Everybody’s Gotta Have a Thing

After spending 24 hours doing something that I thought I unconditionally loved, I came to several conclusions, and I hope to have them all sorted out soon. Unfortunately, playing video games for 24 hours straight (whether for charity or not) has made my brain a little soft in a few spots.

But the one thing that I can honestly say beyond the shadow of a doubt is that everybody’s got to have a thing that they do that makes them happy.

It doesn’t really matter what that thing is, provided that it doesn’t get in the way of everyone’s happiness (and if you take that maxim all the way to the ends of the earth, everyone would be doing what they wanted to do without hurting other people, as that would violate the terms of the statement. See? Brain = jello. I have no idea what I just said).

For some people, they have to have to have to read. Others have to watch their stories. Some people just gotta jam out. And still others have to game.

Now, I love a good game. Scrabble, Backgammon, certain video games, whatever. Why do I game?

Well, why do you do what you do? Who cares why I game? Why should someone care about why you do what you do?

Think about that last sentence. Why SHOULD anyone care? Are you famous? Are you 50 and look like your 20? Are people concerned that you aren’t living to your full potential because of that thing?

I’m rambling. Point is, you need some time every once in a while to enjoy that thing that you enjoy. Maybe you need to get up 22 minutes earlier once a week so you can watch that show before work (I subtracted 8 minutes for the commercials). Maybe you should stay up an extra hour on Tuesday nights because that’s the night that your cousin can log onto the internet and play that game with you…

Maybe you just need to quit watching that one crappy show so you can pick up your guitar for 22 more minutes a week.

Or maybe, after having to do that one thing that you love to do for 24 hours straight, you think about that one thing that kept popping up into your head, saying to yourself, “man… If I could do anything right now, I’d _____.”

What is in your blank?

Kudos to you if you read all of this. I’m tired, and I don’t feel like reading it, so if there are errors or sentences that go on and on and on and don’t say anything, my bad…


Getting Ready for Insanity (full disclosure)

I won’t beat a dead horse or anything. If you know me, you know I’m gaming for charity this weekend. This is my donation page.

The important thing for me is all of the baggage that “gaming” has for me.

You see, when I was a kid, I played with GI Joe figures mostly. Bloody, militaristic battles took place on the floor, where the heroic group of underdogs battled the massive Cobra army, and only a select few would make it out alive. Those narratives were built on Old Testament stories, movies, comics, and the GI Joe cartoons themselves.

When my mom came home with our very fist Pong system, it was just another toy. My brother and I took the roles of sticks bouncing a block between us, trying to score points by getting it past the other one. Basic stuff.

The Atari upped the ante a little bit, and having no frame of reference for better graphics, it was awesome. My favorite game was definitely Pitfall, and after seeing my cousin get to the point where he actually ran out of time instead of getting eaten by an alligator (or were they crocodiles?), I was hooked.

The Nintendo was another game changer, as I got mine at the same time as my dad and stepmother got me a little television to go in my room. I played Galaga and Mike Tyson’s Punchout (as well as all of the Mario games I could get my hands on) all hours of the night.

When I was 15, I got my first job, and my first paycheck from Food Lion went to a Super Nintendo, and again, I played it so hard… It was a monumental point in my life to actually purchase something cool with my own money.

Right after I graduated, one of my best friends at the time got a Panasonic 3DO. CD-based gaming introduced a whole new level of complexity in the gaming narratives, and after he moved out, I used the money I had saved from working my fanny off at a carpet mill to buy a Playstation.

That’s when the trouble started.

My roommate and I played so much Tekken and Resident Evil that my brain shut off fairly frequently. I started sleeping through classes, and sometimes waking up to game *instead* of going to classes. When I got Final Fantasy VII, I was done.

I bought a PS2 as soon as I could afford it, and I was a gamer who did other stuff (as opposed to a student who gamed), and before I knew it, I had lost the ability for the government to loan me money to go to school. I moved away, and when I came back to town to visit my girlfriend, I would BRING MY PS2 WITH ME. To see my girlfriend…

Nevermind all of the other things that were going in my life at the time. Those things weren’t the cause of my downward spiral, just like games weren’t either. Gaming is a convenient scapegoat for people who are disenfranchised with “reality.” I had other problems going on in my brain, and gaming was just the best way to escape and avoid them.

