Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label technology. Show all posts

8 Sep 2011

The Magic of Truth, Lies and Technology.

I sometimes hear people express the fear that technology will make us less creative, or that technological evolutions might destroy art.

I don't agree. I believe technology is just a tool, whereas creativity is an attitude, a talent and a honed skill.

The following five-minute video is a great example of how technology can give rise to new forms of art.

At TEDGlobal 2011, the Swiss magician and illusionist Marco Tempest created an aesthetic, touching and thought-provoking reflection on truth, lies and the power of art:
"Art is a deception that creates real emotion
A lie that creates a truth
And when you give yourself over to that deception
It becomes magic."
 Marco Tempest, TEDGlobal 2011

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17 Mar 2011

Innovating to Zero.

© 2009, Andrea Kirkby
With the recent earthquake in Japan and the subsequent problems in their nuclear power plants, nuclear energy and its alternatives - or lack thereof - are all over the news.

Our energy consumption is a complicated issue, one that provokes discussion, well-meaning but often badly informed opinions, hope and despair.

Many of us feel like we have lost control of our energy production. The feeling is justified. After all, we are no longer dealing with human energy, with our own ability to act, live and produce. A long time ago, we have chosen to use other, more concentrated fuel sources, in order to achieve more, faster and bigger results.

That decision has its advantages: look at how far we've come, look at our lifestyles and the possibilities we have to travel and look beyond our local communities, be it for food, news or entertainment.

But there are downsides too: we have to go through extreme measures to find or extract that energy, many of which might end up killing us. And as the population continues to grow, our energy demands might soon exceed the supply.

Related to this topic, I wanted to share a TED talk with you, given by Bill Gates in February 2010, in which he deals with energy, CO2, responsibility, a global vision on energy, and possible solutions for the future.

In this 28 minute video, 'Innovating to Zero', Bill Gates sketches a clear and orderly overview of our current energy situation, with its problems and possibilities. He doesn't paint a rosy picture, but shows there is hope. A lot of smart people are investing in and looking for alternative energy sources and solutions to existing problems.

Still, let us not forget it's not just their responsibility. It's ours too. The least we can do is be informed; that's where ideas and possible solutions can be born from.

Photo 'Nuclear' by Andrea Kirkby, available under a creative commons license. © 2009, Andrea Kirkby. 
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9 Dec 2010

Downtime and the Danger of (its) Extinction.

I wanted to share a blog post over at 'the99percent' that has really struck a chord with me. It's an article about the importance of interruption-free space for creative thinking.

2/365 Days - Pen and PaperThese past few days, I've been trying to focus exclusively on my novel. I found it impossible. There were phone calls, text messages and an annoying letter in the mail that needed urgent attention. And of course: the Internet. Facebook, Twitter, emails, mailing lists that always seem to explode when it's really cold outside, etcetera.

Still, I am painfully aware how easy it would be to avoid many of those distractions. If I really wanted to. And ay, there's the rub: something inside me keeps drawing me back to my technologically-induced connections. For some reason, they seem very important.

It made me wonder: are they, really?

Would my real friendships or family bonds fade if I didn't see these loved ones' status updates? Or they mine? Would the quality of my life diminish if I didn't read every single email or tweet shared by the communities I feel part of?

I'm so sure they wouldn't. So I thought a bit more about it: if this constant connectivity doesn't make a fundamental difference, why do our brains keep directing us there?

The article I mentioned above pointed out a number of very plausible reasons:
  • 'space is scary': having time to think about possibly anything, having time alone with our minds, can be very confrontational. So we look for distraction to avoid the confrontation.
  • 'interaction with others affects our self-esteem': I am sure this is a lot more true for extraverts than introverts, but that doesn't make it any less relevant. The constant connection and quick feedback to our walls, tweets or blogs, makes it possible to feel valued, reassured, part of a greater whole and even loved: instantly, and nearly all the time.

I wanted to add another reason of my own, that ties in closely with that last one:

Because of the internet, and the possibilities of connecting with people far away, our communities have expanded, not necessarily in numbers (because we only have so much awareness, attention and other brain capacity), but geographically.

As a result, we are no longer just relying on our immediate physical environment for good conversation, friendship, mental and emotional connection, a sense of 'family'. We can cherry-pick those people we 'click' with most, regardless of where they live.

And because this extended family is often not around during the more tedious bits of everyday life, they're less likely to stuff up or be associated with mundane matters, and more likely to be a great doorway to the 'charged' and intense and deeper interaction we crave.

Add to that the huge holes in the information that's actually conveyed in online communication (we miss out on tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, etc.), which means that our brain needs to fill in many more blanks in the message. Our brains do that from (reconstructed) memory and imagination, which i slikely to confirm the ideas we already have and to reinforce us in who we are. And yay: more good vibes!

And really, this is great. It's extremely valuable and I am incredibly grateful for all the people I have met and got to know this way. I've had several of my best conversations and most precious experiences with some of them. This connectivity can expand our horizons and make our minds more free.
But there is a downside: it can make our minds less free as well, if we allow it to take up our 'sacred space', our 'creative pauses', our much needed downtime.

Central Park, NY. October 2004
I've certainly been thinking about that a lot, these past few days. I'm trying to be a lot more conscious about that sacred space, being my own best friend by reminding me to shut down my laptop regularly, to make plans to meet up 'for real', to go for walks, take bubble baths, and read more (Edgar Allen Poe, for now). And what's interesting: I still have just as much time for writing!

