New Media and the Future: Personal Reflections

Finding innovative uses for new media technologies is one of my favourite past-times. Here are a few of my observations:
  • I am a 'user', not a 'developer', of technology.
  • I intensely dislike having to pay for information (but I will from time to time!).
  • Open source software is becoming increasingly user-friendly.
  • The Net has enabled me to access so much information I think of it as a freedom machine!
  • I feel a little ripped off that the Net wasn't around when I was a teenager!
  • Since 2000, I have only bought newspapers when I wanted a hard copy for posterity.
  • Once started, I used email news subscriptions in lieu of traditional media.
  • I like Google's business model. I can't help it - they provide free information.
But keeping up with technology is very time consuming. I tend to have bursts of energy every so often where I immerse myself in anything new in an effort to catch up.

I had one such burst last year. I trialled Facebook in my teaching, developed a one-day workshop on social networking, and finally launched the blog I was 'gonna' start in 2001. Here's what I found:
  • As a user, rather than a developer, of technology I don't like having a web hosting service, other than for my domain name. It takes too long, costs too much and doesn't allow me timely control of my content. Google Blogger is my preferred blogging platform, and redirecting my domain name to my Google Blogger site fixed the problem instantly!
  • For additional pages, I use Google Docs and Google Sites. There are many others, but these integrate well with Google Blogger.
  • I am a big user of Facebook, and I link my blog to Facebook by using the application 'Blog RSS Feedreader'. There are many other Facebook blog readers but I am comfortable with this one's quirks!
  • You can add the Facebook Twitter application so that when you update Twitter, it automatically updates your Facebook status. If I add a blog article, I can add a comment and the link to the article in Twitter, which automatically updates my Facebook status.
  • I have an iMate JAS-JAM phone and it is the greatest thing to use in Canada. I could access free broadband via wifi almost everywhere I went in Ottawa! It costs too much to use in Australia and while I am writing up my PhD, I don't use a mobile phone because sitting in front of my computer(s) is my life and the Net is 'always on' :)
During my most recent catch-up burst, I rediscovered Firefox. Here are some easy things to do which will ramp-up your Net experience (and get rid of all those email subscriptions!). It is the most addictive browser setup - integrating various platforms using Firefox rocks! Try these:
  • From the Firefox menu, select >Tools>Add-ons>Get Add-ons>Search
  • Install 'Twitterfox'. This places your Twitter updates in the bottom right-hand status bar. You can add updates and links from the page you are viewing with one click.
  • Install 'Yammerfox'. This is for using Yammer, an enterprise version of Twitter which allows you to mini-blog with colleagues with the same domain name in their email address. You can discuss work goss, new ideas, new applications, the news etc without your Twitter followers wondering what you are talking about!
  • Install 'Digg Toolbar for Firefox'. Get instant updates on popular web articles in your fields of interest. These pop-up in mini-frames in the bottom right corner of your screen. If the article is interesting, click on it. If not, it disappears automatically.
  • Install 'Pronounce' (the Merriam-Webster version) - right-click on a word in a web page to hear it pronounced. In the past I had to click through to the website and now I don't.
  • Install 'Dictionary' (provides Oxford, Cambridge, Longmans et al) - right click on a word in a web page to see its definition. In the past I had to click through to the website and now I don't.
  • Install 'Google Toolbar for Firefox'. From Google Toolbar for Firefox, you can add the Facebook button. This allows you to click on the button and see what is happening in Facebook without leaving the page.
  • Google Toolbar also has translation, Wikipedia, and other buttons which can be added to the toolbar for commonly used applications.
  • If you are a researcher, check out Zotero. A colleague introduced me to it the other day. It is the best way to capture web references, and it will also take screen snapshots and provide the reference details!
  • If you are a teacher, check out iGoogle Gadgets. I am still working this motion chart out but the potential for use in lectures is huge!
  • I use the Gradient iBlu theme in Firefox. It hasn't affected performance at all. There are many other add-ons but I don't use anything else... for now :p
What does the future look like?

Where will new media be in the future? When I can afford it, my television will be replaced with a plasma TV hooked up to a very high speed broadband connected computer. Did I mention I hate paying for things? I'll be watching everything from the Net, for free!

Free content is not such a big deal if a free-to-air television model is adopted. If you hate ads (like most people), this won't be such a big deal as you might think. Indeed, when I had Pay-TV content there was no difference between free-to-air and Pay-TV. Try buying DVDs instead, it is no more repetitive than Australian Pay-TV!

Dealing with new media industries is emerging as a major challenge for governments and businesses in the broadband era. Governments will struggle to develop policy and regulatory frameworks, while businesses will struggle to develop a commercial model which is sustainable in an era of endlessly available information. I am starting to think the free-to-air TV model will enable mass penetration while providing adequate commercial returns.

Statements about 'inevitability' and never being able to 'catch up' may serve as a warning for technology laggards. But for me, high-speed Internet is the stuff of movies like War Games and Weird Science. Rather than being fearful about the future, there is at least one part of the present where nobody has all the answers. Being part of this stage in history makes it all worthwhile.