I know I’m way more than a day late and a dollar short in keeping up my blogposts, but whatever, I was in sunny Los Angeles with better things to do. And speaking of things to do, I’ve long been meaning to recommend this wonderful little browser-based to-do app called TeuxDeux designed by Tina Roth Eisenberg, a.k.a. swissmiss, everyone’s favorite design blogger. TeuxDeux is truly life-altering for an avid list-maker like myself. Finally, a well-designed alternative to my mountain of post-its and neglected task pad on my iGoogle! No ugly widgets all over the place–just a clean white space in which I can list my tasks, only to cross them off one by one with a great sense of accomplishment. Proof positive that simple really is best. They’re currently hard at work on an iPhone app, which promises to make everyone’s busy lives even more organized and beautiful.
Niiice. Finally, an iPhone app that helps me zero in on a nearby food truck! The free app called StreetEats lets me know which vendors are out and about based on my location. Makes life easier since going onto Twitter to follow each one individually and deciphering their coordinates is kind of a pain when you’re standing on a freezing NYC sidewalk, craving food off a truck. I see already that our friends over at the Bistro Truck, Treats Truck, Van Leeuwen, Wafels & Dinges, and Cravings are all participating–so heck yeah, sign me up!
Was alerted via Zach Frechette’s recent post on the Good Magazine blog that SeeClickFix announced having launched in 25,000 markets! Pretty spectacular, considering its humble origins in New Haven not too long ago. If you’re not yet familiar with SeeClickFix, you should be. It’s an awesome web-based tool for improving communities that empowers anyone to become an engaged citizen. If you see any non-emergency problem like a pothole or crumbling building facade, you can take a picture of it with your phone and immediately report it to the people capable of fixing it. In the case of my neighborhood, for example, some of the recent reported complaints include overflowing trash bins and FedEx trucks parked in bike lanes. Both Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President, as well as FedEx’s Complaints Hotline are getting these alerts via SeeClickFix. Issues that affect the community are resolved publicly, in a completely transparent fashion–by the people, for the people! Go Ben Berkowitz & team! You guys rock.
Check out the cool/terrifying series of videos on Ray Kurzweil from Motherboard, a collaboration between Vice (VBS.tv) & Dell. It’s a self-described “cutting-edge platform for the telling of cultural stories borne from technological innovation.” Pretty neat. I definitely fall under the “terrified” camp when it comes to how I feel about the approaching Singularity (Kurzweil’s term for when humans will become one with machines), but it’s all very fascinating nonetheless. Maybe I’ll change my mind when I’m as old as Ray, but I really don’t get people who want to live forever. 200+ supplements a day? Are you serious? Kurzweil is a genius and I actually believe it when he says that’s where we’re headed, but man…you kind of have to be a serious ego-maniac to think that sticking around forever will benefit humanity. Somebody buy the guy a ticket to Japan to see the cherry blossoms fall! The beauty and essence of life lies in its ephemerality, no?
I heard Dr. Jay Parkinson give a rapid-fire presentation about his new healthcare start-up called Hello Health last Monday at a Pecha Kucha gathering. Basically it’s the way healthcare should be…well, at least for people like me who are pretty healthy for the most part, hardly ever go to the doctor, and aren’t working for The Man. For a low monthly fee of $35, Hello Health lets you book an appointment online w/ a web-savvy doc who actually gets back to you when you email him questions about that pesky rash. A routine doctor’s visit only sets you back $100, which is like what most New Yorkers pay to get their dogs walked! $100 per visit may sound like a lot if you’re already getting great insurance from your employer, but if you are in “non-traditional” employment and pay for your own health insurance like I do, that’s a way better deal than shelling out $350-$450 a month for something you may hardly ever take advantage of over the course of the year. Obviously, you’ll still want catastrophic insurance in the event that you get hit by a speeding fixed-gear bicycle on the dangerous streets of Williamsburg on your way to see your hipster doctor.