But it represents a part of my past that I don’t like. I’ve slipped back into habitual playing a few times since then, especially when I just “tried out” Warcraft for a little bit. That little bit turned into 2 years of playing here and there and everywhere.

I would judge my friends for not living up to their full potentials, but I was just projecting my own self-loathing onto them (and being a little hard on myself in the process; I never fully fell into the pit. Of course, it never took a lot of beer to give me a buzz, so maybe it’s the same. I know people who can game a lot more than I can, and they have pretty darn successful lives and relationships. I also know people who can drink much more than the amount it takes me to make a complete ass of myself. So maybe it’s not the amount of gaming that’s the issue. Maybe it’s the frame of mind that we take into it.).

With that said, these days, it doesn’t really matter how much I want to game; I can’t because I’m too busy. Yeah, I still manage to squeeze some chunks here and there, but they’re mostly the last hour before bed, and they’re the kinds of games that put me to sleep… Games have become utilitarian a lot of the time… That’s sad, too, because I personally believe that they can be so much more socially and culturally positive than they are in their current form.

But for 24 hours this weekend, I’m going to go insane, dance with the devil, push myself, and at the end of it, I’ll have raised a few hundred dollars for charity ($293 as of the time of this post), and maybe, just maybe, I’ll put some of those demons from my past to sleep for good.

Or maybe I can get some epic loot… That would be nice, too.

Digital Footprints

Using social sites with a phone is an interesting thing, especially when your phone is your GPS, your work email, your calendar, your camera, and your entertainment.

One of the more intellectually fascinating aspects of mobile and social interaction is “checking in” to places that you go to. Foursquare has done this for a few years, and I’ve been hesitant to do it, mostly because I only go to boring places: Brian is at work. Brian is at home. Brian is at work. Brian is at home. Brian is at work. Brian is at home.

I still have yet to see this transfer over into virtual spaces. I think that as our virtual and real selves start to meld a little bit more (and some of the social stigma of online gaming and virtual social sites like Second Life begins to erode), someone will step up to the plate.

Just imagine checking through your Facebook feed and seeing your friend check into the Cantina on Hoth or some bar in Azeroth. It’s coming…

Charity Gaming

I’m taking part in Extra-Life 2012, gaming for Children’s Miracle Network. I will start gaming on Friday the 19th at 9:00pm, and I won’t stop until Saturday the 20th at 9:00pm. My donation page is here.

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t game as much as I used to. Heck, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I stayed awake all night, but this is for a special cause: kids.

I used to compete in bar championships, raising money for the Children’s Miracle Network every year, and anyone who watched me warm up or anything saw how serious I took raising money for charity. Bartending? Playing video games? Walking around a track? However it’s done, the important thing is that it’s for charity.

I’m asking for support for the children who were dealt a rough hand when they were born, and every little bit counts. These kids didn’t ask to need help, but if there’s something I can do to help ease a little suffering, I want to do it.

Here’s the deal: (All donations are tax deductible. Both Republicans and Democrats agree that writing stuff off is awesome) If you can donate a little money for every hour that I play, I’ll try to offer something in return. It might not be a lot, but it’s really about the kids first and foremost; this is just a fun way to say thanks.

If you donate 25 cents per hour ($6), I’ll give you a virtual high-five or hug (real high-five or hug if I see you in person in the next 5 years).

If you donate 50 cents per hour ($12), I’ll give you a personal thanks on your social site of choice (and the previous reward).

If you donate a dollar per hour ($24), along with the previous rewards, I’ll give you a free ebook (PDF) of Calvino and the Wolftone: Book 0. I wrote it, and it’s probably horrible, but it’s yours!

If you donate 2 dollars per hour ($48), along with the previous rewards, I’ll write a short story starring you in the genre of your choice (but not romance).

If you donate 4 dollars per hour ($96), along with the previous rewards, I’ll write a short story starring you and record a dramatic (or humorous) audiobook for you (again, no romance).

Make me work for it (in case you don’t think that gaming for 24 hours is work enough)!



