Monday, November 30, 2009

The future...

Security and privacy are words that keep appearing in our text. These words are anomalies when combined with humans and the network. They are conditions that are contradictions to our nature as human beings, yet they are privileges that we all desire. We want to be safe, secure and at the same time connected to others. Can you really be private and secure while using the networking tools that are available today?

What made me select this particular subject at this time? Tiger Woods. Tiger is a well respected sports icon. On the day (or weekend) that our culture sets apart as a day to physically gather with loved ones and give thanks for the things that we have, Tiger Woods reminds us that no one has privacy and no one is secure. I was in the forest, far away from malls and traffic, but I still got pinged by CNN about Tiger’s so-called “private” life in a very public way. And he was not secure at all. Via iPhone, I was alerted that Tiger has crashed into a fire hydrant and then a tree. His wife bashes his window in to "rescue" him. He is in currently in critical condition. No alcohol was involved.

Key figures, like Tiger Wood, have no privacy. The world instantly has knowledge of his actions and whereabouts, whether we want to or not. I can with certainty tell you that I was not thinking, I wonder what Tiger Woods is doing now?

To be totally unconventional, I will use some random quotes that I got from a CNN article to tell you what a couple of other people thought:
"If a golfer crashes his SUV in the forest with no one around, who gives a crap? Don't we have real news to report here?" (cavalier1138)

"Actually, he did choose to be a celebrity. The moment he signed his first endorsement deal, he absolutely chose to be a celebrity. As a celebrity, he no longer has the benefit of a private life. He traded that for money. If he doesn't like it, he can give back the money." (flex1)

Harsh? Maybe.

In one respect we wish to connect with other and at the same time we expect to have the right to "privacy". What is privacy? Privacy means the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one's private live, the state of being private; retirement or seclusion (

I think the idea of communicating behind the network veil of privacy is enticing. One can connect, share and divulge as much as they care without revealing too much about who you really are. But is that information really private and secure? I think people want to believe that they have the security and control on spaces like FaceBook and MySpace. There is a perception that there is distance that can be maintained between electronic connections, but that distance can rapidly decrease in a heartbeat, if someone really wants to gain access to the information. Just look at the Tiger Wood episode. And even look at the fall of Essjay, the Wikipedian who worked feverishly behind the scenes of the electronic pages of Wikipedia. His past was uncovered, revealed and exposed as Zittrain shares on pages 141.

Other key points of this book include the concept of a generative evolution of the Internet and traditional PC architecture. Zittrain talks about how architecture - the physical - hardware, protocol, the application, the content and the social layers evolve as result of the loose control during its evolution. (page130) " The Internet flourished by beginning in a backwater with few exceptions, allowing its architecture to be simple and fluid." Page 34

But one of the dangers is that no one really knows what is going to happen and where this is all going. There is no security, no privacy. Once you participate, you are subjected to possible exposure should someone take an interest.

He talks about the procrastination principle (page 31) that "rests on the assumption that most problems confronting a network can be solved later or by others. It says that the network should not be designed to do anything that can be taken care of by its users." This enticed someone like Robert Tappan Morris, Jr. Zittrain speaks of Morris (with a heroic slant) who created the first Internet worm, in an attempt to “count how many machines were connected to the Internet.” And as the story goes, he was mildly reprimanded and sent off to get his degree at Harvard and his tenure at MIT. (Page 41)

Is the procrastination principle an invitation to break a network construction which is built for a particular purpose? It appears the answer is yes for those who take the dare.

“Generatively pairs an input consisting of unfiltered contributions from diverse people and groups, who may or may not be working in concert, with the output of unanticipated change.” Page 70 If no one has a shared vision and no one seems to care what the consequences could be, it looks like a train wreck is coming to me. (see the cover)

Zittrain talks of leverage, adaptability, ease of mastery, accessibility, and transferability as features of the generative network. (pages 71-73) The characteristics of the network are plastic and fluid. Once we connect, collaborate and participate, we can no longer expect privacy or even security as we are now a part of this plastic and fluid network.

He goes on to talk of trust, self-governance, and the salvation of the net on page 152. And then gives us some solutions and possibilities such as the OLPC project. I wonder what Tiger thinks about the OLPC project. It is amazing to me that we could think it is a good idea to use laptops to experiment with the education of underprivileged children in other countries, when we have made such a debacle of our very own? Why not do something more obvious and substantial like giving them something to nutritious to eat?

