Walk Like a Medieval

Anche l’abbigliamento è in qualche modo tecnologia.

Nel medioevo, le scarpe erano fatte diversamente e costringevano a camminare con un’andatura che – sebbene strana – risulterebbe più salutare per la nostra schiena.

The first app I fell in love with in a long time

When was the last time you fell in love with an app? There are a handful of apps on my phone I like and I appreciate immensely. They aren’t just tools I use but also meaningful experiences, things so well crafted that using them brings me joy. I also download and try out a lot of stuff. I’m a designer and I think it’s part of my job to try new things, understand how they are made and what experiences they offer. But despite being such a heavy user, very few apps get a permanent spot on my phone. I’m not alone. A 2016 analysis from Andrew Chen, analyst and member of the Uber growth team, says that over 80% of the apps downloaded from the Google Play store are never used again after the first 72 hours. Never. Again.

A few days ago, it happened again. I fell in love with an app. It’s not from a big brand, it doesn’t have a great icon and it doesn’t have a perfect user interface (quite the opposite, actually) but it’s a ton of fun, and I think it fills something that I was missing in my life. It’s called Squigglish and it’s a delightful drawing app that uses a bit of math to breathe some life into drawings 👆 like this 👇.

The developer is Olivia Walch, an American Mathematician and comic artist that clearly found a way to mix her two passions. At first, the app seems to work like any other drawing app… but there’s a twist. After a line is drawn on the canvas, it immediately starts to “wiggle”. So if you draw a face, it will wink and if you draw a bird it will flap its wings. Squigglish also has few brushes, options to add colors or use pictures as background but very little more than that. I already have a long wish list of things I hope Oliva implements in the future versions of Squigglish but, I’m already incredibly happy about it.

I used to draw a lot when I was younger but I slowly stopped and drawing became harder and less interesting for me. Squigglish kind of re-ignited a little flame. The animated effect it adds makes almost everything at least a little interesting and even if I don’t have a tablet and a pen, the drawing I create by swiping my fingers on the phone screen are still good enough that I want to share them and, more importantly, do more of them. It has been a little more than three days since I downloaded Squigglish and I don’t think I’m going to delete it anytime soon.

[originally published on Jacopo’s blog.]

We all get old, even our gadgets

Chris Meadows has written a piece prompted by Arlo Gilbert’s Medium post on Revolv, Alphabet, and hummus.
It’s a good piece, and has some wisdom to share: we totally partake his advice to back up your ebooks to universal formats (really: any files you own), because when formats are dropped and standards change, and they will someday, you’ll be left alone with things you can enjoy only by using devices that sooner or later will break down the road.

We don’t quite follow this, though:

As I noted in my own comment in response on Medium, my first-generation iPod Touch is now useless and my first-generation iPad is largely useless. None of the apps available for download are compatible with their antiquated operating systems anymore.

Technical obsolescence is a shitty problem, but comparing iPad software incompatibility with Revolv shutting down is like apples and oranges (no pun intended): you can still use an old piece of tech with outdated OS and apps although you’d probably prefer to be somewhere else doing something else. Alphabet is shutting down Revolv and it will totally be useless on May 15. It’s quite different.

I bought an iPhone in 2008 when it became available for the first time in Italy. It was an iPhone 3G, it was beautiful, and it was “old” after a year when Apple introduced the iPhone 3GS. But I used it for two years, before giving it to my fiancée: she used it for another four years. Outdated? Yes. Painfully slow? Hell, yes. But it worked. And she used it. Revolv will become an unresponsive box in less than a month.

Technology moves fast, and most people don’t understand this: they think that they bought something that will last until it breaks. While there are definitely exceptions (as noted before, my iPhone 3G lasted 6 years – almost to the date), most of the times a software update will ruin something. And this passage from Meadows piece is true:

Early adopters of anything live life on the bleeding edge, and the way that edge sometimes chops off your devices’ compatibility or functionality is one of the problems that comes with that. It hasn’t just bitten adopters of Revolv, either.

(Anyway, please backup your files. Do it now. Please.)