The Seven Deadly Sins of Gaming

Where is the Jesus of gaming? Why don’t we have spiritual guides, telling us which games to play and how to play them? I don’t mean some moral, bible-beating bastard (in the literal sense) who runs around, telling us all that we suck because we game. I mean someone who knows the potentials of gaming, and is there to save us all. I have several candidates that could be our very own pixel-pushing prophets, but I’ll wait and see if they reveal themselves over the next few years.

I mean, the last thing that I want to be is the John the Baptist of gaming, outing the chosen one.

Actually, that’d be badass.

Anywho, the Seven Deadly Sins have been around for a long time in some form or another. In fact, you can easily trace the history all the way back to Greek times (where there were eight). The most famous and readily used version comes from Dante, who used the standard-at-the-time version.

While I don’t personally believe that these “deadly” sins will kill you, I do think that they will kill your enjoyment of games, as any one of them can get in the way of a pleasant experience. It is with that thought in mind that I offer my opinions of the Seven Deadly Sins of Gaming (note: all definitions were taken from the Oxford Online Dictionary).

Lust: [in singular] a passionate desire for something

Be it the new system, the new game, or the shiniest accessory, we are constantly fighting off the temptation for that-which-is-sexy. Now lust is usually talked about in regards to physical and sexual desire, but the word originally meant pleasure and desire. We’ve all been there. I can think of several times when my desire for a new game trumped most other things in my life. I just had to have it. Nothing else was going to get in my way.

Conversely, lust is often used in boob-jiggling physics and high-heeled heroines with short skirts and looooong jackets. It seems that many developers still think that gamers are made up of horny teenage boys who need to see boobs or cleavage every 3.4 seconds.

I would argue that bloodlust falls into this as well. When Bulletstorm was first announced, I remember thinking, “Oh shit, here come the ‘family-protection’ watchdogs.” And yes, they did get a Fox News article called, “Is Bulletstorm the Worst Video Game in the World?” But come on. Whoever wrote that article never played E.T. for the Atari 2600. Somewhat seriously, though, the blood and gore in that game was hypersensational to the point where it could be considered sexy.

The point is that the desire for the thing in the world or the thing in the game, when left uncontrolled, leads to immorality (either in actions or outlook). Passionate gamers, practicing their skills against others is one thing, reveling in destruction for the sake of destruction is probably another thing entirely.


Gluttony: habitual greed or excess

This is me. Right here and right now, all cards on the table, I’m a gluttonous S.O.B. I found myself the other day getting a chubby at all the specials on Steam. And yeah, I finally for the first time in my 35 years on this planet have a pc that can actually play games on something other than Ultra Low settings. Maybe that’s part of the problem, but damn, Steam can make even a shitty game seem like a good idea.

If I just bought some games, though, that wouldn’t be a problem. The complication comes from the fact that I have 48 Steam games, 37 games on my PS3 hard drive, 16 on my 360, and about 23 Gbytes of apps backed up on my old Mac. Not listed are all of the discs that I have for the various systems. How many of those games do I regularly play?

Three. And one of them is a game I only play while pooping.

But I keep buying them, slowing down my hard drives, taking up space, making me hate myself for not playing, but if I do play, I usually get caught up, managing to look at the clock four hours later, and stressing out because I need to get to sleep. And the best cure for stress? Gaming.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Pavlovian stool softener

Greed: intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food

Ever met a ninja-looter? Ever been a ninja-looter? Even accidentally?

I remember grouping for an instance and having a two-handed axe drop that I had been grinding for over the weeks prior. What happened? The goddamn tank out-rolled me for it. When pressed on the issue of why a tank would roll for the two-handed axe (okay, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, bear with me), he said, “Tanks should get whatever we want.” And with that, he disbanded the group, basically flipping us off.

I get it. He’s assigned a value to a sword of ones and zeros, but I got super-pissed. I wanted it! I needed it! I mean, come on!

Hey, wait a second. I hated him for being greedy, but maybe I was projecting my own greed onto him and then judging it.

Nah, he was an asshole.

Sloth: [mass noun] reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness:

I once collected enough ashes to fill an Absolut bottle. Yes, I had help. My old roommate and I did nothing but game during our third year of college. Well, game and smoke cigarettes.

