I’s Can Internet All The Things

Everybody knows that episode of The Simpsons where they get the Pierce Brosnan voiced super house that does everything for them, making life a breeze. Well as technology gets smarter and smarter this fantasy home is quickly becoming a reality and in fact you can already purchase plenty of advanced home wares capable of auto tasking themselves to suit and simplify your life. Oh and did I mention these ones aren’t homicidal?

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These days we want everything to be smart and connected from our televisions to our pot plants. Did you know that since 2008 there are more inanimate objects connected to the net than people and this number grows exponentially each year? Off course I could sit here for hours writing about all the awesome smart gadgets your house needs right now but that would just make me sad because I can’t afford them. What I am really interested in discussing though, is the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the retail industry.

“In simple terms, the IoT stands for the connection of usually trivial material objects to the internet … At the very least, this connectivity allows things to broadcast sensory data remotely, in the process augmenting material settings…  In most cases these objects are able to store and process information, as well as independently initiate action” (Teodor Mitew). Currently I work part time at my local IGA and every day that I walk up and down the isles checking the dates for expired products and writing down what stock needs to be re ordered on my little note pad, I think to myself, ‘for the love of God isn’t there some kind of automated system that could be doing this?’ While I’m working I daydream constantly about a world where each product is scanned before being put on the shelf and I can receive notifications about when it will go bad or when the stock is running low.

But that is just thinking about the benefits at a very fundamental level, there are so many more insights that can be gained from a connected grocery store. Food retail is unique in that it has a substantial components most other retail environments don’t have. For example the food’s freshness is relative to time and temperature whereas clothing retailers do not have to worry about that issue. Imagine a store where the fridges detected and automatically adjusted themselves after scanning the temperature of individual products, imagine digital price tags that updated themselves in real time according to daily specials. “Through implementing an effective Internet of Things strategy, retailers can significantly improve, automate and refine business processes, reduce operational costs, integrate channels and better understand consumer trends” (Hussmann).

Again there are so many more benefits to  a connected store, this whole time I have only been discussing the benefits for me, the worker, but what about the customer?  The Internet of Things means that customers can interact with the products on a deeper level. Smart trolleys have the potential to record highly specific data about an individual’s shopping habits. From there it can suggest products they are likely interested in, auto generate a shopping list based on previous purchases, show them the location of things in the store, tally the cost as they go and assist with budgeting, organise meal plans and even offer unique discounts or promotions. Imagine if quick a smart phone scan of any bar-code gave you recipes, reviews and a dietary rating, well you don’t have to imagine for too long because these are technologies that already exist and are on the cusp of widespread integration.

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From Vietnam to Arab Spring: Mediums Facilitating Revolution

Last week I very briefly touched on the concept of citizen journalism being a way of getting around traditional news media’s tendency to depict war as tame and unobtrusive for the sake of maintaining public support. Today I would like to discuss this a little further and connect it back to idea that the ability to illustrate the true nature of things is facilitated by global networks, convergent technological flows and the rise of social platforms. Not only that but social media has become a way for revolutionists to come together, organise operations and share their messages on a mass scale with little barrier to entry.

Prior to the Vietnam War all the information that everyday people could obtain about war came from mainstream media channels like newspapers and radio, there simply were no other mediums and the general public was given a highly mediated, white washed version of events. By this I mean propaganda campaigns that harboured wide spread support and a sense of patriotism.

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“By the mid-1960’s, television was considered to be the most important source of news for the American public, and, possibly, the most powerful influence on public opinion itself” Erin McLaughlin For the first time the public were seeing war first hand. The horrors entered people’s living rooms and in between school, work and dinners, anyone could watch villages being destroyed, Vietnamese children burning to death and soldiers in body bags. For obvious reasons this created mass opposition to the war and widespread protests. Fast forward to the now and you will see that news corporations, who jump through hoops for the hand that feeds, take every precaution not to make that mistake again.

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The news coverage of war today paints a story reminiscent of early propaganda campaigns, with the us versus them mentality and imagery of merry marching soldiers doing little more than hanging out in barracks and pressing buttons on fancy war machines.  Gordon Mitchel explains how the introduction of smart weaponry allows for a controlled way of marketing war to the public that is alienated from the direct reality of the battlefield. “Bombardiers wielded hand-held Nintendo-like devices that help pilots guide precision weaponry and computerized navigation aids to make their way to their targets – not real locations but map coordinates displayed on a VDU”…”there was little to distinguish the coalition pilots’ experience from training runs made in simulation machines”.

