Who is Empowered? Ourselves or the ‘Things’?

What if I told you that you could use the internet to track your elderly grandmother’s movements to ensure that she was alive and well? Or that you’re near-full garbage bin could signal to the garbage depot that it’s time to stop by for a collection? What if you’d forgotten to take your daily medication and a sensor in the bottle itself could send you a friendly text as a reminder? To me, these applications of technology seem like an odd combination of the Truman Show and sci-fi madness, when in reality these particular connections already exist.

These relationships rely on what has been termed the ‘Internet of Things’, where internet connections are bringing previously passive objects to life through the use of networked sensors and RFID tags. Bleecker (2006) refers to these connected objects as Blogjects – blogging objects – and suggests that once the objects are connected to the internet, they become enrolled as active participants contributing to social exchange and conversation.

In a society alarmed by the marketing data collection of platforms such as Facebook, we can be assured that the internet of things is at the heart of privacy and security concerns.

With these networked sensors and tags already finding their way into cars, household appliances and clothing for tracking and monitoring purposes, consider what digital footprints are being left behind by consumers. As Bleecker (2006) puts it ‘where our blogjects go, someone always knows’.

No longer will it simply be our age, postcode, and comparably trivial private information that is available as data, it will be our travel routes and destinations, the time we leave for work and arrive home, what we have for dinner, when, with whom and so on and so forth.

So what happens if this data falls into the wrong hands? What happens when the human population begins to behave differently when our every move is being monitored by physical objects in our homes, in public and out of our direct control? Who exactly are we empowering by these connections, ourselves or the ‘things’?

References:

Bleecker, J 2006, ‘Why Things Matter’, A Manifesto for Networked Objects

 

A Battle of Philosophies: Why Android Will Triumph Over iOs

The battle between the two futures of the mobile net is raging and echoes the PC war of the 1990’s. As mobile connectivity is set to take precedence over desktop connectivity, this current battle is of equal importance. Call it what you will – it is the wage of war between Apple and Google or iOs and Android.

 

Personally, the choice between the two adversaries is not an easy one and the two dissimilar products feel so equal and adequate in terms of benefits and appeal.

In the final quarter of 2012, Android had secured 70% share of global smartphone sales, versus 21% for iOs. In statistics surrounding tablet choice however, iOs took the lead in 2012 with 53% share, leaving Android trailing close behind at 42% (McCracken 2013).

The battle between the two comes down to the contention of their creators’ philosophies. Steve Jobs created Apple with his core business model being based upon closed devices. Apple wanted control over not only the platform itself, but also the platform’s content and the consumer’s use of it.

Co-founder of Google, Larry Page, had a different plan. Through the purchase of Android, the company’s core products emphasized the flow of information and connectivity. Users could not only alter their devices how they saw fit, they could write their own software, using technologies in unpredictable new ways. With such connectivity and freedom, Android’s benefits are undeniably clear in an increasingly connected world.

So who will triumph? If current consumer statistics are anything to draw from, the future of mobile connectivity points to open and generative Android platforms. Perhaps we should consider the opposite occurring – a public shift towards iOs based on ease of use and aesthetics, leaving Android to the gamers and tech geek developers. It’s likely that Google will triumph in either situation. Why? For those consumers that opt for iOs, Google’s search engine is still likely to be their first point of call and as Daniel Roth (2008) explains, ‘if the only thing Android achieves is getting more people to spend more time online, then Google still profits. More users mean more people viewing pages with Google ads’.

Without a change in ideology, the longevity of iOs looks bleak. Put so eloquently by Derrick Brown (2013), ‘Android seems to be growing into the worm that eats the Apple’s core’.

References:

Brown, D 2013, The Epic Battle Between Apple & Google is All But Over – Who Won?, Read Write, weblog post, 17 May, viewed 20 October 2013.

McCracken, H 2013, Who’s Winning? iOs or Android? All the Numbers, All in One Place, Time, weblog post, 16 April, viewed 20 October 2013.

Roth, D 2008, ‘Google’s Open Source Android OS Will Free the Wireless Web’, Wired, 23 June, viewed 18 October 2013.

Hacktivism and the Crime of Curiosity

Hacktivism involves the similar disobedience and protest of activism, simply relocated into the online environment where skilful hackers do what they do best with the aim of promoting free speech, supporting human rights and exposing corruption. Groups of hactivists are responsible for denial of service attacks online, information theft, data breaches, web site defacement, typosquatting, and other acts of ‘digital sabotage’ (Paganini 2013). 

