Archive for March, 2012

Our last week’s reading was “Alone Together” by Sherry Turkle. Due to the fact that I used this reading extensively in my end of term presentation (http://com105presentation.wordpress.com), I had to dig a bit to find another angle to approach the reading from, and then I came across Turkle’s ideas about robots and technology being “alive enough,” which fascinates me!

In response to the question,

You start the book off with observations from watching people interact with some artificial intelligence that isn’t quite mainstream yet: caretaking robots, robot pets and even robots meant for sex. How do robots relate to digital communication, to that flashing BlackBerry light?

from Meredith Melnick of Time magazine, Sherry Turkle explains,

The reason that I put the robot part first, even though it hasn’t really arrived yet, is that with robots, there’s this new diction of “alive enough.” This generation of kids has something very specific in mind when they say that things are alive enough: “[The robot] is alive enough to be a friend — it’s alive enough to do X with me.” They’re willing to move the whole discussion of what it means to be alive off of the philosophical terrain and onto the pragmatic terrain, where things become alive only for various purposes.

I could imagine the introduction of mass anthropomorphic robotics into society simultaneously causing an uproar and immense gratitude. What could be more convenient than a robot that vacuums for you, right? Or how about one that actually serves as a caregiver for the elderly (a robot that would literally take my job away from me, I might add, being a Care Aide), or even better, a sexual partner that does everything you ask for? I could see these arguments being used by people supporting the convenience and opportunities that anthropomorphic robotics could provide; however, Turkle wisely warns us of the possibility of social collapse with mass “consumption” of technology that is “alive enough.” A company is actively pursuing this angle, introducing us to the “Nao” robot:

There is also the phenomenon of sex robots. A US based company called True Companion LLC has introduced the “Roxxxy” robot, which has,

a laptop connected to cables coming out of its back. It has touch sensors at strategic locations and can sense when it’s being moved. But it can’t move on its own, not even to turn its head or move its lips. The sound comes out of an internal loudspeaker. Douglas Hines, founder of Lincoln Park, N.J.-based True Companion LLC, said Roxxxy can carry on simple conversations. The real aim, he said, is to make the doll someone the owner can talk to and relate to.

‘Sex only goes so far – then you want to be able to talk to the person,’ Hines said. The phrases that were demonstrated were prerecorded, but the robot will also be able to synthesize phrases out of prerecorded words and sounds, Hines said. The laptop will receive updates over the Internet to expand the robot’s capabilities and vocabulary. Since Hines is a soccer fan, it can already discuss Manchester United, he said. It snores, too.  (HuffingtonPost, 2010).

What do you think about “doll love” ?

References

HuffingtonPost. (2010, March 18). Roxxxy Sex Robot (PHOTOS): World’s First ‘Robot Girlfriend’ Can do More Than Chat. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/10/roxxxy-sex-robot-photo-wo_n_417976.html

Melnick, M. (2011, January 10). Is Technology Making Us Lonelier?. Time.com. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2041714,00.html#ixzz1qY5JrKNr

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This week we had two readings: “The Noble Amateur” by Andrew Keen, and “The Geography of Knowledge” by David Weinberger:

