DIGITAL AMERICA

Monthly Archives: March 2012

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

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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?

 


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Anonymous Audiences

// Posted by Natalie on 03/29/2012 (10:04 AM)

After reading Chris Poole’s argument for anonymity online I began to wonder about the pros and cons. Anonymity has been able to bring people together to act benevolently, such as the efforts to catch the cat abuser. At the… Read more

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After reading Chris Poole’s argument for anonymity online I began to wonder about the pros and cons. Anonymity has been able to bring people together to act benevolently, such as the efforts to catch the cat abuser. At the same time, anonymity permits us to act maliciously as highlighted by online bulling in Schwartz’s article. Why will we go out of our way to avenge cat abusers but we can’t call someone out for being rude online?

Part of this is propelled by the anonymity of the audience. Not only is the person who publishes this information anonymous, but so is the audience viewing the information. It makes it easy for people to enjoy reading these posts without the public conscious of worrying how others see you as a bystander. If you saw someone being beat on the street others around you would judge you for not stopping to help; however, online there is no incentive to step in. Instead you can sit and be a voyeur of the harassment without judgment.

There is a certain curiosity that we fulfill reading about these scenarios. It fascinates us to know about these relations; however, the minutes that we become the subject of the jokes and scrutiny we begin to feel differently about the abuse.  For those in the trolling community they feel a sense of pride in the amount of emotional disruption they can cause – sometimes to the extent that they can keep score:

“ “Lulz” is how trolls keep score. A corruption of “LOL” or “laugh out loud,” “lulz” means the joy of disrupting another’s emotional equilibrium. “Lulz is watching someone lose their mind at their computer 2,000 miles away while you chat with friends and laugh,” said one ex-troll who, like many people I contacted, refused to disclose his legal identity.” – Schwartz, The Trolls Among Us.

Oftentimes we don’t take the time to prevent these issues until something bad happens. Tyler Clementi committed suicide after he was the subject of online bullying. In response to his the death the “It Gets Better” project was started to inspire the young LBGT community. Online harassment occurs all the time; however, we normally nothing is done in response. Anonymously, we are all willing to be non-acting bystanders.  When Juicy Campus was popular at Richmond everyone was willing to read the gossip until the jokes and rumors were pointed at them.

We need to recognize our position as bystanders in situations. It is easy to be an “innocent bystander” but those days are over. We are now becoming more responsible for our actions even though we are not aware of it. Some groups have learned to take advantage of our role as bystanders. Anonymous used its voyeurs as a tool one of its schemes to take down the Department of Justice. Unknowingly several of the bystanders on their site were used in some of their illegal activities.  I think all of these examples serve as evidence that we need to be more conscious of our role online. We may be anonymous but it does not mean that people aren’t watching what were doing online.


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Twitter and Trolls and Cultural Shifts, Oh My!

// Posted by Abbey on 03/28/2012 (11:42 AM)

I guess I’ll be one of the brave souls to mention trolling in a post because recent class discussions have caused me to consider the impact of technology on our culture (our Digital America, if you will). Throughout the semester,… Read more

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I guess I’ll be one of the brave souls to mention trolling in a post because recent class discussions have caused me to consider the impact of technology on our culture (our Digital America, if you will). Throughout the semester, I have read articles that argue that social media sites have changed our culture for the worse; we choose to interact with people through computer screens instead of in person, we are distancing ourselves from “real” human interaction, we are forgetting how to socialize, etc. These articles make a compelling and significant point in that nothing can replace the interactions we have in person that make us humans, and the new digital culture we live in is moving us away from this. One counter point to this argument is that social media sites are new tools that actually improve our connections with people, both from close up as well as from far away. Using a site like Facebook or Twitter allows people to share more of their lives with both those directly around them as well as those possibly oceans away. It is the times when people sit next to each other and are constantly on their smartphones, however, that causes this question of whether or not social media is making or breaking our new cultural age of communication.

