vision of the future

I just finished reading Nicholas Carr‘s The Big Switch in anticipation of getting a copy of his new book The Shallows.  This troubling excerpt towards the end of the book hints at where he takes The Shallows and gives a less-than-utopian view of our dependency on all things web-related:

The printed page, the dominant  information medium of the past 500 years, molded our thinking through…”its emphasis on logic, sequence, history, exposition, objectivity, detachment, and discipline.” The emphasis of the Internet, our new universal medium, is altogether different.  It stresses immediacy, simultaneity, contingency, subjectivity, disposability, and, above all, speed.  The Net provides no incentive to stop and think deeply about anything, to construct in our memory [a] “dense repository” of knowledge…It’s easier “to Google something a second or third time rather than remember it ourselves.”

The implications are unsettling.  As we advance toward an age where we will undoubtedly augment our reality and perception with computer-assisted technology (the old “jack me in” philosophy that is particularly prevalent to cyberpunk and no longer describes something terribly far off in our future), there’s a immense probability that, rather than using these technologies to enhance our natural ability to think and learn and remember, we will instead be using them instead of thinking, learning or remembering.  Why bother remembering a date or a concert, when you can store it to a flash memory card with a thought?  Why bother remembering appointments, birthdays.  We already supplement our experience of important events (your child’s birth, for example) with cameras and video recordings, so much so that — I believe — we lose a sense of the moment, we are no longer present and active participants.  Instead, we give up our participation in favor of participating later through recorded media.  There’s no doubt in my mind that if a storage device was invented that allowed you to offload your memories to an external hard drive, that people would end up using that rather than remembering things themselves.  And then, what?  We lose the ability to remember how to remember?

It’s easy to see these technologies — a chip implanted in your brain to “enhance” some function or other and plug you in constantly to the Net, which Carr says we’ll start seeing within the next 20-30 years — replacing our natural functions in much the same way as a drug.  A heroin addict is unable to quit because their body no longer naturally produces endorphins, relying, instead on the artificial endorphins provided by the drug.  The same thing could happen with our memories and knowledge and ability to process data organically — when a chip can do it faster, more accurately, and store the information more permanently in more detail, why bother with these messy meat shells at all?  Except, possibly, to avoid being a vegetable when the chip’s taken out…

embed google apps documents in a wave

while the fact that google wave isn’t natively integrated with all things google already — something that still baffles me; this is the technology that’s going to take over the world, isn’t it? — this particular trick works brilliantly and cleverly disguises the fact that your document isn’t actually natively integrated into your wave.

first, start a wave.  wait, you don’t have google wave yet?  wtf are you waiting for?  i’ve got invites right here! okay, with me now?  good.  start a wave.  click on the little add gadget button that looks like a puzzle piece.  that lets you enter the url of a specific gadget.  now enter this url in there:


what this gadget does is allow you to embed a new webpage into your wave in an iframe.  not the most elegant solution, granted, but it works and it’s seamless.  now you have a big, ugly, teal iframe in your wave and you want to change that to a google document.  if you’re doing a document or a spreadsheet, go to said doc/spreadsheet and click on share.  here’s the cool part: you can publish your document publicly, but you don’t have to, you can use the private url in your wave embed and only you and the people invited to your wave will be able to see the document.  if you want to go this route, from Share, click “Get the link to share” and copy the URL (make sure you hit Save after copying  your URL).  back in your Wave, click Edit above the big  ugly teal box.  now you can paste your doc’s URL and also specify the height for the iframe.  voilá, you now have a google document embedded in your wave.  presumably you can see others making edits to the doc in real time, too, though i haven’t tested this personally.

so what if you don’t want to share a document, but instead want to share a calendar?  this is actually what i was trying to do when i discovered this trick.  make your calendar (or select the calendar you want to share in your Wave), and from the dropdown menu, select “Calendar settings.”  from there, you can right-click and copy the link for HTML under Calendar Address (or click the link and copy the URL in the address bar) if your calendar is public, or do the same under Private Address if it’s not.  again, using the private address shares the calendar only with the people invited to the wave — it’s still private, otherwise.  once you have the URL, plug it into the iframe gadget and you’ve got yourself a calendar embedded in your wave.  unlike what’s been reported about docs and spreadsheets, it doesn’t seem to me like the calendar updates in realtime.  i suspect this has to do with the infrastructure of the technology, but i imagine someday everything google does ever will always be realtime, so i’m sure it’s only a matter of time before you will see events randomly pop up in the calendar as you’re staring at it.  and, of course, it’s only a matter of time before all google apps are natively integrated with Wave in the first place.  but to see this working,  it’s easy to believe that it is a native integration and not a third-party workaround.

with the intensity of ambivalence with which Wave made it’s official debut, i’m glad that things like this are slowly coming into the fold.  i really believe that Wave could revolutionize how we communicate, but it needs a massive adoption: it needs to replace email itself to fully be realized for what it can be.  but i still pine for more tools and more adoption for more of the fancy crap that Wave is capable of.