Saturday 30 July 2011

This blog has moved

I am no longer using this blog. It has moved to my new blog at

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Friday 15 April 2011

Review of Hanna (2011) - spoiler-free


Normally when I like a movie, the first thing I do when I get home from the cinema is to jump online and see what other people have said, gauge opinions, validate theories, and dig deeper into the director, writer, actors etc. But this film made such an impact I'm going to be bold and review it purely on my own impressions. It was, quite simply, outstanding. It was the best film I've seen all year, even better than Inception and Source Code, the only two other mainstream releases that have really wowed me this year. (I'm not counting Tron Legacy; that one certainly wowed me, but on reflection I realized it was all style and no substance).

The good news is that Hanna has style and substance in bucketloads. The plot is intricate enough and the characters deep enough to keep you glued to your seat, and you never quite know what will happen next - but unlike most Hollywood fare, there are no quick fixes or predictable moments.. at every turn it always takes the road less travelled.

The style is fantastic, but down-to-earth. Real life locations are given a fresh twist with unusual but believable lighting effects, and what would be ordinary scenes of conversation or exposition feel fresh and engaging thanks to original camera angles and beautiful composition. The locations are deliciously original too. You can tell that every scene has been carefully designed for cinematic impact, but yet the film always feels natural, flowing and not at all forced. The soundtrack and sound effects are quite unique too; scenes feel unique, brash, outlandish even - at times the production feels like it may have been influenced by A Clockwork Orange.

One of the most impressive things about Hanna is that it has all the elements of a Hollywood hit - car chases, questionable government officials, shootouts, moral dilemmas, tender moments (don't worry, in saying that I'm not saying anything you wouldn't get from the trailer). But yet despite having all those things, the director ensures that everything that transpires only happens because it needs to happen, because it makes sense and will advance the story. The action is more Run Lola Run than Bourne Identity, and the journey is more Little Miss Sunshine than The Road.

I haven't checked into the background yet but I feel sure this must be a book adaptation. The characters are so rich, so unique and believable - some downright bizarre - that it must be more than just superb acting, but detailed writing. Everyone we meet along the way has a story, a personality, a raison d'être. Even better, unlike typical mainstream fare, we don't get these details rammed down our throat. The viewer is treated with respect; we are given clues but it's up to us to put the pieces together, figure out what the characters' motivations are and why they choose the courses they do. If this is a book adaptation, the film's creators have done a fine job of conveying a complex and intricate storyline - without dumbing it down as so often happens when a novel must be squeezed into 95 minutes.

There is so much more I could say but I do not wish to spoil your first experience of this fine piece of film-making. This is a film to be enjoyed, and a film which refuses to fit in any particular box or genre. It's a story about a girl, and to really appreciate the film you need know nothing more than that. Just enjoy the journey with her.

Now to go and read some reviews...


Thursday 17 February 2011

Two months later: Still addicted

Well, it's been a couple of months since I returned to Facebook & Twitter after my one-month hiatus (plan here, results here). Time to reflect on  where I'm at now with my social network usage. As you may have guessed from the title & image, it's not going too well.

I am completely, hopelessly addicted to Facebook. I check it several times a day, eagerly checking for new notifications or comments in response to my contributions. The "twitchiness" of checking email, Twitter & Facebook several times a day is back. One of my conclusions was that Facebook has a value and that I miss it when I'm not there, and I fear that now I've given myself "permission" to go on Facebook, I've let myself get sucked in. I realize now that Facebook is designed to be addictive. Seeing the "Likes" on your posts is like popping pills that give you an amphetamine rush. The stream of new "notifications" is an intravenous drip delivering compliments and ego strokes directly into your psyche. 

