Scary People, Workspaces, and Movies: A Digital House of Horrors.

640px-Tex_playing_video_gamesAmong the promises of the digital world is the notion that anything is possible. You can send documents around the world in seconds, carry a room-sized musical library in your pocket, and experience the illusions of flight, extraordinary athletic ability, and lethal force from the comfort of your living room.

Lest anyone get completely carried away by the possibilities, however, there has also been the tempering restraint of unreality. The bits we shift around may have a basis in actual electrons, and it’s hard to ignore that music, video, even artificial intelligence are currently approaching levels of sophistication once only dreamed of, but at this point very little exists in this world that would persist once the power is shut off.

Unless you consider the social and emotional impact that can be transmitted digitally, and then, so to speak, the virtual-reality gloves come off.

The media that covers media has been grappling for months with #GamerGate, which has, simply put, become too big and complicated to be described in the dependent clause of a single sentence. The cyber- attacks, threats, and vitriol center on an amorphous group of gaming enthusiasts who are upset about the perceived intrusion of feminist and other political and social forms of criticism into the gaming world.

As a result, in some of the most widely publicized cases, women developers, critics, and journalists who have expressed an opinion on the matter have had their lives turned upside down by threats and harassment. There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion, although if it’s informed by only biased sources and cherry-picked arguments, it should at least be subject to question. What’s wrong is taking that opinion and making war over it, especially if you refuse to come out of the shadows and fight fair and square.

Thumbs_upAt a less extreme level, networks like Facebook have been working almost from their outset to manage the emotional toll of online life. According to Facebook’s former CTO Bret Taylor, the company purposely never created a Dislike alternative to their now famous Like button, in order to forestall “the negative social aspects” that such a button might have caused for users. Facebook also employs an 80-person Protect and Care team to not only mediate all the hurt feelings among users (many of them teens), but also to find ways to give posts more emotional context.

Coincidentally, Facebook’s Bret Taylor (who is now with start-up Quip) features in another recent story about the evolving digital reality: that of re-envisioned productivity apps. It might not sound that sexy, unless the clutter and confusion in your digital workspace, for instance, have been driving you crazy. Lately, a new generation of productivity apps designed around collaboration and the cloud have been promising to change the way we get our work done.

Quip, which began with a word processor last year and recently introduced a spreadsheet component, uses cloud storage on an “atomic” level. Each cell inside a Quip spreadsheet has its own web address, enabling numbers referenced in a document to be mirrored with their referent in a spreadsheet in real time. The fact that each spreadsheet and document can be shared across multiple users and mobile platforms makes the whole system potentially very powerful.

SpamQuip, along with other apps like Slack and now Google’s Inbox, are also changing the way that teams collaborate as well as communicate. Some, like Quip and Slack, concentrate their efforts on chat and comments rather than email. Inbox, which according to The Verge, “feels like the future of email,” crawls all your messages and organizes them into like bundles, then presents them to you in a number of ways, all of which are designed to be more useful and less overwhelming. There are free versions of each of these to try out, though Google Inbox currently requires a subscription.

Finally, it’s not escaped our attention that it’s Halloween this month, and so far we haven’t showed a single scary movie. So here it is. It might be a bit short on gore, but as with most of Hitchcock’s films, the music and the eyes do nicely. The creepy bobble-head supercuts don’t hurt either.

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Tex playing video games by R Pollard (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATex_playing_video_games.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.

Thumbs up photo by David Benbennick (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thumbs_up.jpg) via Wikimedia Commons.

Spam photo by SirGrant (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASpam.png) via Wikimedia Commons.