Author Archives: Tommy

Digital Politics- Phase 1

// Posted by Tommy on 04/14/2012 (6:04 PM)

My final blog can be found at:

Digital Politics


Digital Politics

Research Problem

For this project, I wanted to look, generally, at digital politics, and specifically at the reciprocal relationship between the two. Although my original research question dealt… Read more

My final blog can be found at:

Digital Politics


Digital Politics

Research Problem

For this project, I wanted to look, generally, at digital politics, and specifically at the reciprocal relationship between the two. Although my original research question dealt with the influence of American politics and the American political process on the rest of the world with the role of networked, digital technology, I decided to first dissect the tole of networked, digital technology and its influence on American politics and the American political process. Since this is such a broad topic, my research focused mainly on the influence of networked, digital technology on major political elections

Theoretical Foundation

My arguments were formed, for the most part, after reading  the chapter “Citizens, Digital Media, and Globalization” in Mark Poster’s Information Please: Culture and Politics in the Age of Digital Machines. Mark Poster made a number of points in Information Please that I feel no longer represent the nature of digital politics. My research began, then, by attempting to highlight these points, and then to understand in what ways these points no longer hold true.

Initial Questions

My first question came from the following passage on page 71 of Information Please:

“Critical discourse currently locates an antagonism between globalization and citizenship. The deepening of globalizing processes strips the citizen of power, this position maintains. As economic processes become globalized, the nation-state loses its ability to protect its population. The citizen thereby loses her ability to elect leaders who effectively pursue her interests” (Poster, 71).

My problem with this statement stems from the last sentence. In my opinion, American citizens have gained, rather than lost, the ability to elect leaders who effectively pursue their interests. My argument here is that the internet has afforded the American citizen unprecedented access to potential leaders, coupled with an extraordinary change in this relationship, from one sided (the potential leader speaks to the citizens) to bidirectional (through digital technologies like social media, the citizen now has a fast, easy, and efficient method in which to talk directly to their potential leaders; see: Obama’s Google+ Hangout)

My second question came from the following passage on page 73 on Poster’s Information Please:

“Self-constitution of consumers spills over into politics as citizenship becomes an extension of consumption. What is more, as consumption has become more political, so politics has become a mode of consumption. Candidates in elections campaigns increasingly rely on media t o reach their constituents. Political advertisements are the chief means of conducting campaigns. The primary means by which citizens obtain information about candidates is the television set, bring politics to individuals in the same way they experience entertainment. The deep consumer culture of the television medium is merged with the electoral process. And celebrities from the domain of entertainment, a major aspect of consumption, become credible candidates for high office with no particular training or experience, as evidenced by the election of Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger as governors of California. We are indeed in a postmodern world of the consumer citizen” (Poster, 73).

For the most part, Poster is actually helping me support my argument, in that he points out that politics has become a mode of consumption. My problem with this passage lies with the sentence “the primary means by which citizens obtain information about candidates is the television set.” While statistics obviously vary depending on the source, I’ve noticed a general trend over the last ten or so years that illustrates a shift from television to internet in terms of where people in our generation get their political information. Furthermore, I would argue that culture of the internet medium is far more merged with the electoral process than the television ever was, given the ability of the citizen to access information whenever they want online, versus whenever an advertisement happens to play on television.

From these general questions, I was able to somewhat narrow the scope of my research question. By looking at the newer, bidirectional relationship between the citizen and it’s potential leaders, and by realizing that the average American between the ages of 18 and 29 has officially moved from relying on the television for information to relying on the internet, I decided to look at how effectively the American political process is using networked, digital technologies, and what the consequences of this relationship might be. Poster begins to answer this question by looking at some existing political formations:

“The objection to the argument for the netizen might be raised that the Internet promotes, even enhances, existing political formations. The Zapatistas and the neo-Nazis alike further their political ambitions by means of Web sites, Listservs, blogs, e-mail, chat rooms, and so forth. In heavily mediatized societies, political candidates of all stripes deploy the Net to their advantage. Reform movements in China and Eastern Europe depended on the Net… to spread their word and foster political change. Countless experiments could be named, such as the City of Santa Monica’s Public Electronic Network, which use the Net to extend democratic processes. The demonstrations in Seattle early in the year 2000 against the WTO and the World Bank, as well as the general process of globalization, benefited in addition by the ability of the Net to aid the work of organizing political protest. These examples all bespeak the ways in which the Internet can function within existing political structures” (Poster, 79).

Lastly, Poster hints at the fact that the consequences of the relationship between networked, digital technology and the American political process is a break down of American Politics and the creation of newer political structures:

“There is, then, at least one political novelty specific to the Internet that I choose to highlight. The internet holds the prospect of introducing post-national political forms because of its internal architecture, its new register of time and space, its new relation of human to machine, body to mind, its new imaginary, and its new articulation of culture to reality. Despite what may appear in the media of newsprint and television as a celebration of the Internet’s harmony with the institutions of the nation-state and the globalizing economy, new media offer possibilities for the construction of planetary political subjects, netizens who will be multiple, dispersed, and virtual, nodes of a network of collective intelligence. They may resemble neither the autonomous agent of citizenship, beholden to print, nor the identity of post-modernity, beholden to broadcast media. The political formation of the netizen is already well under way, bringing forth, as Heidegger, might say, a humanity adhering not to nature alone but also machines, not to geographic local identity alone but also to digitized packets of its own electronic communications. The import of these speculations is… to call to attention to the possibility for the establishment of global communications, one that is more practically dispersed across the globe than previous systems, one that is inherently bidirectional and ungovernable by existing political structures” (Poster, 84).

