Posts Tagged ‘Google’

Perils of Purchase

May 22, 2014 Leave a comment

A magical thing happens when we own something. Having made the purchase using our own money we’ve personalized the experience. This is why the computer from the employer is “junk” and why the dinner from a different cook just doesn’t taste the same. When we do it ourselves we place our skin in the game: we personalize the experience or item by connecting to who we are. Our purchases are extensions of who we are: they demonstrate a decision we have made or a preference that reflects who we are. Marketers know we do this and utilize brands as extensions of personality. Are you a Pepsi or a Coke person? Is it Apple or PC, Android or iOS?

Falling victim to the game of branding creates a paradox of experience. Though trying to express our individuality in our purchases we end up subscribing to massively popular brands. We work to select the item that best reflects our personality or that most closely matches our perspectives on life. A certain type of character is connected to brands. Technology companies are particularly skilled at creating cultural connections for its users. Are you an “Apple person”, the ad might seem to suggest. Ultimately our attempts to be unique leave us blandly like the rest. The only way to truly be unique is to build it all ourselves. Program your own operating system and manufacture the hardware in the basement. Work to escape the brands and perhaps you can be unique. Of course this is impossible. Brands are popular because they’re easy to engage with and embrace.

Losing at the Front Lines: Data Driven Mindsets

January 18, 2011 Leave a comment

In an Authors@Google talk linked in LAK11, Ian Ayres, author of Super Crunchers, discusses the power of data-driven decision-making. His major thesis urges firms towards a more data-driven decision model and highlights human limitations of thinking. The speech reminds me of a recent book I read entitled Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics by Paul Ormerod. Both Ormerod and Ayres make dual points in respect to data: we can’t possibly break it down as well as machines but are significantly empowered through its utilization. In a sense our data is a double-edged sword revealing both human limitations and strengths. We are truly in an era of machine power, an era of “information management” wherein our most valuable assets are those that pull in the wealth of information around us and allow us to make sense of what we’ve found.

Ayres makes the point that as firms begin to shift to a system of more data-focused functions the “front-line employee will lose discretion.” Considered in relation to the computer, the human mind cannot compete and many of the decisions once made by human beings will shift to a computer’s decision-making model. Gone will be the subjective procedures of human interactions. Ayre’s mentions a bank loan officer’s assessment of a loan applicant on the basis of human observation and the factors of physical appearance or communication factors. He suggests that the financial crisis of 2008, building then when this speech was delivered in November of 2007, could have been avoided. Human means just cannot make the cut when the computers are in charge.

In short, computers are cold calculators of data. They deliver pure and evidence rich decisions free from the foils of subjectivity.

Is there danger here? One can only wonder at what the future will hold in terms of data decision-making. Certainly privacy concerns will curb much of the data grabbing procedures but one has to wonder just how much data is sucked up without one’s knowledge. Even worse, many provide reams of personal data willingly and wander into an online environment where considerably personal data is largely transferred and shared among network friends and peers. There is a risk for over-exposure and, as Ayre’s presentation suggests, an army of hungry firms craving for this personal information.

Perhaps the wary will be best prepared for this future world of data obsession. In those who hide away from the world of network utopia we may find a golden wall of protection. As millions drain their moats and cast off their metaphorical weapons of privacy, the future may prove optimism a delusion. We love our network and our new online goodies, but will the years ahead reveal a mad-panic of reaction. When data-driven decisions are made less by our human neighbors and more by mega computers stored away in corporate basements what can we do? As they say, when its online its there forever. We may loathe the used-car salesman now, but imagine how nice he’ll seem when the PC is the one floating the deal and our every point of negotiation has already been considered.

The Battle Lines Are Drawn

January 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Jonathan Zittrain’s The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It suggests two major philosophies at the core of the internet’s designers: “trust in your neighbor” and “procrastination.” Zittrain’s text explores how these two features have led to an open system or, as Zittrain suggests, a “generative technology” responsible for both positive and negative innovations. Due to the internet’s openness and lack of centralized control we have incredible openness that allows for both amazing innovation and threat.

Such a design feature is unique. Unlike the phone system which was largely closed, the internet and the PC (as Zittrain also explores) are two key pieces of contemporary technology created with an open-ended philosophy at play. This “open” status allows a user to make hardware and software changes as desired. These technologies differ from video game consoles or the IPhone, two hugely popular technological devices that are “closed” or protected from user adjustments. The effect of this distinction is a battle line of computing philosophy.

