Tag Archives: #DIGC202

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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Rick Rollers to Game Changers

Whoever controls the flow of information in the network society essentially has the power. The Internet is a distributed network, with distributed control. As a result individual nodes have more power than ever and some are using this power to their advantage more than others. So why can’t, in this new borderless space, all information just flow freely?

Steven Levy, a technology journalist, coined the term “hacker ethic” in 1984. This term references a sort of hacker philosophy that runs deep within their community. Since the early age of the personal computer “hacks” have been performed, this is the legal or illegal manipulation of computer systems or networks. The hacker ethic contained seven core elements (Kelly, 2012):

  1. Access to computers should be totally unrestricted
  2. Hackers should always honour the “Hands-On Imperative
  3. Information should be free
  4. Hackers should distrust authority and promote decentralization
  5. Hackers should judge their peers only by their hacking, rather than any educational or professional pedigree
  6. It is possible to create beauty and art within the confines of a computer
  7. Computers can better a person’s life

This ethic has certainly played a role in the leap from “hacker” to “hacktivist”. The hacker community seems to have developed from rejecting a centralised structure, which is how most governments, large corporations and religious institutions are organised (Kelly, 2012). Funnily enough, it is usually governments, corporations and religious institutions that are targeted by hacktivists, and it is usually because they withhold information… and, well, information just wants to be free.

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Hacktivists tend to form a collective and they tend to engage in illegal (at least more so than legal) computer activity. An example of one of these hacktivist collectives is ‘Anonymous’. Anonymous defines itself as an “internet gathering” with a “very loose and decentralized command structure that operates on ideas rather than directives” (Kelly, 2012). Prior to 2008 Anonymous was most notable for Internet pranks like the “rickroll and “lolcats”. However in January of 08 Anonymous had a run in with the Church of Scientology, which changed the ‘groups’ public perception for good. The Church tried to suppress various Internet media outlets’ from publishing a video of super scientology star Tom Cruise, as he spoke incoherently and fanatically about the religion.  More than 6000 members participated in the operation and donned Guy Fawkes masks as they protested in the streets on 90 cities worldwide (Kelly, 2012). Meanwhile online members raided Scientology websites and prevented the Cruise video from disappearing online. One Anonymous member stated,

Scientology tried to fuck with our internet, attempting to shut down the Cruise video. It was punished, hard, and continues to be punished nearly four years later. . . . Anonymous was born out of a need to exact retribution. . . . The targets may have broadened but the essential message is the same.” (Kelly, 2012)

 

It was this attack on Scientology that shaped Anonymous and the world’s perception of it, as the group revealed three key characteristics.

  1. An unrelenting moral stance on issues and rights, regardless of direct provocation.
  2. A physical presence that accompanies online hacking activity.
  3. A distinctive brand.

Just one year after these characteristics were revealed Anonymous had launched cyber attacks on US Government entities, threatened to take on America’s critical infrastructure, and acted as a key participant in a huge public protest that sought to uproot American establishment (Kelly, 2012). This is certainly not a “rickroll”.

Kelly, Brian 2012 “Investing in a Centralized Cybersecurity Infrastructure: Why ‘Hacktivism’ can and should influence cybersecurity reform”Boston University Law Review 92 (5): 1678–1680. Retrieved September 29, 2013.

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Should I write the story or should you do it?

When old media was dominant conversations were individual, just a discussion between two people or two groups over the telephone or through letters. When mass media came to rise the conversation was often one sided, we consumed information and had limited channels through which we could respond. New media now provides us with a combination of individual and mass communication. The feedback loop is more efficient than ever before and participating has become its own reward as the prosumers hold the power.

Legacy Media used to be the only place we could access news and events. They would make the news, tell you the news and we would consume it. Now, with micro blogging platforms like twitter and citizen journalism sites like CNN iReport, we can have access to millions of different stories, millions of viewpoints and millions of conversations.