This passage aided in the construction of my final research question by bringing up the idea of collective intelligence: networked, digital technology is made up of both the citizens who use the technology and the technology itself, begging the question of not only how this online collective intelligence will influence the American political process, but how American politics influence the network? Embedded within this question are several key points, including the effectiveness of this utilization, the consequences of the relationship, and the future of digital politics.


Politics is a touchy subject, with a wide spectrum of views and beliefs. For this reason, a major roadblock in my research has been subjectivity. Any published research on the subject, despite a necessary need for unbiased analysis, has the risk of being somewhat opinionated or swayed. When attempting to gauge the effectiveness of various online campaigns, every analysis must be taken with a grain of salt, and I’ve discovered that I have to constantly fact-check many of the articles I’ve read and videos I’ve watched. Unfortunately, twitter has been one of the biggest roadblocks for this project. As a massive social media site, I have spent a long time browsing political twitter users and the responses to their post. Being a personal-use site, however, there is a lot of bias and it is often difficult to sort through the opinion to find the facts. If anything, however, this roadblock will most likely end up becoming a part of the answer to my research question.

Supporting Media

For this project, I have utilized a variety of social media websites, focusing on the networked aspect of digital technology. The sites I spend the most time on are Twitter, YouTube, and various political blogs and websites, such as Politico, the Drudge Report, and the Huffington Post. Of these, one of the most valuable resources has been YouTube’s political section, which organizes videos by candidate and also compares each candidate by the number of videos on their channel and the number of subscriptions to their channel:

Group Assignment

For the group assignment, I wanted to try to eliminate some of my own bias in researching these questions. Because politics is such a polarized subject, I asked my group members to pick a candidate (Obama, Romney, Paul, Gingrich, and Santorum), and to do some general browsing of these candidate’s digital presence, such as on twitter, youtube, Facebook, etc. I was interested in how effectively or ineffectively these candidates have been using their online space, and what some of the pros and cons of their use were. I was most interested at this time in Santorum, considering the day I assigned this project was the day he suspended his campaign; I was interested to look at a possible correlation between a failed digital campaign and this suspension.

Cameron chose to look at Ron Paul’s digital campaign. Cameron pointed out that Ron Paul has an extremely active online presence, on websites such as twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. Specifically, it seems as though Ron Paul’s supporters are the most active online when compared to other candidate’s supporters. In contrast to Ron Paul, Natalie reported that Newt Gingrich’s online campaign has not been going so well, and has been struggling to utilize the Web in an effective way. Lastly, Renee looked at the online campaign of Mitt Romney, and discussed how his online videos rarely speak to the issues, but rather either attack Obama or promote himself as a “family man.”

From this assignment, I plan on focusing in on specific ways in which the candidates use these websites. Natalie pointed out that many tweets relating to Gingrich were very wordy or linked to other websites, something that is seemingly detrimental to getting his message out there. I would like to compare specific uses such as this between the candidates as a possible way in which a lack of understanding of how people use social media may negatively impact a campaign, versus very tech-literate supporters, such as those that Ron Paul has, positively impact a campaign.

Future Research

I feel as though the phrase “Digital America” takes on an enhanced meaning when speaking about politics. With an increased online presence of candidate campaigns, the election truly has moved online, and America that results from this presidential race will truly be one that, I think, will be decided in a completely digital way. The final phase of this project will require a much more in-depth analysis of the remaining presidential candidates, and how effectively they use networked, digital technology. Furthermore, I want to look at the opposite side of this relationship, and analyze how the networked, digital technologies utilized effects how the candidate’s shape their campaign. Lastly, I want to fully connect the theoretical points Poster made about the relationship between politics and the Internet, by more fully understanding the applications of networked, digital technology for the American political process and American politics; this will require diving into the scholarly research of the effect of the Internet on politics, and using my research of the candidate’s online presence as supporting media.

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Outlaw Internet Trolling?

// Posted by Tommy on 04/03/2012 (6:53 PM)

I stumbled across an article, titled “Arizona Looks to Outlaw Internet Trolling,” about a bill in Arizona stating “It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend,

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I stumbled across an article, titled “Arizona Looks to Outlaw Internet Trolling,” about a bill in Arizona stating “It is unlawful for any person, with intent to terrify, intimidate, threaten, harass, annoy or offend, to use ANY ELECTRONIC OR DIGITAL DEVICE and use any obscene, lewd or profane language or suggest any lewd or lascivious act, or threaten to inflict physical harm to the person or property of any person.” Although the bill has a pretty noble goal, to stop cyberbullying, and having already passed both legislative houses only needs the approval of the governor, I agree with the author that this probably won’t end up being as effective as lawmakers would like.

Categories: Discussion, Uncategorized

How Gamers are Changing the World

// Posted by Tommy on 03/30/2012 (1:40 PM)

Although I do not consider myself a “gamer,” despite the occasional round of Mario Kart, for some reason Jane McGonigal’s TED talk “Gaming Can Make a Better World,” and her case study WhyRead more

Although I do not consider myself a “gamer,” despite the occasional round of Mario Kart, for some reason Jane McGonigal’s TED talk “Gaming Can Make a Better World,” and her case study Why I Love Bees, both really struck a chord with me. Since this TED talk was already blogged about, I don’t want to spend too much time on it, except to look at the relationship between gaming and collective intelligence (for a quick refresher, watch this interview between Jane McGonigal and Stephen Colbert. In her article “Be a Gamer, Save the World,” McGonigal highlights the main points of her theory of gaming, as mentioned in her TED talk. Specifically, her research has “shown that games consistently provide us with the four ingredients that make for a happy and meaningful life: satisfying work, real hope for success, strong social connections and the chance to become a part of something bigger than ourselves.” Importantly, she stresses that while these benefits are present almost all of the time within games, there are also present, albeit to a lesser degree, in our real lives.

