Author Archives: Rachel

What I See When You’re Using Your Smartphone

When you see someone standing on the sidewalk looking at a smartphone, what do you see? I’ve heard people describe it this way:

bored person standing in front of a brick wall

What you may imagine when you see someone with a smartphone.

 

I can understand that, but that’s not what I see. When I see someone looking at a smartphone, or iPad, or computer, this is what I see:

 

person looking through a window at a rich world of interactions

This is what I see when I see someone with a smartphone.

 

We don’t stare at our devices because we are fascinated with the way they look (at least, not after we’ve owned them for more than 24 hours). We stare through our devices. They are windows, not walls.

Granted, people are sometimes unwise in choosing when to open those windows, and sometimes we miss nearby things because we’re looking farther off. But don’t imagine that the device is what’s holding our attention. The device is just a window.

And as long as I’m on this subject, here’s a related one that’s been kicking around in my head for a while.

Technology != Not Human

Or, to put it a little less esoterically, ‘technology-mediated’ does not equal ‘not human.’

Last week, I once again heard a variation on the theme of I don’t like to use technology to communicate/draw/read/insert-your-activity-here because it doesn’t feel human.

I don’t buy it. I don’t mind at all if you don’t want to use technology for a given purpose, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t buy into the idea that the tool I’m using makes me less human, or makes my interactions less real, or my creativity less mine.

As my friend Lynn Kearny put it when I asked her if she felt using technology de-humanizes the activity being done, “Well, I ain’t never seen no hoss do it.” People communicate with people, whatever the medium. People create art, and people experience the art created by others. The tools will affect the experience, but it’s still essentially a human experience.

When I’m taking visual notes on my iPad, it’s a very different experience than when I’m doing it on paper. Lots of people don’t care for how that experience feels, and I have no problem with that. I also like taking notes on paper. But drawing on paper isn’t realer than drawing on an iPad. It isn’t a more human way to draw. You might as well say that drawing on paper is less human than drawing on cave walls, or chalking on sidewalks is less human than painting with oils on canvas. What does the medium have to do with how human the activity is?

The medium affects the experience of creating the work, and it may affect the qualities (please note, qualities plural, not quality) of the completed work. It doesn’t take anything away from the creator of the work.

So don’t use technology if you don’t care to. But don’t tell me I’m being less human for choosing it as a medium when it suits my outcomes.

 

The illustrations in this post were created by the fabulous Marianne Rodgers and are copyright © 2013 Marianne Rodgers. Find her work, and hire her to do some for you, at Mindtwin.net.

Posted in everything. Tagged with , .

my Doug Engelbart story

There are many stories to tell about Doug Engelbart. He touched so many lives, and many stories are being told right now, in remembrance and celebration. There are stories about the invention of the mouse. Stories about his early work at SRI on packet switching. And of course, stories about the Mother of All Demos. I have a story about him, too, but mine isn’t about any of those events. My story takes place at a cocktail party in Menlo Park, about four or five years ago.

Rachel Smith with Doug Engelbart

Rachel Smith with Doug Engelbart. Photo by Larry Johnson.

At the time, I was vice president of services for the New Media Consortium (NMC). We were participating in a jointly-sponsored event to commemmorate the 40th anniversary of the Mother of All Demos called the Program for the Future. We heard panels and talks, gave a talk about NMC, and saw a screening of the Mother of all Demos. Many of my technology heroes were there. It was a bit like being in the presence of royalty, or miracle workers, or both at the same time. It was dazzling and awe-inspiring.

In the evening, we attended a cocktail party at the home of one of the organizers. I was standing with a group that included Doug, chatting and exchanging our favorite mobile apps, completely amazed to be having this normal coversation (well, normal for techies, I guess) with such incredible people.

Suddenly, my attention was distracted by an abrupt noise from the room behind me. I half turned to see what it was, and while I was looking away, I felt a swift, gentle yank on my ponytail! I turned quickly back and saw astonishment and the beginnings of amusement on every face — except Doug’s. He was wearing an expression of the most perfect innocence, for all the world as though he were absorbed in thought. I had no idea what to do — laugh? object? pretend nothing had happened? Then he gave me the tiniest possible wink, and I couldn’t help it, and I burst out laughing. He grinned like a schoolboy.

My story of Doug Engelbart is that moment: that instant when I understood him as more than the passionate, brilliant inventor and thinker he undoubtedly was. My story is that playful moment, the moment when Doug Engelbart pulled my ponytail and pretended he hadn’t.

Posted in everything. Tagged with , .

I really want to love VideoScribe…

… but I just can’t. I *like* Sparkol’s VideoScribe, but I don’t *love* it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not lovable. I know people who have done very cool things with it, like Chipp Walters’ overview of Agilix xLi, along with many other examples — see the Sparkol YouTube channel for lots more. And I do think the “behind glass” hand is pretty neat.

