This column first appeared in the January 26, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg knows something about New Year resolutions.
At the beginning of every year for the last decade, he’s set a new personal challenge.
That changed this year.
“My goal was to grow in new ways outside my day-to-day work running Facebook,” Zuckerberg posted to Facebook earlier this month. “These led me to learn Mandarin, code an AI assistant for my home...and get more comfortable with public speaking.”
This year, however, his new approach was to set decade-long challenges.
Most people would scoff at this approach. Of course, those are the same people who set resolutions on January 1st and forget about them on January 2nd.
I know this because I’m “most people.”
Forgetting for a moment about the scandals Facebook has faced, Zuckerberg has some credibility to back his 10-year challenge. After all, he learned to speak a new language and programmed a robot.
“This decade I'm going to take a longer term focus,” Zuckerberg said. “Rather than having year-to-year challenges, I've tried to think about what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030 so I can make sure I'm focusing on those things.”
To set this kind of challenge, it’s important to think about our personal lives look like in 2030. I’ll be 60, eyeing retirement. My kids will be graduating, with careers, probably married, and—dare I say it—with a grandkid or two for their old Dad.
Those kinds of aspirations aren’t all that different for Zuckerberg, with the exception of a few loftier goals.
“By then, if things go well, my daughter Max will be in high school, we'll have the technology to feel truly present with another person no matter where they are, and scientific research will have helped cure and prevent enough diseases to extend our average life expectancy by another 2.5 years,” he added.
Here are some challenges Zuckerberg thinks are important for the next decade.
Generational Challenge. Zuckerberg foresees complicated issues for the next generation of Facebook users, and they have little to do with social media. These include climate change, education costs, housing, and healthcare. He put it to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative “to focus more on funding and giving a platform to younger entrepreneurs, scientists, and leaders” to identify solutions.
Private Social Platform. Facebook is big (maybe too big), and Zuckerberg knows it even if he won’t admit it. “Being part of such a large community creates its own challenges and makes us crave intimacy,” he said. “Our digital social environments will feel very different over the next 5+ years, re-emphasizing private interactions and helping us build the smaller communities we all need in our lives.”
New Computing Platform. The last three decades have been defined by technological advancements. In the 1990s, it was desktop computing. The 2000s gave us the web. The 2010s, mobile device. What’s in store for the 2020s?
Zuckerberg thinks we should be able to be anywhere and everywhere. “The ability to be ‘present’ anywhere will...address some of the biggest social issues of our day, like ballooning housing costs and inequality of opportunity by geography.”
These are important challenges for all to consider, not just Zuckerberg, and they’ll take more than money to resolve. He’ll need time to change hearts and minds.
Let’s hope ten years is enough time to make these things happen.
This column first appeared in the January 19, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Star Trek Capt. James T. Kirk had amazing technology at his fingertips.
Cloaking devices and holodecks were cool, but they didn’t seem nearly as cool and accessible for my little 9-year-old brain as the wrist communicator.
I wanted that wrist communicator, but we didn’t have much money for toys. So like most kids, I improvised by drawing a band around my wrist that resembled Captain Kirk’s device.
To be fair, I didn’t jump on the Star Trek fan train until the first movies were produced in the late 1970s and ’80s. Wrist communicators weren’t really a “thing” in the TV series.
Diehard Trekkies (aka, “real” Star Trek fans) wax poetic about flip-phone-like communicators used by Kirk and crew. Those were the stalwart Starfleet communication devices.
They were also the creative precursor to the modern day smartphone.
Like other Star Trek tech, it’s easy to point to those early images and think, “Wow, that really looks like (fill-in-the-blank)…” technology that we use today.
This is absolutely true of the wrist communicator.
In science fiction lore, wrist tech predates 1979’s “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” Clearly, authors and artists have been thinking for a long time about what this device would look like or do.
Even famous comic book detective Dick Tracy sported a two-way radio on his wrist.
Fast-forward to 2019, and it seems the wrist communicator has found a real life home in our technology toolbox.
Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that one-in-five U.S. adults wear a smart watch or wearable fitness tracker.
Or at least they say they do.
That last part is important. While it’s interesting to learn that more of us are using devices on a regular basis, most say they’re using wrist tech to track fitness goals.
It’s also important to note that Pew collected this data last summer and not last week, right after the start of the New Year, when many people launch new fitness and weight loss goals.
Some people may have received new wrist tech for the holidays. So, if Pew had collected this data on Jan. 1, their results may have been skewed a bit higher (as in, more than one-in-five saying they regularly use these devices).
Pew’s research also revealed some limitations people have to adopting this tech.
“As is true with many other forms of digital technology, use of these devices varies substantially by socioeconomic factors,” said Emily Vogels, Pew research associate.
“Around three-in-ten Americans living in households earning $75,000 or more a year (31 percent) say they wear a smart watch or fitness tracker on a regular basis, compared with 12 percent of those whose annual household income falls below $30,000.”
Vogels also noted differences in terms of educational background. College graduates adopt wrist devices at higher rates than those who have a high school education or less.
Pew’s study focused on adoption of this tech or fitness, so it’s still unclear how many are actually using their wrist devices to communicate–with other human beings.
While we create and adopt tech from our science fiction past, it’s clear that we have yet to see its full potential. But based on our use of these new technologies, we’re getting closer to using it in way that would make Captain Kirk proud.
This column first appeared in the January 12, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Twitter’s Director of Product Suzanne Xie introduced new options for limiting replies to our tweets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.