We had great games, though. Resident Evil, one of the first games to actually scare us was augmented with heavy doses of Tekken. During that process, we resorted to an extreme laziness (my GPA dropping instantly from a 3.67 to a 1.00) that could only be characterized by the word sloth. I mean, not only was our dorm co-ed, but our floors were co-ed. There were women (well, girls at the time probably) literally right across the hall! Seriously.

Not many of us actually play slothly, though. Our packs are organized, we have a map with little guide points on it, and we usually don’t turn on the game and have our avatars sit there, drooling. We get them working, making them do stuff or kill things or whatever. Sloth seeps out of our interaction with the game, and if we let it, we give our energy over to the game, leaving us a stinky pile of Mountain Dew and Twizzlers (and maybe ashes).

too easy

Wrath: extreme anger

I used to think that this was just me and my brother. When I got a little older, though, and started playing games with friends at their homes, I noticed that everyone got angry. Throwing controllers was a thing, and I remember standing up to step on my SNES, stopping just before my foot went through the sexy light grey and purple happiness machine.

Last month, when my mom was out visiting her grandson (seriously, if you want your mom to not give a shit about you, have kids.), and she asked if she should get an iPad because she had played Bejeweled on one of her friends’ iPads. I told her that it would be one expensive game if she did that. I downloaded a similar jewel game on her Android phone (seriously, Google. Where the hell is Bejeweled Blitz?). Five minutes later, there she was, cussing at her phone (granted, she’s a Sunday school teacher who thinks that “shit” is the F-word, but still).

Maybe wrath is universal, but if you compete when you play, the quickest way to lose focus is to get angry. Someone knife you from behind and then teabag you? The last thing you want to do is to get obsessed with vengeance on that person. That’s the way you get sniped.

Envy: [mass noun] a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, qualities, or luck

A buddy of mine had the Gamecube, Xbox, and PS2 at the same time. I wanted them. I had a PS2, as I was still from the generation that believed that you picked a console and stuck with it. Years later, that same friend and I met up in an MMO, and he had this sick sword. All I could think was that I must have it. As I grinded for that sword, I remember going to bed exhausted one night, not because I had worked really hard at something difficult, but that I had gone in and run the same dungeon four times in one night.

It never dropped for me.

We’ve all had friends like that who seem to always get the best stuff. It doesn’t have to be the newest sword or anything—many times it’s just the new thing-that-you-don’t-have. It could be whatever—the new avatar shirt, the new pinball table, the new iPhone, the new Alienware pc, the new new new version of the same old old old system.

It drives us toward some stupid, pseudo-happiness where our stuff is the best—again, missing the point of why we game. Or at least, why some of us game.

Pride: a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired

Okay, the funny thing is that the above definition actually hints at what can enable pride: achievements. We aren’t playing a game with scores a lot of the time. But scores are still there, they’ve just transformed into achievements.

As our achievements and gamer-scores go up, we get that constant pat on the back, letting us know that we are special little flowers of awesomeness. I’ve bitten on the fruit of pride before, as many of you have, and it tastes like chicken. A chicken sandwich where the bread is made of chicken and the meat is bacon and cheese.

It’s easy to justify our ego if we call it a sense of accomplishment or something, but many times, we do it because it makes us feel inherently better to have that thing that sets us apart from all the losers. It can be anything, from the new set of armor to the mythical 1000/1000 (mythical for some games, not these).

The thing is that while I’m guilty from time to time of all of these, it’s not the occasional dip into these sins that have been the center of attention for people like Dante. It was the obsession, the consuming nature of these sins that caused the problems.

For me, I sit down to play a game for a myriad of reasons. But any of these Deadly Sins can get in the way. I am a gamer glutton, and my shopping for games prevents me from playing. Lusting over blood-porn makes me overlook stale and shit gameplay, ignoring my desire for a challenge. Pride makes me think that I am somehow better than other gamers, clouding my cooperative nature. These obstacles in our path to gaming nirvana and peace are easily destroyed, but only if we take the time to be mindful about our gaming.

No more shitty games. No more support for tig-bittied warriors wearing barely anything while hacking ogres. No more mindless acceptance that games are only games. They can be so much more, but first, we need to wake up. And to do that, we must figure out how we allow ourselves to be manipulated by these emotional and mind-clouding “sins.” Then plug back in and see how awesome games can really be.


