do with social media and why does that category of technology matter?

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Will we only have *virtual* souvenirs, artifacts and collectibles?

Minnesota Twins in 1965 (click for larger view)

The more I’m involved with online, virtual technologies and those sorts of almost ethereal experiences, the sweeter and more profound it is to hold an artifact in my hands that evokes periods and events in history and sparks memories of these times past.

In 1965, my hometown Minnesota Twins went to the world series after winning their first pennant since they were the Washington Senators in 1933. This was a big deal for a little kid and my grandparents went to the series games and bought (for $1.75) a team-signed baseball actually used in game play.

A couple of weeks ago my dad handed it to me as I offered to investigate its worth and seek an appraisal. It appears to be worth ~$1,000 though it might be “machine signed” and its worth possibly lower.

The money isn’t what matters. When I hold this baseball, memories of being in the old Metropolitan Stadium flood back (and of freezing my butt off watching the Vikings in it during winter in the 1970’s). I went to games, concerts, watched midget race cars fly around the road track surrounding the stadium and more. Listening to games on WCCO Radio (the huge wattage CBS station here) was a ritual…

…and I wasn’t then, nor am I now, much of a baseball fan!

It’s the artifact and its partial representation of an era gone by that means so much to me. The players I looked up to that signed this ball — some of whom I met as a kid like Harmon Killebrew — conjures up memories and puts into perspective how things change and what’s important. In fact, the site where you see the stadium is now the current location of the gignormous Mall of America.

Which brings me to the point of today’s post. I’ve been thinking a lot about virtual, digital and online artifacts (or the lack thereof). Thankfully Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive (and specifically the Wayback Machine) is at least attempting to store representations of our digital and online life…but it’s incomplete (mostly since database driven sites break with the archive methods used) and certainly doesn’t archive virtual worlds like Second Life.

So how will our children and grandchildren be able to smell, hold and delight in old artifacts, souvenirs and collectibles of our current digital age and the one they’re growing up in?  30-40 years from now, what will they be able to hold from Facebook? Twitter? YouTube? Or whatever is the must-use online offering when they’re in their teens and young adulthood?  There are few (or zero) physical artifacts in existence from these and almost all other online offerings and this I find disturbing.

Makes me realize that virtual companies need to create and deliver artifacts: t-shirts, pens, mugs or any other swag that people can — if they so choose — buy and archive for future generations. Otherwise, most of what we’re doing and experiencing will be mostly lost.

What if a 1% increase in broadband penetration equaled 300,000 jobs?

Often I take Robert X. Cringely‘s columns with a grain-of-salt, but this one entitled, “Game Over: The U.S. is unlikely to ever regain its broadband leadership” really hit me since I make my living on Internet-centric management consulting and view broadband as the key enabler of business going forward. Cringely’s article is an important one to read if you care about US competitiveness in the future.

Back in the mid-1990’s I had an ISDN line with a whopping 128kbps access for $69 per month. Incredibly fast at the time, I even considered their bonded option for 256kbps (well over $100 per month) but I wanted to stay married. Today I have 8mbps per second downstream and 768kbps upstream for essentially the same price.

I have friends in San Francisco with 10mbps symmetrical (both upload and download) for under $100 a month. Others using Verizon’s fiber (FIOS) and getting 15mbps down, 2mbps up for $50 per month.

But Cringely talks about the 100mbps speeds in Japan, others have complained about them being ahead of us too and the OECD’s April, 2007 report (which showed the US at 25th in global broadband penetration and speed) is open to debate. So is it important for us to have competitiveness in broadband speeds and why aren’t we — the inventor and creator of the Internet — in the world’s leading position for broadband speed and penetration?

When you think about the relative sizes of countries vs. US states, you begin to get a feel for the enormity of the problem. Japan is roughly the size of Montana, for example, and (as of 2001), 79% of the population lived in urban areas with ~20% in Tokyo alone. That makes it considerably easier to provide a high speed broadband infrastructure for the overwhelming majority of Japanese. It’s a lot tougher to do so across the vast geography that is the United States.