In discussing McGonigal’s theory in class, I feel as though we focused too much on the “escapist” aspect of gaming, but without analyzing to what extent this occurs, and whether or not this allows for an effect on the real world. McGonigal begins to analyze the escapist mentality by pointing out that “Gamers want to know: Where in the real world is the gamer’s sense of being fully alive, focused and engaged in every moment? The real world just doesn’t offer up the same sort of carefully designed pleasures, thrilling challenges and powerful social bonding that the gamer finds in virtual environments. Reality doesn’t motivate us as effectively. Reality isn’t engineered to maximize our potential or to make us happy.” Taking this further, and fully admitting that this seems to prove games are an escape, I think that gamers are simply looking for more in games, which is different from simply trying to escape their real lives. As McGonigal points out,

“In a good game, we feel blissfully productive. We have clear goals and a sense of heroic purpose. More important, we’re constantly able to see and feel the impact of our efforts on the virtual world around us. As a result, we have a stronger sense of our own agency—and we are more likely to set ambitious real-life goals… When we play, we also have a sense of urgent optimism. We believe whole-heartedly that we are up to any challenge, and we become remarkably resilient in the face of failure… Games make it easy to build stronger social bonds with our friends and family.

Furthermore, I think the online game I Love Bees also makes the same case. Over the course of the game, the players involved, and there were many, were constantly looking to the real world to further their progress towards solving the problem posed by the game. I think this is a clear case of using the impact of efforts in a virtual world to set ambitious real-life goals- how else could they have successfully relayed a personal message world-wide with only a 15-second time differential between two calls?

I think the main component of gaming that allows for gamers to change the world is the concept of collective intelligence. While McGonigal talks about the success of this collective intelligence in games like EVOKE, and in real-life charities and causes, I think the best example of collective intelligence in action comes from the gamers online who are literally working towards curing cancer (oh, and HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s too).

Although these gamers aren’t just people who happen to game while working during the day in some research lab, they’re effectively solving scientific puzzles in ten days that researchers couldn’t solve in over ten years. The game i’m talking about is called “Foldit,” and the results form this online game have been published in Nature, arguably the most prestigious scientific journal out there, a total of two times (and two times = a big deal). This article by MSNBC gives a simplified, easy to understand explanation of the game, and I think one of the most important things to take away from this article is the fact that this game in itself is “one small piece of the puzzle in being able to help with AIDS,” while each individual player is also one small piece of the puzzle, who, with little to no knowledge of molecular biology, can still contribute. This reminds me of Shirky’s point of unmanaged divisions of labor, especially as seen in projects like Wikipedia.

Although I don’t know much about this website (or how credible a source it is), it goes a little more in depth about Foldit, and makes a couple good points that I think are crucial to understanding how the game works to save the world. The paper published in Nature describes the game as:

Foldit players leverage human three-dimensional problem-solving skills to interact with protein structures using direct manipulation tools and algorithms from the Rosetta structure prediction methodology. Players collaborate with teammates while competing with other players to obtain the highest-scoring (lowest-energy) models. In proof-of-concept tests, Foldit players—most of whom have little or no background in biochemistry—were able to solve protein structure refinement problems in which backbone rearrangement was necessary to correctly bury hydrophobic residues. Here we report Foldit player successes in real-world modeling problems with more complex deviations from native structures, leading to the solution of a long-standing protein crystal structure problem.

I think that the most important part of this description is that the players collaborate with teammates while competing with other players. I think this is collective intelligence at its core; a group of players working together, while competing amongst each other, to solve a huge problem that no one person could even attempt to solve on his or her own. And if you still doubt that games like this can save the world, the paper in Nature (remember, Nature  is sort of like a scientist’s Bible) concludes:

“The critical role of Foldit players in the solution of the M-PMV PR structure shows the power of online games to channel human intuition and three-dimensional pattern-matching skills to solve challenging scientific problems. Although much attention has recently been given to the potential of crowdsourcing and game playing, this is the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem. These results indicate the potential for integrating video games into the real-world scientific process: the ingenuity of game players is a formidable force that, if properly directed, can be used to solve a wide range of scientific problems.”

In the end, I don’t think that I can articulate my point any better than that. However, even this concise and informative description raises some big questions. Particularly, if these online games can be as massive as I love Bees was, how can anyone go about properly directing it? In my mind, directing something this massive in itself takes some kind of collective intelligence. So, similarly to the how question, who will make up this collective intelligence designed to direct another collective intelligence? Furthermore, we talked in class about some potential problems that would be perhaps impossible to solve using this kind of technique (especially something like politics, with its wide spectrum of ideologies, and which tends to become a very touchy subject);  do you think that, given a gamer’s urgent optimism, clear goals, and productive tendencies, there could be some chance of solving serious, yet charged problems, like those involving politics?