Vietnam War U.S. Casualties

 Sept 18, 1966 

 

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Today 

The problem with legacy media is “you’ve got to be silent, to be spoken to- passivity is the logic of that technology” (Richard Senett). Luckily for us we live in an age where you do not just have to rely on monolithic media for your information. We have the internet where information flows freely and citizens upload imagery of war and injustice every day, the truth is out there you just need to look. The ability to do this is a direct result of technological convergence. Convergent mediums have allowed for mobilisation, coordination and dissemination to take place which has in turn has given people, who would otherwise not have voices, the freedom to broadcast messages not in sync with the official agenda. The mobile aspect of modern technology means that people can bring their devices with them capturing things as they unfold and staying connected to the web. The coordination aspect means platforms like FB and Twitter can facilitate revolution by giving activists a place to come together and plan action at great speed and across distance. The dissemination aspect means that messages from individual nodes can be broadcasted to the masses without difficulty and the extent of the spread is massive in scale.

When all these elements come together to create a hive of connectivity the capability emerges for small individuals to enact large change. However simply having the ability to do does not guarantee it will happen, you need to have the right influencers, the right cause and circumstances where action is achievable at a local level (think globally act locally). But when this does happen it gives individuals the power to change the world, Arab Spring is a perfect example of this.

When Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest over harassment from city officials, the local news media sprouted the message that he was merely a psychopath. None the less his death sparked attention all across the globe when the true story was shared across the net and began fueling outrage. The same again occurred when Khaled Mohamed Saeed was beaten to death and the Egyptian government claimed he died of chocking.

By this point protest had already begun to rage but a turning point in the series of events occurred when young blogger Asmaa Mahfouz made a video pleading people to stand up for their rights and take a stand. In this video, that went completely viral, she set a date which germinated the hashtag #Janury25. From there YouTube channels emerged such as Free Egypt where content from the protests could be catalogued and publicly shown. Facebook became a breeding ground for activist communities to form and legitimize and when the Egyptian government cut its people off from the internet, Google and Twitter joined forces giving Egyptian citizens, isolated from the rest of the world, the ability to share their stories globally.

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While this all occurred from the right combination of people and events, it is no doubt that technology played a part in shaping the outcomes. This is pure example of the power that connected technologies can bring and proof that networked systems always beat monolithic ones.

The Death of Legitimacy

If you have been following my weekly posts you will know that I last discussed the idea posed by Eric Raymond that networked systems always beat hierarchical ones because more is accomplished at a faster rate due to mass participation… “Given enough eyes all bugs are shallow”. Last week I was referring to this in terms of Apple vs Android and the concept of a single closed source entity vs a collective open sourced network. Well today I would like to revisit that concept from the angle of traditional legacy media channels vs illegitimate citizen journalism.

Traditional Legacy media channels are your television networks, radio stations and newspapers (so basically anything owned by Rupert Murdoch). This model operates on a one to many archetype where information in scarce and value comes from the production and distribution of content. In this media paradigm the News Corporations become the authority on what is considered news and the selection of content is as simple as deciding what information might be interesting. As New York Times proclaims they are “All the news that’s fit to print” and you don’t really get much say.

Axel Burns makes a point that correlates well here “while the audience retained the right to buy or not by the paper and to switch on and off the television this amounted to a choice between news as it was offered or a self-imposed news blackout”(that’s not the exact quote but it’s something along those lines).

These days the Legacy media model still exists but is arguably on the cusp of becoming obsolete. When millions of web users create content every day that can be freely accessed, the creation of content becomes valueless and instead attention turns to the aggregation of content- the sorting, tagging and packaging of information into personalised bundles of interest. This has given rise to new media model where news is collectively generated and shared by individual users over social platforms. Instead of seeing a story from one news giants perspective who is limited to time and space you are able to gain the full perspective from the hundreds of snippets of the same story from all over the web. Think of it in terms of footage, when a news team cover a story they have one camera man capturing from one angle and that is all you will see on the television but if you search the hashtag of the same story you may find hundreds of videos from countless angles filmed by people who were there on their smart phones. The value in this instance comes not from the individual videos uploaded by the users but in the platforms ability to group them under a unified tag.

