Final Reflection: User Journey

The Technology course, for me, was a perfect fit. Like a cozy mitten or a mermaid-tail blanket. Coincidentally, I did a lot of reading and annotating in said blanket. I grew up with friends that went to both IT high schools and universities, then I also ended up working as an Executive Assistant for an IT recruitment company. In a way, it’s like a moth to a flame kind of relationship for me: there is an undeniable magnetism because there is no limit to my curiosity, just as there is no limit to the Technology field’s progress.

Along the way, some things have fascinated me – like learning about Halt and Catch Fire and watching it without blinking at the very beginning of the term, or learning about Online Business Models, or learning about Annotations and their implications. Some things, on the other hand, have scared me – like the tracking apps or machine learning (and Sophia), things that were once only in sci-fi books and yet my generation is experiencing as “normal.” Overall, though, the underlying feeling has always been of satisfaction because there was always something to keep my mind busy and my spirit vested.

It was not all pink and rosy, however – being an introvert and a go-getter, I took the word of the contract as Law and drove myself into an anxiety attack two-thirds through. I have been told I am the Type A kind of personality, the kind that needs to do everything, needs to do everything right and if something goes wrong, tends to punish themselves with much too harsh consequences. It might stem from the type of household I grew up in, and by “might” I mean “for sure.” This is something that I have been working on over the last few years, especially because the Publishing industry is so fast-paced, entails so much group work and thus, means interacting with different creative and business types. I’ve definitely rounded my edges a bit through this academic journey, both during the Technology course, as well as through the final projects that we worked on. I also found a healthy balance where I restructured my personal goals, switching from wanting to do everything like a robot so I can tick away at tasks to focusing on the learning and managing the many tasks on my plate, and patting myself on the back for each small accomplished task.

In addition, I reminded myself to enjoy my passionate self and continue on my path of learning and success, and mind less what others might do or say or think. Writing the blog posts, for example, was for me an exercise for both expressing creativity and for practicing concise writing. I made it a personal goal to stay between 500 and 600 words, and that was something I did for myself to make it fun. I dabbled in some Toastmaster-ing here and there over the years, and there is a certain art in saying the same thing in less words. It’s a really fun game for me to constantly practice this skill. I may not always get it right but it’s the process itself that I enjoy. Writing these blogs was tough to manage at certain points during the Term, like when our demands for the Group Project were breaking our back, but again, my feelings when going into this Master’s was to make sure I focus on the learning and not to obsess over the marks (for once – even though just saying this gives me a bit of a *ZGR* on my brain).

I am in just a few days heading over to Simon&Schuster and during the Emerging Leaders’ week, my supervisor plain advised me to keep in mind that “the real world” might end up being nothing like what I am learning during the terms. So that’s perhaps the key takeaway: to keep an open mind. I think the lectures, activities and discussion certainly focused on this aspect, and I remember going down the same staircase during my undergrad so I can pass by my favourite quote on campus: “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions” (Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.). If I could get paid to be a student, that would be brilliant, but at the same time, I have learned through this course that there is a ceiling for me in terms of academia… and then I start to ache for practicality and actual work.

So with what I have learned during this course, I feel like I am entering the workforce knowledgeable in many aspects. Or if nothing else, I’ll be one ridiculously fun factoid machine at publishing parties!

Anna Stefanovici

The Life of Text Online

The life of text online – each word makes sense on its own, yet what an odd concept to grapple with. We talk about stories coming alive, we are thirsty for narratives in books or films, but our interaction is from creator to receiver. In reading articles like Audrey Watters’ Un-Annotated or Brent Plate’s Marginalia and Its Disruptions, I realized that this world of “interaction with and shaping of the text” was entirely new to me. To better portray my shock, I need to give two examples that define my behaviour: I have loved books so much ever since I was a child, I considered leaving a mark, any mark of any sort, to be… like, the eighth Cardinal Sin. I particularly ached when I saw ear-marking as a substitute for a purchased or self-made bookmark. I eventually found a more sane balance in university, when I found highlighting and annotating to save me time. I actually enjoyed it for the first time, to leave commentary that I could then review at a later time.

This is pre-social media.