I recently came across an interesting article on the Psychology of Social Media by Doug Firebaugh, which argues that there are 7 reasons we participate. It's written from a social media marketer's perspective but it makes some interesting points. Here's Doug's list (I combined a couple), with my own take on them:
  • We want to be acknowledged. Facebook is far more rewarding than blogging because if I post something, you don't have to comment for me to know you read it. You can hit Like, and people frequently do, giving us a Pavlovian validation for our posts. 
  • We want attention.  Why just talk to one friend when you can have all your "friends" look at you at once. Facebook nurtures your inner drama queen, encouraging you to stand up on a pedestal and say "look at me and what I have to say". And it uses your friends to reward you with gold stars (Likes) on the things you share.
  • We want to be approved of/appreciated. Since most of the people on Facebook are real people who know you, you won't get a lot of negative feedback to anything you say. But you will get lots of approval through Likes and comments. This generally positive feedback makes you feel great and like everyone appreciates you. Nothing about Facebook is set up to discourage you, so you post more and more.
  • We want to be acclaimed. This is something Twitter excels at, with its culture of "Retweets" and giving public mention to people who share something interesting or make a difference to you. Facebook are late to the game, but with their pseudo-@ mentions/links in comments and now the ability to re-share a friend's link "via" that friend, they are now encouraging the ability for us all to showcase each other and make us feel even more admired.
  • We want to be assured. By encouraging a trusted community where you can share your thoughts with a wide group, Facebook makes a highly effective forum for getting feedback and assurance that your thoughts are "normal". It's a sort of groupthink. Should I do X? I don't know, let's ask Facebook. Increasingly Facebook is becoming an amorphous friendblob and we think less about the individual friends within, or the implications of such wide sharing of our inner thoughts.
  • We want to belong. By highlighting mutual friendships, showing us activity from friends of friends, and combining together friends who have shared the same update, Facebook constantly reinforces the idea that Facebook is an elite social club that we love to be part of. Everyone has a different view of Facebook, it's full of people "like you", who you feel a sense of belonging to.
So it's clear that technology alone will not solve this problem. It's psychological. It's a habit. I (and we) need to start thinking about how to get these kind of buzzes and nice feelings from something other than Facebook (real life friendships anyone?), while simultaneously discouraging Facebook's ability to manipulate our emotions. I suspect that the secret may lie in alternative interfaces to Facebook. Already you can pull your Facebook feed out to other clients such as TweetDeck, Facepad and Flipboard. Perhaps there will be other interfaces designed soon that will put our interests first (and not just the self-indulgent ones but the practical, bigger picture ones too). 

I suspect that there may also be value in separating out the different people on Facebook into different interfaces. If for the most part I was only shown updates from my 5-10 closest friends and not all the more distant acquaintances and especially not all the updates from celebrity fan pages, there would be less content to pull me in and it might be easier to consume the Facebook feed in moderation. Interestingly, Facebook recently changed the default News Feed to only show the updates from the friends you interact with the most. You have to actively change a setting to see everyone. This was surprising because it goes against the trend of trying to connect everyone into one giant Facebook monoculture social graph. 

But it is also very scary. It means that your social life and which friends you interact with will for the vast majority of users (who don't change settings), be decided not by the individual but by Facebook. That is a terrifying thought. In this busy world with hundreds of "friends", it's all too easy to forget someone. That Facebook could change your life in this way without you realizing is highly concerning.

The annoying thing is, if they had actually tweaked this slightly and let us specify the list of friends to see, this would actually be a huge improvement. Maybe they'll do that in future.

I'm always torn in such matters. On the one hand, I want to focus on the people I care about most. On the other hand, years of blogging and social networking has taught me the value of serendipity (as explained in the excellent Bitnorth Short Bit by Lenny Rachitsky). That is, the idea that public communication with a wider audience can yield unexpected coincidences - acquaintances who happen to know the answer to your problem or share your obscure interest - which you never would have discovered otherwise.
I want to sample everything (which is why I love Flipboard). But I don't have the bandwidth to read everything. Right now, we don't have the interfaces to let us easily separate what's really important from the "background noise".
I'm still working on tweaking Twitter lists (via the excellent formulists) and RSS feed groupings to try and address this. But when you want to sample everything you're interested in, it's hard.

