Santa Cruz Style: When Does Social Networking Become Social Networking?!

I have a secret. I am one of the luckiest people on earth.

Not only do I have a great job as a partner at Listen2Youth, studying young people all over the world as they tell us about how they use technology, but I get to do it while living in Santa Cruz,California.

Until now, I have working in a home office. Sure it sounds glamorous, but that’s because you haven’t seen the laundry piling up in the corner, been toppled by the cats chasing underfoot in the office or heard the chickens squabbling over a snail. I have realized it might be time for a change.

That change is what brings me to my big social networking news – and wouldn’t you know it – it has a “youth” angle. I rented an office today in a newfangled workspace in downtown Santa Cruz that puts the real social back into networking.

The idea is great and it something that is taking off in a number of business hot spots around the country. In Santa Cruz, it’s called NextSpace and for the price of a membership, you have access to one of three different kinds of services that deliver an office experience without the commitment!

NextSpace promises to give me something that I have missed – the social networking aspect of working that I still don’t get on Facebook; or via my many conference calls. At NextSpace, I will work in a carrel with a view of downtown Santa Cruz while listening to the background noise of my co-workers – all of whom will be doing something entirely different from me. And yet I hope to find some interesting opportunities for collaboration, consultation or just plain shooting the …well, you know.

The corollary to this workspace is the promise of an online community that mirrors our workspace community offering ways to meet each other, find mutual interests and even allow for cool new concepts like presence (imagine if I allow the community to know I have “arrived” at the office because my mobile phone tells them I’m there – too cool). This is the workspace of the newest generation of workers – today’s recent grads – my highly coveted youth market and many of them will be there with me.

I can’t wait to join the workspace of a new generation. I have blogged about them before and the new ways they want to work. From what I hear, I will be surrounded by some amazing office mates working on the cutting edge of technology and business.

Now I won’t just Listen2Youth, I will get to be part of it!

I Got Your Innovation Right Here! Top Ten Ways Tech Could Help Tired Moms

Some days, I am so wiped out I just want to make a bowl of microwave popcorn, grab a Diet Pepsi and watch reruns. But no, I decided to be a mom. So I must soldier on. But it seems like tech could help me out just a bit. Here’s my list of what tech should do for me.

10. Get the kid ready for bed.
It has to check to make sure she brushed her teeth and did her homework. It also tucks her in and makes sure she starts reading. All I have to do is stop by for the loving – a kiss goodnight.

9. Kill spiders.
I hate getting rid of the things. I want a zapper – I am thinking a modified Wii remote – can just evaporate them with a flick of the wrist. Advanced skills let you zap flies too.

8. Make dinner (or any meal).
Think The Jetson’s. This combo microwave/refrigerator lets you press a button and the meal is served. Beautifully prepared and ready to eat.

7. Fold the laundry and put it away.
This would work like a Roomba: it would swoop up the clothes, deliver them to the washer/dryer and then somehow magically return them to drawers and closets.

6. Take out the garbage.
This man-bot looks like Steve Young (yes, I am a 49er fan) and would kick it all to the curb while looking good! And it wouldn’t forget to change the kitty litter.

5. Help me prioritize.
My cell phone would call me when something important was happening – like warning me when my mom was coming by for a surprise visit, telling me the cats are out of water or when the chickens have laid an egg.

4. Automate my shopping.
Anytime I used something in my house, a real-time Bluetooth inventory would know about it and then generate a shopping list and send it to the computer. Then I would send that to the store and have everything delivered.

3. Nintendo babysitting.
She’s playing the thing anyway. Let’s add a video camera and a GPS and I could know exactly what the kid is doing while I run an errand. I can see her, hear her and track her. What else do I need?

2. Burn calories for me.
This is the ultimate device; I am thinking a modified taser, would boost my metabolism and increase my heart rate while adding tone and definition.

1. Energy boosting subliminal entertainment.
Instead of drinking a Red Bull – or Diet Pepsi Max – I could just plug in my iPod and via special audio tracks, I would get a powerful energy burst that didn’t wouldn’t screw up my sleeping patterns later in the day.