The Geography of Knowledge

Giuseppe Maria Crespi - Bookshelves - WGA05755

Giuseppe Maria Crespi - Bookshelves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With Weinberger’s reading we can see that he is quite open to the change in information organization that has been brought about by increasingly powerful technology – such as his example of Amazon.com and books being linked to several different categories. Users can even create categories and “lists” themselves. Technology is changing the way information is gathered (using tags or key phrases for example), stored (depending on who is collecting it), and accessed (depending on your search terms). This is a far cry from the Dewey decimal system within which a book can only hold one physical spot in a library, and how do you decide which category fits best? The Internet, and especially Amazon.ca or Chapters.ca, have seemingly erased that problem. Don’t be fooled that they did this out of the goodness of their own hearts, however, because it is simply a marketing tool. My own experience working in a bookstore some time ago, I experienced first-hand how hard it can be to categorize many books. Within sections, we would have subsections, and subsections would have subsections.. and often these sections made no sense whatsoever! I would hazard a guess that at least 90% of the time, unless I simply already knew where a book was located in the store, I ended up searching for the category used in our inventory system, which often did not match up with the multitude of locations a book could be found in on the company website. I would like to note that while I personally may use the internet to order my books because of ease of access, nothing to me can change the physical feeling of holding a book in my hands. In my small basement suite room, I have two floor to ceiling shelving units filled predominantly with books (and those are just my favourites – the rest are in storage). I love the feeling of picking up one of my favourite novels and seeing its cracked spine and yellowed pages. It’s a feeling that I could never replace with an e-reader. Also, I am sitting in a library as I write this blog post. Just food for thought!

Critique of “The Geography of Knowledge” by Weinberger:

I found the concept behind this reading interesting, but the detailed analysis of the Dewey decimal system was dry and I didn’t feel like it was teaching me much that related to our course beyond the fact that now we are not stuck with the boundaries of physical space imposed by categorizing books in a library.

The Noble Amateur

A tag cloud (a typical Web 2.0 phenomenon in i...

A tag cloud (a typical Web 2.0 phenomenon in itself) presenting Web 2.0 themes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Keen, on the other hand, I can say nothing positive about his opinion or his reading. He is openly elitist, capitalist, and, well… when it comes to social equality he is an absolute idiot. Keen states that with the advent of “Web 2.0”, “instead of having a dictatorship of experts, we’ll have a dictatorship of idiots” (p. 89), because amateurs can post content to the web. The mere fact that Keen uses the word dictatorship is a reflection of what kind of power he expects to hold in the world simply because he has a University degree. Ironically enough, Keen criticizes bloggers and podcasters, yet he has his own blog and his own podcast. In an article from March 17, 2012, the Daily Herald writes “Keen rails against the “cult of the social” and worries that we’re jeopardizing privacy and liberty in the “march toward ubiquitous public-ness.” But he grants that Facebook and Twitter have become part of the “socio-economic infrastructure of 21st century life,” and so reconciling them is not a simple task” (Associated Press, 2012). Yet, Keen has his own twitter account: @ajkeen.

Critique of the Noble Amateur:

I could find little, if anything at all, of substance in this reading. Instead of turning on my critical thinking skills about how information is provided on the Internet, I found myself enraged by reading such a biased and socioeconomically insensitive author. The worst reading from the entire course, hands down.

References

Associated Press. (2012, March 17). SXSW Sees Bit of Technology Backlash. Retrieved from http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20120317/business/703179993/

Keen, A. (2007). Chapter 2: The Noble Amateur . In Fernyhough, L. (Ed.), Comm 105: Communication and Technology. Course Package: Winter 2012, (pp. 89-103). Victoria, BC: Camosun College Bookstore. (Reprinted from The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture, 35-63).

Weinberger, D. (2007). Chapter 3: The Geography of Knowledge. In Fernyhough, L. (Ed.), Comm 105: Communication and Technology. Course Package: Winter 2012, (pp. 105-113). Victoria, BC: Camosun College Bookstore. (Reprinted from Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, 46-63).

Rheingold  (2002) writes in “Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution” that with the introduction of mobile technology that we are creating a peer-to-peer surveillance society. This is not necessarily an inherently bad thing, however, it could have many negative consequences for our society and culture.