“Yes they were built entirely out of 140 character messages but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantial like a suspension bridge made of pebbles” (Steve Johnson).

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News giants would have you believe their dated model still holds value in the authority. They argue that citizen journalism is ‘illegitimate’ journalism and that the only shinning beacon amongst the dark depths of the information avalanche is highly produced content that guarantees quality and validity. While there is truth to this ideal (the internet is a disturbing place), it is not always the case and I don’t just mean because every week Channel Nine runs a story on why sugar is bad for you (Goddammit that’s not news!). I am talking about what I mentioned earlier when I said all bugs are shallow given enough eyeballs.

Participatory news platforms like Twitter and Reddit are always on and moving so fast through iterations that inaccuracies are weeded out by the enormous public faster than a singular news entity could even dream of. Meanwhile having such a small amount of staff working as hard as they can to pump content out as quickly as information arises results in errors slipping through the cracks. Remember the time that Danish news channel accidentally thought Assassin’s Creed was real and used it as backdrop to their news story. To illustrate conflict in present-day Syria, TV2 used an image from Assassin’s Creed digitally depicting Damascus 720 years ago. While that little mistake managed to make it all the way to air it was picked up and shared all over social media within minutes. What was that argument about legitimacy again?

 

 

On the other hand the concept of citizen journalism does bring froth a debate about privacy in the public sphere. The thing about legacy media is they are slow but by being legitimate they must go through all sorts of legal steps ensuring they have permission to film people before sharing it on television. Whereas citizens on the street record who ever, whenever and with very little regard for privacy. If we think back to the Vietnam War, that was the first time real footage of war was shown on public television and is a major contributing factor for opposition to the war. These days war is painted differently to prevent opposition, its ‘Nintendo warfare’, showing only soldiers behind computers pushing buttons. Citizen journalism gets around this being real people sharing real footage as it is, uncensored and raw.  This also means however that in delicate situations like war we are seeing videos surface the net of mothers crying over dead children, with their mutilated bodies open for public display. While this is necessarily for revealing the true nature of war and stopping people from turning a blind eye to it, it generates the question where do you draw the line between truth and respect?

Controlled Convenience or Chaotic Freedom?

Steve Jobs was responsible for revolutionising the computer age. When Apple released the Macintosh in 1984 it was the first time consumers were given a user-friendly means of interacting with a computer. The Macintosh introduced the first graphical user interface and was the first mass-market computer to be networkable. But while Apple brought us into the personal computer era their business model has practically reversed and seems hell bent on taking us out of it.

Apple products such as the IPhone have stopped being computing devices and have become simplistic information applications. They are incapable (by design) of operating anything outside of their designated software and they prevent users from accessing any internal elements; creating this shell of a computer that runs entirely off of face level applications. All content and the way you can interact with that content is controlled. You don’t own applications only pay to use them, you cannot change anything, install anything, transfer content and all the apps you can download have come from a centralised network that have gone through an intensive approval process.

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“It was easy to use, elegant and cool – and had lots of applications right out of the box… but the company quietly dropped a fundamental feature, one signalled by the dropping of ‘Computer’ from Apple Computer’s name” (Johnathan Zittrain).

“The fundamental difference between a PC and an Information Application is that a PC can run code from anywhere while Information Appliances remain tethered to makers desires, offering a more consistent and focused user experience at the expense of flexibility and innovation” (Jonathan Zittrain again).

While your phone not being a computer isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Steve Jobs himself proclaimed “You don’t want your phone to be like a PC. The last thing you want is to have loaded three apps on your phone and then you go to make a call and it doesn’t work anymore”. It is important to keep in mind though that the mobile phone has actually replaced the desktop as the primary mode of access to the internet. For millions of people, particularly those in developing nations their phone is their computer.

The Alliance of Open Handsets offer the polar opposite to Apple with their free Android operating system that can run on any device, can be completely rooted or moded and grants users access to both an official app store and unofficial ones. Plus you are allowed to upload your own aps. Originally Apple dominated the smart phone market but Android has now captured 85% of it, just going to show that a long tail of many small units will inevitably always out preform a lesser number of large ones.