Have an idea for the perfect technology? Let me know. We can always dream – if we can ever get to bed…

DTV Transition: Does it discriminate? Is it equal opportunity television?

Still ranting on the topic of how our culture is becoming stratified I am kind of getting myself worked up about it. When I wrote my other blog, I had forgotten about the changes taking place in television in the US in 2009 (forgotten isn’t really the word, I have been in denial, deep denial). I think I am okay because I have cable – analog cable – but it’s a pipe and it delivers signal. The point is, I can afford cable. Yet many of my neighbors can’t.

And thus it continues: the plight of the haves versus the have nots.

In this case it raises a real issue that should concern us all. And the quote below nails the question: do we have the right to television?

“The prospect of good, honest, television-loving Americans losing their signal has caused a lot of hand wringing of late. According to a January survey by the National Association of Broadcasters, (only) 79 percent of Americans are aware of the transition. … All this despite a huge information campaign and an incentive program that amounts to an investment by American taxpayers of up to $1.5 billion. … That, to me, raises the question: Do Americans have a right to television? … The question is not meant to be cynical. There is, after all, a public-interest rationale for as many people as possible to have access to the television medium. … Nevertheless, it would be naive to think that television’s primary function in most households is as an emergency alert or learning tool. And it’s illuminating to put the government’s $1.5 billion allocation in perspective. Consider: The proposed 2009 federal budget for adult basic and literacy education is $574.6 million.”
— Glenn Derene, Popular Mechanics’ tech editor, questions the priorities reflected in the spending to get Americans ready for the digital TV conversion next year.

What is the benefit of over-the-air broadcast? Safety? Speed? Accessibility?

As I talked about this with my mom, she reminded me that we all use our portable televisions when there’s an earthquake and the power is out. It was huge for me in San Francisco in 1989. I didn’t have power for a few days but I could see what was happening on my battery powered television.

When September 11 happened, we all gathered round the television to watch events unfold and understand what – if anything – we needed to do. I believe over-the-air broadcast television is a public utility and cutting people off – people who may need it most because they don’t have access to computers, mobile phones or other technology – puts part of the population at risk including the elderly and the poor. Who is going to make sure my elderly neighbor is hooked up? What about the family in the trailer who doesn’t even have a phone?

And one more thing about what Glenn says above, is anyone else outraged that we are actually spending our tax dollars on subsidies that are helping cable companies get more business?! And we are spending three times more on this than on helping adults learn how to read!

Is it too late to cancel this party? To make it stop and leave everything alone? I would love to hear your thoughts.

DTV 2009: Don’t know what I am talking about? Here’s the scoop:

On February 17, 2009, the era of analog broadcast television in the United States will end. The nation’s full power television stations will complete their transition to an all-digital system. While this change will mark the end of the traditional analog method of broadcasting over-the-air television, it won’t signal the end of free broadcast television, and your favorite broadcast programs and local television stations will still be available…

All you have to do is follow these easy instructions (yeah right): http://www.dtvtransition.org/.

Kids and Tech: Are we Googling our Way to a Stratified Society?

These are strange times. I listen to the news and worry about the price of gas, global warming and if my child will have a future. It’s almost surreal and yet I realize my parents and my grandparents also had things to worry about as they raised their children.

While my mind swirls with “big people” problems, I juxtapose these thoughts with the daily craziness that comes with raising an eight year old. I am not talking about homework, making sure the chickens are fed or the trials and tribulations of friendship. No, I am talking about the language the child is using!

In a world where technology changes as fast as the weather, my daughter can stop me in my tracks with the words she uses to manage her world – ripped from the headlines of the technology found around our house. Here’s just a sampling of what I am talking about:

“Mom, power off the car while I run in and pick up my jacket,” she said as she ran back to the classroom.

“Put it on pause just a second,” she said, asking me to stop talking for a moment while she ran to the bathroom.

“Let’s just delete those,” she muttered as we cleaned out old clothes from her dresser.

And of course, like any good household, the minute grandma forgets what she was going to say, my daughter suggests she just “Google it.” In fact, her answer to most things is to “Google it” and I hate to say it, but we do and it works!

