Archive for May, 2010

Contemporary Media Issues – My Analyses – by Paul R Wagner

May 14, 2010 1 comment

Introduction of Panelists

In the spirit of our New Media symposium and in view of its debt to computing, we have asked our four distinguished panelists to construct their opening position statements in the form of an If/Then Algorithm. Here now are the algorithmic renderings of their main concerns, theories, and issues for today and the near future.

Robert W. McChesney

If you have a democratic state that protects the rights of a free press, and if those rights include not only the freedom from government censorship but also the right to a free press in the first place, then the result will be a sound basis for professional journalism protected by constitutional law. But, if that state allows credible journalism that was once healthy and widely subsidized by its public to then be left to a few hands operating in largely monopolistic markets without direct competition, then you will have a conflict between the profit motive and the public service of journalism. And, if that state lives under the illusion that the natural free market function in the form of a modern business model as a commercialized, dispenser of journalism can continue to sustain itself in the face of rapidly dwindling advertising revenue which is accelerated and permanently altered by an electronic global Internet, then that state is forced not only to condone, but demand public subsidies just as it did for nearly all of the 19th century.

Ken Auletta

If you can deliver a product or service that has been in demand for the entire history of mankind, then offer this product free to users, and if this product or service is highly valuable to an unlimited number of users who can, in turn, profit from its delivery and re-use, then the benefit of free equals the result of obtaining 100 percent of the market. If you can avoid the high cost of creating this product along with minimal cost in delivering the product, and if this product is already being provided but at a higher cost in other platforms like news media, then you can become the preferred gatekeeper of this product, replacing other access platforms for an unlimited number of users, the result being an aggregate perception that your service is superior to other similar platforms. If you can have the most concentrated gathering of left-brain employees on the planet, and if these concept workers can maintain primacy in the search and delivery of data, then you can reach a level of unprecedented control over commerce and content, and then monetize this service by selling advertising in a non-zero sum game to those who are willing to offer money to obtain more data so that they can make more money. If you can achieve these goals by being nice and by constantly embracing change and always questioning everything including conventional corporate thinking, and if you can constantly focus on data-driven products and services that are the most useful to an unlimited number of users, then you can make the world a better place by creating an environment that is conducive to making friends out of your users and allies out of your customers.

Daniel J. Solove

If a world-wide publishing and receiving technology [Internet] is created that operates on a digital network and is connected to everyone in the world, and if this system is virtually or nearly free to use, and if this system is not regulated, and if there is no alteration to the published material, then anybody can instantly publish anything about anybody to everyone in the world. If the Internet is available to the citizens of a democratic state that by law protects their right to free speech and also establishes a right to privacy as a basic human right, then the use of the Internet brings these two privileges into conflict. If what is published on the Internet is instantly widespread, permanent and available as a public record no matter the intention whether good or bad, then every person’s freedom to manage their own privacy, reputation and including their own hate speech is compromised because their lives are forever shackled by their irreversible publications. If radical, federal government laws and restrictions are applied to the use of the Internet, then it is highly probable that reputations will be protected at the loss of the rights of free speech. If a tort system of law is used to manage civil suits, then it is possible to build up a set of social norms that educate Internet publishers to all the implications of exposing data on the Internet. If this process can begin, then it is highly probable that an increasing number of reputations can be protected without any loss of the rights of free speech.

Jonathan Zittrain

If you build personal computing devices that anyone can reprogram, and if you connect these to an Internet that routes bits between two arbitrary points, then the result will be a generative revolution where novel and disruptive technologies can originate from grassroots sources. If you build an Internet with generative properties of technical openness, ease of access and ease of mastery and adaptability, and if you combine this with the generative personal computer, then the result will be an unsurpassed environment for innovative experimentation. If this same generative environment is unregulated, then this will also make the Internet hospitable to various forms of wickedness as in hacking, porn, spam, fraud, theft, predation, and attacks on the network itself. And if these undesirable phenomena proliferate, then business, government, and many users will find common cause for locking down Internet and PC architecture in the interests of security and order. And if this happens the most probable reaction, if not forestalled, will be the growing profusion of devices (tethered appliances) whose functions cannot readily be altered by their owners. And if these devices which are nothing more than pre-packaged, closed systems are allowed to proliferate, then the generative Internet and PC has a probability to be dislocated from the center of the digital ecosystem, and then unable to produce the next round of innovations and competition. And if this is allowed to happen because their convenience or functionality supersedes a more generative choice, then the probability is higher that users, by migrating to such appliances, will unwittingly trade away the future benefits of generativity, and then the loss will go unappreciated even as innovation tapers off. And if, there are so many examples of the failure of closed systems like CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL, or makers of “smart appliances” such as dedicated word processors and video-game consoles, then the advantages of investing in generative systems should be obvious.

Wagner critiques (Robert McChesney)- ‘who is living in a parentheses’

Robert McChesney claims that the business model for commercial journalism is dying because, starting in the 1990’s and now permanently accelerated by the Internet, its advertising revenues have dwindled while its power structure has changed to a handful of monopolistic, profit-seeking conglomerates who have no regard for the sanctity of the fourth estate nor its necessity as the lifeblood of a free, democratic state.