Categories: Uncategorized

The Control of Digital Culture

// Posted by Tommy on 03/16/2012 (8:06 PM)

When I went to watch “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto” for class last semester, I remember being able to watch it on youtube, and being able to easily find the entire video in once place. While I know I can… Read more

When I went to watch “RiP!: A Remix Manifesto” for class last semester, I remember being able to watch it on youtube, and being able to easily find the entire video in once place. While I know I can still find the movie, I know the website let’s you download it for free and Hulu has the movie too (albeit with way too many ads), it bugged me that youtube was trying to charge me to watch a movie trying to make the point that the movie itself, and a variety of other digital culture, should be free to experience. It is the limit on this freedom that Poster tries to explain by delving into the control of corporations like the music industry as a whole on digital culture.

The music industry, according to Poster, is comparable to the Soviet Union in terms of their desire to control the increasing spread of peer-to-peer file sharing. The music industry claims that more music is available today than ever before, and credits the current system (to them, their control over the spread of music) as working “just fine.” If you ask me, and probably a lot of other people who use the internet to get music, the availability is because of just that; the internet, and not the music industry, is responsible for the fastest, easiest, and cheapest distribution of music. Most of the music I get today comes from the internet, and no, not all of it is obtained illegally. There’s been a huge increase in the number of artists advocating “open content” in digital culture, making their music available, for free, to their fans via the internet (especially websites like SoundCloud).

I understand the need for copyright laws, and agree that artists should be compensated for their work, or intellectual property. According to Poster, however, the artists are not being justly compensated by the music industry. In fact, it is the music industry that is being protected by these laws, not the artists, who are themselves held under contract to produce work that they won’t even have the rights to.

My biggest issue with the current state of digital culture is that these laws are clearly in place now strictly to ensure that a particular group of people (namely, the big corporations) get their share of the money (I won’t use the regular phrase “fair share” because it’s obviously not fair). Instead, like Poster, I believe that “we must invent an entirely new copyright law that rewards cultural creation but also fosters new forms of use or consumption and does not inhibit the development of new forms of digital cultural exchange that explore the new fluidity of texts, images, and sounds.”

While not directly applying to digital culture, this has been the protocol of the scientific community for decades. When I publish a paper, I’m publishing my own unique results; I conducted the experiment, collected and analyzed the data, and drew my own conclusions. What happens then, however, is that I submit the paper to a peer-review journal, so that other people can not only see exactly what I did and how I did it, but take my process and replicate it for themselves, either completely to try and come to the same conclusion, or partly to see if the process works under other conditions. The point being, although my experiment was my intellectual property, I publish the results to promote the development of new forms of cultural exchange. And in case someone wants to argue that replicating my experiment doesn’t really affect me like it does by copying a digital music file and sharing it with friends and this robbing the artist of monetary compensation, there is A LOT of money involved in scientific research, based solely on what you’ve done that no one else has.

The biggest question to ask then, is when will this evolution in copyright laws take place, if ever? Or, will the laws stay the same and peer-to-peer file sharing become obsolete. Or, will the two seemingly opposing sides somehow blend together? If SXSW is any indication, the blending together is already happening. Take for example, whose creators admit was developed without any idea as to the legal ramifications. However, with the help of a digital music lawyer, the social music service now represents a “somewhat open” service, complete with licensing by four major music labels. Apparently, the music industry is slowly catching on that digital culture, as well as the technology that makes it possible, is here to stay. But where can things progress from here? And, with so much money at stake, will these services eventually be corrupted by corporations seeking to limit digital cultural freedom in exchange for a profit?


Categories: Uncategorized

The Positive Side of Hacking

// Posted by Tommy on 02/28/2012 (7:50 PM)

Given the tremendous amount of attention hacking has received in the last couple years, especially due to groups like Anonymous and the Stuxnet virus last year, hacking has come to inherit a pretty negative stigma. Just tonight, Interpol released a… Read more

Given the tremendous amount of attention hacking has received in the last couple years, especially due to groups like Anonymous and the Stuxnet virus last year, hacking has come to inherit a pretty negative stigma. Just tonight, Interpol released a statement describing the arrest of some 25 individuals associated with the hacker group Anonymous, in a coordinated international operation across four countries in Latin America and Europe. The statement goes on to quote Bernd Rossbach, Acting Interpol Executive Director of Police Services: “This operation shows that crime in the virtual world does have real consequences for those involved, and that the Internet cannot be seen as a safe haven for criminal activity, no matter where it originates or where it is targeted.” The article seems to me to imply that all hacking is necessarily criminal, which is somewhat misleading.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the good guys, who use their powers for good and not evil. People like Charlie Miller, winner of the 2011 Pwn2Own hacking competition held at the annual CanSecWest security conference (and I know, how dare I link to wikipedia… but it gets the job done with only 1 link).

At the competition, hackers are offered cash incentives to exploit various software and browsers on both computers and mobile phones. But why would companies willingly let people hack their products, let alone pay them to do so? Basically, because these companies are then provided with information about the vulnerability that was exploited, so that the company can then attempt to correct the problem and prevent as much harm as possible from malicious hackers.

In fact, since nobody has been able to successfully hack Chrome yet, Google is offering an additional $1 million in “hacker bounties,” on top of the money already offered at the 2012 CanSecWest conference next week. Google wrote on its blog, “We require each set of exploit bugs to be reliable, fully functional end to end, disjoint, of critical impact, present in the latest versions and genuinely ’0-day,’ i.e. not known to us or previously shared with third parties.”

