Category Archives: New Media

The wisdom of Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson has a knack of breaking down complex ideas into simple concepts. He is the kind of teacher who makes you enjoy learning, without feeling you’re being lectured to!

Some of his statements (and tweets ) are legendary, as are his wide-sweeping statements about science, technology and life. Such as:

“To be genius is to be misunderstood, but to be misunderstood is not necessarily to be genius”In a Popular Magazine feature, August 2015)

“An informed opinion is never based on somebody else’s opinion, lest you empower others to do your thinking for you.”  @neiltyson  Aug 28, 201

But as much as I respect DeGrasse Tyson, I don’t agree with his stance on God and creation. But that’s another topic.

If you want to probe the big questions about science, or even current events seen through the eyes of a scientist, (as this one about the digital revolution) it’s worth tuning into his podcast.



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Posted by on September 24, 2015 in Education, New Media, Radio, YouTube


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Balloons could add new flavors to the ‘Cloud’ and Digital Democracy

Most of you know how I dislike the word ‘cloud’ as a catchall for anything accessed online. So how about getting used to balloons? As in Google’sProject Loon that has been in the works for some two years, and now is supposed to be set to launch in Sri Lanka.

It’s a crazy, heady idea. Sri Lanka will be the first country to get ‘universal Internet access’ as TechCrunch put it.

I just got back from Sri Lanka, and did an extensive train and road trip with the family. I experienced first hand what connectivity is –and is not. The new, fast highways are obviously connecting more people to more opportunities. The Telcos are providing easy-to-get (via a scratch card) low-cost bandwidth for smart devices. There is growing free Wi-Fi presence in towns as diverse as Galle, Anuradhapura, Kandy and some places in Jaffna; even on a train we took to the hill country! Access does get spotty and sluggish at times, but the appetite for connectivity is growing in leaps and bounds.

And now balloons!

Here’s why I welcome this. Not for the obvious reasons, such as giving everyone including tuk-tuk drivers or election monitors the ability to tweet or upload pictures – which could be useful in and of itself.

Education: First sorely needed bandwidth to homes, schools and offices will change the game. I was at one outstation school, and the science teachers had to use a dongle to get online. ‘Universal access’ for schools would change the dimension of how learning takes place beyond the Google search. Young people could be empowered to create content and not just consume it. It’s about time schools got a better deal when it comes to connectivity. Why haven’t the telcos given schools a better deal? What will they do now?

Political participation. Sri Lanka has demonstrated that despite the dismal examples of governance, that democracy and citizen participation works. ICTA reported recently that “Sri Lanka has shot up to 74th position in the United Nations E-Government Survey of 2014, after climbing 41 places since 2012.” Nalaka Gunewardene goes into rich detail about how Digital Democracy is at work. Beyond elections, this will affect transparency and accountability, when everyone has an uplink, a camera and a voice.

There are obviously several more examples, which some of you might like to add. Please do!


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Screens come under scrutiny – again!

I knew we’d be talking about this sooner or later: Do touch screens reduce how much we absorb, while paradoxically increasing ‘engagement’? Or, are the dumb things that happen in Real Life better teachers than VR, or smart screens?

Researchers have been warning us –from pre-Internet days–  that excessive screen time was having negative effects on children’s attention, learning (cognitive skills, language development), and sleep.

A screen is a two-dimensional (2D) experience that is hard to resist, across all age groups. Yet, a recent report tells us that screens “do not inherently provide (children under 3 with) rich opportunities for whole mind-body learning.”

For instance, it says:


“Researchers who study how children learn have concluded, however, that it is easier for young children to comprehend information from real-life experiences with people and objects compared with information delivered via a screen.”  (“Screen Sense. Setting The Record Straight”)

No one is asking us to eliminate screen-time. But we could rethink how creative thinking, problem solving and experimentation could work without pixels.


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Chat Apps could ignite true engagement

We know that Chat Apps are driving a lot of mobile service providers to rethink their once-lucrative profit center. But these apps are also disrupting traditional social networks, because providers know how important it is to keep the user engaged within the channel.

Consider our fragmented mobile experience. We toggle between Email, Facebook, Twitter (or Hootsuite), and SMS. They each have their distinctive experience. Status updates and informative mails are not the same thing; content sharing on a social network, with the ability to garner a small ‘mob’ around a cause or a pet peeve is not the same as firing off a text message to 20 people. International texts are expensive so we may tweet a message instead…

I’ve been intrigued by these so-called ‘conversations’ online, especially since many of them are not always in real-time. They are really partial dialogues, with one word (or one button) responses that are a proxy for people joining in.

