For all the Bettys in the world who are afraid of tech…

This weekend I met a mid-40s lady, Betty, who was struggling to upgrade her old 2014 MacBook Pro, despite it having a large crack on her screen, with the newer USB-C powered MacBook Pros. We had an interesting conversation about technology, and in the end, I could not convince her to try new technology. This got me thinking about my own views with digital reading, as I could somewhat empathize with Betty. I’m quite a traditionalist with my reading habits; I just can’t quite get into audiobooks or ebooks. However, to not be a hypocrite with the opinion I shared with Betty, I recognize that I must move forward, that perhaps reading must also move forward to digital technologies and future advances.

The traditionalist in me can’t give up the overall feeling I get from reading print books. It is pure magic; it is unlike anyone experience there is in our lives. Perhaps it’s partly because of the ownership that comes with books, the physical aspect as I’ve learned in Professor Hannah McGregor’s class about the history of “The Book” and the effect of its tangibility, social & cultural value from a physical object. A new study shows that millennials actually prefer print books to ebooks, outlining that there is a strong factor of emotion that comes to play when making an opinion about books. 

While almost everyone expressed a strong attachment to physical books, and no one embraced a fully digital reading experience, older consumers, contrary to what one might expect, saw more advantages than younger consumers to reading with an e-reader. They referenced physical benefits that might not be as relevant to younger consumers, such as the lightweight nature of e-readers and the ability to zoom in on text (Alexis Blue-U, University of Arizona).

To support this idea, I was able to find a popular Reddit thread that outlined many users’ everyday reasons for not liking ebooks: “For some strange reason, I get nauseous when reading from an e-reader.”, “I live in a large city and rely on public transit. It is less likely that I would be mugged for my book than I would be for my kobo, kindle, or iPad.”, “Formatting. With e-books, some pages are just a mess.”, “I like taking my book down to the beach and I’m afraid of getting sand all in its components.” Could there be more traditionalist Bettys than I thought? 

I think I’m more interested in learning about the technology that advances digital reading experiences than the actual technology that currently exists. I understand that ebooks can be more practical and economical for many consumers, but I’m more interested in how we can apply the emotional value from the physicality of a book onto digital reading experiences because I know we can get there. Like AI technology, I believe we can get to a point where man meets machine, which is a scary thought, but I know it is happening. As we lose the traditions from generations before, I wonder if we are able to keep memories and moments of the past and include it in future technology. 

Betty shared with me that one of her greatest reasons for her hesitancy is fear. She fears trying something that’s foreign to her because she’s afraid of forgetting what she already knows. Perhaps this is an inherent fear in all of us, with change, with technological advances, with the future. We can treasure traditional print reading and we can be curious about new digital reading ways. Perhaps there isn’t one greatest form of reading, but the very act of reading is what makes the experience the greatest of all. I hope one day Betty will have the courage and try the new MacBook Pro with touch bar. I’ll start by downloading an ebook for my guilty pleasure reading.

I Object! A Pub 802 Reflection

I walked into PUB 802 feeling very excited and fascinated by the course syllabus, partly because I’m a rookie tech lover and constantly surround myself with social media and new tech forms. I soon realized that the class would be centered around thinking about technology with a critically analytic lens. I have never been in a seminar like this, or even felt challenged to think about technology in an academic way, so I felt very inspired to alter my thinking and learn further about the technology that consumes our everyday lives! To critically reflect on my experience in this course, I will address my attitudes towards each learning objectives from our course syllabus. 


Objective 1: To whet your appetite for thinking about the role and effects of digital technologies, especially as it relates to the content we consume.

I felt most drawn to the articles from Week 7: data privacy, Lynn Neary’s article “Publishers’ Dilemma: Judge A Book By Its Data Or Trust The Editor’s Gut?[Week 9: Measuring & Tracking], and the text from Frank Chimero, “The Good Room” [Week 3: The Internet changes everything]. These articles and our class discussions during these weeks definitely challenged me to further my thinking and spiral down a rabbit hole of research and additional relative news articles. Technology is not just a fancy shining thing that needs our everyday attention; in fact, I’ve learned specifically from those weeks that perhaps we desperately need technology for our society to evolve and continue growing. Technology has thoroughly integrated into our lives; could it be for the better? I don’t believe we can go backward toward a time without tech now.

