Category: thoughts

The New “Now”: Time in the Age of the Progress Bar

The existence of the progress bar has changed our perception of time and made us hyper-aware of time change. This, in turn, has killed the uniqueness of now. The bar points up the exact instant in time we occupy, but it also emphasizes the easiness of change and how unattached to the moment we are.

Time Matter

The progress bar has materialized time: time needed to load a website, time left to buffer a streamed video, time since a song started playing, etc. Originally intended just for visualizing time, the Progress Bar has, literally, turn time into bits and pixels.

Finally, we can see time, measure its speed and perceive its change. For the first time, we can also locate future events in the “space” of time.

Controlling time

With faster speeds of broadband, the old Preload Bar is dying in favor of the Seek Bar in playback controls for streamed content. Again users are given context for time, and what’s more, now they are given control.

We are becoming more and more sensible to the perception of time. This is consequence, not just of this “materialization of time”, but also of our increasingly high levels of external stimulus and multitasking abilities.

The New “Now”

The static immutable “Now” is dying and a new perception of time is taking its place. As technology evolves and our senses grow more accustomed to the new order, we will embrace multiple scrubbing possibilities: pausing, skipping ahead, and replaying the times that we so choose to. Some might say that scrubbing and skipping ahead are skills that will prove invaluable.

We might not be able to travel in time in the literal sense, but we will be in greater control when managing information and dealing with linear processes in the future.

Hi-Def History: The rise of the “Hyper-Real Past”

So far we have no hi-def hyper-real portrait of the past, but this fact is irrevocably going to change really soon.

Prehistory is defined as the “period before recorded history”. It’s been long since we’ve have more sophisticated tools than mere writing, but the exponential growth of technology is increasing the quality and quantity of High-definition recording devices that seem to challenge the distinction between reality and copy (realitee & realiter)

The past is a blurry memory

I always remember when I was kid, thinking back about my parents and the stories they told me of their youth. All those memories recreated in my mind were always some black and white image. All the photos my parents had were faded sepia images, all the footage of Spain before Franco died were mostly filmed in black and white.

When I think about the 60s and 70s in San Francisco —where I now live— I always think about those images filmed in 8mm with that unique color, where Peter Berlin strolls silently down Castro St. Event further back in time, the Victorian era in SF brings to my mind images of stiff couples siting still for minutes to get their photo, women with corsets and men in tailored suits and hats.

The past is an image in our mind. It is not an accurate representation but more of a mouth to mouth dream that has been mutated and idealized each time it’s told. Everybody seems to agree: New York was way better in the 70, and so was Ibiza and San Francisco.

In some degree, nowadays we are somehow aware of the inaccuracy of History. One has to wonder how much longer this perception will remain.

The HD revolution

These are the times that will bring affordable HD to our daily lives, and the times when we’ll make effective use of it, recording immense amounts of data. New parents are photographing their kids at 10Mpx, filming them at 720p, creating a hyperreal portrait of their kids. When browsing online photo sites it feels almost like every corner of the world worth of attention has been recorded from every angle.

Welcome the High-Definition Hyper-Real Past where recording devices will let us capture “reality” (image, sound, voice, text) in the greatest accuracy. (And still, a question will remain: what it is this so-called “reality” and how can we claim that we can record it accurately?)

The Changing concept of “Past”

We are making the physical world a smaller place with advances such as the “information superhighway”, interconnected societies in the web, cheap airfares, mass marketing of tourism, etc. Similarly we are shortening distances with the past. For better of for worse, years from now, humans won’t have to guess, imagine, fantasize or idealize all of their past, for this present period will be a perfectly sharp rendition of the people and places of our days.

The Past won’t be a legendary territory no more, but a different part of a system (call it “web”) where you will want to lurk around but not join in.

HiDef-History

Times before our HD devices will still be a nebula of mystery and, therefore, centuries from now we will most likely make another differentiation in human history: HiDef-PreHistory, and HiDef-History. If History is defined as “period since recording tools“, HiDef-History will be defined as “period in history since HD recording devices

Notice the term HiDef-History, not to be confused with HiFi-History. Beware of those who will claim that we have a high-fidelity view of the past when we don’t even have it now of the present.

