shoomness AT gmail DOT com
Technology writer. Geek. Student. Melbourne, Australia
Early adopters are keen to take advantage of everything that technology has to offer. Their key demands are summarized in Latitude’s report as ‘The 4 I’s’: Immersion, Interactivity, Integration and Impact. Essentially, they want to be able to explore a story in greater depth, and have it reach out of the confines of a single medium and play out in ‘the real world’.
The transpiring events of Apple’s lawsuit against Samsung has divided the technology industry and has honed in on several overarching talking points and issues in intellectual property which far extend the perpetual ‘eye for an eye’ battle that the companies currently occupy. Many writers and pundits state that the lawsuit will be a primary stepping stone to IP and patent reform and will be a primary decider of the future of patent law in the technology industry.
What has risen to the surface during the course of the trial are the two differing approaches with which Apple and Samsung view the situation. Apple’s perspective tends to be hinged on protecting the intrinsic and unique value of their intellectual property, whereas Samsung’s approach focuses much more on the end game of consumer perception.
But what both these approaches share is the fact that none can be tied to any semblance of pure rationality or cold hard facts, there’s no way to say with certainty for example that the use of a certain colour scheme in Samsung’s iconography has directly led to loss suffered by Apple, nor can it be said that Apple’s design is generic and therefore should offer no direct or exclusive benefit to Apple. Both these conclusions assume direct causation and attempt to put some logic behind something that inherently isn’t logical – perception and behaviour.
The argument of common sense is one that many Samsung apologists have put forward in Samsung’s defence, and is once again based purely on perception. What one deems to be common sense could be grounded in a variety of experiential factors, but nonetheless the argument of common sense and obviousness does bring to light several indisputable points.
Like, the colour green for instance; Samsung has vehemently argued that the green phone icon can’t possibly go any other way. After all, green as a universal standard means ‘go’ and if that colour was to be attributed to any basic function of a smartphone it would most certainly be its namesake – the phone.
But of course, the common sense argument goes much further than that and not particularly in Samsung’s favour. Based on experience and past evidence, we can conclude that it’s easy to argue common sense when it’s already been successfully implemented by someone else. After all, if a successful implementation of something proves nothing else, it proves that there is indeed at least some ‘sense’ behind it.
The pre-iPhone and post-iPhone charts display a fairly damning picture of this notion. Samsung’s pre-iPhone line-up is seemingly laden with devices thrown into market with the hope that something would stick, whereas Samsung’s post-iPhone line-up is the polar opposite exhibiting uniformity and purpose in form factor and design.
Nokia in their hey-day – before the iPhone - were recognised for the pure variety of their handset line-up and also the mindless creativity in the design of many of their devices. Essentially Nokia were the definition of cool in the cellphone industry, and that coupled with economies of large scale were why Nokia was successful and why their phones were able to move effortlessly off the shelves. Nokia’s approach of spread therefore was deemed an obvious and logical means with which to penetrate the cellphone market and Samsung followed suit.
Apple’s iPhone literally flipped this paradigm and showed that a device which exhibited simplicity in line-up and product could move even faster off the shelves. Simplicity and fluidity in design are two aspects that make the iPhone sell, so why not emulate that? And why would you do it any other way, it’s just common sense.
Obviously these successful approaches have sense and prudence, but a nascent notion that a new-found successful way is the only appropriate way is far off base – this point alone being the most prominent gaping hole behind the ‘common sense’ defence that no doubt Samsung has in its card and many of Samsung’s supporters are ready to play in heated fanboy debates. Whether Samsung had or hadn’t the intention of copying Apple’s design is not the epicentre of the debate, it’s that Samsung, regardless of intent did produce a design that resembled Apple’s when other options were and are available.
It’s difficult to think laterally when there’s a standard that’s trying to be reached – that is, Samsung would certainly have found it a mind-stretch to build a differentiated product when the iPhone in all its rounded rectangle and gridded icon glory was the benchmark to reach. It is a sound presumption that a Samsung product would brandish much more originality if the company were forced to think and develop from the ground up instead of basing thought around a readily set standard.
It doesn’t make it easier when the design that the frontrunner has settled on – despite not being the sole logical approach – is certainly one which exercises basic no-frills simplicity to its absolute core. To think of a logical and aesthetically pleasing design as simplistic as the original iPhone is a tall ask, and the case applies even more so with the iPad which is essentially a skeletally bare slab of aluminium and glass. And what’s more simple than an evenly arranged grid of uniformly shaped icons?
Devin Coldewey of TechCrunch alludes to this point better than anyone else in his article ‘Tablet Zero’ from December of 2011. Apple went out of their way to develop a design so generic that its form would become the start line for any manufacturer willing to join the race. As Devin Coldewey writes – ‘you can’t make a Xoom without making an iPad first, just like you can’t make a die without making a cube first. This was Apple’s stroke of evil genius.’
Apple’s sly tactics are still no excuse and can’t form the basis of a defence for Samsung, because even though claiming ownership to a generic form factor and design shouldn’t be allowed, this doesn’t change the fact that there are still many unexplored opportunities that make equally as much sense and are equally as feasible regardless of whether they’re as simple or not. A black slab of glass is not plainly a given in smartphone hardware design and the rounded rectangle icon style isn’t any more commonsensical or intrinsically better than the tile-based UI in Windows Phone.
Sure Apple gets the perhaps unfair advantage of having their all-encompassing design immediately compared against competing alternatives, but that’s just one of the perks of getting to market first. Apple deserves credit where credit is due.
The underlying point is that there are still plenty of opportunities to make a functionally and useably better device without aligning with Apple’s plan of attack so closely. That being, there are far too many ways for a design to be commonsensical to excuse Samsung’s phones of bearing such a level of similarity – no matter how significant the granular details. This is a gaping hole in the entirety of Samsung’s defensive case.
It’s been an eventful and positive week for Microsoft, coming off two major announcements on its two major computing platforms - Windows and Windows Phone. Although much of the excitement has been in many ways noticeably hobbled by the consumer and expert scepticism as Microsoft nose dives into paradigm change, this week was clearly indicative of a profoundly new direction for Microsoft, characterised by refreshing perspectives and paves them a path which leads ultimately in the right direction.