We all know that not every viewpoint is… well, worth listening to. Take twitter for example, it is designed for sharing Imagemoments of your life (be it momentous or mundane) in real time and helping create connections over distance. There are millions of 140-character tweets that mean nothing (although even these ones have contributed to conversations). However as twitter has developed (and it is it’s users that have really developed it), many unknown and important uses have surfaced. One is its coverage of real time events, which not only users turn to for information but also legacy media outlets (Williams, 2009).

This is where citizen journalism and twitter meet. The advent of social media and blogging means that the role of the citizen journalist is becoming more valuable than ever. Transnational corporations like Disney, Time Warner, News Corp and Viacom have always dominated the global media market. However as social media sites become more and more dominant in the media world, dynamics are beginning to change (Revis, 2011). The many-to-many nature of these sites allows for unique perspectives as well as providing a breath of fresh air for those societies herded by mainstream media giants.

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The Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements have already shown the democratising ability of digital media. Mobile technologies combined with Twitter have allowed citizen journalists to broadcast stories that may otherwise have been silenced. This advent of user-generated content will only continue to strengthen, as traditional newsrooms become more and more constrained by time and resources. Media outlets like BBC have already begun incorporating citizen journalism into their business structures with their ‘User-Generated Content Hub’. We have also seen promising partnerships, for example Reuter’s partnership with blogging network Global Voiceswhich has allowed bloggers to contribute first hand perspectives from countries like Africa (Revis, 2009). These blogs have given Africans a chance to speak for themselves through a blog that is linked directly with a mainstream media network.

Citizen journalists now have the resources to act as a balancing force to mainstream media, sociologist Michael Schudson makes an interesting point in saying “Who writes the story matters. When minorities and women and people who have known poverty and misfortune first-hand are authors of news, as well as readers, the social world represented in the news expands and changes.” (Mills, 2004)

Mills, K 2004 Changing The Civil Rights Case That Transformed Television Channels, The University Press of Mississippi, MS US, pp. 179.

Revis, L 2011 ‘How Citizen Journalism Is Reshaping Media and Democracy’ Mashable, viewed 17 September 2013

Williams, E 2009 ‘The voices of Twitter users or Listening to Twitter users’ TED Talks, viewed 17 September 2013

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BlockBusted.

Accessibility is a daily norm and I think I might be taking it for granted.

It had never really occurred to me that before digital files, DVD’s and even VHS, if you missed an episode of your favourite TV show you had no control as to when you could view it again. Now, It is so simple and cheap to access media and there is no limit to the supply that you can access. This, of course, is a result of the Internet. With zero to low cost of entry, no quality filter, no cost to the user, no risk and no economies of scale the Internet is a platform with built in abundance and it is this abundance that has created a very long tail.

Legacy Media operates on a hit-driven model, which is basically the concept of the blockbuster. Companies like Disney need to make huge hits in order to draw in huge crowds and make big bucks. They provide you with a handful of flicks that appeal to a wide audience and they can only be viewed (legally) in the physical space of the cinema or months later when they are released onto DVD. To the Legacy Media industry a mass-market will always trump a niche market. However, thanks to the nets ability for abundance, niche markets are in, and mass markets are on the way out. Aggregators, like Netflix for example, don’t have to succumb to the tyranny of physical space. Netflix does not have to worry about appealing to a wider audience (Anderson, 2004). They have the ability to appeal to the individual, because there are billions of them. This stream of niche markets is what is known as the Long Tail.

Netflix Warehouse vs Blockbuster store

Netflix Warehouse vs Blockbuster store

A typical movie store, say Blockbuster for example, has about 3000 movie titles in stock. Netflix has 40 000. If you apply the 80-20 rule to this scenario only around 600 movies make up 80% of Blockbuster’s sales. The 3000th title may only sell once or twice a month, meaning that if they did stock a 3001st title it probably wouldn’t sell at all. This shortens the tail and only adds up to 20% of sales. This is the tyranny of physical space and it is why Legacy Media cannot cater to niche markets. However, if you keep extending the tail from 3001 through to 40 000 and all these titles only sell a few times it ends up adding up to a lot more sales. For aggregates, like Netflix, the end of the tail contributes to 50% of overall sales rather than a measly 20% (Holter, 2006).

