iPod classic no longer

September 6, 2013

This story in Wired made me ever-so-slightly nostalgic. It seems the iPod ‘Classic’ (the one with the click wheel) is on its way out.

The iPod was once the shining star of Apple’s product kingdom. Announced in 2001, iPod sales were growing, growing, growing up until they peaked in December 2008. Since then, they have been steadily slumping as many potential buyers go for the iPhone or other smartphones instead of a dedicated MP3 player. The numbers have gotten dismal enough that in its second-quarter financial results this year, Apple for the first time left iPod numbers out of the announcement entirely. In parallel, Apple has given the iPhone less time in the limelight at its periodic keynote presentations.

Certainly my own iPod is languishing, unused for several years, at the bottom of a drawer which also houses other bits of kit I can’t quite bring myself to get rid of but no longer have any use for. This is not, actually, because I don’t have music downloaded onto a device at all, but because my Spotify subscription allows me to download for safe-keeping more than I ever really need for times without signal. And I’m – obviously – safe in the knowledge that virtually anything I may wish to listen to is available in the ether. Still it is incredible how quickly a change in available technology has shifted habits around such an integral bit of the aural leisure landscape.


Do e-readers reduce our ability to learn?

May 17, 2013

Like many, I once swore I’d never resort to an e-reader. Also like many, the lure of convenient, in my case trainbased reading, has been too strong, and I crumbled. I love my Kindle. And the other one too, the one with the milky white screen I read in bed. But the experience isn’t perfect – few are I guess – and so I read with interest this lengthy, well-written article in Scientific American, published last month, on The Reading Brain in the Digital Age. In it, the author draws on a wide range of mostly small scale studies into the impact of reading print versus reading on screen, on things like ability to retain information, read longer passages, and comprehend more complex arguments.

I took away the sense that print may have the edge in the case of intensive reading, but that any difference may be a transitory thing as our attitudes adjust to what’s fast becoming a new norm. This is certainly an oversimplification of a good and balanced piece. But I was particularly fascinated by this description of the way in which ‘actual’ books are easier to navigate, and thus – probably – more easier to recreate in our minds.

Beyond treating individual letters as physical objects, the human brain may also perceive a text in its entirety as a kind of physical landscape. When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure. The exact nature of such representations remains unclear, but they are likely similar to the mental maps we create of terrain—such as mountains and trails—and of man-made physical spaces, such as apartments and offices. Both anecdotally and in published studies, people report that when trying to locate a particular piece of written information they often remember where in the text it appeared. We might recall that we passed the red farmhouse near the start of the trail before we started climbing uphill through the forest; in a similar way, we remember that we read about Mr. Darcy rebuffing Elizabeth Bennett on the bottom of the left-hand page in one of the earlier chapters.

In most cases, paper books have more obvious topography than onscreen text. An open paperback presents a reader with two clearly defined domains—the left and right pages—and a total of eight corners with which to orient oneself. A reader can focus on a single page of a paper book without losing sight of the whole text: one can see where the book begins and ends and where one page is in relation to those borders. One can even feel the thickness of the pages read in one hand and pages to be read in the other. Turning the pages of a paper book is like leaving one footprint after another on the trail—there’s a rhythm to it and a visible record of how far one has traveled. All these features not only make text in a paper book easily navigable, they also make it easier to form a coherent mental map of the text.


November 29, 2012

I enjoyed this piece in The Atlantic about the ‘battle for the best employee perks’, charting the lengths that Silicon Valley companies – Google, Evernote, Skype and so on – are willing to go to keep their staff happy and working hard (and by extension keep their staff). And I totally want one of these to aid my own ‘management practice’:

The roving, Webcam-enabled robot that Phil Libin, Evernote’s CEO, uses to check in with employees is a practical (if beady-eyed) way to facilitate worker-boss communication when Libin is out of town.

Social media: a useful alternative to fleshy fuzziness

May 22, 2012

This piece in the FT at the weekend caught my eye. It’s very long, and concerned primarily with the place of social media in relationships which, in America anyhow (the author is the FT’s San Francisco correspondent) seems to be just plain weird: in my household there are strict and entirely reasonable rules barring tweeting at the weekend, whereas some couples in the US have introduced live streaming into marriage proposals. As we wannabe yanks say: go figure.

The passage that caught my scrolling eye, however, is copied below. I think it’s absolutely correct that digital interaction strips away meaning, and makes things (usually) less fuzzy and awkward.

But most of the time that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to discover that many of the people I thoroughly enjoy interacting with remotely are, well, a bit of a let-down in the flesh. And I’m equally certain that the feeling would be mutual, more times than not.

The benchmark for a relationship featuring any kind of physical interaction is simply higher. But that’s ok, because this is a classic case of horses for courses: invest time in eyeballing those closest to you, and have a thoroughly good time retweeting and replying to everyone else.

On another level, communicating over electronic channels strips the emotional context from conversations. Some people, young and old, are choosing to communicate with each other through texting and social networks specifically to avoid the ambiguity and awkwardness of telephone and in-person conversations. But it is through those ambiguous, awkward moments that people truly get to know one another. It is by interpreting facial expressions, tones of voice, and half-finished sentences that we figure each other out, and become sympathetic to others’ points of view.

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