Then, similarly, online commentary for me has been incredibly scarce (mostly due to my scarce time) and always of a positive nature. I mean, you know what they say, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” For example, I follow my artist friend’s journey because I purchased a piece from her over Etsy. We’ve never met in person but we’ve become close through our appreciation for the art. She’s also American so it’s been highly educational to compare the fate of art and artists in Canada vs the US. So coming from this perspective, I am naturally bewildered by the vast amounts of negative or trolling commentary. I just don’t know when people have the time, really, and that’s what horrifies me – how many people devote time to this kind of interaction.

Coming from this perspective, I just think that a writer does indeed have the right to define who comments, and moreover, to carefully review and curate what kind of “life” is given to their text. This sounds extreme but to soften the perspective, I have to say that I also believe this to be context-based. The kinds of magazines that I enjoy reading, like Discover, National Geographic and The New Yorker, they have geeky readers like me that engage in super interesting commentary. Sometimes it’s fun just scrolling down past the article to read a few thoughts or debates, they’re equally “alive” and entertaining.

However, Watters’ writing on the vast amount of “threats of sexualized violence” had me contemplate on the purpose of texts online. Many years ago, I read this moving piece on the initial purpose of “the online world” versus what it has ended up being over time. A review of the development of Internet is this article but the article I read was in a magazine (Google and I tried our best but to no avail). Long story short, the view of scientists was positive and uplifting, this world of resources, knowledge, and limitless interaction of global proportions – but over the decades, it’s exploded into this universe of galaxies near and far, where so much ugliness and uselessness has crept up (like porn and trafficking and such tragic things).

So yes, sometimes, audiences could do with some parameters and limitations in their online socialization over a text. Some texts online can be “alive and well” just on their own, without any trolling or #pwning or whatever you may call it. Some texts can do just fine being left alone.

Anna Stefanovici

“The More One Knows, the Quaggier the Mire Gets” – Sarah Vowell*

Having recently prepared a project that relies on the concept of “digital fatigue,” I have read a lot of information online on the topic. There are blog entries, such as Frank Buytendik’s futurist-focused one, where he writes, “we are moving towards a #digitalsociety. Not only business changes, not only work changes. Life itself changes.” At the same time, there are medical warnings against the continued and growing exposure to screens. For example, Dr Aizman’s talks about ocular muscle strain and writes, “digital eye strain is very common because of our reliance on digital technology.”

Yet if you put these two observations together, you’re in Quagmire Land. Somewhere somehow, the eyes (which recent studies say are part of the brain and not separate organs) have to both do the work you’re demanding of them, and preserve themselves as part of providers of one of your five senses. Perhaps this is why content-retention when reading materials online is not as reliable – there is ocular and brain stress that steals away from the energy one devotes to reading and reading comprehension.

So – should publishers care? is a question that one wonders as a budding publisher. I think the most reasonable answer is, “it depends on the publisher.” When I was finishing my Graphic Design diploma, the Head of the Department and Portfolio instructor had us do rigorous research in terms of our “dream companies.” I had learned about Scholastic through my part-time work with children and made it one of my three winning companies. Now, at the tail end of the academic portion of my Master of Publishing, I know that if I were to indeed become a part of the team, I would use the type of medical and psychological research being done to encourage children to read real books, as well as educate parents on the necessity of perpetuating this method of reading. In fact, if you haven’t heard this interesting factoid, it has become public knowledge over the last few years that the children of Silicon Valley techies attend no-technology schools. While this New York Times article is a bit outdated, it offers a peek at some of their methodologies, such as  “Andie’s teacher, Cathy Waheed, who is a former computer engineer, tries to make learning both irresistible and highly tactile. Last year she taught fractions by having the children cut up food — apples, quesadillas, cake — into quarters, halves and sixteenths.”

Isn’t that so ironic? That the masterminds who brought personal computing to global levels are segregating their own children from their inventions? They must know something we don’t know.

So that’s if I were involved in publishing geared towards children and education.