I recently read an opinion in mashable.com written by Josh Rose. Rose attempts to argue that social media has a positive impact on our culture by describing the way in which he interacts with his son, whom he only gets to see occasionally because he and his wife are divorced. Rose says that the “I don’t care what you had for breakfast this morning” argument against social media may apply to some people, but in his case, he dies for the moments where his son tells him exactly that. Rose notes how confusing social media can be for those who engage with it: “Social media simultaneously draws us nearer and distances us.” People feel both pulled closer to the people far away from them but sometimes distanced from those in their physical proximity. Rose makes an observation from the coffee shop he is writing in: four people are reading newspapers while four people are on their laptops. He observes the “juxtapositions of physical and digital going on,” and observes that “people aren’t giving up long-form reading, considered thinking or social interactions. They are just filling all the space between.” This is an interesting idea, “filling the space between.” People who interact with social media aren’t moving away from their cultural surroundings, they are merely filling the gap between interactions. After all, as Rose puts it, “the Internet doesn’t steal our humanity, it reflects it. The Internet doesn’t get inside us, it shows what’s inside us.” Social media gives us a medium through which to share our thoughts, feelings, goings-on, etc. instead of replacing them in some way with something less real. The internet is the medium which the message is conveyed, it is not becoming the message itself.

 

After reading Rose’s piece, I began to think about how this positive impact on our lives he cites contrasts with the impact trolling has been cited to have. For those who are unclear on what exactly “trolling” is, knowyourmeme.com gives a comprehensive definition of trolling to make it more clear. The New York Times simply defines it as “manipulating other people’s emotional equilibrium.” There have been many stories about how trolling has caused not just emotional distress, but emotional destruction to its victims. One man in the UK was arrested for “trolling” about a girl after she committed suicide because she was bullied. (Read the article here). This is only one example of a story like this, but there are many others out there. I then came across an article called Top 10 Trolls in Internet History, which details 10 results of “trolling” that, while causing annoyance and frustration, do not go as far as to insult a child who has ended their life. Either way, trolling seems to have only negative consequences for its victims; a point that makes sense because its intention is “emotional distress.” Further down in the knowyourmeme.com article on trolling, the “Rules of the Internet” on trolling, beginning with the statement “We are anonymous” and continuing down to “Nothing is sacred” and “The more beautiful and pure a thing is- the more satisfying it is to corrupt it.” What, now? Nothing is sacred? The more beautiful and pure something is… the more fun it is to ruin it? These ideas play into the theory of psychology that we all have a little evil in us, and under the right circumstances it can come out. It is what was seen in Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 prison experiment at Stanford University in which participants were randomly assigned to part of “prisoner” or “guard” and the guards became sadistic, causing so much emotional distress to the prisoners that the experiment had to be shut down early. The “Rules of the Internet” begin with the statement “We are anonymous,” significant because psychological distress of those who troll seems to be the gasoline on the pile of wood while anonymity is the match. What causes people to want to cause harm to loved ones of those who have died? In the New York Times article “The Trolls Among Us”, Jason Fortuny says that trolling will only stop when people stop taking it seriously. This may be true, but this type of bullying would not and is not tolerated in person; there is a word for it, and it is harassment. Anonymity makes people more likely to troll and too resource-consuming for authorities to track.

 

 

Taking both of these perspectives into mind, do you think the internet has created possibilities for more positive or negative impacts on our culture? How do you personally think our culture has been impacted by this digital age?


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Exploring the Abyss: Science Fiction in Life

// Posted by Max on 03/27/2012 (8:38 AM)

Yesterday, the first person in 50 years to do so and only the second ever, James Cameron made it to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a place called the Challenger Deep: the deepest place on… Read more

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Yesterday, the first person in 50 years to do so and only the second ever, James Cameron made it to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a place called the Challenger Deep: the deepest place on earth. Cameron, famous filmmaker of movies such as Alien, Terminator, Titanic, Avatar and perhaps most fittingly: The Abyss, has been an avid oceanic explorer since the making of the aforementioned movie. During the filming of Titanic, Cameron made 12 dives to the site of the shipwreck in the North Atlantic. Cameron, a National Geographic Explorer in residence, set records for deepest solo dive with his mission, a part of the Deepsea Challenge mission sponsored by National Geographic and Rolex. The technology behind Cameron’s sub is astonishing however one of the amazing aspects of this story is how Cameron, who’s innovative story telling abilities earned him the Explorer in Residence honor, is helping the world of energy conservation, inspired by his work on the movie Avatar. Similarly, Cameron’s company Earthship productions creates films about oceanic exploration and conservation. It was very heartening to see Cameron using his influence and abilities to further scientific understanding and public awareness of one of the few truly alien (no pun intended) environments left in the world. He was assissted by former co creator of Microsoft, Paul Allen, who assisted from his yacht and also kept a running Twitter account of the operation. This was a great news story to follow and it’s a real life example of science fiction coming to life. In this same threat I’ve included James Cameron’s TED talk from 2010 below, where he discusses science fiction in life.

Before Avatar Came a Curious Boy

 


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A Case for Collaboration?