Whether you love, hate, condone or support him, Julian Assange is the perfect example of the term. Wikileaks was designed to benefit society by exposing top-secret information using his followers’ and his own tenacious hacking skills. In a networked society where information is free and hacker curiosity and confidence is high, the hacktivist culture is thriving and over the recent decades we have seen an influx of groups such as Omega, AntiSec and Anonymous causing a fluster online.

In the online environment, where can we draw the line between cyber crime, hacktivism and pure cyber nuisance? The argument of hacktivism and crime is a point of wide debate. Many argue that channels already exist for free speech, and that hacktivism simply causes damage in the online world, while others insist that it is purely a form of protest and should therefore be protected.

If those in power do not have the security over their information to withstand a hacktivist attack, I say let the lesson be learnt for whatever is it they have to hide. In a networked online world, information is free and skilful curiosity should not be labelled as crime.

I’ll leave you with an eloquent piece of writing from one of the earliest hackers, The Mentor, written in 1986 shortly after his arrest:

We explore… and you call us criminals.  We seek after knowledge… and you call us criminals.  We exist without skin color, without nationality, without religious bias… and you call us criminals. You build atomic bombs, you wage wars, you murder, cheat, and lie to us and try to make us believe it’s for our own good, yet we’re the criminals.

Yes, I am a criminal.  My crime is that of curiosity.  My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like.

My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. – The Mentor (1986)

References:

Paganani, P 2013, ‘Hacktivism: Means and Motivations … What Else?’, Infosec Institute, viewed 2 October 2013,  http://resources.infosecinstitute.com/hacktivism-means-and-motivations-what-else/

The Mentor 1986, ‘The Conscience of a Hacker’, Phrack, vol.1, no.7, viewed 29 September 2013, http://www.phrack.org/issues.html?issue=7&id=3&mode=txt

Twitter’s Transformation of Media and Democracy

On the odd chance that some readers aren’t entirely up to par with the social media landscape, let’s begin with a brief rundown of the wonderful world of Twitter. Twitter spreads information. It is a micro-blogging social media platform that allows its users to post ‘tweets’ of 140 characters or less to their audience of ‘followers’, which  are those individuals who wish to subscribe to them and consist of anyone from friends, family and colleagues to complete strangers.

Since the platform’s first emergence on the world wide web in 2006, it has undergone quite substantial alterations in functionality, many of these being the result of user innovation. In 2007, Twitter users began using the ‘hashtag’ (#) to tag content of tweets. Other users could then search for that hashtag which aggregated all other micro blogs discussing the same issue or event. Due to its driving popularity, the hashtag was incorporated as a fundamental aspect of Twitter’s successful business model and is now one of its iconic features. Users further developed the use of the @ symbol to reply and communicate to other users, and have also managed to find ways to overcome the tiny 140 character limit by including links to outsourced content (Johnson 2009).

Generally, one 140 character tweet alone is quite insignificant. But as these tweets connect and intertwine, they develop power and begin to add up to something truly substantive. Johnson (2009) likens their cohesive power to a ‘suspension bridge made of pebbles’. A pebble on its own is useless, but when hundreds are combined, they function with collective power. Together, users of Twitter are creating public conversation and a collective intelligence that is reshaping traditional media and democracy.

The growth of the Twittersphere has seen immense effects on the media industry. Traditional published media content is filtered by a gatekeeper who decides what gets published to audiences, and when. This information is therefore subject to bias and personal agendas (Bruns 2009). New media forms, however, have abolished the role of the gatekeeper as no information filters exist. Twitter has supplied users with a public arena in which they can share real-time news and their otherwise silenced stories. We are only just beginning to see the sheer power of these combined tweets (or pebbles) through movements like the Arab Spring.

Twitter Revolution

Twitter has being used by activists as a powerful citizen journalism tool to bypass government restrictions and expose underground civilian communities, assuring people of the Arab world that they are not alone and that others are experiencing similar brutality and injustices brought about by those in power. The platform has also been used to organise protests of thousands through the use of hashtags, and together these activists have ultimately toppled powerful dictatorship (Kassim 2012).

