Sam Harrelson

YouTube and “Reinforcing” Psychologies

“The new A.I., known as Reinforce, was a kind of long-term addiction machine. It was designed to maximize users’ engagement over time by predicting which recommendations would expand their tastes and get them to watch not just one more video but many more.

Reinforce was a huge success. In a talk at an A.I. conference in February, Minmin Chen, a Google Brain researcher, said it was YouTube’s most successful launch in two years. Sitewide views increased by nearly 1 percent, she said — a gain that, at YouTube’s scale, could amount to millions more hours of daily watch time and millions more dollars in advertising revenue per year. She added that the new algorithm was already starting to alter users’ behavior.

“We can really lead the users toward a different state, versus recommending content that is familiar,” Ms. Chen said.”

via “The Making of a YouTube Radical” by Kevin Roose in the New York Times




RSS and Twitter

Yep.

“Here’s what’s important: RSS is very much still here. Better yet, RSS can be a healthy alternative when Twitter is making you feel like shit. In 2019, that’s, like, most of the time.”

https://gizmodo.com/rss-is-better-than-twitter-1833624929




A Week Without Twitter (or Facebook)

I made the decision last week to attempt what I previously thought was relatively undoable for my business and/or personal life and pull out of the Twitter stream and Facebook world, and Instagram performance art gallery. Some of that was due to this liturgical season of Lent and some of that was my constant need to try on new “thought technologies” that helps me explore more of this life.

After a week, I can say a few things that have struck me as personal revelations.

First, I am more focused and “get things done” work-wise in a more deliberate and intentional way. It’s not that I was skipping over things a year or a month ago, but the silence that comes from not having a constant TweetDeck tab open in my browser window (or on the large screen that was dedicated just to TweetDeck) has made a marked difference in my workflow as evidenced by my time sheets and my client ticketing system.

Second, I find myself reaching for my phone fewer times during the morning, day, and night. I would constantly be scanning Instagram or Twitter when I had a few spare moments or minutes during the course of a day. Now that I don’t have those time sinks, I find myself scanning Feedly for news or longer form articles or just doodling on paper for 30 seconds.

Third, I’m blogging here more. I feel more “creative” in general to be honest. Being away from the constant stream of short takes on the latest political scandal or presidential tweet or funny meme has made me recognize how much I’ve pushed down my own voice inside of my head (as much as it is an unreliable narrator sometimes!). But I feel like we’re picking back up the conversation after a long 12 years on Twitter and as a heavy user of all things social. I feel more creative and less anxious in general.

Most importantly, I have space to be more mindful about my place here. I already feel a change in my outlook on issues and things I need to give or pay attention to. I’ve found myself turning off notifications on my phone from Slack and Email (heaven forbid!) and even our ticket support system. Could I make do with a flip phone? Who knows. But that mindfulness and a better sense of presence does feel different than it has the last few years.

Coincidence is not causation, so we’ll see how this happens as I keep up with this thought technology of being mindfully and spiritually situated in specific places and times rather than floating through the matrix of performative attention.




The Sublime and Silicon Valley

The sublime—whether a feature of the natural world, or of UFOs, or of religious experience—is a sense of our own vanishing smallness before something impossibly vast: a mountain range, a churning ocean, the universe, God. What we get in return for being so existentially demeaned is freedom from the tyranny of our own personalities, a sort of liberating oblivion. But data-extracting platforms don’t sublimate our personalities; they multiply and magnify them. And the Data Sublime, far from making the internet feel thrillingly big, has conspired to make it feel smaller, claustrophobic, and profoundly boring. As Facebook and Google metastasize, the more interesting destinations on the internet are dying off; recent sweeping media layoffs were also largely the result of Facebook, Google, and Amazon’s stranglehold on advertising revenue. The sublime promises a sort of redemptive immensity, but Silicon Valley strives to compress all of digital experience into a single, monotonous feed, mainlining capital into the pockets of billionaires.

— Read on thebaffler.com/latest/close-encounters-of-the-tech-kind-harnett




Does Your Nonprofit or Church Need an Alexa Skill?

