Archive for August, 2010

NYT says Tech is Changing our Brains, but What About our Language?

Posted on August 26, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

Our language is changing.  Words like “OMG,” “LOL” and “TTYL” that were spawned within a digital environment out of constraints translating verbal thoughts into online communication (the primary constraint being effort of typing), have somehow managed to cross the chasm from internet vernacular into physical world verbal communication.  They have taken on a meaning that is distinct from the longer string of words which they were created to represent, and we have recognized them as enhancements in our person-to-person communication.  They describe a concept, or feeling, or action that is more applicable to a given use case than any combination of letters and sounds that existed prior to their creation, and thus they have penetrated our lexicon.

The words “Text” and “cloud” have existed for centuries, but have taken alternate meanings in light of our relationship and engagement with technologies like SMS and Data.  The phrase “text me” (or the use of text as a verb) alone, occurs in a frequency that I’m guessing has supplanted any other definition as the primary use of the word if we are measuring by volume utterance across contexts.  “Cloud” on the other hand, as a reference to hosted data storage has penetrated small circles of tech-savvy consumers, but it may be 3, 5, or 10 years before general population’s concept of “the cloud” grows to the point where this usage will truly enhance our day to day experience in a way that is competitive with the value derived from describing a puffy white object that holds rain in the sky.

What I find fascinating, is that while our relationship with the internet and technology more broadly is redefining how we communicate with each other in it’s absence (changing our offline language structures), I do not see the same language change in our non-verbal communication patterns.  Where did the “thumbs up” come from and how did it grow to represent approval or “good job.”  How did a forefinger and a thumb come to signal “ok?”  Was that a crossover from sign language which developed an application that was worthy of general population usage (like OMG, or LOL)?  That would be an instance of a language created through a set of constraints (hearing impairment) penetrating a non-constrained environment.  What about a wink or a smile, or any of the other physical gestures that countless online companies have tried to recreate on the web (Facebook poke, digital gifting, etc…)?  We spend an increasing volume of our time with head tilted downward, eyes on screen, two thumbs on mobile device.  Is there really not a set of non-verbal gestures that recognizes or applies to the fact that at any given moment 20-30% of the people we are surrounded by are engaged in this physical position and action?  What about prompts for people to take this position when they are not in it?

The reason I ask how these physical gestures came into prominence, is because I see a new set of constraints in our communication for which adaptation of our physical non-verbal communication would strongly enhance our experience.  Specifically, there is a set of use cases around real time mobile communications with people in physical proximity that requires multi-person synchronous or asynchronous engagement with an application or technology.  The best way I can think of to open up that use case is to graft these applications to physical world non-verbal gestures (either existent or new).  And what I don’t know is whether this type of communication is so slow to adapt that we shouldn’t even bother exploring it??  Anyone studied this?  Isn’t linguistics a major in college?  I’ll take you to good dinner if you can educate me here.  And if you happen to be Product/UX minded, we can even splurge on dessert.

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How Many People Are You Consuming in a Day?

Posted on August 25, 2010. Filed under: JumpPost, startups, venture capital | Tags: , , , |

When thinking about product, I often find myself going down the path of trying to replicate/enhance offline behavior through software.  Lately, I have been absolutely obsessed with the concept of productizing or at least enhancing offline, non-verbal communication.  I’ve been thinking a lot about what people consume on a local level.  It’s a question that is very important to our future at Jumppost and a question that is becoming increasingly interesting to investors and entrepreneurs as location based technologies change our capacity to segment users and build user experience by specific geographic parameters.

It is not surprising to me that much of the innovation we’ve seen in the last 12-24 months in the local space has been focused around the interaction between consumers and local merchants (restaurants, dry cleaners, etc.).  If we map local consumption patterns, I would say that local goods and services are the second most frequent object of consumption in a consumer’s local experience.  What I buy when I walk out my door definitely defines my local experience, and the things I consume in the largest volume have a great impact on my perception of my neighborhood, and as an extension, my perception of myself as a member of the community in which I live.

The only object(s) I see myself consuming that has a greater influence on my local experience, and as a derivative, my local identity, is the population that surrounds me.  Although a very lightweight form of consumption, I have been trying to quantify the volume of people that I consume in a given day.  I will call consumption any visual intake, and then value the volume of consumption by my level of engagement or interaction with each person I consume.  I’ve been asking folks lately how many people they think they pass by or see in a given day in New York, and the answers are all over the place.  Some people say 50, or 100, some say 500, and I personally would posit that the number is closer to 10,000.  Of those 10,000, I think I probably consciously register 1000-2000, maybe I make eye contact with 500, and have some richer form of communication whether verbal or non-verbal (i.e. hold a door, smile, etc.) with 100-200.