Objective 2: To help you develop a framework to analyze and interpret technology-related events and trends

I feel that I’m quite up to date to popular news on technology while discovering them by the trusted Twitter; but with those stories, I read it, hear it, and go on with my day. However, this class has given me the opportunity to dive into the technology-related events and really question it’s deeper context and reasoning. Specifically, with the Facebook scandal, many of my close family/ friends vowed to never use Facebook again, and I started feeling a little hesitant towards social media. However, after reading Cory Doctorow’s “Deleting Facebook is not enough: without antitrust, the company will be our lives’ “operating system” [from Week 7: Data Privacy], I realized that if we don’t discuss and think critically about these issues, then it is a form of ignorance and avoidance to the problem. I learned that perhaps technology is not the real problem, but the problem is how creators/users interact and make bad decisions with technology.

Objective 3: To better understand (but not necessarily fully comprehend) how different technologies work

I felt like one of the biggest missed opportunities in this class is that we didn’t learn how to code. I think it’s a fundamental learning objective that should have been included within the course schedule, as it’s an important and growing skill that could be beneficial to our relationship with technology/ publishing. I truly appreciate the mini-tech lessons, especially the first lesson we had that helped us understand how the web works (with the cool web drawing Juan made). I understand that learning how to code within 30 mins sounds impossible, but I wonder if we could have devoted a class to it. 3 hours seems reasonable? I often felt a little lost during the mini tech lessons as they were huge concepts squished into a slim 20 min time slot. Could workshops break up the discussion heavy component to this course? I think it would help us feel more motivated and on track with the course. It’s hard to be in a technology course and always talk, just talk, and not feel like we are interacting with tech more beyond using the basic publishing tools.

Objective 4: Give you practical experience with three digital publishing tools and formats: blogging (WordPress), wikis (Wikipedia) and annotations (hypothes.is)

I felt very comfortable with using WordPress before I came into this course, having run a small lifestyle blog site before. I also completed the exact same Wiki assignment in my undergrad English literature class, so I was familiar with the site and the weekly tasks. I particularly liked being provoked to annotate via hypothes.is as it kept me motivated to complete the readings and contribute to my class’ online discussion. I liked how it became a space for me to communicate with my cohort and further discuss how we each felt about the readings. I think hypothes.is is a powerful tool that can invoke better online reading, and with a couple more enhancements (better @ system or reply/comment area, or a better way to include photos and GIFS!), it can be game-changing.

Objective 5: Allow you to develop and express your own thoughts about various aspects of technology

I really liked each blog prompt, despite some taking more time from me to ponder and outline. I like feeling like I have a space to explore my thoughts, even if they are incomplete, incoherent ones. One of my biggest fears with sharing anything is the fear of failure or rejection, so knowing that I am sharing my opinion with my peers who do not judge me, but rather push me to think harder is really motivating and new for me. I particularly liked the task of reading everyone’s blog post and posting a comment during my lecture week. It inserted me into a position of having to challenge attitudes and ideas, despite initially agreeing to them and wanting to move on as I always do. One of my favourite things about this is seeing a thread going on in the comments in hypothes.is ! The digital party is always bumping! 


Overall, this class has opened my eyes to technology, to not simply read what I see and live in ignorance about it. Group discourse is important about tech issues because we can better understand and find ways to live a balanced life with technology (hence, the birth of recharge). I’m excited to learn about new technologies that come and interact with them the same way I did during this course, if not better and deeper.

A dream: a world where our information is protected and truly private

While there is data that can predict the next blockbuster hits, as shared from Stephen Phillips’ “Can Big Data Find the Next Blockbuster Hit“, I believe that the most useful information a publisher can obtain is from the author and his/her readership credentials to prove that the author is worthy of being published. It’s sad that the amount of likes or follower count is how we qualify how worthy an author’s work is to be published, but I believe this is what the future of publishing is moving towards. Many publishers look at an author’s previous publishing experiences, or if an author has previous entertainment success to use as a security blanket, as a means to promise success and high profit from a project. For example, it’s been very popular to look at the social media account information from prospective poets, as most “Instapoets” are now published based off of viral posts from their poetry. I think this is how most celebrities become authors too. It’s so risky for publishers to publish works, as most ideas don’t really make money. I understand that not most publishers publish just for monetary value, but for the large-house publishing companies, I don’t see it any other way. It’s as if this data acts as the closest publishers can bet to a promised return on a project. 

