iPod Vending Machines?

Michael Calore at Wired.com and the Atlanta Journal Constitution are reporting on a new trend in major airports: multi-purpose vending machines.

The biggest news is, of course, the iPods that travelers in Atlanta can buy at a high-tech vending machine in Concourse A. Zoom, the company that owns the machine, says the machine sold $55,000 worth of gadgets in a month. Good business.

Zoom says that customers have shown little resistance to charging up to $300 on their credit/debit cards at the machines. In fact, some non-travelers find the 24-hour machines convenient when the urge to buy an iPod arises in the wee hours of the morning.

The article also mentions that vending machines are becoming increasingly popular in cramped concourses, selling everything from toiletries to calling cards. Zoom also has plans for a music download machine elsewhere in the Atlanta airport.

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Poetic Justice

Remember when Microsoft was sued over its Internet Explorer “monopoly”? Now Apple is facing a similar lawsuit regarding the iPod and iTunes, Apple’s online music/media store. The plaintiff alleges that Apple has unfairly chained the iPod to the iTunes store and not opened the media player to other online stores’ products. The same is true in reverse, rival media players cannot easily access iTunes.

The lawsuit Microsoft faced years ago led to big changes in the Windows operating system and in the Web browser market. Will the Apple lawsuit lead to similar changes for that company?

“…as it should be.”

Sorry for the lack of updates, but the holiday season, combined with winter break, has kept me away from the computer.

AOL is running a commercial on television boasting the capabilities of the “new” AOL. We see a woman’s face as if looking through the computer monitor back at her. As a filter between us and her, we see the text of a four-part AOL page, divided into quadrants. One is clearly AIM, another is a search box, etc.

She is good at multitasking, as all AOL users must surely be if they are to use the “new” AOL to its fullest–at least that’s the message I get.

The most interesting thing about the commercial is that it boasts AOL search results that include text, graphics, videos, and photos all on the same results page, “as it should be,” or similar words to that effect.

I’m reading Lanham’s The Electronic Word at the moment, chapter two to be specific. It’s an essay on how the visual has become more and more important as computers and the Web become more popular. So it’s natural that multimedia environments are on my mind.

Lanham’s essay says that the ratio of text/image is changing. Digital culture is becoming increasingly image-oriented and that perspective is creating a new norm. No longer will text-based culture dominate the world (of business). The image, whether as icons on a desktop or clip art in a PowerPoint presentation, is now acceptable currency for important ideas.

AOL’s commercial shows me that some idealists out there still believe we need to push this transformation–that it doesn’t have enough gas to get there on its own. Obviously, I think we are already to that point. I agree with what I think Lanham was getting at: that our culture (American culture) is image-oriented. Look at the signs and logos everywhere around us. Look at the corner of your television screen: do you even notice the embossed network sign displayed there? Probably only when you need to discern what channel you’re on, and when that need arises, the image is there to convey the information you need–not text.

Undoubtedly, AOL is pushing multimedia (without actually using that word–it’s so 1994, after all) because they want users to buy it. Remember, no matter how idealistic the designers and marketers at AOL may be, they are also in the business of charging users for access to the Web and all the information it holds. They do this under the auspices of protection. They will protect the novice user from hackers and identity thieves, viruses and spyware. They give us the Web, processed and packaged for easy consumption.

The features the “new” AOL boasts are not revolutionary. They do not break new ground in the way that YouTube and Wikipedia have. These features merely use, as bait, a condition that looks novel because we have already integrated it into our lives. Multimedia (or whatever you call in in 2007) looks cool because it’s already everywhere. Like bell-bottoms or Rubik’s Cubes, multimedia is cool because it’s retro.

So what? Why should it be a surprise that a corporation is trying to sell customers something they already have? It’s in that phrase that AOL used to describe its new results page: “as it should be.”

Computing culture has arrived at the point where a major company can say in national television that text and image and video and photography belong on the same page together. Text is no long privileged–it is no longer the primary means of communication. Other media work too.

