impressonion


Google Glass – Case Study

Posted in Media by impressonion on April 15, 2014
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Fighting the Wildfire that is the War on Internet Freedoms

This week’s reading and video assignments—the book “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom” by Rebecca MacKinnon, and the video “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks” directed by Alex Gibney—raise a lot of troublesome topics that have the potential to affect every single person on the planet. Though the issues are centered on the internet and mostly online worlds, the effects of decisions made therein have the power to reverberate across any digital divide and disturb every individual in every country. That is because we are not just talking about online freedoms—they may start online, but they have real-world implications that affect the physical freedoms of even those who are unable to access the internet. For these reasons, the issues discussed in the book and video are greater in magnitude than may first seem.

Rebecca MacKinnon

Rebecca MacKinnon

MacKinnon highlights numerous examples of companies who deal in digital realms that control major portions of the internet and major websites used by massive user groups for all manner of reasons—Google, Facebook, Twitter—whose influence includes real-world consequences. She also discusses situations in which governments around the world make decisions to alter their citizens’ online access, resulting in changes in the physical world. Because these organizations have such an enormous level of impact on people’s daily lives, they must be held to a higher standard than is currently in place. “The reality is that the corporations and governments that build, operate, and govern cyberspace are not being held sufficiently accountable for their exercise of power over the lives and identities of people who use digital networks. They are sovereigns operating without the consent of the networked.”

Protestors demonstrate against the dictatorship of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunis, January 14, 2011 (Photo: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

Protestors demonstrate against the dictatorship of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali,
Tunis, January 14, 2011 (Photo: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)

I would say that MacKinnon’s claim should go one step further. She references “the networked” but even those who are not a part of the digital network are affected. When protests, revolutions, and civil wars are fought both online and offline, those who are not networked are still a part of the fight. When information is restricted on the internet, those who get their information secondhand, by word-of-mouth, get even less than before. So the “sovereigns” who govern cyberspace should not only consider how their actions affect the networked, they should also consider the greater worldwide effects that may reach everyone on earth.

Even though there are still wide gulfs where the digital divide shows proof of stark inequalities between the connected and the disconnected, the need for global “netizen” rights that MacKinnon calls for could effectively help those on both sides. “It is now up to the world’s netizens to figure out how to build a sustainable civilization within the new digital rain forest—in which we find sustenance and shelter amid the poisonous plants and deadly predators.” If these goals are achieved, they can provide a framework to extend out into the far reaches of the un-networked as well.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange

I find myself sounding a little uncharacteristically optimistic. Let me be a little more real. MacKinnon’s goals are extremely lofty, just as were those of the fallen WikiLeaks god, Julian Assange. They will not come without the long and arduous toil of the “netizens,” an endless tug-of-war between concerned individuals and groups and the vested interests of the companies and governments who are far more interested in improving their bottom line. As MacKinnon says,

Solutions that adequately protect netizen rights will come about, however, only if netizens of the world participate actively in devising them. The more we actively use the Internet to exercise our rights as citizens and to improve our societies, the harder it will be for governments and corporations to chip away at our freedoms, arguing as they so often do that we do not deserve them, and treating us like reprobates.

I get a kind of Smokey the Bear vibe from MacKinnon’s call to action. I can imagine some authoritative bear figure standing in front of a forest fire that represents the chaos of the internet freedom war. He points an accusatory furry finger at the viewer and proclaims, “Only YOU can prevent the loss of your own internet freedoms!” And if you don’t listen to that bear, you have only yourself to blame.

Smokey the Bear

Why McLuhan Matters: Intent and Significance of “The Medium is the Message”

Posted in Media by impressonion on March 25, 2014
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

As required for class, I have attached my take-home midterm exam to this blog post. Not that I expect anyone other than my professor to read it, but if you do, feel free to share your impressonions!

The essay is written on a topic that is essential to understanding the technological media of today. Earlier this semester, when I first started reading the sources cited within, I struggled to grasp the concepts. But once I understood them, I realized just how important they are to our technologically advanced world and the future.

