Privacy Response, Or Fear Mongering for Those Who Care

Privacy is a very sticky situation. We all want it, we all need it but we can’t be completely private individuals in any kind of economy. But the funny thing about economics is that it latches on to something then chooses not to let go of it. Knowledge has always been power. In the Dark Ages the church kept the power since they were of the few who could read and had access to information. Now the new church is Facebook and Twitter and Google and Amazon and all those online retailers that you love and are signed up for their newsletters. These churches have your information and are not going to give it up without a fight. Information has become a commodity that is passed, traded, and sold between companies that you might not even know about.

But why should we care? I have no issue giving my information to Amazon so that they can offer me a selection of books that I would be interested in (and would help Amazon’s bottom line). The real issue here is the minority voice. Once these companies start siding with the government to help surveil the populace, then we take issue. But many people only take issue if it directly affects them in some way. Heck, many people get spooked for a little while but then go right back to what they did before on those websites. Sure they want to protect their privacy but unless there is some direct effect that they see changing how they use the site, then most people will just shrug it off; the benefits outweigh the risks for them. Getting my books a few days earlier is worth me telling Amazon that I enjoy reading zombie novels. But it is not worth Google knowing that I am looking up communist theories since then McCarthy might come get me.

The apathy of the majority helps fuel this information economy which could eventually further depress minorities. Pretty soon Amazon might start telling the NSA who is buying those copies of The Communist Manifesto and those people might start being put on a list. Since we don’t have control of what companies do with our information after we give it to them, we all might be on some list saying we are demon worshipers since we have all bought Harry Potter books. Not until people actually begin to care about their privacy again will how we are private online change. There has to be some kind of monumental shift for people to wake up and realize that those free samples of Kellogg’s cereal you signed up for online are leading to your name showing up on those DirectTV ads.

Ultimately it is up to the user to choose how much privacy online he or she has, but how much do people care? I would say people care about their privacy a fair amount but when you make difficult privacy settings or say the lack of privacy is to safeguard the country, then people are more willing to just give up their privacy. People don’t take issue until it directly starts to hamper their daily routine.

Social Media Questions

1. What about the Teachers who refuse to be your friend when you invite them? Is there a reasonable principle that teachers and professors would follow that would give a good reason why they shouldn’t be friends (at least until you are no longer their pupil)?

2. Knowing that skill does in fact matter when trying to change privacy settings on Facebook, shouldn’t they make it easier such that skill is essentially taken out of the equation? What methods can be used to make it easier for users?

3. What should we take away from the Facebook example of eroding privacy? Who is the priority in the case of a social network, the users or who you are selling their information to?

The Tyranny and Revenge of the Faster Internet Connection

Information in the Digital Age is the currency and the Internet is the Treasury which prints it.THe problem, though, is distribution. We want more information, and we want “richer” information at that, so we need bigger pipes to deliver this information which takes up more and more bandwidth. So we get our information, so now what? We suddenly want more. I found something cool about cephalopods on Wikipedia so I am going to look up more about a particular kind of squid, which requires more bandwidth than the simple query on cephalopods, then maybe watch a crappy B-movie on Netlfix like Giant Octopus vs Megashark because all this talk of the sea has gotten me wanting some crazy sea creature battle. My friend Thomas sees all the fun I am having learning about cephalopods and wants to get in on the action. Bad news for him, though, is that the doesn’t have high speed internet. Seeing all this fun I am having with fast Internet makes him decide to get faster internet.

And here lies the catch-22: faster internet breeds more users which breeds slower average speeds which breeds more push for faster internet speeds. The internet feeds into itself. The content that lies within it keeps people going back for more, and wanting more, and contributing more. More, more, more. Today we are only as good as how fast we can get our information. To get that information, we are locked into a certain internet speed. Being locked into that speed for long breeds contempt in users since they see other users adding more content and making the internet experience richer. But if I can’t load the page on cephalopods or watch bad movies on Netflix at a reasonable pace, then I am less happy and want faster internet.

This faster internet and richer content that we as producers, designers, and generators provide feeds back into the great system that is the internet and puts more demand on the system. What we run into the problem is that faster internet speeds also equate with bloated files, sites, and thoughts. We have the idea of cramming every bit with as much information as possible. Sometimes to do that we execute it well and avoid clutter and disorganization. Sadly, though, most of the time we just run into slapping more information on a page and say it is done. We forgot those with slower internet speeds still exist. Countries like those that are “developing” have the problem of slower speeds, which can lead to a high barrier for entry for those people entering the 21st century.