A basic unravelling of Microsoft’s stumbles
There’s no denying that Microsoft has remained relatively stagnant in the past 5 years, promising products and ideas which by the time of fruition were far too little too late. Competitors in Apple and Google have taken strides to pull the rug from Microsoft’s feet and dominate an app-driven smartphone market vastly different from the other type of smartphone which used to be the joint of two big monsters - Windows Mobile and RIM’s Blackberry.
Apple’s iPad struck the industry by surprise, sparking the entire market into a flurry - forcing the conception of noticeably unpolished and hurried products running under Google’s hurried and unpolished Honeycomb operating system with the fear of too, being far too little too late. Creative, inspired and refreshing approaches at penetrating the tablet market by the likes of Fusion Garage and HP’s webOS were met with closed wallets resulting in the sad and complicated demise of the former and the hasty and comically brutal termination of the latter.
All the while Microsoft seemingly sat steadfast on its burdens of power, market share and cash - taking its time with its planned smartphone reboot and giving no indication of an imminent entrance into the Apple-ruled tablet market. Its competitors continued to make strides.
Microsoft’s story so far is perhaps a cautionary tale that in an industry which is driven predominantly by progressions in software and ‘ecosystems’ particularly - things move fast. The concept of the ‘app store’ which was brought to the limelight by Apple’s aptly named ‘App Store’ is the perfect manifestation of the ‘ecosystem’s’ equally constructive and destructive powers.
The ecosystem in consumer technology is defined best as products and services which are built for each other and are designed to work best together. The aim of the ecosystem is that the end consumer will get the most out of their products and services if they choose products and services bred in the same ecosystem; and it is to the user’s expense to have to diffuse their personal technology portfolio across multiple. To illustrate this point, it’s fairly obvious that a consumer would be increasingly more productive and enjoy a greater user experience in using in tandem an iPad, iPhone and a Macbook Pro as opposed to an Android smartphone, Blackberry Playbook and a Windows PC combination.
To get back to the original point, a growing ecosystem has phenomenal constructive powers for obvious reasons. It acts as a hive for passionate developers to voice and distribute their creativity, it allows vast amounts of content to be distributed and it allows the users first and foremost to be productive and enjoy a great user experience. The most threatening thing about growing ecosystems from the industry’s vantage point though is that they grow geometrically - growing faster and faster as they grow more and more. Large user bases attract developers, apps from developers attract users and the process continues, becoming more prevalent as it progresses.
This brings to light the destructive side of ecosystems - their growth is initially unremarkable, but the geometric quality of their growth catches competitors out when they’re not nimble on their feet, as was the case with Microsoft. Caught completely blindsided, Microsoft found itself in a situation where its mobile OS was looking light years out of date and its ferocious attempts at playing catch up were a time suck. Fast forward to 2012 and Microsoft is playing as the hopeful start up in industries it used to dominate.
Of course, competitor factors are not the sole reason for Microsoft’s tragic and inexorable fall from grace. Microsoft ultimately was far too narrow-minded forcing them to miss filling in crucial gaps such as integrating their vast library of devices and software. Commanding ease of use was clearly an aspect of user experience with avenues to explore and vast potential to improve, however Microsoft made no ground-breaking alterations sticking with their - by today’s standards, extremely cumbersome - Windows Mobile operating system. And of course, traditional Windows tablets formed a foundation which Microsoft didn’t quite have the smarts to unlatch. Apple got there first.
Road to redemption
Microsoft has begun making genuine inroads towards a new strategy which represents a complete paradigm shift from the fundamentals that defined Microsoft and its products over the last couple of decades. The company used to be the anti-thesis of Apple in practically every sense, selling their products based on the abundance of choice as opposed to Apple’s strategy of marketing a small hardware lineup. Apple’s strategy has always focused on ease of use, simplicity and form; whereas Microsoft - although not neglecting form and aesthetic - put functionality first and foremost and wrapped design around this in the most appealing way possible. The announcements this week represent a fully-committed digression from this strategy from Microsoft.
Although success or fruition is yet to be realised, it’s a positive sign that Microsoft has noticed the writing on the wall and has taken action; and not action in a languid or half-assed manner.
On Windows Phone
Windows Phone 7 was introduced in late 2010 engulfed by an aura of excitement and anticipation. Despite this, Windows Phone has thus far failed to be the stopgap that Microsoft has needed - dragging its heels in smartphone market share and despite being no slouch, its app store still lags behind established players in Google and Apple. Windows Phone launched as a half-done operating system which diminished a lot of excitement and hype that could have accumulated and translated into sales. The lack of basic functionality at launch such as a cut and paste feature and any semblance of a useful multitasking arrangement gave it the essence of a pre-release beta that just happened to run really well and be astonishingly low on bugs.
I was one of those who fell head over heels with Microsoft’s Metro design language and became an early pre-Mango adopter of Windows Phone. Coming straight off a Sony Ericsson feature (dumb) phone I didn’t expect to be jolted by its lacking app store at the time, and I wasn’t. Though of course, I have stumbled across several desirable Android and iOS apps not available on Microsoft’s emerging platform. Either way, Windows Phone 7 - with strong regard to its stellar user interface and experience - was a promising start to an array of fundamentals that are defining the new Microsoft as it approaches this technological era of immediacy and simplicity.
This week’s announcement of Windows Phone 8 is ground-breaking for a number of reasons, the most prevalent being of course - as many respected tech bloggers have pointed out - is that it has crossed out one by one many of the platform’s limitations and has almost levelled the platform with iOS and Android; even surpassing it on some levels. More importantly, Microsoft has managed to add this much-needed level of functionality, detail and refinement without detracting from the operating system’s most apparent selling point - the stunning UI.
Sure, in the endless spec war Microsoft’s OS is nothing spectacular against many Androids on the market. Windows Phone 8’s resolution support maxes out at WXGA (1280 X 768), which is plenty but with the iPhone’s renowned Retina display already standing at a commanding 960 X 640, we can only expect smartphone display resolutions to grow. Windows Phone 8 also supports multi-core processors which is an instrumental addition given Windows Phone 7’s support of a limited single core Snapdragon processor which was already relatively aged at the time of its utility. However Androids have had this capability for years. On the hardware front, Windows Phone 8 only just levels Microsoft with its competitors - but that’s good enough.