// Posted by Phylicia on 03/26/2012 (10:21 PM)

Collaboration can be a powerful tool. However, is it in our nature to collaborate? Forbes says yes, at least for female collaboration. While musing over the general notion of collaboration, I looked back on my personal experiences. Collaboration is arguably… Read more

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Collaboration can be a powerful tool. However, is it in our nature to collaborate? Forbes says yes, at least for female collaboration. While musing over the general notion of collaboration, I looked back on my personal experiences. Collaboration is arguably frowned upon in schools (think doing homework or assignments collaboratively… in most schools this is considered cheating). If individuals are conditioned through education and collaboration is not encouraged, is it possible to expect collaboration through the internet to solve problems? Of course, there are moments—group projects— when collaboration is encouraged in schools. However, most individuals fear group projects because they cannot control every aspect. In group projects, every member should have an equal share in the work. While that’s wonderful theory, anyone who has ever been part of a group project knows that this is rarely the case. There is usually a group “leader” who usurps the power and probably does most of the project allowing the other members to merely write their names on it.

So this morning when I stumbled upon an article on Forbes.com that discussed the rise of social collaboration, I was intrigued. The articled discussed a theory of the owners of HACKEDit.com “that acknowledging a major difference between men and women will make all the difference for the tools of Web 2.0 being built today.” The difference is simple, four words:

Men network, women collaborate.

About 77% of Groupon’s income come from a female consumer base. The company just took their ability to tap into that market a step further through the creation of the Groupon Scheduler, which will allow women to collaborate online directly with the businesses they use. There is no denying that men network and women collaborate. Linkedin has done it’s own research and found that “globally, men are more savvy networkers than women.” Moreover, the Pew Internet Research found that nearly twice as many men use LinkedIn as women (63% vs. 37% respectively).

The article ultimately states that it is surprising that such a “lack of online social collaboration tools being designed for women” exists. I found this whole article rather interesting and surprising, since I do not usually view females as better collaborators than men. I think Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk on Gaming and her I Love Bees article, really challenge the legitimacy of this theory. From McGonigal’s viewpoint it seems that anyone can be an excellent collaborator if provided the right mindset.

What do you think? Are women natural collaborators? Can men be as well? Does Jane McGonigal challenge your initial beliefs?

 


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The Possibility of Social Media

// Posted by Bridget on 03/24/2012 (10:34 PM)

While purusing various TED talks, I came across a very interesting and relevant one to the current issues we’ve been looking at. Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) gives a very interesting talk called “How Social MediaRead more

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While purusing various TED talks, I came across a very interesting and relevant one to the current issues we’ve been looking at. Clay Shirky (author of Here Comes Everybody) gives a very interesting talk called “How Social Media Can Make History.” In this talk, Shirky uses the event of China’s 2008 earthquake to illustrate the immense power of social media. Before news channels were even aware of this monumental event, Chinese citizens were using their phones to upload news in pictures, video, Tweets, etc. This instantaneous communication between people and larger media networks shows the huge power social medias (that we often take for granted) give us.

However, news of the earthquake was not the only issue transferred via social media networks at this time. When the earthquake happened, many schools collapsed, killing many children. Upon further investigation, Chinese protests formed among citizens in response to the horrific truths that were revealed – approved by officials, schools were being built to less than code. Huge protests began, and social media was not only censored by the Chinese government, but shut down completely.

Do you think we (our generation of Americans) will ever learn to utilize social media in a way to communicate news or protest? Or, do you think the mass majority of us will continue to utilize sites like Twitter for our own entertainment. If the government stripped our social media access, like China did, would we change the way we use them? Would we feel differently about social media networks and how we use them? While the United States is a very free nation, especially with regard to our Internet capabilities, many countries (notably China) limit their citizens’ accessibility to the web. Maybe we shouldn’t take sites like Twitter (which proves to be a very powerful communication tool) for granted, or only use it for leisure purposes, when other people may depend on it.


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Speaking of security…

// Posted by Kelsey on 03/24/2012 (9:37 PM)

Renee’s post on dishwasher spying got me thinking about how secure we are versus how secure we think we are. It seems to be that we always think we are more secure than reality. The ability of… Read more

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Renee’s post on dishwasher spying got me thinking about how secure we are versus how secure we think we are. It seems to be that we always think we are more secure than reality. The ability of the CIA to spy on us through our dishwasher, the Patriot Act, Stuxnet, webcam hacks, right on down to our bank accounts and even the information we provide to download apps on our iphones.