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When Google first announced the alliance and the concept of Android, Steve predicted that the fragmented nature and uncontrollability of the idea would be its demise “I think it hurts them more than it helps, it is just going to divide them”.  While he was right about the division he was wrong about it being a negative. Eric Raymond believes networked systems always beat hierarchical ones because you can accomplish more and faster. He compares Cathedrals to Bazaars noting that if you release content early and often problems are resolved quickly by the sheer many. “Given enough eyes all bugs are shallow”. While Apples system of having a selected few make something perfect before release makes the task slow and monumental.

But in the end it all boils down to personal preference, Apples system ensures you are only buying something that has been carefully designed to ensure everything runs smoothly and easily whereas the Android system gives you everything good or bad; you have the power the chose and therefore the responsibility. It is just a question of if you want controlled convenience or chaotic freedom.

Introduction To The Global Network

The moment when you attempt your first audio blog and realise you said PUGcast instead of podcast. None the less here are my thoughts on week two’s lecture topic and readings…

(ps promise to get better in future)

 

To elaborate further on my podcast the quote from the reading that really stood out to me was “Cyberspace is something more. Though built on top of the Internet, cyberspace is a richer experience. Cyberspace is something you get pulled into perhaps by the intimacy of instant message chat or the intricacy of  massive multiplayer online games Some in cyberspace believe they’re in a community; some confuse their lives with their cyberspace existence”.

This perfectly encapsulates the way the internet has created opportunity to create meaningful interactive relationships without physical interaction. The ability to do so has changed marketing forever. Gone are the days of the old school one way dialogue between a company and its customers. Today’s consumers want more, they want personal relationships, real time communication, opportunity to engage with the brand, to contribute to its culture and to form communities with like minded brand users . My textbooks call this Online Customer Relationship Management but I call it simply being a brand in the networked environment.

Here is a brief history of the evolution of marketing as it coincides with the trajectory of technology itself.

 

Cyber Fears

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This week I began analyzing the results from my survey. The aim was to discover the answers to several key questions regarding my research topic about Cyberpunk and Cyber Fears …

  • Are we more accepting of new technology?
  • What kind of fears do we have regarding our current technologies?
  • Do we still have a dystopian view of the future or do we have more positive perceptions?
  • Is there room for the cyberpunk genre to re-emerge in our modern culture?
  • And if so how might it be different?

Originally I was aiming to get around 40 participants, but thanks to Facebook and its mass message capabilities I was able to get 80. This was really exciting because it gave a large range of in depth answers to work with and draw ideas from. Here are some of the trends I noticed…

35% of participants stated they had a negative perception of the future in that they think we are headed towards disaster rather than utopia. This actually contradicts what I had hypothesized. I thought for sure there would be a positive trend in perceptions but the survey showed that the majority had a bleak, dystopic view, reminiscent of classic cyberpunk.

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But then when asked what their perception of cyber technologies was, 50% said helpful and 24% said extremely helpful. Only 6% said they thought cyber technology was dangerous showing a vast drift towards positive perceptions and suggesting a greater acceptance of technological advancement.

When asked their level of fear over technological advancement 50% said not very frightened and 11% said not frightened at all. Only 3% said very frightened again showing a greater acceptance of technology and a low level of cyber related fear.

However,  there were still areas of cyber culture that generated anxiety within the respondents; predominantly in the field of Artificial Intelligence. When asked if there were any current or near future technologies they were particularly worried the most common answer was Artificial Intelligence. Answers Ranged from AI’s killing or enslaving us, to unemployment from AI’s flooding the job market, to the ethics of playing god.

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Others were concerned about their online privacy, online security, drone spying, governments control through wearable technology and social media dependency.  The three issues most concerned about were Cyber Terrorism, Online Privacy and Cyber Security.  From this I have gathered fear is still prevalent when it comes to our perceptions of new technologies and there is growing concern over several key issues.

Due to a lot of mentioning of films in people answers though I have begun to re-shape my thinking in that perhaps it is not people’s fears that shape cyberpunk films but rather films that shape peoples cyber fears.

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The Phone of Silence

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Smart phones are amazing, they allow us to stay connected, informed and entertained regardless of where we are. As a result of this ease of access the rules of when and where it is appropriate to use them are becoming non existent. We see people using them on trains, in cafes and restaurants, walking down the street and even crossing the road. The frequency of their use in these public spaces is creating a new dynamic of social standards that is changing the nature of public space dramatically.