Despite the obvious shortcomings Microsoft has with its new mobile and computing strategy, its trajectory is looking far more solidified than that of Google and exhibits much promise. Microsoft’s Nokia partnership is crucial to the future of their mobile platform. Nokia, in having no choice but to build hardware for Microsoft’s platform have every reason to throw all their eggs, and the very best eggs into the Microsoft basket. We’ve seen the epitome of Nokia’s hardware prowess in the engineering feats and aesthetic milestones that are the Nokia Lumia 800 and 900 smartphones and we can expect Windows Phone to continue to be treated to the very best of Nokia’s design and engineering.
Experience, feelings and emotions
Additionally, Microsoft’s Surface announcement acted as a solidifier for Microsoft’s clear change in perspective.
Although we know Microsoft primarily as a software company, it’s increasingly evident that Microsoft is beginning to see the genuine value behind great hardware integration too. Apple hasn’t laboured to hide the fact that their products are incredible because of the unmoving marriage between the hardware and the software. Microsoft knows that their old strategy of allowing OEMs tremendous freedom enabled a certain celibacy between their software and the hardware of OEMs which essentially did them no favours. Strict hardware guidelines enforced on Windows Phone devices are ensuring uniformity in user experience and performance, a level of non-fragmented consistency that Android could only dream of. There are significant grounds to predict that Microsoft will also elect to enforce guidelines on OEMs of Windows 8 tablets and PCs.
Nokia’s close partnership with Microsoft opens potential for strong marriage between hardware and software. More crucially, Microsoft’s Los Angeles event where they showcased their very own tablet – the Surface - solidifies a new direction for Microsoft, great user experiences can only occur at their very best when hardware and software are designed specifically to work together.
Microsoft’s Surface has been received with excitement, though perhaps not the optimism from pundits that the company would have liked or expected. Personally, I expected much more excitement about Surface and personally I see it as the way tablets should have been done right from the very start. The Los Angeles unveiling was much more than a simple product announcement; it was a proud and public display of a changed Microsoft which has adapted to the changing dynamics in the computer industry. Suddenly, user experience and the consumer’s feelings associated with a product are paramount, whereas much more quantifiable aspects such as features, specs and price have fallen to second priority.
Buzzwords such as ‘feeling’, ‘confidence’ and other emotionally correlated keywords were rampant in Microsoft’s announcement, whereas the classic table of specifications and price lists were noticeably absent. Microsoft didn’t even make the effort to say their product would be price competitive, nor did they aim to build a product modelled on price competitiveness or a competitive spec sheet. Sentiment and experience are the keys to Microsoft Surface and clearly played a large hand in the product’s development.
Panos Panay, the general manager of the Microsoft Surface took the stage and engulfed us in a showing more reminiscent of an Apple event speech more than any other. Something as trivial as the product’s kickstand had been subject to gold class treatment from the engineering team and Panos Panay was not afraid to boast it in informing us of the ‘visceral feeling and emotional attachment [you have] to your product when you open this kickstand and close it’.
In reference to the tactile feedback of the device’s discreetly engineered kickstand Panos Panay asserts that ‘it feels great’. Heck, Microsoft even took advantage of an anechoic chamber to engineer the sonic tactility of the kickstand’s opening and closing. When talking about the aligning magnets engineered into Surface’s attachable keyboard he ensures the audience that it has been designed in such a manner that it’s virtually impossible to miss when attaching the keyboard. He then specifies that they ‘do that to give you confidence’.
This obsessive attention to detail on aspects of the product which are initially trivial is indicative of this new approach by Microsoft in viewing the user experience on all fronts as preeminent to their product’s success. The importance of the emotional targeting of products is perhaps best illustrated by a TED talk by Simon Sinek titled ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’. This TED talk was popularised in the tech industry when it was referred to in an open letter to RIM’s senior management which was a plea for them to model their actions in line with Simon Sinek’s theories. Although the issue of leadership seems irrelevant, many aspects of Simon Sinek’s ideas are pertinent to product marketing and development and by extension to Microsoft. Sinek’s theory is based on biology and psychology and the separation of the brain into two main parts – the neocortex and the limbic. The neocortex is responsible for rational decision making and facts and figures, whereas the limbic brain is responsible for emotions and irrational gut decisions. Thus, by targeting consumer’s rationality through price and specs it’s easy to communicate a products merits and features; however sometimes it just ‘doesn’t feel right’. However by targeting products directly at the limbic brain through unquantifiable qualities such as user experience, it’s much easier to instigate purchases and positive consumer sentiments.
So obviously, the way consumers feel about a product is crucial, and by appealing more to the subtle emotions consumers invariably associate with devices instead of solely relying on more rationally considered aspects such as specifications, Microsoft is ensuring its consumers develop strong positive emotional attachments to its products and also immense customer loyalty. Both of these aspects have been tremendous stepping stones in Apple’s success and it’s a positive sign for Microsoft that they’re taking the appropriate steps to emulate that.
Integration in the new ecosystem approach is the essential element, the element that binds the ecosystem and ensures an ordered and functioning society if you like. Integration is also something Microsoft has lacked recently, particularly when stacked against Apple – the unarguable doyen in this category.
Microsoft’s current lineup is a disjointed family – Windows and Xbox rarely communicate, and Windows Phone could be assisted being a hell of a lot closer to all of it too. The truth is that many of Microsoft’s products are successful as standalone products; Windows market share in the PC industry is enormous, however this success wouldn’t be correlated closely with the success of the Xbox or vice versa. It’s possible that Microsoft’s offerings in these two separate markets could have been even more successful if there was a larger degree of convergence between the two, meaning that these two products when utilised in tandem would complement each other.
Windows Phone has been fundamentally left out of the equation, with convergence with Microsoft’s portfolio of software and services only going skin-deep. Xbox Live on Windows Phone is merely a shallow use of Microsoft’s big brand in gaming but without any genuinely useful integration aside from the ability to gain achievement points on mobile Xbox Live games. The vast majority of Windows Phone’s Microsoft-exclusive software are simply Microsoft branded versions of generics, notably Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office.