The tyranny of the fast internet connection is that now we are ruled by it and expect it to be there for us. The revenge is that the internet simply feeds into itself and creates a monster that we are unsure of how to tame other than throwing the glass of wine in our hands onto the raging grease fire. How do we avoid bottlenecks and the race for having more content? Simple: quit encouraging those sorts of behavior. Create websites that are just as streamlined. Have graphics that are optimized and not filled with extraneous information (i.e. crop down to what you need and size the image accordingly). Remember that there are still plenty of people who have internet connections so slow dial-up looks like a T1 connection. We shouldn’t be needlessly throwing away principles because we now have more room to fit in the new divan from Ikea. Our bandwidth doesn’t need to be clogged by just a handful of sites. We, as consumers and users of the internet, need to think about what we want to see in sites. Sure Youtube videos are cool but they are not always necessary on a blog. Bandwidth being choked by more people is a good thing because that means more people are potentially learning something or keeping up with an old friend or staying current on the news. Bandwidth being choked by designers is never a good thing because not only does it make everyone look bad but also shows our lack of restraint. We become more worried about filling up the space when we don’t even know how big the space is, yet we still do because we can. Maximizing one features almost always minimizes another that could have been good.

Technology Acceptance and Why Your Grandmother Doesn’t Have a Smartphone

Thirty years ago, few would have guessed that today our phones would have the processing power of a small computer. At best, writers like Tom Clancy figured we would have a catch-all device that included GPS, phone, and connection to the internet (though to be fair, Tom Clancy also assumed we would be in virtual reality when dealing with the net) by now. But many of these future speculators guessed this technology would be ubiquitous and everyone would have it. But this is not the case. Virtually everyone has a cell phone, but even though many people have smart phones, not everyone does. Many people have e-book readers, but it is ultimately still a small market. We have this shift towards mobile computing, semantic web, social media, blah, blah, diddly, blah.

We have all these things but they are not unified. There is no default interface. Sure things carry over between iOS and Android, but they act like two different beasts. Regular scrolling, inverse scrolling, horizontal scrolling, and tilt scrolling all are on one kind of OS or another. Even as more and more gadgets become ubiquitous, we will get more and more “unique” ways to interact with those gadgets. But what we won’t get is unity. This lack of unity is what I think drives down a great portion of technology acceptance rates.

Sure, money is an issue. Not everyone can afford a $400 cell phone but they can afford it if it is free or even under $100. What many people fear, though, is how something works. Sure, I got a flashy new Porsche 911 GT2RS but if I don’t know how the launch control works, then I look like a fool trying to race someone at a stop light. Bells and whistles can be great but also equally overwhelming when put into the hands of someone who has not been exposed to such technology. The overwhelming part is what scares people away. They are already set in their ways doing something in a particular manner and are less likely to want to do something differently especially if it means interacting with something new and confusing. Your grandmother doesn’t have a smart phone not because she doesn’t like catching up with you or is not interested in playing Scrabble with you, it is because a smart phone represents an investment in money and time and would require new habits to be developed that might upset other well established habits.

So how do we get around this? We have to think about how we interact with things on a more base level. Why does it make sense for me to use multitouch and why does it boggle my grandmother’s mind? I was brought up thinking about these things (and a helpful dose of SciFi didn’t hurt) and could draw parallels to certain things that made interacting with things like an XBOX controller and touchscreen phone make sense. What we have to do is find an analog for others to understand. Some aboriginal from the Outback isn’t going to get that if he or she talks to the phone, Siri will answer back. We have to create interfaces and devices that communicate what they are doing and how they do it. Cellphones that resemble traditional phones are more likely to sell. Phones that look like some kind of dark Borg technology fail because people see that and don’t get it is a phone; they don’t recognize a parallel or the form as a phone and shun it.

We have to explain and design things in terms of the old for people to understand the new. Slowly we can alter the design and change the form of the new to slowly move away from old to get something that resembles something new yet I still understand what it is. If you gave the iPhone 4S or the Samsung Galaxy S II to someone 20 years ago, they might not get that those are phones but show the same phones to someone ten years ago and they would see the resemblance. We are more likely to accept that which is familiar so if we want to increase technology acceptance rates, then we need to look to the old to inform the new rather than constantly making clean breaks to establish a new order.

The Missing Regulation: A Lessig Response

So I am rather confused having read the first 5 chapters of Code 2.0 and chapters 7 and 8 of Remix. The two books do not seem to jive with one another. Sure, both books have an interesting focus on the digital economy but they seem to be asking different questions and coming to radically different conclusions. Before going much further I will admit that these books may coalesce better if I had read them completely, but as time and graduate school are, I do what I am asked and will hopefully go back and finish them some other time.

