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Episode Summary

China is on the rise, not just in the manufacturing and production of physical goods, but also in the digital realm. If Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's Q&A session with students at Tsinghua University in Beijing in Mandarin wasn't a sign of the times, then certainly the largest tech IPO in history, with Chinese tech giant Alibaba raking in billions of dollars to further fuel the growth of the company, is indicative of the fact that that the digital world is China's fastest developing frontier. In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the rise of China, and the unexpected opportunities it may represent for product designers in the West.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on Mark Zuckerberg's Q&A session in Beijing: 
Last week, Mark Zuckerberg spoke at a university in Beijing and he spent at least 30 minutes or so practicing his Mandarin in front of a fairly large audience and taking questions and answers. While I’ve seen the mixed reviews come in as to the quality of his speaking in Chinese, I think just the fact that a billionaire CEO from one of the most important digital companies currently running, the fact that he was in China, speaking the language and attempting to take question and answer, I think that’s a significant event.

Dirk on China's rapidly-growing consumer market:
According to the United Nations Statistics Division, in either 2015 or if not, most likely 2016, China will surpass the United States as the largest consumer market in the world.

Now, on the surface you might say, “Well, so what? China has a billion plus people. Of course, they’re the largest.” As recently as 2009, China was only the fourth largest and China was less than 20% the total of the United States. The U.S. was more than 5x, almost 6x, larger as a consumer market than China. In the course of just 6, 7 years, China went from being fourth in the world, a fraction of the United States to soon to be the largest consumer market in the world. The scale and speed of growth is massive and it really speaks to long-term strategy. 

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Episode Summary

The battle for online privacy continues to heat up as big tech companies and the government struggle to define the degree to which we can keep our personal and transactional information to ourselves. In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the latest news from Twitter and Facebook effecting privacy and the user experience, and talk about the latest data breaches from some of the biggest names in finance and telecom.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on privacy and government surveillance:
From my perspective — and I’m somewhat pragmatic about these things — I think there are ways to balance things out, aiming, of course, for these ideal states that we love, but then also acknowledging that perfect freedom also has some pretty severe prices to pay for that. The question remains — Do we need that particular freedom, or is it better that our information is given up to the government to prevent things like terrorist attacks and things like that? The Twitter story and the idea of the surveillance state pressing its thumb down on some of the larger tech companies, that is an ongoing story and this just happens to be another step in that ...

Dirk on highly-targeted advertising on Facebook's ad platform:
I really hope that they are anonymizing the information similar to how a bank would protect our login credentials. I don’t know the latest technology at this point, but when I was certainly more knowledgeable about banking websites and security, you’d have multiple different pieces that would be cobbled together to allow you to login, each of those would be stored separately with different identifiers and it would be highly, highly non-trivial for someone to reverse engineer that and put all of the pieces together, that, “Hey, in bucket A, B, C, and D, this is the stuff that belongs to Dirk Knemeyer. Boom! I’m going to pull it all together.”

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life we discuss some of the latest tech and UX news including: the Kano computer kit for kids, which encourages a childhood interest in engineering ; the unveiling of Windows 10 and what it means for the "universal" user experience; and the launch of Digital.nyc as a focal point for the Silicon Alley start-ups and venture capital firms of New York City.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the Kano computer kit for kids:
I wanted to start out with this very exciting build your own computer kit ostensibly for kids, but also for the young at heart such as ourselves. The kit is called Kano and it was a Kickstarter project that received massive enthusiasm from the Kickstarter community. What is Kano? It is the first computer they claim that anyone anywhere can make. That started shipping a few days ago. They described their mission is to give young people a simple, fun way to make and play with technology.

I’m excited about this because it takes the Raspberry Pi and some additional pieces of hardware, puts it together in a kit in a way that an eight year old can understand and start really digging into the world of computer engineering. I know for my own sons, they’re not quite at that age yet, but what’s attractive to me about this hands-on engineering is I fully believe that engineering is going to be a key skill to have going forward, and I want my kids to be able to not be afraid of it, to not be afraid to get their hands dirty whether it’s in playing with circuit boards or writing code. I want them to be comfortable with that.

Dirk on Windows 10:
Wouldn’t it be interesting if instead of beating their stupid, same marketing advertising bullshit drum, if they just launch the damn thing and instead of already setting expectations high and under delivering as always, what if they pleasantly surprise us once? How would that change our perception of the Microsoft brand? How would that change our interpretation of Microsoft’s position in the computing ecosystem?