While I’m not too familiar with the types of data there are for publishers to use in their favour, I’m particularly interested in Apple’s announcement this week with the launch of Apple News+, a brand new subscription service that offers human-curated news to the user. One of the most impressive perks is that Apple promises to keep the user’s reading habits private, from Apple and advertisers. Apple shared that “publishers will be paid based on how many people read… data will be collected in such a way that it won’t know who read what, just what total time is spent on different stories.” I’m interested in exploring this flip in the question, that what if readership data is restricted from publishers? How would it impact the productivity of the publisher, or alternate the decision-making process of what gets published? This is a huge stab at Google and Facebook, who are notoriously known for selling our data to brands, most often without our permission. I think this is a great step for Apple as a brand, but I wonder if this makes many advertisers pull out from working with Apple, or publishers nervous that they will be weakened from not accessing primitive data. I respect Apple as a company because it continuously sought to differentiate itself from companies like Google and Facebook by emphasizing on privacy standards. I admire that Apple focuses on being consumer-friendly, so I wonder what this could mean for publishers. I think if a publisher can be like this, it would gain even more appreciation and support from readers. It’s a strong way to increase branding value, by making the reader feel like they are respected and don’t have to fear for an invasion of privacy. However, if publishers don’t depend on readership data, then how can they strive for blockbuster hits? Can it be taken as just a game of chance or the gut feeling? How successful can this be? I guess time will tell, but given this powerful initiative from a big-time corporation like Apple, I hope that other companies can follow this as an example. 

PS: There was Oprah at the #AppleEvent so Apple is sooooo winning!

 

 

Data Democrazy

In the game of monopoly, the player that ends up owning the most houses win, stealing all of the opponents’ properties and leaving them in bankruptcy. The real life version is the same: the top dominant companies share the same sin: greed. In business, the main objective is to earn the most money, so it shouldn’t be a surprise when a business wants to be the biggest, wealthiest player by vacuuming the smaller companies and gaining the most profit. There is a large, growing danger that one day, if that day comes, the biggest monopoly crashes and leaves the entire economic market in footprints of dust. What will we do? What will we do when all of our information, fed through the algorithms to the big monopoly business’ selfish profit, is gone? I understand that it’s hard for multi-billion companies to want to control the metadata that makes them succeed in their business endeavours. In Joe Karaganis’ article, “The Piracy Wars are Over. Let’s Talk About Data Incumbency,” he shares that

 “The reason for this secrecy isn’t a mystery. It’s a big advantage to know more about your market than your competitors, users, customers, and—ultimately—regulators. Controlling this information raises barriers to competition and makes it easy for anyone sitting on the information-poor side of a negotiation to get taken advantage of without quite being able to say how.”

Essentially, big companies leave us in the dark. All they do is gain and all we do is lose our information to location services, customer surveys, liking things on Facebook, adding Amazon deals into our wish-lists, scrolling through infinite meme threads, etc. Karaganis continues that “in practice, almost all successful steps toward systemic data disclosure have been linked to regulatory pressure or fears of liability… it took a decade of escalating scandals and congressional threats to push Facebook into data-sharing arrangements with academics.” This left me wondering how much more would it take for the democratizing of metadata. Could there be a world where there are no gatekeepers and everything is an open-data agenda?

Bernard Marr in “What is Data Democratization? A Super Simple Explanation And The Key Pros And Cons” explains that the key benefit to data democratization is that “when you allow data access to any tier of your company, it empowers individuals at all levels of ownership and responsibility to use the data in their decision-making.” It could be a game-changer, where all parties within the economy can have equal use of consumers’ information. Can you imagine how the publishing industry would change if everyone had access to Amazon’s data? But I can’t imagine a world where Amazon would ever allow that. In the defeat of Amazon, could another Amazon reform?