I haven't even talked about Twitter in all of this. On the bright side, I think my Twitter usage is still about the same. Twitter still prefer to keep their interface constrained and fragmented, which discourages a lot of engagement or long focussed conversations, and this means there is less "pull" than with Facebook - also because I follow so many people that I don't know - for that serendipity effect.

I don't have any firm conclusions for this post - except to say that the experiment in how to manage my digital social life in a controlled way is far from over. Facebook is winning the battle for my attention, but they haven't won the war.

I'm seeing a lot of articles pop up about the idea of "mindful social networking". I think this is a new trend and one which I will certainly be revisiting on this blog. More and more people are feeling overwhelmed and wanting to take control. It remains to be seen whether Facebook and Twitter will help us with this challenge, or leave us to flounder. One thing's for sure, any startup that launches a simple effective way to drink from the firehose will go a long way!

Image (C) by jasonjhr on Flickr.


Sunday 5 December 2010

The November Project: Observations from a month away from Facebook and Twitter

Well, it's December now, and that means it must be time for me to jump back onto Facebook and Twitter. But before I do, I wanted to gather my thoughts about the experience and share what I have learnt from it. I thought I'd do this in a form of a Q & A with myself.

What was it like?
Well for one thing, it was not as hard as I imagined it would be. I used a variety of techniques to physically block myself from Twitter and Facebook - but it turned out these were not necessary, willpower was sufficient. The closest I got was when other websites or apps tried to embed Facebook boxes or twitter feeds and I almost got tricked into clicking through. I suppose one telling thing is that now it's the 5th of December and I haven't rushed back on Facebook and Twitter yet, even though I could have five days ago. My main reason was I wanted to get this blog post written first, before I am "polluted" by going back on - but even so, I haven't been in a great hurry. Another thing I noticed was several times when out and about and I had the urge to tweet or post to Facebook, it felt a little odd not to share that moment - but it wasn't a big deal and the feeling soon subsided. Overall, the experience wasn't hard at all.

Was it more relaxing being away from social media?
Definitely. The most amazing thing is I actually feel like time slowed down. That's a pretty profound thing to say, but when I think back to the beginning of November, it seems like months ago. Previous months seemed to whizz by. I think that, as I theorized beforehand, with fewer inputs, my brain actually was able to quiet down a bit and make me feel more relaxed.

What did you miss?
I think probably the biggest thing I missed was that if I wanted to share something with friends, there's no easy way to do so. The fact is that most people's attention now is on Facebook or Twitter. That's where their eyes are. It is no longer sufficient to update your own blog or site and hope that people will arrive there. If you want people to discover it, Facebook and Twitter are by far the most efficient way. It's true that you could email things out to friends, but I've always thought mass emails seem a bit impersonal. It's like saying "hey, over here, look at me, aren't I important?".  I think sending big emails out is not something that comes naturally to me except for Christmas letters. Facebook and Twitter feel more like just putting something out there, without any pressure on people to give you their attention. Funny really since in a way social media is even more impersonal than targeted emails.

Another thing I missed was when I was going through my old photos in iPhoto, I came across various "fringe acquaintances" whose names I couldn't remember. I could have checked that stuff easily on Facebook. I suppose you could argue that if I can't remember someone's name then they can't be that important. 

Something else I missed was being able to quickly ask a question to a large group of people. Facebook and even moreso Twitter are incredibly useful for this. There are services like Aardvark that can help, but they don't have the same kind of audience. There are some questions where Google is not sufficient - typically ones that involve a subjective opinion, like "where's a good place to eat" or "is that film any good".
I also realised that Facebook and Twitter are a sort of social crutch. They make you feel good by making you feel artificially close to your friends. I missed that contact with my friends. I think that given I live abroad from many of my friends, there is clearly a value to having some level of contact, and Facebook and Twitter can help there. But what I learnt is that it's not really a substitute for real life contact. Phonecalls, emails and video chats can help, but nothing beats actually seeing your friends face to face.