Rheingold writes that “Orwell [author of 1984] didn’t take into account the possibility that computing and communication technologies would seduce consumers into voluntarily trading privacy for convenience” (p. 57). It reminds me of a documentary I watched recently titled We Live in Public, which documented an internet mogul’s artistic project, which was much more of a social experiment than an artistic endeavor. Josh Harris’ art project involved participants being on camera 24 hours, 7 days a week, and while watching the documentary I could see that once nothing was private – what was there to hide? Participants freely engaged in sexual acts, walked around with no clothes on, went to the bathroom and showered together. Participants were housed in a sort of “surveillance hotel” where there were cameras also mounted to watch them sleep (or enjoy each others’ company!), and they also had televisions mounted there where they could switch feeds and watch other participants. All the footage was filmed and stored and belongs to Harris. For me this brings to mind Rheingold’s thought that smart mob technologies pose three types of threats, including “[t]hreats to quality of life: [f]rom individual angst to deteriorating communities, it isn’t clear whether life in the informated society delivers convenience faster than it erodes sanity and civility [emphasis added]” (p. 65).

Critique of “Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution” by Rheingold, H. (2002):

The chapter for our week 9 reading was “Always-On Panopticon… or Cooperation Amplifier,” a chapter in “Smart Mobs” by Rheingold. It was a particularly interesting reading because it threw a twist into one of our course themes: maintaining privacy while using technology to communicate. The twist is that we are voluntarily giving this privacy away. Rheingold writes “issues of privacy today are complicated by the voluntary adoption of technologies that disclose private information to others” (p. 57). Another interesting part of the reading was the threat to quality of life that Rheingold mentions that may come hand-in-hand with extensive technology use (mentioned briefly above). Rheingold states “pervasive technology usage affects interpersonal relationships, the way individuals experience time, and the vitality of public spaces” (p. 59). Additionally, he asks “[i]f pervasive computation devices and anthropomorphic software agents lead people to confuse machines with humans, will people grow less friendly, less trusting, and less prepared to cooperate with one another” (p. 61)? While very interesting, it was also a fairly long reading and I can’t say my tired brain appreciated that very much. All in all, Rheingold is an easy author to read and think critically about.

Cover of "Smart Mobs: The Next Social Rev...

Cover of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution

References

Rheingold, H. (2002). Chapter 8: Always-On Panopticon… Or Cooperation Amplifier?. In Fernyhough, L. (Ed.), Comm 105: Communication and Technology. Course Package: Winter 2012, (pp. 55-71). Victoria, BC: Camosun College Bookstore. (Reprinted from Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, 183-215).

Interloper Films & Pawn Shop Creatives (Producers), & Ondi, T. (Director). (2009). We Live in Public [Motion Picture]. USA: Mongrel Media.

“Global Economy and International Telecommunications Networks” by Harmeet Sawhney was our reading for week eight in Communications and Technology, and also the subject of my group’s second presentation. One major theme in Sawhney’s reading is how global communications have enabled our global economy, and that whether we realize it or not, this affects us on a daily basis. Sawney uses the example of the clothing he was wearing at the time of his writing, including “a shirt from Sri Lanka, pants from the United States, sandals from Mexico, a watch from Korea, and glasses from France.” (p. 73). Part of what has made it possible for “first” world countries to acquire such a diverse array of goods is society-damaging free trade agreements (FTAs) and corporate neocolonialism – both of which would be much harder to accomplish without global communications.

With the introduction of FTAs, such as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), countries pretty much lose their sovereignty to corporations. Governments sell the idea that it will bring business to our country and increase jobs, and gloss over the fact that with any FTA comes the indisputable power of the World Trade Organization (WTO). If a corporation decides that a health or environmental regulation in place in a city, province, or territory gets in the way of free trade, then the WTO can force Canada to overturn the safety regulations. And big surprise- the WTO virtually never sides with the country that disputes the corporation. In fact, if the country decides to block the corporation regardless – the WTO fines them! It is a sad state of affairs that would not be possible without global communications. I suppose we could call it one of the greatest revenge effects of all time. When a country loses the ability to make decisions about it’s own environment and the safety of its citizens to corporations, one has to wonder what the future will hold.

(Burn NAFTA, n.d.)

Critique of “Global Economy and International Telecommunications Networks” by Sawhney, H.:

The only part of this reading that I found interesting was the connection between the global economy, free trade agreements, and global communications. An entire history lesson about the division of labour was incredibly dry and dull, and I did not find it related well to a communications and technology course. Understandably, this is an important concept to know about, however, I think there are most likely better readings out there to teach us about the massive amount of control that global communications have dropped into the wrong hands.