I admire the idea of metadata democratization because it could create a fairer market. It could help smaller companies better understand the value gap within each market and the size and power of each market, specifically benefiting the creative markets. However, I’m not convinced that this is possible in our current market (or near future one?). If everyone has a seat at the table, then who is out competing for the food? I don’t believe that any business can survive without a competitor, even including non-profit companies. Competition is a useful tool in gaining new perspectives and growth. Competition allows brand authenticity and uniqueness. If everyone is the same, then why would a person choose one over the other? If there is no choice to be made, then there is no data, no business, no market, I don’t know what there is. I don’t believe we will reach a time where there isn’t a big scary, mysterious Amazon in the picture, but for right now, I believe we can keep the dialogue and discuss/ share new ideas on how to make the playing field a little more fair, but controlled. My idea is to steal a couple ‘get out of free cards’ and stash them in the bottom of the deck… what’s yours?

I have no data to hide, do you?

It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the internet lacks data privacy, despite the top tech companies saying that they will implement better security and privacy, like Mark Zuckerberg’s new vision of an “a privacy-focused messaging and social networking platform where people can communicate securely”, or the US government’s initiative of establishing better antitrust laws, like Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign proposal to dismantle the biggest tech companies, Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon, and forcing them to separate and restrict major mergers. I walked into this idea of data privacy with a popular mindset: I have nothing to hide, so why should I be afraid if someone has the balls to hack and expose me. I still struggle to believe that a place like the internet can be a private place, and can’t help but reflect that as much as we don’t like these big tech companies stealing our data, it is like a paradox. We, as users of the technology, don’t want them stealing our data or sometimes having our data at all, but we still contribute to this big capitalistic system by using their technology. In order to benefit technology as a whole, data is required to make better products for our needs. Could it be for the greater good? I agree that when data is taking from us without our permission, we, as users, can feel a mistrust with the tech company. As Avvai shared in her blog post, “Facebook’s new privacy plan might not actually be helping us out” it’s not about not wanting using technology at all for the best form of privacy. They can be “really useful tools. We just don’t want it being shared without informed consent.” 

Businesses try to gain as much information about us as possible so they can gain the upper hand from their competition and create products that best tailor to our consumer demands. I feel like a lot of people are aware of this issue, ever since the circulation of government surveillance ideals from George Orwell’s 1984. This leads me to believe that there isn’t such a thing as privacy within a public sphere; there can’t be. If you truly don’t want someone exposing you or knowing something about you, then your best chances are living with a dead person.

I came across this article by Thomson Reuters Foundation that suggests future cities exist by data-driven sustainability. In the article, Toronto is described as a “smart city”, where future developments or enhancements to the city would be made by installing digital systems in public/private spaces to record data of what inhabitants do with their garbage, water, and power. However, in a recent survey from McMaster University, 88% of Canadians state that they are extremely concerned about their privacy, and 23% of them are “extremely concerned.” This makes me reflect that it’s not so much about educating the public on data privacy; a lot of people are more than aware that it is an issue. It’s understanding what we, as tech users, should do to become better equipped with our data and to gain agency and authority to not let big tech companies steal the information without our permission. Tech companies have become so dependent on our data. Could there even be another way around this? Without data, how could we see the improvement to any innovative endeavour within the technology in our lives? Or in a city, we can live in like Toronto. Geoff Cape from Future Cities Canada shares that “despite the privacy concerns, effective data use is crucial for combatting the environmental challenges cities face and making them better places to live for growing populations.” Tech companies have become so dominant in our society, I’m not convinced that a proposal like Elizabeth Warren’s can save us now. We’re in too deep.

“The Law is Reason Free from Passion.”

In the fair use case of Salinger v. Random House and Ian Hamilton, Ian Hamilton, a literary writer and biographer proceeded with writing a biography of renowned author J.D Salinger, author of the famous The Catcher in the Rye, after Salinger refused and told Hamilton that he did not want a biography written about him as long as Salinger was alive. This project was to be published by Random House and hoped for Salinger’s partnership and consensus. However, Hamilton continued on with the project and ended up paraphrasing multiple unpublished letters from Salinger. Thus, this case explores the issue of whether Hamilton had “fair use” of Salinger’s unpublished letters.

According to the court case summary, the district court “granted a temporary restraining order in favour of Salinger but subsequently issued an option denying a preliminary injunction” (Stanford University Libraries, 1987). The district court saw the reasoning for Hamilton’s copying of “expressive material” as needing minimal copyright, and acted in accordance to the Copyright Act. The circuit court later reversed this decision from the lower court and ruled the outcome of this case as such: the publishing of Salinger’s unpublished letters was not fair use (Stanford University Libraries, 1987).