Another healthcare 2.0-ish thing I used recently and quite liked was ZocDoc. It’s like a Facebook/Yelp for doctors, which is fantastic for judgmental people like myself who like to sum people up in one photograph. Nah, I’m just kidding!! Sort of. Anyway, ZocDoc (beta) provides not only a profile photo of each registered doctor, but also features a ratings system that allows all patients who have booked a doctor through them to leave an experience rating and comment. I absolutely love, love, love the transparency. Especially because the existing system of finding doctors/dentists/accountants/lawyers/brokers is so, so, so broken. There’s still a tremendous amount of resistance to this kind of transparency because it makes doctors a lot more vulnerable to attack. But we’ve been familarizing ourselves with crowdsourcing for more than a minute now and I think we can safely say that it’s a largely self-regulating system. In the long run it will be an efficient way to weed out the bad from the good and raise quality standards overall by increasing accountability. Plus, it is so nice to be able to see a doctor’s schedule online and book a time without picking up the phone! Hello Health has that function too, and for that alone I tip my hat!
At the expense of offending all of our Twittering friends, I had to share:
Oh come on! It’s really funny, no? Besides, chances are Twitter will end up taking over the world and I’ll still be here barely updating this blog once a fortnight so you’ll all have the last laugh anyway! As Liz Smith recently said after being taught how to send emails by her young staff: “I would still be writing with a feather if they’d let me.”
I recommend listening to this great report on Japan’s love affair with cell phones by NPR’s On The Media. I was especially glad to hear DeNA’s Satoshi Tanaka point out that the Japanese cell-phone experience evolved from an entirely different context to that of the U.S. While personal computers and Internet access took root prior to advanced mobile technology in the U.S., many Japanese to this day do not own their own computers or even know how to surf the web on anything other than a cell phone. As Mark Phillips summarized:
This has produced two different trajectories for cell phone evolution. In the U.S. we’ve been upgrading our cell phones with the hope of recreating the Internet experience we’ve had for years on the computer. In Japan, since the cell phone has traditionally been the gateway to the Internet, the evolution has instead been in the incremental improvement of the cell phone network and hardware.
It’s important to keep in mind when thinking about Japanese cell phone culture that it’s not like pushing the fast-forward button on the way we currently use our cell phones here. In fact, while it’s tempting to look at all the amazing things it’s possible to do via mobile in Japan and simply declare it a more technologically advanced society, that’s not necessarily the case. In a May 2007 issue of the Japanese magazine AERA, there was a feature article called “The Invisible Wall of the Digital Poor,” which referred to the growing group of young Japanese who had no computer skills and used only cell phones. They were called the “Digital Poor” because their lack of basic computer skills made them difficult to employ. While they may be able to pay for cabs using their cell phones, they are not able to compete as workers in the global marketplace.
There’s been lots written about Japan and its cell phones in recent months, like the New Yorker article by Dana Goodyear on cell-phone novels or keitai shosetsu, which shed light on the successful crossover of melodramatic romance novels from mobile to hardcover. While it’s always very exciting to see new forms emerging from the intersection of technology and culture, I have to say (and I know I sound like a curmudgeonly old man when I do so) that the intensity of cell-phone reliance in Japan is pretty scary and feels symptomatic of a deeper social decay.
It’s not just the eerie silence of being on a subway car filled with people staring at phones. (I admit I fall into doing exactly the same when I’m in Tokyo, and even concede that I prefer text over talking on the phone.) It’s also the worrisome fact that a significant number of Japanese can no longer write in proper kanji without the aid of conversion software. Unlike in English, where the alphabet is essentially all you need to know as a foundation for literacy, the Japanese language requires the ability to read and write thousands of characters for adult proficiency. One may say these cell-phone novels are just a form of “evolution” in Japanese arts and letters, but it’s frankly quite terrifying to think that we may not be that far off from a future in which Japanese literature is reduced to the large-font drivel of anybody with a phone who can type away with an audience-friendly vocabulary of a ten year-old. Perhaps it’s just the lit major in me that thinks 2 million copies of a REALLY BAD BOOK sold, no matter how ‘cutting edge’ its origin, is really just a sign of cultural devolution.