If You Can Think of It – It’s About to Happen.

In the not-so-distant future, everyone and everything in the world will be connected to the Internet. This phenomenon is already in its early stages – and is known as the “Internet of Things” (Kevin Ashton, 2009). There are approximately 2 billion people using the Internet right now, however the Internet contains a larger number of data. Our ability to produce information has far exceeded our ability to control it. We know that the Internet has extreme potential, now it’s just a matter of developing an effective way to harness it. Technologist John Barrett states “Every major global government, and every major economic block, is investing heavily in the IoT”.

Since the emergence of the Internet, we’ve recognised a unique sense of harmony to the dimensions of life. Now, by accessing real-time data of the way systems are interacting, we can better understand global dynamics and thus make more intelligent decisions. From space, the world is visible as a neural network with cities as nodes, a literal image that we are a system of systems. We can see it, hear it, and capture it – the world has virtually developed a central nervous system, it is early days but the planet is speaking to us. Ongoing accessibility and innovations make for a very efficient society, and with the matrixing of services we will generate more resilient systems.

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The Internet of Things cannot be simply explained, so I recommend watching this lecture by Dr. John Barrett. Barrett describes the Internet as a digital cloud or universe, 4000 Exabyte’s in size (whoa). All of our lives are about to change – by merging the physical world to the Internet. We will be able to control and communicate with everything from anywhere – goods, objects, machines, appliances, buildings, vehicles, animals, plants, soil and even humans will become a part of the IoT (we kind of already are). The possibilities are only restricted by our imagination… so buckle your seat belts, hold your horses, and put down your Smartphones. Actually pick them back up, because soon you will be able to point your device at anything or anyone and learn as much as you can about it through embedded circuits. Barrett quotes, “Facebook will look like a minor event”.  So if you were concerned about privacy issues on social media… think again. One major concern regarding the IoT is the devalued notion of privacy. Google has the potential to become a real life search engine as everything will be tagged, locatable, and can give us information about itself and its surrounding environment (via RFID – Radio Frequency Identification).

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Another major concern is if everything in the world is connected, issues of terrorism and hacking will be magnified. The IoT will be extremely vulnerable, creating immense opportunities for the security software industry. This may seem frightening and preposterous, but it is a reality. Pre-schoolers are now learning on iPads – young children brought into this technologically dependent world will embrace the IoT effortlessly. However, I think it will take us (gen X & Y) some time to get used to.

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Apple & Android: Different Ideas, Great Success.

The two hottest Smartphone’s on the market: Android & iPhone, with the battle of locked vs. generative appliances coming into play. Both successful in appealing to different tastes, however there has been much debate over one being better than the other. Ultimately, I feel it comes down to personal choice. If you’re a tech-wiz, or simply enjoy being able to fiddle with every minute feature on your phone, the Android is an appropriate choice for you. The Android allows you to take control and responsibility over the usage choices you make (via rooting) whereas the iPhone is a ‘sterile’ or closed/locked device.

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The Internet revolution challenged copyright laws, with users freely downloading music, applications, images and software (pretty much anything) – being impossible to manage. Apple attempts to prevent illegal activity used on the iPhone by controlling it as a locked appliance. Therefore a newly purchased iPhone comes tethered to Apple’s desires. To ensure this, Apple has created relative programs to use in conjunction with the iPhone, such as the iTunes store and a walled garden of applications (App store). This means that Apple have complete control over the platform, user and content. It’s also a bonus for Apple, as they receive a 30 per cent profit of everything sold in their App store, which holds almost one million applications. Some would argue that not providing the user with complete control is a negative, however the set features Apple provides seem to please a bulk of the Smartphone market. In addition, not everybody cares about the fiddly elements of their phone and prefer the simple layout Apple provides. The Android is an example of a generative and free platform, with an open garden of applications. Considering these two different devices, there has been much debate over which is better to use or preferred by consumers. The ideologies are completely opposite as Apple states that locking the options for audiences is for their own good, whereas the Android market believes users take responsibility for their free choices. Nevertheless, it is possible for iPhone users to “jailbreak” or gain ‘root’ access to the code, which allows complete control over the hardware and software.