Based on this epidemic, Dr. McChesney’s remedy is presented as obvious; we will need to return to public subsidies as the primary financial resource in order to support a sufficient level of quality and quantity in self-governing, credible journalism.

Who can rightfully disagree with this? I can. Here’s why.

You see, it’s all much clearer if you think of the ink-printed, paper news that you see in the old movies. News came printed on paper and rolled up and a boy on a bicycle would deliver it to your ranch house in the suburbs. Anyway, every time (Robert) uses the words ‘journalism’ or ‘media’ he really means ‘newspaper.’ Ok? You got it now?

O, (he’ll) slip up every now and then and use the word ‘press’ just like Thomas Jefferson did but, he really wants you to try and picture the bigger world of the fourth estate – journalism with a big ‘m’ for media and he would define this as a corporate chain of newspapers owned by a heartless, profit-seeking cult.

Now everything he says in his 589-page book is really good stuff as long as you have that rolled-up newspaper on the porch in mind. It’s also easier if you go ahead and pretend like it’s the 19th century and there is no Internet or iPad nor even the hint of anything like an Amazon or Steve Jobs to complicate the argument (there would be telegraph, though). Just picture big ol’, hungry, obsolete printing presses as ‘media’ and everything will fall neatly in place just like the beautifully crafted algorithmics at the beginning of this blog. After all, (McChesney) reminds us:

‘from 1790 to the late 19th century we had this spectacularly bountiful press system much larger on a percapita basis than Britain or France or Canada…and it was significantly due to massive public subsidies put in place by the federal government (primarily postal but also printing subsidies.”)’

In other words, no one involved in journalism in those days made a profit, it was only for the public good? Wait a minute, (Robert)? What’s in those parentheses? Say that again, don’t rush through it like you do in that YouTube video: primarily postal but also printing subsidies.” What? Primarily Postal? So, now the post office is part of journalism? Please.

(Robert), you really have no clue where all those advertising dollars have gone, do you? Helloooo! You see, there’s a new big ‘printing press’, the largest ever built and it’s called the Internet and two ‘nice’ guys out in California have used this press to become an advertising powerhouse whose revenues now match those of the five broadcast networks combined, most of this coming from those little four-line text ads that appear next to Internet search results. And all of this was accomplished without one penny of government subsidies. Go ahead (Robert), Google ‘telegraph’ and you’ll see what I mean.

O, and talk about great expectations and finding resources to monetize journalism, do you want to know what that ‘handful’ of monopolistic media giants are doing… you know who they are. Guess what? They are not reading your book and have no intention of asking the government for subsidies…they are way ahead of you. They are simply trying to learn how to be a ‘frenemy’ and either ride the long tail of Google’s magic or at least learn to dance on the same online clouds that all the V.C. ‘angels’ are monitoring.

Read my blog right below here (Robert) and you’ll also learn how citizen journalists (yikes!) can save lives with a flip-cam (another word for ‘press’) not to mention preserving the lifeblood of the fourth estate.

ZitTRAIN, PLEASE STOP! I wanna get off at the next station.

Me-Thinks our guest, Mr. Zittrain, ‘doth protest too much.’

Contrary to the idea that only open platforms can provide true ‘generativity‘, I submit that the ‘walled garden’ of, for instance, Apple’s App Store can allow users to be empowered with amazing abilities that are exponentially more ‘generative’ when compared to the typical interactive media products available BEFORE iTunes, iPods, iPhones and now the iPad.

For example, Apple (and its cadre of independent and freelance open programmers) has put an incredible amount of work into making Safari do amazing things like, the ability to create websites or ‘web apps’ that install locally, don’t require an internet connection, and look and feel like native apps. These efforts benefit mobile browsers on other platforms since most of them are based on the ‘open-source’ WebKit. Zittrain, on the other hand, keeps blasting away and whining about what has become the dreadfully closed world of Apple as if the ‘do-it-yourself & creativity-wins culture’ is an either/or proposition that cannot possibly co-exist with the corporate choke-points of digital czars like Steve Jobs. Relax, it’s OK, everything’s going to work out fine.

Rupert Murdoch and I, for instance, are forming a new ePub company called Generatively Yours™ that will employ a happy group of open-minded app developers and will be built on the open mission that ‘content is king’ and the iPad (or something like it) can extend the definition of “the book”, the “newspaper”, the “magazine” and the “journal.” This, by the way, will be available via the “iTunes” store and users will be able to ‘self-publish’ in the spirit of the Long Tail. Rupie and I, and our pal Steve Jobs, have absolutely no anxieties about whether this falls within or without Zittrain’s ‘tinkerabilty zone.’ All we know is that it will be a ‘platform’ that ‘hobbyists’ will love and consumers will want. What other formula is there?