Zittrain's point out strengths and weaknesses, problems and solutions but I can only think that a lack of order and control produces chaos and disaster. I don’t want to be tethered but the extreme is open to breaches in my privacy and security. Just ask Tiger.

Monday, November 23, 2009

connect the dots

Connect the dots and you will see key points that are repeated throughout this piece, that humans make choices about connections – the net works of many to many and the inter net of the single connections through a web of points and patterns. Patterns emerge from the text between the biological and virtual comparisons. Links are associated with the effects of political and social organization as a result of 911 and fears of biological disease, biological warfare, and human research data. Meanwhile, we humans continuing to seek virtual connections that result in power struggles, fear, loss of security and self, and exploitation by political and social powers. The biological, political, social, and technical edges of humanity begin to blur into one organism.

Here are some relations explored: Edges links to nodes. What is inside and what is outside a boundary. Centralized and decentralized structures. Rules and rebellion (anarchy). Language and code. The universe and the inverse. The macro and the micro. The real and the replacement/replica. The virus and the host. The self and the other. The controller of knowledge and the pawns or masses that are manipulated. The disease and the cure. A cause and a reaction. Replication and translation. Protocols and rogue behavior. Power maintained by fear. Life, demise and death. Zombie and robots. (Yes, I, too, fear the gray goo of sector 9.) The watchers and the watched. What is seen and what is not. The body and the shadow or trace.

These are themes that constantly reappear in the Exploit. The authors tie this all together to suggest political control of information of the masses that result in anxiety, fear, disaster and doom.

I see these aspects in my personal life. I can see this as I cruise in my little car on my happy way to work. I drive a great distance on the vein of the tollway. I queue up, and glide through the booth as my toll tag is read. I speed on through zones to my mapped out path to my cube at work. I proceed through the compartmentalized and segmented routines of my day. I attend to the meetings and motions of my day. I sort, arrange, and filter data. I speak in acronymic code. I use my network of tools and collaborate with clusters of multinational coworkers to complete lists of tasks, using a host of technologies. System acronyms are embedded in all the language we speak. Our actions are systematic. Our outcomes are predictable. We produce our required outputs.

I see how my job fits in the patterns and structures of the network. Our group is implementing a system to collect research on human subjects. This particular type of work is critically inspected and dissected in this text. I am part of the academic, research structure. I see the fearful side of the political powers who can profile, sequence, manipulate and control the gold mine of medical research data that is collected to manage and study human subjects. I see how the information could be used to control and result in economic gain. I see it.

I read my homework, in the allotted time and I have an overwhelming desire to go rouge! This is the system of life I live in.

As I leave work and walk to my car, I hear two young men comment about the wonderfully mild weather we are having on the 23rd of November. I hear them say something about global warming and hear them comment that they have nothing to worry about as it won’t affect them in their lifetime. I am saddened by their apathy.

Yes we have a desire to gather, collaborate, inspect and compare. And yes we have this burning hunger for knowledge and information. I see some who hunger power and have a need to control. All of these elements are examples of human characteristics. And when humans apply their human attributes to non-human systems the systems resemble humans…flawed, vulnerable and exploitable.

Humans have a desire to collaborate and connect? But what if we have this obsessive need to count and collect to seek something good? What if by reviewing trends the data leads to visibility, to a pathway or possibility for a cure? We share the desire to collect data, and bank it, and mine it to find answers even though there are mutations in our biological systems. We observe biological systems and how they behave in a like manner to non-biological systems. We compare the political, biological and social system structures. We project the political, the biological, and the social to the technical model to find new forms.

I believe we seek answers because we inspect ourselves from within and beyond to project ourselves in other resembling systems, like plant, insects, and animal, to find something better, something greater, looking for something artful and elegant. Yes we are flawed but we are wired that way. We will mimic and mirror what we are in hopes of finding something better. It appears that we will recreate, exhibit and war with ourselves until we construct, reconstruct or deconstruct into a trace.

Oh and PS: I still love trees.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Six degrees of Pong and the Bacon Number

I am still reading at 10:13 PM, but wanted to take a break to post. Duncan Watts sure does get around. His circle of friends (or shall I call them a network of brainiacs) seem endless. He is well connected on the research front. I feel like I have been bouncing across the pages like the old video game ...Pong. He bounces back and forth from Steve to Mark to Peter to Chuck to Mark (again) and Jon . He collaborates with his cohorts to explore questions of networks, how they form, how they grow, how they spread or what makes them die.