 

These examples only scratch the surface of all the ways that people can be spied on or have their information stolen and yet, it never seems to cross our mind. It feels like we are in a culture that is based on mistrust of people and of government but we trust our online banking and we trust our iphones. As can be seen in the comments on Renee’s post, among others,we are not deeply concerned with being hacked or stolen from. How is it that we can’t trust people but we can trust the machines and programs built by them to keep us safe?


Especially when it is so easy to hack into things. The kinect hack videos we see on youtube are harmless but if it’s that easy then what are people with malicious intent getting into?

There are companies out there that are working to make security better so that our confidence in wireless protection is well placed. And based on the cracking of the Stuxnet virus, large corporations are making good progress but it will be truly effective when average folk like us with nothing to hide can still have access to good security. In the mean time changing your passwords might be a good idea.


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Social Media Etiquette

// Posted by Allison on 03/23/2012 (6:31 PM)

 

After our discussion last week about our generation creating “rules” for using websites such as Facebook and Twitter I did a little research to see if there was any information about these rules that we all feel the… Read more

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After our discussion last week about our generation creating “rules” for using websites such as Facebook and Twitter I did a little research to see if there was any information about these rules that we all feel the need to abide by. However, you are not penalized for breaking these rules. For instance, your Facebook will not be deleted if you post unflattering pictures of your friends. Rather, these are essentially guidelines for “how to be cool”.

I find the rules of Facebook to be particularly interesting because it is something that we are users generated. We decided as a collective that it isn’t cool to update your statues to tell you “friends” what you are doing every hour on the hour. We made the space what we want it to be used for. No one told us how we had to use it, we decided how it would be used. Now that younger people are join will they shape the way facebook is used for them and their age group? Or will our rules be an overarching governing tool? It seems to me that the rules we have established are universal–not just among friend groups. So will these rules change as time goes on? Or will they remain relevant as years go by?

I even find it interesting that we felt the need to establish rules. Is that because our generation grew up with so many rules? Don’t run with a lollipop in your mouth, don’t leave the yard, don’t play in the mud, etc… Perhaps we’re just a generation of rules?

 


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The Possibility of US Involvement in an anti-piracy treaty

// Posted by Molly on 03/20/2012 (6:30 PM)

Copyright laws in the United States are tricky things to understand, especially in a digital age. Some aspects of the laws are stricter than others, while some have loopholes that many young adults know and use. With sites such as… Read more

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Copyright laws in the United States are tricky things to understand, especially in a digital age. Some aspects of the laws are stricter than others, while some have loopholes that many young adults know and use. With sites such as Megaupload being shut down and piracy laws being modified, we are watching as new laws take shape and as the government decides what will be available to us in the future. In an article published in Wired, David Kravets reports on possible new restrictions on sharing and using information on the internet. An international treaty called the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement is an anti-piracy treaty that is similar to one that already exists in the United States. Currently, there are no countries that have ratified this treaty but it has been up for discussion in the past, and is being brought up again as a serious possibility. You can find the article here. It is definitely worth reading and goes into more detail than I am able to. Though at first glance the treaty seems distant and improbable, it is gaining support and Congress has been discussing it as a real possibility. Because the United States already has a Copyright Act that comes with a $150,000 per infringement penalty, much of the issue is whether the government will want to change this and, if the international agreement is different, whether that will deter the government from agreeing to it. The process is not simple and there are many sides to the debate, but one thing that is undeniable is how important it is to stay informed on the possibility of the treaty. Sean Flynn, an American University, Washington College of Law intellectual-property scholar was quoted in Kravets’s article.

“The reason it is a big deal, because this is what this agreement does, it tells domestic legislatures what its law must be or not be. These type of agreements are the most important to go through legislative approval and go through a public process and commenting on what the norms are of that agreement. The reason, it locally restricts what the democratic process can do.”

This agreement is important to learn about, follow and take a stance on in the future. With legislation changing and the government revising to stay with other countries, it will be interesting to see what side the United States chooses to take. What do you make of this agreement? Do you think other countries will be quick sign it, or will the United States lead the way? What will this mean for the future of intellectual property and copyright law?

There is definitely a lot to wrap your mind around on this issue and it will be interesting how much publicity this agreement will get in the mainstream media and outside of publications such as Wired.