Social Media – A Revolutionary Tool

The Arab Spring is a term expressing the revolutionary movements in 2010, which began in the Arab region. What made the Arab Spring so unique was the utilisation of social media to establish and promote uprising agendas, as these were the first collective movements in the Middle East since Internet and social media revolutions. A journal article by Richard Lindsey explores the significance of social media during the Arab Spring, allowing individuals to influence public opinion and gain international support through the global distribution of news. Lindsey assures that techniques and procedures via social media will affect future revolutionary tactics in globalised societies, however the degree to which is questionable.

Sharing mass amounts of uncensored and accurate information through social networking significantly prompted the rise in Arab Spring activists. Not only did they obtain supremacy to overthrow powerful dictatorship, but also Arab civilians were now conscious of underground communities whom they can connect with. This may have not been possible without the significant role social media played, “We use Facebook to schedule the protests… Twitter to coordinate, and YouTube to tell the world.” – Arab Spring activist from Egypt. Stories of shared grievances and hopelessness was overflowing over these networks. The use of digital storytelling through social media is what drew people into the streets to protest.

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A blog post on PolicyMic describes the use of social networks as assisting to remove the psychological barrier of fear for Arab civilians by connecting and sharing information. The consistent flow of news provided a sense of reassurance that they are not alone, and that there are others experiencing hardship, prejudice, and similar accounts of brutality. Professor of mass communications from Cairo, Hussein Amin, stated that social networks “for the first time provided activists with an opportunity to quickly disseminate information while bypassing government restrictions”. It is worthy to note that new social networking platforms were not the reason for the Arab Spring but function in serving future revolutions with regard to communication.

Hacking for the Greater Good

When we consider the term “Hacker” it typically sparks negative connotations surrounding selfish, invasive actions for personal gain. However, there are individuals who hack for global purpose, known as “Hactivists”.  An essay by Joel Nixon defines Hacktivism as the “use of technology to promote political ends, such as freedom of speech and the right to information.”  While they may violate the protection of data, Nixon states that the law should recognise hacktivists are seeking to benefit society, through the distribution of documents acknowledging government corruption. Nevertheless, the law should be stringent on citizens who seek personal gain or profit by attacking global sites and companies.

At present, hacktivists are using their abilities not only to advantage citizens but also to expose corporate nepotism and corruption. One key objective for hacktivists is to generate public availability of academic sources via universities and online libraries.

An example of this would be the case of Aaron Swartz (1986-2013), whose aim was to benefit others and not himself, which Nixon describes as ethical hacking. Swartz downloaded 4 million publicly funded JSTOR articles with the intention of distributing them freely among MIT students, resulting in fraudulent charges.

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One could argue that hacktivists, such as Swartz, who utilise their skills for a constructive purpose should not be convicted. On the other hand, some abuse their skills for unethical purposes. Hacktivist Barrett Brown, labelled spokesperson for hacking group Anonymous, was out to obtain political advantage by distributing credit card information of Stratfor operatives and threatening a federal officer. As a result, Brown was not charged with committing the hack, but for obstructing justice and transmitting stolen credit card information. Evidently, existing laws don’t specifically reprimand the action of hacking, but regulate the ownership and dissemination of illegally obtained contents. Thus it is important to note the disparity between ethical cases of hacktivism and online fraud.

Hacktivism is a significant issue as it is closely associated with two main rights within a democratic country – freedom of speech and right to information. People such as Aaron Swartz, who intended to expose corruption through the dissemination of data, can be considered activists who aim not to benefit themselves but to advantage others. A blog in the Washington Post states that Swartz also aimed to produce an understanding of the powerful influence the Internet can have in shaping popular culture. Swartz stood out from other hacktivists as he was identifiable – he existed inside and outside the system, striving to advance societal change.

