Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

The Amazonfail problem: if Google makes us lazy, Facebook makes us shallow and Twitter steals nuance

There's a theory that because we can just look things up so easily on the Web now, there's the temptation to stop trying to remember them - or even to work them out for ourselves or analyse and test what we read. I don't bother remembering URLs any more; if I have most of a URL in my head, my browser will fix it up. Add the temptation to believe the first result and you'd think the Storm had vibrotactile haptic feedback instead of a screen that physically moves and Jim Balsillie had stepped down as co-CEO of RIM in February (last night Wikipedia stated that as fact even though the RIM site lists him as co-CEO and talks about the OSC agreement as only requiring him to leave the board for 12 months - which leads to some musings about the role of option grants and the confusion over how to legally get the best from them as one of the engines of the credit debacle, and the personal opinion that if Steve Jobs can stay at Apple after an options investigation, Balsillie can stay at RIM, given that RIM started the investigation itself).

There's what I can only call an 'odd' humorous video from Microsoft called Remembering stuff about the Internet that's a mix of unfunny, hysterically funny and perceptive (like all humour, the bits you find funny will doubtless be different from what I find funny - after all someone likes the rubbish Radio 4 had in the late comedy slot last night which I found puerile and offensive). Partway through (3:18) Janeane Garofalo chracterises social networking as "you don't have to do the hard work or the heavy lifting to be a friend; you just say you are". An online social network can be hugely supportive and worthwhile (I'm utterly grateful for the times mine has been). I'm glad I can leave a comment on our friend Peter's blog when he talks about the difference between a comment you can take a couple of minutes to type in compared to having a real-world physical experience - but I'd rather sit down and actually talk about that and a hundred other things with a friend. And if the interaction is throwing sheep or giving electronic flowers or any other Facebook-style app, I think it's a shallow interaction that may not provide much real engagement.

And while 140 characters is great for a status update, it doesn't give you the space for a rambling, discursive thoughtout opinion - yes, haiku can be very expressive, as can Zen koans, but even leaving out all the 'I'm emptying the dishwasher' tweets the format encourages off-the-cuff responses. And a lot of off-the-cuff responses and summaries don't automatically add up to deep and thoughtful analysis.... (I'll see your wisdom of clouds and raise you collectivism and the squeaky wheel).

Put that all together with the natural tendency to assign to conspiracy what is actually down to cockup and the fear of repression and censorship that seems all too likely (think recent headlines from Google and Phorm seen as undermining privacy to the New Zealand blackout to the ludicrous 'manga are criminal pr0n' laws), add in a business whose PR team proably don't understand the technology in use and an architecture decision I personally think of as an accident waiting to happen (many small pieces developed and maintained independantly, with universal database access and *the same people* developing and administering the systems)... and it's no wonder that when a coder at Amazon made a mistake the Interwebs assumed it was censorship rather than damage, deliberate attack rather than dumb mistake and began instantly lighting the pitchforks, sharpening the torches and assigning the #amazonfail tag.

The Internet makes things fast and widely distributed. That includes mistakes.
Tags: blogging, internet, rant, technology

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