References

Sawhney, H. (2007). Chapter 3: Global Economy and International Telecommunications Networks. In Fernyhough, L. (Ed.), Comm 105: Communication and Technology. Course Package: Winter 2012, (pp. 73-88). Victoria, BC: Camosun College Bookstore. (Reprinted from Global Communication, 35-50).

Cover of "Why Things Bite Back: Technolog...

Cover via Amazon

In “Why Things Bite Back,” by Edward Tenner, we are introduced to the concept of technological “revenge effects.” Tenner explains “[a] revenge effect is not the same as a side effect. If a cancer chemotherapy treatment causes baldness, that is not a revenge effect; but if it induces another, equally lethal cancer, that is a revenge effect” (p. 42). One of the revenge effects of the internet, I would venture, is the seemingly impossibility of legal regulation. The internet gives us unparalleled freedom of information, freedom of speech, and freedom from the law. This is not always the case, for online activity has also sparked criminal investigations, such as the Vancouver Riot suspects being apprehended through photos posted on Facebook, however, hate groups can practice hate speech online with apparent impunity. Does it matter where the author resides in determining if a crime has taken place? And if so, is it where they permanently reside – or where they were at the time their hate speech was produced on the internet? Does it fall onto the Internet Service Provider to conclude illegality? What about the location of the domain that is used – is that the locale from which a crime took place? This ambiguity is cause for concern.

At the same time, increased regulation such as the attempted introduction of  the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act, including the amendment of the Canada Criminal Code and other acts’ “would, among other abominable violations of civil liberties:

Require Internet service providers to give subscriber data to police and national security agencies without a warrant, including names, unlisted phone numbers and IP addresses.

Force Internet providers and other makers of technology to provide a “back door” to make communications accessible to police” (Karlin, 2012).

If this was actually put into action, even those who were doing nothing illegal on the internet could have their online activity monitored and their privacy breached by the police without needing to acquire a warrant. The revenge effect of attempted regulation would be the introduction of a “Big Brother” surveillance state. Is it even possible to strike a balance in the middle? I’m horrified by both hate speech and the possibility of a surveillance state – who is responsible for keeping us safe both from the internet, and for the internet?

A new theme is emerging in our Communications and Technology course: privacy and surveillance in the digital world.

Courtesy of Assault.it

Tenner explains:

The real revenge is not what we do intentionally against one another. It is the tendency of the world around us to get even, to twist our cleverness against us. Or it is our own unconscious twisting against ourselves. Either way, wherever we turn we face the ironic unintended consequences of mechanical, chemical, biological, and medical ingenuity – revenge effects, they might be called (p. 41).

In searching for possible solutions to the revenge effects of technology, I came across an incredibly interesting video. It is the introduction to a documentary created by The Venus Project. It was instantly appealing to me because they are attempting to address social problems such as inequality, discrimination, poverty, and power imbalance – to name a few, and also access to healthcare and proper environmental practices. They are acknowledging that the revenge effects that came along with the advent of machinery have lead to incredible social problems. What I find most interesting, is that they are proposing the responsible use of technology as the solution to the problem. Removing patents, and giving everyone equal access. Their documentary is appropriately titled “Paradise or Oblivion.”

Critique of “Why Things Bite Back,” Chapter 1: Ever Since Frankenstein by Tenner, E.:

I found this reading quite interesting in some parts, but somewhere around the middle it was a bit of information overload. Tenner provides so many examples of revenge effects from bugs in machinery that was designed to help us, to flame retardant children’s pajamas that ended up being carcinogenic. Despite my initial interest in the topic, because of the mid-term slump and the reading being long in comparison with others – it was hard to read right through to the end. It would have been easier if the examples were narrowed down somewhat.

