Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Nervous System for the Planet

Today there are roughly two Internet-connected devices for every man, woman and child on the planet. Analysts say that by 2025 this ratio will rise past six, meaning we can expect to grow to nearly 50 billion Internet-connected devices (Savitz, 2012) in the next decade… umm what will these devices be doing exactly?

The Internet of things has been described as a Nervous System for the Planet. Over the next decade or so small sensors will be able to enable machine-to-machine communication and act as the digital nerve endings for global sense-and-respond systems. Your car could transmit a message to your house to let your appliances know you will be home in 15minutes. When you get home the house it warm, the ovens on, the washing is done and your favourite show is ready for you to watch. To a greater extent we would have the ability to impart a central nervous system on our planet. This technological revolution (driven by cheap sensor technology) would allow us to measure systems on a global scale and at the same time offer a never before seen resolution (Savitz, 2012). Could this be an answer to the meaning of life? If sensor networks are successful it may help to explain the world we live in, our role in it and our impact upon it. The Internet of things could help us solve some of the biggest problems facing society… however, for every utopian view there is of course a dystopian view (i.e Robots are going to take over the planet).

One of the real threats involved with the Internet of things is just how much information these ‘things’ could collect. If all of the objects in your everyday life were monitoring how you used them then wouldn’t they know everything about you? Who gets this information? All of the data recorded by objects in your life would essentially be uploaded to the Internet, and for some, information is a very valuable thing.

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Eric Savitz, 2012 ‘How The Internet of Things Will Change Almost Everything’ Forbes Magazine, written December 17, accessed October 24, 2013

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“Open or Perish”

“Open or perish.” If you are not “open” (i.e open source) then you just don’t get it, you’re brainwashed and destined for a life of obsolescence (Sigal, 2009). While this may be an appealing logic the reality isn’t so simple, and especially not when we are discussing the future of the mobile net.

Take a look at the oppositional approaches taken by the two companies with (apparently) the greatest product differentiation and the greatest share of the mobile market (Sigal, 2009). Apple and Google.Image

Apple. Their first platform was open and it became successful because it was open. The company has now created a closed ecosystem with an integrated approach to hardware, software and service. Google is generally perceived to be more open, taking a “looser” approach to systems and services (Reestman, 2009). Both businesses are highly successful with legions of devotees. So which approach is better?

Apple delivers a “superb” user experience with great synergy and seamless integration across its different products, however it is also a bit of a bully. The company holds all the power to choose which services and offerings it anoints as value-adds (as well as which to banish) (Reestman, 2009).

Google is pretty phenomenal in the way it rolls out its product offerings and its openness has allowed many to build on the system. However, some critics note that its products are uninspired and unfocused from a product lifecycle perspective (Reestman, 2009). Although doesn’t open just seem better than closed?

Mark Sigal of GigaOM says, “The reality is that openness is just an attribute – it’s not an outcome,Image and customers buy outcomes. They want the entire solution and they want it to work predictably. Only a tiny minority actually cares about how or why it works.” (Sigal, 2009) This perspective tends to explain how things are viewed from the end user angle. Only the ‘geeks’ among us tend to consider or wonder how something like an operating system might work. The majority of consumers just want something that works, is easy to use, reliable and solves their problems (Zweier, 2013).

There are a few broad issues with trying to innovate in the “open” Android space. If you develop a great new feature, everybody else gets the code too. The distinguishable becomes indistinguishable. The development of apps is also a bit of a problem for Android users, if you develop hardware with a nice feature android can take advantage of then you will have to wait for an app to support it (which realistically could take a very long time) (Hardy, 2008).

One important benefit of an open system is that it allows for a huge amount of people and companies to collaborate. While this may sometimes be seen as a downfall (companies don’t really want to develop for their competitors) it certainly increases the competition, which is always a bonus for the consumer.

In the end it comes down to the consumer and wether they want comfort, or freedom.

Hardy, Ed ‘iPhone vs. Android: a Study in Contrasts’ Brighthand Editor, July, 03, 2008

Reestman, Tom ‘Android Open vs. iPhone Closed: Is IT Really That Simple?’ GigaOM, Feb 23, 2009

Sigal, Mark ‘Android vs. iPhone: Why Openness May Not Be Best’ GigaOM, Feb 22, 2009

Zweier, Daniel ‘The New Apple iOS 7, Ideology and the Future’ aNewDomain

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Protests Now and Then

Occupy Wall Street, in its general critique of unfair wealth distribution and unchecked Imagecorporate power, sort of echoes the hunger marches of the 1930’s. The protests have borrowed themes and tactics from social and political activist rallies of the past, although there have certainly been some differences. The occupy movement is both familiar and yet pioneering.

The movement’s tactics were reminiscent of the passive sit-ins and vigil demonstrations of the civil rights era. Although this time they weren’t organised by phone trees and worth of mouth, the movement was spread through the use of social media. The use of social media has been successful in creating hype and numbers for uprisings in the Middle East (just see Arab Spring), and it was again successful in the Occupy movements (Asenault, 2011).

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Just how much Occupy America can accomplish is unclear, however with the help of social media the speed at which the movement is multiplying (similar protests are breaking out across Europe and East Asia) is already affecting political discourse, as the issue of economic inequality is drawn to the forefront for the first time since the 1930’s. Gary Gerstle (Vanderbilt University) says, “It has the potential to change the fundamentals of American Politics (Asenault, 2011). Occupy Wall Street; the movement’s flagship (based in Manhattan) has spread to over 150 cities in the US.

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Social media makes communication move much faster and without the need of street marches and fiery speeches. The new protest trend may bring more people onto the scene, although something does seem to be missing. With it now being so easy to contribute to a cause (or feel as if you are contributing), it’s a little obvious that not all those that protest have the passion, especially in Western countries (Jimeno, 2011).  

In the years before smartphones and social networking text messaging was the primary mobile tool for protest coordination. Nathan Freitas says “Most mobile social media tools didn’t exists, so we were rolling our own” (Gahran, 2011). Freitas, an open source software developer, says in 2004 he helped the Ruckus Society build a text alert service, which had the ability to transmit tactical texts from organisers to more than 10 000 protesters on the ground. Freitas believes that this relatively closed communication channel may have had more impact on protests than open networks like the social media channels used today. There was “less noise and competition” the phones were used to “organize people”. Freitas believes “social media is more about spreading news and opinion” (Gahran, 2011).

The idea of social networking and revolutions or protests being intrinsically linked is one that seems to be in constant debate. I believe social media is great as an organisational tool and can certainly spread news, ideas and events quickly. However the people who are on the ground have and should always be where the attention is focused. This topic has so many factors to be discussed, and it will be interesting to see what social media can change around the world in the next decade.

 

Asenault, M 2011 ‘Protests, how they have changed’, The Boston Globe, 16 October, accessed 12 October, 2013

Gahran, A 2011 ‘Mobile tools for protests – then and now’, CNN, 10 October, accessed 12 October, 2013

Jimeno, R 2013 ‘Protest actions’, Standard Today, 07 October, accessed 12 October, 2013

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