**Update**: a group of french hackers while finally able to hack Chrome at this years Pwn2Own

The point I would like to make is that, while hacking for monetary gain or to take down competition is usually the wrong thing to do, these same skills can be used to help companies fix up and improve their products. Are there any other instances where hacking could be beneficial, as opposed to criminal? Or is hacking something that should be always be considered a malicious act, regardless of the hackers intent?

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The Decline of the American Empire

// Posted by Tommy on 02/25/2012 (5:48 PM)

One of the programs I watched on Al Jazeera this week was an episode of Empire called “The Decline of the American Empire.” The description of the episode was:

“The… Read more

One of the programs I watched on Al Jazeera this week was an episode of Empire called “The Decline of the American Empire.” The description of the episode was:

“The US has the world’s biggest economy, the most influential culture, and the most potent military machine, with a budget that equals that of all other nations combined. It is the only power with a global project defended and supported by more aircraft carriers, Fortune 500 companies, and more successful media-tainment conglomerates than any other. America’s post-Cold War optimism has given way to pessimism, forecasting a declining power and more crucially, the end of “the American era”. But the last decade has been problematic for the world’s only superpower. The rise of new regional and global powers, coupled with Washington’s recent war fiascos and financial crisis have worsened the outlook for the future of the US. So, is all this talk of the US decline premature? And if not, what role will the US play in a post-US century?

The first 20 minutes or so looks primarily at the military-industrial complex in America, and actually highlights many similar points outline in the 2005 documentary Why We Fight, directed by Eugene Jarecki, detailing the rise and maintenance of the “American war machine.” The first major point that the program “The Decline of the American Empire” deals with is the idea of U.S. strategic overstretch. Using the U.S. implementation of carrier battle groups (consisting of “an aircraft carrier, cruisers, destroyers, scores of combat aircraft … and a multitude of long and short range missiles and other weapons… it is so large the entire thing requires roughly 10,000 military personnel to operate”), it is pointed out that while we have 12 of these groups, no other nation on Earth has one, and the question of “why?” is raised.

The answer comes from Nicholas Burns, former U.S. under-secretary of state: “We are absolutely keeping America safe. The world is so complex right now, there’s so many threats and challenges to our national security. You can’t meet them in Boston, in Los Angeles, you have to go out to meet them to defend the country.” This is where I tend to grow a little skeptical. To me, defense implies reacting to some threat or adversity, not going out and looking for, or meeting, challenges. In the following video clip, starting at around 2:40, Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski echoes that sentiment by stating “If you join the military now, you are not defending the United States of America. You are helping certain policy makers pursue an imperial agenda.”

While certainly arguing a concrete political view, I think that Karen Kwiatkowski, among others in the documentary, makes a pretty bold statement about the military-industrial complex.

I think the root of the problem is closely related to the statement by Karen Kwiatkowski, that the military-industrial complex has led to a disastrous rise is misplaced power, with “people making policy who have no accountability to the voter.” This concept is elaborated on and really dissected in “The Decline of the American Empire.” Professor Andrew Bacevich states: “There is in a sense, a partnership, probably goes too far to call it a conspiracy, ’cause it’s wide open, but there’s a partnership between members of congress, the armed services and large scale defense contractors, all of whom benefit in different ways by maintaining very high levels of military spending.” This relates directly to the concept of defense, and whether we defend ourselves at home or out in the world, because, according to Nicholas Burns, “We can’t just retreat to fortress America you know and bring up the drawbridge and hope to defend our international security interests by bringing all the troops home,” and therefore, “The cycle is endlessly perpetuated. Wars need funding, funding creates jobs, jobs strengthen the economy. So perhaps the most important question of all, is whether geo-political instability is the excuse, rather than the justification. This is the essence of real politics.” I think it’s an extremely controversial topic and question, but it’s my opinion that this U.S. strategic overstretch, coupled with misplaced power due to policy makers acting more on an imperial agenda than strictly one of protection, is, in fact, contributing the the decline of the American empire.

An important thing to understand, however, is the current nature of this empire. Tom Engelhardt puts it into relative perspective by stating “There’s a kind of a madness to the situation which we’re discussing very rationally in a way, and that is this, I mean in the Cold War, a genuine major enemy, a giant nuclear arsenal, the Soviet Union, a giant army, an imperial power, that was that moment. Now, the Soviet Union disappears one day and the resulting period we end up with is a national security state, a Pentagon budget, a military intelligence bureaucracy, a national security state that’s staggeringly bigger in a world in which, at most, there are a few thousand scattered terrorists who wanna do something to us. We’re dealing unsuccessfully with a couple of minority insurgencies in the greater Middle East. I mean its extraordinary to imagine that somehow we ended up with this gigantic, call it what you will, imperial… behemoth.” I think our country has spent far too long attempting to deal with an actual threat (as in, the Cold War) to know how to handle even a minor threat (as in, “a couple of minority insurgencies”), let alone no threat at all.

I don’t want to come off as anti-American in anyway, but after watching these documentaries and programs, I feel as though we need to need to regain some perspective on the world and our particular role in it. While the general message of “The Decline of the American Empire” was that this decline is moving at slow speeds and might not ever lead to the downfall of our country, there are certain things that need to be done to ensure America remains a world superpower.

