The Concept of Self and Use of RFID on the iPhone in Entertainment and Social Space

My friend Elissa turned me on to an article by William Deresiewicz titled The End of Solitude that addresses the culture of celebrity and connectivity as symptoms of an impulse for becoming known.  Much of the article offers an overview of the historical concept of Self and what we get out of it.

Something I liked about the article was that it gave context to a technical social mashup idea I’ve been exploring, which is the increased use of near field communication (NFC) to increase one’s visibility in a meaningful way.  More specifically, people will use RFID tag readers in a mobile device like the iPhone to alert the world of their participation in entertainment experiences.

In The End of Solitude, Deresiewicz suggests the culture of celebrity is connected to the video camera, which I connect to broadcast television.  Regretfully, in the year when we could least afford it, reality TV gave rise to pointless distractions like the Balloon Boy and the White House Party Crashers.  But the article also describes the culture of connectivity as a product of the evolving use of computers and mobile communications in society.  As something of an evangelist for new media and a critique of old media, it is somewhat humbling for me to read Deresiewicz’s grouping of celebrity with connectivity in the contemporary self:

“Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known.  It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity.”

The value of different participatory entertainment activities runs the gamut.  A film at your local movie theater requires you to only buy a ticket before the film is sold out and ensure you show up at the scheduled time.  Getting yourself twenty feet from the stage at The Dead on July 4th at Rothbury Music Festival in Michigan requires a significantly greater level of planning.  But the relative interest in the social grid in any given activity is less important than the simple declaration to the post modern self that you “did it.”  People want to shout from the top of their literal or figurative mountains, “I am about to (or have just)  ____ at _____.”

Given that a lot of people love to share their experiences, many are simply limited by the inconvenience.  I’ve given some detail to my sense that there is a big splash still yet to be made by Apple’s touch platform.  And that the Touch lineup of the iPod Touch, the iPhone and the iSlate we will see a revolution in mobile computing.  They will allow us to enjoy the impulses of the modern self which are to take part in connectivity and some element of celebrity.

A topic that hasn’t been explored enough is the effect of including an RFID reader in a breakthrough device like the iPhone.  There is reason to believe that an RFID reader will be incorporated in the near future.   I believe that the inclusion of such hardware will open up opportunities to more quickly identify and disseminate interesting information about the entertainment spaces we’re inhabiting.

To illustrate a point, when I was writing the above paragraph I searched twitter for “Sherlock Holmes” which premiered this past weekend.  The third tweet from the top was from a student I’ve never heard of or met named Nicholas King.  From his Twitter bio, we know Nicholas is a student at Eastern Michigan and studies business.  Quite simply, Nicholas tweeted:

RFID Technology iPhone iSlate Twitter Self Post-Modern Concept

A quick search reveals that Trillium is a cinemas in Grand Blanc, Michigan and Nick was keeping his followers up to date with a text message from his phone.  While a text message accomplishes the goal of updating his thirty or so followers, it falls down for a few reasons:

  1. Part of being fully connected is also having your information quickly sorted and grouped with similar data.  Twitter provides a reverse method for grouping information through its search.twitter.com functionality.  Users are capable of directly grouping their tweets with hashtags.  Both of those methods suffer the potential for data entry error.  I wouldn’t have known about Nick’s experience achievement if he had spelled it “Shelock Holmes.”
  2. Manually updating your followers with the activity you’re participating in requires extended effort.  If you’re walking in the door of an RJD2 show you might have a drink in one hand and a gaggle of pals pulling you forward with the other. It isn’t always possible or at least socially acceptable to whip out your phone and type out an update.

The concept is this.  Sherlock Holmes is being distributed to theaters by Warner Bros Pictures.  In addition to sending out reels of film, Warner Bros would also send a small stand up display that is to be placed near the entrance to the theatre showing the movie.  If Nick carried an iPhone with an RFID reader, he would need only to wave his phone at the entrance and it would automatically pick up his preferences for sharing his location and the movie title he’s seeing via Twitter or Facebook.  More interesting things would be to automatically enter you in a contest for people who attended an Sherlock Holmes on opening weekend.

Another illustration to the benefits of adding an RFID reader to the iPhone in the realm of participatory entertainment is in live music or very large public entertainment events.  For instance, scanning the RFID tag in your section at a football game will identify the mobile capability to an application that could cue everyone to hold up their phones at a given time, display a particular set of images on the screen and turn the entire stadium into a megatron.  At a music festival like Rothbury, it might allow people to collect virtual zoo keys which turn an already amazing Sherwood Forest into something that is digitally enchanted.

The total extent to what could be done with connected devices incorporating RFID tags in combination with the impulse to reinforce personal visibility is impossible to see right now.  What is clear is that culture, technology and the increasing value of participatory entertainment rapidly is converging with all-in-one devices like the iPhone and iSlate.

