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Posts Tagged ‘Tim Wu’

Old Forms/ New Forms

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment

Events in Egypt show us the dichotomy at play with technology and society. Historically, regimes have been the gatekeepers of communication in a society. Access to communication networks came at the expense of companies within a society; however, the government which oversaw the network or which utilized regulatory bodies to control a market had the largest amount of control. Again, Tim Wu’s The Master Switch is a great resource for this relationship.

Globalization created a global internet and lead to the revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt. The internet did not cause these revolutions; instead, they broke down walls that have historically limited interested but small revolutionary factions. Social networking has played a unique role in the Egyptian revolution by functioning as a connection platform for multiple small groups. Often a revolution is driven by a sole source whose ideological foundation is implemented and used to carry through the change in power. This isn’t taking place in Egypt, it seems that multiple groups are coming together to change the leadership. Perhaps in cases where popularity is so low or the levels of abuse are so high the coordination of disparate elements becomes more likely.

There is much to learn from the events in Egypt. A technology focused reflection suggests that governments have yet to mesh with a connected society. Slow to respond and often fragmented in message, even the United States has shown a level of slow-handedness in the affair. 24/7 media have been quick to seek out perspectives and leaders have been off-message or off-key in multiple situations. Note the moment on Friday when Secretary of State Clinton, President Obama and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs presented three different outcomes. A connected environment greatly reduces or perhaps even eliminates the planning time governments have had in the past. There are no hours to consider the right message- when the media needs a sound byte it will find it. Real time news leaves little real reflection.

All major events can be viewed as “teachable moments”, to borrow a phrase from President Obama’s rhetoric, and this is not an exception. Coupled with the Wikileaks fiasco, we learn from the Egypt revolution that an informed population exists beyond government control. Disparate figures are better skilled at using modern communication networks and actively seek out (and find) holes in government networks. Governments need to accept the fact that the population has the ability to amalgamate rapidly and possess a cadre of tools to assist and expand at levels beyond historical models.

The old forms of government will either fall Egyptian style or evolve through a process of implementation. There is no room for dictators in the modern era. The internet eliminates the ability for a leader to act as gate keeper to knowledge. The modern network creates a system of universal access wherein the entire planet can focus and provide support to a population of victims. Too often we view globalization in terms of economic perspectives. Beyond the financial implications we see a drastic expansion of human rights concerns and a growing perspective of a collective human species. When Egyptians lost internet connectivity there was a slew of concerned citizens who tweeted alternative DNS connections and 56k dialup numbers. The world saw a crime being committed and responded with ease.

The old forms of government are quickly seeing a transformation via modern technology. The new form of government is one with recognition of its connected population. The new model of government recognizes a population of highly aware and highly skilled citizens whose ability to work together towards a common goal to be far simpler than in the past. In order to fulfill the roles of representation and the maintenance of society, these new governments should strengthen the now crucial social bonds and integrate the machinery of government in the network. A connected population will only support a government that works together. Representation begins with connection and the connected world is now online.

Manifest Unreality: The Media and Fake Truth

January 9, 2011 Leave a comment

As a virtual perspective into reality, our media functions as a device to contextualize the events and people in our world. For some, the media is the only lens: it is the sole source of exposure to everything beyond one’s current location. Some benefit from a less limited lens on the world and utilize the media as a view to foreign lands and leaders or to the diverse collection of opinions the form provides. There is a power beyond this lens though.

As Tim Wu’s The Master Switch argues the lines of communication are a critical public good. His text argues for a need for greater understanding of the figures who control these lines, referencing a one-time power player’s term “the master switch” to reflect the power that our media often devolves into. The media is power and those who possess its capabilities are presented with multiple responsibilities and powers. Add a business model to these responsibilities and principles are easily disregarded, add an advertising industry and kiss goodbye the possibility of a rational consideration of sober versus attention-grabbing coverage. Advertising expects attention, it craves more minds, more eyes and functions in a world where millions of possible viewers hover in the ether. Compete they must or risk death by failure or dismissal by lacking effort.

We see the actions of this “attention grab” when major media stories break. Note the distinction here: there are major events and then there are major media events, moments that possess significance on their own but when delivered via the media take on an added importance as interpretation twists the story as the media player needs. Added distortion comes from the system of multiple players. Each station interprets the story differently (one must place a unique perspective after all) and then each, in turn, interpret these interpretations and aggregate, adjust and recast interpretations multiple times. In such a system each minute means the lens of perception has been distorted once again. When the media touches a story the story is never the same and forever made unreal.

In The Waste Land, TS Eliot referred to London as an “unreal city,” are we not living in a world where the unreal city’s media has extended the lack of reality to its truth? Unreal city, I loathe your unreal stories.

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.

Ownership and Protection

December 31, 2010 1 comment

In the previous post I considered the ways that one’s principles must be disregarded when functioning in a leadership position. This sort of role switching or multiple personality expectation runs constant through a multitude of human interactions and roles. In many ways we are required to perform these alterations of character in order to function successfully in society. For better or worse, we exist in a world where we must be dynamic in order to fulfill the varied expectations of our plethora of encounters in the world.

Do we like this? No way! All of this is very hard work, in fact its downright exhaustive and deadly as witnessed by the mortality rates of many corporate and political leaders. These statistics reveal the effects of this system on the individual but how does the corporation as a whole respond? Do corporations or large groups respond in a certain way? How does the collective group make adjustments to create stability in such turmoil?

In The Master Switch, Tim Wu seems to paint a series of images that suggest the corporation respond with monopolization and protectionism. As competition rises and a corporation invests larger amounts of capital into a challenge an adjustment occurs that in many ways reflects the sense of ownership created by these sacrifices. The figures who drive corporations steer companies into a position of ownership that swats away competition and seeks a level of control which gifts a sense of comfort via security. Wu highlights the response of Western Union, AT&T and movie studios as large examples and moves on to suggest that Apple and Google may be sliding into this role.

It should not come as a surprise that corporations develop this protectionist perspective. We cannot forget that corporations are composed of human beings. Furthermore, this collection of humans is under a special form of pressure in the form of corporate expectation. As my earlier post suggested, individuals functioning as actors for corporations often need to disregard personal principles for the sake of the company.

This is an inherently dehumanizing process and yet one that remains essential to the success of both actor and corporation. It is logical and understandable that a move to monopolization occurs- great sacrifice creates an expectation for pay off. After all, in both the corporate and personal world a major sacrifice which fails to flower can be viewed as a major weakness. In light of this let us not forget that human beings run our corporations and the human need for self-preservation makes monopolization and protectionism a natural response.

Government intervention can assist society both in making progress and protecting markets. Interventions in the form of funding to programs with broad social benefit (construction of country-wide phone lines, roadways and the development of the internet) are excellent examples of projects where public money can be used to assist the creation of a market that will benefit society as a whole. These investments ease the entry into a market and create an environment where development can occur. As an additional bonus, a corporation that does not have to make major investments will not develop protectionist tactics.

The best strategy to avoid personal and corporate protectionism is smart government intervention. By taking care of the major investments, the government can ease access into a market and create a platform for innovation. In situations where a social benefit is evident it is worthwhile that a government utilize public dollars to assist public good.

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