Productivity unplugged

Going non-stop is very counterproductive. I am far more productive when I remember to take a break between tasks.

But I think it goes beyond that. In some ways I am most productive during those breaks. Those are the moments when I have time to think, and to figure out what I should really be doing and why.

Just today I can upon the below quote, which well describes this phenomenon. Words to live by:

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lemott

Socially distanced fitness

Just this week both Apple and Facebook announced new initiatives for supporting health, exercise and wellness. In both cases, their offerings are consistent with a wired, non-collocated world.

In other words, two of the world’s largest consumer tech companies are throwing their considerable weight behind helping people to stay healthy in a way that allows for social distancing.

Are we seeing a sea change in the fitness industry? Yoga studios are going out of business, due to the harsh realities of the pandemic. Meanwhile, Pelaton and similar remote-exercise offerings have gotten a large boost for the same reason.

Now the largest players of all are stepping into the arena, aiming to create entire consumer ecosystems out of socially distanced fitness. When I see something that seismic, it makes me wonder — even after this terrible pandemic is over — whether things will ever truly go back to the way they were.

Ad oculos

Google and Facebook are both companies that offer “free” services. Of course the services are not actually free — you pay for them by watching ads.

The actual paying customers here are advertisers. So in a sense, when you use Google or Facebook you are actually the product.

And yet the two companies are quite different, because the “you” who is the product is different. In the case of Facebook, “you” are a person who mainly wants to hang out, catch up with friends, maybe check out some silly posts.

In the case of Google, the “you” is a person who uses productivity tools. Web search, document sharing, appointment calendars, these are all the instruments of people who are trying to get something done.

Which means that Google and Facebook are offering their respective customers two very different products. Facebook offers to sell ads to people who are just hanging out. Google offers to sell ads to people who are trying to get something done.

I suppose this distinction is obvious on sight to anyone who sees it. But it’s still probably worth keeping in mind.


Various people in our lab attended the on-line Facebook Connect today. And I think the fundamental problem with it was the same as the problem I saw at Burning Man in AltSpace.

The entire system is set up to throw you in with complete strangers. There seems to be no accommodation for people who want to share the experience.

Perhaps there is such an accommodation, and I couldn’t find it. But one would think that would be the first consideration in any shared social media experience in VR.

Given that you don’t have the normal cues for vetting people, all of the issues of finding yourself in a group of strangers are magnified. I don’t think that is a fundamental problem with VR, but I do think it is something that needs to be addressed very well and up front.

We don’t give up on automobiles because they are potentially dangerous. Instead, we develop regulations and require people to wear seatbelts.

So where are the seatbelts for socially shared VR?

The film that got everyone arguing in the lobby, part 1

It has been so long that I have been to a movie in a real movie theater that I am starting to get nostalgic. And that makes me think back on my favorite moments in movie theaters.

I think my all time favorite such moment happened some years ago when I went to a movie theater in Manhattan to see a movie with my friend Athomas. The moment happened not during the movie, but immediately afterward.

Usually when you go to a movie, the audience leaves right after the credits. People stream out to the lobby, and from there they exit the building and go on with their lives.

But that didn’t happen with this movie. Instead, everybody in the audience went to the lobby and then stayed there to debate with their friends about what they had just seen.

Everyone was so immersed in the questions raised by the film that they didn’t want to let the experience go. For a good ten minutes, that lobby turned into an intense debate forum.

That, my friends, is the one and only time I have ever experienced anything like that. And I have seen hundreds of movies.

You might very well ask what film provoked such a unique and astonishing response. In a day or two I will tell you.

But first I’ll give you a chance to guess.

Enter title here

Every day I open up my computer and post to this blog. And every day one of the first decisions to make is “what is the title of my post?”

Today I really noticed, for the first time, that in WordPress, the field which asks you to add the title is called “Enter title here”. Which actually sounds like a great title for a blog post.

So now I am happy. 🙂

Coffee with Fred

When you talk on the phone with somebody, you definitely know that they are somewhere else. The entire point of a phone call is to bridge that gap of distance between you and someone who is elsewhere on the planet.

Zoom calls are like phone calls in that respect. When you talk to someone over Zoom, you never feel as though you are both in the same place.

The idea of “being in the same place” is built into how we use language. If I say “I talked with Fred today,” you don’t know whether Fred and I met in person or just talked on the phone.

But if I say “I had coffee with Fred today,” you know that Fred and I were together in the same place. The difference is fundamental.

So here’s a question: Will socially shared immersive technologies ever advance to the point where I can say “I had coffee with Fred today,” and it will seem perfectly normal to everyone — even if Fred and I are in two different places?

Virtual Burning Man

Of course Burning Man could not take place as usual this year. So in a very noble and heroic effort, the organizers of Burning Man took created a version of the festival in virtual reality — in particular, in AltSpace VR.

I tried VR Burning Man together with some friends, and I learned a lot. I could see the immense effort that went into it, and the artistry involved.

Yet there was something unsatisfying about the experience. And I don’t mean in comparison with an in-person version of the festival — of course a virtual festival can never replace a real festival.

I mean that various design choices were made that in retrospect didn’t work. The most notable was that there didn’t seem to be a way for our group of friends to travel together, the way one travels together in a car.

Sure, we could individually navigate our avatars to the same place. But if I saw something in the distance and wanted to teleport there, I could not take my friends with me. We’d all need to try to jump to the same spot, and hope for the best.

This is important because what really matters is not the cool things one sees, but the conversations with friends — the bonding that occurs when we go on an adventure together.

If you keep needing to interrupt the conversation just to get to the next thing, then what is the point of going together on an adventure? It would like going on a cross-country road trip with everyone driving in a separate car.

There are that things that I’d also like to see improved. But fixing that one would be a very good start.