Thanks for reading!

Brooks Take Home Midterm Exam – Why McLuhan Matters

Research Proposal: Evolution of Digital Books vs. Physical Books

Posted in Media by impressonion on March 18, 2014
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Below is my research proposal for my EMAC 6300 class. It is not the same as my original ideas, which I found to be a bit difficult to research. I have also attached my proposal in a pdf file here:

Research Paper Proposal

Evolution of Digital Books vs. Physical Books

The history of the printed word—and thus physical book publishing—is rich with intrigue and vital cultural relevance. When Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, society began to undergo a fundamental change in the way people communicated and even their very thought processes. According to McLuhan, we live under a “typographic spell,” instituted by the creation of the printing press and the subsequent inundation of modern society with physical books and the ability to read them. Today it would be hard to imagine a world without books and all the vast and entangled changes that they have brought to society—many of which we may not even recognize.

Now we face a new chapter in the history of books in which they are being transformed into various digital formats for consumption by both readers who are long familiar with physical books, and new generations who are much more comfortable with all things digital. The printed book industry is facing major upheavals as the media transitions to digital formats. These changes will likely affect society in a similar way to the original printed word.

I want to explore the new forms that books are taking, and discover how readers are reacting to these forms. I hope to find out which formats are being favored, or if readers still prefer physical books on the whole. To narrow the focus of this paper, I will research several websites and digital book subscription offerings to discover what options are available and how they compare to one another. I expect that my findings will help me select a single media object, or maybe two or three for comparison, on which I can focus more carefully. I will also briefly review the history of book publishing and the relevant effects it has caused, to emphasize the magnitude of these new changes and provide background for the current status of the industry.

 Potential questions:

  1. How do new digital formats for books compare to each other and to physical books?
  2. What trends are emerging for digital book use vs. physical book use?
  3. Do book readers want to engage with literature the way they engage with magazines?
  4. Can they afford to do so? Will people sign up for yet another monthly charge?
  5. Will digital book subscribers have the intellectual bandwidth to consume what they bought? Does that matter?
  6. Will they come to trust or despise the online studios pushing books onto their phones and iPads any more or less than current physical book publishers?

Potential sources from outside of class:

Tate, R. (2014). The Future of Books Looks a Lot Like Netflix. Wired.com. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/business/2014/03/books-become-magazines/

Peterson, P. (2014) Love libraries? Then you’re probably ahead of the technological curve. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2014/03/13/love-libraries-then-youre-probably-ahead-of-the-technological-curve/

Open Library. Retrieved from https://openlibrary.org/

Nawotka, E. Bexar County’s Library on a Cloud. Texas Monthly. Retrieved from http://www.texasmonthly.com/story/bexar-countys-library-cloud

Allen, D. (2014). How Complexity Theory Affects Social Media, Streaming and Musicians. LinkedIn.com. Retrieved from http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140122193329-269150-complexity-theory-and-its-effect-on-social-media-streaming-music-services-and-musicians?goback=.nmp_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1_*1&trk=nus-cha-roll-art-title

Potential sources from class readings:

Drahos and Braithwaite, Information Feudalism: Who Owns the Knowledge Economy?

McLuhan, “The Medium is the Message”

The problem with collectivism – Wading through Jaron Lanier’s “Digital Maoism”

Maoism, formally known as Mao Zedong Thought, is a political theory derived from the teachings of the Chinese political leader Mao Zedong… Maoism sees the agrarian peasantry, rather than the working class, as the key revolutionary force which can fundamentally transform capitalist society towards socialism. Holding that ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,’ Maoist organizations mainly draw upon Mao’s ideology of the People’s War, mobilizing large parts of rural populations to revolt against established institutions by engaging in guerrilla warfare. Maoism views the industrial-rural divide as a major division exploited by capitalism, identifying capitalism as involving industrial urban developed ‘First World’ societies ruling over rural developing ‘Third World’ societies.”