But all this has changed with the introduction of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. For the long-run, the most significant advancement from Windows Phone 7 to Windows Phone 8 is the shared kernel with Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet and PC operating system. Microsoft is dubbing this the ‘Shared Windows Core’; without delving into technical bombast the primary advantage of this is going to be the easy porting of apps cross-platform. From a developer standpoint this is advantageous because developers will only have to fully write an app once for it to be able to jump from a Windows Phone, to a Windows Tablet and to a Windows PC.
From Microsoft’s standpoint, this is advantageous because it will enable a swift proliferation of high powered and fully functional apps in Windows Phone’s Marketplace. A lagging app store has perhaps been the largest reason behind the slow adoption rate for Windows Phones, and this will do no harm in fixing that. Microsoft’s PC empire is not going to slow down because of Windows 8; in fact it will fasten due to its head-on entrance into a tablet market with significantly lower price barriers than the traditional desktop market. Microsoft’s Windows operating system is now more accessible to more potential consumers which will result in an inevitable rise in user base. The geometric growth theory of ecosystems will once again take place as developers flock to the platform with a large audience. Microsoft has been clever in leveraging its desktop stronghold in order to boost its emerging mobile platform – a path you could say they should have taken from the very start.
But the Marketplace growth is not the sole benefit of this announcement, the shared core between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 also works towards an even greater goal of uniformity and cohesion across Microsoft’s ecosystem - a heavenly state which the company has promised for three years since Microsoft’s former chief software architect, Ray Ozzie declared the phrase ‘three screens and a cloud’ back in early 2009. The three screens approach encompasses personal computers, phones and televisions as our primary mediums of technology consumption and how networking and integration would ensure the blessed amalgamation between the three.
Of course television hasn’t been left out of the equation and Microsoft’s E3 presentation hinged on further and deeper integration between Microsoft’s portfolio of products and services. Xbox’s user interface has inherited traits from Microsoft’s Metro design language which are the pretty face of Windows and Windows Phone. The Zune brand is being recycled as it transforms into Xbox Music, clearly a streamlining effort as Microsoft cleans itself of low-value brands and instead focusing on a smaller and more centralised service offering. This rebranding is indicative once again of the ‘Apple-isation’ of Microsoft if you like, in the sense that they’re condensing their portfolio into a smaller lineup with significantly higher value.
Xbox Smartglass, the biggest and most publicised fruit of Microsoft’s E3 event further reinforces Microsoft’s addressing of cohesion and integration – enabling Windows Phones, Windows PCs and tablets to engage and communicate with the Xbox hardware, software and brand in a manner that is far more than skin deep. Not to mention, the Xbox Smartglass project could represent in itself a revolution in the gaming industry opening up new avenues for engaging with games and entertainment content. Though, we’ll wait and see what developers are able to come up with in working with the Smartglass SDK.
Microsoft understands the importance of the living room, and it’s of particular pertinence to Microsoft given it’s the only factor of the ecosystem equation not yet dominated by solidified players. Sony is struggling to excite, the Apple TV isn’t a characteristic breakthrough by Apple, and Google is yet to gain its footing. The Xbox 360 is Microsoft’s big chance, and they have the chops to deliver - to deliver in a manner that too manages to complement and ameliorate the remainder of its ecosystem. It’s time to deliver.
The road ahead
This article should not be misinterpreted as a guarantee for future success, nor is it a fanboy preach. Like MG Siegler once wrote in response to being labelled ‘a professional Apple fanboy’, “I’m a fanboy of good products. And I always will be”. I’m the exact same way, and personally I think that Microsoft makes great products hence why I’m shameless in supporting them. Though of course this is not blind support and I didn’t write this optimistic article to put Microsoft on a pedestal and to force myself and you to believe that they’ll be successful.
I’ve used Windows Phone long enough to form a reasonably objective stance (contradictory, I know) on it - it’s a good product. And basing Windows Phone 8 on the merits of Microsoft’s presentation there’s no reason to believe that it’s not going to get better. I’ve only used Windows 8 sparingly so I’m not in a position to say whether it’s good or bad; however I am in a position to bet that Microsoft’s trajectory is most certainly the right one.
Microsoft’s pursuit of its networked three screened ecosystem is finally beginning to take shape and bear tasty fruits. The company’s renewed focus on user experience and refined details is a refreshing and positive change of pace. The technical leaps obtained in Windows Phone 8 are a godsend to the emerging platform. Microsoft Surface is a promising look into the future and if the convergence effort with Xbox Smartglass is here to prove anything, it’s that Microsoft does indeed know what it’s doing. This all paints a rosy picture for the influential tech giant, a strong suggestion that the path Microsoft have paved for themselves – no matter how rocky – is unmistakeably the right one.
In the wake of PicPlz’s decision to shut down I felt it fitting to rehash a small post from founder Dalton Caldwell. This was posted more than a month ago on a Hacker News thread in response to a critical NYTimes piece which pointed fingers at Caldwell and a venture capital firm which backed the PicPlz project for ultimately failing to see the writing on the wall. At this stage, it had become abundantly clear to Caldwell and his team that PicPlz had succumbed to the explosive and viral growth of rival Instagram.
It’s a heartening reminder of the strength of Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial spirit and the hive of a passionate and inspiring creator.
"Anyone reading this article needs to remember to never be afraid of putting yourself out there because you are afraid of failure.
I saw the market first, I created picplz, and I went for it. I was a huge believe in the mobile photo sharing opportunity, and I went for it with all of my heart. Clearly, picplz didn’t win, but I have ZERO shame or regret for doing my best.
When I read articles like these, which are about myself, my company and people that I know well, I can’t help but feel vitriol aimed at me for DARING to create, launch and raise funding for picplz. I am not clear on what exactly people want, an apology for trying?
The fact is, I saw the writing on the wall that we wouldn’t win early and pivoted out of photo sharing which I had ~90% of my series A cash still in the bank. It certainly seems like that was the right move, but all of this press makes it look like pivoting was the wrong call(?) The press I read is written in such a way that it assumed that the A16Z investment is dead and my entire company should just be written off to zero today. That is bullshit. If I started to take press like this too seriously I might as well just dissolve my company and stop coming into work.
I say this to the hn comminity: never be afraid of failure. No one knows what will happen. All of this arm-chair quarterbacking is a waste of time. Stop reading this kind of crap and instead put your energy into doing your best work. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, but if you give yourself the opportunity to win enough times, you WILL be successful.”