[originally posted here]

The iPad: Crack for 2-year-olds.

This past Christmas, we got an iPad 2. Our son, who wasn’t quite 2-years-old at the time, loved to look at stuff on it. We would show him pictures, videos, and he loved to watch me play Bejeweled Blitz.

Soon, though, we knew we’d have to get it kid-proof, so we bought the heavy duty, military grade iPad case so he could flick away on the thing without us losing our shit that he’d break this expensive toy.

Flash forward a month, and my mom came to visit. She wanted to see the iPad, so I gave it to her. Stereotypically, she couldn’t get it to work. I told my son to show her how to use it.

She was flabbergasted to watch this little dude turn it on, unlock it, and start navigating to his favorite apps (one with Elmo and letters). We thought it was cool how he could intuitively operate it, and soon we were instituting time limits on his play because he got so carried away with it.

Now, every once in a while, he’ll grab a pillow, put it on his lap, and look at us as innocently as possible, saying, “Mommy, daddy, iPad please.” It’s always an issue getting him to stop playing with it once he starts, so we don’t let him play with it too much, but if the dishes are out of control, or we need just a few minutes to take care of bills or something, we’ll let him have a go with it.

But the monkey-screams that bellow out of his little mouth when his time is over makes me a tad uncomfortable.

It’s not necessarily that I worry about it; hell, I get it. When I’m “there” in a game or book or something, the last thing I want to do is stop. And I worry sometimes that his obsession with the thing is bordering on unhealthy.

But he doesn’t look at porn on it, he doesn’t buy a bunch of apps, and he generally has a good time connecting the dots, learning letters with Elmo, or learning the basics of avian-slingshot physics.

There’s something greater at play here, and I’m not smart enough to know what it is. He gets lost in play with cars and trains on a regular basis. And he’s not 3 yet, so that’s natural, right? But why all of the worry about his obsession with a tablet filled with educational games?

Having kids does something to parents’ brains. We become hyper-vigilant about predators, hoping to ensnare our babies. We look at the license plates of shady-looking cars in the neighborhood; we read nutrition labels a little more often; we over-analyze media messages in “kid-safe” programming.

Maybe all of that worry is just transferred from some biologically necessary parent-paranoia. Or maybe I just project my own obsessions onto him, seeing objectively what I would be like if someone made me quit a dungeon-run before saving, or god forbid, close the book before finishing the chapter.

Or maybe the iPad is just crack for kids.

Shopping: the Real-Life RPG Grind

Anxiously, I leaned forward in my seat, my hands falling to their natural resting-place on the keyboard. The timer clicked down, and I knew that my window of opportunity was quickly closing. I wiped the beads of sweat from my forehead and braced for the repercussions of my impending decision. Could I pull it off? Was this the last item that I needed? Could I hold off a bit longer? I clicked the button and *boom* it was all over.

But wait. What’s that? Oh yeah… I didn’t save my credit card information the last time I was here because I’m paranoid that Steam will lose my information… Shit. Where’s my wallet?

I wish that this was a rare story, but it’s one I find myself doing more and more these days as I mindlessly flail around in the contemporary world of gaming. The stress? The nervous tension? Unfortunately, it’s all real for me, because I keep getting caught up in the pervasive game of gaming.

Without getting on a soapbox and yelling at all of the young ‘uns about how different it was in my day, let me just say that games were few and far between. I had to save up before I could get a new game, and my stack of cartridges (or floppy discs—damn I’m old) didn’t get too terribly high; there just weren’t that many games, and I didn’t have that much money.

A few months ago, I found myself ponderingwhat game I was going to get next. I thought for a second, and I counted about ten games that I had. I didn’t really feel like playing any of them, so I jumped online and started shopping. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, you know that there’s no shortage of games out there. And more and more, we have more access to games than ever before. My usual shopping route consisted of these main stops (but usually not in this order; I just don’t feel like giving any of the big guys the pleasure of knowing that I go there first):

  1. Gog.com
  2. Amazon
  3. Steam
  4. Xbox Live
  5. PSN
  6. Gamestop
  7. App Store

After not finding anything that seemed particularly awesome (or cheap), I thought, “You know what? I might have more games than I think I do.”