"what are the patterns of interactions between individuals in a large system that we should pay attention to?" (page 27) He approaches his topic from different angles, studying from the viewpoint of the cricket, the macro to micro, individuals to mobs, physical to virtual. Watts is trying to understand the dynamics of networks, communication and systems.

He uses available free data, to study trends, statistics and different distribution patterns, trying to understand networks. One such interesting piece of data analysis produced the Kevin Bacon – Distribution of Actors According to Bacon Number -- amazing! Watts studies message chains and relation links trying to understand characteristics and behaviors. “…almost everyone in the giant component can be reached in 4 steps or less.”( page 94)

Watts talks about problems beyond the small world network with scale and cutoff regions (page 112), “the real constraint is with people themselves, who only have enough time, energy, and interest to befriend so many others before the shear effort of it all overwhelms them.”

He seems to float around the academia circuit like a virus, connecting, stimulating and infecting others with his ideas and theories on networks systems. I will say that he does attack an issue and not let go. He draws others in from his net of relationships to gain insight to his theories. He looks at the components, cave, and clusters of small networks. He is himself, a research specimen of his network investigation.

Watts uses mathematics, science, biology, psychology, sociology and physics to name a few approaches to attack his theories. He even notes that it is dangerous to assume from previous research such as the findings of Milgram. (page 132) I thought this insight was key, as research can be skewed by the researcher’s biases and pre-conceived notions about conclusions.

So how does this relate to my world? I am working with a team of people about to implement an electronic clinical research management system. This system will give researchers electronic access to other studies and the data that results on a broad scale much like the scientific publishing repository for prepublication research papers of sub disciplines of physics called the LANL (page 123). Eventually, there will be a repository of (de-identified) data that can be shares and mined for research purposes to reach conclusions using networks to study systems much like these in this book. Collaboration will hopefully open the door to treatment and scientific development that could lead to curing diseases.

He sums it up on page 15," thing I hope to convey in this book is a sense of where the science of networks comes from, how it fits into the larger scheme of scientific progress, and what it can tell us about the world itself."

I am hopeful that scientific collaboration through multidisciplinary networks can lead to exciting new discoveries and cures.

Monday, November 9, 2009

a public display of temporary insanity

Identity, socializing with peers and dealing with power relations, are three core topics of dannah boyd’s investigation of social media and teens in Taken Out of Context.

Three key occupations with the teens I have known (including myself) were determining identity, socializing with peers and maneuvering within the power structures whether it’s parents or those in positions of control. It's really no different now than in the past, except there are greater media options and easier virtual access for teens that have the tools. Teens are smart and they know how to use them to get what they want!

Don’t you remember? It's been a while since I was a teen but I still remember how crazy it was. I saw it was a time of temporary insanity. I was constantly trying to be different, unique, individual. I crafted my look from head to toe. I was constantly seeking to achieve a specific look that reflected who I was, inside and out. I even made my own clothes (not very well, I might add). Every decision I made was not complete without a little drama and angst.

Social networks such as FaceBook provide teens with a virtual environment to explore, experience and socialize with others while trying to determine their place in the world. The teenage years are a painful stretch of time when you are trying to figure out who you are, what you represent, and where you stand. You have to go through this seemingly endless maize of painful choices, dicey decisions and foul relationships in order to figure out how to get along with others and live harmoniously in the world with others.

Social networks are just one more way to engage with others. Whether it's with friends or special interest groups, people want to find some way to connect. Teens have always found ways to meet others, whether it is sneaking out a two story window or using FaceBook, texting, IM or other social media tools to socialize, they find a way. They gossip, flirt, collaborate, or just trash each other. It's a time of risk.

“Social media includes systems that support one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to many interactions. Practices, including communication, collaboration, information dissemination, and social organization.” (page 92) Tools such as these can provide a means for teens to make a difference as well. Yesterday, I heard a news story about two teenagers in California, collaborated with their community using social media to organize, gain support, and develop parks and walkways to combat obesity. Social networks expand the ability to communicate and offer ways to form groups. In this instance, media and social networks provided teens in the community an opportunity to drive social change.

Yes, there are fewer places for teens to hang out. There is greater fear of predators. There is greater awareness when abuse occurs. Parents and adults are more cautious for their teen’s safety. Parents and adults sometimes have to take control. I have been in both position, being a na├»ve teen and being the heavy-handed parent, and neither side is clear cut.