It’s hard to decipher and piece apart this cloud that seems to constantly fog me, my innards, my perceptions of my surroundings and I guess most importantly my emotions - the sensory responses to the inevitabilities that constantly arise around me.
'Cloudy' is perhaps the best word to describe everything about me right now; after all, clouds are subtly synonymous with constant lingering uncertainty and nervous anticipation. What are you meant to do on a cloudy day? Is it going to rain or not? Is it going to pour or drizzle? Will I, or will I not bring a coat and umbrella? If one opts for the former it is possible to become consumed by the desire for it to rain - after all, nobody wants to pack a hefty coat and umbrella for nothing. But if one opts for the latter, praying to the water gods for it not to rain will invoke a level of stress which may very well rival the burden of lugging around a coat and umbrella anyway.
That lengthy analogy, as ridiculous as it seems suffices in describing the extent of my emotions and the activity of my infinitely whirling mind. I’m constantly asking myself questions, doubting things I should be sure of and betting my heart on things which are dangerous or trivial at best. Whichever way, the only thing I’m ever certain of is that this enveloping cloud swindles me of even narrow rays of sunlight and I find it difficult to ever call myself happy.
Perhaps I find myself in my turbulent emotional situation because I don’t even know what happiness is. Maybe I am happy but have far over-reaching expectations of what it should be and how it should make me feel. Either way, one thing I know is that happiness is impossible to concretely define.
It’s often difficult to find the distinction between the striking parallels of happiness and pleasure. Pleasure is easy, it’s instantaneous and defined by moments. It’s dead easy to find delight in trivial events which make no profound alterations across the course of a life. In fact, moments tend to make no profound alterations across the course of even a day.
Happiness differs from pleasure because it’s not a feeling per se, it’s a state of being. Happiness is not characterised by steep highs of ecstatic joy and delight which compel people to question ‘what is air?’ Happiness is merely the capability of being satisfied with things and to be adequately pleased with oneself so as not to be emotionally jolted by petty downfalls. Purely from my own personal vantage, happiness is not needing to doubt constantly my emotional well-being.
I do remember the time when I first began to doubt things and started to slowly cave in to my emotional insecurities. It was a little less than a year ago, maybe 10 months and there were problems in my family, issues with my own expectations and there was this girl. That final noun is capable of telling its own story, I don’t want to delve into it - heartbreak is never a fun story to tell. But if you’ve been through it you’ll know what it’s like. But if you haven’t, I can’t explain to you, prose and vocabulary can only go so far. You can only imagine.
At that stage though, I got a glimpse of what it was like to view the world through the goggles of cynicism and depression. It’s like peering at the world through grayscale - vibrancy loses its colour, interest is ripped of its allure and taste doesn’t work its magic on the tongue. Most devastatingly, things that used to bring joy fell to the wayside as the only thing that I ever wanted to fall on was my bed. And never wake up. I went through a lengthy phase where I lost motivation to be a great writer which pained me profoundly. I had been so confident for so long that this was a desire that would never fade, work that wasn’t painful but work that brought me joy. Yet at that time, not even writing offered adequate succour to a painful and throbbing state of mind.
That phase went on and off for months. As soon as it looked like I was picking myself up, my life would invariably decide to churn up several emotionally taxing events such as a family fight or a small relapse of my sister’s eating disorder and drag me right back to square one. My mind was a stone around my neck which I laboured with swords, axes and firearms to detach myself from. Who was I kidding? How could I possibly use brute mental force to free myself from my own trauma when the mind was where my problem was in the first place.
As they say, time is the panacea, and that proved correct in my case. The crazy thing is, I didn’t walk out of it the same person. Time as my medicine didn’t really cure me at all, it simply assisted in making me immune to the vagaries of my own mind. But I was still the same difficult, moody and hostile person. I still am. In fact, I think I’ve regressed in that department in the last few months.
I’m a construction site, fenced and with a blazing yellow sign labelled ‘Work in Progress’. Pedestrians, please detour or risk hurting yourself and hurting me. Do anything except get close to me. I shouldn’t worry though, you probably wouldn’t venture anywhere remotely close to my vicinity given the sparks and debris that occupy the airspace. Only a few well-armoured friends would dare to traverse my mile radius.
Today, I wouldn’t say I get hurt by the same things - I’m over that girl, my sister is over her eating disorder, I’m oddly so detached from my parents these days that their feuds would manifest as only a blip on my mental radar. I like to think that I have bigger things on my mind.
But these days I get hurt by little things and lots of little things - less wood behind more arrows so to speak; a direct reversal of the common saying. I over-think arbitrary tid bits such to the point that they evolve intractably in my mind into some negative beast created to bring me eternal pain and hell. Even things that are supposedly good news on face value make these unwitting transformations in my mind.
I attribute this solely to my losing the ability to trust and to believe. My phase of pseudo-depression turned me into a sceptical cynic. Everyone is out there to eat me, nothing is forever, nothing is genuine, nothing is certain. Even the nicest people I’m quietly suspicious of, perhaps they’re only being excessively friendly to obtain benefits and gain. Perhaps this girl doesn’t really like me but I’m just her desperate little puppet that she gets hugs from every Wednesday afternoon. Maybe I won’t even love journalism and writing any more within a years time, so why do I even bother?
My inability to lend any aspect of my life even a small sense of certainty or trust makes me an extremely difficult person to befriend, and makes pleasurably meaningless conversations with people a tall ask for me. Lately I’ve trialled something, just to stop trying to be the sociable person I used to be and allowing room for the person I am now - a whirlwind of cataclysmic emotional destruction. I’ve distanced myself from most people, only communicating in situations that are actuated more by obligation than the desire for ‘socialising’. It’s been okay, I’m getting hurt less and am slowly beginning to relish my own company - and that of music. I should write a love story between me and my headphones. My god, they’re beautiful.
I’ll probably look back at this in 5 years as an acutely different person and laugh. Just like I look back at that girl that started a lot of this and laugh. Just like I look back at soiling myself in class in first grade and laugh. Just like I look back at how I cried everyday in kindergarten and laugh.
But for now, it’s step by step. Inch by inch. I’m pursuing happiness, I haven’t caught it yet.