So I opened up Excel and took notes. 46 entries later, I stopped. I hadn’t even really gone into the bulk of my iOS games, and I was sitting on a huge stack of games. These weren’t just shitty minis, either; I had just joined PS+ a few months before, so my Instant Collection was already putting a sizable hit on my new 500 gb hard drive, and based on my love of Steam Sales, I had 25 games in my Steam Library (now it’s closer to 50, but I digress). Something was wrong. Why did I have that many games and feel like I didn’t have enough?

Maybe it’s the gold-collecting Mario exerting his influence on me as a gamer. Maybe it’s the grinding sessions (no not those kinds of grinding sessions) that I did in RPGs for years. Maybe it’s Western capitalism and the ever-increasing need for more more more that caused me to want to accumulate more.

Or maybe I am just a greedy little bastard.

I don’t place blame on any one thing, as I think it’s a much more complicated issue than saying “it’s your fault, you motherfu…” or something less harsh directed at one entity.

I will say that it doesn’t help people like me to have trophies and achievements that transcend any one game, creating a whole new level on top of games. We can measure our meta-gaming by comparing these virtual accessories, seeing who the ultimate gamers really are (or who the achievement whores are—take your pick). But on some level, as more and more games come onto the market (some at ridiculously low prices), there’s going to be that drive to get more and more and more.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that this is a negative thing—far from it. I am not placing blame for anything on anyone other than myself, so all that negativity is probably just a bunch of self-loathing that just accidentally sounds like external hatred of something.

It’s a great time to be a gamer because of all the different choices we have. We’re not stuck with some tiny stack of cartridges that continually need to be blown into just to get them to work. We can have our Steam library bursting over with goddamn indie goodness, we can hoard a ton of 99¢ iOS apps, and we can pay a flat rate to Sony to access a teeny-tiny video game version of Netflix Watch Instantly (but without all of the horror movies starring Debbie Gibson).

Depending on what kind of mood I am in, I can sit down and pick a game out of my multi-system library to meet that need (and apparently, I have been needing to exercise my clicking-finger lately in Torchlight). And sometimes, I just need to play some pinball. And there’s also that secret game that I keep hidden in a metaphorical closet, far from the prying eyes of friends with real taste.

Point is, it’s a great time to be a gamer. And while gaming in moderation might be good advice, for some people (especially the ones like me), shopping for games should probably be done in moderation. Seriously.  I got drunk one night and re-upped a monthly subscription to a failing MMO based on a George Lucas intellectual property. When you can drunk-dial a video game and create that weird awkward morning-after realization that you’ve made a terrible mistake, it’s time to start being a little more mindful about the games that you let in your life.

And by “you” I mean “me.” Well, and “I” sometimes.


Technology that Actually Helps

We get so caught up in the latest and greatest tech gadgets that it’s a good idea to revisit some of the applications of technology that actually help.

In earlier times, I was one of those hippies that pined for a time free of all the problems that technology bring. I played hippy music, listened to hippy music, and I danced like a hippy.

It was sometimes hard, though, to think like a hippy. Most hippies I knew at the time were luddites, cursing the evils of technology (never mind the fact that the music that we all listened to was encoded on compact discs and played through high fidelity speakers). I knew my grandfather, and he was around because of technology. Well, that and a will to live that surpassed his eight decades of smoking… But I digress.

Growing up in the 80’s, I was indoctrinated pretty heavily with techno-fetishization, craving the newest gaming system, the newest ways to listen to music, and a little later, with resolution on video displays. I wanted more more more, and I think a lot of us did. It was the American Dream to own a shitload of electronics.

Now it’s the new phone, the new tablet, the new television, the new interface, the new, the new, the new. We subtly turn into hipsters, craving that idealized and romanticized version of the OLD THING without really thinking about what that THING actually is.

Right now, the same technology causing others to rant is also being used for good. Research in developing countries is looking at how to help people live better lives, and that’s a very good thing. In the July/September issue of IEEE Pervasive Computing, the editors covered a wealth of research in other areas of the world not usually known for high technology. The results of some of the research is pretty inspiring.