You can find Scott Belsky's original article here, and there are some great tips and ideas about this topic at the Sabbath Manifesto!
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1 Nov 2010

Dark Elves, Confessionals and Games for Change.

It's time to come clean: I have a secret life. Apart from writing and hanging out in weird places with people who like to dress up, I also have a regular job.

Fortunately it's a really cool one. By day I get to teach about computer games to future game developers. That might not seem like an obvious career choice for a writer-at-heart, but it was for me. I've always been fascinated by technology, and especially by computer games. My favourite ones are fantasy and science fiction roleplaying games. It's a genre that's strongly driven by story, so there's your connection.

Dark Elf enchanter in Everquest® whose virtual body
I may or may not have inhabited in the past.
In my job, I try to make people aware of the 'other side' of games.
There are definitely social issues around computer games that I'm not trying to deny. But there is also the huge potential that we're currently not tapping into. In games, people acquire skills, knowledge, friends, confidence and so much more. Games are learning tools. Players challenge themselves over and over again, spending time and energy doing the impossible, to overcome the problems that are thrown in their general direction.

Unfortunately, most of what is learnt in games is currently only used, valued and respected in those virtual worlds. We need to find ways to bring the different realms closer together and - who knows - they might even merge.
Most of all: we should be brave enough to ask ourselves not just what so-called real world knowledge or skills we can bring to games, but also what our material world can learn from its virtual siblings.

This morning I was watching a TED video, and the omnipresent and omniscient Right Column suggested I would also like Jane McGonigal's presentation 'Gaming can make a better world'. I believed I would. I've seen her talk a couple of times at the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and she's managed to entertain and inspire me every time.

Jane is a game researcher and game designer at the Institute for the Future in California, and the brain behind the Top Secret Dance Off. Here's her talk:

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22 Oct 2010

Tweet Tweet: the sound of fear.

I started using Twitter a few days ago and I'm still fascinated, ánd terrified.
It's official now: my lurking days are over. I've been on Facebook for a while, I've got two blogs, and now I'm tweeting too.

On the one hand, it feels like these networks open up the world. So many people become approachable: artists, celebrities, fellow writers; men and women you've been following from a distance for years turn out to be real human beings who are willing to share their interests, and even respond to yours.

But at the same time, we put ourselves out there. We give away pieces of information that are all pretty innocent on their own, but will we remember in a few weeks, months or even years what we have already given away, and whether or not all those dots put together might paint a way too complete picture of who we are?
How come we lock our doors, hang curtains in front of our windows and use passwords to protect our computers, and then show so much of ourselves to people we barely know, or don't know at all?

Part of me tries to talk me into a false sense of security by arguing that there's nobody out there who cares, or who wishes me harm. But how could I be sure? Most of us, even when we try to live our lives without harming others, can be sure we've failed on a regular basis. We all have ex-boyfriends, -girlfriends, -husbands or -wives; fellow students, pupils, students or co-workers we might have pissed off, or people who are envious by nature, or plainly disturbed.

I hope this hiding-in-plain-sight doesn't come back to bite us in the arse.
At this point, I don't think it is even possible to estimate how much social networks are changing our world, and as with all kinds of evolution, this will have up- and downsides.

On the positive side: it's such an inspiring environment to be in. These tools bring people together, they connect us to human beings on the other side of the planet who sometimes feel closer to us than our next-door neighbours, and they enable new forms of art to emerge. Think of Eric Whitacre and his virtual choir performing Lux Aurumque, to name but one great example of what technology can help us achieve.

But beyond our need to express ourselves and share our stories and events with the world, have we forgotten about the darker side of humanity?

We cannot live our lives in fear, but are we prepared to face the consequences of this openness?

I'm still trying to work it out for myself. It's a tricky one for a writer...
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16 Oct 2010

Searching for the rainforest: the eco-friendly search engine.

Most of us know that searching the internet has an impact on CO2-emission. We don't always want to think about it, but really, we know. Bits and bytes might not produce exhaust fumes while travelling the internet highways, but the servers the search engines are running on consume a huge amount of energy.

Fortunately there is hope, in the form of a green alternative called... Ecosia.

It's backed by Bing and Yahoo, so it's an actual search engine. It might not be as massive and versatile as Google, but for most of the stuff we're looking for online, it does a good job. And the more people who'll start using it, the more opportunities Ecosia will get to grow and become even better.

Where it differs from the traditional search engines is that at least 80% of the revenue they're getting from ads and sponsored links is donated to a rainforest protection program run by the WWF. On top of that, Ecosia's server network is powered by green electricity.

By using Ecosia, with every search you do, you can save an average of 2 square metres of rainforest in Juruena National Park in Brasil.

For those who want to know how it works: about 2% of the searches on Ecosia lead to sponsored links. It's clicking on those links that generates the income. Don't bother trying to spam it with fake searches and maniacal clicking, they've got systems in place to detect those. Just use it as your first and foremost search engine, and your 'normal' searching behaviour will make a difference. Share it on!

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4 Oct 2010

Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education | Video on

I love this guy, and I love his "Hole-in-the-Wall" project.

Sugata Mitra is an educational scientist. This is a presentation he's given at TEDGlobal earlier this year, about his experiments in remote villages in India, where kids teach themselves lots of different subjects without the presence of a teacher, just by having access to a computer and the internet.

17 minutes of inspirational fun!
Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education - Video on
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