Facebook not too long ago began rolling out the function of read receipts to Facebook conversations. Although it hasn’t been entirely rolled out to Facebook’s browser version - and I know that because I’m yet to see it - read receipts were brought to Facebook Messenger through an update a couple of weeks ago. Of course this same update also brought in several other neat features too, most notably of course being locations - so your conversational partner not only knows whether you’ve read their message, but also where your conversing from.
This all builds towards Facebook’s ultimate holy grail of unparalleled transparency on the web, in fact, unparalleled transparency in practically every facet of our lives as the web weaves itself deeper and deeper into our lifestyles. The compulsory addition of read receipts to Facebook messages is a cause for concern though, not purely in the sense that you’ll now have a lot of explaining to do if you ignore someone, but because it disrupts the entire paradigm of texting and messaging entirely and tries to make it something that it’s not. Something that it can’t be for at least a while.
Texting and messaging has always hinged upon ambiguity, which is one reason why it’s still a popular medium despite the growth and popularity of such things as Skype, and more direct contact. It allows us to be blunt when we may be overridden with emotion, it allows us to maintain objectivity in our discourse in such a way that our voice in spoken communication can’t disguise. Texting and messaging is a wall that we can hide behind - and we take comfort in that.
While most will view this ambiguity as a limitation, it’s actually a good thing. This may seem contradictory particularly taking into account my personal views - I’ve always adamantly maintained that the ultimate trajectory of technology going forward should be to seamlessly merge with nature; that technology shouldn’t be extradited as another world, but be an extension if not purely a merging with our current world. So really, my stance is that text messaging shouldn’t be granted the benefits of obscurity if real face to face conversation isn’t - it’s fake and only serves to highlight technology’s limitations as opposed to its merits.
But having said that, it’s thus far impossible to import the raw authenticity of a real conversation into text - read receipts is a futile attempt to do that and only succeeds in half-assing this aim. Facebook messaging is a useful medium the way it is. From a user perspective, mandatory read receipts provides no usability advantages but only adds awkward moments.
The way that IM technology has worked for so many years has wired us to view it in a certain way - although we might not think we do, we see all chat and messaging clients, including Facebook as delivery services; I send you a message and I wait for you to say something back. Whether you receive my message or not, I don’t know, all I do is wait for your reply. That’s how it has always been, these IM services have simply been delivery clients and nothing else.
Read receipts sounds like a trivial matter but it’s really not. It’s going to dramatically alter the way in which we approach conversations because it changes the nature of the medium entirely - suddenly it’s not simply a delivery service but a conversational one - it allows online conversations to act more like, well, real conversations.
To put it into perspective, when talking to someone face to face there’s always the immediate need to respond. It’s simply attributed to the plainly obvious fact that we know that they know that we heard them (I hope you’re not lost on me). You can’t simply stand there, absorb their words and not say a thing because that would be ignoring them - and as our elementary school teachers always told us, never ignore people, it’s rude. Read receipts extends this conversational acknowledgement into text-based messaging. Put simply, a sender will immediately know that their message has been read and will naturally expect a fairly quick reply, which puts pressure on the recipient to respond.
Read receipts obviously aims to discourage ignoring, so we talk more, and we spend more time on Facebook and become more attached to the connections that Facebook cultivates between us and our contacts and well, from Facebook’s personal vantage I’m sure you can work it out from there.
What read receipts fails to account for though is that a recipient’s failure to respond could be attributed to far more things than simply ignoring. If there’s an awkward silence in a face to face conversation there are usually good reasons for it, whether it be emotional responses which can’t be translated into words or other things which can’t be interpreted on face value. Read receipt’s primary deficiency is the fact that it discounts all these potential reasons to simply, ‘This person’s ignoring me’.
We simply can’t try to simulate the factor of acknowledgement in real face to face conversation in text based messages without too translating its associations. It’s fruitless attempting to turn texting into talking, we don’t have the technology to communicate through text and online mediums what only body language and facial expression can proclaim.
So what we have with read receipts is a situation where there is no polite way to ignore somebody. We can’t use the excuse of ‘AFK’ anymore because we clearly were at the keyboard. It leaves a person like me, whom is generally tardy in responding to anything in somewhat of a pickle - a lot of hearts will be broken, a lot of friendships will be lost. It’s not because I’m rude, it’s just because I’m intensely lazy and that tends to override even the pleasures of conversing with people. Maybe that still counts as ignoring, but I’m sure some concessions can be made if there’s no cruel intent. If only read receipts was coupled with a way to communicate why said recipient is not responding - ‘Jeremy is just extremely lazy, and also ridiculously busy at the same time. He doesn’t hate you, please don’t take this silence personally’.
If Facebook Messenger ever makes a debut on Windows Phone then I guess I’ll get a shot at being on the other end of the scale, the feeling of being ignored, of being ‘seen’ but not replied to. To be honest, I think I’d come to loathe read receipts, I don’t know if I can handle the emotional hostility of feeling like I’m being ignored.
- Every trip to the bathroom, and the short walk between the bathroom entrance to the urinal and its subsequent procedures is a carefully thought-out and intricately choreographed endeavour. Like a well-rehearsed actress, for us guys, the process is natural and practically congenital; and in the occasion of the unforeseeable adversity, our actions are consistently perfunctory, being so well-versed in confronting such situations having faced them countless times before.
Based on some anecdotal evidence, in any given week, it is probable for one to visit a public urinal approximately seven times. Taking into account the exclusion of my toddler years this brings my lifetime urinal visits to a sum total of approximately 4000 at the very least. 4550 if we’re splitting hairs. Much like breathing, the sheer magnitude of the occurrences of urinal encounters discounts the events to merely a happening of human nature - something so unavoidable and so common that it’s simply not worth thinking about.
For the most part, that’s true, urinal visits are often stark routine events which make no alterations across a course of one’s life (or day). But I did think about it, intensely deeply and this is that story. -
I excuse myself from the study table, and lift myself off the forcefully ergonomic seat. Making my way towards the grand exit of the study hall I notice the green exit sign flickering with astonishing and eye-rattling subtlety. The bathroom on the other side, beckons. My companions are in the know of the destination I am heading for - the bathroom - so I walk at a leisurely pace, portraying casual nonchalance. I am certainly not in desperate need to release my inner fluids at this stage and neither do I want my friends thinking that I am.