The stakes are too high, however, to NOT solve this accelerating need for true broadband. ArsTechnica has a good article on House Democrats and discussions about ‘true’ broadband. I’m not even going to get into the lobbying and politics of broadband, telephony and wireless, but suffice to say there are alot of complexities on why we’re NOT the world’s leader. What most discussions don’t focus on, however, is that broadband is viewed as a driver of gross domestic product (GDP) output and we need to be accelerating the Internet — both in speed and penetration — now.

What if a 1% increase in broadband penetration equaled 300,000 jobs? Read on for a very interesting set of data…

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The Internet and a Graying World

My posting has been light since my 94 year old father-in-law has been living with us — after a fall and before he transitions to assisted living — and now my 81 year old dad is going in for major colon surgery tomorrow. I’m honored to be serving these two men and have been doing so with a lightness in my heart and a lot of love and expect it to consume my summer.

This time serving our dad’s has been a profound learning experience on many levels. Since I write about technology and the meaning behind it, I’m not going to leap into the spiritual aspects, a discussion about honoring our elders or even how I’m worried I won’t capture their stories on audio or video, but instead about the macro trends of a graying world.

An experience like mine makes me think deeply about mortality, aging, and my work (Internet and Web centric management consulting) and what it means when a HUGE part of the Internet-centric market are Seniors with the time, inclination and interest — not to mention a higher net worth than any generation in history — embrace the Internet.  All of us in the Web/Enterprise 2.0 game need to figure out how to cater to this group of folks.

This is NOT just a US-centric phenomena…it’s a global graying one. The National Institute of Aging produced this report Why Population Aging Matters: A Global Perspective which provides a succinct description of population trends that are transforming the world in fundamental ways. The report, using data from the United Nations, US Census Bureau, and the Statistical Office of the European Communities as well as regional surveys, identifies nine emerging trends in global aging and starts off like this:

We are aging, not just as individuals or communities but as a world. In 2006, almost 500 million people worldwide were 65 and older. By 2030, that total is projected to increase to 1 billion–1 in every 8 of the earth’s inhabitants. Significantly, the most rapid increases in the 65-and-older population are occurring in developing countries, which will see a jump of 140 percent by 2030.

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Future of Work is Gaming

For years my 12 year old son has expressed over and over again how he wants to be in the video game space. He’s stayed on campus at the UofMN for two years with ID Tech Camp’s summer programs in video game design and is immersed in gaming and virtual worlds.

At first, my bride and I were concerned by his rabid and passionate embrace of games. “Hey…go outside and ride your bike or something” was our constant refrain on beautiful summer days when he was opting to be inside gaming with a buddy or a team online. As a parent, the key to successful launching of a kid is to find and fuel their passion — whatever it may be and regardless of how we might feel about it — so we’re fueling his gaming passion (and still ensuring he is balanced and in the fresh air!).

I’ve been skimming articles for a few years now on the examinations of gaming theory on learning, collaboration, team building and educational process. Great minds are examining the power of video games — a power which even was being looked at as a possible psychiatric addiction…but the American Medical Association recently eliminated it from inclusion in a widely used diagnostic manual of psychiatric illnesses.

Now IBM has been seriously exploring the future of work and gaming (by way of 3PointD) with the firm Seriosity.

Figuring out the importance, the best practices and zero’ing in on the most powerful aspects of virtual work — and creating software systems and processes that are effective — make perfect sense for an organization like IBM and this study and their initiative is highly interesting. But I’m more interested in the fact that IBM is even looking at this category as I join other strategists and visionaries in determining what it means when business, education, social ties and human consciousness are connected and increasingly virtual.

How do we come together in teams virtually? What software can we use that is instantly intuitive and fosters collaboration and, especially, creativity and innovation? What are the protocols and behaviors we need to exhibit in order to make virtual connections trustworthy, meaningful and productive? How can coming together virtually be really fun and delightful so it will be attractive rather than a burden to participants?