Mao's official portrait at Tiananmen gate

Mao’s official portrait at Tiananmen gate

“Although Maoism is critical of urban industrial capitalist powers, it views urban industrialization as a required prerequisite to expand economic development and socialist reorganization to the countryside, with the goal being the achievement of rural industrialization that would abolish the distinction between town and countryside.”

“Maoism can also refer to the egalitarianism that was seen during Mao’s era as opposed to the free-market ideology of Deng Xiaoping…”

Egalitarianism… is a trend of thought that favors equality for all people. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status… the term has two distinct definitions in modern English. It is defined either as a political doctrine that all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people or the decentralisation of power.”

…I took these definitions, amusingly, from Wikipedia. I needed something more to ground my understanding of the essay by Jaron Lanier, “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism,” as it has been some time since I studied world history.

When I first read through the essay, it seemed to make a lot of sense to me. I was surprised, therefore, to find that a number of other forward-thinking authorities on the subject appeared to disagree with Lanier, at least in some respect. The featured comments following Lanier’s essay offered a broader range of thoughts relating to the subject and Lanier’s chosen descriptive term, Digital Maoism. Reading through these prompted me to question whether I fully understood the concepts and his argument, and if I really agreed with what he was saying.

Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier

If Lanier’s basic points were these:

  • Wikipedia is troublesome because, “A core belief of the wiki world is that whatever problems exist in the wiki will be incrementally corrected as the process unfolds,” but unfortunately, “Sometimes loosely structured collective activities yield continuous improvements and sometimes they don’t.”
  • Online collectivism is hazardous because, “In the last year or two the trend has been to remove the scent of people, so as to come as close as possible to simulating the appearance of content emerging out of the Web as if it were speaking to us as a supernatural oracle. This is where the use of the Internet crosses the line into delusion.”
  • He also says, “The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.”
  • But collectivism can be useful when, “The reason the collective can be valuable is precisely that its peaks of intelligence and stupidity are not the same as the ones usually displayed by individuals. Both kinds of intelligence are essential.”
  • And also, “If the code that ran the Wikipedia user interface were as open as the contents of the entries, it would churn itself into impenetrable muck almost immediately. The collective is good at solving problems which demand results that can be evaluated by uncontroversial performance parameters, but bad when taste and judgment matter.”
  • Lanier concludes with, “The hive mind should be thought of as a tool. Empowering the collective does not empower individuals — just the reverse is true. There can be useful feedback loops set up between individuals and the hive mind, but the hive mind is too chaotic to be fed back into itself.”
  • And, “The illusion that what we already have is close to good enough, or that it is alive and will fix itself, is the most dangerous illusion of all. By avoiding that nonsense, it ought to be possible to find a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without turning ourselves into idiots. The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.”

Then some of the points and counterpoints from responders that I found most valuable were these:

  • Lanier’s piece hits a nerve because human life always exists in tension between our individual and group identities, inseparable and incommensurable. For ten years now, it’s been apparent that the rise of the digital was providing enormous new powers for the individual. It’s now apparent that the world’s networks are providing enormous new opportunities for group action. Understanding how these cohabiting and competing revolutions connect to deep patterns of intellectual and social work is one of the great challenges of our age. — Clay Shirky
  • The bottom-up hive mind will always take us much further that seems possible. It keeps surprising us. In this regard, the Wikipedia truly is exhibit A, impure as it is, because it is something that is impossible in theory, and only possible in practice. It proves the dumb thing is smarter than we think. At that same time, the bottom-up hive mind will never take us to our end goal. We are too impatient. So we add design and top down control to get where we want to go. — Kevin Kelly
  • This rich context, attached to many Wikipedia articles, is known as a “talk page.” The talk page is where the writers for an article hash out their differences, plan future edits, and come to agreement about tricky rhetorical points. This kind of debate doubtless happens in the New York Times and Britannica as well, but behind the scenes. Wikipedia readers can see it all, and understand how choices were made. — Fernanda Viegas & Matthew Wattenberg
  • My response is quite simple: this alleged “core belief” is not one which is held by me, nor as far as I know, by any important or prominent Wikipedians. Nor do we have any particular faith in collectives or collectivism as a mode of writing. Authoring at Wikipedia, as everywhere, is done by individuals exercising the judgment of their own minds. — Jimmy Wales
  • The debate does demonstrate how much we need to update our media literacy in a digital, distributed era. Our internal BS meters already work, but they’ve fallen into a low and sad level of use in the Big Media world. Many people tend to believe what they read. Others tend to disbelieve everything. Too few apply appropriate skepticism and do the additional work that true media literacy requires. — Dan Gillmor
  • …collective action is not the same as collectivism. Commons-based peer production in Wikipedia, open source software, and prediction markets is collective action, not collectivism. Collective action involves freely chosen self-election (which is almost always coincident with self-interest) and distributed coordination; collectivism involves coercion and centralized control; treating the Internet as a commons doesn’t mean it is… — Howard Rheingold