What did it teach you about Facebook and Twitter?
I think one thing I learned is that Facebook is a place. Not going there felt like skipping a few meetings of a regular club social group. Things happen there and if you're not there, you miss them. A few friends went to the trouble of emailing me photos or details of things that they'd shared on Facebook. Which was nice of them as it was probably a chore. My wife and I wondered why more people don't think of their friends that are not on Facebook - my wife is not on there and often misses things. It's like because I'd publicly said I was taking a break, it was more obvious.

One thing I realised is that the "Feed" approach of Facebook and particularly of Twitter is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it lets you keep track of a lot of things - friends' lives, news, interesting online tidbits etc - in one easy-to-check place. But a curse because you can never limit your attention to just one thing. You can't easily focus on just news, or just your friends - it's all mixed together. I am not sure of the solution here, because I don't want lots of places to check, but for the same reason I don't want Google Buzz in my email, I don't want a mix of different types of message in one place. I'd rather my news was separate from my social life, and my blog feeds separate again from that.

Another thing I learnt is that Facebook and Twitter are very good if you just want to share a brief observation. You know the sort of thing, an idle comment about the weather, or a news event, or some experience from your daily life. I did realise that some of those things are not worth sharing, they're rather trite and insignificant. But on the other hand, small talk is what helps us bond with our fellow humans, it's what makes bloggers and online personas seem like more than just the sum of their articles and postings. If you like, Facebook and Twitter allow us to take "small talk" and gossip into the digital world. Without them, you can only do that face to face.

What things did you do differently? How did your behaviour change?
I noticed that I became a lot less "twitchy". I had developed a habit of every few minutes throughout the day, check Facebook, check Twitter, check email... and repeat. This is a surefire way to destroy any focus you have on work or other activities. When it's reduced to just checking email - which arrives a lot less often, especially since I spent the month pruning a lot of unnecessary mailing list subscriptions - then you get distracted a lot less and can stay focussed for a lot longer. When I go back on I will have to try hard to limit the number of times a day I check. For sure, one thing I will do on that front is that I will keep Facebook and Twitter and Email updates OFF on my phone. None of these means of communication are urgent, and they can surely wait til later in the day when I next check them. If people want to contact me urgently, they can call or SMS me.

Another thing I realised (and this is both good and bad) is that Facebook and Twitter allows conversation about particular content that isn't really possible in other ways. Since we moved away from the world of everyone watching things at the same time (as they were broadcast), it has become much harder to have conversations about (for example) TV shows or cultural phenomena, because you can't guarantee that you're all at the same point. What Facebook and to a lesser extent Twitter allow you to do is have a content-centric conversation, that is to say, you can share the link to the youtube video, article, clip, etc and discuss it around that content, knowing that you've all seen it. What this also means is that your friends and social media contacts become the filters by which you decide what to watch and what to read. We've moved from a world of broadcast channels where the programmer decides what you should watch, to a world where friends and online contacts make recommendations for you, and you make the choices.

The implication of this in terms of behaviour was two things. Firstly, without friends as recommenders, I started revisiting a lot of "destination sites" such as BBC News, Slashdot, The Register, friends blogs, etc. which I had got out of the habit of visiting. This was nice because it exposed me to news and views in the way that the publisher intended it, and in a context where I could view related content more easily. But I guess it probably did mean I missed out on what my friends were talking about.

The other thing was that I could no longer be a recommender for my friends. Throughout the month there were various films, events and articles that I would have shared, but didn't really have a good way to do so. I think this is an important purpose for Twitter and Facebook. I've realised that "sharing" of status and links is an activity in its own right. There is no real substitute. Email comes closest, but it doesn't cut it because you have to spend time choosing who to share with, and if it's something general that would be a pretty long to line - which would make you feel like a spammer. Blogging would work if RSS feeds ever actually took off and you could trust that people would actually see what you wrote. But without that, the likes of Facebook and Twitter are the only real way to share.

How will it change the way you use Facebook and Twitter?
Firstly, I think I am going to use them less. I noticed a real quality of life improvement when I cut out Facebook and Twitter.  I'm going to try and check them just once or twice a day maximum, and try not to get "twitchy" again, checking them throughout the day.

Secondly, I think I want to find a new way of using them both, to keep me more focussed. Ideally I'd like to be able to separate the activities of "seeing what my friends are up to and chatting with them" from "seeing what's happening in the news, online and in the media". I'm going to experiment with friends lists and different clients to see what I can do here.

One thing I am going to do right away is reinstall Flipboard on my iPad. I think this is a natural way to consume Facebook and Twitter from a news/updates to friends' lives point of view, as it lets you read them like a newspaper. I'm going to try to use that as my primary browse method, rather than Facebook feed or twitter feeds, because it's more natural, and more defined in scope somehow.

Having said all that, I have confirmed that I will not be leaving Facebook or Twitter any time soon. Both have a value, and they did leave a (small) gap in my life. I'd like it if there were ways of accessing their capabilities in a more structured way, and more in my own control, so I will keep investigating alternative clients and software to see what I can find.

I might still take the odd hiatus like this again from Facebook and Twitter in the future. It was undoubtedly a really positive thing to do, if only because it gave me more perspective on my use of social media. Now I can act in a more informed way. It will be interesting to see how differently I feel once I go back on. Time to post this and check in!

PS Please add your comments below, and feel free to ask more questions that I haven't addressed!





Friday 3 December 2010

Is the #turnred (RED) "AIDS-free generation by 2015" campaign lacking something?

As you may know, it was World AIDS Day yesterday, raising awareness of the global fight to eradicate the HIV/AIDS disease. I missed the day itself but was greeted by this popup today inviting me to "join RED" and help make the AIDS-free generation by 2015 a reality.

In case you're not familiar, RED is an initiative whereby you buy a particular variant of your product in red with a special (RED) brand - everything from iPods to shoes, clothing, coffee and books - and the manufacturer donates a portion (typically about 20%) to the global fight against AIDS (and possibly other causes as well, I'm not sure). Which is great, and they are having huge successes, having raised $160 million in 5 years.

I wholeheartedly support the goal of eradicating AIDS, and I love the idea of making such a bold statement that "We can have the first AIDS-free generation by 2015". But a number of things bugged me about this campaign.

1) The call to action is confusing

You click the banner and you are taken to this page. What does it want you to do? What does "join RED" mean? It turns out they want you to change your twitter avatar or facebook picture to the logo for the campaign. I thought I'd missed something, but after much searching this really does seem to be all they are asking people to do (and perhaps also to buy RED products). Is it just me or is this a bit odd?

2) When did social media attention become more important than money?

I can see that having people change their profiles on social media can help raise awareness (though perhaps not as much as the high profile stunts like lighting world buildings such as the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge in red - see video here) but it's hardly the most valuable thing people can do. Surely the thing that will make the most difference is PEOPLE DONATING MONEY. And yet there is no facility to do that on the campaign's website. That is just ridiculous.

3) What's the basis for the statement that in 2015 we could have the first AIDS-free generation?

My first thought when I read the bold claim was, well that sounds great, but how are they going to do it? There's no information easily findable on the campaign site, or in most of the media coverage. It's completely not obvious where this claim comes from. Where's the science? Don't people care about science any more? Eventually I found a brief paragraph on the RED blog which explains that there is now medication available that can prevent HIV-positive mothers from passing the disease to their children, but that it is not always available. The implication is that the campaign can help with that.

Isn't that a pretty important fact for supporters to understand? Why is this barely covered anywhere?