What would a product look like that attempted to replicate or enhance the experience of human consumption at the 10,000 person level?  I see elements of the answer in concepts like Chatroulette and Hot or Not, which take seemingly random consumption of other human beings, and then in both cases, push that lightweight (10,000 person) consumption down the funnel toward more active communication.  But then I wonder if the product that will capture/reflect/enhance my consumption of local inhabitants needs to push our extremely lightweight relationship down the funnel into some more meaningful communication, or perhaps it is enough to simply overlay that consumption with some richer dataset.  What if every person you consumed at the local level had a sign on their chest with a nametag?  What would change?  Would people say hi and push themselves down the communication funnel?  Not sure.  Maybe it’s not a nametag that people want.  Maybe I’d prefer to see an image of everyone’s spouse/partner on their shirt?  Or a floating sign with their occupation above their head?  Would that enrich my local experience and consumption of the people that surround me in a way that would improve the quality of my local experience?  Probably.  I don’t have a ton of answers here yet, but super interested in wrapping with anyone who wants to think about this with me.

P.S. If you have a second to drop your estimate of the number of people you think you 1) consume, 2) communicate with, and 3) make eye contact with in a given day, please drop your answers and the name of your city in the comments.

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Back to the Basics

Posted on August 24, 2010. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Yoga has always been a practice that I dive into and out of depending on my state of mind.  I will go every week for 3 months and then not once for 6 months.  I first discovered Yoga when I was 23 years old and a freshly minted banker on Wall Street.  The transition from a life of freedom and nourishment in college, to one of shackles and pressure was weighing on me to the point where I was modeling in my dreams and waking up stressed and exhausted.  Days began to bleed together and I decided that I needed some escape from the job.  Every morning I walked by a Yoga studio in midtown on my way from the subway to the office and one day I decided to wake up extra early and try it out before work.  What I found was that most of the practice was about shedding context and devoting 100% of your attention inwardly to yourself.  I would leave that class remembering that I existed independent of the loudest temporal influences on my time and mindshare, and that was super helpful in grinding it out.

Aside: I can’t discuss my experience practicing Yoga during that year without mentioning a short lesson on why exercise with colleagues is a risky pursuit.  A few months into pre-work Yoga, I began to evangelize the merits of this practice to my fellow analysts at work.  Everyone was experiencing the same pressures, so I would try to wrangle them into coming with me in the morning.  I used to sit next to this incredibly sweet girl who was sort of soft spoken, extremely fair skinned, and easily flustered into a tomato red state.  She finally agreed to join me one morning, and we met at the studio to begin her discovery of the calm that I promised.  In a class of about 10 people, she lined up next to me and we began to move through the instructions of our teacher.  After about 10 minutes the teacher called for us to spread our feet into a standing straddle, and bend at the waste to touch the floor (effectively propelling our butts into the air).  At this juncture, my coworker let loose one of the loudest and most apparent farts I have ever heard in my 28 years on earth.  There was no ambiguity around the culprit of this act, and she wore her guilt on her face to the tune of a beet red complexion and a countenance of pure humiliation.  The next 50 minutes were incredibly awkward, she raced out as soon as the class ended, and we never spoke of it again.  Needless to say, that was the first and last class she ever came to with me.

Anyway, back to business.  After probably a year long hiatus, last night I dropped into the 9:00PM Yoga to the People session on St Marks between 2nd and 3rd.  The teacher said something during the class which I found particularly interesting: “There is more power in harmony than there is in chaos.”  I found it interesting because it was not a trite statement that “chaos is bad and harmony/calm is good,” but rather a recognition that there is, in fact, a real power in chaos.  I think in a world of hyper-multitasking and constant frenetic execution, my natural inclination is actually more toward harnessing that chaotic energy into results, but her words reminded me to check back into harmonious (or calm) execution more often than I do.  I think there is actually a place for both in the life of an entrepreneur, and it is worth becoming proficient in both styles.  The New York Times has been running a series on how technology is changing our brains (MUST READ) under the basic thesis (with scientific support) that with increasing volume of data stimulus we are rewiring our brains toward attention deficit and away from focus and sustained attention.  Similar to my Yoga teacher’s call for an attention and practice toward harmonious execution, I have begun to control the amount of twitter/SMS/Email I engage with, in an effort to strengthen and remain facile in both the style of execution that technology is mandating I master (hyper-multitasking), as well as the one it is slowly conquering.

If you feel like the startup game has got you wrapped up in context (which it probably has), drop in to Yoga to the People.  It’s donation based, so even those bootstrapped to the teeth can enjoy.

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    I’m a NYC based investor and entrepreneur. I've started a few companies and a venture capital firm. You can email me at (p.s. i don’t use spell check…deal with it)


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