I’ve only used the free trial versions (desktop and iPad app), so it’s also possible that the paid version is a whole different animal. I made a silly little movie about the beginning of the book Watership Down by Richard Adams, because I’m in the middle of reading that with my son and it’s on my mind. It took about 45 minutes to create this, starting from not really knowing how to use VideoScribe at all. If I were to make something similar now it would only take about 15 minutes. The learning curve isn’t bad at all.

Here’s my take on it:

When I compare it to my current workflow for creating this kind of movie, I find VideoScribe to be limiting. I’m used to being able to create images from scratch and control how they appear. I did create my own drawing in Illustrator (the image of the downs in the sample movie here), but as you can see, it didn’t come out quite the way I wanted it to in the video. I used the brush pen in Illustrator to get a brushy line quality, but in the movie you see the outline of each stroke and then all the strokes fill in at the end, so it looks odd.

I also wanted to add audio effects at different places in the movie, and I could not figure out how to do this. When I recorded an audio effect as a voiceover (just myself saying “Ta-da!”), it played at the very beginning, and I didn’t see a way to shift it to the point where I wanted it to be. It may be that there is a way to do it and I couldn’t find it, or it may be that this is only something you can do in the full-price version. Or it may not be possible at all.

However, it’s much less complicated to create a movie using VideoScribe than it is to do it the way I currently do it (with Brushes 1 and Final Cut Pro X). VideoScribe also has an advantage over Brushes 1 in that you can actually obtain it, which is significant for folks who are just starting out (the original Brushes is no longer available on the App Store, and the new one doesn’t let you work with the movie files in the same way). VideoScribe’s library of imagery seems to be extensive and can be supplemented by custom material, and it’s nice to have all the parts in one place: images, soundtrack, voiceover, and output. I use four different applications or services to achieve the same end.

Is VideoScribe right for you? Well, if you are looking for a relatively easy way to get into creating this kind of movie, and you don’t need an OCD-level of control over the output, and you’re willing to put in some time to learn the ins and outs of its unique user interface, then it might be. It’s certainly less complicated than working with a video crew — you can sit down and work on it any time, without reference to other people’s schedules, and you don’t need special lighting or space. The results are definitely polished enough to use for client work. It’s much easier to learn to use than Final Cut Pro X or even iMovie, and there are fewer moving parts to worry about. If you do decide to try it out, be aware that there’s a 7-day free trial. Don’t start until you have some time to devote to it, so you can give it a fair shot. I’d be curious to learn what you think if you try it.

Posted in everything. Tagged with , .

Same site, new look (and changes under the hood)

Digital Visual Facilitation has had a facelift! (Also, an unplanned mini-vacation.) Both are a result of the news that Posterous, this blog’s former home, is closing down at the end of April. Over the past week or so, I’ve moved the blog to another host and converted it from Posterous to WordPress. The only issue I ran into is that some of the embedded links to movies, photos, and slide shows stopped working after the move and had to be relinked. I think I’ve caught them all, but if you find something odd, just drop me a note and I’ll get it fixed.

The process of moving house wasn’t difficult at all, really. I started with Sarah Gooding’s instructions for the process, and used a workaround described by Antonio Cangiano:

  1. I started by making a backup of my Posterous site as described here, and then downloading the backup to my computer.
  2. Next, I needed a place to set up the blog on the web again. Since digitalfacilitation.net simply pointed to ninmah.posterous.com, I removed that pointer and set up an empty WordPress install at digitalfacilitation.net.
  3. Then I tried to use the Posterous Importer plug-in for WordPress, but it didn’t appear to work (the little “working” indicator just spun and nothing happened). I tried twice (just in case, right?) and then looked for an alternative method. Following the “Quick Tip” link in Gooding’s instructions, I found Antonio Cangiano’s instructions for a workaround.
  4. Using the backup of my Posterous site, I created a new, empty blog at WordPress.com — apparently the Posterous Importer plug-in works on wordpress.com but not on private WordPress installations — and imported the Posterous backup into it. Once it was there, I exported it to WordPress eXtended RSS (WXR) format — an extra step, but it worked like a charm.
  5. Finally, I returned to my new, still empty WordPress installation at the new digitalfacilitation.net, and imported the WXR export.
  6. The very last step was to go through the posts and fix the missing images, videos, and slide shows. In each case, the URL was there, just not in a format that WordPress could use. For most of them, I pasted the URL into my browser and got fresh embed code from the original item to paste back into the blog post.

The mini-vacation was a result of a bug in the domain transfer system at my hosting provider, and was unrelated to the move. I decided to consolidate things by moving the domain registration for digitalfacilitation.net to the same provider where I’m now hosting it, and where my other blog is hosted. They had an issue that caused the domain to fall off the internet (there’s probably a more accurate technical explanation for what really happened) for a few days.

At any rate, welcome (back) to the new digitalfacilitation.net!

Posted in everything. Tagged with , .
%d bloggers like this: