The Quest for Knowledge

The internet is a seemingly endless ocean of information. As more and more people gain access to the World Wide Web, the data streams will only get exponentially bigger. 10 years ago the web was unbelievably big; today the amount of data is simply mind-numbing. The future holds practically infinite number of ones and zeros. Everything we have ever thought of, every single thing one could hope to learn is or will be available online. The sheer volume of data basically makes the internet as human as we are.

The first thing to remember when searching for digital knowledge is that what you find is probably incorrect. This in fact should be thought in elementary schools during media criticism class… which doesn’t exist but really should. Again: everything you read online is, if not blatantly incorrect, at least half-true. This should be everyone’s starting point. I know this might seem cynical, but… well it is. However, it’s the only approach that has forced me to verify what I’ve read. Too often I find myself getting excited over some new piece of knowledge only to find it incorrect after a short checkup.

One might think anonymity is a problem; that we can’t verify the credentials of the author. Or think that there’s just too much data to sort out the good stuff. No. The problem is us, the consumers and creators of information.

We are a sad cherry picking and circle-jerking lot that needs to learn to fight through preconceptions and prejudices. We are the ones that sneer condescendingly at social media memes and trends, just to take part in them the next minute (ironically of course). We need to learn to think for ourselves and create methods of digital learning. We need to realize that we are the ones in the way of our digital knowledge.

Despite (or because) of the huge possibilities of learning online, we tend to seek the company of the like-minded. This is normal from offline-life, but the scale of effects is different in the Internet. These gatherings quickly degenerate from discussion to circle-jerking festivities. Then the merry bandwagon often digs in to savor its superiority and cuddle with its self-proclaimed righteousness. Pity on those who dare to speak against the consensus, the digital wolfpack will tear them apart.

Most of the online discussion is heavily polarized. The difficulty of written discourse often leads to generalizing points and cherry picking information. Different online forums are too often deeply divided between black and white. Truth has already been decided by the loud majority, and real discussion is impossible in the cacophony of the consensus. From time to time the black and white bandwagons collide and only on the far extremities of the battlefield real discourse might happen between the two sides. There’s our hope.

Leave the bandwagon if your on one. Keep your poise if you encounter one. Embrace different opinions and good ol’ discussion. Find the middle ground with civilized manners. The more we web dwellers demand from ourselves when on the quest for knowledge, the easier the knowledge will come to us. We need to step outside our comfort zones and leave our foxholes. We need to learn to ask AND answer questions. We need to be critical, but also argue our criticism. We need to look beyond the subject line and relinquish our retorts. We need to work for our knowledge.

It wouldn’t be a quest if it didn’t involve trials and tribulations.


Digital Appetite and Attention Span

In October I wrote a post about my entertainment stockpile for winter. In it I wrote that the new XCOM game was going to be a regular in my gaming rotation and that I had already put 18 hours in it during one weekend. That was over a month ago. Today my XCOM clock card still reads 18 hours. What happened?

Before diving into the particulars of my case I submit that every dweller in the digital realm has an individual appetite for information and entertainment. Some have higher thresholds for adequate amounts of content, others can/will settle for less. I also submit that the digitally able folk have quite different appetites in comparison to others. The data flow of today is so intense that there must be a couple of screws up in your head loose to deal with all of it. Let alone crave for more.

I’m always on the lookout for new stuff to occupy myself with. Articles, books, TV-series, games, gadgets, music, presentations, websites, videos, research papers. Everything that’s remotely interesting will get a second look from me. However, 90 percent of the time that second look will be very brief and also the very last. My constant appetite for learning new stuff and trying new things is putting serious strain on my attention span. I firmly believe that I’m not alone with this predicament. No real geek can possibly be satisfied on how much content can be stuffed inside 24 hours.

Time and it’s management is really the issue here. I’m not willing to force through low quality content just to be done with it. I value my time too much, and there’s always something new waiting around the corner. So if someone has concocted a reliable method of allocating your time in things that really deserve it, please do share. My time management tool is a guillotine. Every piece of content or entertainment has a time frame in which it has to make itself interesting, otherwise it has to say hello to my sharp friend. Even after passing the initial test, there are still pitfalls to avoid on the way to long-lasting merriment.

Online articles (if I’ve bothered to move past the headline) are constantly beheaded by my guillotine. Getting the ingress done right is difficult enough, but to write a whole article without patronizing, pointless endorsing, factual mistakes, self promotion etc. seems to be really hard. Not to mention the other 27 article tabs in my browser just waiting to be clicked. One fumble and you’re out.

Things are especially rough if there’s a lot of potential quality on my to-check list. It might all come down to the littlest things. For example Justin Cronin used one super lame sentence in the book The Passage – and swoosh said the guillotine. It takes one cumbersome mission in Fallout: New Vegas. One flash ad that loads too long. Even good content might get guillotined because of a misleading tweet that took me somewhere I didn’t know I was going. And yes, it is taxing to know that I’m missing out on stuff because I have this monster of a system. But even more frustrating is that when I do have time to spare I seem to find myself at /r/funny time and time again. Fast food is all too appealing for digital appetite as well.

P.S. So, what happened with XCOM? I failed, got my team slaughtered, went out and got NBA 2k13 and never looked back. Boomshakalaka!

When a Brand Saved My Digital Ass

What could be a more memorable brand interaction than having your life saved? What could be more engaging? Axe stuck its neck out for me six years ago and I will not forget it. But no brand has come to my rescue since. I’m sure that lifesaving market would be a huge market. People are really touchy about their digital counterparts, so why don’t brands swoop in rescuing us every chance they get?

To make sense in all of this let me share my story.

It was a dark night in Las Vegas. Me and my brother were carefully covering the strip from opposite sides of the street. When the inevitable conflict began I found myself suppressed on the wrong side of the battlefield. I needed to get to my brother who was also seriously outgunned against the bad guys. I took a deep breath and then I dashed. That’s when all hell broke loose.

With my guns blazing I made steady progress for 10 meters or so, then I got blindsided by an enemy who flashbanged me off my feet. Certain that I would meet a miserable death, I stumbled around to find some sort of cover. The soundtrack for my struggle was an endless barrage of gunfire and my brother yelling “Are you down?”. I finally found something solid and crouched behind it to regain my poise and reload my weapons.

When the smoke began to clear and my brain stopped doing cartwheels, I hastily scanned my surroundings. The enemy was taking cover about a block away from us and they still fired at me with all they had. The only thing that was keeping me alive was Axe’s ad pillar. Every bullet fired at me tore glass debris out of the ad so I had to act quick. One by one I managed to take down the opposition while praying that the Axe ad would hold. When the last of the bad guys fell I nodded towards the now badly damaged brand ad; Axe saved my digital ass and I wasn’t going to forget it.

The thing that’s noteworthy in this whole ordeal is that usually brands are very reluctant to give themselves up for this kind of treatment. I can imagine the brand department going haywire if they saw their precious logo being shattered by gunfire. But when a brand saves lives it’s supposed to get a bit messy. It’s called immersion. You can’t place yourselves on a pedestal and ask for engagement, you have to be down in the dirt with your audience. You have to follow the same rules as the rest of the virtual world where you’re in.

I guess I was lucky the game engine of Rainbow Six: Las Vegas didn’t feature complete destruction of larger environmental elements. Had that Axe ad gone down so would’ve I.

Preparing for Winter

Despite my love for our northern homeland, Finland is not the most pleasant place in the world during the winter time. Never mind the cold, snow, sleet or ice, it’s the impenetrable darkness that gets to you. The darkness grows so unforgiving that for a month or two even the pale glow of your monitor is enough to give you comfort. That time is at hand, winter is coming and we need to stock up on entertainment. This is a small glance in to my survival kit for this year’s time of darkness.

Fallout: New Vegas
The narrow field of view brought my first play through on xbox to an abrupt stop. I owe it to my love for the series to try anew – this time around with a fully modded PC-version of course. The dry desert scenery and the unrelenting sun should serve well in immersing myself out of the real life misery that’s going on outside my window.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown
I clocked in over 10 hours of XCOM during one weekend, that’s incredibly rare for me. This title has the makings of a longtime favorite despite/because of the ruthless nature of classic difficulty and iron man mode (one auto save slot only). It’s oh so heartbreaking when your most lethal scarred bad ass colonel kicks the bucket, especially if you named him after Jayne from Firefly.

Sins of a Solar Empire: Trinity
Sins has been on my to-play list since 2007, I finally bought the game from last summers Steam sale. Nothing is more soothing in a sleet storm than a warm thought of the outer rims of my empire stretching ever further into the uncharted vastness of space. 4X at its (recent) best.

Game of Thrones: The RPG
I’m expecting a rugged, half-assed gaming experience but a class A story in one of my favorite settings ever. Fingers crossed I won’t be disappointed.

Small World
No proper darkness will yield without a barrage of board games, candle light and a tall glass of India Pale Ale. Bizarre thought, but every once in a while escaping the digital world actually feels pretty good! This year I’ll fight the digital withdrawal symptoms with Small World and its add-ons, accompanied with Dixit, LOTR: LCG, Call of Ctulhu, MTG and many more.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I’m a late adopter when it comes to series. After finally seeing Firefly I immediately placed an order for the Buffy box set. Seven seasons of Joss Whedon quality should speed up the coming of spring.

I also thought it would be cool to subscribe to Nature but now I’m getting flooded with hardcore science stuff which is not what you would call easy reading. On the sci-fi front however I’m determined to find time for at least Ready Player One and Hyperion.

When this pile of class A and much more of class B entertainment has been processed and transformed into warm and fluffy memories, I’m hoping that what I see through my window are dandelions pushing through the frail veil of spring snow.

Writing With Standards

I have standards. I won’t press “publish” until I’m confident that I’m not contributing to the endless pile of excrement the web produces every day. I’m not what you would call a professional writer, but I try to write texts I would enjoy reading myself.

This post could be about a number of things. Tweeting every brain fart you happen to squeeze out is one of them, the recent spreading of lolspeak another. I however decided to dedicate this one to online journalism (excluding good online journalism mind you).

I know that the average attention span of an online visitor is about half of an ingress. I know news sites sell ad space with fancy click reports and other insignificant stats the advertisers shouldn’t be too interested in. I also know that journalists are probably competing on whose headlines gets the most clicks. I know but I don’t care, because the click wars are destroying the quality of online news. I couldn’t care less which yellow press magazine has the highest amount of web visitors; I want my content written with standards! Well, it’s of course possible that some sites just have really low standards, but that’s not really the point, the point is looking at what you have typed and being comfortable standing behind it.

Traditional newspapers are understandably trying to get a foothold in the online world, but the pace of events and reporting has apparently caught them with their pants down. News posts are typed as fast as possible to ride the click wave, and in the process proper quality gets axed. Not a week goes by that I don’t see something completely rubbish published and then silently edited as commenters point out the typos or even outright lies. Disgusting. It’s notable (and awesome) that most online-only sites leave the original text untouched (some sites also use strikethrough) and mark their edits clearly, perhaps that takes guts the traditional news corporations don’t possess.

It seems clear that the old journalistic self-righteousness still affects the news world. The change of mindset has been slow, and the changes mostly towards worse. In order to adapt to the new digital world order, it simply is not enough to send your writers to a copywriting course to learn click-for-more-headlines, I think we readers deserve more. Social media only adds to the vicious cycle, because since people don’t have the patience online to think about what they’ve read (if they read at all), utter bullshit gets shared. “Don’t spoil a good conversation with facts” is a too common sarcastic notion nowadays.

It’s not much but I’ve decided to start boycotting two of Finland’s biggest click hoarders you can still call news sites, funny enough they’re also the top 2 most visited sites here. Three weeks in and I already feel smarter.

The Internet Is My Brain, and I’m a Paranoid Schizophrenic

My memory is crisp, more comprehensive than ever, and my mind never tires. I quote Shakespeare to the letter while casually memorizing the 216th decimal of pi. Have you seen my vacation photos from Tokyo, oh, well let me just project them through my eye balls. Latest GISS publication and it’s implications? – Here’s the abstract. I have the Encyclopaedia Britannica bookmarked in my mind. I truly am omniscient.

Nnnnghh! No! I can’t trust any of this! What’s your reference? What’s this pop-up? What do you mean by cloud backup? Cookies? Trackers? AND WHY ARE YOU ASKING MY PASSWORD!?

I’m losing touch with reality. The Internet is my brain and I’m a paranoid schizophrenic.

The deeper I’ve integrated Internet into my being, the more I’ve started to question if I actually know anything at all anymore. What if in fact I’m the one who’s integrated in to Internet and not the other way around? Should I fear that everything I know and used to know is now known to somebody else? How much of my knowledge is only an extension of Google? If I’m right then they should also know a lot of what I’ve already forgotten, does that make my digital copy more me than I can ever be? Could this be their plan, they wait in the darkness gathering zettabytes of information, and when the time is ripe, they unleash the meticulously crafted digital clones of us to obliterate the human presence from the Internet. Imagine if your whole digital history was an AI trying to obscure the real you, it would render you invisible to the digital realm in a heartbeat.

Have you seen the shady character on the right? I think he’s following me, he could be one of the culprits. He sees everything I type, he knows my account balance, he sees into my soul. Can I trust him? He said he has such sights to show me, but I’m afraid he’ll just pull me deeper. What if he talks? What if they already know? I think I’ll take my chances.

I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I might not be online anymore. I realize I’m writing this in a browser, so they are watching. If I could just get this published, so everybody would kn OHNo

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A Hype Bubble and a Pin

I have grown to dislike all kinds of excessive hype. I think I’ll go as far as to calling it an allergy, because it seems that every time when I’m exposed to it, I quickly develop negative feelings towards the target of the hype. For consumers over hyping serves little to no purpose, but it amps up expectations that only a few products can meet, still lots of people from journalists to tech enthusiasts go regularly completely bonkers over something that simply is not that cool. For journalists it’s easy to figure out, for example a lot of gaming magazines make huge money off of 8-page exclusive previews of games that eventually end up turds. As for people not making money off hyping, I think the phenomenon could be related to change addiction of which I have written here a while back.

For this sessions bubble I have chosen the fledgling motion control UI’s – unintuitiveness and poor performance shall act as the pin.

Nintendo Wii was the first super successful motion control system, and we can’t hear the end of it. After six years and millions of sold consoles, Wii seems to be the go-to example for people prophesizing the era of motion control UI’s. Sadly they miss one relevant aspect of Wii’s success story, the console failed miserably. Despite selling a shitton of consoles, the game catalogue of Wii is unbelievable poor. Basically it failed to deliver the very thing it promised – good motion control based games. This of course proves something of game developers’ creativity, but also implies that motion control is after all not that intuitive and adaptable.

Microsoft’s Kinect is the fresher messiah of motion control, this time around without remotes of any kind. Kinect also launched with spectacular awe – huge hyping from the media, geeks and gamers paved the way to yet another disappointment. The fastest selling consumer electronics appliance of all time, and no one can make a half-decent game for it. And the Xbox menus with it – geez – as intuitive as riding a rabid hippo backwards while wearing a blindfold that’s crawling with spiders.

The whole evolution of our arms, hands and disposable thumbs has happened to enable us to fiddle with objects of different shapes and sizes. Because of this, it’s no wonder controlling things with little to no touching feels unintuitive and imprecise. We did not need motion controls until Nintendo made a fortune on Wii.

If I had tried to poke this hype bubble with motion controls, I’m sure I would’ve caught my eye instead. Attention UI developers – I want to press buttons!

Words That Maketh Art

“Hey Chief, you okay? You playin’ corpse or you puttin’ the blinds on the Dusties? I thought you were a deader for sure.”

The iconic opening words of Planescape: Torment, the game that despite its age always pops up when talking about game scripts and whether games should be considered as art. The sentence is so captivating it’s almost irrelevant that the speaker is Morte, a bodiless skull floating in midair, or that the player character is also sort of a distinguishable fellow to say the least. It’s well known that the opening sentence is the most important set of words in a book, so judging by the quote above Planescape could be the best book you have never heard of. However the otherwise great novelization of Planescape starts with a line or two about the game intro and thus just misses perfection.

If we dissect the Planescape dialect we quickly find one major contributor to the mesmerizing feeling. The magic comes from the pseudo-familiarity of the words, your brain signals you that you understand the words but then again you have no idea what they mean in the context. The use of rare slang words supplemented with carefully crafted made-up words create a lingo that’s strangely familiar in an other dimension kind of way. For a game world of dimensions and planes, it’s spot on.

The awesome glossary of Planescape provides a much better starting point for a fantastic journey than most “real” authors could ever hope to achieve. The fact that the themes and concepts of the game are on par with the text is no small feat. Ideas like the dead-book, clueless primes, planes and the whole multiverse are so compelling, it’s sad that the game mechanics are somewhat clunky and awkward. However Planescape: Torment is a rare gem and should be experienced by fantasy fans, so try the novelization at least – it’s free!

Yes, in essence this post was about a single quote. I like words.

The Uncanny Valley of Violence

Violence in video games has been a regular public discussion topic since the 1980’s. The conversation usually heats up for example during the aftermaths of real life tragedies, when the public is looking for a scapegoat, and then quiets down when all the cards from protect our children to the 1st amendment has been played.
No matter how much we talk the talk however, it seems only some are willing to walk the walk. A parent buying an R-rated game to a preteen is not a rare sight, developers are making more and more brutal games, and the players demand all the more realism and/or mayhem from their games. And at the same time we are moving steadily towards photorealism. What happens when we reach the point where virtual characters are nearly indistinguishable from their real life counterparts, what will it mean to virtual violence?
Although there’s no evidence that gamers have any difficulties whatsoever in distinguishing game and reality, I have to ponder the risks of becoming numb to high definition virtual violence. Is there a limit to how much graphical violence can a person consume with out it messing with our psyche? And with near photorealism in games, I’m afraid that there is no escaping the other side of the coin, more photorealistic violence. Then, if we add immersion to the mix we have a real dilemma, how to maintain suspension of disbelief if a game’s feel of authenticity doesn’t live up to its graphical setting? I don’t know any gamer who favors the German or Australian versions of games where zombies bleed green blood or the Allies stopped a robot invasion in WWII. We are suckers for violence and will most likely not support any actions to tone down violence in games. But should we? Or should somebody?
What if the gaming industry would start regulating itself, could it be that in addition of size/creativity/quality we’ll see a new developer attribute in the future – decency? Then we would have the virtuous devs and the uncompromising, gritty devs. I’m sure that the Call of Duty generation wouldn’t exhilarate on the possibility to see less violence in their games, and would throw their (or their parents’) money at the latter.
The governments could also step in by tightening age restrictions, introducing special taxes for violent entertainment, or by outright banning some aspects of virtual violence. The problem is that these would be extremely hard to put into effect. Age restrictions are easy to go around (and it’s not only the minors we should be worried about), and any kind of content censorship would probably face the 1st amendment card.
Why is there a need for violence in video games anyway? The short answer is challenge and immersion. Violent struggles are the simplest way of challenging players in game genres other than puzzle and sports. Violence or the threat of it is also an immersive element especially in action games. The recent rise of indie games however has shown us a variety of different approaches to gaming, and some of them are really uplifting. So maybe there is hope for gaming as an art form rather than endless gore fest for the adrenaline junkies.
My theory is that because of the inevitable improvement of graphics and physics engines, yes, we will see more brutal virtual violence, but on the other hand I think we’ll also see a strong counter reaction in the form of pacifistic games.
For every adrenaline packed Call of Duty, we will have one hope-ridden To The Moon.
For every gritty Dead Space, we will have one thought-provoking Dear Esther.
For every bloody-hell-it’s-hilariously-violent Dead Island, we will have one beautiful Flower.
And that folks is awesome.

Confessions of a lurker

Summer, it’s a great excuse for not blogging, because you know, it’s sunny outside and all that. But to me this break has been of significant value, for alas, I am a lurker.

Lurkers are the sad, shy bunch of web dwellers that are looked down upon by the rest of the Internet. They move alone, come out of the shadows to explore forums and social sites, and then vanish without leaving any trace they were there. To put it short, lurkers consume digital content like every other visitor, but they don’t contribute. It’s estimated that 10% of Internet users create all the content for the rest of us to enjoy. That makes every 9 out of 10 people lurkers, and I’m one of them.

But here I am, writing a blog and at least trying to contribute, so how could I be lurker?  For me blogging is self-medicating, I recognized the symptoms of lurking and thought that there must be a cure, and therefore started a blog. Earlier I tried to heal the affliction by tweeting but clearly more drastic measures were needed. And yes, here are the symptoms that I analyzed before the diagnosis:

  • My account on my favorite forum turned 5 years. Average post count for core users seems to be in the thousands, I’m just past 100.
  • I can proof read one single tweet for ten minutes. And then press delete.
  • Before I like/post/share or do anything on Facebook, I always sing the Finnish “what will others think of me” song first.
  • I laugh at upvote jokes on Reddit although I’ve ever upvoted about two posts.
  • Needless to mention how many posts I’ve made there.
  • And of course, I consume content made by others hours upon hours a day.

What’s mind boggling is that I do digital marketing and social media stuff for living, and consider myself to be quite good at it. So why can’t I function as a private person? Perhaps there’s some peculiar bipolar activity going on between the professional and the private me. The professional me has gotten the pursuit-quality and love-for-all-things-digital traits from the private me, but only shared analytics and brand management in return. Bum luck if your the private me.

Anyway I like to think that lurking can be cured by forcing good content, even if it takes a while to create. Although I don’t want to jump on the lolcat bandwagon, that’s where I draw the line, I have to admit I’m envious of people who can roam the web free of restraints. I guess I just need to accept that there are two kinds of people in the digital world: those who think too much and those who create.