And best of all, I felt, was the response by Esther Dyson. It seemed to me to be an argument slightly in disagreement with Lanier, and one where I can see both his points and hers, and agree with some of each.

I think the real argument is between voting or aggregating — where anonymous people raise or lower things in esteem by the weight of sheer numbers — vs. arguments by recognizable, individuals that answer the arguments of other individuals… Arguments may win or lose and a consensus argument or belief may arise, but it is structured, and emerges more finely shaped than what mere voting or “collectivism” would have produced.

That’s why we have representative government — in theory at least. Certain people — designated “experts” — sit together to design something that is supposed to be coherent. (That’s the vision, anyway.) You can easily vote both for lower taxes and more services, but you can’t design a consistent system that will deliver that.

So, to get the best results, we have people sharpening their ideas against one another rather than simply editing someone’s contribution and replacing it with another. We also have a world where the contributors have identities (real or fake, but consistent and persistent) and are accountable for their words. — Esther Dyson

I think just reading Lanier’s essay is a way to get an intelligent, but one-sided opinion. There are definitely multiple views on these issues, and the other writers here offer those quite eloquently. If I had just read the first part, I probably wouldn’t have fully understood the discussion.

It seems that the problem with collectives OR collectivism can be quite real, but that perhaps Lanier did a disservice to his argument by not fully recognizing the extent of his examples. I agree with his ultimate conclusion, but I also agree with the other writers here who suggest that Wikipedia isn’t such a murky collectivism as Lanier perceives it to be, and that it and similar sites that offer “collective action” are more coordinated and intelligently designed than they might appear.

Wikipedia

Remix: The Death of Copyright

Posted in Media by impressonion on February 11, 2014
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

In danah boyd’s article, “Social Network Sites as Networked Publics – Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications,” the author makes a couple key points that I found quite interesting, especially because they seem to tie my two classes together. For those of you just tuning in, you can find this article in Chapter 2 of the book A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites, publically available in a pdf here.

In addition to my Intro to Emerging Media and Communication class, I am taking HUAS 6339: Painting/Digital Imaging/Video with John Pomara. In this class, one of the topics we have discussed so far is the changing face of photography, from the traditional, chemical form it first took to the digital, highly manipulable form that now seems to be taking over the genre. In this class, the discussion took the form of the argument that digital photography is transforming the meaning of the medium, making traditional photography both less relevant and less trustworthy—in effect causing “the death” of traditional photography.

death of photography

boyd’s article says that one of the four affordances that emerges out of the properties of bits (the unit that makes up the digital architecture within which digital networks must exist) and plays a significant role in configuring networked publics is persistence:

“While spoken conversations are ephemeral, countless technologies and techniques have been developed to capture moments and make them persistent. The introduction of writing allowed people to create records of events, and photography provided a tool for capturing a fleeting moment. Yet, as Walter Ong (2002) has argued, the introduction of literacy did more than provide a record; it transformed how people thought and communicated. Furthermore, as Walter Benjamin (1969) has argued, what is captured by photography has a different essence than the experienced moment. Both writing and photography provide persistence, but they also transform the acts they are capturing.”

