Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cinemode: A Walden Zone App For Movie Goers.

As a way of following up on my Walden-Zone app storyboards I've been looking at other apps that do similar things.  One that came to my attention recently was the Cinemode  app which is advertised at the beginning of movies in Cinemark theaters:

I used it last night while watching Django.  All Cinemode seemed to do was dim the screen and send me a coupon for a free drink after the movie ended.  Oddly, I mistakenly used it at a non-Cinemark theater so my guess is that it's not location aware.  Here are some observations about it:

1)  I like Cinemode's carrot (rather than stick) approach toward encouraging disconnection.  It encourages particular behaviors by giving away free drinks rather than by kicking people out of the theater.   In contrast, in my storyboards I envision students logging into the app to recover a lab fee.  But that is sort of a stick-masquerading-as-a-carrot.  And another problem with the lab fee approach is that I doubt that many universities would allow instructors to impose such a fee even if it was ultimately redeemable.  Following Cinemode's model, maybe a better approach is simply to make my app function as an attendance taker: The student logs in at the beginning of class and if they stay logged into the app for the whole class (or a good portion of the class) then that counts as a day of attendance (which could then be counted as part of their grade).    Another advantage of doing it this way is that my app would then double as an attendance taker.

2) One paradox of building attendance-taking into a mobile app is that one then needs to figure out how to accommodate the students who don't have smart phones.  In my C.S. department that's a diminishing group of people (about 85% of our students carry them).  But it's still a cohort of users that need to be catered to.  I guess one can still pass around a piece of paper or provide a web login if the classroom is computer equipped.  But I'm open to other suggestions.

3) A common question raised when I peddle the app is that students with offspring want to stay in touch with their kids even when in class.  My reply is that a Walden-zone app isn't a device that is meant to be an enforcement mechanism so much as a mechanism that gently encourages disconnection to counter the way that most apps (and Web business models) gently encourage more connection.  To accommodate parents, the app would have a variety of disconnection settings that they could choose from.   Fully enabled, the app would dim the screen and disable the audio and the vibrating mechanism.  But users could choose what level of disconnection they prefer.  The point of the app is to encourage mindfulness about one's connections and to encourage practices that counter the digital-maximalist philosophy that is embedded in most of our apps.  It isn't meant as a draconian device that stamps out disagreements about digital practices or denies people their freedom to choose.

4) Speaking of disagreements, emerging technologies are fertile ground for arguing about what constitutes proper social etiquette.  In building a Walden zone app, my intention is to raise greater mindfulness about these disagreements.  Cinemode seems already to have had that desired effect in the following exchange in the comments section of the its web site:

Anyone who texts during a movie does not love film. End of discussion. They’re only there to see “what’s happening,” not caring at all for mood, or the wonderful spell that a movie is supposed to put you in. Cell phones have all but ruined the moviegoing experience.
Comment by Jack — Wednesday November 14, 2012 @ 5:23pm EST  
  • I love film. I also love my kids. And sometimes they text me during a film. My daughter will write, “Going to bed now, XXOO” and I’ll text back, “OK. XXOO.” Which apparently makes me a jerk for not caring for the mood and wonderful spell that the movie is supposed to put me in. However, it does make me a good father. Which is more important to me. End of discussion.
    Comment by Jerk — Wednesday November 14, 2012 @ 5:40pm EST 
    • I think you are the exception. People who constantly text are annoying. Not people who just respond once or twice. I think they are targeting those audience members who think they are in their living room.
      Comment by Allen Iverson — Wednesday November 14, 2012 @ 5:47pm EST  
    • Dear Jerk – If it’s so important, go home and have that conversation w/ your kid in person, instead of ruining the experience for other people who also paid to be there & are, unlike you, being considerate. Texting your kid doesn’t make you special. Neither does being a parent.
      Comment by ben h. — Wednesday November 14, 2012 @ 5:55pm EST  
      • Anyone who states their point of view and signs off with “end of discussion” is by definition, a jerk. Really, there’s no argument but yours? How about you say goodnight to your kid before the movie starts? Period, end of, say no more.
        Comment by Distracted by bright screens. — Wednesday November 14, 2012 @ 6:14pm EST  
    • Not caring about the mood and wonderful spell that the movie is supposed to put you in doesn’t make you a jerk. Texting during a movie and annoying the other viewers makes you a jerk.
      Comment by Jerk Clarifier — Wednesday November 14, 2012 @ 6:54pm EST  
    • We don’t care about your kids going to bed. You do, as you should. Your phone can be off 2 hours. Do you text them from your work while they are at school during every 2 hour period. You’re inconsiderate self-righteous world is all you care about. Keep your phone off or stay at home and tuck your kids in.
      Comment by Jason — Thursday November 15, 2012 @ 12:46pm EST  
    • If you think you are a good parent by “texting” good night to your child from a movie theater then perhaps we are getting to the root of the problem.
      By the way. Why the hell does a child have a cell phone? Why didn’t you tell said child “im going to be in a movie, so I wont be answering anything other than an emergency because its not nice to mess with your phone in a movie theater. Its kinda like smoking in an elevator. Good night now honey”
      Comment by the caretaker — Saturday November 17, 2012 @ 9:26pm EST  
    • You’d be a better father if you stepped outside the theater, like as if you were getting concessions or going to the bathroom, and then texting from there.
      Comment by Andy — Friday December 7, 2012 @ 5:34pm EST  

A lively exchange!  (Hopefully an academically oriented Walden-zone app can encourage a slightly more amicable and nuanced discussion).`

1 comment:

  1. Powers makes the point that people in London during the time when Shakespeare was writing his plays felt distracted by life in a busy city. Today, he says, “we’re all busier. Much, much busier. It’s a lot of work managing all of this connectedness.”

    Just as Hamlet needed a solution to cope with his distractions, we need to find solutions today, Powers emphasizes. “We’re losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth. Dept of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do.”

    The Internet and 24-hour-a-day news. E-mails, text messages, voice mail. What we need, Powers insists, is “to master the art of disconnecting.”

    No, we don’t have to throw away our cell phones or laptops. But sometimes we need a little bit of quiet, a little bit of space.