The school of “open”, whose lineup includes Google, Linux and Wikipedia urge a future composed of systems capable of major user control and a content world where material created by non-professionals is dominant. The school of “closed” includes Apple, major media companies and, it seems the FCC, argue for a more protective system of devices that cannot be changed by a user and protect major media companies whose work has largely been shared online for free. Protection is the driving force of the “closed” school of computing.

As we progress through the battle of “open” versus “closed” its important to remember that many companies waver between the philosophies and current stalwarts in both camps will likely shift between camps. In addition we have companies like Microsoft that products entrenched in different camps: the XBOX is a closed system while Windows allows users to create programs as desired. Exclusivity is not a requirement of this debate.

My interest is in the implication of this debate. As more users begin to utilize technology we will see a society closely connected to the internet and connected devices. Human connections will expand with the help of technology and through the web of connected devices and related utilities the day-to-day existence of human beings will be drastically altered. The final solution in the debate of “open” versus “closed” will  play a major role in perceiving how the future will unfold. The way we interact with technology, the material of popular culture and the function of the consumer in the technology industry will depend largely on the debate.

Never before has society entered a funnel of this sort. Technological development in previous generations has come as a gradual evolution. Unlike today’s system with two powerful players, the developments of the past spawned from monopolized networks that simplified use via monopolization and public limitation. No longer are we distanced from technology or limited by a government and corporate network more interested in establishing a product’s use. We now have a network of relative openness and a society largely saturated by electronic devices. In many senses this debate is coming after major adoption of the associated devices. There will be no creation of policy; instead an adjustment will be forced upon a public largely unaware of the debate taking place.

Text Reflection: The Master Switch by Tim Wu

January 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Tim Wu’s The Master Switch has a lot of ideas running through it. Its a wonderful book, no doubt an important educational one with broad connections to the historical, cultural and government events that delivered us to where we are. At its core, the text traces the evolution of communication technologies through Wu’s contextual “cycle” in which each new technology evolves from discovery to societal use. The text makes clear the battles fought for these lines and traces the common players whose swords are seemingly ever drawn and sharpened for a battle. Herein lies the sad part because, as Wu’s text makes painstakingly clear, with ever development there comes a period of denial and protectionism that disregards social benefit and focuses instead on protectionism for corporate power figures.

Our communication lines are fraught with constant battle. These highways for our brains on which a significant portion of our world view is dependent is less a public good and more a corporate commodity sought out and smudged at the whim of major players.

Wu reminds us of the danger of private control. He doesn’t suggest a complete private turn over of the communication lines to government control; instead, his text works to argue that historical record points to a common form of behavior. We always see the denial of innovation. We’ve always seen a government less interested in competition when a cleaner, more efficient process when expansion is possible. Just like our most efficient corporations, when our government perceives the opportunity to avoid a major cost there is an attraction to a bending of the law. Major tasks like communication line expansion is a tricky task- long and expensive and better left to major corporations who have more to gain and far less to lose in the face of political factors.

The Master Switch urges caution in light of these trends. Wu reminds us that with each communication evolution we grow more dependent on our technology to connect with fellow human beings. With innovation comes comfort and a slow dependence on the conveniences that technology provides. Eventually the effort we used to invest to meet people is divided for some other task and slowly we surround ourselves with less social interaction and grow all the more dependent on our techno toys and goodies. There’s a risk here and Wu reminds us that if history provides any insight into the future we’ll see a monopolization of technology. Major hazards lurk ahead as we reveal more and more about ourselves and further bury ourselves in our gadgets.

Let The Master Switch be a warning: our communication lines are crucial to our social well-being and as we grow more and more dependent on these artificial means of connection we must also strengthen our gaze on those who manage these lines. Dependence on another for these means of communication leave major areas of vulnerability. Trust but verify these figures and let history be our guide: there will be greed and denial of innovation but as long as human genius maintains its constant battle forward we can stay just a few paces ahead of greed and stagnation. If technology is a savior then its better left to the outside world- just as all great innovations come from an outsider the escape from corporate control and hazard will come in the form of the newest great idea that comes beyond the boardroom walls.

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