Monday, November 25, 2013
Here by the way is the list of questions I brought to the panel in my capacity of moderator. I didn't actually get to ask all of them of course:
1) Are we being watched? What precisely is the substance of Edward Snowden's revelations?
2) How much do we need to temper our hopes that the internet can be a positive force for democracy and freedom?
3) Is the problem we are discussing a technological problem or a political one?
4) Is the choice between privacy and security always a zero sum game?
5) What historical abuses exist that might scare people who arent very concerned by the amount of govt. surveillance that is happening today?
6) Is privacy over-rated?
7) Have we absorbed the lessons from 1984?
8) Is the NSA abusing it’s surveillance prerogatives?
9) Is the rule-of-law being abrogated? Do we have an independent judiciary and an open and accountable government?
10) What over-sight or checks and balances exist to ensure that our surveillance agencies are abiding by the law?
11) What is a reasonable amount of privacy?
12) What surveillance actions, in the name of national security is it reasonable for the govt. to take?
13) Should our expectations about privacy evolve as our technology evolves? Should privacy rights be determined by technological context?
14) Technology is always in the position of making the legal system play catch up. New forms of surveillance emerge that the law and the courts haven’t anticipated. Can the public be assured that surveillance wont be used for fishing expeditions, that surveillance data wont be stored in perpetuity, and only accessed as needed?
15) Given the abuses that Snowden/Greenwald have unveiled, is it reasonable for the public to demand a very high threshold for the gathering, storage, and use of surveillance information?
----put in audit mechanisms to sanction and uncover abuse. But don’t put in place front end barriers
----fantasy that more info leads to greater clarity
16) In eastern european nations regimes looked at the telephone and said, oh, here is an opportunity to find out who is against us! and then proceeded to put taps on their phones. Don't we want to reject that?
17) Why should anybody who is not a criminal be worried? "I have nothing to hide. So why worry?"
---A sensible answer if we could assume that govt. doesn't make mistakes, is always accurate, is always honest, and isn't full of Hoover types. But are they?
18) Are we allowing our fear of terrorism to trump our desire for privacy? Conversely, are we allowing our desire for privacy jeapordize our security?
19) Is the choice between privacy and security always a zero sum game?
20) Should we be more concerned about the way govt. is surveilling us, or the way private corporations do? From whom do we have more to fear?
21) Is it effective to gather all this data? Is more data necessarilly better?
22) Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor?
23) Would a public conversation about the powers of the NSA happened anyway in spite of Snowden? Hadn't Obama asked
24) To what extent should we expect to see the powers of the NSA curbed (or at least more broadly audited) in the wake of Snowden's revelations? Does the presidency have a very strong incentive to reform govt. surveillance? Google and Amazon claim that they are experiencing serious losses due to customers who are uneasy about the Americans govt. power to tap into these services. Will those losses incentivize the govt. to curtail surveillance more?
25) What can we do as citizens and or hacktivists to uphold the imperatives of security, privacy and the rule-of-law?
Friday, November 15, 2013
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Now that Evgeny Morozov is enrolled in grad school I wonder whether that indicates that he harbors some of the same doubts that you have about the quality of his work. And if I was one of the many authors he has trashed I’d probably be pretty sympathetic to the portrait you draw of him in your review: Perhaps he does unfairly skew the arguments of his opponents. Still, I wonder if all of that might be forgiven given the fact that your essay is inspired by Russell Jacoby’s laments about the decline of public intellectuals. Jacoby might have written his work in the 80′s but I doubt things have changed much in academe, or specifically in political science, since its publication. My bet is that the American Political Science Association and its associated journals are still producing desiccating works that are unreadable by anybody but the most dedicated wonks. Which is too bad because politics, and the politics of technology, should hardly be the province of political science alone. It may currently take the agonism (and imprecisions) of Morozov to spark a public conversation about power and how power is redistributed by technology. But that’s a better outcome than relegating those debates to professionals inside academe. (from: http://crookedtimber.org/2013/09/10/internet-intellectuals/#comment-482358 )
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Saturday, January 26, 2013
My spouse and I are doing research on emotional responses to a variety of 19th and 20th century communication technologies. While doing that, we've naturally been thinking about how past responses compare to contemporary ones. There are a lot of interesting comparisons. But one that is particularly topical is the Manti Te'o incident which resonates with a 1971 Readers Digest article titled "An Affair By Phone"(1) (which is a condensation from the book Another Self) by James Lees-Milne. The Readers Digest article is only three pages long and I'm tempted to copy and paste it straight into this blog. But given the copyright restrictions, a short summary and a quote or two is all I can offer:
In September of 1941, Mr. Lees-Milne was recovering from a bombing raid in London and was trying to telephone a friend but accidentally got connected with a woman with whom he started chatting. As Lees-Milne recalled:
"She was enchanting. The late hour and our anonymity broke down all those absurdly conventional reserves which usually hedge two people during preliminary meetings after an introduction. But when I suggested that we ought to introduce ourselves, she would not have it. It might spoil everything, she said."
That chat turned into an extended telephone relationship that was predicated and enhanced by the medium in which it was conducted:
"Never a night passed when we were both in London that we did not telephone, no matter how late. I would look forward to our next talk the whole preceding day. If I went away for the weekend and was unable to telephone she complained that she could hardly get to sleep for loneliness."