Anyone can create a trivia game and share it on the Alexa store.

Source: Amazon opens up Alexa store for anyone to create and publish custom skills – The Verge

Nifty new capability now for anyone to script out an Alexa Skill. I’ve been telling clients that they should really consider “voice first” capabilities when thinking about their messaging and marketing. It’s not a bad idea to really think about the possibilities for churches and nonprofits as more and more people adapt to the Alexa / Google Assistant / Siri paradigm of computing (and it will inevitably be the main form of home computing).




Podcasting’s Big Moment

It’s probably the biggest news in the podcast industry since it began in earnest, because it’s such a huge play from a company with an existing network outside of Apple’s. Plenty of podcast startups have come and gone, but what’s unique here is Spotify could help the format reach millions of new users overnight.

Source: Spotify: podcast giant or giant distraction? – Charged




Apple Cripples Facebook’s Internal Apps

What an insane story. Good on Apple…

That means Facebook isn’t able to distribute internal iOS apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger for testing purposes, and internal employee apps for purposes like food and transportation are nonfunctional.

All of the apps that used the certificate “simply don’t launch on employees’ phones anymore,” and Facebook is said to be treating the issue as a critical problem internally.

Via MacRumors




Putting the Days to Bed (My Paper Notebooks)

If you’ve met me IRL, you’ve probably noticed I have a notebook either in my shirt pocket or in my hand (or a stack of index cards tucked away somewhere). All of them make awkward appearances when I hear a good quote, someone has a question I need to look up, if I was trying to record a student’s robot time trials, or if the spirit moved me.

I’ve long been a doodler since my time in Mrs. Hinson’s 3rd Grade class where we learned that sketching helped with creativity (I might have made that up… but it stuck). When I got to Wofford College, my mentor Larry McGehee kept that alive by talking about his doodling process during staff meetings and other such nonsense. That was inspiring to me at the time, but his tips and tricks on the doodling life hack helped me survive countless staff meetings as a teacher myself as well as Board meetings and team meetings and all the meetings we have to go to when we decide to throw ourselves into grown-up world.

I’m at the point in my life now where I don’t have to attend so many mandatory meetings and for that gift I feel blessed (looking back, I do feel some regret for how immature/bored/inattentive/distracting I was during teacher staff meetings… I’m sorry Dear Administrators, but I do feel that I added spice to our gatherings by throwing out bombs to get everyone riled up and awake such as whether cursive was really necessary in Middle School). But with that gift comes a clear place of loss in my creative process. I have to make time to doodle now. It’s weird how you spend years thinking “Oh great, another meeting… it’s Doodling Time!” and then you find yourself secretly giddy because you know you’ll have 4 extra minutes to sneak in some surreptitious doodling while your toddler finishes their breakfast. But here I am.

So I’ve been thinking a good deal about my paper notebooks and my doodling and my journaling and all those Instagram posts that I heart on a daily basis displaying some young person’s admirable bullet journal or Panda Diary or a Mom’s Moleskine Menagerie (wow, that’s a great name… Moleskine can run with it… I’m just the idea guy). I’ve spent too many hours thinking over this issue and watching YouTube videos comparing GoodNotes and Notability on the iPad Pro while jogging off the extra weight I gained sitting in meetings and doodling and reading blog posts that compare paper journaling to “digital” journaling.

The issue is complicated by the fact that I’m typing this on an iPad and I do love this form factor and device. The iPad Pro really has become my main computer when I’m not chained to a laptop working on a piece of code or having to review artwork in Adobe Illustrator for a brand client (but the iPad is getting there!). I’ve always been the “digital” guy or “techy teacher” or the preacher that preaches with an iPad (I’ve also preached from a Blackberry, a Palm T5 (loved that thing), and a Palm m100 over the years), or the consultant who has all the fun tech toys. So when I show up with a paper notebook, it’s a little jarring to some people and frequently leads to a conversation about my note booking style or journaling preferences or the types of pens I prefer. I’ve bonded with many clients over the benefits of a Pilot G2 Extra Fine 0.5mm refill cartridge compared to the competition.