It’s not about an iPhone

Tim_Cook_WWDC_2012

Probably Tim Cook’s and Apple’s move against court orders and FBI pressures will go on for quite some time. I have no idea who will win (if anyone will win at all), but I believe that Cook chose the right battle to fight. This is no ‘isolated case’, this is not about that one iPhone 5C. And I too, among others, think that FBI is taking advantage of the particular situation (an awful crime committed by a mass shooter, and the need to find out the most information possible) to create a precedent. Once they force Apple to build a modified iOS version that can break into that iPhone 5C, there’s no way to guarantee us that they won’t come after some other smartphone maker. If there’s something that the NSA-Snowden revelations should have taught us, it’s that those in charge are indeed trying to keep the Western World at peace, but they won’t respect fundamental rights such as privacy or security, in this peace-keeping quest.

The point is: even if we want to believe FBI is in good faith (and in a way they are, because if in that iPhone there are information about the shooter’s plan or activities, they should be retrieved), they cannot be trusted. In the last few decades, political organizations or even underground branches of government or authorities have misused their duties and faculties, to the detriment of the citizens. In Italy this is acknowledged: for many years, there was an enclave that pressured our legitimate representatives and abused their powers to protect their own power and position, with an awful lot of means. Imagine if they can also pry on our phones.

Smartphones should be more secure, and as many have already said, they should be inaccessible for everyone but their owner. There’s no magical security unicorn, no magic security feature that can be capitalized on by the good guys only. And even if we say that the FBI are the good guy, what about other governments in the world? More so: if our phones have backdoors and other weak security systems in place, terrorists around the world will use some kind of security means and we’re back to square one.

Tim Cook chose the right path, although the most dangerous, politically speaking. The EEF, WhatsApp, and to a certain extent Google and Microsoft stand with Apple: I’m waiting for all the other internet companies to stand up as well.

(And for those of you who think that this is a commercial stunt: yes, speak loudly about security, privacy and protection of one’s own clients is surely good business, but it can alienate a good chunk of user. Probably it will. Let’s see.)

Counting e-books (Original title: books and bullshit)

There are about a thousand books in our library. I know it because my mother has found some kind of freeware programme where you can enter the title, author, nationality, and translation, you can make researches, order your books by publication date or title, print it all out and much more. Before I started writing I checked: there are no e-books.

And yet, we have lots of them: all those I’ve accumulated ever since I bought an e-book reader 4 years ago, plus all my mother’s to whom I gave a Kobo e-reader a year later. She uses it regularly, she even lists all of its qualities: practical, light, it’s great in bed because you can stay in the weirdest positions with no difficulty at all. She read Bolaño’s 2666 on her Kobo: every time we spot that huge volume in a bookshop she declares herself a lucky woman. And yet, if you look for 2666 in the family’s book list you’re not going to find it. There, I thought: that’s how you realise my mother’s seventy years old. She has realised a certain kind of technology (the list-generating programme or her Kobo) is making her life easier, but that same technology is struggling to make its way to a deeper level. I thought my mother didn’t really feel like she actually had those books because, despite the act of buying them, she doesn’t have any proper object and she evidently needs a physical object in her hands to mention it among her belongings.
I wrote her on Telegram, pretending I hadn’t thought about it that much.

«Are there e-books in the book list? I’m looking for something.»
«No, I haven’t updated it in ages.»
«Ok, but when you do that are you going to log in all your e-books?»
«Yes. You don’t think I should?»

Ha.
I told her I was writing about print and digital books. I had taken for granted that she preferred the former and, had I not asked her, I would have attributed her ideas that don’t actually belong to her. She asked me, and I quote: «Doesn’t owning a book mean being able to consult it?»
Yes, mum, but now you’re giving me a hard time. I realise that even now – after years spent using an e-reader – I only buy a digital book if there’s some kind of advantage to it. I bought e-books because they were much cheaper than paperbacks or because they were free, or I wanted to read that book immediately, or because I didn’t know whether I was going to like that book and it would have been a less expensive risk to take. I keep track of the titles I find interesting and that I’d like to buy: I could buy them right away in an online store, but I rarely do it if it’s not a matter of urgency or a cheap buy.

