Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Distractions: Killing Time in Style

(cc) Douglas CooteyAs a new feature for every Monday I plan on helping extend your weekend attitude a bit. I had planned on posting this first thing Monday morning, but that seemed in poor taste considering my previous column.

I know. You come here for tips on how NOT to get distracted. Fair enough. But despite my best intentions I find myself sucked into something new every week - usually involving my browser while I’m half-in-the-bag on one end or the other of my bedtime. In fact, I’ve caught myself being distracted by the world wide web so much that I’ve coined a term for it. I call it being “browsey.” Maybe you find the same thing happening to you? Well, one of the points of this blog is to poke fun at ourselves - to not get worked up over our shortcomings. Considering how harsh I was on myself yesterday I could use a good dose of silliness. Of course, I don’t recommend unabashedly standing up in your cubicle and announcing to your peers “I’m easily distracted and PROUD of it!”, but since we get distracted anyway we might as well have high quality distractions to choose from.

For this week’s distraction I introduce to you “Geocamming”. No, it’s not browsing the internet for camisoles. It’s the hobby of watching the world through webcams. No, wait! It’s not what you think. Not those webcams. I’m talking about an entirely different beast. For example, the other day I watched a sunrise in Italy then stepped outside my home and watched the moonrise over the mountains here in Utah, both in real time. These aren’t your Dad’s webcams that refresh once a week. These are broadband hungry puppies that will force feed your browser one or more images per second. I’ve watched clouds pass by underneath me in Germany and seagulls swoop by in England. My favorite is a shop in Japan. 1am MST Sundays seems to be the sweet spot. Plenty of Sunday shoppers lolling about waiting to mug the camera for your enjoyment.

There are many geocamming sites that will tell you to type arcane strings into a Google search box, but I’m not that cruel. You could spend all day trying to find a good cam that way. In fact, there are an awful lot of boring webcams out there. Most are security cams, and thanks to geocamming I now know that standing in the line at the DMV is not any more exotic in Hoogvliet in the Netherlands than it is here. Try this instead: Opentopia. Snapshots, ratings, lame anonymous comments...it’s the perfect Web 2.0 community!

Some cams are cute, some are cute with sound, and some are downright creepy. Yes, that is somebody’s crib in Bellevue, Washington broadcast on the internet. Apparently, they haven’t seen the Truman Show. I've even found a webcam of somebody’s master bedroom. You’d think the camera wiggling around in the heat of the night would be alarming. Other cameras are interactive like this Marina, and even better these webcams up in Park City, Utah.

The trick is to use geocamming as a breath of fresh air - a virtual walk in the park when you can’t manage it. I like to peek in on a few windows into the world then get back to work. After all, watching a webcam of paint drying in Missouri is just as boring as watching it at home. But the fun of it is the serendipity. Sometimes the world may just surprise you. In the end, use geocamming in moderation when you are browsey, and don’t keep the windows open for long because you’re using somebody else’s bandwidth.

(If you’ve got a favorite distraction that you like that helps reduce stress, raises endorphins, or gives you that kick in the pants you need to get your Monday going then let me know about it. Email it to me and label it “Distraction” or tag it on del.icio.us as “for-TheSplinteredMind”.)

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