4) How can people help make an AIDS-free generation a reality?

The question remains largely unanswered, by the campaign and even by high profile coverage like that on CNN. Is the best answer we can come up with "Buy more products but pick the ones with a (RED) logo?" It's a pretty sad state of affairs if that's the best society can do. Have we really become so capitalist that the only way we can mobilize people to helping a charity is to get them to buy more products?

Or by plastering their Twitter and Facebook profiles red? Is that the best we can do?

I think this is part of a disturbing trend. Ask people to do something trivial like that, and sure, they'll do it, you'll get lots of attention.. but nobody really made a difference by doing that did they? They might feel like they did but it's a meaningless gesture in terms of actually buying treatments and helping the lives of real AIDS sufferers.

I'm probably being controversial but I am appalled by how badly thought out this campaign is, and what it says about society. We have become the one-click generation. Click your mouse and you've done your bit, swipe your credit card and leave with a clear conscience. Perish the thought we might actually go out of our way to make some effort and really make a difference.

If you want to help fight AIDS, go and make a donation right now with an organization like the UK's National AIDS Trust. But don't think that you have made any difference at all if all you did was paint your profile red. 


Saturday 6 November 2010

Who says America is the most unhealthy? This is how Canadians roll..

Here is the so-called "Epic Sandwich", including bacon, poutine, eggs, hot dogs (including their own rolls) and a whole lot of maple syrup.

Not sure I could stomach that... Too much even for my larger-than-average appetite!

Read more at the Montréal Gazette.


Sunday 31 October 2010

The November Project: No Facebook and Twitter for a month

I've decided to do something unusual for November. For the whole month I'm going to give up Facebook, Twitter and a few associated "short update" type services. But I'll be back on December 1st. Pointless? I don't think so. Allow me to explain my thinking...

I've been on Facebook for five or six years now I guess. And that whole time I've hated Facebook - their lack of respect for personal privacy, their blatant commercialism, the way they abuse you and use your friends against you (I wrote a whole blog post about that). But I've never left. Because, well, my friends are on there. And now I'm living across the pond from most of my friends, those relationships are more important than ever. So I can't leave Facebook altogether, it would leave me too isolated - in fact that's my only contact with many friends.

I realised that this is unhealthy. Facebook encourages a very shallow level of friendship - little ego strokes with Like buttons and comments on each others profiles, lazy status updates to everyone instead of picking up the phone. It's damaging the quality of the relationships I do have, because it makes me feel connected even when I'm not at all really. I can count on two hands the number of phone calls I've had with friends since moving to Canada. And that's really sad (not in the opposite-of-happy sense but in the that-is-desperately-uncool sense).

And it's not just that, it's Twitter too. Twitter is a great form of communication, that has literally changed the world (I've written about that too). But just as I was getting into blogging, I discovered Twitter. And suddenly it was an easy option. I'd send a short tweet instead of actually writing a thoughtful blog post. It killed a lot of my writing. I'd compulsively feel the need to share everything of note that happened to me, because it was as easy as a text message. When you do speak to friends, conversations become a lot less interesting when there are no surprises anymore - they already read it all on Twitter.

And so I find myself torn. I see huge benefits from both services - improving my awareness of what's going on in the world and in my friends' lives. But I wonder what I have lost. I feel like people are becoming more distant from each other. The number of people I know has gone up - but feel like I have very few close friends any more. And I want that back.

So here's the plan. By forcing myself to give up Twitter and Facebook for a month, I will become more aware of which friends I miss, and I'll be more inclined to reach out and talk to them. If I have ideas I want to share, I'll have to take the time to think them through and present them in a blog post. With luck, you should expect to see more blog posts from me this month (shorter posts on and longer/more significant posts on Although, having said that, I'm not making any commitment to blog at all - because part of this is about reducing the compulsion to share everything!

