Dr. Geek: Disentangling Ourselves from the Web

I’ve joined the modern mobile world.  I took the plunge and bought a tablet.  I’d resisted buying a smartphone, mostly because I did not want to pay the exorbitant fees telecoms charge just to make owning a smartphone worthwhile.  I’d also have been deliberating for over a year what tablet to get.  I was interested last fall when Amazon announced the first generation of Kindle Fires, but the timing (and specs) weren’t right.  For a lady who teaches new media technologies, this lack of one of the most influential technologies in our society and culture was causing a fair bit of stress in my life.

Then Amazon announced the next generation of Fires, including two with larger screens, and one with 4G connectivity capabilities — designed to be even more of challengers to Apple’s iPad dominance — and an updated version of their original seven inch tablet, all as part of the expansion of the “Kindle Family”.  When the new Kindles were announced on September 6th, I went to the Amazon website to read about the updates, and I watched their video introducing this new Fire and couldn’t help but drool.  The next morning, I bought it, and waited anxiously for its arrival.

I’ve been playing with my new Kindle Fire HD 7″ for over a week now.  And for the most part, I’m in love.

picasion gif maker

Now I say for the most part.  You can go check out the specs on your own, so I’m not going to bog this post down with those.  I will say what I love: I love the low weight, how it feels in my hands, the beautiful screen resolution, the wonderful Dolby speakers, the webcam, the carousel for accessing all my content, and how good the touchpad keyboard is given the screen size.  I’ve been able to get apps that are useful for productivity (OfficeSuite Professional, WordPress), communication (Trillian, Skype), information (Huffington Post, Facebook) and entertainment (Angry Birds, HBO Go).  All around, it has all of the capability and functionality I need for a mobile wifi tool.

Unfortunately, the Silk web browser that Amazon has developed (which supposedly utilizes cloud computing to track and predict my web use) no longer allows for Flash plugins with this Android OS — but the mobile version of YouTube that the browser connects to is apparently using HTML5 so that the videos play without a problem.  There also appears to be an issue of ordering an App at Amazon’s online app store and having it installed in the Fire — I’ve already had to deal with Amazon customer service to deal with a problem regarding this lack of transference.  But, luckily, it was Amazon customer service, which meant everything got resolved satisfactorily.

In building up my Kindle Fire’s capability to serve me, I have been downloading a number of mobile applications to perform the tasks I need it to do.  Mobile applications are designed to in some way replicate online services from websites and Internet platforms, or to replicate the functions of PC software programs, such as Microsoft Office.  Apps are both the ways you engage with the content on the mobile device as well as connect to the content of the Internet.

Most popular apps across OS platforms of 2011, from http://www.distimo.com/.

I use my Fire, thus far, whenever I wake up and don’t want to turn on the laptop before work.  Using the apps, I can check my email, check the weather, read some news, check into Facebook; but I still need the Silk browser to read my official email account as well as the webcomics and political humor that brighten my day.  However, I do notice that with my first real experience with apps, I do like how accessible they make the information I need, when I need it.  Instead of having to start a browser and either enter the URL or find the address I’d already bookmarked, I can simply turn on the app and the information is right there, personalized for me.  And I’m not alone for my thoughts on apps — at least, that is what the Wired article by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff from August, 2010, were discussing in their argument that a new revolution in Internet technology is under way.

How we use the Internet, over time, from www.wired.com

As they see it, the ways we’ve been using the Internet to connect to computers, information, and one another has been changing, such that the idea of the Web — the hyperlinking between HTML encoded webpages that contain information — are being replaced by filesharing and video streaming.  In addition, they see a transition from the openness of the Web, where anyone can go anywhere with hyperlinks and URLs (especially if you knew how to hack), to closed, walled gardens, where platforms and mobile applications require logging in and the creation of accounts for access to the content and the network that is provided.  Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has often said he wants to take on Google, or in some way to establish Facebook as a preeminent location on the Internet, and with the need to create confirmed accounts to access the network and content of Facebook, at 800+ million active users, Facebook is the largest closed community within the so-called open Web.

The World Wide Web has been around in its hyperlinking format since 1991.  So why, after two decades of dominating the infrastructure of networked computers that is the Internet, are we now seeing a challenge to that dominance?  According to Anderson and Wolff, a replacement may be underway due to a) users’ preferences and behavior and b) companies finally realizing how to monetize the Internet.

Anderson in particular also begins to argue that media consumers want one thing above all else: content.  (I’ve also made this argument in relationship to virtual worlds.)  The majority of people are not going to geek out over the capabilities of the latest technological gadget — only the innovators and early adopters, as predicted by the diffusion of innovation curve, would be the tech geeks who care what the latest iPhone or Wii can do.  The majority of people just want their technologies to be serviceable tools through which they can communicate with one another and to retrieve information and entertainment when desired.

The evolution of the Internet has been the evolution to realize these desires.  From the Internet which linked computers to spread information, to the World Wide Web which provided the programming to facilitate accessing this information, to the Web 2.0 shift that helped making and sharing the information, each evolutionary step (which at the time would have been called revolutionary) served to make it easier for the majority of people, the non-tech savvy people and the non-tech geeks, to take advantage of these networked computers to communicate and gain content.  The rise of mobile applications, beginning with tablets and smartphones and moving into augmented tech like the Google Glasses, and even Internet platforms like virtual worlds and social networks, are yet another step in this evolution to make it easier for the people who don’t know the different between XML and HTML5 to do what they want to do: get, create, and share content.

I agree with the authors’ conclusion that we should not be seeing the WWW as the end all and be all of the Internet.  The Web has served its purpose of helping to mainstream the Internet.  Now is the time to see what else we can do with the Internet to make it even more helpful to people in their everyday lives.  And making the content of the Internet more available and more easily accessed is a great way to start.  For the Internet to remain important and central to modern life, it has to be able to adapt to how modern life changes — every technology that has remained important and central to modern life has undergone the same challenges.  If that means the Web goes the way of the telegraph and magnetic tapes, then so be it.  We’ll always have the Net.

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About CarrieLynn Reinhard

I’ve been a scifi fan all my life, so I figured I should actually make money being so. And since I’ve always wanted to be a scientist — at one point I was convinced I knew how to clone dinosaurs from their hollow bones — the career path of being a scientist who studies fans and their media obsessions made the most sense for a woman obviously way too influenced by Jurassic Park. I’ve been all around the world studying fans, superheroes, virtual worlds, digital games, the media industry, and various media technologies. Now I’m an assistant professor in new media studies and audience reception studies at Dominican University just outside of Chicago, and discuss my research and other issues in the world of geekdom at my blog, www.playingwithresearch.com.