I’ve learned in my PUB 802 technology seminar class that the person who ends up deciding if a situation is fair use or not is from the decision of a judge. I think the process is quite subjective, but alas, “the law is free from passion” (Aristotle). There are four main factors when determining the fair use in a case: 1. Purpose of the use, 2. Nature of the Copyrighted Work, 3. Amount of Substantiality of the Portion Used, 4. Effect on the Market. Based on the court summary, only the first factor is in Hamilton’s favour, so I’d like to explore this factor here. Hamilton reveals in his deposition during the court case that he wanted to use Salinger’s letters to “enrich his scholarly biography.” Without a doubt, the letters become the crucial basis to the biography, that the biography would not be completed or successful without them. However, the central focus on the letters demonstrates that there is almost a need for capitalizing on the interest of Salinger’s letters than the actual art of bio-ing him as an author or subject. A purpose that ultimately focuses on capitalizing an idea to which there are profits that go to Hamilton or subsequently Random House does not seem like a true, honest, and worthy project to deem fair use. The nature of the letters is that although they can be found in many public university libraries for people to read, Salinger never authorized the reproduction of them in any way during his livelihood. Hamilton even signed forms which depict his restriction to making use of the letters without the libraries’ or author’s consent (which is Salinger here). Hamilton had no permission to republish or make use of the letters in his own creative endeavours, so how could it be fair use here?

I think that fair use cases will always be subjective, especially in a literary and creative field like publishing. Overall, I think it’s unfair and will never be fair for a person to use someone’s work, against the subject’s freewill and agreement, for his/her own selfish, capitalizing, goal. I understand if a writer wants to include sources to increase the credibility of the work, and it’s often important to include voices and opinions within the community that are knowledgable on the topic. However, with something as personal as letters, who Salinger wrote to his close friends and families, it seems insensitive to exploit such intimate conversations. There were many letters that were not circulating in the university libraries, so if they were published, they would have been paraphrased by a writer who is not involved with these conversations or knows the backstories to them that the public would read about. Who is Hamilton, a guy who isn’t truly related or connected to Salinger to have the power to become Salinger’s voice to tell his life story? Perhaps there can be positive intent to be considered, but I’m glad this case worked in favour of Salinger. Now where can I get a copy of the letters so I can see what I’m missing out here?

Works Cited

Stanford University Libraries. “Salinger v. Random House and Ian Hamilton” Use. https://fairuse.stanford.edu/case/salinger-v-random-house-and-ian-hamilton/. Accessed 3 March 2019.

 

Lemme Google This Real Quick

I overheard a conversation between my coworkers, a 50-year-old guy from the Bronx and a second year engineering student, the other day where they were talking about the impact of the Internet on the younger generation. The conversation went something like this:

The 50-year-old from the Bronx: “Man you kids have it so easy. You grow up thinking that what you see on the internet is true, all of it. Because that’s where you get your information these days. My kid the other day told me to just “look it up”. The truth is, the Internet only confirms that the truth is what you want to believe. You only read articles that reaffirm your viewpoint. The internet doesn’t know everything. Back in the day, we didn’t have access to the Internet, and in our hometown, the information we got was what we got.” 

The second-year engineering student: “Lemme google this real quick.” 

It reminded me of an annotation Alex made in the “How Internet gets us” that I’m still thinking deeply about. She shares that “the internet doesn’t know everything, though, and it’s that kind of thinking that gets us into trouble. It’s not there to be a spouse, or a friend, or a person… it’s a receptacle of information that is both true and untrue, and it’s up to users to sift through that information and form their own opinions.” 

I still wonder if we use the web as a tool for our confirmation biases. I, too, used to believe that the world wide web was the infinite place where we could get answers to anything: what’s the name of the 50th president? How long is a flight to Japan? What does publishing mean? When we go on the web to search for answers to our curiosities, sometimes we go in wanting to information to support our underlying beliefs. Sometimes we don’t know anything at all, but the more times we see an article of information, the more we believe it is true. I wonder if it is the mere exposure effect that helps circulate our ideas of what the truth is. Gillian Fournier in “Psych Central” writes that the mere exposure effect is a “psychological phenomenon whereby people feel a preference for people or things simply because they are familiar.” If People Magazine, US Weekly, and Meghan Markle’s dad, and Meghan Markle’s dog shares that she hates Kate Middleton, then somehow somewhere the idea must be true right? 