Now, on the other hand, given Buytendik’s prediction that our future lives are inescapably digital and will become more so over time, I can imagine improvements to technology that publishers could (and would have to) take advantage of. I have not seen any VR-reading yet but sci-fi films often touch upon scientists finally unravelling the mysteries of the brain and plugging materials directly into neurons, the way we transfer data via cables or miniSDs into devices in the present. While growing up I was never much of a sci-fi fan, it never ceases to fascinate me that all writers’ “predictions” from past decades are now part of our daily lives. A vast majority of people are so ungrateful, too, in their unquenchable thirst for “better” “faster” “more.”  So with this new technology, new reading formats would inevitably dictate the way readers would access information. Thus publishers would have to indeed lend an ear, if they wished to survive into the 22nd century.

I’m 31 now and know that life will be so vastly different when I am 81.

*Vowell said this about American History but I find it applicable to everything in life.

Anna Stefanovici

Digital Tracking & the Responsibility of the User

Digital tracking has been in the news lately more than Donald Trump – who knew that any topic would ever manage that?! Or no… wait, you could easily just argue that it’s still about Donald Trump and politics, only that the focus is the tens of millions of online users that got duped. In her article about The Cambridge Analytica files, the fragment that stood out the most to me was the question writer Carole Cadwalladr posed to Wiley in regards to an analogy to bullying. Wiley responded, “’I think it’s worse than bullying because people don’t necessarily know it’s being done to them. At least bullying respects the agency of people because they know. So it’s worse, because if you do not respect the agency of people, anything that you’re doing after that point is not conducive to a democracy. And fundamentally, information warfare is not conducive to democracy.”

This aspect of data tracking shook me to my core. The reality is that 7 years ago, I had a messenger conversation with one of my smartest friends in Romania and he was showcasing to me his Master’s work. I did hear him when he said that every single keyboard stroke, even those that are deleted, in fact remain encrypted in the system. I heard him but I did not listen.

Online users range dramatically in behaviour, and some accept tracking as “a matter of fact,” while others become disenchanted and slow down… and others grow paranoid and disappear altogether. The main issue here is the ripple effect of this revelation. In my case, after my friend’s lessons began to sink in, I took a step back and converted my page from personal content to a collection of articles. In other words, I deliberately became the gal at the water fountain spouting “Hey, did you knows?” and all about content relevant to me: astronomy, nature, relevant people of the world, moving digital shorts, etc.

I also monitor the settings each time Facebook makes an update. I think they’re not going to do anymore but they had this habit of overwriting the new settings because they were expanding the menu… and the onus was on you to untick a bunch of sections. In addition, one of the tools I’ve employed since the new updates has been the careful curation of posts – some are locked to “me” (with the lock symbol), most are “for friends only,” (the two people logo) and once in a blue moon, some are “global” (with the globe logo). The latter is my way of manipulating what I want potential employers or non-friends to know about me, who I am, what I care about. Political content is something I post less and less about, and never allow it to be public. It still exists, however, computationally-speaking, as part of my “online persona,” but I am one of those people that believes that if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.

On a larger scale, however: in conjunction with the #deletefacebook movement, an immediate response came from Elon Musk. Both Space X and Tesla had around 2.6 million followers and Musk deleted them both within minutes of being challenged on Twitter. Mark Zuckerberg reacted shortly thereafter by first, reverting to the older model of showcasing family and friends postings, and subsequently, in a very intelligent PR move, issuing a public apology in several newspapers, on both sides of the ocean.

Is that enough though?

I don’t think so.

I think the responsibility lies with each individual. The trouble is that whether educated or not, school-taught or life-taught, millions and millions fell into the traps of silly apps, without ever bothering to retrace their steps when they were told “the results require access to a, b, c.”

Do you know what I’m referring to? If you do, don’t accept.

If you don’t, I’ll let you look it up because a lesson learned by yourself is a lesson better remembered.

I’m going to end with a data tracking anecdote: the friend mentioned above was told to use his personal computer as test hamster. By accessing the IP remotely and harvesting the full list of keyboard strokes, including the deleted ones, he found out that his girlfriend was cheating on him.

Nothing is ever lost in the digital realm, remember that.