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Episode Summary

The darker side of human nature rears its head in the digital realm more than we'd care to admit. While the promise of the open Internet brings with it wonderful opportunities for community and communication, it also has a host of problems, whether it's called cyber bullying, harassment, or trolling. In this episode of The Digital Life, we examine the story of Kathy Sierra, a UX luminary, who for the second time has pulled back from her online life, due to horrific harassment, and her blog post explaining her side of the matter. You can also read her post at Wired online.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on online harassment:
I think what the blog post reveals, at least to me, is that there are aspects to our online digital life which are just as miserable as our physical lives. The difference being that there actually is it seems to be a little more transparency on the digital side. If all of these had happened to offline to her, there probably would be much less visibility into it and the level that we know of all these things is directly attributable to the fact that it’s online. At the same time, it probably also amplified it, because this harassment happens online. And so people who otherwise would never hear about it can join in for good or ill. And in her case, it seems like there has been an awful number of people who joined in for ill.

Dirk on the need to protect people online:
There’s a reason why humanity has evolved so that there’s local police in one form or another, and essentially, every civilized society. It’s because people, all of us have some badness in us but there are some people who really do a whole lot of bad. That needs to be protected against and combated. It might be naïve of us to think that the kind of individuals who tormented Kathy and her family aren’t out there. I mean they certainly are out there and maybe what we need to be thinking about and talking about is what is our equivalent response to a national military or to a local police?

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Episode Summary

Along with the promise of emerging technologies — such as robotics, genomics, synthetic biology, 3d printing, and the Internet of Things  — comes the very real problem of unintended consequences for people and our environment. While we can't, in any real sense, truly predict the future, we can see how technologies of the past and present — from industrial factories to automobiles to nuclear weapons — have changed the landscape of our world, perhaps in ways that would have astounded the innovators who made those technologies possible. 

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the challenge of unintended consequences inherent in the adoption of emerging technologies and the potential role of user experience in mitigating them.

If you're interested in reading more on this topic you may want to check out our recent blog posts:

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the promise of synthetic biology: 
Part of the promise of synthetic biology, for instance, and biotech generally speaking, is that some of the answers around sustainable energy solutions could come from those fields. You have biodiesel that would be produced by a modified organism like an e. coli bacteria that is manipulated in the lab to generate this diesel fuel. Now, all of that takes energy. These bugs all need to consume something, they need to be produced in a certain way. They need to be protected from the environment outside. This process needs to be scaled up to an industrial-type solution. All of those things walk hand in hand. “Can you produce this biofuel at less of an energy cost than you’re replacing with the fuel itself?” becomes a real sustainability question for some of this emerging tech.

Dirk on unintended consequences of technological "progress":
Let’s take health tech out to the nth degree, and let’s say, cancer is cured and organs can be hot swapped in and out and the whole nine yards ... For the sake of a hypothetical example, let’s say everyone now suddenly is living to 200 years of age. The modeling around what that would do to the world population would be frightening indeed.

A lot of the problems that we are foisting upon the planet have to do with overpopulation as much as they have to do with burning fossil fuels and all of these other things. In our own well-intentioned attempts to pursue something closer to immortality for ourselves, selfishly for the one or the people we care about, we are unintentionally undermining the long-term viability and quality of life of the future of the species.

At the macro level, I am really skeptical about all of our attempts to extend life, cure disease, replace body parts. I think it’s really shortsighted, really selfish, and the impact on the human system and the earth system threatens to be absolutely catastrophic and faster than we might realize.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the recent BIF10 innovation conference, and some of the notable presentations including: Dan Pink's new TV show Crowd Source, where social science and design for behavior change meet reality TV, and Rupal Patel's project at Northeastern University to bring customized speech to the vocally impaired, The Human Voicebank.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on The Human Voicebank: 

There were quite a few excellent talks. I’m just going to highlight one other on the show today. At Northeastern University, there’s a project called The Human Voicebank. It’s lead by Dr. Patel who was there at the BIF Conference.

Essentially, we have fantastic technology for transcribing typed words into speech, but evidence from various studies has shown how our identity is some part wrapped in our individuality in the way we express ourselves through our voice.

The raw text-to-voice programs provide this no matter how good they are. It’s a computerized generic rendering. Even if you have 5, 10, 15, 20, it’s not individual. It’s not for you. It doesn’t sound like you would sound if these people have lost their voices from one reason or another. It doesn’t sound like them. It is not them. It’s a hindrance to communication because people don’t feel like they’re speaking with their own voice. They feel like they’re being translated by this computer.

