3 Underutilized Technologies You Should Adopt Today

There are common technologies and services in existence today that continue to be rebuffed by far more people than they should.  This group of people probably have and use Facebook, own or regularly use an iPod and can send and receive email attachments with ease.  These are ‘normal’ people who would typically be considered to be reasonably tech-savvy and in the early to middle of the road adopters group.

I’m going to list reasons these are not adopted, reasons they should be and a score for how hard it would be to adopt it where 1 is super easy, and 10 is hard. Here are three that I’ve identified and feel strongly about today:

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M.I.A. Uses Twitter, "Space Odyssey" to Bring Attention to the Continued Plight of Tamil Civilians in Sri Lanka

Musician M.I.A. released a song titled “Space Odyssey” this past week that has become notable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was her reaction to a New York Times travel guide spotlighting Sri Lanka as a travel destination in 2010.

First, new work from M.I.A. is eagerly anticipated as she went on hiatus following a tour for her Grammy nominated record, Kaya. I was at the far edges of the crowd with my sister when she told the audience at Bonnaroo in 2008 that it would be her last performance.  Since then, M.I.A. has largely kept away from music creation.

Second, M.I.A. chose to deliver “Space Odyssey” to fans via a twitter update, where she shared the video via TwitVid, a popular 3rd party service for video hosting that competes directly with Vidly.  While M.I.A’s choice of TwitVid as the media player allowed her to use her Twitter feed to deliver new music directly to her fans, it also has forced everyone to listen to this critically important release in terrible quality video and audio.  Check out the embed above.

Most notably, following the surprise release of the song, M.I.A.’s publicist confirmed that “Space Odyssey”  was released specifically in reaction to a recent New York Times story on the Top 31 Places to Go in 2010 written by Lionel Beehner.  In the NYT piece, Beehner acknowledges that the country has been “plagued by misfortune…but the conflict ended last May.” and goes on to suggest that “miles of sugary white sand flanked by bamboo groves that were off-limits until recently are a happy, if unintended byproduct of the war.”

If you are unfamiliar, a brutal civil war was being fought between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  Leading up to the end of major conflict in May of 2009, many civilians were killed in efforts by the government to put down the rebel group.  The US State Department has issued a report outlining areas of concern (pdf) where International Humanitarian Law is believed to have been violated.

For some time following the end of combat, a quarter million people from the Tamil minority were forced to remain in refugee camps for months.  Between the brutality on both sides during the war and subsequent forced confinement afterwards, Sri Lanka’s international standing is quite low.  M.I.A. is of Tamil ancestry and fled the country as a refugee.  She has specifically decried (see her explanation at 3:25) the violence on both sides of the war.

M.I.A’s made a bold move in connecting her new artistry directly to a major US news publication’s pithy and embarrassing portrayal of Sri Lanka as a top tourist destination.  She did so using her platform of roughly 82,000 Twitter followers, all eager to hear what she would follow Paper Planes with.  M.I.A. has hit upon a near perfect mix of social networking, social action and artistic expression, most certainly setting her apart as an artist to watch in 2010.

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.