It is safe to say that Twitter alone does not overthrow governments – courageous people do. It has, however, assisted in user communication and coordination. It is the sheer power that these media tools provide users with that must be noted. Audiences are no longer simply consuming the information that is fed to them from industrial media. Instead, they are producing and broadcasting their own stories and opinions through social media, with unmuted voices and combined efficacy.

 

References:

Bruns, A 2009, ‘News blogs and citizen journalism: new directions for e-journalism’, in Prasad, K (ed.), e-Journalism: New Media and News Media, BR Publishing, Dehli. 

Johnson, S 2009, ‘How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live’, Time Magazine, 5 June, viewed 21 September 2013, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1902818,00.html

Kassim, S 2012, Twitter Revolution: How the Arab Spring was Helped by Social Media, PolicyMic, weblog post, 3 July, viewed 21 September 2013, http://www.policymic.com/articles/10642/twitter-revolution-how-the-arab-spring-was-helped-by-social-media

What the Long Tail Means for Fashion

The notion of the Long Tail was created by Wired editor Chris Anderson. The theory suggests that online content has reshaped traditional patterns of supply and demand and that our culture is shifting focus away from a large number of main stream products at the peak of the demand curve and towards a huge number of niche products that trail down the curve’s tail (Anderson n.d.).

The shift of the retail sector to an online environment has greatly diminished the costs of overheads, production and distribution, making niche goods just as economically attractive. This means that there is now far less need to fit products and consumers into a ‘one-size-fits-all’ category (Anderson n.d.). Anderson (2004) suggests that the future of profit ‘is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream’.

Before the rise of internet fashion stores, one could crawl retail outlets of the local shopping malls for hours on end, often leaving with empty hands and feelings of dissatisfaction. However, recently there has been a surge in mega supply online retailers like The Iconic, ShopBop and Zappos offering consumers an abundance of fashion products, many of which they would have never stumbled upon by traditional means.

When consumers are offered an almost infinite choice, Anderson (2004) suggests that the true shape of demand is revealed, the Long Tail. Tony Hsieh from Zappos has seen the same apply to fashion goods, with his company selling more than 3 million products across 1000 brands and finding that the top 20% of products account for half of their revue and the bottom 80% account for the other half . People are known to gravitate towards niches because they satisfy their unique interests better (Anderson n.d.) and let’s face it, fashion is as individual a choice as they come. It’s no surprise that online retail is booming, leaving the traditional and often mainstream retail sector trailing far behind.

Established big brands now have peace of mind with the ability to experiment with niche products and markets online while we, the consumers, also reap the benefits. We are offered an almost infinite choice. Sure, we forego the ability to physically touch and feel the product, to try it on for fit, and to take it home with us there and then, but with free overnight shipping, 100 day refund policies and almost limitless choice, you surely won’t hear me complain.

References:

Anderson, C 2004, ‘The Long Tail’, Wired, October, viewed 15 September 2013.

Anderson n.d., The Long Tail, in a nutshell, The Long Tail, weblog post, n.d., 15 September 2013.

The Evolution of Square Eyes: Google Glass and Convergence

By convergence, I mean the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behaviour of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want. –  Henry Jenkins (2006, p.2)

When conceptualising Jenkin’s notion of convergence, the foundations of our everyday smartphones cannot be overlooked. Jenkins (2006, p.5) identifies these devices as the electronic equivalent of the ‘Swiss army knife’ and it’s not hard to follow why. They function as a phone, messenger, email, clock, calendar, camera, photo album, notepad, calculator, map, video streamer, internet browser, ringtone maker and… Yeah, you get the point. They are revolutionary, and so are the ways in which users engage with them.

 

The term convergence is not an endpoint, but rather a process of continual innovation (Jenkins 2004, p.34). It is suggested that, in the coming years, we can expect to see the Swiss army knives of our current media environment being adapted, innovated and converged, with ‘wearable’ computing technologies taking the spotlight.

Let’s take look at the wearable innovation that is Google Glass, set to be released to the general public next year. The device hovers just in front of the user’s eyes, worn like a pair of glasses, featuring voice commands and instant responses. Glass takes photographs, records videos, makes calls, sends texts and answers any questions that the user may have. These are all viewed on the tiny projected screen in the top corner of their vision, and looks a little something like this..

Audiences are just as intrigued by the prospect of wearable computing as they were with the smartphone, albeit accompanied by increased skepticism. The inclusion of cameras, video recording, and user-only viewing on such a discrete device is raising obvious privacy concerns and causing a stir amongst media audiences who are perhaps wishing they were born into a simpler technological era.