The ethics of consumption

If you feel strongly about what direction technology should go, you should put your money where your mouth is. For your own good.

Tech Consumers

As a consumer you have the opportunity to not support a company if you feel that such company is sabotaging the free growth of new standards, open source projects, universal technologies, etc, . Buying products from a business falls in the same category as investing on it (except that you get your dividends right away when you walk out of the store).

Tech Professionals

Professionals should also think twice about their platform of choice. Jumping on the wagon of opportunity to create new apps for an emerging market can be rewarding in the short term. In the long term, though, we should consider what’s the impact to the product design landscape as a whole. Are we undermining our future if we support proprietary technologies and platforms that put restrictions in to our creations and products?

Think of it as buying products from China -aside from quality and price- you are sending your money to a very “particular” market. In other words, you are investing in such ideas, you are supporting and promoting the policies of that organization and you are directly influencing the job market imposing strict conditions in work and salary.

Use your money to help grow the technologies that you support and, if nothing else, invest in yourself.

Why Flash won’t die for awhile

HTML, SVG, CSS, JS, etc are all good and valid technologies that are missing just what made Flash -and internet- attractive to many designers: a creative oriented IDE (Interactive Development Environment).

The problem

More and more disciplines of professionals are coming to the web space. It wasn’t that long ago when one smart ‘webmaster’ could get a site up and running by herself. Now we specialize more and more: designers, developers, Ajax coders, CSS designers, PSD artists, studio people, Motion graphic talents and a long etcetera.

It’s about efficiency

Many very successful (and functional) sites have been created out of pure HTML with nothing more than text editors. That idea is not opposed to the growing need for pixel perfect, platform independent, engaging and highly interactive experience. That not to say that such an experience that can only be created with proprietary technologies such as Flash, Silverlight, Flex, etc. However, the rise and success of such tools represent the need for efficient environments to produce multimedia content for the web.

As of today, that production setup comes in the form of specialized IDEs, where form and content marry.

Accountability 2.0

One surprising but unquestionable benefit of new technologies is the widespread accountability of both businesses and individuals. Social media might just be one of the reasons, but this new trend does seem to be gaining great momentum because of it.

Brand Accountability

Businesses are using the social web to reach out to their customer and to enable more direct and transparent dialog. Their intention might be just to be perceived as more accessible but, because of the nature of the tools they use, they have effectively become so.

In turn, consumers are using their own tools to deliver their message to the previously unreachable companies. For the first time that this kind of communication happens in the open and becomes public: Facebook fan pages, twitter accounts, getsatisfaction, yelp, etc.

Beyond direct B2C communications, consumers have also proven that they can reach media attention. A dissatisfied consumer can now broadcast their own story and turn it into a big PR disaster. The song United Breaks Guitars that got over 7 million views in 6 months is one notorious example, as well as the more recent case of the TTC sleeping fare collector scandal.

New technologies are helping consumers make business and brands more accountable for their actions through public exposure. But it is not just companies are becoming more exposed, individuals also are.

Personal Accountability

The more social the web becomes the less anonymous we want to be. We want to reach our social circles (old and new) and the only way to establish this relationships is using our real selves. This decade we are using more elements that identify us uniquely: photo avatars, real names (vs nicknames) and fully detailed profiles.

The more accurately we can be recognized and identified, the more accountable we -as individuals- will be. This will in turn mean that individuals online will be lees likely to incur in unethical actions (or at least their online ethics will be more aligned with their offline values)

Dialog on the web will benefit largely. It will become more healthy and less noisy. After all, most will likely dismiss anonymous opinions that can’t be backed up by a real person.

There are also risks, of course; the other side of the coin in this game of Internet profiling is that we will lose a great deal of privacy. Anonymity will have its place as a tool for individuals to publicly denounce without fear of retaliation by those entities accused. In those cases, most likely (and most hopefully), public opinion will play a key role in holding those entities, as well as the accuser, accountable for their actions.