Happy birthday Google!

Consider this: Google has officially turned 10 years old. Ten! It’s not even a teenager yet! But can you imagine your daily life without Google, or everything it has impacted in the development of Internet search? I can’t. I was trying to remember my search engine of choice back in the day and can’t clearly remember BG (before Google), although it might have been AltaVista. Does anyone even use AltaVista anymore?

Anyway, in honor of their birthday, Google has brought back its oldest version, from which you can search its database as of January 2001. I tried googling myself (because I’m a narcissist) and only had three results, compared with the 650 or so I get when I search my name now. Pretty cool, even if none of the links for me actually worked.

I don’t care what other people say about you trying to take over the world, Google. I still love you. Happy birthday!


Google may not have made us dumber, but it’s certainly changed the way we think

The cover story for the latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly considers the impact of the Internet generally, and Google specifically, on how people consume information. In the article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?,” Nick Carr looks at the evolution of reading caused by the rise of the Internet. He references himself and others who say they can no longer read books, as they cannot keep their attention on a single piece of writing for more than a few moments. Sheer quantity has replaced quality of information in terms of importance. I become a social media expert because I have five different social networking accounts; really, I can become an expert on anything thanks to search engines and sites like Wikipedia. The fear of a generation of ADD adults seems inevitable, right?

Not necessarily. I admit I am an information addict, checking my email every few minutes and keeping it open in a tab in my browser 24/7, refreshing my Facebook and Twitter pages whenever my attention drifts from whatever I’m currently doing (which is usually about every five minutes), subscribing to 50+ blogs in my Google Reader…I could go on and on. I, like many others in the technology-driven 21st century, have become masters of what Linda Stone calls “continuous partial attention.” This means that no matter what I’m doing on my computer, one eye is constantly twitching to my Gmail tab to see if I have a new email or IM. I mean, god forbid if I miss that email about a party in two weeks and don’t read it until 20 minutes after it comes in!

While I need this constant stimulation, I found that unlike the author and others cited in the Atlantic article, I have luckily not lost the joy of immersion reading. Even while writing my master’s thesis, a time during which I did little but research and write the thing, I made sure that I spent at least 20 minutes of “pleasure reading” before going to bed. Now that I have more free time, I am rarely without a book and can easily spend hours reading it (as long as my laptop doesn’t go to sleep and I can’t see Gmail!). While I do agree that I find myself skimming a lot more now when it comes to more “academic” reading, the pleasure reading I do is slow and extremely enjoyable.

I also know that while information overload is causing widespread ADD tendencies in terms of searching for information — and that this is obviously leading to problems related to the validity of information (what? are you saying that not everything on the Internet is true?) — we’re certainly not all slaves to our computers. One thing I’ve noticed among a significant number of friends that I can’t wrap my head around is how many of them have hundreds of unread emails in their email accounts. Now I am rather meticulous with my email, reading every email I get (unless it’s spam obviously), and labeling/cataloging/archiving it regularly. If there are more than 50 emails in my inbox, then I’ve been slacking. And I tend to keep everything. But then I look at some of my friends’ email inboxes and there are maybe 1000 emails in the inbox, 200 of which haven’t been read. WTF I ask? That would drive me crazy! Then again, I know whenever my roommate looks into my post-Chernobyl disaster of a bedroom, her skin probably crawls too. But at least that’s my room. When people allow their inboxes to get that cluttered, they’re not the only ones who suffer. How many times have I asked a friend, “Did you read that article I emailed you?” or “Are you coming to the barbeque tomorrow?” only to receive a puzzled look because they were too lazy to read my email.