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Video: Fair(y) Use Tale

// Posted by Molly on 03/20/2012 (11:37 AM)



 

This video was put together to explain Copyright Law and Fair Use, and to demonstrate how Fair Use can work. The concept of Fair Use is… Read more

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This video was put together to explain Copyright Law and Fair Use, and to demonstrate how Fair Use can work. The concept of Fair Use is pretty confusing, as is the video because it is taken from so many different places. However, after reading about the laws and having a basic understanding of them, I thought this video was pretty cool and informative.


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Can the government spy on you through your dishwasher?

// Posted by Renee on 03/19/2012 (10:50 PM)

In an article posted on wired titled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher”, author Spencer Ackerman disscusses how an increasing number of our home electronics and devices are connected to the internet and there is a… Read more

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In an article posted on wired titled “CIA Chief: We’ll Spy on You Through Your Dishwasher”, author Spencer Ackerman disscusses how an increasing number of our home electronics and devices are connected to the internet and there is a possibility that the government could use them to spy on us.

Spies used to have to plant a bug but now they can hack your wired devices or intercept the signal sent when you use the lighting app on your phone.

The most interesting part of this article is that although there are several laws which protect American citizens from being spied on by the CIA, this new catagory of collecting data from wired devices does not fall under many of the legal restrictions and has become a gray area.

I feel like this relates to the activites of Anonymous and stuxnet. If the CIA can spy on you, so can any member of anonymous or any tech savy individual on a mission, like the creator of stuxnet. It is a matter of online security and how secure do we really have a right to feel. I don’t really have anything to hide but I don’t want someone to be able to know everytime I turn a light on. With the massive connectivety of the network we send out so much information about ourselves on a daily massive that it is naive to believe that no one is watching. The article points out how alarmed legislators were to realize just how easy it is for the government to track you through your phone or playstation, and right now it is technically not illegal. I think as a society we need to re-evaluate what we consider privacy and the extent of privacy that we expect. I expect to be allowed to go about my day without the government documenting my every move. However in the instance of a person of interest who may potentially do harm to others, it is hard to say that the government should not pursue them through the means available. But I think my opinion is that even if it is a person of interest, it should be like a warrant, unless the authorities can prove probable cause, they need to stay away from me and my dishwasher.


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Stuxnet was just the beginning…

// Posted by Cameron on 03/18/2012 (8:42 PM)

I recently read an article from the Washington Post about the United States ramping up its efforts to create more cyberweapons. Not only does this give us an idea as to how the US values this type of… Read more

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I recently read an article from the Washington Post about the United States ramping up its efforts to create more cyberweapons. Not only does this give us an idea as to how the US values this type of weapon and its efforts to grow this program, it also provides more insight into how long a weapon such as Stuxnet could take to develop.

The article mentioned that the government is working on how to attack computers that are not even connected to the Internet, which to me is difficult to imagine, but apparently quite possible.

Many military officials are not satisfied with the current status of cyberweaponry because of the lack of control and potential widespread effects, the current inability to wipe out an entire system instead of just disabling certain parts, and the potential for it to be altered and used to attack the United States.

Do you believe that cyberweaponry is something into which the US government should be investing? Or should we continue with more of the normal types of attacks, with physical weapons?


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#OccupyEverything

// Posted by Ali S on 03/17/2012 (2:06 PM)

After reading an article on Occupy Together I was astonished to see just what people are occupying. Each week the site posts a list of movements that are occurring around the globe, from right… Read more

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After reading an article on Occupy Together I was astonished to see just what people are occupying. Each week the site posts a list of movements that are occurring around the globe, from right here in the capital of Virginia to Iran to Russia; people are attempting to make someone notice they are suffering. So what happens in one week of occupying? Do people sit around and make a building inaccessible? Do they have rallies? I had no idea. Searching around on YouTube I came across the video of an occupy movement in Richmond, Virginia on March 3, 2012, International Women’s Day.

The video is simple, it’s someone standing in the crowd with their camera directed to the steps where women are sitting in a pro-choice rally. They are protesting a new bill that requires women to have an ultra sound before receiving an abortion. 14 men and 17 women were arrested on that day, having done nothing but sit on a flight of stairs. I guess the primary question is what is Occupy? What do we occupy and why do we do it?

5 days after this event 5,000 protesters formed a 3 mile line from lower Manhattan to Union Square, protesting unemployment. But what is protesting? Does it actually accomplish a task or does it do more harm than good? Can progress be gained from a protest or is it just as good as signing a petition? The Occupy movement originated from Occupy Wall Street, where groups gathered in September of 2011 in Liberty Square to fight back against major banks and multinational corporations that stand over democratic process. But now, there is occupy everything. Occupy has become in retrospect a sit-in, where a group of people or an organization becomes unhappy about a situation and decides to “occupy” someplace where a difference might possibly be made.