Another aspect of this is that I feel like Twitter and Facebook and all that are great at keeping you aware of everything, but is that really good for you? The more I am aware of, the more I feel I should do something about - whether it's reply, write about, or act in some other way. Greater awareness does not lead to greater piece. I recently read this excellent article about downtime, recommended by a friend. The article, recommending the idea of cottaging (as in staying in a cottage, not the questionable activity endorsed by George Michael), makes the point that time is perceived more slowly when you are less aware of the outside world:

"The cottage offers “down time” which is disconnected from everything other irrelevant thing going on in the world. It is time that is measured in cups of tea, in sinksful of dishes, in conversations. What time is it two time zones away? What time is it two houses away? Who cares? It is not in front of you and therefore, it is irrelevant."

So I think that by reducing the number of inputs in my life, I may actually "get back" some of that precious time I'm always so short of. Fewer alerts, popups and news feeds means I will only learn of the outside world when I seek it out - which will help me figure out exactly what extent of knowing about the outside world is good for me.

In summary, there are a number of things I hope to get out of this experiment:
  1. A greater understanding of the pros and cons of Facebook and Twitter (by seeing what I miss and what I gain)
  2. Reprogramming my social habits to have more phone calls/Skype chats etc with friends and family instead of just Facebook
  3. Some interesting material for future blog posts.
  4. A chance to "slow down" by not having as much awareness of the minutiae of the digital and social worlds. 
  5. Identifying and establishing alternate media for news and for friendships, that are higher quality and less invasive.
  6. Other as-yet-unforeseen benefits...
I'll write a little more in a subsequent post about exactly what I am giving up and how. But for now, this should give you the gist.

One final thing, what does this mean for you as my friends and family?

Well you don't have to do anything differently. But if you find yourself looking at my Facebook or Twitter page and wondering what I'm up to, close the laptop and pick up the phone - give me a call. Or drop me an email or a Skype/ooVoo video chat. You know where I am! (alexbowyer is my username, at gmail, Skype and ooVoo).

And don't forget, you can check back to my blog in the meantime. You never know, there might be something new on there when you next visit!

Thanks for reading - and please, add your comments to this blog post - whether you think I'm crazy or inspired I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Wednesday 22 September 2010

The tragedy of electronic communication

Here's a bittersweet little "could-have-been love story" I came across on YouTube.

It's amusing to watch, but I think there is a serious point to make here... If this were a real conversation, the pair would have picked up on the body language that much was not being said. Electronic chat loses that, and both parties can leave with a completely false impression of the other person's feelings.

I've never seen a better illustration of why electronic communication is inferior to face to face communication.

In my view there's kind of a hierarchy of communication in terms of how complete or effective it is... Face to face at the top, then video chat, then phone, then instant messaging, then text or email.

Food for thought anyway.


Monday 13 September 2010

Reverse culture shock - Ten observations of a Canadian Brit visiting the UK

I spent last week in the UK (for the HCI 2010 conference) and having spent a year and a half in Canada, for the first time I felt something of a stranger in my own homeland. Here are my top ten observations from the week of the cultural differences I observed:

1. When in a car driving on the left, it felt really wrong - like we should be on the other side of the road - especially when turning!

2. I found myself asking the driver to open the boot (trunk) - because in Canada you can't open the boot from outside, you need to pull the lever down by the driver's seat.

3. When buying products, I expected things to cost more than their displayed prices when I got to the till - because I've got used to tax not being included. 

4. The prices seemed really small due to them being in pounds not dollars. What was really weird was I found myself converting pounds to dollars to understand how much they cost - but yet I still convert dollar prices to pounds in Canada to understand them!

5. I felt guilty when leaving no tip at a bar or when paying for a meal - I've obviously got used to Canadian compulsory tipping. Found it even stranger there's not even a line to add a gratuity on the receipt when paying by Mastercard.