This idea strikes me as a reflection of McLuhan’s “The Medium is the Message” message. It seems that whatever the content of the writing or photograph may be, the fact that it is written or photographed changes it fundamentally.

boyd uses these examples to argue that the persistence of information in digital networks can be problematic: “The text and the multimedia may be persistent, but what sticks around may lose its essence when consumed outside of the context in which it was created. The persistence of conversations in networked publics is ideal for asynchronous conversations, but it also raises new concerns when it can be consumed outside of its original context.”

While I think this is true, I am more interested in the concept that this persistence and loss of original context is becoming more widely accepted. People using the internet are aware of the fact that original sources may be hard to come by, but also that original sources may not even matter. They will consume the content with or without original context, and are plenty prepared to do so.

(C) Ted Goff

(C) Ted Goff

boyd addresses this concept further in another section of the article, saying, “Persistence and replicability also complicate notions of ‘authenticity,’ as acts and information are not located in a particular space or time and, because of the nature of bits, it is easy to alter content, making it more challenging to assess its origins and legitimacy.”

This is a problem that artists and musicians have been facing ever since their creative works began to become increasingly available online. But, according to boyd, “While remix is politically contentious, it reflects an active and creative engagement with cultural artifacts (Lessig, 2005), amplifying ongoing efforts by people to make mass culture personally relevant by obliterating the distinctions between consumers and producers.”

The idea of “remix” is becoming more widely accepted. Having grown up in some ways connected to the art world and with the awareness of rampant digital art theft, I was surprised to find that Professor Pomara accepts and even welcomes the concept of remix in his art classes. He seems to be well-versed in different types of digital art, including that of borrowing someone else’s creation in order to “remix” it into new art.

Simpsonized Art by Meowza Katz

Simpsonized Art by Meowza Katz

Having now read boyd’s comments on remix, it seems even more likely that this concept is gaining greater acceptance. Still, I am curious to hear what various artists and creators actually think when they see remixed versions of their work being sold and consumed without even their prior knowledge, let alone some kind of royalties being paid for the original source.

Another example is the emergence of open source code, open source programs, and open source hardware. Projects like Arduino allow people who are not typically considered programmers to learn and experiment with programming thanks to open source prototyping and support networks. The project’s site even says “It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.”

All of this strikes me as a major fundamental shift in the way art is created and consumed. And though I say art, I also mean anything that can be considered as one person or one group’s creation, which previously would have been subject to copyright law—art, writing, music, code, and many others. This change is being directly facilitated by technology and digital networks. It is still being fought with lawyers and money, as copyright law is nowhere near obsolete. But clearly the opinion of the people—the consumers—the opinion which makes the most difference in overall progress—is changing with the very tides of technology.

(C) Chris Madden (C) Roy Lichtenstein (C) Irv Novick

(C) Chris Madden (C) Roy Lichtenstein (C) Irv Novick …..ironic, isn’t it?

Codecademy

Posted in Media by impressonion on February 4, 2014
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For my Intro to EMAC class we are required to work through lessons on Codecademy.com and post screenshots when we complete certain courses.

Over the past two days I worked through the HTML & CSS course. It was interesting to get a beginner’s view of HTML, as I have been working with it for about three years. I am mostly self-taught, so while I had already figured out most of the basics in this section on my own, other parts were things I had never picked up on, or had not fully grasped without formal instruction.

However, I had never tried CSS at all, so that was completely new. I found it a bit confusing, mostly because once you have been introduced to a particular code and gone over it a couple of times, the site stops reminding you how to write it. At the beginning it was no big deal, but by the end I found myself wishing I had a glossary to reference different bits of code. Maybe I should have been taking notes? P:

I also had trouble with the website towards the end. Codecademy would tell me that I should see certain code, but it did not display. And then it told me that certain changes to the code would produce certain results, but the results were not entirely accurate. Some of this may have had to do with my computer settings, but I was unable to fix them. I was still able to complete all the lessons and finish the course. I definitely recommend the site for beginners who have interest in coding!

Here is my screenshot!

Finished HTML & CSS Course!

Finished HTML & CSS Course!

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