As all of this can be a great cause does it ever become too much? Does the term occupy become a laughing matter where people are over doing it? Does occupying have any real result?


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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

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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 Turntable.fm 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?

 


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Solutions for OWS Movement

// Posted by Natalie on 03/16/2012 (5:53 PM)

A common criticism of the Occupy movement is that the group has proposed no solutions. There are a great number of supports willing to demonstrate for the anger towards the issues at hand. At the same time, it is… Read more

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A common criticism of the Occupy movement is that the group has proposed no solutions. There are a great number of supports willing to demonstrate for the anger towards the issues at hand. At the same time, it is difficult to get political backing when there is no agenda to follow. Conversely, senators, congressmen and other politicians have aligned with the Tea Party movement because they have requested specific changes and made a plan to improve upon their demands. These political figures can work to enact these agendas and move them forward in policy because of this action.

Because these criticisms of OWS are so frequent, I began to wonder why no one has tried to provide a solution. I research solutions or groups that were working to provide answers. Two sites that I found, The Root and Reasonable Solutions, claimed that they were answering these questions. The Root discussed how they were seeking more jobs for people (which as we discussed in class is not a direct way of fixing the issues, many of the 99% have jobs they are unsatisfied with the inequalities rather). They also were working to get people to join groups across all congressional districts (groups being Planned Parenthood and Rebuild the Dream). Reasonable Solutions, an Occupy movement based in Philadelphia, provided more specific goals. They want to change policies of corporate personhood and repeal the Glass-Steagal law; however, they provided no direction or set plans of how they were going to achieve this.

Some of the success of the Tea Party is associated with the demographics of the group. Their tactics of protesting resemble the older ways of protest that we have claimed younger, more digitalized forms of activism lack. I do not believe that these techniques are solely for the old, conservatives. The digitalized, youth activism is capable of this as well.

Evidence of this can be seen in the recent debates surrounding abortion in Richmond. A bill was passed in the state senate that would require women to receive a trans-vaginal ultrasound before an abortion; an invasive tactic that could potentially deter women from seeking abortions. Even though the bill was passed it was repealed to the amounts of backlash:

“Though the state Senate approved it by a vote of 21-18, the House twice delayed a vote on it in the midst of intense media scrutiny, protests outside the capitol and a petition signed by 25,000 people” – TPM

Pro-choice activists do not usually fit the Tea Party stereotype. This group was able to achieve change through a hybrid of techniques. Through a series of demonstrations, like OWS, and active petitions signing, they were able to convince McDonnell to back down.

Activists need to take note of these examples and realize that there needs to be more of a plan of action in order for change to occur. When OWS returns this spring a more definitive agenda needs to be outlined. In this case they may see more support from politicians and they may even change the actions of those in power. The Reasonable Solutions group shows some promise; however, they still need a plan. It will be interesting to see how they progress into the future.


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The Spread of Knowledge or Opinion?

// Posted by Phylicia on 03/12/2012 (11:59 PM)

 

Since its birth, the power of the internet was derived from its ability to spread information. From the Whole Earth Catalog to Wiki Leaks, despite form, information is dispersed to all those with access. This past… Read more

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Since its birth, the power of the internet was derived from its ability to spread information. From the Whole Earth Catalog to Wiki Leaks, despite form, information is dispersed to all those with access. This past week, social-media networks experienced something else, the spread of opinions. After the Invisibile Children campaign against Kony: KONY 2012 erupted all over Facebook, among other sites, individuals quickly adopted opinions. I am not here to favor one opinion over another, I am just making observations.

In my opinion, the virtual campaign exploded so quickly that many individuals posting about and “supporting” the KONY 2012 campaign did not even have enough time to fully research what they were supporting. This would seem to suggest that as a result of a lack of complete information (the complete picture), individuals were rather quick to “choose” sides.

Awareness is a wonderful thing. However, I am less comfortable with activism that occurs because its “social” or “cool” to support a cause. What is happening in Uganda is not just. However, activism isn’t solely about following the crowd. Real activism creates change not only through awareness, but also of knowledge. I hope individuals choose to become more knowledgeable of the causes they support. Even when they are worthwhile.

Here’s the KONY 2012 video if you haven’t gotten a change to check it out!

 

 


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How secure are we?