6. I felt like a second-class citizen when trying to pay with my Canadian Mastercard. It has no Chip & PIN, and the idea of a credit card without Chip & PIN is pretty unheard of in UK.. Most places won't accept it, and I actually was told to use an alternative means some times! Funnily enough they are just rolling out Chip & PIN in Canada, so things should improve soon. I wondered if I would have got more acceptance of my foreign card if I had put on a non-British accent!

7. I was able to hear the British accent as a distinct accent, my ears have obviously tuned in to Canadian as a baseline.

8. It seemed really strange to be wandering around town after work, 5.15pm - and all the shops were shut. I've got used to late night shopping being an option most nights.

9. Answering the question "Where are you from?" proved most confusing. Well I'm from the UK, but I'm also from Canada. Depends on the timeframe for the question!

10. I suddenly found myself using SMS again. Hadn't realised how little it is used in Canada vs the UK (email being the preferred instant contact in the US & Canada, given the Blackberry revolution)


Thursday 19 August 2010

The Complete History of the Soviet Union, with Tetris as Melody and Metaphor

Ever since I heard this, I can't get it out of my head. Incredibly catchy, but more than that, it's incredibly clever, using the never-ending stream of blocks as a metaphor for the Russian worker class and even the Berlin wall. It covers the whole history of the Soviet Union and Russia, from the Russian revolution through Lenin, Stalin, WWII, 80s westernization, the fall of communism and the recent drift back towards communism.

What are you waiting for, watch it?

You can learn more about the artists at

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Friday 9 July 2010

Tweeting from the air

Eric is taking Mrs Alex and I for a flight to celebrate our anniversary. Beautiful views over Montreal, Mont Tremblant and the Quebec countryside.

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Friday 7 May 2010

What would have happened last night if we'd had proportional representation in the #ukelection?

I thought I'd try my hand at a little number crunching. Based on the
figures from the BBC Election Website, I've made a couple of pie charts to show how the
seats in the House of Commons currently stand, and how they would
stand based on the same votes if we had a simple proportional
representation system (assuming percentage of the vote = percentage of
seats in the House).

First, here's the result we actually got (click to view large):

And here's what it would have looked like with proportional representation:

Add your comments!

Note: That this is based on 648 of the 650 constituencies, as the
other two have not declared, and are not expected soon.


Wednesday 28 April 2010

The Story of Stuff: Why our entire economy is engineered to destroy the planet

Environmental pollution, planned obsolence, manipulative advertisting, toxic incineration, it's all here. If you are in any way concerned about our impact on the environment, watch this video which explains in clear terms how and why we are killing the planet and what needs to change to guarantee a safe future.

Posted via web from Bowyer's Bite-size Blogettes


Friday 16 April 2010

Another moment of minor celebrity!

(Video temporarily disabled as it kept autoplaying. Watch it via
At Twitter's first developer conference, Chirp, Brady Forrest ran a special version of Ignite - the conference we ran an instance of in Montreal - Ignite Chirp.
As part of that event they had a special round of Powerpoint Karaoke - the geek sport where you present using slides you've never seen before.
Using decks first created by Pete Taylor and I for Bitnorth 09, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and SXSW Battledecks guru Anil Dash gave entertaining freestyle presentations. And I even got a shout out by name from Brady the organizer - woo-hoo! Shame he didn't mention Pete, who did the bulk of the work. But still - awesome to have Internet celebrities using our decks!

You can download the full 16 decks here.


Thursday 25 March 2010

Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber, Nelly Furtado, Nikki Yanofsky and many more in Canada's answer to Band Aid

In the same vein as Band Aid's Do they Know it's Christmas, a huge number of Canadian singers including Avril Lavigne, Justin Bieber, Nelly Furtado and Olympic star Nikki Yanofsky have come to record a charity single to raise funds for Haiti's relief efforts.

Support Haiti by buying the single, video or T-shirt at Young Artists For Haiti. And be sure to pass it on so others can help too.

Posted via web from Bowyer's Bite-size Blogettes