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Update 12/30/09:  A few additional things: 1. There is a strong sense that RFID will be most valuable for payment and wireless financial transactions.  The basis of my interest in RFID has been from seeing the NFC-enabled registers at places like McDonalds and Regal Cinemas.   When I first started seeing them, I would ask how often they took payment using the NFC at POS and I’d get blank stares from the employees.  MasterCard’s PayPass and American Express’s ExpressPay have been around for a while but have mostly only survived market tests as far as I can tell.

To look at how NFC/RFID payments and entertainment overlap, I love what it could do to damage the secondary ticket market.  I’ve long felt that secondary ticketing and scalping does more harm than good on the average would-be live entertainment participant.  Locking tickets to phones is a great way to help track and possibly reduce scalping while still allowing some flexibility in transferability.

There are some articles about how an RFID, NFC enabled phone are useful outside of entertainment which are worth linking to.  Here’s one that simply gooses the idea.  Here’s a second article that talks explicitly in terms of marketing opportunities.

Portland as an Creative Powerhouse as Broken Bells Consumes The Shins

Portland Dangermouse Mercer photo by Matt McgeeMy old friend David Peixotto was visiting Portland for the holidays and this morning we snagged breakfast at Stepping Stone.  Dave and I have been working hard on a stealth iPhone application to be published by our company, NeutrinosBackspace in northwest and Urban Grind in northeast have been some of my favorite haunts so I showed them off to him and took the opportunity to extol on him the freshest virtues of the city I hope he’ll return to.

I showed Dave a print of an owl in a suit I bought at  Crafty Wonderland barely touching on variety in the vendors and size of the crowds out that day to explore the local fare.  I remember walking among the booths, looking at a velvet painting of Michael Jackson and hearing The Thermals playing overhead.  It was Portland art celebrating Portland art.

Something I’ve noticed through an array of networking and business meetings I’ve set up is that Portland has attracted a powerhouse of technological and artistic talent.  There aren’t a lot of jobs, but there is a creative class of people ambitious to combine creativity with entrepreneurial behavior to produce amazing things. This is starting to attract publicity.

James Mercer, The Shins and Broken Bells

What does all this have to do with Broken Bells? Let’s take a look at the context around the release.  James Mercer, frontman for The Shins, decided to move to Portland a few years back. Recently keyboardist Marty Crandall and Drummer Jesse Sandoval were replaced by by Fruit Bats’ bassist Ron Lewis and Modest Mouse’s Joe Plummer.

Mercer suggested in May that a new Shins album could come in early 2010, but then in September announced a collaborative project with Brian Joseph Burton aka Dangermouse titled Broken Bells. The release of the first single off Broken Bells, “The High Road” on the 21st of this month was quickly overshadowed by what some are calling the “best Christmas present ever,” the complete leak of the album.

One listen and it is clear that Mercer aimed for and delivered a dashing mix of phonics and verse, doing well to combine his creative style with a bang up set of instrumentation from Burton.  When the album makes its official debut it is certain to be a hit.

In light of this new work it seems hard to believe a new Shins album will be dropping any time soon.  And to celebrate Broken Bells as a Portland achievement hold less water than to simply say it is heavily in association with the city.  The idea that Portland would influence the creation of an effort like Broken Bells seems to jive with what I’m seeing on the ground.  There are no doubt wonderful things yet to come from this city and I’m excited to see what else shakes out.

When Business and Personal Life Collides – New Facebook Privacy Settings and the Status of Tiger Woods' Endorsement Contracts

Exactly what counts as private personal details has been a major theme underlying discussion in new media and old media in the past few weeks.  Here are two interesting examples of how business and people’s personal details are colliding right now.

New Media: Facebook’s Privacy Settings Updates

Facebook has made major changes to how it handles privacy settings for users.  Most likely you are familiar with the outcry and acceptance around Facebook’s push to make your updates more transparent.

Facebook was conceived around the idea of sharing detailed content like photos and notes only with your social net, which was supposed to represent your core group of friends in the meatspace.  Twitter’s growth has been in addressing the extreme opposite: sharing 140 characters worth of insight with the entire world instantly.

Facebook relies on deep engagement with its users in order to get its advertisements clicked on.  Facebook was forced to change its strategy because it was losing opportunities for interaction with its users to Twitter.  In addition, Facebook is missing out on buzz because Facebook it is seen as lacking the real time relevance of Twitter.

The update to Facebook’s Privacy Settings is a tactic in the company’s strategy to get more Facebook users to share their updates with the public or at least make it obvious that users are welcome to do so.

The problem is that average internet users are not capable of building and utilizing a set of sophisticated privacy settings.  The result is that many are unwittingly sharing what they believe is private information.  Rafe Needleman makes a great point that the initial user interface designed to guide Facebook users does more to guide them to exposing their information rather than creating the controls they want.

If these ideas are to be accepted, it suggests that Facebook is knowingly creating conditions where the details of user’s personal lives are made public because it will lead the company towards greater market share and profits.