// Posted by Cameron on 03/12/2012 (8:58 PM)

After doing some research on Stuxnet, I have begun to wonder how secure we really are. Now, I’m not talking about physical security, like the possibility of a nuclear war or getting mugged on the street, I am talking about… Read more

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After doing some research on Stuxnet, I have begun to wonder how secure we really are. Now, I’m not talking about physical security, like the possibility of a nuclear war or getting mugged on the street, I am talking about security on cyberspace, cybersecurity. If hackers can spread a virus that can wreak havoc on nuclear reactors, they can also hack into thousands upon thousands of websites and steal information. As our world continues to increase in the amount of and dependence on technology, the amount of information about ourselves that is entrusted to corporations through the Internet or is stored in the cloud, is also increasing. And it all makes me wonder, how secure am I?

A recent opinion piece on Wired states that with the exponential increase in cyber attacks within the past few years, something must change. These attacks have grown to being much larger than simply stealing a person’s credit card number, but stealing the information of thousands of customers or hacking the power grid may be more realistic threats, depending on whom you ask.

In this video, there are clips of President Obama saying that these threats are serious and possible, yet Jim Harper from the CATO Institute, states that these are not serious threats because they are not probable and even if they did occur, they would not last too long.

Which leads me to the question, do you feel safe? When I think about cybersecurity, I am not too worried about my information. I try to be responsible about choosing which sites I give my information to and ensuring that they are reputable and secure. Some websites have my credit card number so that I can check out quicker and not have to put it down each time (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.), but am I naive to think that I am safe? Is there any way that we can truly be safe or are we all susceptible to an attack?


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Stuxnet on 60 Minutes

// Posted by Allison on 03/04/2012 (10:09 PM)

Check out tonight’s 60 Minute segment on Stuxnet.

 

 

 

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Check out tonight’s 60 Minute segment on Stuxnet.

 

 

 


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What’s next for innovation?

// Posted by Kelsey on 03/03/2012 (11:25 PM)

This Wednesday, March 7th Apple will announce its’ new Ipad 3 and people are already guessing what the new features will include. As with any Apple upgrade a longer battery life, larger memory capacity, faster loading and better resolution are… Read more

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This Wednesday, March 7th Apple will announce its’ new Ipad 3 and people are already guessing what the new features will include. As with any Apple upgrade a longer battery life, larger memory capacity, faster loading and better resolution are among the expected. But, since when has Apple been a company that does what people expect and leave it at that? While it may be considered more of a phone app there is talk that SIRI will be included in the Ipad 3. Which automatically brings up all the awesome albeit strange things SIRI is capable of take this for example.

Or if one asks SIRI where to hide a dead body it comes back with the locations of the nearest reservoirs, dumps, mines, and the like. How much fun was that to program?

Once more JCR Licklider is brought up in my mind as humans continue to innovate technology to better serve our needs, no matter how large or small the adjustments may be. It is no secret that with each new cool piece of technology humans attach themselves to it and become almost oblivious to the world around them but what does that mean for the future? This excerpt from Popular Mechanics Magazine’s article on 12 Ways the World Could Really End in 2012 has an interesting theory that evokes images of iRobot and the Terminator.

But one would certainly think that with sci-fi movies like that so apart of our culture that the creators of this technology would be doing everything they could to prevent “Judgement Day” as it were. It seems to be that a trend in my posts is developing where I have the urge to type something along the lines of we’ll just have to wait and see, meanwhile keeping a wary eye for that line Renee mentioned in one of her posts where it is simply too much.


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Online Identities

// Posted by Bridget on 03/03/2012 (10:30 PM)

I came across a very interesting article and video featuring 4chan’s creator Chris Poole discussing his take on online identities, and in specific how Facebook and Google portrays both. He claims Facebook is a space where your online identity… Read more

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I came across a very interesting article and video featuring 4chan’s creator Chris Poole discussing his take on online identities, and in specific how Facebook and Google portrays both. He claims Facebook is a space where your online identity is also your online identity, while the other online identity is based on anonymity, which often frightens people, thus influencing social media sites to base themselves on the “Facebook-ensue” identity. However, Poole makes the very good point that Google + “circles” and Facebook “smart lists” failed majorly in focusing on the importance of audience, and that social media should really focus on the user and who “they share as.” This is because Poole reinforces the fact that we are very multi-faceted people with multiple identities, and sites like Facebook limit a user’s idea of that by providing a “one-size-fits-all” method to expressing identity. However, he praises Twitter for their portrayal of identity by applauding the use of “handles” rather than full names (as Facebook does) and how a user’s Twitter page is interest-based, representing one facet of a user’s identity. Ultimately, Poole suggests the complexity of our identities is what characterizes our humanity, and as the line between online and offline is becoming increasingly blurred, us humans face a rather trying dilemma. He calls to not only producers, but users of the web, to utilize and seek social media platforms that focus less on a mirror-image, single lens identity, and a “right” one.

