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Month: July 2012

Present Yet Absent

The following is a response to a reading assignment for my class “Self and Society in Virtual Contexts.” We are to publish journal entries on a public blog found below. They must all include a haiku.


Present yet absent
Augmented reality
We will be cyborgs

Baym spends the first two chapters summarizing the current state of technology in society. People on cell phones are annoying, dating happens online, the world is changing. Technology is a large part of our social lives and people are scared. We’re devoting tons of attention to our phones, and it’s hindering our social interaction. How can we be in two places at once?

There are thousands of engineers working hard on this problem and the answer is only a few years away. Technology is about to take an even larger part of our lives.

Phones just took the leap into the future, and now we’re constantly connected to the web with mobile data and push notifications. We have megapixel cameras, location awareness, video chat, and the entire internet in our pocket. These features are constantly chirping for our attention, and we are more than willing to oblige. Augmented reality removes the distinction between online and offline. No longer is our attention split between one or the other.

Baym asks “how can one be both present and absent?”

He uses the example of how rude it is for one to use their phone while at dinner. One is physically present but devoting their attention to a phone.

What actually defines where one is? I agree that one is splitting their attention between the real and virtual world. If you take your eyes off the phone and look across the table, you’re back in reality aren’t you? The phone is the underlying problem. Physical limitations mean we can only choose between one world or the other. We can’t attend to both the phone and our date.

Augmented reality combines the technology of your phone with a display in your eyesight. This could be glasses, contacts, or even an implant. Think of it as putting your iPhone screen into a pair of glasses. All of the things you normally see on your phone are now in your face. You can still see the world through the camera, but now your reality is going through one phase of post processing. It is augmented.

Now imagine someone sitting with a date at a table with augmented reality implants; both parties. Attention is still divided, but the consumption of information is more passive. Now SMS pops up in the corner of your vision like a Growl alert, but nobody else can even tell you’ve been pinged.

This kind of situation requires a new social norm. If it were alright to take your phone out at dinner, then I wouldn’t be writing this article and we probably would never see augmented reality. The idea that this screen is a window into a separate world is the limit, pulling out a physical object that represents “somewhere else” is rude.

What if “somewhere else” was here? What if we were both “somewhere else” and here together? What if we were always in two places at once?

If adopted, the merge of real and virtual worlds will overcome the current social dilemmas. In fact, I believe that these problems are merely an artifact of our iteration towards augmented reality. Technology is offering us great advantages and we’re having a hard time ignoring them.

With the adoption of augmented reality everyone will exist in both dimensions all the time. There is no comparing online identity with your offline identity, because now they are the same. You would see the world as you normally do, but with the aid of a computer. We will all be cyborgs navigating the real world yet consuming a virtual one.

My last week at Facebook

It was Sunday, just one more week before I was set to return back to NJ. I don’t remember how Ben told me, but sometime on Saturday Zuck decided that September 22nd was the final date for f8. That meant the prototype registration page than Tim, Ben, Rob and I were playing around with was going live on Thursday. The launch was early on Thursday, so it would have to be in it’s final state by Wednesday. That meant it had to be launched internally by Tuesday mid-day. It was Sunday.

I was going into work.

Everett and talking about something in the second floor window of Turkey.

Earlier in the week I took over the second floor of a conference room named “Turkey.”  The name comes from the group of rooms named after “small countries of which the number of facebook users has surpassed the population”. Turkey was special, because it had a wooden loft built on the inside, accessible by ladder only. It was built by the games team some time ago. I’ve heard a lot of good tales of it’s construction, but that’s not my story to tell.

I pushed a desk, a chair, a whiteboard, my monitor and MacBook over the ledge late night during a hackathon. I forget who helped me push the desk over the ledge; it always seemed like everyone was willing to help out in whatever shenanigans were taking place at Facebook.

I worked out of the loft for the last three or four weeks of my internship, often sleeping over. The ladder upstairs was directly across the room from the doorway, and the design team was actively working out of the bottom floor. I had to bust through meetings to get to the ladder across the room so I could climb it up to my desk.

Sometimes I would wake up to Cox and the entire design team holding an emergency meeting on the bottom floor at 9am.

I spent the next two nights at Facebook working on f8 launch page. I slept at my apartment on Tuesday night for a few hours, and worked with my mentor to get the page live Wednesday. After a late night on Wednesday the page was in a permanent state for the announcement of f8 Thursday morning.

Because I built the page, I had the honors of “flipping the switch” during the launch routine. This meant sitting in a conference room for hours, waiting for the precise time to hit the big red “LAUNCH!” button for the page. I had to be in the room the next day at 9:00am. Tomorrow was also my last working day at Facebook.

I could barely sleep.

I woke up the next day at 7:30 anxiously. I tested the page only to find out that it was not resolving on the internal network. I pinged the engineer I was working with to get the sub-domain working properly, and he assured me it was working externally. I believed him, but I had to test this myself. There was no way I was flipping the switch without knowing for sure that the page worked outside of the company network.

I ran outside with my macbook in my backpack wearing a blanket around my neck like a cape. California has cold mornings and Starbucks was a few minutes away. I hopped on a campus bike and pedaled out down toward California ave. I got to starbucks and whipped out my macbook. I hid the screen with my blanket and tested the page once.

… It loaded! I threw the macbook back in my bag, threw the blanket around my neck again and cruised back to Facebook.

As I biked over some of the speed bumps in the parking lot I saw Ben arrive to work in his car. I made it to the the second building about 5 minutes early for breakfast. I paced back and forth, back and forth until the giant garage style door lifted off of the counter. The normal eggs, hash browns, sausage, bacon, and extra-crispy bacon were on the menu. However, today there was a bowl of bacon and cheese hash browns. Things were looking up.

As soon as I finished loading my plate I got an email telling me my coffee was ready upstairs. One of the members of the launch team was also at starbucks earlier this morning getting coffee for the team. I frantically searched for the room; scarfing down my breakfast while on the hunt. I finally found the office and sat down to meet the rest of the f8 launch team for the first time.

I was tired. I hadn’t showered in a few days. I flipped the switch. It felt great.

One of the comm-d team, skip, tested video ideas around the office all the time. He asked me one time to “describe my life right now in one sentence” holding a camera passively by his side.

“One hundred miles per hour”

I said. It was true, I was on full blast while in California. The energy is high, everyone is excited. It was awesome to be a part of such a fast paced environment.

A big thanks to the UIE and Comm-d teams at facebook, and cheers to Camelot and the rest of the interns who I hope to see soon.

Wish you could download the news into your brain while you slept?

Wish you could download the news into your brain while you slept?

My profile in the New York Observer

My profile in the New York Observer