The Significance of Social Media

Interaction is a significant aspect of human culture. An article by Mike Laurie investigates the different ways social media has changed us. Over time many different forms of communication have evolved. From inconvenient, labour intensive technologies such as Morse code and carrier pigeons, to instantaneous connections through wireless devices. Rather than posting a letter or buying a newspaper we are now able to share, produce, and circulate endless amounts of information in simple and effective ways.

Skeptics consider social networking to be straining society with regard to social etiquette and identity. However, I would deem these to be issues within the media as a whole and not just social media. Consider a teenage girl reading a magazine – the collaboration of articles and images would produce something to the effect of: “Wear this. Wear that. Act like this around boys. If you’re thin and pretty you will be happy and popular”. In this sense, the consumer only has the option to do just that – consume. And while these same messages may be sprawled across the Internet, we are no longer lazy consumers of passive messages – we are active participants. Social media is about being connected, engaging with old friends and creating new experiences. Instead of being limited to the information in a 25-page magazine, we can now explore what feels like infinite amounts of content. Laurie describes time before the Internet to be when limitations of learning existed due to poor literacy and lack of access to books. If “knowledge is power” and you have access to continuous information distribution, your desire for knowledge is legitimately within fingertips.

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An article By David Wallace outlines the statistics with regard to the influence social media has had beyond the notion of socialising. Employment, news, law enforcement, education, political participation, economy, music industries and marketing systems have all been prompted and enhanced through social media. A report by PEW suggested that social networks have encouraged younger generations to be more involved in political issues, a fine example of society being more interested and informed with the world around us.

Through citizen journalism comes the rise of “gatewatchers”, where user-generated content flows freely among platforms. Axel Bruns (2003) states that social networks fabricate participant communities through various understandings and interpretations. Bruns states that blogging should be recognised as a significant form of journalism. Online gatewatchers may actually compliment the mainstream journalism industry through the diversity of discussion and debate, no longer being limited by the “gatekeeper”.

The Alternate Dimension… of Attention

The most important thing in the attention economy is relevancy. An article by Alex Iskold explores the way users interact with online content, and why their attention is valuable. Iskold states that the more relevant a website’s content is, the more likely visitors are to stay on the page, thus increasing sale opportunities. But what can companies do to improve the likelihood of visitors buying their products or clicking on an advertisement? Personalisation. Sites such as Google and Facebook use personal information to filter content specific to your needs. Consumers tend to forget that their favourite search engine or social networking site are businesses (because they are free to use) – and the more information they know about you the better. Iskold claims your tailored search results and ads are typically stemmed from browsing history, online profiles etc.

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While browsing websites is technically free, you are still supplementing their value. For the currency of the online economy isn’t money, but attention. And by having the freedom to select where your attention is, your attention has worth. This is the attention economy.

“We want a world where you don’t have to ask for help or permission to write out loud.”
Clay Shirky

While online content value may be depreciating, this is what makes blogging more significant. The overflow of content indicates an innovative and progressive world, where everyone has the freedom to express themselves. If there’s so much of it this suggests that we have found a way to make global publishing effortless, and seem natural. Sounds pretty good to me.

Convergence Culture

Communication between individuals constitutes a lot of what makes us unique. Mark Deuze explores participatory culture and media convergence in his journal Convergence Culture in the Creative Industries. Deuze states that the emergence of a media environment where we are not only consuming, but also our whole online behaviour involves participation, co-creation and collaboration to some degree. Engaging with content through social networks can be defined as citizen journalism. When commenting on a YouTube video or sharing something on Facebook, you are propelling the flow within this online ecosystem. A clip by Henry Jenkins explores convergence culture as a world where stories, sounds, brands, images and relationships plays itself out across the maximum number of media channels. For those of us born in the digital age, this technological shift is one that we can adjust to and advance with little effort required. We are so used to doing everything instantaneously, at the click of a button. One of the most significant themes of media convergence is the ability to send more information further and faster.