That why we need to keep an eye on where Chat Apps are headed. They are simple –as in distraction free– formats that could garner true engagement.

At a recent event, I was asked where I though our social media lifestyles would be headed. My pat answer was that we might see a lot of social media fatigue. The media overload we are all facing might mean vast numbers of us will be quitting those social media channels that just don’t fit our personality. But that’s not to say that we will retreat to our caves, and get back to notebooks and pencils, or phone calls. We will seek out those experiences that help us stay connected. And that’s where I see Chat Apps gaining ground.

THE NEXT WhatsApp or Viber (the free phone app combines the chat feature– free even with people in other countries) could threaten Facebook and Twitter. It could combine elements of email and micro-blogging, so that we may never need to go to the other platforms to see what our friends are saying, and to chime in.

Multiple language chats. I fielded this question to a panel of international students at Scottsdale Community College last week:

  • How many of them spoke more than one language. All hands were up
  • How many spoke three languages. Eighty percent of the hands remained up
  • More than three? About fifty percent

What would happen if we could chat with people in different countries, in different languages, using the same app? Already WeChat, which is apparently a lot like Line, an app not known to many in the West, lets one do this.

Maybe ChatApps are where we may find the genie of true engagement. I admit I may be somewhat biased, because of the title of my recent book.

What do you think? Does social media fatigue drive you to give up on certain channels?


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Update on my book: “Chat Republic”

It’s official, and I’m now ready to announce the title of my book, which is in its final stages.

It’s called Chat Republic.

Angelo Fernando, Chat RepublicI’ve been covering the intersection of technology and business; technology and culture for more than 18 years. More recently, I’ve focused on digital media and our social media-centric lives, and I wanted to put my ideas into perspective.

Chat Republic is more than a fictional country. It’s about the spaces you inhabit.  Those online and offline communities you move in and out of: conference rooms, Google Circles, IM lists, Facebook, online forums. I think of it as a ‘country’ whose fluid borders take the shape of a giant, invisible speech bubble.

The conversations and opinions pouring in and out of our republic, in real-time, are what make our communities more civil, more vibrant. Our chats are certainly not friction-free! But absent these conversations we would be one dimensional citizens, won’t we?

As of today, I am planning to launch the book in two time zones, in June.

Some specs:

  • 25 Chapters – Divided into 3 sections
  • Case Studies from the U.S. and Asia
  • Interviews with non-profits, tech companies, activists, chief execs, editors, citizen journalists, PR consultants, podcasters, government officials

More information here at


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Context is king. Book’s web site has lesson for us

I was looking up author, David Carr, after using a quote from him in my previous post. His is a fascinating story captured in his book, The Night of the Gun.

Since every book today has a companion web site, I nearly skipped it, assuming it was another content dump with blurbs and links. I was wrong!  It’s a trove of context, not content.

  • One of the tabs opens a page laid out in a grid of 60-squares. Click on each square and it takes you deeper into Carr’s story by way of candid interviews, photos, scanned documents etc.
  • Another tab has a timeline, which takes you on an online experience you couldn’t even come close to in the pages of a book.

The publisher, Simon and Schuster, notes that it created a database of content because Carr ended up with a large stack of material, recording his thoughts and interviews using many formats – video, audio, notes etc.

With help from the New York Times‘ digital guy, (a ‘User Interface Specialist!) they built a site as a multi-media backdrop, or more precisely, a back-story, to his memoir.

While it makes for a novel way to market a book, we could learn some important lessons in how to surround any other form of communication with rich, contextual information.

In the end The Night of the Gun is more than a book -a living story that cannot be contained within templates, hard covers or style sheets.


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Instagram Vs Pinterest explained

Still trying to find the difference between Foursquare, Instagram and Pinterest?

Social media sounds more complicated than it is. I like it when someone demystifies it. I like it better when someone uses a ‘dumb screen’ instead of gratuitously holding up some tablet (as do too many TV news reporters today, notice?) to make a point. Thanks to Douglas Ray for this.

This might help!

Speaking of white boards, this feels like an homage to the late Tim Russert (of NBC’s Meet the Press) who was a master of the white board when trying to simplify an idea in  a story.

I sometimes wonder if Tim would have ever clutched at an iPad to make his point as he did here, during the last election.

If you’re interested here’s the video of his explanation to Brian Williams.

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Posted by on February 20, 2012 in Journalism, Media, New Media, Social Media


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