Give Credit Where It’s Due

“Any protection can be hacked given enough time, and the main users of digital software and media content—the young—have the time and incentive to do just that,” writes Aaron Fellmeth in this great article about the uncertain future of copyright in the on-demand age. Hellmeth discusses the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, adopted in 1998, and finishes by explaining that “we live in a chasm between the old product-based copyright law and the newish reality of cloud computing, streaming on-demand content, and content-as-a-service. Until Congress passes a new ‘Digital Services Copyright Act’ of some kind to defend legitimate consumer expectations, the software and entertainment industries are holding all the virtual poker cards.” So that’s the fundamental question now: as emerging publishers, we find ourselves in a time when changes are occurring at faster and faster rates.

Let’s say I have a blank canvas and Copyright Law of 2018 (20 years later) is at my whim. What do I care about and how would I like it implemented?

I’ll start off by saying that having your ideas stolen is not a nice feeling. Has it ever happened to you? In my case, it wasn’t someone making millions, or winning I don’t know what trophies, but as small as it was, it certainly burned. More than anything, it taught me the valuable lesson of keeping my mouth shut. I read somewhere this saying, something about how “if you can’t keep your own secrets, why would you expect your friends / your partners to do so?” These ideas are super well developed in Halt and Catch Fire. I devoured the series, it really does a marvelous job summarizing the technological advancements of the last couple of decades. Completely unrelated but very much worth stating, nearly each episode passes the Bechdel test. Just stunning scriptwriting!

Anyway, at some point, the main character (a super visionary guy) takes his former partner’s chunk of code and turns it into an antivirus program. They battle it out in court for a while, less relevant to this conversation. The point is that it reminded me of my scenario and it made me reflect on the relevance of copyright. We live in a world where individuals are made of different levels of greed and generosity. As far as I’m concerned, credit should be given where it’s due. SO in my agenda, I wrote down “Annie Slizak said this brilliant thing, that copyright should be renewed every five years.” I loved her idea, and I wanted to remember it, so that if I’m ever in a position, 5 or 15 or 25 years from now, where I’m in the publishing industry (or any other creative one) sitting down with Canada’s policy makers, that I discuss it as someone’s great idea.

I do believe, very much, in the value of copyright law, and I do see potential in developing this concept of renewed copyrighting. Another student of my cohort, Grace-Emmanuelle Kabeya, had an excellent counterargument, in regard to the financial aspect, as differentiator between those who were able to spend the amounts necessary, versus those that did not have sufficient funds. Given the gravity of this issue, I do believe then that an important change I would make would be to Canada’s Grant system, i.e. to develop a branch that examines applications for Copyright Extension from those that are perhaps unable to cover the cost.

I am a content creator myself, and I would like to know that if I am ever to produce any work, whether a book or a photography collection, or a documentary, that I have a system that acknowledges me and rewards me as creator. This is why I pay for Netflix, I pay for movies in the cinema to this day, I pay for my own Creative Cloud license, and why for the longest time I paid for CDs. I had to stop because “I’m too bloody young to not conform to new technology,” I told myself, thus I now pay my Apple monthly fees.

To me, this is my form of rewarding my creative peers for their work. And of respecting the copyright laws in place.

I hope, when the time comes, the same respect will be conferred upon me.

Anna Stefanovici

The A that might disrupt GAFA

Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon have been growing so much over the last few years that in the tech-community, everyone knows them by “GAFA.” Stephen Hawking once said of this modern world we’re experiencing together, “We are all now connected by the internet, like neurons in a giant brain.” So how will, or how could, either of these “lobes” decline, falter or cease to exist?

The most important question to ask revolves around the conditions, and trends, that naturally occur over time. The most obvious one, of course, is the exponential growth in mobile devices that belong to the “smartphone” category. According to this article as well as these stats, the number of smartphone users worldwide was 1.57 billion in 2014, but will reach 2.87 billion by 2020. That’s a third of the global population!

In my recent travels, I ended up sat on the plane next to a Google Researcher, and we discussed how in many countries that have been labelled “second” or “third” – world, many families that had never brought technology into their homes because they could not afford it (desktops or laptops), did join the online community via their smartphone devices. Outside GAFA and outside North America’s myopic view on tech giants, a powerful force that has capitalized on this is AliBaba. While co-founder Jack Ma tells the fascinating story of failing four years in a row to pass the university entrance exams, his multinational e-commerce, retail, Internet, AI and technology conglomerate is now far ahead in business approaches. In fact, AliBaba operates in 200 countries and by creating AliPay, it surpassed Paypal as the world’s largest mobile payment platform in 2013. Recent news confirm this prediction of mine in terms of AliBaba’s growth in North America, and you can read more about it here. In summary, the Chinese giant and America’s largest grocery chain Kroger could partner in the near future and if so, this partnership would prove a real threat against “the dominance of e-commerce and cloud computing behemoth Amazon.”