Currently, there are minimal applications being run on Glass and (let’s be honest) they’re not the most striking pieces of headwear around. However, if history is anything to go by, these obstacles will soon be mastered and overcome. In the coming years, we could expect to have our favourite designer frames fitted out with Glass technology and through progression and driving popularity, we can also imagine that a growing number of apps and features will continue to converge within the same single device. Along with the telegraph, record player, Discman and alarm clock, perhaps the smartphone will soon join the list of obsolete technologies in the media history books.

Jenkins (2006) suggests that with new convergent technologies, comes users’ unpredictable consumption of them. So what can we expect the augmentation of wearable computing to bring? Undoubtedly, we can assume to see changes in norms and interactions on professional, social and intimate levels, just as we did with the smartphone. Smartphones were once an acquired novelty, yet they now frame popular culture. I believe that the technology spans beyond novelty. Google Glass and comparable technologies are simply another leap in the process of our converging media world, and a pretty exciting leap, at that.

Remember the old saying that if you sit too close to the screen that you will end up with ‘square eyes’? Well, Google Glass may play a role in shaping human evolution in the years to come…

squares

References:

Jenkins, H 2006, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, New York University Press, New York.

Jenkins, H 2004, ‘The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol.7, no.1, pp.33-43.

The Plight of Copyright

“Free cultures  are cultures that leave a great deal open for others to build upon; Unfree, or permission cultures leave much less. Ours was a free culture. It is becoming much less so.” – Lawrence Lessig (2004)

Lessig is talking about the notion of copyright. We are living in a permission culture, ripe with copyright laws and litigation that protect creators from the unfair use of their intellectual property. In a networked society however, the term ‘intellectual property’ is one that is increasingly difficult to comprehend.

It is safe to say that we are all guilty at some stage of copyright violation. Whether it be blatant illegal downloading of copyrighted films or an unattributed image posted on our Facebook page. With free flowing digital information, the rights of content creators are bound to be compromised.

The internet functions on the free flow of information and according to Kevin Kelly (2008) it is a ‘copying machine’ with its foundations built on the very notion of copying information and passing it on. So in this new digital arena, should traditional copyright laws still stand?

I find this topic quite difficult to form an opinion around. With an abundance of information is anything really ‘new’ anymore? All creators have sources of inspiration, people and works that spark interest and ideas. When their inspirations can be seen through these new works, where can the line drawn between fair use and the copying of intellectual property?

On the other hand, it can be argued that without copyright, why would people create? Where is the incentive? If created works could be taken and claimed by someone else as their own, this incentive disappears so the notion of artificial scarcity on digital property seems warranted.

As Boldrin and Levine (2008) suggest, ‘intellectual property laws need to strike a balance between providing sufficient incentive for creation and the freedom to make use of existing ideas’. What do you believe the future holds for networked environments? A permission or a free culture? Or is there a way that we can find strike a balance between the two? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

References:

Boldrin, M & Levine, D 2008, Against Intellectual Monopoly, Cambridge, New York. 

Kelly, K 2008, Better Than Free, The Technium, weblog post, viewed 1 September 2013.

Lessig, L 2004, Free Culture, Penguin Books, New York.

The Stay at Home Career Woman

Let’s start off with a little insight into the life worries and ‘what ifs’ that bounce around inside my skull on a weekly basis. As a twenty-five year old female mature age student, I feel not only my biological clock ticking, but also my professional one. I will graduate when I am twenty-six and plan to have children in my early thirties. So with no snooze button on the biological clock, where does that leave me? With four years to work my way up a hierarchical industry, soon to leave it all behind to procreate a couple of mini me’s?

The media and communications industries are evolving at rapid pace. When I return to the labour force will I be overlooked in a trail of new graduates who are up with the newest practices, leaving me wallowing in their shadows? Do I resume full time work, commuting to the city before dawn and returning after dark? The thought of being an absent mother and missing out on milestones of my little ones (that I don’t even have yet) pulls on my heart strings a little, and budding career success has never felt so unfeasible.

Recently, I had a little ray of optimistic light shine down on the matter. What if I had the ability to work full-time from the comfort of home, on my own time schedule, networked with colleagues solely through technology and digitally powered gatherings? The shift towards ‘knowledge-based’ work, the development of new communication technologies and the growth of networked societies is making this far-fetched dream a reality (Bradwell & Reeves 2008).