Old Media: Tiger Woods Endorsement Contracts

Let it be known that I am not a huge fan of old media.  To be clear, this includes broadcast and time shifted television advertisements, magazine advertising and  just about any electronic sign found in sports arenas like the Rose Garden. (Go Blazers.)  My reasoning is that old media too often lacks any real context and is more about blanketing the masses with the critical six exposures rather than seeking to engage individual interests.

Celebrity endorsements or testimonials are a classic tool of old media and I couldn’t help but notice the full page advertisement for Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer, which features their “official partner” Tiger Woods.

Woods is currently deep in allegations of adultery, and after being dropped from Accenture this past Sunday the Tag Heuer made the statement that Woods’ personal life is “not our business.”

Tiger Woods Tag Heuer Celebrity Endorsement So I had a closer look at this big magazine advertisement and the text reads: “I first swung a golf club when I was nine months old…Since 1996, my Foundation has inspired more than 10 million youth…Together with TAG Heuer, I’m helping young people believe in themselves.”

My question to Tag Heuer is if you’re going to have a representative for your brand make claims about his ability to connect with and inspire children, is your representative’s personal life really not your business?  It is one thing if you are going to depict your representative as a an accomplished athlete and another if he is going to be talking about his influence on kids.

Closing

I selected these to examples because I was interested in them.  Facebook is social media, which I enjoy and Woods’ sex scandal has become interesting because of the business aspect and the general extent of what he’s described as “transgressions.”

But the greater comment I’m after is that it is easy to say that Facebook or major media has taken away people’s right to privacy.  Or to believe that there is complete compromise in participating in social networking or great accomplishment that puts you in the public spotlight.

However, who controls your personal information and the judgement of exactly what is a constitutes “personal life” is a moving target.  New technologies and dollars and cents will affect what you get to keep private as much as evolving social mores.

Apple Touch Platform, Tablet, iTunes, Social Gaming and OpenFeint

I’ve returned my focus to  Apple’s Touch platform, and in so doing I’ve been diving into a variety of interesting subject areas.  Since my company’s last release, Apple has added access to a great deal of new services on the touch devices through the iPhone SDK.  While some fantastic innovations have already been created for the iPhone, we have only scratched the surface of how its unique ecosystem can improve our lives.

I went to a presentation at Mobile Portland by Dan Grigsby, creator of iPhone developer blog,  Mobile Orchard.  Dan presented statistics suggesting that the gold rush of the app store is over and that we are now entering a new phase of development for the iPhone. Generally, applications lacking aesthetic and substance simply aren’t getting the sales to justify development.  Writing great software for the iPhone is difficult and in order to stand out, applications are receiving more time and attention before being released.

The Apple Tablet,  iTunes, the Future of Print Publishing and Augmented Reality

All this is leading to some very sharp Objective C development teams who will be ripe to tackle all of the new opportunities born out of the SDK for the coming Apple tablet device.  This device, named the “Slate” or otherwise will change how people share with each other in the meatspace.  A minor illustration: No one actually likes using a netbook.  People will love using this tablet.

Apple used iTunes to train a generation how to feel good about buying physically intangible goods and is now building a series of devices that are breaking down the boundaries between digital and physical.  Touching and shaking aside, the iPod Touch and iPhone offer only a glimpse at the promise of augmented reality.

Apple’s tablet will create enormous new opportunities for print publishers.  iTunes will serve as a subscription vehicle.  Newspapers, magazines and comics are poised explosive growth via the scale of digital distribution iTunes can provide.  (Update: A day after this blog post, five publishers announced a new digital reading platform meant to compete with what iTunes will provide.

Social Gaming

Finally, I’ve been tracking OpenFeint recently and believe it represents something of a hat-trick of awesome concepts and topics: social networking, gaming, and and mobile software.  Plus+ is another emerging social gaming platform and while it is far less open to the public, the concept behind these platforms is so hot you could cook smores over it.

2010 is going to be another breakout year for developers and users of Apple’s touch platform.  What trends are you seeing and excited about?

I'm Back

Back 2 the FutureIt’s not that I’ve been on break, I’ve just been getting a lot of my online communication out through micro blogging on Twitter and using Facebook, with a little Flickr thrown in.  I had an amazing summer that included my sister getting married and traveling around the country as a rock journalist. I’m back in Portland, Oregon now a place I love and call home.

Over the summer I also had the pleasure to work with a Babson colleague on CustomMade.  CustomMade is a website that helps you connect with talented woodworkers.   The CustomMade has tons of  custom cabinets, kitchens, homes, and built ins and I found a beautiful wedding present for my sister thanks to that website so check it out.

While Twitter and Facebook are important places to share information, they can’t replace blogging.  My Facebook is private to friends, and Twitter is limited to 140 characters and falls off the searchable web in a scant two weeks.  I hope to bring back more guides, technical tips and ideas, along with notes on music I enjoy.   It is nice to be back and thanks for reading.