Quantify Yourself

With the smart phones in our pockets, companies are constantly collecting data about our lives and forming a picture of who we are. They use this data to tailor advertising, entice us to buy things, provide information to other companies and many other profitable means.

What if we used that very same data to benefit our own lives and profit from it ourselves? I had heard of those wristbands Nike released to calculate…whatever, but there are a variety of digital devices and apps that monitor sleep, heart rate, fitness, mood, diet, spending that provide an incredibly detailed analysis of information collected. There are even tools that help bosses monitor employees and their movements at work.

These new tools are changing our sense of self, enabling individuals to have a better self-awareness and be conscious of self-improvement techniques. We have to get to know ourselves better in order to make positive changes to our lives, which is what this data-collecting can do (Lupton, 2013).

Ginger.io is just one of the companies that aims to help researchers, healthcare providers and individuals to learn and use the data collected on individual people to better their lives. They use the data collected to map patterns, and produce research from the large amounts of data produced by individuals everyday – with their permission, of course.

There is also a role for Social networks to assist people in collaborating and contribute that information that they collect and form communities.

This data is being collected about us anyway (why is no one else as freaked out about Google Now?!) so we should take advantage of it and use it to our advantage.

Here is a list of some of the best personal data tools out there.

Lupton, D. (2013) ‘Understanding the human machine’, IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, Vol. 32, (4), pp. 25 – 30

The New Battlegrounds

We celebrate the internet is providing an increase in communication that has given a voice to the voiceless and enabling the organisation and publication of the domino effect uprisings in the Arab Spring over the last few years. Just as activists have used online communication as a method of organising protests and conveying information, there is a movement of pro-regime hacktivists who have fought back in support of the Syrian government.

The Syrian Electronic Army has unleashed attacks on websites and media outlets within Syria and also around the world that have shown opposition to the Syrian Government, or even just sympathise with those who are in opposition. These clever and highly skilled individuals use a range of methods including Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks on websites and flooding comment strands. They have hit a range of sites including the Guardian, BBC, eBay, PayPal, Forbes, CNN, Microsoft and many more.

Further, the SEA have made attacks against other Cyber-vigilante groups such as Anonymous, who hacked a number of government websites of different countries involved in the Arab Spring. The SEA enjoys showing their power and threatening against attacks that might come in opposition to the Syrian government.

Cyber warfare is a huge reality today as countless masked individuals wreak havoc to prove a point, take down organisations they disagree with, make money and simply because they can. As Misha Glenny states, “There are two types of companies in the world: those that know they’ve been hacked and those that don’t”. There are soldiers on every side, and many on their own teams, which is rather frightening as it seems inevitable that security be breached wherever we visit online.

It is interesting to note, though, the changing nature of warfare as the internet continues to prove itself as a powerful global tool.

Fisher, M, Keller, J, 2011, ‘Syria’s Digital Counter-Revolutionaries’, The Atlantic

Snowed In

Last year the Snowden story broke adding to the increasing hype surrounding Wikileaks and whistleblowing antics. Instantly a divide was created between those calling him a hero for shedding light on the misconduct of the NSA (National Security Agency) and those who called him a traitor to his country revealing information that demonised his own government.

He revealed how the NSA was partnering with big corporations to gain personal information data about individuals in the name of security, known as PRISM. The NSA downplayed the details and extent of the data they collected which Snowden felt was going too far. Without public consent and even members of government having limited knowledge the question of trust is brought up in the violation of rights that Americans hold so dearly to.

Americans entrust their rights into their government’s hands, but Snowden feels that our rights in the western world matter so that individuals should be able to purchase books, tickets, make calls and send texts without wondering how these events might look to their government, or any other government for that matter.

“Trusting any authority with the entirety of human communications is simply too great a temptation to be ignored” Snowden

He’s one man’s hero and the next man’s traitor, but what he has done is open up the floor to questioning the actions of Western governments, which is really rather terrifying. Knowing these things only makes me wonder what we still don’t know…

 

Greenwald, G, 2013, NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily, The Guardian, 6 June 2013 

Sterling, B. (2013). The Ecuadorian Library or, The Blast Shack After Three Years

It’s a fine line between activism and slacktivism

Gladwell’s thoughts are justified. There have been incredibly large protests and socially altering gatherings of people that happened long before the internet. It doesn’t help though, as Popova notes, that he has no personal experience with social media and the creative outlet it provides. Many claim that the internet has enabled “clicktivism” and “slacktivism” where individuals feel as though they are making a difference by liking a Facebook page about stopping racism. Yet as digital-natives, growing up on the computer, our generation is generally less engaged with face-to-face participation: we live online.

I think it is too simple to say that social media doesn’t change anything or offer something new to the way protests and activism occurs. Of course these social media platforms aren’t the sole cause and driving force of social movements. Yet it is undeniable that platforms especially Twitter enable the necessary communication in helping fast gatherings and protests form.

About a year ago I went to one of the first refugee rallies of a string of them, held in Sydney. I only found out about this on Facebook and because some friends of mine were going I was encouraged to go and although I feel this produced little to no effect politically, it was good to be a part of something I feel strongly about. No we don’t have protests that draw thousands to overthrow government here in Australia, but in my own little way, I could see the value of social media in raising awareness and organising events.

So I think we can see the value of these social media platforms, but there has to be a drive behind it from individuals forming collectives. The internet is simply a tool that enables things to happen, so let’s not get carried away with the notion of the internet being our saving grace, but let’s also get off our asses and be passionate about something beyond a screen.