Illustrating desperation in such a delicate situation as the first steps towards the bathroom is an indescribably enormous no. People start picturing you doing despicable things, and it becomes evident that for the last hour the obligatory nodding during that conversation was merely a cover-up as you diverted all your brainpower towards bottling the implacable flow flooding the downstairs area.
Sure, casual walking in times of sheer desperation is a lie, but it is a white lie for the benefits of social etiquette and is therefore more than acceptable.
I jog down the stairs and take the sharp turn towards the mens bathroom. A scraggy looking hipster with chino pants partially rolled up and green boat shoes departs through its modern wooden doors, he subtly adjust his pants giving them a sharp aligning twist.
I think to myself, I’m about to go in there and do the exact same thing as you did - SPLENDID! Or perhaps, foot to the pedal you managed to achieve the full deal, you disposed of your faeces too. In which case, I take my hat off to you - physically sitting down on a toilet seat is no task for the faint-hearted; not to mention the approving splash that quality excrement makes as it is birthed from the anus diving into the new oceanic world below attracts attention in a situation when you least want it.
But the fact that you may have managed to sit down on a seat, finish your load and depart without appearing utterly traumatised paints a pleasurable picture of the toilet conditions behind that brown wooden door. It’s a comforting thought knowing that if the ideal urinal situation doesn’t present itself, then a cubicle is still fair game.
I push the wooden door open with an amount of force which allows it to exhibit a satisfying swing. It’s a grand entrance, to a less than grand location - though admittedly, for a public bathroom the condition is impressive. The fragrance of sweet soap overpowers the odour of stale urine and toilet water, and I look down at my feet smiling at the notion that what I’m standing on is indeed floor, not floor polished by a glistening layer of urine.
I place a gratuitous tick in my mental check box - this is definitely a bathroom I will want to visit more often.
My legs instinctively direct me to the right towards the urinal portion of the bathroom. Hmmm, classy, it houses separate container urinals, as opposed to the unhygienic and aesthetically displeasing aluminium walls. This is certainly an above average bathroom facility. But then again why wouldn’t it be? It’s housed in one of the most architecturally significant landmarks in the city of Melbourne - the State Library of Victoria. Surely its bathroom facilities would seek to do it justice.
My eyes glance around as I engage in the most resource-intensive and crucial stage in the entire bathroom-going process - which urinal to choose; in the context of urination this is a black or white life and death decision. Obviously the fact that what I’m presented with is an assortment of container urinals eases my decision slightly - I only have to make a decision on which urinal I’m going to let it rip, as opposed to my centimetre-perfect alignment along a tin wall.
Ah bollocks! Both the corner ones are ‘out of order’ with A4 paper strapped across them with clear tape. It’s common knowledge to always elect corner options when confronted with them, even the two corners of my school’s tin wall urinals are stained a sickly grainy yellow from chronic overuse. Naturally, electing a corner urinal eliminates the chances of multiple penis counterparts pissing beside you.
This is my interpretation of the ideal situation - the corner option. The ICBE labels the ideal situation as one in which a bathroom contains only one urinal eliminating the element of choice altogether. At least in that situation you wouldn’t have to pee next to anyone. I guess choice really is as much a curse as it is a blessing.
My contemplation continues as I wonder towards the out of order urinal to investigate its issues. *Gasp*, a man rocking the horrendous junners look untucks his polo shirt from his jeans and unleashes his fountain in one of the centre urinals! It occurs to me that the centre urinal is never out of order simply because its use is only applicable in desperate emergency situations when all urinals are taken and cubicles for whatever reasons are simply not an option. One does not simply stroll in, in junners and occupy a centre urinal with alternate opportunities and options abound!
There are obviously situations in life when it is desirable to be the centre of attention, peeing is not one of them. I’ve endured enough awkward moments in bathrooms to justify my saying that, and I’m still only young! This man looks in his 40s, surely his awkward bathroom experiences would number in the 100s, and with his evident tendency to elect the worst possible option, I’d justly double that number.
My mind cycles as I relive the most awkward moments in my life - taking a dump in my pants in prep after being too nervous to ask the teacher to visit the bathroom, playing sword fights at the urinal in 2nd grade and accidentally pissing on my opponent…OH, and having the teacher shower me after unloading in my pants. It occurs to me that all these stupendously awkward moments share a common characteristic - bathrooms - and that bathrooms inherently are a fertile breeding zone for awkward moments if one doesn’t play their cards right.
Occupying a middle urinal is certainly not playing cards right. Trust me, I’ve tried centre urinals before and the resulting nervousness often makes the pissing task a mighty ask, which only exacerbates the situation. Pissing in a centre urinal with two men beside, identical stances, flies undone with unbuckled belts hanging limply is an exasperating situation which invokes a deep sense of harrowing self conciousness.
The cool nonchalance that said two men always seem to exhibit is merely a contradictory veil over what is always a menacing and judgemental silence - albeit with the soothing monotonal splashes as exiting fluid meets the ceramic or tin wall on the other side.
Perhaps you realise that you really don’t need to pee after already prepping the urinal stance - “oh, you seem to be struggling, want me to lend you a hand?”
Perhaps the turbulent pitter patter of your pee just won’t stop after you downed a super sized slurpee - “Gee, looks like someone’s keen!”
Or perhaps - the worst situation - you’re caught in between the two and your body isn’t sure whether you need to pee or not but will divert a small portion of the yellow fluid to the disposal vehicle just to lend your bathroom encounter a purpose - I don’t even want to imagine what the two men are thinking at this stage.
I resume from my lengthy thought coma, and peer into the out of order urinal, there’s a bundle of dusty hair just lying where the urinal cake should be. It’s a tad lengthy to be of the pubic variety, but nonetheless, genuinely off-putting. Having contemplated so heavily my position regarding urinals, it seems an unworthy downgrade in status to suddenly start peeing in it. I consider briefly a cubicle, but an act as lowly as peeing should not be deserving of locked door and cubicle treatment. Such things should be reserved for faece disposal and similarly sophisticated duties. Cubicle, you may retain your dignity.
Placing my hair-splitting conscience aside, I take a stance at the urinal adjacent to the out of order one after careful deliberation. After all, the cubicle I’ve elected is equivalent to a corner one anyway since the out of order urinal is not an option to any potential pissers.