This just doesn’t make sense, for the aim is to read the book I’m interested in at that specific moment. And if I’m okay with spending 19€ in a bookshop then I should be okay with spending 9,90€ for an e-book. Yet, most of the time 9,90€ is too much money. My mother is way more chilled about this. She thinks less and reads more, whereas I’m even here writing about it. One day she bought 2666 and read it. Whenever she’s going to update that book list she’ll add it just like she added the books we have in our living room because it’s ours and we can consult it. I checked: the e-book of 2666 is not much cheaper than the print version, I don’t think I would have bought it.

I convince myself that the possibility of a choice gives my mind the certainty that one option is certainly preferable to the other one. Therefore, I need to evaluate what I’m buying, what I’m going to bring home with me, how long it’ll last. Just like when I’m in front of synthetic shirts and silk shirts: if I have to choose then there will be pros and cons, if it’s cheaper it’s of poor quality, if it’s only a bit cheaper I’m not going to buy it. There’s no way out.

I have to admit that’s not always the case. When I had no choice I didn’t worry at all. Some publishers make e-books exclusively: proceed to checkout. Some magazines are only digital: proceed to checkout. It was only in these cases that I thought about the digital version of something as it truly is: a technology that cuts certain production costs. I – as a user – get a product which would be the same – in the terms of content and quality – were it written on a slab of stone. Equally bad or equally good, of course. I never thought the independent magazine that only publishes digitally was crappier or its contents plainer or its editorial choices more superficial due to its being exclusively digital. Sure, it could be, but that’s the risk you have to consider whenever you buy anything at all. How can the means have any influence on that risk? Or rather, I’m sure I wouldn’t have read something good I’ve read because most probably those who put it together couldn’t afford to print it and distribute it traditionally. I’m part of the editorial staff of a literary magazine; our digital issues are as hard to make as if they had to be printed – and we do print them, with additional costs and problems.

I thing we keep missing the point here. The point is not – as it may seem according to daily statistics – whether it’s better to buy the print or digital copy of War and Peace or how many people buy one version over the other. As I’m writing, the e-book of War and Peace costs from 0,99 cents to 4,99€. Perhaps many would prefer it, at least due to its cheaper price and little space required. But it doesn’t make much difference and I don’t think this sort of data gives us any interesting talking point. Just buy whichever version you please.

But: how many people choose to publish only digitally and why do they do that? How large is their reading public? The match is not print vs. digital copy of the same text, but those who print on paper – and always will – vs. those who have chosen the new road, drifting away from the old one or never having even taken it. The former produce digital versions of texts which would be printed on paper anyway, the latter think digitally and aim at a reading public who vastly uses technology – otherwise they wouldn’t enjoy their products.

Do those who create culture this way and those who enjoy it represent the majority of people? Do they have a fair importance in our literary and cultural world? I’m going to say no, not yet, for many still think that digital versions are just an option and that paper is right there as a guarantee. But that’s exactly my point: we’re actors in a digital culture whenever we interact with products that were born that way and that were created to exist only in that form. If we’re faced with a product carrying those features we can’t think of the economical gain or urgency or advantage, for there is no term of comparison, there isn’t a more traditional version of it in our mind. We’ll think of the product itself, of its content, its originality, its aesthetic value. That is, we’ll do exactly what we’ve been doing in bookshops while standing in front of dozens of volumes. But in this case we’ll have at hand a kind of technology that allows us to create different, interactive, low-cost, maybe even independent contents…who knows. I believe it makes sense to talk about digital readers and paper readers in those terms, then it’s worth doing statistics, counting how many are on each side.

I’m on both sides, but I prefer feeling 100% digital, not having that paper life jacket, not being able to make comparisons, not choosing according to my needs.

My mother is only partially a digital reader. The kind of reading she does with her Kobo e-reader is only a more modern version of traditional reading. At least up until this moment.

I think the time has come for me to give her a subscription to a digital only magazine or a text only available as an e-book. Then we’ll see if she’ll renew it or if she’ll complain about the price or if she’ll look for other texts by the same author in a bookshop or if, most probably, she won’t bat an eye and keep on reading undisturbed.


Born in Naples in 1984, Marianna already had glasses on. She distinguishes herself in the fight against contact lens wearers. She once screamed at the sky “If I can’t be a writer I don’t care about anything, I’ll do any kind of job.” She does in fact have some kind of job. She writes nice things – such as this biography – on Cose che non esistono.