New media vs old media

Just because a “more advanced” communication technology comes out, doesn’t mean we should always use it. What often ends up happening instead is that it takes is place beside existing technologies.

One obvious example is theater and cinema. I love movies, but I still go to the theater. Another is books. Ebooks and on-line documents are incredibly convenient, but there is still nothing like curling up with an old fashioned book made of paper and ink.

I think something similar is going to happen with the spectrum between writing letters, writing emails, video chats, and whatever will be coming after Zoom. In another ten years we are going to be able to “beam into” each other’s physical space. It will feel less like video chat and more like the Jedi Council.

But there will be many occasions when people will choose not to use the latest and greatest form of immersive interaction. Depending on who you are meeting with and why, you might decide instead to opt for a video chat.

Or you might just get on a phone call or send an email. Or, if you want to say something important to somebody you really care about, you could choose to sit down, pick up a pen and write an old fashioned letter.

Best of both worlds

When I am working together with people on-line, there is a kind of efficiency we can achieve that is different from in-person efficiency. For example, if we are all working togther on developing a software package, on-line tools let us work in parallel in very nice ways.

In person the process tends to be different. We are (rightly) focusing mainly on each other, rather than on our screens. So we are communicating better as people, but we aren’t quite tracking each others’ work with the same focus.

I wonder whether there might be a way to get the best of both worlds. Perhaps some sort of collaborative software tools that privilege both the power of being together in person and the efficiency of being “plugged in” to our respective views of a shared software project.

This might be one of those situations that would benefit from future higher quality augmented reality.

The future of travel

When the Web started being used by millions of people nearly 30 years ago, pundits predicted that new forms of communication like video chat would kill the travel industry.

After all, why bother going through all of the time, trouble and expense of getting on an airplane, when you can “visit” anyplace or anyone without leaving the comfort of your home?

But that is not what happened. Quite the opposite in fact. As our collective use of the internet rose, long distance travel rose right along with it.

It seems that as it became easier to connect with distant people and places, there was a corresponding increase in everyone’s motivation to visit those people and places.

In the next few years, video chat services such as Zoom might gradually become replaced by something that feels a lot more like being there — perhaps something akin to the Star Wars Jedi Council.

When that happens, what will be the effect on long distance travel? I predict that the pattern will repeat: Our human connection to distant friends will only increase, and long distance travel will increase as well.

Zoom etiquette

I’ve learned that there are certain social shortcuts on Zoom that work really well. If you make sure use them, then everything goes smoothly. If you don’t, you can run into trouble.

One of those shortcuts involves carefully dancing around the truth. I will illustrate with a helpful example:

Acceptable way to end a Zoom call: “Sorry, I’ve got to jump off now to go to another meeting.”

Unacceptable way to end a Zoom call: “Sorry, this meeting is getting really long and boring, and I have a life.”

Your mileage may vary.


I’ve finally gotten around to watching Psych, years after it went off the air. Well ok, bingeing.

It’s an incredibly funny show. And in nearly every episode, somebody is brutally murdered. That should be a contradiction, right?

I mean, how can a show be laugh out loud funny, when it consistently portrays so much violence and tragedy? And yet it all works — completely and very entertainingly.

As Jules Feiffer said in his screenplay for Popeye, we find this out, we find out everything.

Widget Wednesdays #5

Sometimes I just wonder about stuff. And sometimes the way I work on the answer is by writing a computer program.

In this case I was curious about the relationship between how fast particles move around in a fluid, and how far each particle really travels. With all of those particles bouncing around like crazy, every particle must quickly end up far away from where it started, right?

The actual answer surprised me. You can look at my little simulation here.

In praise of the post office

This week I needed to do various complicated things at the post office involving sending official forms to our US government. When the post office employee manning the line found that out, she pulled me out of the line and said to come with her.

She set us up at a table, and said “I’m going to boss you around a bit. Is that okay?” I happily replied “Yes, that is just fine.”

She then proceeded to help me with great attention to detail. In several places she caught crucial details I had missed. Had we not corrected those details, the forms would have been sent right back to me unprocessed, which would have been extremely unfortunate.

This was a fairly typical experience for me at the post office. These people work tirelessly for us, and I have had uniformly positive experiences with them. They never try to be overly friendly, but they are invariably helpful and professional, and they make sure to get all the details right.

Say what you want about government, I love the post office!