If you’re not a Twitter user, here’s what this means. When we post a tweet, we’ll have the option of deciding who (if anyone) can reply.
The “Conversation Participants” feature will provide us choices for the kind of replies we’d like our tweets to receive.
In the current format, everyone can reply. Authors already have the option to hide certain replies (i.e., harassment, threats, etc.) that viewers can opt to reveal and, if needed, report.
With the Conversation Participants tool, authors will have four options for replies, including:
This all seems fairly straightforward and good for users until politics are introduced to the mix.
Keep in mind that Twitter is testing this change now, in the heat of a presidential election.
It’s difficult to know how some of our political leaders and candidates will react when they have access to these new settings.
Consider President Trump’s use of Twitter.
Trump is arguably one of the most prolific leaders in Twitter’s young life. One could also argue that Twitter continues to sees regular daily active traffic because of Trump’s tweets.
As a political agnostic (at least in public forums like this column), I get to examine both the good and bad in Trump’s tweets without fear of praising or bashing him.
The “good” is that our First Amendment appears to be intact, evidenced by the space Twitter and other platforms provide for free expression. This space is for everyone, from our friends and family to celebrities, athletes and, of course, political leaders. Regardless of status, there’s an opportunity for us to all interact in this same space.
The bad is that our posts, including those from Trump, could be viewed as more divisive than open to debate.
Many of Trump’s tweets are meant to be divisive. They’re designed to bolster supporters and anger opponents.
Some view Trump’s tweets and argue that he encourages debate.
Others look at his tweets as lacking in the kind of demeanor we expect from leaders. After all, he’s known for blocking users who disagree with him. So if his intent is to stimulate debate, silencing some voices seems counter-intuitive.
And therein lies the problem with Twitter’s Conversation Participants feature. How Trump and other candidates may use (or abuse) it is causing some concern among Twitter users.
The fear is that Trump may set his tweets with the “Group” option and permit only those who agree with him to reply to his posts, or worse, set them as “Statement” to block all replies.
It could also lead another court challenge. Six month ago, a federal appeals court ruled Trump was not permitted to block his critics on Twitter. Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked individual users who were critical of him.
If he chooses to use the “Group” option, it could be that Trump and other leaders may find themselves, yet again, defending their interpretation of the First Amendment.
This column first appeared in the January 5, 2020 PRINT edition of The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers:
Predictions are an art form. They’re part science, part luck.
Mostly it’s just fun to predict the future.
Because of this, some predictions are easy to make. For example, predicting what will happen in social media and technology over the next year is a fairly simple, entertaining process.
To do this, we research tech trends and pathways, and make assumptions about what might happen next.
Many of my friends predict social media trends the same way experts predict the weather. Meteorologists have fine-tuned the art of weather predicting to a nearly exact science.
Before modern day meteorology, we relied on strategies like, “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky at morning, sailors warning.” I still recite that line to my kids. See a beautiful sunset? Tomorrow’s weather will be great. See a red sky in the morning? Today’s weather will be bad.
The point is, true or not, we no longer rely solely on old unscientific methods.
But that doesn’t make it any less fun to see the outcome.
This is certainly true of Punxsutawney Phil.
I’ve driven through Punxsutawney (a.k.a Punxy) over the past 20 years to visit my wife’s family. When we pass through Punxy, she regales us with stories of her Groundhog Day jitney service, how she’d shuttle revelers from downtown to Gobblers Knob to hear Phil’s prediction.
In all those trips to Punxy, I never once participated in Goundhog Day. I missed my chance to stand in freezing temperatures at 7:00 A.M. I missed warm cups of hot cocoa and pancake breakfasts that are apparently important parts of a proper Groundhog Day celebration.
I missed all the fun.
Most of us can probably guess Phil’s prediction every year, but that’s not the point. People show up to see Phil because it’s entertaining. Ironically, aside from poor weather conditions, there’s little harm in playing along.
So, like Phil and the great people of Punxy, I’ve had some fun making some less-than-bold predictions over the years about where I think social media and tech is headed.
Thanks, in part, to guidance from great tech journalists and bloggers at publications like Tech Advisor, Wired, and MIT’s Technology Review, I’ve done okay.
Two predictions I continue to believe in: virtual/augmented reality (VR/AR) and enhanced privacy and security.
First, as fellow tech prognosticators have suggested, VR/AR continue to grow in term of offerings (e.g., applications, games) and users. Prices for some midlevel VR headsets are now more affordable, and the number of free applications on Google Play and Apple has more than doubled over the last year.
This signals a great year ahead for the VR/AR industry.
Second, privacy and regulation will continue to dog social media. As we enter into another election year, most platforms look and feel different than they did in 2016. But most are still not the spaces most of us need to have meaningful debates.
With increased oversight and self-regulation, many platforms will continue to make valiant attempts at creating open, positive, productive environments for voters, candidates and campaigns—and hopefully make us feel a little safer.
Whether your predictions are more luck than science, just remember there’s usually no harm guessing. Just like dowloading apps or using new tech, it’s fun to predict, and most of us need more fun in our lives.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is special assistant to the provost and professor of communication in the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA where he also directs the graduate program in professional communication. He researches and writes on a variety of topics including communication technologies, relationships, and sports (with an emphasis on fandom). His work has appeared in Mahoning Matters as well as The Vindicator and Tribune-Chronicle newspapers.