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Thanks to the Long Tail, we can access amazing and unique media content. Like this…

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Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail. Wired, 12.10

Holter, E 2006‘Examples of the Long Tail Effect’ Newfangled

 

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A ringer for fandom

I watch a lot of TV. If I find a show I like I am usually up to date or finished within a fortnight (or less). However after I have finished the episodes I don’t tend to delve into the depths of its makings, characters or plot. For me, when the show finishes it finishes. My job is done. Now for some, this is the complete opposite. When the credits roll the task is only just beginning. Fandom is a term used to refer to a subculture that is composed of fans that share a passion or camaraderie with others of a common interest. Henry Jenkins enlightens this emerging culture; “Consumers are learning how to use these different media technologies to bring the flow of media more fully under their control and to interact with other users” (Dueze, 2010).

Fans always seem to be on board with new media technologies, maybe due to their fascination with fictional universes. Whatever the reason, fans are generally the most active members of the media audience and it seems nothing can stop them from participating (Jenkins, 2004). One thing that is certainly helping them to become full participants is the Internet. With all nodes created equal the net has allowed for low barriers of artistic expression and engagement, as well as a support for creating and sharing. Members believe that their contributions matter and communities are creating. As a result Fandom is thriving.

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An example of a huge international Fandom is the community of Tolkien fans. A ‘Ringer’ is a term for a ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan or ‘Hobbit’ fan, while a Tolkienist is somebody who follows and studies the works of J. R. R. Tolkein. Participatory culture is exemplified in the Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ and the alternative universe of Middle Earth. A growing number of active or participatory fans are exhibiting a sense of ownership and connection that includes an investment in the creative development of the universe in which ‘Lord of the Rings’ is set. Online fan sites and clubs provide the venue for such developments and usually involve social gossiping, debates, artistic production and even political activism (Shefrin, 2004).

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Dueze, M 2007 ‘Convergence culture in the creative industries’ International Journal of Cultural Studies 10: 243, pp. 243-259

Jenkins, H 2004 ‘The Cultural Logic of Media Convergence’ International Journal of Cultural Studies 7: 33, pp. 33-42

Shefrin, E 2004 ‘Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Participatory Fandom: Mapping New Congruencies between the Internet and Media Entertainment Culture’ Critical Studies in Media Communication 10: 3, pp. 261-262.

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Copy that

This is in the public domain so I can use it, suckers.

This is in the public domain so I can use it, suckers.

In 1710 copyright was created to guarantee artists (of all kinds) fair recognition and income for their work. In the contemporary world copyright seems to benefit conglomerates. The Music, publishing, imaging and movie industries have the power to decide wether their materials can be used by others and if so for what purpose and price. This means that we may be moving towards an era of content control, artificial scarcity, few to many, hierarchal structures and the privatization of an ever increasing share of cultural expression. This is what copyright can do when in the wrong hands, take away our democratic right to our freedom of cultural and artistic exchange (Smiers & Van Schijndel 2008).

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Although, as we all know, information just wants to be free. The wonder of the web is its ability for information flow, built in plenitude, many-to-many capabilities and its distributed networks. Millions of people are exchanging and sharing music, movies and images over the net everyday. Refusing to acknowledge that these illegal activities are a form of stealing and refusing to accept that huge companies can own the rights, for example, to millions of Mp3 files. As with most out-dated systems digitalization is shaking the foundations of copyright.

Introduce the Digital Rights Movement (DRM). The digital revolution has allowed for new and innovative ways to use and share digital content. As a result it has made it almost impossible for copyright holders to control the distribution of their property. DRM is a movement or management strategy that aims to stop or ease the practice of piracy. It takes the control from the person in possession of the digital content and hands it over to a computer program. You know all of those terms and conditions you agreed to but never read? End User License Agreements, encryption even spyware. This is all to restrict and control how you use content. An abstract example of the extent to which this content could be controlled is if Google determined what you could or could not write in Gmail, for example you cannot use the letter ‘F’ or ‘A’. They could also claim ownership over everything you write. Information wants to be free but it also wants to be expensive. Creative Commons is something of a compromise between the restrictive copyright and complete freedom, as it allows for some flexibility and some control. However the issue still remains, will copyright lead to the end of cultural expression?