Vocabularies

How important is the size of your vocabulary? To many, it is the chief indicator of your intelligence and your social standing. Use the word “ain’t” or swear casually and you might be thought of as lower class and uneducated. Fill your conversations with buzz words and dropped names and people may think you a effete yuppie. Load your speech with slang and the word “like” and people are apt to think you’re an ignorant teenager.

Vocabulary is the subject of a new British study out of Lancaster University. According to researcher Tony McEnery, teens in the UK have smaller vocabularies thanks to devices like the iPod. The reason, McEnery says, is that teens spend more time in a passive, receiving mode when they have their headphones on, rather than interacting with other people and picking up new words.

A third of teenage vocabulary is made up of words like “yeah,” “no,” and “but,” the study finds. McEnery says that this situation can be corrected by bringing speech and rhetoric back into the classroom.

For all its attempts at scientific disinterest, McEnery’s study privileges people with larger vocabularies. Would the situation need to be corrected if it weren’t wrong?

Yet there are those who do not believe that vocabulary has that much to do with intelligence. Geoffrey Nunberg discussed vocabularies in a 2002 article, addressing a government claim that lower class children developed significantly smaller vocabularies than their middle class counterparts.

Nunberg thought too much emphasis was placed on vocabulary size. He wrote that “both educated and uneducated people turn out to have vocabularies that are perfectly adequate to cope with the moral and mechanical complexities of daily life.” In seems no matter how quantifiably large a person’s vocabulary, it is likely large enough to get them by.

“Getting by” may be the very thing that researchers like McEnery are afraid of. Subsistence is not improvement, and for those who believe that life must be a constance progress from one point to a better point, multiple intelligences–the idea that people can be smart in a variety of ways–is unacceptable. These are the same people who believe in maintaining a so-called “standard of living,” an idea only serves to impose a wealthier “standard” on other people’s lives.

I don’t mean to break down into a post-colonialist rant here, but it is hard to separate language from politics, and it is especially hard to accept the idea that progress is par. Progress is relative, a relic of the 1800s and the Industrial Revolution. It is the kind of attitude that reinforces the divide between the haves and have-nots.

When we start counting things that don’t matter to us personally, we become anxious about that number and overemphasize it. Worrying about vocabulary sizes is one such situation.

IM Gap

The AP reported Friday that teens and adults are increasingly separated by the “instant messaging gap.” Whereas many teens interviewed could not imagine life without instant messaging and cell-phone text messaging, just as many adults could care less about its existence. The evidence weighs in both for and against IM culture. Either it promotes multitasking and quick thinking or it detracts from focus and sincerity. Curiously, the article did not criticize or question the old-fashioned adults who dismiss IM. It seems that those dinosaurs who limit themselves to the new snail mail (e-mail) are beyond criticism.

I don’t have text messaging on my cell phone plan, and if I did I likely wouldn’t use it. I don’t care for instant communication, but then again: I own a cell phone, which in a way makes me instantly communicable.

Which generation do I belong to? I grew up using a typewriter and hit puberty with DOS and matured with Windows. Am I a dinosaur because I advocate simplicity? Because I value time spent offline as much or more than time spent online?

Rise and Fall of Blogging

The number of bloggers, commonly believed to be ever-increasing, will peak in 2007, according to the Internet consulting firm Gartner, Inc.

A spokesman at Gartner told the Associated Press that the reason for the slowing growth is common sense. Those who want to start a blog already have, and the dedicated writers will keep theirs up while others will stop trying.

But Wall Street Journal columnist Jason Fry believes that “reports of blogging’s demise are bosh.” The definition of “blog” is just to hard to pin down to say that the genre is disappearing:

“One of the chief problems with some chronicles of blogging’s demise is their confusion about definitions, a confusion that’s mirrored in efforts to measure blogs’ popularity or to say anything that can apply to bloggers as a group.”

Instead, Fry thinks that the ambivalent attitude towards blogging is on its way out, as well as the stereotypes of “bloggers” as either amateur activists or armchair analysts. Instead, blogging will become a catchall term to describe an easy way of putting information onto the Web, rather than a specific entity of its own.

The technology will become transparent. This interests me, considering I just finished a paper that deals, in part, with technological transparency. Perhaps more will come…