Technology is so intertwined with our lifestyles now that we consider traditional forms of media as being “old” and useless on some levels. Why go out and buy a newspaper when I can read it on a website? Why rent a DVD when I can stream it online? Cartoons such as South Park often reference technological convergence in a humorous way. South Park’s episode A Nightmare on Facetime (Season 16, Episode 12) mocks physical media distribution when the character Randy buys a Blockbuster video store and is certain it’s going to bring his family into wealth. ’We’re going to have customers up our ass!’ Randy is proven wrong while the store poses as a “haunted” and “creepy” place that everyone avoids. This was a clever imitation addressing the death of DVD’s and video rental stores.  While Randy’s son Stan is stuck at the Blockbuster with his family, he is still present with his friends trick-or-treating via Facetime on his iPad. The use of the iPad was quite witty – throughout the episode Stan is constantly streaming videos and chatting to his friends, which really contrasted well with the eerie feel of the DVD store. While he was physically stuck in one place, he was also using multiple media platforms and entering cyberspace. South Park really utilised the relevance of convergence culture and this idea of an online environment.

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Below Property Line

Copyright is a big issue, especially since the rapid evolution of social media. Put simply, the most efficient way to avoid your intellectual property being appropriated online is to not upload it at all. While there are “safe” ways to share content, a lot of people just don’t do it. Typically, people don’t tend to feel they are doing something illegal if it is through their computer screen. There is no personal connection or affiliation with who you are “stealing” from. A couple of clicks and you are instantly breaching copyright laws. Piracy is a big one – while artists and large corporations missing out on millions from content they have created, there is little they can do to stop it. There is this general consensus of “if it’s on the internet it’s fair game” but really, it isn’t fair at all. You are legally responsible for all content you post or share online. Without crediting the original source or obtaining permission, you face the consequences.

Sharing someone else’s work online safely is when you only share from the original source. For instance, using the retweet button on Twitter. Sites such Facebook and Tumblr have “share” and “reblog” buttons for this purpose, but often users copy the content and post it without sharing directly from the source. This is a common example of somebody breaching copyright laws.

“A large, diverse society cannot survive without property; a large, diverse, and modern society cannot flourish without intellectual property.” – Lawrence Lessig

This quote from Lessig’s book Free Culture points out the importance of intellectual property. While copyright laws restrict the ways in which we can use previous creators’ work, it can stimulate individuals to generate new ideas. However, it is difficult to come up with something new. Most things we think of will have been done already in various ways. Subsequently, Lessig states that free cultures allow space for others to build upon, however with regard to increasing authorisations we are steering away from this. For example YouTube cases of people lip syncing/dancing to music, creating fandom etc are being sued for copyright infringement. It seems silly; as a lot of these cases include songs by popular artists that most people could identify without a reference. On the other hand, if the boundaries weren’t there I think prosumers would definitely take advantage of it even more than they do already.

Where is the off switch?

Technology has entirely restructured an individual’s way of working. Where we may still have a separate space for work and home, the two are now enmeshed due to the versatility of technological devices (aka casualisation). While it may be a more convenient and efficient way of working, the concept of “liquid” life via convergence of work and home now means that we are living under constant uncertain conditions.

The issue raised now is that there is difficulty maintaining a healthy home life because our lives are so intertwined with technology. Workers now feel the pressures of always being “switched on” and contactable outside of work hours. Even at university, I already have a first hand experience of this. Despite our tutors setting on campus consultation times, I noticed that more people email or tweet their concerns and questions. While this may be appropriate, encouraged (in a media and communications course) and an efficient way to interact, it still poses this idea of always being connected and therefore feeling a strain to relax during off work hours.

TIME Magazine published an article stating that in the past few years, companies such as Google have taken measures to ensure their workers have a healthier balance between work and home life. Furthermore, in January 2012, Europe’s largest automaker Volkswagen vowed to deactivate emails on German staff BlackBerries while not at work. Their devices are set to only receive emails half an hour before and after work hours. It’s good to see a company taking on board the powerful affect technology had on their workers, and finding ways to maintain equilibrium. Whilst we are only just adapting to a digital age, I hope that more boundaries are made for workers so they are able to have “off” time. In light of this, there is research to support that regular downtime prompts better productivity.