The purpose behind the human voice project is to solicit donations of voices. You or I could go on a site and read a bunch of texts that over the course of five hours, you would give them enough voice samples that could be cut up and reconstructed into other words. The more you donate, the more complete a voice you’ll be giving them. I think five hours is the minimum. 

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Episode Summary

Today’s democratic system in the United States is largely the same as that instituted in 1789 under our first president, George Washington. This much-celebrated system is based on the original democracy from ancient Athens, established almost 2,000 years earlier.

Fast forward to 2014. Congressional approval is at a record low, hovering around 10%. Partisanship seems to permeate every crevice of our government. Examples of government waste and questionable policies far outnumber examples of government being good and effective. OK, so that perception might have something to do with the media, but the bottom line is our federal government is operating in a way that very few of us are satisfied with.

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss how we might find a better way. Combining common, everyday technologies with a new concept of who should represent us, Dirk Knemeyer provides a vision to redesign democracy into a system more appropriate for the realities of 2014 while moving closer to its philosophical origins.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the current state of American democracy: 
The context has shifted so dramatically from the initial conditions in which our democracy was seeded that now we have this opportunity to iterate and improve, and do what America does so well, which is innovate.
The Founding Fathers had these Enlightenment philosophy ideas that influenced their initial cut at democracy. As a nation, if we are the natural inheritors of our Founding Fathers, we should have it within us to overcome the inertia of the current system, which is clearly broken, and be able to build on those same philosophical underpinnings, but marry it with these wonderful technologies, many of which have their origins in this country to begin with, and create something greater for the next 250-plus years.

Dirk on using the smart phone as a voting tool:
We’re in this new context now, where the constraints, the communication and information constraints upon which the process of having a legislature, of having the democratic representation of the citizens manifest in how the laws are made and executed, those don’t exist anymore. So what I focused on is the fact that the smartphone, first of all, has all of the features necessary for someone to be directly active in the voting process.

We could be sent a bill on our phone that we could read in its entirety. We could be sent with the bill, in real time, opinions on it from analysts who represent the things that we’re interested in; so if we’re interested in civil rights, or gun control, or reducing spending, or whatever the things that we think are important, we could get recommendations from analysts in real time as to how a bill would impact those things.

Then, of course, the phone also gives us the power to vote. In the smartphone, we have all of the technology necessary to be fully informed actors in a direct democratic process. Also crucial to this is the fact that smartphones are becoming slowly ubiquitous. When I started this research in Q3 of 2013, 53% of American adults had a smartphone. In January, that number had increased to 58%, in January of 2014, and it’s a number that will keep increasing. We already have a lot of people with these devices.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the right way to hire a digital studio — from skipping the RFP to starting with a test project to making sure company culture matches up between designer and client — based on a series of blog posts by Dirk Knemeyer. We're more than three decades into the digital age, and yet companies still have difficulty finding the right fit when it comes to design providers. Why should that be the case? Join us as we share our experience in the trenches of software design, and reflect on the right way to establish the best client / consultant relationship possible.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon and Dirk on the RFP process: 

Jon: 
Whenever I hear RFP, I cringe. At one point in time, it must have been this great tool for companies to use and I don’t know if it’s kept pace with the advancing digital age, whether that’s the problem, or whether it was just a flaw of document from the beginning from its origin. But why don’t you tell us a little bit about why you think skipping the RFP is a smart way to hire a digital studio.

Dirk:
Yes. First of all, I don’t think that it ever made sense to issue an RFP. I think it might have made sense from the standpoint of lazy logic which is to say, “I am not going to think about this very hard,” and “Oh gee, wouldn’t it make sense to just send this item out to a whole bunch of people which gives us the most possible choice?”

The problem with that approach is many but to cover a top couple of the points, first of all by sending it out to a lot of people, you are getting back a whole lot of responses and getting into a paradox of choice issue that instead of further refining the people you’re sending it out to and sending it out, doing the research, taking the time for people who are better fits, you are plowing it out there. It’s all kinds of possible providers who in just different ways aren’t the right fit for you. Now, you’ve filled the funnel with stuff that is stuff as opposed to good data to get started on and to take action on. That’s a big problem right there.

Another issue with the RFP is in blasting it out to all kinds of different companies. You’re communicating to all of those companies that they’re not important to you and this process isn’t important to you because you aren’t willing to take the time with all the list down, and have a more targeted relationship. It’s like in fishing that there’s this industrial method of fishing where they scrape a giant net across the bottom of the sea, and they pull up everything they possibly can. In the process, they kill lots of things that they don’t need, and then they take the time to pick through as opposed to the fishermen who are single-line fishing, purpose fishing for the things that they’re actually looking for. It’s very similar in the scale and really the impact.