But year after year I go back to my paper notebooks when it’s time to put the days to bed on another year. This year is going to be no different it seems. I’m an old man stuck in his ways, what can I say? “I’ve got my drip pan, ready for my nap” as Lightning McQueen says at the ends of Cars 3 (again, I have a toddler). But there is magic in opening a new journal and getting ready for the year while looking back at all the collected thoughts, doodles, dreams, failures, completions, incompletions, interceptions, and incantations from the previous trip around our closest star. It’s really magical in a self-serving and privileged way to pull down a notebook from ten or fifteen years ago and do the same. There is probably some magic in doing the same with a backup file in Dropbox of a PDF exported from GoodNotes in 2013, but magic, like notebook and pen preferences, is subjective.

So my prayer for me and for you in 2019 is… Blow up your tv, throw away your Twitter, go to the country, find you a home, eat a lot of peaches, try and find Jesus on your own… and do some doodling.




You’re not “addicted” to tech and why it’s dangerous to say you are

As a teacher from 2001-2006 and then from 2008-2012, I had the chance to work with dozens of young people and their parents at a time when so much we knew and thought about education and transmitting information was changing. There was a rapid cultural shift in that decade that was primarily driven by “technology” and the internet.

One theme that remained constant going back to the first time we set up a class blog in 2003 was the notion of “tech addiction”. It remained a constant question and concern of parents and education colleagues (particularly my administrators) over the years.

Since 2012 as a marketing and tech consultant primarily working with religious orgs, nonprofits, and community groups, I’ve encountered the same concerns about tech addiction and young people. From MySpace to Instant Messaging to World of Warcraft to Instagram to Facebook to Fortnite, the boogeyman of evil tech hellbent on ruining our children’s minds and attention and willingness to go outside and play stickball keeps a constant current over time.

However, tech addiction (in the mainstream cultural sense) is just that… a boogeyman. It’s much better to focus on our responsibilities and usage patterns… as adults and parents and community members… rather than blaming Zuckerberg for our lack of accepting personal agency and being responsible people with our choices.

Good piece here that says all this in a much nicer and more approachable way:

Nir says the idea that technology is “hijacking your brain” or that the general population is “addicted” to their phones is rubbish.“Yes, there’s a very small percentage of people that very much are addicted—which is a completely different conversation—but this ‘addiction to technology’ is not the generalized disorder the media and others would have you think it is.”

Source: You’re not “addicted” to tech (and why it’s dangerous to say so) – RescueTime




United States of Amazon

“The company’s focus on Washington as its most lucrative customer was reflected in its decision earlier this year to choose nearby Arlington, Virginia, as one of its two new US headquarters, along with Long Island City, New York. “Amazon wants to be the interface between all government buyers and all the companies that want to sell to government, and that is an incredibly powerful and lucrative place to be,” Mitchell said.”

Exclusive: Emails show how tech firm has tried to gain influence and potentially shape lucrative government contracts — Read on www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/dec/26/amazon-anne-rung-government-services-authority




The shift from blogs to email newsletters

Ironic that you’re reading this on my blog…

Almost every writer or artist I know has a newsletter. One way to understand this boom is that as social media has siloed off chunks of the open web, sucking up attention, the energy that was once put into blogging has now shifted to email.

— Read on www.wired.com/story/future-book-is-here-but-not-what-we-expected/




Vannevar Bush’s 1945 essay “As We May Think” on information overload, curation, and open-access science.

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified.

— Read on www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2012/10/11/vannevar_bush_s_1945_essay_as_we_may_think_on_information_overload_curation.html




Tackling Tech Bias for People with Disabilities

Fantastic post… every organization, nonprofit, and church could gain valuable insight from the takeaways here:

The best path ahead is to seek out the affected stakeholders and work with them towards a fair and equitable system. If we can identify and remove bias against people with disabilities from our technologies, we will be taking an important step towards creating a society that respects and upholds the human rights of us all.

Via Venturebeat




The future of computers

In-ear devices will be the way we interface with our “computers” (AI assistants) within the next decade…

Kuo reportedly says that AirPods are Apple’s most popular accessory ever, and predicts that the company will go from selling 16 million in 2017 to more than 100 million by 2021.