We familiarize ourselves with the web, to a point where it feels a place we belong to. But I’m starting to believe that the web is not only one specific place, like a library. The web doesn’t know everything; so can it be one particular place? Does the web know the answer to what the web is? Maybe on a literal dictionary definition level, but from webpage to webpage, the web knows no more than us all. The web then feels more like little places clustered together as if a digital community. Similar to the idea we learned the last lecture, the internet was built to decentralize conglomerates of information so information can be boundlessly communicated everywhere. Can the web be the same? 

While reflecting the role of the web and the Internet on our daily lives, I couldn’t help but feel a little afraid. We have become so reliant on using the web to find answers to any of our questions. The web should not become our only lives, consuming us as a whole. The web is a place for us to create. We should hold the authority to choose the impact the web has on our lives. We can have offline and online conversations to make well-informed decisions on what truth is.

To continue my nostalgia in midst of these anxieties, I’ll do another mini digital detox by going to bed early and dreaming of a life without the web. Little did I know the nightmare is still waiting for me when I wake up. 

The Best Never-Betters-Better-Nevers-Ever-Waser Yet

 

In Adam Gopnik’s article, “How the Internet Gets Us”, he explains that there are three groups of people when we think about technology. The Never-Betters are the optimists that intrinsically believe in technology as if the Internet is our greatest creation and more innovative technologies are to come. The Better-Nevers are the nostalgic ones that crave “how it used to be”, thinking that the world will come to an end because nothing will be as great and powerful as the book. The Ever-Wasers are the rationalists that learn to deal with technology and its challenges as they come. If you were to ask me, I’d say all three, please!

We view the older generation: our grandparents, elders or seniors in our community, as more likely to identify themselves as Better-Nevers because they’ve lived longer than us, with viewpoints and lifestyles we’ll never understand. Lately, we’ve been thirsting for nostalgia, cue Stranger Things and its successes with chiming into our retro early-mid-1980s connotations. Some of us weren’t even born then to enjoy the symbolic mementos, so how could we possibly be nostalgic for it? Alas, when we compare how life was then to how life is now, how simple things were back then to how things keep getting more and more complicated, I understand how one might feel like a Better-Never.  Has modernity failed us? There are nights when nothing, not even a compelling Netflix show, can beat the feel of a new book in my hands. I devour it and sift into a different world that isn’t now. 

While thinking about all the new technology that enters our world, I can understand why some (including a part of myself) are Never-Betters. Some of our technology is really mesmerizing, and I can imagine people who were first introduced to the Internet feeling the same. I can’t remember the first time I was connected to the Internet, but I can remember the first time I got an iPhone as my first cellphone and what an experience that was. I can understand how sometimes technology really hurts us, how we are consumed into a burnout generation of social media, gaming, and just staring at the screen for so long your eyeballs melt addictions. However, I can’t fathom what’s next for us with where the Internet can go. It’s scary, but sometimes fear drives us towards better things ahead.

I recently went back to my part-time job where I see many Ever-Wasers, elderly people bravely and diligently learning new features to better optimize their phones. I often say to seniors watching the session from afar: “if those brave people can do it, then what’s holding you back from doing the same?” It shouldn’t be an age thing; technology does not discriminate who a user can be. A person can be nostalgic but still hopeful for what’s to come, or better yet, use that nostalgia to inspire new innovations that capture a bit of the essence from the past. As Gopnik suggests, “Once it is not everything, it can be merely something. The real demon in the machine is the tirelessness of the user.” Technology is what we make it out to be; it is controlled by the people and our thinking towards it. Perhaps we have to take things as they come because we don’t know a piece of technology until we’ve thoroughly tried to integrate it into our lives.

It’s all about balance. Maybe every time we get an iOS update, my heartbeat will quicken and I’ll spam text my friends “LOOK WHAT THEY DID NOW. TECHNOLOGY SUCKS!” But after a couple of days, I’ll give in and let my phone refresh into the not-so-scary future that awaits me. I’m still waiting to convert my grandma into an iPhone user, and when I’ve finally done it, I’ll be the first and possibly best Never-Betters-Better-Nevers-Ever-Waser yet.