The Digital Baby

Post ImageMere hours after I wrote about the digital family I came across an article at the New York Times talking about the “brave new electronic baby“, or the digital baby as I will call him/her. I thought my family was digital, but we’ve got nothing on young Carter Kohl and his family:

Dispatch from the future:

FROM: Carter Kohl, 34 inches, 30 pounds, 17 months.
TO: Friends and family.

MESSAGE: Feel free to contact me. Even though I cannot read just yet, you can still send me e-mail. My parents will read it to me and will help me respond to all your messages. In advance, thanks for getting in touch. I’ll be reading and replying back to you before you know it!

Apparently the latest technobaby craze is buying domains and email addresses for your newborn. Or in the case of Luke Seeley, before the baby is even born:

Luke Seeley, 22 months, has two Web sites of his own, including lukeseeley.com, a domain his father purchased soon after an ultrasound showed that his first child was a boy, four months before the baby was born. Given his more advanced age, Luke, who like Carter also has an e-mail address (luke@lukeseeley.com), possesses a slightly larger vocabulary, which includes computer, mouse and Google, said Gordon Seeley, his father. Luke “knows his animals,” Mr. Seeley added, and understands that mouse has two different meanings: something small that moves things on a bright computer screen and something small that devours cheese and lives in terror of cats.

That’s pretty amazing if you ask me! The article is very well written at least at the beginning, outlining why it’s the new craze, who’s involved, and even those who are annoyed:

“Why would anyone do that?” asked Donna M. Stewart, an aspiring artist who lives in Seattle and heard about the baby e-mail fad from a friend. “That’s like getting e-mail for your dog.”

(She confessed, though, that she sometimes sends e-mail messages to friends from the point of view of her dog, a mixed-breed shepherd, whom she declined to name.)

That one made me laugh! The article then wanders a bit, taking time to mention that people want a personalized e-mail address (instead of a generic Hotmail or AOL one) for credibility. The closing paragraph is perfect though:

So if a baby has an e-mail address, and people do write to him, he has a virtual time capsule waiting, messages from future friends and family, bulletins from the past written long before he even knew he was reachable online.

Pretty intriguing concept I’d say. I wonder what it would have been like to have such a time capsule when I was younger. Considering I’m so into technology now, I think I would probably have found it very cool. On the other hand, would I have felt obligated to reply to everyone? And if every child had a capsule, would I still have found it so neat? Maybe my kids will be able to answer such questions one day.

When I talk about a family embracing technology, this digital baby concept is spot on. Not only do the parents take pictures and video to share with friends and family, they’ve made the baby welcome in the digital world. I’d be willing to bet that a digital baby will better understand the dangers and benefits of the Internet than a non-digital baby (an analog baby?) and that they’ll become more digitally literate sooner.

Digital babies, who knew?!

(The baby pictured is Andy, my friend’s new baby boy, and yes, Andy has his own website.)

Read: NYTimes.com

Gennux

Post ImageToday was a busy day for events. This evening Dickson and I attended a presentation at the University of Alberta by Gennux Microsystems Corp., a relatively new Edmonton-based company. They make an anti-spam product called eW@LL Mail which they say is unique in that it does not use content filtering like the vast majority of anti-spam technologies. They describe the product as a messaging firewall.

The developer who wrote most of the application and started the company is Sam Wong, and he gave the majority of the presentation tonight. He seems very smart, and excited about the work he is doing. Sam led us through some reasons for why spam exists, the numbers around how much spam is sent and recieved and the dollar value for related-costs (like lost productivity), the competition, and finally the Gennux solution. Dickson and I asked a bunch of questions about the technology, trying to find ways around it, but the product does seem very solid. They mentioned some statistics about how well it works, but I very much think that it’s one of those “you have to see it to believe it” things.

We didn’t ask them how much it costs, but I would imagine it’s not cheap. If it works like they say though, it would probably be worth it. They have quite a few installations already, including a fairly high profile one with an ISP in Taiwan. It’s good to see an Edmonton software company doing so well!

Read: Gennux

Information Overload

The world around us is increasingly wired, and as a result, we
consume more information at a faster pace than ever before. It’s kind
of interesting to think that I could read something about a news story
today online, from media outlets all over the world, and from
individuals via blogs. Fifty years ago, that amount of information
simply would not have been readily available. It would have been almost
impossible.

Email, instant messaging, blogs, websites – they all add to
something called “information overload.” I think you’ll start hearing
the expression more and more in the next couple years, or at least
until the tools that help us deal with it improve. Basically, we take
in more information than we can deal with at one time. One of the major
negative side effects of information overload, at least to some people,
is that human interaction is lost:

“The amount of information that goes into a young person’s head today
is incredible,” says David H. Landers, director of the student resource
center at Saint Michael’s College, in Colchester, Vt. His main concern
is that students have replaced face-to-face contact with instant
messaging and e-mail. “They’re not going to have the same quality of
interpersonal relations that will help them in a work environment,” he
argues.

I see two major flaws with this argument. First and foremost, if
everyone else is using email and instant messaging and other
technologies, then the interpersonal skills required for a work
environment have changed, haven’t they? I think it’s only a problem if
the level of technology use and knowledge is not somewhat similar
between all team members. So it follows that in five to ten years, it
won’t be a problem at all, as the older generation who snubs technology
retires.

The second flaw is that I don’t think information overload
necessarily degrades communication. I can keep in touch with more
people more often thanks to instant messaging and other technologies.
And moving forward, these technologies will be improved with audio and
video, in effect reintroducing the human element.

Information overload is an interesting topic, but I wouldn’t call it
a problem. A challenge yes, but one that will be overcome. In the big
picture, we’ve gone and created a bunch of tools for easily creating
content. Now we have to go and create tools to manage and consume it.
This is reflected on the small scale quite well with things like blogs,
podcasts, or even email. There are a number of ways to create a blog,
but only two ways to consume it (the web and an aggregator), and very
rudimentary ways to organize it (folders or keyword search). Podcasts are very similar.
And even email, the oldest of them all, doesn’t deal with information
overload very well. The idea of an inbox just doesn’t make sense when
you get 100 emails a day, and yet we still deal with that metaphor.

More importantly, too much information is a better problem to have than not enough, don’t you think?

Read: Knowing When to Log Off

Pope's death announced by email

Unless you’re living under a rock somewhere, you have no doubt heard of the Pope’s death by now. What you probably have not heard, however, is that the Vatican announced John Paul II’s death by email:

“The Holy Father, John Paul II, died at 9:37 p.m. (1937GMT) in his private apartment,” the message read. “All procedures foreseen in the Apostolic Constitution `Universi Dominici Gregis’ (`Of the Lord’s Whole Flock’), promulgated by John Paul II on February 22, 1996, have been activated.”

Announcing his death by email is pretty notable considering the number of other traditions and rituals that will still be carried out – like striking the Pope on the head with a silver hammer. And when the cardinals vote on a new Pope, the ballots are burned with a special chemical to make smoke white or black – white signals a new Pope has been chosen.

I read elsewhere today that John Paul II was the first pontiff to utilize modern technology like airplanes and computers. Interesting, but not all that surprising when you consider that these things were first catching on when he became Pope 26 years ago.

Read: CNN