As a teen you need space to grow, learn, and make mistakes. FaceBook is a social networking vehicle for a teen to reach out, find others with common interests. But it is also one more place for freaks and perverts to find that innocent one who is lonely and needs a friend. As a result parents live in fear and come across as control freaks.

As a teen, I was stupid enough to hitch-hike. I hopped in the car with a whack-o and I am lucky to say, I escaped. There is reason for fear. I warned my children to beware. I don’t think it is a bad thing to be cautious.

Also, when you are teen, you think you are invincible. You want to experiment and explore. Social media allows you another possibility to do this.

It was disturbing to me that dannah had such easy access to teen profiles. She was able to do a random sampling and gain access to a large population of teens so easily. If she can gain access, doing research for sociology and cultural reasons, what about those who are not so socially minded?

I don't know too many teens that have everything figured out. I don't know too many adults that do for that matter either. So dannah boyd's investigation of teens exploring their identity, socializing with peers, and struggling with power issues while fluidly using social media tools and virtual environments presented interesting but predictable results, to me.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Order maintained by discipline or punishment?

I see Foucault’s observation of how knowledge can result in power, how knowledge is accessible to those who are privileged, and how knowledge, power, and control can be used for good or evil. I see how power was adopted as a method to maintain and control the masses during the plague that resulted in a pandemic pandemonium. And I see how power, submission, and control can result in a dronish apathy of the masses. Again, I hate to repeat this example but it resembles Blade Runner, replicates like citizens, and domination by surveillance and force. People are counted, tracked, and observed by those who hold the knowledge and power.

Those who are deviant in any way, are singled out, hunted down, separated and isolated from the group. They, in turn, group together to form like groups. In the article, Foucault’s examples are those who are lepers or those who contracted the plague. And the idea of a person identifying with or aligning with anyone other than the established norm is discouraged.

You see this in today’s society. Deviation results in punishment and isolation. And I believe isolation is the one of the worst punishments that can be inflicted on an individual. Sure, it is nice to have privacy, but if a person is isolated without human interaction, the person could die. Look at Christopher McCandless, the subject of, Into the Wild as a case in point. He was an individual who resisted consumerism and capitalism to the point of isolation and error which led to his untimely death...but that is another story.

I wonder if ideas surrounding the Panopticon led to the systems and processes implemented by the industrial engineers of the past. I see similar concepts of routine steps, repetition, the watcher and the watched, isolating tasks, process standardization, and controls implemented in institutions of today like schools, hospitals, prisons, business, and government. Although I embrace the idea of the unique, I don't really know how to work in an organization that is linear and doesn't contain a hierarchy. This concept is embedded in almost every area of our society. It is present in our homes, society, and culture. Our world revolves around the idea of these patriarchal systems which are the backbone of our institutions.

On a final note, I do find it interesting that Foucault uses discipline synonymous with the word punishment. I think these two words have a very different meaning.
Discipline, to me, infers an accepted relationship of trust between the one who is the receiver and the one who is the barer of the act. When discipline is applied and received, the act of submission for correction often produces benefits, learning results, and a better way is found. Discipline is accepted and is helpful for growth, improvement, and maturity.

Punishment, on the other hand, equals an unwarranted beating that is not deserved and does nothing but harm. Punishment is usually forced on another to gain power and control. Punishment does not result in improvement. It often results in permanent physical, mental, and psychological scars. Unlike discipline, that guides a person to do the right thing, and produces a healthy respect for others; punishment suggests control and power and is used to abuse and inflict pain over another. Often when the act of punishment is repeatedly performed the recipient often repeats and adopts this behavior and inflicts punishment on others in order to gain power and control.

Now some may say that rules made by powers of authority such as the police, can result in punishment. But if the authorities fairly apply rules of behavior for the benefit of the masses for protection (to serve and protect), then this use of power is more aligned with discipline. There is a fine line between maintaining order and harmony and the abuse of the "police apparatus". I don't find it odd that there is such wide appeal for television programs with subject matter representing control, power, and surveillance...examples include: CSI, Law and Order, NYPD Blues, and The Closer, to name a few.

When you use an analogy of the body, pathology, and the plague to discuss an over extension of power of those who are privileged, possess knowledge, have wealth, and have access to use surveillance to control others unknowingly, then you have a interesting argument for rebellion and revolution resulting from a much more insidious cultural disease.