Fantastic. Suddenly all the scattered pieces of my life adjoin cohesively, the puzzle pieces of my disjointed mind harmoniously match - this urinal is the one for me. A man strolls in, assesses the urinal options briefly and turns to his left, takes his stance and unzips the front of his pants. He is not standing next to me, he is not standing near me, finally, a worthy member of society clearly well-versed in the commandments of bathroom etiquette.
My pale yellow stream flows decisively, and approvingly, yelling at me as it departs my disposal vehicle, informing me that I elected the right urinal - the perfect graveyard. Oh stop it delightful yellow fluid! I try my best.
Upon completion, I quietly zip up, trying to attract as little attention as possible. Inside, my world is a delightful unicorn-laden utopia where horses urinate beaches. I’ve achieved my bathroom goal and exceeded my expectations on almost every facet. I feel the need to jump for joy but its questionable whether its considered acceptable to tie so many emotions to the act of peeing. In regards to bathroom etiquette if you’re not sure, then it’s probably not right. I keep my feelings to myself.
The sink stall beckons and I clean my hands - soap and everything. I carry my dripping hands to the electric hand dryer, hold them under for a second before the sensor activates and I indulge in the satisfying warm gust. Oh, that’s the stuff. My mind winds into contemplation mode again as I stand by the dryer. Electric hand drying is such an inefficient method, paper towels are much faster due largely to their direct application. Either way, I realise why I never dry my hands on my clothing anymore; people make odd associations after you visit the bathroom and suddenly anything even remotely moist takes on the label of urine.
Imagine using my pants as a paper towel, my goodness I must have target problems to have missed the urinal from point blanc range. And drying my hands on my shirt? I might want to seek medical help regarding my seriously, seriously concerning issues with aim.
I flip back into the moment, my hands are dry and exhibit a pleasurable crusty warmth. The man who exhibited exceptional urinal etiquette departs the bathroom without cleaning his hands - oh well, nobody’s perfect. I’m sure he has his reasons.
I follow him out of the bathroom back to society - a society that acts surprisingly cavalier towards the fact that I have just touched my genitals.
There are so many pretentious people in this world who are arrogant enough to tell other people who they are; without ever meeting them, without ever seeing them, without even knowing of them. Who are arrogant enough to think they can universally define things which are subjective in nature. Take Dan Lyons for instance, a technology journalist which I do respect but is in so many ways exactly what he accuses other people of being - ‘pretentious douche tards’.
In a post on online news blog ‘The Daily Beast’, Dan Lyons thought he would be funny and write a derogatory and distasteful rant article on Instagram, the connotations of its Android extension and of course its users.
In a nutshell his article points towards what he sees as a class warfare between iPhone users and users of the ‘lesser’ Android phones, citing the general arrogance of iPhone users and their tendency to label themselves as the tasteful, artsy demographic of the smartphone market. He takes a swipe at the whole user base of Instagram dismissing them as nauseating wannabe hipsters spending their time at back-lane coffee shops and ‘photographing’ graffiti-filled city alleyways. He discounts the output of Instagram’s filters as ‘horrific eye manure’ and finally, he attempts to vouch for his journalistic integrity by mentioning research statistics to back up his inane Instagram hatred.
I have absolutely no problems with Dan Lyons’ feelings towards Instagram and its photos; art invites opinions and opposition with open arms. I don’t like every piece of artwork I see, particularly when people splash paint onto a canvas without thought and instead try to piece together their intentions after its completed. Some people love it, and that’s cool too. Some people hated the stark simplicity of the original World Trade Center, I loved it, and that’s cool too.
What pains me is that if Dan Lyons were reading this its possible that he’d be spewing at the fact that I would even associate the word art with Instagram. He mentions explicitly that he despises the fact that these ‘talentless hipsters’ are convincing themselves that their Instagram work is ‘art’ simply because they were given the opportunity to apply interesting colour filters.
First off, I’ve never heard of or know of anyone who has tried to label their Instagram-enhanced photographs as ‘art’. People just don’t do that, and its just an example of sensationalist nonsense propaganda that Dan Lyons tries to pull off in his article. Sure, it’s understandable why such a perception would be a stereotype but it renders the entirety of Dan Lyons stance on the pretentious culture of Instagram users moot; it’s just simply not true. We can’t play on perceptions.
Secondly, what is art? Dan Lyons seems to think he knows what it is, as if art has boundaries, guidelines and criteria. He implies that Instagram users try to play off their ‘photography’ as ‘art’, but he fails in acknowledging specifically and with purpose what aspect of an Instagram-processed photograph isn’t art?
Art is essentially the sum total of making decisions, our choices add up and what we get is ‘art’. When I apply the Poprocket filter over the Walden filter in Instagram, that’s an artful decision. My photograph would look substantially different had I elected an alternate pathway.
I’m sure Dan Lyons wouldn’t deny the fact that photography is art, and photography is rife with decision making. We make choices on angles, on lighting, on subjects on camera settings, on moments - art is a form of expression, and Instagram is merely a new medium to do that.
It’s really juvenile that technology journalists are even commenting on this superficial aspect of Instagram. Chris Ziegler of The Verge takes a similar side to Dan Lyons minus the arrogance, stating that a century on we’ll be wondering why the hell so many photos taken today looked like they were taken in the 60s and left out mistakenly in the sun.
I don’t know, I don’t know why its cool to make photos look a decade older than they really are. But if you don’t like it, at least have the class to simply acknowledge it and look away, instead of finding the arrogance to accuse 40 million people for something they’re really not and to tell the world that you think you know what art is, when you clearly don’t.
"In this culture, I figure people have the right to name themselves; if you feel like a geek, you are one…You feel a personal connection with technology, less its mechanics than its applications and consequences…You don’t like being told what to do, authority being a force you see as not generally on your side. Life began for you when you got out of high school, which more likely than not, was a profoundly painful experience…Now, you zone out on your work. You solve problems and puzzles. You love to create things just for the kick of it…You may have power of your own now - a family, money - yet you see youself as one who never quite fits in. In many ways, geekdom is a state of mind, a sense of yourself in relation to the world that’s not easily rewritten."
Geeks - Jon Katz