It’s just silly. It’s understandable why if you don’t put a lot of time and thought into it and just say, “Send out an RFP. We’ll get a whole bunch of things to pick from,” but you don’t want a whole bunch of things to pick from. You want a small number of things to pick from that are within a group that would be potentially a really good fit for you.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we delve into the reasons that user experience has become the "it" field of the moment. Is it the desire for great design, created by companies like Apple? Is it pressure to create universal software experiences that honor and support the BYOD movement in the enterprise? Is it the app-ification of software? Or is it something else entirely?

And, for the creative class who thought their jobs were safe, we explore the (possibly) frightening topic of the automation of knowledge work. Are no industries safe from the eventual reach of the machine? And, does it matter for humans in the long term, or will the outcome be a positive one, with free time and leisure dominating our existence?

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Dirk on the popularity of UX:

People who have been doing web design for a long time have been suffering because it’s been so commodified and there’s so many people trying to do it. Calling it user experience is a way to get money. Clients perceive user experience as being more sophisticated and high level but it’s on a buzzword level. They don’t even understand what they’re buying. They don’t even understand the distinctions there a lot of times. Gold rush is a really good way to put it. People are racing for what the market is rewarding right now and also for what they perceive as being a high-level thing.

It’s similar to the maturity level in advertising where marketing was the term then marketing strategy then branding then experience. It kept off shifting. When branding was the big deal, if you run around saying you’re a marketing firm, you are in trouble. The whole landscape shifted. User experience has always been the thing in software design where we live but there weren’t many people living with us in the past. Now, more people are coming into software design, user experience is getting bigger there but web design is also co-opting user experience.

Jon on the automation of knowledge work:

From last year, May 2013, McKinsey had a report called Disruptive Technologies, Advances That Will Transform Life, Business and the Global Economy. When talking about these disruptive technologies, they talk about robotics, genomics, a lot of the emerging tech that you would expect. There was an item on that list which, at least for us as software designers might raise our eyebrows, that was the automation of knowledge work. We all know that software design and other kinds of technical automation have eliminated certain types of manufacturing jobs over time, as well as some basic jobs that were associated with business such as, you don’t have a typist anymore. There are certain types of accounting tasks which have been automated as well. It’s an interesting question for us to consider when that user experience field that we were all taking about is being such a hot commodity now becomes automated, what does that mean?

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, we critique CNN's sad information visualization, dig into design for behavior change as a new frontier for UX, and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Business Innovation Factory Conference. Oh, and Dirk explains his thinking regarding the eventuality of humans turning into cyborgs.

If you're interested in conversation at the intersection of technology, UX, design, and human behavior, you've come to the right place. You can view the full show transcript as well as previous episodes on The Digital Life Web site.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Dirk on cyborgs:

Oscar Pistorius, who was ... when he came to international prominence with an inspiring story, that's story changed of course. He is cyborg. Cyborgs are already here first of all, but second of all, the ethical questions have already been asked and answered.

I mean, Pistorius in the Olympics was celebrated. There were very few people who were saying, "This is not fair. This is not right." Even though, and I was inspired by the story. I was certainly was in outrage that he was racing, but I was scratching my head. I was like, "A thousand scientists could tell me that this dude gets no advantage from those legs." He was born without legs. He couldn't be running in the Olympics if massive expensive technology wasn't ... I don't know what the ... I'm sure it wasn't grafted, but it was grafted onto his body. 

The world was A okay with it. It's like, "Yeah, rock on. Go for it." Really, it was Pistorius' rise that got me thinking about cyborgs in a practical way, and the notion that, "Geez, this isn't Hollywood anymore. It's not Sci-Fi books anymore." Cyborgs are here and real and accelerating.

A lot of us at Invo wear different devices to track health data. It's only a matter of time before that becomes subdermal. That again is a cyborg aspect.

Jon on BIF10:

The very exciting Business Innovation Factory conference is celebrating their 10th anniversary, BIF10. Saul Kaplan runs that. He is a really generous person. He attracts a lot of terrific speakers, gets a lot of geniuses on stage talking about everything from neuroscience to building playgrounds for kids, charity playgrounds for kids. He just gets these incredible people from all walks of life, who are innovators and who find ways to solve problems that are unexpected and new and are effective. That in the nutshell is what Business Innovation Factory and the BIF conference is about.the_digital_life_podcast

 

 

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