Zittrain’s strict codec for what is and is not “quintessentially generative” puts his argument into such an unnecessarily tight corner that it cannot tolerate a broader definition. This causes me and authors like NY Times columnist, Steven B. Johnson, to disagree and expand the notion of ‘generativity‘:

“…the goal we’re all championing—rapid, emergent innovation with small guys competing with big software companies—is happening on the iPhone platform, and it’s happening in part because of the way that platform is closed, not open…the iPhone platform has seen more tinkering and new uses, generated by businesses and hobbyists alike, than any other two-year-old computing platform in history! (Including the Web, I would argue.)”

I’m sorry, Mr. Zittrain, but I would argue that new products like the iPad are great tools for our creative future and will drive new categories for exactly the reasons that you would argue it is taking us a step backwards.

Come with me a moment and let’s imagine all the possibilities for this handheld-sized computer with an unlimited number of possible apps (short for generative applications). There’s no files, no windows, no clicking to get in the way of 200,000 wonderful, tinkerer-provided apps that, like it or not fill a fascinating little generative gap that nobody’s really thought about before.

Did I mention that the iPad has an accelerometer, too? I love saying that word…it’s so SciFi-sounding.

Whoa, what great expectations lay before us, Pip! Could my built-in iPad compass give me more hope and better direction than Zittrain’s dystopian image of a future train wreck? I think so.

Categories: COM580

China’s Citizen ‘Democracy’ – powered by the Internet

One recent morning from within China, two frantic messages were posted to Twitter at 5 a.m.:
“Pls help me, I grasp the phone during police sleep.”
“I have been arrested by Mawei police, sos.”

This cry for help was quickly “retweeted” by hundreds of people in China and around the world. Then, everything went silent from the sender.

Over the next few days, the people in the sender’s Twitter network who knew his real identity followed up with his family and friends in the city of Mawei. News quickly spread around Twitter that the police had taken their friend from his office the previous afternoon and that he was able to tweet once while they slept. He was arrested along with several other bloggers on trumped up charges that enraging an entire community of Chinese netizens.

One blogger organized a campaign in which hundreds of people mailed postcards to the Fuzhou detention center where their friend was being held with the simple message:

Peter, your mother wants you home for dinner.”

Other people organized a fund-raising drive to pay for his defense. After 16 days in detention, Peter and two other bloggers arrested around the same time were released. “I used Twitter to save myself,” he wrote on his blog. The massive online reaction, he believes, helped to free him.

Had this happened just a few years ago no one outside of China and very few inside China would have ever heard about it. Our victim in this real life story would most certainly still be serving time. This represents a profound change. There is a social revolution going on in China and it is powered by new media technologies.

Connected Netizens--The Quiet Revolution

Cyberspace is the new battlefield in the struggle between the Chinese government and foreign and domestic critics of its censorship policies. China has nearly 400 million netizens, far more than any other country in the world. Despite the constant filtering by way of the Great Firewall and the repeated bans of social media platforms, many experts are arguing that the Internet is dramatically shifting power to the Chinese people by allowing them to organize and by channeling uncensored information from outside, especially about democracy and human rights. To be sure, the Internet has further degraded the regime’s ability to control the flow of information, both within China and across its borders.

China’s recent knee-jerk reactions to immediately sever mobile communications and Internet access at the first sign of unrest speaks to the threat, or at least perceived threat, that social media poses to authoritarian regimes. Political developments in Moldova and Iran have annointed Twitter and Facebook the social networks of choice for revolutionary political movements, allowing like-minded people to organize virtually before taking to the streets. Can social networking ultimately open up the flow of free information to the point authoritarianism is unsustainable?

Indignation, says human history, can rarely be extinguished once it’s fires are fueled. China is being democratized from within by its own citizenry and the government is at a loss as to how to stop it. All one has to do is witness the persistence of tech-savvy, Chinese citizens who constantly find ways to circumvent state controls.The sleeping giant of human cooperation is being awakened by new media technologies and innovation.

A new book by Guobin Yang

In recent years increased participation and communication, two basic aspects of transparency, have taken place on the new media platforms in China. Guobin Yang, in his new book, “The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online,” reports that the primary form of netizen participation is online protest and dissent, most commonly in the form of replying in comment and forum threads.

China, despite its consistent and oppressive political tactics, is experiencing a very active netizen revolt. There are times that online activities are accompanied by offline activities. Relying on the online community platform, these kinds of activities are spontaneous and loosely organized, but they can have influence not only on online discourse, but also on offline public discourse and government policies. Social problems such as the widening divide between the rich and the poor; corruption; environmental pollution; changes in cultural values, etc. are all now reflected in these online discussions. The rise of an urban middle class is particularly important in the new online activism. The urban middle class is more confident culturally and has more confidence in both domestic and international media than the working class.

Yang’s book explores and expands our very limited understanding of the use of the Internet in China. Western media likes to depict China’s uses of the Internet as immature and only in two dimensions: onethat the government totally controls everything and two, that netizens only use the Internet to play games. Instead, Yang’s many years of studies and reporting from inside China reveals a very different story. Yang witnesses an unstoppable explosion of online activism:

“I show how Chinese people have created a world of carnival, community and contention in and through cyberspace and how in this process they have transformed personhood, society and politics. This book is about people’s power in the Internet age.”
Categories: COM580