This would only be the first step in the decline of one of the “big four.” As is often the case, when one company recognizes and responds to habits, a natural ripple effect occurs, where investors begin to replicate one another, and therefore establish and then re-enforce the new trend. For example, I recently came across a video of a local serial entrepreneur that I used to work for, Penny Green. She co-founded Glance Technologies, a leading fintech company recognized for its payment platforms and anti-fraud capabilities. GlancePay, as she describes it in this CEO-interview series, “is a mobile payment system that allows users to pay bills with their phone.” She goes on to say, “if you look at where China is with AliPay and WeChat, it may be surprising to find out that those mobile payment apps are now making $5.5 trillion dollars a year.” While I am by no means an expert in this complex world of the digital commerce industry, I have a gut feeling that these new financial forces will change the pecking order in the next few years and somehow disrupt GAFA’s power-hold. Or, at the very least, replace them.

Anna Stefanovici

Concept-Hopper

In his article “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside of Us,” staff writer for The New Yorker Adam Gopnik reflects on the development of “the Internet” and categorizes books on this topic into three parts: The Never-Betters (those who think it bringer of utopia), the Better- Nevers (should have never happened) and Ever-Wasers (this modernizing thing is actually repeating). Reflecting on these categories and the question posed, meaning to define myself via one of these, I realized that I concept-hop a lot. I have never been a big fan of extremism and always think, in the privacy and freedom of my home, how astonishing it is that people can devote themselves so blindly to one belief or another.

For example, I am a Canadian… but the sort born elsewhere. I read a few years back a book entitled The Power of Why by Amanda Lang, a book that discusses and analyzes innovation. Lang explains that people that have terms of comparison (have lived in a few places or speak a few languages) tend also to be more innovative. You see, in my case, immigration was the closest to time-travel one can come to [– for now! Who knows what the future will bring?]

While 2001 was for North America, and the Vancouver IT industry in particular, the culminating year of the dot-com bubble (and ensuing crisis), I had left Romania as one of the few children in my class privileged to have a computer in the home. Yes, the modem made those weird sounds and yes, you stared at the basic graphics of the transporting envelope, but in those moments, I was surely one of the Never-Betters. At the time, I was immensely mesmerized by Microsoft’s Encarta Encyclopedia as well, and I mean the CD-ROM version, not the online one. This was October of 2001. Then in November of 2001, I was all of a sudden under the pressure of adapting very quickly to my peers’ speedy fingers. In Vancouver, schools already had computers and by the end of high school and beginning of university, the expectation was that all my research would involve an online reading/research component.

Now that I nanny to keep myself fed as a student, I see how the Internet really is inside children. You must truly reflect on this, I read it myself in an article and it stopped me in my tracks: we are the last generation to know life both with and without computers and “the Internet.” Some children I watch over have habits that definitely make me roll my eyes and think of myself as a Better-Never, mostly revolving around the concept of videogames. I have recently learned games are not even built with multiple consoles anymore, since the dawn of the age of “network playing.” Before, you played outside or played a videogame – at least you played together. Now, if you want to play with a friend, you must geographically separate in order to each take on a digital persona. This is not the worst of it, as far as I am concerned – to me, the most disturbing aspect is that children watch YouTube videos of o-t-h-e-r people playing videogames. The level of detachment is completely beyond me.

Overall, however, I look at each wave of technology brought upon us, and I realize that from an eagle-eye view, the reality of the matter is that to me, the most sensible thing is to admit the facts, and I thus ultimately admit defeat to the Ever-Wasers group. Who knows, with virtual reality, perhaps the next wave of children will indeed sit around in empty spaces but mentally exposed to rich, colourful worlds. I just deeply hope the real world around us does not end up looking like the universe of WALL•E, though.

Anna Stefanovici