Researchers from the University of Washington used sensors and mobile phones to track the habits of water collection in rural Ethiopia. Since so many people in rural areas like this have to travel rather large distances to gather water, the team tracked time and distance, looking for feasible ways of conducting more research that gathered increasingly accurate data, aiming to find ways to ease some of the incredibly long time spent getting water. Without going into too much of a meta-research argument (which is pointless to explain anyway), it’s incredibly encouraging to see this kind of work going on.

Research in Finland (referenced in the same issue) is hoping to use increasingly cheap mobile technology to assess the amount of social inclusion in primary and secondary schools. By using the data collected (keeping track of proximity between students, and possibly speech patterns as well), other researchers can start to fix problems of social exclusion, enhancing the ability of students in developing or isolated communities to focus on education.

Yes, these things can be viewed in a negative light (what are some of the unforeseen consequences of freeing up water-collection times, one of the truly social and ingrained cultural activities in those societies?), but I think that we can fairly easily fall into the trap of wondering too much about the negative and not enough about the positive. I’m not here to say that all technology is good all the time; I’m just here to say that maybe there’s a flip-side to the coin, and maybe, just maybe, that knowing both the positive and negative consequences of technology can help us know what to do with it.

A computer is a rock is a spear is a car is a pair of scissors.

It’s not that the thing is The Devil; it’s that devils and angels use the thing.

And until AI completely replaces us as a species, we still get to choose how and where  to apply technology’s power.

Vibrating Legs and Uncontrollable Twitching

A few months ago, my wife and I moved from our home of 11 years, and once again, I found myself in a brand new city with only remnants of contacts and friends-by-proxy.

This is not a sob story, though.

I have had the pleasure of living on both coasts, in small towns and big cities, and near friends and, well, away from them. I know people all over the place. Jersey, D.C., Atlanta (okay I know a lot of people in or near Atlanta), Florida, Texas, Wisconsin, New Zealand, Toronto, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, and even some people who frequent the South Pole. Seriously.

I stay in contact with a bunch of them (though not as often as we usually promise each other after a long phone call, but I digress), and I think that we take for granted that simple possibility.

Yeah yeah, I know that we’ve had phones for a long time. But I’m not just talking about, well, talking. I get to regularly see friends’ kids’ pictures, listen to my friends’ new music, and see their faces on a computer screen as we talk. If you stop and think about that for a second, it’s pretty amazing.

I think that we forget sometimes just how amazing these applications of technology really are. If it wasn’t for social networking, I probably wouldn’t have stayed friends with as many people as I have, nor would I be able to game with people who I don’t live near anymore. Those personal connections, even though geographically strained, are eased by the ability to beam information into space, where a satellite takes it and sends it back down to earth to someone a thousand miles away, milliseconds later.

Seriously. It’s crazy. I have a hard time wrapping my head around it, even though I spend most of my days editing research that make science fiction look out of date. Hell, I still have a hard time understanding how we get into half-ton hunks of metal and hurl ourselves down highways at a mile a minute (which is fast. Have you ever tried to run a mile in a minute?). And we get so isolated from the reality of what we’re doing in those hunks of metal, we try to do other things at the exact same time (as if maintaining present speed, velocity, and trajectory weren’t worthy enough goals).

I left the office today to run an errand, leaving my phone at my desk. Yes, I felt the ringer vibrate my legs. Yes, I got that uncontrollable twitching that comes from leaving my precious in the office. And I’m okay with that.

It’s my magic space-travelling information retrieval unit. And it helps me keep friends.

Too Old for an iPhone

I just made the transition to an Android phone, moving over from an iPhone. I have to say, so far so good.

My favorite thing? The fact that when I plug it into the computer, I can go in and look at the folders for all the data. It’s not much, but it speaks to a different type of interface. When I first started messing around with computers, I used DOS. The beautiful thing about DOS is that you have control over where everything goes, provided that you know some of the commands.

I always thought that Windows was ridiculous. Here was this resource-intensive program that would do all the things that you needed to do, but a lot less efficiently. It made it easier for people, but it made us depend on more powerful systems in order to do the same stuff because of that additional level of interface.

Plug in an iPhone, and you have to go through the proprietary operating system to do anything. Yes, it’s easier, but try and do anything the old fashioned way, and you get screwed. Or confused.

Or maybe I’m just too old…