References

Karlin, M. (2012, February 17). The Threat of ‘Big Brother’ Internet Monitoring in Canada. Rabble.ca. Retrieved from http://rabble.ca/news/2012/02/threat-big-brother-internet-monitoring-canada

Tenner, E. (1996). Chapter 1: Ever Since Frankenstein. In Fernyhough, L. (Ed.), Comm 105: Communication and Technology. Course Package: Winter 2012, (pp. 39-54). Victoria, BC: Camosun College Bookstore. (Reprinted from Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, 3-32).

Courtesy of "Laugh it Out" on Facebook.com

James Carey writes in “Communication as Culture” that:

The past and present are rewritten to evidence a momentous changing of the times in which particular policies and technologies will yield a way out of current dilemmas and a new age of peace, democracy, and ecological harmony will reign (p. 28).

This is in reference to the promise of the future being used in order to distract from current societal problems. Why should we be concerned with the atrocity of cancer running rampant when we’re “just around the corner” from a cure? Carey also states that “[t]his exhortation to the sublime future is an attempt to ward off dissent and to embellish cosmetically the blemishes of the body politic with imagery of a greater future for all” (p. 28).

How is the promise of a cure for cancer in the future being used as a smoke screen to distract the public from present affairs? The reality is that cancer research that could be successful is not funded because there is no pharmaceutical company willing to do research without a guarantee of a large financial payout at the end. Our medical system, our drugs, and our access to both, are being dictated by large corporations.

The future of cancer treatment is in technology, so “big pharma” would have you believe. In fact, I found a video for the treatment of cancer using nanotechnology on youtube. I felt like I was watching an advertisement for a car. I can only guess that there are corporations out there making huge amounts of money on this supposed “breakthrough.” I even have “recommended links” turned on for when I write my blog posts, and down at the bottom below my text are five links. Of those five links one is “cancer – promoted.”

Everywhere I turn cancer is being ADVERTISED. So much for the “promise of the future.”

Critique of Communication as Culture: Chapter 7, by James Carey:

This reading definitely captured my interest through the discussion of the politics and the “promise of the future.” Like other readings, such as “Do Artifacts Have Politics?”, I found the political debate in this reading inspired me to think critically. It was a great reading to have at this point in our course because Carey makes reference to past authors we have read, such as Marshall McLuhan and Lewis Mumford. Mumford is cited in regards to believing electricity was a revolutionary force: “in those plans that have been carried through, the realization has retrospectively disfigured the anticipation” (Mumford, 1959, p. 534). The reading makes the case for many errors revealed in the “promise of the future.” One particularly informative passage to me was one within which I found many course concepts came together quite seamlessly:

The first communications revolution was the innovation of printing, which mechanized the production of information, extended literacy, and enlarged the domain of empire. The second revolution occurred over the last century with the marriage, through electricity, of the capacity to simultaneously produce and transmit messages – a process that extends from the telephone and the telegraph to television. Now, this third communications revolution involves the linkage of machines for information storage and retrieval with the telephone, television, and computer, producing new systems of “broadband” communications or “information utilities (p. 34).

It was a long reading, and despite my interest in politics and the refreshing concept of the “promise of the future,” I did find it hard to get through so many pages while in the midst of the mid-term slump. Carey sums up his chapter quite succinctly with the passage:

The future, whether it appears in the rhetoric of the Left of Right [politically], whether as postmodernism or postindustrialism, is one more device for evading the active and directive role our imaginings of the past and future play in the control of the present. Yet, somehow, at this moment in our history, nostalgia for the future, among the pastorals available to us, seems the more pernicious precisely because it is less self-conscious (p. 38).

"Future Technology: Available Now" Image Courtesy of HDWallpapers.in

 

References

Carey, J. (2009). Chapter 7: The History of the Future. In Fernyhough, L. (ed.), Comm 105: Communication and Technology. Course Package: Winter 2012, (pp. 27-38). Victoria, BC: Camosun College Bookstore. (Reprinted from Communication as Culture, 133-154).