— Read on www.theverge.com/2018/12/2/18122232/apple-airpods-upgrade-first-quarter-2019-ming-chi-kuo-rumors




Instagram is Dead

For starters, this is the end of Instagram as we know it. Systrom and Krieger were deeply involved in day-to-day product decisions, and retained an unusual degree of autonomy over the company. For years, they were careful to the point of being obstinate. Even as they began to expand Instagram’s suite of offerings, they remained deeply cautious. (Features for creating groups of “favorites” and a standalone messaging app have been in testing for 15 months and 10 months, respectively.)

— Read on www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2018/9/25/17903556/instagram-founders-quit-kevin-systrom-mike-krieger-facebook




Will the internet split in two?

Not to mention the impact that artificial intelligence will have on the web and our daily lives within the next decade (which China is investing in much more heavily than the US Government)…

Speaking at a private event hosted by Village Global VC yesterday night, tech luminary and former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted that the internet will bifurcate into Chinese-led and US-led versions within the next decade.

— Read on www.cnbc.com/2018/09/20/eric-schmidt-ex-google-ceo-predicts-internet-split-china.html




Saving Lives with Apple Watch

“I participated in the Heart Study too. Like Perlow, I forgot about it for long stretches. I’m fortunate that I didn’t receive the sort of alert Perlow did, but in September, Stanford sent me a notification that my participation in the study was ending. It turns out that over the course of 188 days, Stanford collected 1,743 heart measurements from me. Multiply that by the thousands of people in the study, and the potential the Apple Watch has for medical research is remarkable, while at the same time helping individuals like Perlow one at a time.”

How the Stanford Heart Study App Saved Jason Perlow via MacStories

I too participated in the Stanford Heart Study via the Apple Watch (my stats above). Males in my family have a history of Heart Disease and Afib, so I was nervous but eager to see if this seemingly innocuous contribution to science using my watch would catch anything. I’ve also been trying hard to “get in shape” given that I’ve just turned 40. I’ve lost 24 pounds since May and continue to try to live healthier with food and drink choices.

I was sort of relieved the day I got a notification that the study had ended. There had been no updates to contact Stanford during the study. Evidently if the Watch app detected anything that was suspicious of Afib, you were patched through to a Stanford Cardiologist via FaceTime. While that’s an amazing technological experience, I didn’t want to participate in doing so for this situation.

So, it’s amazing to read the testimony above by someone who did have the experience of catching a very deadly condition early simply because they wore an Apple Watch. The device is certainly saving my life by the daily motivation to get healthy and stay that way, and I see a bright future where conditions will be caught early by devices such as these.




“There is tremendous strength in independence and decentralization.”

“There is tremendous strength in independence and decentralization.”

Daring Fireball: Medium Deprecates Custom Domains Service

— Read on daringfireball.net/linked/2018/09/04/medium-domain-name

Shouldn’t be surprised but John makes a great point about the long term value of owning your own domain name and links. We freely give away too much content and work to commercial companies like Medium or Twitter or Facebook in small and innocuous amounts that do build great value to them over time.

Build your contents and thoughts on your own space that you can reference and leverage in the future.




Links Are (Still) Dead

I first wrote that “Links Are Dead” in 2006, and pretty much got shouted out of the blogosphere. I kept up the mantra over the years. Looks like Google agrees with me now…

But over time, URLs have gotten more and more difficult to read and understand. As web functionality has expanded, URLs have increasingly become unintelligible strings of gibberish combining components from third-parties or being masked by link shorteners and redirect schemes. And on mobile devices there isn’t room to display much of a URL at all.

Via “Google Wants to Kill the URL” – Wired




Vestigial notion of “screen time”

He says “the idea of limiting screen time to the two hours a day of ‘quality educational screens’ is really a vestige of the television era that doesn’t apply today,” when kids do homework online and use tablets in school.

— Read on www.wbur.org/commonhealth/2018/08/24/fortnite-habit-kid-problem