Okay, now that I’m going off on quite the tangent, let me attempt to bring this back around to my point (assuming I have one). As Carr says in the article, conventional wisdom regarding our brains being “hard-wired” after a certain age can pretty much be disregarded now as it is obvious we can change the ways in which we think, learn, read, etc. So if you see yourself changing the way you process information and you don’t like it, you can change it. You could try what my friend Ashley is doing after she determined she’s too reliant on technology and separate yourself from it. There are other ways of finding out information, such as newspapers and phone books (you know, the big, heavy yellow and white books you keep under the bed on in the darkest recesses of your hall closet). You can try to slow down your information absorption rate — after all, as much as you enjoy entertaining your friends at parties with all the random bits of information you’ve collected over the years from random websites, it’s just taking up valuable space in your noggin. Or you can be like me and just come to terms with the fact that the Internet has officially laid claim to your soul and all you can do is hang on and enjoy the ride.

Google goes black — and so should you

Thanks largely in part to Al Gore, it has become nearly impossible to deny the reality of global warming. However, knowing isn’t enough; action is required in order to begin a reversal of the damage done to our planet. Most people are unaware of just how easy it is to do this.

This is the focus of Earth Hour, a now annual event which encourages businesses and consumers to turn off the power for one hour as a simple way of saving energy. The event began in Australia in 2007 and this years aims to become global. You can participate by turning off your lights, computer, TV, etc., from 8pm-9pm local time TONIGHT, March 29, 2008.

Even Google has joined in to encourage participation by symbolically “turning off the lights” on its homepage. The site also links to a page with more information on Earth Hour.


So don’t just say you care about the planet tonight. PROVE IT.

New blog post on Pew Internet Project website

My latest “masterpiece” resides on the Pew Internet site here.

Want a little taste? Well here’s a scoop of yummy mobile Internet goodness:

John Horrigan’s recent data memo on mobile internet access spotlights a growing trend: consumers are increasingly relying on mobile technologies (cell phones, smartphones, PDAs, etc.) to stay connected on the go. In the memo, Horrigan cites recent Pew Internet data showing that Americans now list their cell phones as the most difficult technology to give up. At the same time, the percentage of consumers saying they would have a hard time giving up their Blackberry or other wireless email device has increased six-fold in the last five years, from 6% of American adults in 2002 to 36% in 2007.

These data support current trends within the business sector, and recent reports from some of the country’s biggest technology companies back up Pew’s findings. Americans want the freedom to access the internet anywhere and at any time, and technology is currently evolving to meet this demand. [More…]

Google Maps/Twitter Mashup for Super Tuesday is actually pretty awesome

Everyone knows Google Maps, and I’ve blogged multiple times about Twitter, the insta-status social networking site. Well, these two normally unrelated sites have joined forces for Super Tuesday to let consumers see just what people from around the world are twitting on this most massive of primary/caucus/pick the next US president days. Check out the site here to watch new comments pop up every 10 seconds or so.


New Pew Internet blog post: getting “googly” wit it

Ok ok, so I just made up the word googly in a lame attempt to combine Google and jiggy. Sue me.

Anyway, my latest blog post is up on PIP’s website, offering my personal experience with googling my name. This is in reference to our recent PIP report, “Digital Footprints,” which contains data on how individuals manage their online identities, including data specifically on googling oneself, as well as googling other people (i.e., potential employees, first dates, ex-boyfriends, random people you’re stalking, ex-boyfriends you’re stalking, etc. You get the point).

GMail gets a facelift to reveal its inner beauty…or something like that

You may have noticed some changes to your GMail lately. First was the introduction of “Group Chat” functionality, allowing you and several of your coworkers to bitch about your boss to each other via the Internet instead of the water cooler. Then came the new emoticons, which I generally dislike as they are cheesy and just plain ugly in my opinion (with the exception of the monkey…try him out –> “:(|)” … he’s my favorite). Finally, there has been the added option of color-coding emails, which I have yet to try out, but am excited to see how quickly I turn my inbox into a virtual pile of Rainbow Brite vomit.