Anyway, in Code 2.0 Lessig is arguing for a level of regulation in the digital realm. Without regulation, he argues, we come to a economy and culture that is too wildly free and the anonymity of the Internet breaks down too many barriers for being effective agents. Essentially, what I take from Lessig is that regulation imparts a level of order that the Internet and other aspects of the digital age lack. Lessig is arguing for more centralization in an age where everything on the net seems to be decentralizing. Crowdsourcing and collaboration seem the ways to go and regulation does not always seem to fit into those categories. Sure, they need a set of rules to abide by, but as they say in Pirates of the Carribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, “the Code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines.'”

Yet in Remix, it would seem that Lessig is now singing a different tune. Suddenly strict copyright and all this heavy regulation is weighing down the economy that the digital age is building. Those strict copyrights, or copylefts as many (including Lessig) like to call overly restrictive and prohibitive copyright, are closing off avenues of revenue and whole swathes of users and customers because people are turned off in the face of being sued for putting up the lyrics to “All the Single Ladies.” I don’t think Lessig wants to get rid of regulation in Remix, but it seems that what he was looking for before no longer is what drives the economy but rather hinders it.

I think what Lessig is seeing is that the older ways are starting to fade. Though it is a bit late if you ask me, people are finally beginning to see the massive flaws in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Such restrictive measures are keeping people away from the online community which denies value both to the community and to those who profit off the community. There is a much needed shift towards hybrid markets, ones that value money but also value the community and the value the community can impart on the product. A prime example of this is video games. Developers who release free SDKs (Software Development Kits) tend to have a better following because they give the power to the users to create more content. The users, in turn, add more value to the game by adding more features or gametypes which the developer may not have thought of or had the resources to devote to. People marvel at the video game industry and its meteoric rise but it just follows the idea of a hybrid model that Lessig elucidates.

Bottom line? I think Lessig sees the value of what regulation can do, but also recognizes that regulation can, and will, run amuck when profit is the only goal. This is why we need to focus on the community to help reinvest value into the digital economy rather than using the community merely as a means to an end of achieving quotas.


Pax Informatica (Lessig Questions)

1. What about Lanier’s problem with being locked-in? If we code the Internet to protect or run in one particular way don’t we run into an Asimovian (Foundation) crisis? Should we not fear being locked-in to a certain kind of values, even if those values are inherently free?

2. Even if the design can be changed, shouldn’t we be worried about what it is changing to? The three “bugs” apply here too since I don’t exactly know who is changing the code, where he or she is, and what their true motives and intentions are. Why not, in this case, just have one rule that there can be no regulation other than to maintain complete freedom of the net?

3. But isn’t anonymity what gives the Internet its power? If we start regulating everything, aren’t actually entering into a Big Brother scenario since countries would be able to identify dissidents and quash them?

You Are Not a Gadget Response

Jaron Lanier paints a rather bleak future of technology. Humans have been relegated to bland, “flat,” things that require computers even though computers are not always the most efficient way to do something. This reliance drives subsequent generations to spend more time and effort into developing software and hardware that increasingly makes people more like an extension of technology rather than having it the other way around. Though I do not agree with Lanier on all points, his arguments are worthy of a deeper look and do merit discussion.

To be honest, I am completely surprised that others have not brought up many of these concerns before. For instance, the Ship of Theseus (if you replace something such that it looks and acts identical, is it the same thing?) concern should really be considered. What happens to a person if their consciousness is loaded into the net but their body is annihilated? True, this capability will not be viable for quite some time (if ever due to the immense complexity and neural map intricacies of the brain), but it is thoughts like this that should give designers and developers pause about what they are currently making.

I know I have discussed this in a few other blog posts but Lanier I think warrants the most me saying this again: today people do not consider the ramifications of what they make. Arguably nobody can see all the outcomes of what a technology would lead to, but they can still evaluate several of the outcomes and how those might affect people. Facebook is a prime example of this. Facebook is a social tool (and a mass information gatherer for advertisers) that allows people to post and say virtually anything. Because of this freedom, some people choose to abuse this and take things like bullying a step farther and enter the digital realm. The digital/Facebook bullying is something that easily could have been foreseen by the developers. I will admit stopping it is a wholly different matter but Facebook and other online forums enables people to lose a sense of humanity and forget that someone on the other end is also a human being too. True, everything has their good and bad sides but sometimes one needs to focus on the negatives to improve the positives.

Another consequence of technology making us “locked-in” is that we forget there are other ways to do things without technology. Watching some of the Hillman Curtis Artist Series reminds us that even though technology makes doing some things more efficient, we can still do virtually everything by hand. We get stuck trying to solve problems by throwing more technology at the technology that doesn’t work. We keep stuffing web sites with gaudy and worthless ads even though print, TV, and radio are still viable avenues of marketing something. We Get stuck trying to figure out something cool to integrate with a new piece of technology and forget that other physical objects exist and can be levied with new technology. We being locked-in is what I think Lanier is trying to get at above all. We are too enthralled with technology to see its pitfalls and remember that there is something physical and non-digital about the world.