Resources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/07/opinion/07iht-edsmiers.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1& ((Smiers, J & Van Schijndel, M 2008 ‘Imagine a world without copyright’ The New York Times)

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Metal to Liquid.

Since the 19th century the 8-hour shift has governed the workplace (as Dolly Parton so clearly explains). You wake up, you go to work, you start work, you work, you finish work, you go home, and then you go to sleep. This is your daily routine and other aspects of your life revolve around this. 8-HOUR-DAY-BANNER

If you work for a huge centralised organisation you have probably never met the head honcho, let alone ever spoken to him (That’s cheating the hierarchal structure).  Lets say you are at work and you observe a problem. After an in depth analysis of data you orient a solution to this problem. So who has the power to implement this solution? Yup, the big ole head honcho whom you have never met. So, what’s next? Before a decision can be made as to wether to act on your astounding solution you will need to approach your immediate manager. He will then pass it on to his manager and so on and so forth. Well…

The time it takes to make a decision in a centralised company.. (May be exaggerated)

The decision may be made to accept or reject your solution. And by that stage it will probably be obsolete anyway. This is known as the OODA loop, created by military strategist John Boyd.

oodaBoyd theorised that the most effective organisations are the ones that have a highly decentralised chain of command and distribute their decision-making. Allowing the organisation to react and adapt to events at a greater speed than their competitors. This leads me to Google. Since the company was founded in 1998 (by Larry Page and Sergey Brin) Google has always aimed to maintain its innovative spirit. Google embodies the new age of knowledge and information as a product, and as a result employs ‘Liquid Labour’ (production of information).

Google employees are mostly accountable for themselves. They have the freedom to spend 70% of their time on their current assignments, 20% on related projects of their choosing and 10% on new projects in any areas they desire. This authorises employees to make fast decisions and allows them to take risks. Google executives also encourage employees and managers to work directly with each other, promoting effective communication. This organisational structure is one of the reasons why Google has had such a quick rise to the top, trumping other search engines of it’s time like Yahoo!, AltaVista and AOL.

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Since the rise of the global media business, information has become power. Production is based on information. What does this mean? We need ‘knowledge workers’ (Peter Drucker). Knowledge workers are employees whose main capital is knowledge (software engineers, architects, scientists, lawyers, etc.). So what do all these professions have in common? They think for a living. How does this differ from industrial labour, factory machines and the ole’ assembly line? We now have liquid labour, information machines and information processing. The free flow of information requires local decision-making. This creates a demand for labour to be always available and unrestrained by borders. To be a knowledge worker you have to be available anytime and any space (always on, always connected). The global market networks never stops, there is always a continuous flow of information, it is alive.

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Of course there has to be implications for the ever connected. Anticipatory labour refers to the anticipation of informal hours. Whilst Dolly Parton sings about rolling out of bed and heading to work at 9, knowledge workers may wake up at 7am and check their emails, meaning they have already begun their workday. This leads to the term ‘Function creep’, which describes the consequences of the constant connectivity that work requires, and how it creeps into your personal life to the point where work becomes ‘just life’. The term to describe the constant urge to check emails, social networks and your phone in order to stay on top of the constant updates that work requires, is known as ‘presence bleed’, as you are never fully in one place at a time.  Industrial work is set to the rhythm of the machine. Knowledge work is set to the flow of information. And the flow of information never stops.

Pictures thanks to –

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2011/05/why-a-typical-work-day-is-eight-hours-long/

Bibliography –

Deuze, M (2006), ‘Liquid Life, Convergence Culture, and Media Work’, Indiana University.

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