Today, GMail has outdone themselves, ending months of patient waiting by AIM nerds everywhere, as now your AIM buddies can be incorporated into your GChat friends. Please, stop your thunderous applause friends. I know you’re excited. I, too, have been anxiously awaiting the moment when my two friends who still use AIM in any capacity can be reached through my Gmail.


In case you’re wondering how to get your little AIM buddy list appearing, simply go to your Settings tab and click on the Chat settings. There should be an option now to set up your AIM list.

And yes, in case you were keeping score, Google is still planning to take over the world.

[Thanks, Mashable!]

GTalk, AIM, MSN, Meebo, ICQ, Yahoo! Messenger, oh my… god, will you stop already?

Meebo logo
As we are all acutely aware of by this point, the face of interpersonal communication has undergone quite a transformation in the last decade. I still clearly remember the thrill of chatting with friends and strangers (and, unfortunately, perverts) more than 10 years ago when I first signed up for AOL. Today, we have a ridiculous number of options in online chatting capabilities, from the old standard AIM, to the more international MSN, to the tech nerdy ICQ and the current obsession of my friends, GTalk. One would think these platforms would all be integrated by now so that when I sign into GMail, my AIM list magically appears under my GChatting buddies. Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, Yahoo! Messenger and MSN integrated more than a year ago. And I know Google never likes it when Microsoft (or Yahoo! for that matter) beats them to the punch.

Well, for those of you dying to maintain all seventeen of your chat lists in one central location, I do have some good news for you. Google and AIM are currently working out some kinks and expect to launch AIM in GMail “in the near future,” whatever that means.

Alternatively, for those who have yet to hear about Meebo, this site actually does allow you to bring in your contacts from MSN, Yahoo!, GTalk, AIM, ICQ and Jabber in one, big, AIM-looking list. It’s a rather blah-looking site, without the charm of GTalk in my opinion (and, of course, without having your email right there to check and send messages). For me, I’ve pretty much abandoned AIM, although there are a few friends on it who I don’t talk to via GChat. But overall, I prefer just my GTalk.

I wonder if government employees who can’t sign into GMail can sign into Meebo…that would be quite the gem.

[Thanks, TechCrunch]

Apparently, Google took “Brave New World” a little too seriously

If you haven’t read about 23andMe yet, let me give you a quick description. For just $999, this Google-funded company will take a swab of your saliva and post it online, where you can see the breakdown of various traits and potential disease risks. Then, Facebook-style, you can compare your DNA strands with friends and family-members and decide who has the “prettiest” double helixes.

The primary purpose of 23andMe is to help fight and cure diseases. However, at the same time, it is minimizing the obvious risks of placing your personal blueprint on the Internet. Wow, I can compare my DNA with Jimmy Buffett? That’s awesome! Oh wait, someone could potentially steal my DNA, make hundreds of evil clones of me and take over the world? Oh no! (As egotistical as I am, I certainly do not want more than one Vitak on this planet, and I think most people would agree with me.)

I realize I am exaggerating the situation a bit, but as per usual, I am doing it to prove a point. We already put enough personal information on the Internet and look at the problems that causes. Do these people have any concern for the privacy of putting our DNA online? As much as I would love to know what diseases and other medical conditions I am at a risk of developing, I think I’ll pass on 23andMe for now. There’s also the obvious point of how this information could impact the quality of life of people who find out they risk developing a medical condition. Take colon cancer for example. Families that have a specific gene connected to colon cancer have a 90% chance of developing it. A North Carolina mother had her three children tested: all tested positive for the mutated gene and had subtotal colectomies in order to reduce their risk for cancer. I can understand this. But say you find out from your DNA results that you have a slightly increased risk of developing heart disease? Should you quit going to restaurants and turn vegan? I fear people participating with 23andMe will have such extreme reactions when they find out all the problems they could develop. It’s just human nature.

So don’t expect to see me joining any genetic social networking sites anytime soon. As long as I have the assembly-line-style cloning image from “Brave New World” stuck in my head, I think I’ll just keep that information to myself.