What I have observed simply by spending time in public space is that people often use their mobile devices as a way to exit public space. Young people know that a stranger is not going to communicate with them if they put their earphones in. I find myself doing it too. If I am alone in a public area and have no friends to communicate with I sometimes feel awkward. So I  go on my phone to make is seem as though I am doing something and so that I have somewhere to look. Most of the time I am not even engaged in what I am looking at on the screen; mindlessly scrolling up and down the same news feed without actually reading anything. I just do it as a way of leaving an uncomfortable shared environment.

“Smart phones, in short, have given users the impression that they move through communal spaces as if in private bubbles…They feel that everywhere they are, they have their privacy…Smart phones have created portable private personal territories”.(Badger 2012)

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It is strange how phones have become like a safety net, where you can escape social interaction at will and feel secure knowing that no one knows what you are doing.This false sense of security extends so far, that people have become comfortable, having loud mobile conversations in public areas, playing songs out load and watching videos on full volume without hesitation or concern for established social norms for acceptable public behavior. You would not start yelling at the top of your voice in public for fear of social embarrassment, so why is it then OK to play music on a train?

“As the use of mobile phone in public spaces is increasing, it is leading to the change in social order by blurring the boundary between public and private spaces. What one would typically call a public place is slowly becoming pockets of individual private spaces where people exhibit behaviors as if they were by themselves'” (Geiger 2013).

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This is creating a new plain of existence somewhere between your physical presence in the public world and your virtual presence in your own private sphere. Leading to a domain of semi public space where you are in populated area but your activities are isolated to your own bubble that others cannot access.

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“The whole idea of public/private as binary is becoming much more complex; instead of thinking about public and private, we have to think about the private sphere becoming more dominant in public”…”For the smart-phone users, they’re totally, constantly engaged with the private sphere, and it’s reducing the basic roles of public space.”…”Smart phones, combine numerous spheres: your social network, your email, your news source, your live personal conversations, when you’re interacting with each of those spheres while walking through a public park, which social code do you follow?” (Hatuka 2012).

If personal devices have the ability to isolate, then public devices such as large screen TVs in open areas should thereby have the ability to connect. This is the traditional idea of media, whereby families would gather around a television set and strangers would stand side by side at store fronts to share a media experience. This off course is not always the case, particularly today where people use TV screens in public areas, again as a way to avoid social interaction. I can however think of a time when I witnessed this togetherness through public media occur.

I was at Uni Center, a shared space at my university campus, where power-points and bean bags are readily available for people to curl up and engage in personal media activities. One day The Lion King was projected on the wall for everyone to watch and the way people began interacting simultaneously with this film surprised me. Suddenly people looked up from their laptop screens started watching the projection together. Personal space failed to become a factor for separation as people were now comfortable with moving the beanbags together in front of the screen to get a better view. Before they were all sitting in isolated sections, now they were lying next to one another bonding over their love of the Lion King. Before the film there was silence; broken only by the sounds of typing, mouse clicks and the occasional you tube video. Once the film started people began singing along, repeating the memorable lines and laughing out loud. I couldn’t believe how the simple act of playing a movie in public changed the entire social dynamic of the space.

Me looking away from my laptop  to the projection in front of me. Behind me people were gathered and singing along. Next to me is my friend lying down, mind the crotch :)

Me looking away from my laptop to the projection in front of me. Behind me people were gathered and singing along. Next to me is my friend lying down, mind the crotch 🙂

References:

Badger, E 2012, How Smart Phones Are Turning Our Public Places Into Private Ones, CityLab, weblog post, 16 May, viewed 14 September 2014, <http://www.citylab.com/tech/2012/05/how-smart-phones-are-turning-our-public-places-private-ones/2017/&gt;.

Geiger, S 2013, Mobile Phone Usage in Public Places, INFO 203, weblog post, 1 April, viewed 14 September 2014, <http://courses.ischool.berkeley.edu/i203/s13/?p=342&gt;.

Hatuka, T 2012, Smart Phones Are Changing Real World Privacy Settings,
Science Daily, viewed 14 September 2014, <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120510114105.htm&gt;.