A recent survey by Citrix found that organisations are moving away from the traditional work environment and predicted that by the year 2020 workplaces will be providing just seven desks for every ten office workers, with employees basing themselves in other semi-permanent spaces including their very own homes. Besides the obvious benefits of this labour on the workers themselves and the reduced cost of overheads, Bradwell and Reeves found that from an organisational perspective the new move is sparking innovation, reducing information barriers and nurturing true internal talent (p.14).

Undoubtedly with the convergence of work and home life there are bound to be hurdles and uncertainties along the way. Will one’s home life suffer with no clear distinction between professional and personal time and space? I suppose that then depends on the individual themselves and the how they choose to integrate the two.

The important take home message here is that times they are a changin’. The global  networked society has created corporate flexibly and permanent change within the labour force. It’s an exciting prospect to say the least, especially for those of us a little uncertain of the possibility to cultivate early career success and begin a family almost simultaneously. Having to choose between the two may ultimately become a thing of the past.

PORK PIRATES ATTACK MEXICO CLOUDS… and the Issue of Cyber Security

Say whaaaat? Okay, so it seems I’ve caught your attention. It’s also quite likely that I’ve engaged the watchful eye of our National Security as well.  Strangely enough those words live amongst a list of keywords that, when used online, entice the interest of Homeland Security in the United States. These and other internet surveillance insights were recently released under the country’s Freedom of Information Act, with it being assumed that Australian authorities have similar structures in place.

ss-pig

What ever happened to John Perry Barlow’s Utopian declaration to the governments, claiming their lack of power in our online world?

“You claim there are problems among us that you need to solve. You use this claim as an excuse to invade our precincts. Many of these problems don’t exist. Where there are real conflicts, where there are wrongs, we will identify them and address them by our means. We are forming our own Social Contract. This governance will arise according to the conditions of our world, not yours. Our world is different.” – John Perry Barlow

This was wishing thinking on Barlow’s behalf, to say the least. How far things have come since 1996, including the recent events involving Ed Snowden uncovering some nasty truths of the online surveillance world. Vast amounts of metadata surrounding individuals around the globe are being accessed and stored, without any form of warrant. The government and AFP have also gained virtually unlimited control of our online spaces, forcing internet providers to block and filter websites as they see fit.

The current online security situation remains somewhat of a double edged sword. On one end there exists a need to protect the privacy of our personal communications, to ensure trusted communities and continued innovation. Alternatively, law enforcement agencies have the ability to investigate and be informed of serious crime, in turn protecting and enhancing society. At present, I’m all for the current online security situation, as I know I have nothing to hide. A little word of warning to those of you that do – be very afraid.

(National Security: I hope that wasn’t too boring for you)

Crossing the Borders of First and Second Life

Being existent in cyberspace spans far beyond simple surfing of the world wide web. It involves not only an online presence, but a connection with others within this online space. The internet is utilized to create ‘cyberspace’, which Lessig maintains is a far richer experience of internet usage, and one that needs to be explored in order to understand the lives of generations to come.

For many, one’s cyberspace presence exists solely within the simpler worlds of Facebook and Twitter. Within these spaces individuals connect, network, create and share. They can choose to add or omit information about themselves, in turn altering their persona how they please. To delve deeper into the notion of cyberspace however, the three-dimensional online world that is Second Life cannot be overlooked.

Users of Second Life can exist as whoever – or whatever – they wish. They can communicate with others, play games, explore shopping malls, attend concerts and indulge in their ultimate sexual fantasies all in this online space. Perhaps the most interesting notion of Second Life is the crossing of borders, from virtual reality to reality, with users feeling real time effects in their First Lives, so to say.

With 1 million monthly users, this effect on the real world isn’t too hard to grasp. Second Life has facilitated relationships and marriages, and on the other hand provided a space for acts of online adultery to occur, resulting in real world divorces. Users can participate in online marathons to raise money for real world charities. Some studies have even shown that involving avatars in fitness can make the user themselves achieve weight loss goals.

When these borders between cyberspace and reality are blurred and crossed, this ultimately affects the lives of users and associated others in the real world. And with the growth and acceptance of these cyberspace communities, it’s exciting to see what will come of it all.