One of the things the program pointed out was the fact that both American education and American corporations are still dominating the globe, echoing the main idea behind the article “Are Companies more Powerful than Countries.” The narrator of the program states “But while America Inc. may have lost it’s AAA rating, American brands still dominate the globe. Coca Cola has a global revenue of $35bn per annum, Microsoft, $69bn and Apple a whopping $100bn.” Technology analyst Kate Bulkley elaborates by saying that “Rumours of the collapse of the US tech sector innovation is let’s say overblown. I think that there’s a lot of innovation still in Silicon Valley, there’s a lot of innovation in America full stop. You can’t count out the companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, you know they just keep coming.”

The last thing I want to talk about is the military-indisutrial-media complex. Starting at around 6:05 in the video below, the documentary delves into the role of the media in America’s wars.

Normon Solomon, in an excerpt from his book entitled “The Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” begins with “After eight years in the White House, Dwight Eisenhower delivered his farewell address on January 17, 1961. The former general warned of ‘an immense military establishment and a large arms industry.’ He added that ‘we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.’ One way or another, a military-industrial complex now extends to much of corporate media. In the process, firms with military ties routinely advertise in news outlets. Often, media magnates and people on the boards of large media-related corporations enjoy close links—financial and social—with the military industry and Washington’s foreign-policy establishment.” While we might not have propaganda films like the original “Why We Fight” movies, we still have the news media, which, as an extension of the military-industrial complex, manipulate their audience by controlling the flow and content of the information presented. While this has its advantages, such as sparing the audience of brutal, violent images or videos when possible, is it ethical or moral to attempt to control how we think about the events being presented by not presenting the whole picture?

Obviously there is a spectrum here, and these are just my opinions based on the documentary we watched in class and the program on Al Jazeera about the decline of the American empire. I think that the U.S. military-industrial(-media) complex is still struggling to find its niche in the current geopolitical climate, and by continuing to operate as though we still have a major threat against our country (like we found in the Soviet Union during the Cold War), our country is steadily heading towards a decline in our power throughout the globe. I would like to know how other people interpreted the documentary, however, and if anyone actually watches the entire program “The Decline of the American Empire,” let me know how you would connect the two, or whether you think that there is no link between the major ideas presented both programs. Lastly, although I think that the news media is doing what’s in their best interest by limiting the information they relate to us, I think that there is still an opportunity to become as informed as possible via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Do you think the general news media reports on too little information, too much, or somewhere in the middle depending on the topic? Furthermore, how will the rise in social media sites influence the reporting by the news media, and do you think one or both of them will have to evolve to compensate for the other?


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How Higher-Ed is Going Digital

// Posted by Tommy on 02/21/2012 (8:55 AM)

This morning the school tweeted a link about how colleges and universities are “going digital.” We had talked already about how lower education has used new technology for education, and I thought this article… Read more

This morning the school tweeted a link about how colleges and universities are “going digital.” We had talked already about how lower education has used new technology for education, and I thought this article was interesting since it applied more to us. I also like infographics.

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Politics Online

// Posted by Tommy on 02/11/2012 (5:49 PM)

I don’t know if I paid enough attention to political ads before the last election (although I should have, since it was the first time I could vote), but the countless ads I just spend a couple hours going through… Read more

I don’t know if I paid enough attention to political ads before the last election (although I should have, since it was the first time I could vote), but the countless ads I just spend a couple hours going through seem to me to play more like movie trailers than anything else. Towards the end, I found myself caring less about any “facts” (or opinions) the ads contained, and more about what type of music it was playing or whether or not the ad could hold my attention. In the end, however, I tried to narrow down the common themes in each candidate’s ads.

After watching Newt Gingrich’s ads, I got the feeling that most of the ads on Newt’s youtube page were geared at attacking specifically Mitt Romney by comparing him to Obama

After watching Mitt Romney’s ads, I got the feeling that most of his ads were geared at attacking a statement by Obama on his “one-term proposition”

After watching some of the videos on Rick Santorum’s youtube page, I realized that there really weren’t too many actual ads, but a lot of videos like this one depicting parts of his campaign

Ron Paul’s political ads were sort of unique in that the attack ads weren’t completely aimed at smashing his competition, but usually ended with a positive spin on Ron Paul and his politics, usually focusing on his “incorruptibility”

Of all the political ads I watched, however, the one’s that really stuck out to me were Barack Obama’s. I realized that his were different because he doesn’t really need to defend against any other potential democratic candidates, and can focus more on looking at this past term and what he has already done for this country. The main reason I liked these ads, however, had nothing to do with politics at all. My favorite example is this video, looking back at the last 5 years

I’ve realized that Obama, more than any other candidate, is embracing and utilizing the internet to a great advantage. Despite the fact that all of the political ads today are online, this ad takes it one step further by creatively moving back and forth between an email, a webpage, and youtube videos. If Obama’s use of the internet wasn’t already apparent, the ad makes sure it is by stating “he’s the first candidate we’ve ever seen that’s had an organization that brought together the internet and community organizing.”

An article on a couple weeks ago featured Obama and Romney’s adoption of mobile payments for donations. After briefly describing how this process works, the article goes on to state:

“The Obama campaign and administration has embraced technology to a much greater degree than most past presidents, and is also leveraging social media, a tool that wasn’t even available prior to the George W. Bush administration. In 2008, Obama complemented his presidential campaign with an iPhone app in order to help voters learn more about the then-senator. After he was elected, the president then began posting regular YouTube fireside chats, harkening back to FDR’s radio-transmitted fireside chats during the Great Depression. Most recently, Obama even took part in a Google+ Hangout.”