References:

Gladwell, M, 2010, Small Change, The New Yorker Online, 4 October, 2010, 

Popova, M, 2010, Malcolm Gladwell Is #Wrong, The Design Observer Group

An Ambient Awareness

As we look at the way new media enables us to gather and disseminate information, I want to pick up on a notion that Johnson mentions at the beginning of his article. The term ambient awareness is thrown around a lot by Clive Thompson, which he defines as “the deep, rich, intellectual, and social connections we develop with each other via short-form status updates”. The concept basically refers to how new technologies allow us to share details about our lives and days with a status or photo on the various platforms we engage with.

Thompson’s work over the last 6 or more years has looked at how technology makes us more intelligent and social media enables us to make better connections and build up our information sources. Much of his work has looked at social media and the public conversation that we are welcome to take part of.

Thompson argues that even the mundane posts across social media are important. Individually they may not be so interesting but over a period of months and years we begin to formulate a picture of this person’s life, also sharing in big news items they might notify the world about. Rather than having to ask people about themselves, we just know things about them. We feel as though we know people before we’ve met them, because of a presence on social media. And this is so normal!

I remember a few years ago when I would be introduced to a mutual friend and I would say, “oh, I think we’ve met”… only to realise that I had just recognised them from a casual facebook stalking trawl. I would even be slightly alarmed when I would be telling someone about my week and they would say, “oh, yeah, I knew that. I saw that on Facebook”. But we are not embarrassed by our stalking tendencies any longer! It’s perfectly normal to begin a conversation with “I saw on Insta the other day that you were at Swell, how was the coffee?”

And it is so useful to be able to let everyone in your life know immediately that you have begun a new relationship or whatever, don’t get me wrong, I can see the convenience, but I feel like there is something slightly missing.  We build these bridges of pebbles, but we miss out on verbally sharing and physically being with each other. There is value in asking someone a question about their life that we don’t already know the answer to. We can build up a sense of a person, and feel as though we are close with them when really we haven’t spent much time with them at all. I feel this can often be one-sided, pertaining to our egotistical nature where we are the celebrity in our own mind.

These are the things we should be considering when making our mark in the public sphere.

Agger, M, 2013, Interview: Clive Thompson’s “Smarter Than Your Think, The New Yorker, October 29, 2013 http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/interview-clive-thompsons-smarter-than-you-think

Johnson, S. (2009). How Twitter Will Change The Way We Live. Time File

Clive Thompson Talks ‘Smarter Than You Think’, Huffington Post Live Interview, October 17, 2013 http://live.huffingtonpost.com/r/segment/clive-thompson-talks-smarter-than-you-think/5255bccffe3444158d00025b

Open, yet closed

Purists say the origins of the internet stood for open access and freedom to create and build on the ideas of others. However in a capitalised market, this method would ever last as we saw companies coming in to make their money in the new market of the World Wide Web.

Raymond teaches us that Programmers know that it’s better to start from something and fix it up than to completely write new software. Great programs are built from the hard work and code of previous programmers’ work, this is the beauty of open-source, enabling improvement and the general betterment of programs. Within code-sharing communities, projects naturally evolve through the collaboration and participation of a number of interested parties to produce the most functional software and programming that can continuously be altered and improved.

This is what we see happening with the original Android and any non-Apple software, as programmers are free to use the creativity of those who have travelled before them to make improvements and share ideas. Ted describes Apples business as closed appliances tethered to a closed ecosystem and he defines Google’s business philosophy as open standards for mobile devices, where connectivity is the product. The core business models for Apple and Android couldn’t be more different, or so we think.

When the first iPhone came out in 2007, Google was in the early stages of producing mobile technology and was far behind in the phone arena. Their solution to gain some footing in the market was to create an open source alliance and have their programming available for everyone to use. This helped the company gain momentum, since then however more and more of their programs are being created in a closed source setting, keeping their work closer to their chest. (Amadeo, 2013)

In a constantly fluctuating market, the Google is moving more in the direction of the Apple closed appliances, but the business model of keeping the ecosystem open and connectivity centered seems solid enough. After all they are dominating the market now.

 

 

Amadeo, R, 2013, Google’s iron grip on Android: controlling open source by any means necessary, Wired Magazine, 21 October 2013

Raymond, E, 2001, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, pp.1-31

 

Copyright law – Who is it protecting?

Copyright laws are certainly outdated when it comes to the internet, and are a product of big corporations, namely Disney, continuing to change the laws and going to ridiculous lengths in the name of protecting their characters and stories (which they took from others in the first place). This irony causes us to question whether or not copyright laws are helpful. Lessig does not think so and outlines the classic example of the Disney, to point out the flaws in the current system.

“Creators here and everywhere are always and at all times building upon the creativity that went before and that surrounds them now” (Lessig, 2004, p. 29).

Yet when we contrast this with the increasing control big companies have over us and the content that we create it is astounding to consider the copyright laws. As Ted describes, the walled gardens of big corporations like Google and Facebook mirror the feudal manor of the Medieval ages. However economy is no longer based on land, it revolves around content. These big corporations technically own everything that we share/write/post/do in and through their domain. Just check the terms and conditions you have signed up to with Google.

So we are not allowed to be inspired or create anything remotely close to anything that has already been created, and whenever we do create something- anything and want to share it via the internet, technically we are giving full control of this to the big corporations that we go through.

I think it is important that we are questioning not only the outdated copyright laws that often restrict creativity, but also be aware how much content and information we are freely handing over to the powers that be.

Lessig, L, 2004, Creators, In Free Culture: How Big Media uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Strangle Creativity accessed from http://www.authorama.com/free-culture-4.html