Also, check out this related article….


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Hacking All Devices– Even Your Pace Maker

// Posted by Allison on 03/03/2012 (12:39 PM)

While we hear about groups such as Anonymous hacking into Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, and Pay Pal most people do not realize that anything with networking capabilities can be hacked. In his TEDtalk, Avi Rubin explains that just about… Read more

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While we hear about groups such as Anonymous hacking into Bank of America, Visa, MasterCard, and Pay Pal most people do not realize that anything with networking capabilities can be hacked. In his TEDtalk, Avi Rubin explains that just about any device can be hacked. This includes your heart’s pacemaker, your car, and your cell phone. He explains how people can change the name associated to your pacemaker and even changed its rhythmic pattern. It’s even possible for someone to steal your car without ever tampering with the anti-theft capabilities!

I think it is interesting that while people are often making grand attacks on larger entities–i.e. Stuxnet on Iran, people are not prone to making personal attacks on individuals. People are more comfortable doing harm to a large bodies of people, but when it comes to putting a face to that damage human compassion is likely to exhibit. I think human’s relationship with the capabilities of technology can tell us a lot of about human mind and how it interacts with emotion.


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Robots working with Robots

// Posted by Molly on 03/02/2012 (1:16 PM)

I started watching Vijay Kumar’s TED Talk presentation about tiny robots that can fly because I thought it sounded futuristic and really interesting. I didn’t think they would be advanced enough to do more than the toy helicopter I… Read more

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I started watching Vijay Kumar’s TED Talk presentation about tiny robots that can fly because I thought it sounded futuristic and really interesting. I didn’t think they would be advanced enough to do more than the toy helicopter I bought my father for Christmas last year, but I was willing to hear him out. The science behind the tiny flying robots was too much for me to comprehend, but Kumar discussed how the robots could be used in real world situations. It reminds me of the documentary Why We Fight because it seems like an idea that is really worth pursuing for both the military and government. The flying robots are small enough to explore spaces that humans would not be able to fit in. Kumar gave examples of a robot acting as a first responder, identifying potential threats in a building, damage, and biochemical leaks. I was reminded of Why We Fight because our military is constantly working on ways to obtain information and carry out military commands without putting our own soldiers in danger. By utilizing these flying robots, the US government could save money on the equipment that soldiers need to explore buildings, search for people, and identify possible dangers. Most importantly, the robots could save lives by lessening the danger of exploring the unknown in a foreign country.

 

Vijay Kumar holding a robot

The robots become even more valuable when they work together because they are able to cooperate with each other to carry out goals. The technology was modeled after ants that were able to carry an object by sensing both each other and the object without formally communicating. In the talk, Kumar shows videos of the robots carrying larger objects together, flying in formation, and even building a simple structure by programming the robots with only the blueprint of the finished product. Though the robots would be expensive and require a lot of time and attention to properly train, I believe they would be well worth it. Kumar concluded his TED Talk with a music video of the robots playing instruments and working together to perform a song. Though his presentation ended on a lighter note, I think he opened his audiences eyes to the possibilities of this technology and how valuable it could be in the future.

Robots flying together

 

I think in 10 or 15 years, this kind of technology could replace some of our soldiers, save money on military expenses, and become a safer and more effective way of carrying out missions in other countries. What do you think our government would think about replacing soldiers with these robots? After hearing President Eisenhower’s speech in Why We Fight, do you think he would have the same ideas about these robots as our government today?


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Are Americans sheltered from the news?

// Posted by Molly on 03/01/2012 (11:51 AM)

Last week, Phylicia posted about Time Magazine’s US cover and how it compared to covers of the international editions. I saw this clip from The Daily Show and thought it further proved the point of the photo comparison from last… Read more

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Last week, Phylicia posted about Time Magazine’s US cover and how it compared to covers of the international editions. I saw this clip from The Daily Show and thought it further proved the point of the photo comparison from last week. I think this video shows what other countries think of American media, but how do you think it makes Americans feel? Do you think Americans even realize that we are getting “softer” news than other countries? Do Americans behave in a way that makes the media think we can’t handle the harsh truth?

You can watch the clip here:

Jon Stewart- Time Magazine US Edition

 


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