In spite of this dependency, Lees-Milne never persuaded the woman to meet in person because she thought that if they met in person and "found we did not love, as then we did, it would kill her."
The affair continued for some time until one night the woman's phone line went dead. Lees-Milne investigated and found out that the woman had been killed in a direct hit during the London bombings.
Ok, it's not quite the Manti Te'o story but the narratives are similar enough to evoke comparison: both relationships take place entirely over a network, the network, in turn, simultaneously enhances and limits the relationship. And of course, both stories end in tragedy (although one tragedy may be true while the other is imaginary).
There are other more recent historical precedents to the Manti Te'o's including the 2010 film Catfish. But "An Affair By Phone" serves to remind us that online relationships are not of recent vintage: they've been around for some time--and some embody genuine emotion.
Footnote 1: "An Affair by Phone" (Readers Digest, August 1971. Vol 115, p54-56)
Sunday, January 20, 2013
I used it last night while watching Django. All Cinemode seemed to do was dim the screen and send me a coupon for a free drink after the movie ended. Oddly, I mistakenly used it at a non-Cinemark theater so my guess is that it's not location aware. Here are some observations about it:
1) I like Cinemode's carrot (rather than stick) approach toward encouraging disconnection. It encourages particular behaviors by giving away free drinks rather than by kicking people out of the theater. In contrast, in my storyboards I envision students logging into the app to recover a lab fee. But that is sort of a stick-masquerading-as-a-carrot. And another problem with the lab fee approach is that I doubt that many universities would allow instructors to impose such a fee even if it was ultimately redeemable. Following Cinemode's model, maybe a better approach is simply to make my app function as an attendance taker: The student logs in at the beginning of class and if they stay logged into the app for the whole class (or a good portion of the class) then that counts as a day of attendance (which could then be counted as part of their grade). Another advantage of doing it this way is that my app would then double as an attendance taker.
2) One paradox of building attendance-taking into a mobile app is that one then needs to figure out how to accommodate the students who don't have smart phones. In my C.S. department that's a diminishing group of people (about 85% of our students carry them). But it's still a cohort of users that need to be catered to. I guess one can still pass around a piece of paper or provide a web login if the classroom is computer equipped. But I'm open to other suggestions.
3) A common question raised when I peddle the app is that students with offspring want to stay in touch with their kids even when in class. My reply is that a Walden-zone app isn't a device that is meant to be an enforcement mechanism so much as a mechanism that gently encourages disconnection to counter the way that most apps (and Web business models) gently encourage more connection. To accommodate parents, the app would have a variety of disconnection settings that they could choose from. Fully enabled, the app would dim the screen and disable the audio and the vibrating mechanism. But users could choose what level of disconnection they prefer. The point of the app is to encourage mindfulness about one's connections and to encourage practices that counter the digital-maximalist philosophy that is embedded in most of our apps. It isn't meant as a draconian device that stamps out disagreements about digital practices or denies people their freedom to choose.
4) Speaking of disagreements, emerging technologies are fertile ground for arguing about what constitutes proper social etiquette. In building a Walden zone app, my intention is to raise greater mindfulness about these disagreements. Cinemode seems already to have had that desired effect in the following exchange in the comments section of the its web site:
A lively exchange! (Hopefully an academically oriented Walden-zone app can encourage a slightly more amicable and nuanced discussion).`
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Walden Zone App 1 (Time based app)
Walden Zone App 2 (Location based app)
At tomorrow's AHA THATCamp we hope to be able to peddle these apps while at the same time broaching a set of related philosophical questions.(Footnote 1) What do you think? Are either of these story-boards compelling to you? How might they be modified so that they are compelling?
1 "Are our present concerns about "information overload" and "digital distraction" and the need for "Walden zones" and "digital sabbaths" simply a form of “moral panic?” Are they simply the latest iteration of longstanding fears about the new and unknown? Didn't earlier generations' worry about the way that movies, or rock and roll, or television, were affecting America's youth? Or are our present worries something to be taken seriously? What insights can the humanities bring to bear in answering these questions?"
I think our differences are exaggerated. The Sabbath advocates understand the virtues of the digital age and the way it enhances other parts of their life (heck I code Web apps for a living), and the digital dualists (some of them anyway) know that an occasional recess from the connected life can be a good thing. But whatever one's philosophical take on this issue, it's clear that the connected life is hard on the wallet. For example, up until a few months ago my internet cable bill was 88 dollars a month. I know that's not a lot compared to what other people pay for T.V. and internet. But to me it was a hard bill to pay for a number of reasons:
1) It's more than some of my friends paid for similar services.
2) Growing up I didn't have to pay for any kind of T.V. - it came in free.
3) Internet is much cheaper in other countries.
4) I was being held hostage to a monopoly interest.
Many of these woes are detailed in a Slate article titled Cable Companies, Annoying Price Discrimination, and the Case for Regulation. So I was disheartened. And given my digital Sabbath sympathies, the bill seemed even more confounding. If I was so much a proponent of living a less connected life why then was I falling so easily prey to a monopoly interest that was promoting a far different way of living?
It was a hard thing to do from an entertainment perspective but as a way of mitigating my above laments I've finally dropped cable. Instead I've signed up with Qwest and my bills and bandwidth have dropped. I now pay 25 dollars a month and have pretty slow upload and download speeds:
What about you? How well does your Internet spending accord with your professed partiality or impartiality to digital Sabbaths? What happens when you "follow the money?"