Since everything today is moving online, and we do in fact live in a “digital america,” I think that the use of the internet, among other forms of new technology, could very well make or break this upcoming election. My own personal political standing notwithstanding, Obama’s embrace of digital media is a big step, and a great way to reach a vast amount of people. When the pros and cons are compared, I tend to think that this utilization of the internet can do more good than bad for Obama, but could there be some negative consequences or unintended outcomes? Furthermore, I’d like to know what other people thought of the ads by the republican candidates, and any common themes or big points that I may have missed or misunderstood.

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Patent the Internet?

// Posted by Tommy on 02/08/2012 (9:13 PM)







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// Posted by Tommy on 01/28/2012 (6:23 PM)

Hacking, according to Steven Levy and his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, can be traced back to MIT in the 1940′s, a decade before computer programming was even offered at the school. Back then, hacking referred to… Read more

Hacking, according to Steven Levy and his book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, can be traced back to MIT in the 1940′s, a decade before computer programming was even offered at the school. Back then, hacking referred to a particular work ethic: a “hack” was “a project undertaken or a product built not solely to fulfill some constructive goal, but with some wild pleasure taken in mere involvement.” Eventually, with the rise of computers, the hacking style of work could be applied to computer programming as well. Within the research community, hackers focused on the computer systems themselves, and worked at trying to see what they could do with them. In the beginning, hackers focused on the computer hardware and soon computer games, and their stigma was that of “semi-indpendent, creative individuals.” From this cultural movement of hackers came the hacker ethic:

  1. “Access to computers- and anything which might teach you something about the way the world works- should be unlimited and total. Always yield to the Hands-On Imperative!..
  2. All Information should be free….
  3. Mistrust Authority- Promote Decentralization…
  4. Hackers should be judged by their hacking, not bogus criteria such as degrees, age, race, or position…
  5. You can create art and beauty on a computer…
  6. Computers can change your life for the better.”

In this early hacker community, hackers made the programs they were working on available to one another, with the expectation that the program would then be added on to, improved, and made available again, because “the Right Thing to do was make sure that any good program got the fullest exposure possible because information was free and the world would only be improved by its accelerated flow.” Decades later, this same ethic would reemerge with the group and movement known as Anonymous.

Anonymous is a group that is particularly hard to define. While most people agree that they are hackers, the term hacker has been somewhat misconstrued over the years. At its core, according to a three-part series on Anonymous on by Quinn Norton, Anonymous is a culture. Says Norton, “It takes cultures to have albums, idioms, and iconography, and I was swimming in these and more. Anonymous is a nascent and small culture, but one with its own aesthetics and values, art and literature, social norms and ways of production, and even its own dialectic language. It is no wonder we in the media and the wider culture are often confused. Any study of Anonymous must be anthropological, taking into account the way people exist in different societies. The media has just been looking for an organization with a leader who could explain why Anonymous seems to do weird things.”

In tracing the history of Anonymous, Norton acknowledges the rise of computer culture in general throughout the 1960′s and 1970′s countercultural movement featured in Turner’s From Counterculture to Cyberculture. In fact, in my opinion, Anonymous is perhaps the best, if not the most current, example of the blend between counterculture and cyberculture. However, while Turner illustrates the movement from offline counterculture to online cyberculture, Anonymous represents the logical next step: the use of widespread cyberculture and its ubiquitous presence in society today to spread its counterculture message. Norton says this in so many words in part 1 of the series by pointing out that “you’re never quite sure if Anonymous is the hero or antihero. The trickster is attracted to change and the need for change, and that’s where Anonymous goes… The trickster as myth proved so compelling that the network made it real. Anonymous, the net’s trickster, emerged like a supernatural movie monster out of the misty realm of ideas and into the real world…For the first time, the internet had shown up on the real street, en masse.”

Anonymous has most definitely evolved over the past couple years, but their goal and message has remained largely unchanged. “In the beginning, there were lulz, pranks and a culture of trolling just to get a rise out of anyone. But despite many original Anons best efforts, Anonymous has grown up to become the net’s immune system, striking back whenever the hive mind perceived that the institutions that run the world crossed the line into hypocrisy… It’s the culmination of a trend. Anonymous has gone from rickrolling the internet and mass-producing lolcats to hacking governments and corporations as a way to take on the systems that run the world, through means legal and illegal.”

Anonymous is perhaps most known for their attacks against Sony and AiPlex, the India-based company contracted to send out take-down requests to piracy sites, notably The Pirate Bay. Eventually the story morphed into legend; word spread that AiPlex was hired to perform illegal actions by the MPAA and RIAA. While this may or may not have been the case, it wasn’t specifically the actions that angered Anonymous, but rather the motives behind those actions. “For years those who cared about the effects of copyright laws on online freedom seemed to suffer one institutional defeat after another, with bill after bill pushed by the entertainment industry carving away rights, lawsuits shuttering innovative music start-ups and secret treaties proposing increased monitoring and control of people’s computers and internet connections. Most of these bills failed, but for the digitally political, Big Content’s pushes felt like a continual assault. Anonymous had no unified opinion on copyright per se, but when measures to stop piracy threatened to hamper the internet, the hive mind came together.” The chief complaint of Anonymous was the restriction of people’s access to the internet, because ” To threaten to cut people off from the global consciousness as you have is criminal and abhorrent. To move to censor content on the internet based on your own prejudice is at best laughably impossible, at worst, morally reprehensible.” In their own words, Anonymous “does not forgive internet censorship” and “does not forget free speech.” This video, with the computer generated voice so deeply a part of Anonymous’s aesthetic, sums up their point pretty well, and in their own words, about the state of the internet in December of 2010:

The actions by Anonymous most closely tied to the history of the hacker, however, was their attacks against Sony. Thanks to Anonymous, the Sony Playstation Network was down from April 20th-May 14th, and Sony’s stock dropped from $31/share to just over $25/share. “The Sony PS3 console had been a favorite of hackers, who used a jailbreak created by George Hotz (geohot) in 2010 to install custom firmware and run Linux and OtherOS. Running Linux was originally a feature used by Sony to promote the PlayStation, but later removed the feature with a patch. In January 2011, Sony sued Hotz and others for allegedly violating federal law against circumventing encryption. Hotz settled in April under a gag rule, but it didn’t stop him from blasting Sony on his personal blog and asking people to join him in a boycott of Sony products.” In the end, it comes back to the hacker ethic, of which Sony broke multiple rules (although especially 1 and 2).

Although I’m sure I don’t fully understand Anonymous and the true reasons behind their actions, I can’t help but side with them on multiple issues. While some of their techniques may be illegal and morally questionable, the results are often for the general good of society (namely the events that took place in Tunisian and Egypt; read the three-part series for a refresher). Of course, how the facts are interpreted varies from individual to individual. I consider Anonymous the heroes because they stand up and fight for free speech and the freedom of information on the internet. Are their techniques sometimes illegal? Absolutely. But so is speeding (which I do almost every morning when I need to get to campus because I’m late for class) and downloading music online (which I do because I feel as though an artist will ultimately benefit more from me downloading a song of theirs that I love and promoting it to all of my friends and convincing them to go see that artist in concert with me than from the small percentage of proceeds an artist gets from the record label). In other words, I can relate to Anonymous because I agree with their ideologies. I feel as though this culture is one that promotes and encourages values that I do as well. But I could be biased. So let me know what you guys think. Is anonymous just a group of internet terrorists? Or is Anonymous the Rosa Parks of the internet civil rights movement? Or is it really not as black and white as that?






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Technology and New Mass Media

// Posted by Tommy on 01/14/2012 (6:10 PM)

While browsing the Wired archives, I stumbled onto an article by Michael Crichton adaptedfrom a speechhe gave to the National Press Club in April of 1993. The headline of the article was “Mediasaurus,” and opened by… Read more

While browsing the Wired archives, I stumbled onto an article by Michael Crichton adaptedfrom a speechhe gave to the National Press Club in April of 1993. The headline of the article was “Mediasaurus,” and opened by comparing the American media to a dinosaur in the sense that, like the dinosaurs, the American media as understood in 1993 was headed towards extinction. Importantly, Crichton states that the change necessary for the American media to survive this extinction is technology; from the printing press to the telegraph, and now to the internet, media have always been driven by technology. Furthermore, Crichton argues that technology changed the very concept of information to our society. Without stating it directly, Crichton has begun to describe new media, the immediate access to information via technology. Although Crichton believes that this rise of new and mass media will be the catalyst required for print media to change, how could he have known that almost two decades later, the new media he was waiting for wouldn’t manifest as print media evolved, but rather within the technology itself?

While Michael Crichton thought that print media would always retain its monopoly on information, Rupert Murdoch, an important, although recently controversial, member of the media elite, is embracing technology. In a 2004 interview, Murdoch stated “To find something comparable, you have to go back 500 years to the printing press, the birth of mass media – which, incidentally, is what really destroyed the old world of kings and aristocracies. Technology is shifting power away from the editors, the publishers, the establishment, the media elite. Now it’s the people who are taking control…. the internet is media’s golden age.” To continue with the dinosaur theme, the author of the article in which this interview is featured coincidentally writes that these days, “midtown Manhattan’s valley of old media dinosaurs is besieged by a Cambrian explosion of digitally empowered life-forms: podcasters, bloggers, burners, P2P buccaneers, mashup artists, phonecam paparazzi. Viewers are vanishing, shareholders are in revolt, advertisers are Googling for the exit.”

Although my grandparents still complain that technology is ruining society and reminisce about the newspaper, I find it ironic that they don’t go anywhere without their cell phones, kindles, and laptops (for Christmas, they just bought my 3-and-4-year-old cousins each a kindle fire… I still don’t even have one). Despite their nostalgia for print media, neither one of my grandparents can argue with the fact that the immediate and constant availability of information is something to be appreciated. To use an example of new mass media to illustrate the importance of the internet to information:

Sony Rep Eats His Words… with Cheese

First off, I’m not ashamed to admit that for most of 2010 and 2011, “The Philip DeFranco Show” on youtube was how I kept up with current events. Second, I agree with his interpretation of how important the internet is for information when he says that the internet is important for two important reasons, the serious one being “information accessible from everywhere.”

That video is an example of people taking control to show that the internet really is media’s golden age. This time last year, with the success of the iPad, I read a blog post titled “The New Mass Media is the iPad,” and thanks to the internet, specifically, I was able to quickly find this blog again. Back then, I didn’t really understand the importance of the term “new mass media,” or why the iPad was important for the mass media movement. So that point I want to make is that, although it’s kind of sad that newspapers and other forms of print media are in decline, I think that the pros of new and mass media more than make up for it due to the ease at which people can now get access to information, and information really is power (as evidenced by… history). This, however, is just my opinion, and since I am definitely biased due to my heavy reliance on the internet for everything I do (thanks Google), I’m interested to see what other people think.


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