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Results in a study undertaken in February 2012 suggested that because we are constantly immersed in technology, it not only becomes habitual but addictive. The research found the majority of people consider social networking platforms and emailing more difficult to resist than cigarettes and Alcohol. In the study, 205 adults were required to wear devices which recorded almost up to 8, 000 reports of their daily desires. Sleep and sex were the most dominant, however desires for media and work proved the toughest to resist.

Carolyn Marvin, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, alleges that the addiction to our devices is a result of wanting to be “a successful member of middle class society” and states that that this is achieved by “showing our dedication to professional work and being available at all hours of the day”.

 Our concurrent immersion with all forms of media prompts contemporary modifications in the economy. While the various spheres of daily activity converge, the line between work and home are increasingly blurred.

References:

Deuze, M 2006, Liquid Life, Convergence Culture, and Media Work, March 19, Indiana University

Knowledge@Wharton 2012, ‘Why Companies Should Force Employees to Unplug’,  TIME Business & Money, weblog, 16 February,  viewed 22/08/2013, <http://business.time.com/2012/02/16/should-companies-force-employees-to-unplug/

The Network Society

The Internet has altered the way we work, socialise, create and share information. This transformation of social networking does not get the recognition it deserves. There’s been this massive transition in our lives, transitioning to a digital culture and economy.

In a 2011 report, Mckinsey Global Institute stated that in the past 5 years, the Internet accounted for 21 per cent of the GDP growth in mature economies. This technological revolution has assisted large enterprises and national economies, individual consumers and upstart entrepreneurs. Facebook and other social media sites have been some of the utmost beneficiaries from the powerful influence of the Internet – businesses can now interact with their consumers on a personal level. From a few thousand students accessing Facebook to over 1 billion global users today, Manyika and Roxburgh from the Mckinsey Global Institute stated that ‘If Internet were a sector, it would have a greater weight in GDP than agriculture or utilities’. The development and evolution of the Internet has been described as a ‘healthy Internet ecosystem’, boosting infrastructure, accessibility, and a competitive environment. This prompts innovators and entrepreneurs to flourish, nurturing human capital and in turn maximizing the ongoing affect of the Internet on prosperity and economic growth.

The vast opportunities we are provided with are being embraced and embedded into our lifestyle and culture, and it is truly amazing to be a part of it. We create, define and expand this online ecosystem at an astonishing rate. Communication is the foundation of our society, culture, humanity and identities.

‘Consisting of transactions, relationships and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications. Ours is a world that is both everywhere and nowhere, but it is not where bodies live… We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth…We are creating a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs, no matter how singular, without fear of being coerced into silence or conformity’ – John Perry Barlow

I loved one of this week’s readings, ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’. Above are my favourite excerpts, which outline the online world we are (or choose to be) a part of. I found it interesting when he says (repeatedly) about our physical bodies not living in cyberspace. I loved how he separated an individual’s physical characteristics with cyberspace, presented in this sense that you are entering a utopian world.

References:

Barlow, JP 1996, A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace, Davos Switzerland, viewed 18/08/2013,
<https://projects.eff.org/~barlow/Declaration-Final.html

Dyson, E, Gilder, G, Keyworth, G & Toffler, A 1994, Cyberspace and the American Dream: A Magna Carta for the Knowledge Age, The Progress & Freedom Foundation, viewed 18/08/2013,
<http://www.pff.org/issues-pubs/futureinsights/fi1.2magnacarta.html

Kelly, K 1999, New Rules for the New Economy, Kevin Kelly, viewed 18/08/2013,
< http://www.kk.org/newrules/newrules-intro.html

Manrika, J & Roxburgh, C 2011, The great transformer: The impact of the Internet on economic growth and prosperity, Mckinsey Global Institute, viewed 18/08/2013, <http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/high_tech_telecoms_internet/the_great_transformer