I was a rhetoric major so I am comfortable with language and its evolution. But I wonder if we are heading into a Max Headroomfuture where we will have a stratified society with those that are part of the information/technology world and those who are merely observers. If you remember the show, the way the bosses controlled the masses was to give them a steady stream of television. Make it free, manage the information and make sure the constant drone pacified everyone.

I see these differences happening even in my daughter’s small world. In our house we consume information. She’s exposed to the latest technology and she quickly adapts to new devices and services. But most of her friends, who have limited to little access to information and technology often don’t understand some of her references. She readily admits she can’t explain what her mother does because they just wouldn’t get it.

Thankfully in third grade, these differences aren’t deal breakers. But as she gets older, I can see how the kids will start to self-select. The techie kids hanging out with the other techies. So I wonder, are we heading toward a truly stratified society? And more importantly, will it matter if the polar icecaps melt and California ends up under water? Can you see why my head is spinning? These are strange times.

Burger King, McDonalds: My Daughter Asks, “Why are fast food meal toys so stupid?”

Yep, that’s what she asks every time we order a kids meal at a fast food restaurant. She’s eight and has actually been asking this for a long time. Over the years, we have accumulated – like millions of household across America – tons of fast food toy crap. Little plastic things that really don’t do very much (except one truly awesome telescope that still works).

Now that Katie is older, she wonders why these companies would want to do so much to destroy the planet. She understands that these toys have no value – in fact they are worse than a long walk to the land fill. In most cases, they are so useless they are never touched again beyond the visit to the restaurant. (See our photos for examples.)

From Taco Bell: football in April. “Mom, these aren’t for girls!”

From Burger King: Squidward “High Low” toy. You actually need two of these to get the full stupid effect. You manually move the numbers of both toys to see who got “high” and who got “low.” Really.

Carl’s Jr: Bee Movie car. “Mom, that’s for babies.” Except babies can’t have them. No one under three years old can have them. So why give them away at all?

Since I am in marketing, I try to explain to her that toys have become something consumers expect in a kids meal and that they are often used to get children to demand a particular brand when choosing a fast food meal, “please mommy, we must go to McDonalds because they have Dunder Mifflin bobble heads!” sort of thing.

Katie simply doesn’t buy it. She says she’d actually makes her eating decisions based on the food served (or, let’s face it, where I take her) and she does like getting a present with her meal, but she’d prefer something that didn’t hurt the earth. So she offered me a few ideas. I think she’s on to something and with that, I challenge the fast food industry to think twice about what they are doing and try an little innovation.

Here’s Katie’s List of How to Make Meal Toys Better:

iTunes: even at eight, she loves iTunes. Since a song is 99 cents, we realize one song per meal would be too much, but if three visits to the same place equaled one tune, collecting iTunes credits would be worth it – and would make her want to go back to the same place.

Webkinz: she needs cash in Webkinz World. If she were to get a Webkinz collectible trading card (think about the exclusive potential here) it would give her added powers and points for her Webkinz account. With a decent partnership, it could get her access to new worlds or games.

Earth-Friendly Collectibles: she cares about animals – a lot. She’d love to get trading cards with information about different animals that she could share with kids at school or interact with on the web. Maybe for every card code she enters, money goes to saving the rain forest. From frogs to polar bears to lady bugs, she wants to learn about these things and save them from extinction.

Relationship Cards: she doesn’t really know what to call this but what she’s looking for is a way to get more information about the characters on shows she cares about (iCarly, Hannah Montana, etc.). Getting “inside scoop” is meaningful to her and gives her a social advantage with her friends. To keep it earth friendly, the “key” could again come on a card with an SMS text number or web code where a bevy of paperless information could be provided to her.

Sometimes I am amazed at her ideas.

I think they have merit, would be “green”, would meet the needs of most children and could be used to create interaction rather than landfill. All her ideas could last much longer than a stupid plastic toy and could actually create more of a relationship with her as a consumer not just with the fast food brand, but with the secondary brand (Hannah Montana, endangered animals, Webkinz, etc.) as well.

Katie and I would love know how you feel about the toys in your kids meal. We also want your ideas for premiums that don’t involve plastic or pollute the earth. Ideas? Thoughts? Let us know!