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OII Technology

The evil Internet threatens endangered species…

I am not entirely sure whether this comes from the journalist or from the conservationist. But the BBC has posted a news article titled “Internet threatens rare species, conservationists warn“. We should really be careful of this guy called Internet. He looks like a tough, ugly, evil man (or woman). Be careful kids!

OK, to be fair, it seems that it is mostly the BBC’s interpretation of a warning from the International Fund for Animal Welfare concerning animal trade facilitated by the Internet.

“The internet is becoming the dominant factor overall in the global trade in protected species,” said Paul Todd of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

We fall very easily in this personification of technology. We give it agency, as it were a life being, with will and capacity of action. The Internet doesn’t threaten anything. The use of the Internet might make easier the illegal trading of protected species, but it is human beings doing it. It is the human being that threatens endangered species. Do not forget that!

Categories
Politics Technology

Capitalism is dead — Long live Compartism

The title of this post seems counter-intuitive. Common sense tells us that battling successfully against the consequences of the financial crisis, capitalism is more alive than ever, thriving in India and China, making states tremble on their foundations. Yet I dare to say that, against this common sense and in line with Marxists, anarchists, socialists of all kinds and other anti-system movements, capitalism as we know it, i.e a socio-economic system based on the ownership and accumulation of capital, is showing its last moments of life. Yet I don’t affirm its decease for the reasons that these other ideological movements assume i.e. capitalism is failing, but because thanks to both its success and its deficiencies, it’s letting way to a new system that, like capitalism itself and contrary to communism or I would even say (paradoxically) anarchism, doesn’t need to be imposed for its popular acceptance, for it feeds from a characteristic that makes us human. In capitalism it was greed, in compartism it’s generosity.

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Technology

My mother’s iPad

My mother doesn’t know anything about computers. Nothing. Nada. I’ve tried so many times to teach her unsuccessfully how to use the computer that I’ve actually forgotten myself how to use it. So, I must agree with Ethan Nicholas when he says that the iPad is perfect for her mother for

It does exactly what she needs. It will let her watch movies and listen to music and read books on long flights. It will make using a computer fun instead of an annoying chore.

This year I struggled with my mother’s Christmas present. I ended up buying her a very useful (and not expensive) Brita water filter jug. Yes, I know it is not a conventional present, though she really liked it! But now, I know what she will totally love and change her life: an iPad. It will also change my life: I will finally be free of teaching my mother how to use a computer…if ever that’d be possible.

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Technology

iPad, disrupting technology? We’ll see about it – and how open it becomes

The whole connected world already knows. On Wednesday, Apple presented “The Book of Jobs”, also known as the iPad. The presentation of their latest creation created expectations, awesomeness and, in some, disappointment.

What do I think of it? I must admit that while following the presentation online from different sources on the web (engadget, gizmodo…), I felt disappointed. But after I saw yesterday night the keynote video, I became more positive about it, not entirely, as when the iPhone was released, but I saw its good things, for it has many.

Why do I want an iPad? This is the first question I ask to myself before buying any technology product. They need to have a function, not just being fun. When I was 13 they released in Spain a video recorder that had wonderful features: image effects, multi-image selection of channels and other eye candy functions. The ad of the device said something like “you will have so much fun with your VCR!”. I went to see it in the El Corte Inglés (a big chain of department stores in Spain). There I met a couple of 30-40-year-old guys trying it. Pretty quickly the conversation derived towards its “fun features” until one of them said “I don’t care where it does and how much ‘fun’ you can have with it, at the end what you want is to record movies. If it does it better than others, I’ll buy it, otherwise I’ll buy another one that’ll cost me half the price.” Since then, I buy technology according to my practical needs and how well they satisfy them.

What about the iPad then? I travel frequently. And when I travel I need 7 essential things from my computer: web, email, books, music, video, word processor and presentation software. A 250 GB hard disk, 4 gb RAM, 13-inch screen, 2 kg Macbook is far too much for my mobile needs. A 8 GB, slow processor, 3.5-inch screen, 150 gr iPhone is far too little. So for some time, I’ve been wishing to have a device that’s between a Macbook and an iPhone that frees me from the weight and cumbersomeness of a laptop and the limitations of an iPhone. The iPad seems to be a great answer to my needs.

Why then did I feel disappointed when I saw it?

Categories
OII Technology

Technology and ethics: disruptions and revolutions

Ulysses and the Sirens
Ulysses and the Sirens (Herbert James Draper)

Ulysses knew how to pass safely by the coast of the Sirens. In the Odyssey, we are told how he instructed his sailors to put wax in their ears, bind him tightly to the mast, and by no means release him until they had passed the Sirens’ island. Ulysses knew that the Sirens’ temptation was such that he won’t be able to resist it without restraint. He knew that the wonderful Sirens’ song meant in truth destruction. It had, therefore, to be resisted.

Technology has a sweet, melodic and very attractive singing. It promises humans to do, make and achieve the impossible. It wonders us at all ages, and we fall quickly for its wonders. We imagine new perfect worlds that will bring us happiness and plenty, all thanks to our technological advances. Yet the Sirens of technology, if not resisted, can easily bring us to destruction. History is witness of this danger.

Technology and ethics are intimately related. How we approach and use technology is very much conditioned by our ethical values. Therefore, the construction of a society based solely on technological disruption is a dangerous evolution. For our behaviours, as individuals, groups and as society as whole are transformed unknowingly by these new technologies without the restraint of ethical principles that would, otherwise, guide our conduct in more beneficial directions. When Ulysses ordered its sailors to bind him to the mast and keep him there, he was imposing on himself an ethical principle to resist the temptation of the Sirens. He was telling his sailors not to follow his orders in any circumstances; he was innovating to resist a path he knew will bring him destruction.

Since the enlightenment and particularly since the XIX century, Western civilization has based great part of its social, economic, scientific and political development on technological advance. Despite all technological revolutions it has gone through, there hasn’t been an equivalent ethical revolution to help us cope with the transformations that they implied. Instead, we are now living in-between a conservative Christian ethic, which did indeed suffer a great transformation during the Reformation, and a materialist ethic based on external impulses of consumption and accumulation, ignoring other principles and values that form the complex nature of a human being, creating therefore what Durkheim called “anomie“: a lack of social ethics that produces “moral deregulation and an absence of legitimate aspiration.”

The Internet is the technological revolution of our era. At the same time, it is by and IN itself a social revolution. There are those, many, that want to see mainly its positive aspects. Or those that mostly focus on its negative consequences. Yet the nature of the disruption and revolution of the Internet depends not in the technology itself, but in the context where it is immersed, and how this context changes accordingly or not. A very important part of this environment is our ethics. If we use the Internet within our current ethics, I am afraid it won’t be as good as the optimists want us to believe. It is urgent, I believe, that we discuss seriously our values and principles that should drive our lives, and that we spread them in dialogue with the people. And it is in this need where we see the complexity of social phenomena; for the Internet is, at the same time, the perfect instrument and space to do so. In fact, I think it’s already happening at a small scale. How successful this ethical disruption and revolution in the making can be won’t be determined by a technological feat, but by many other factors that organize our human lives, among them our own will to bind ourselves to the mast.

Categories
Politics Technology

Democratic water ripples

With Obama in the White House, the US government changes gear towards a more transparent administration. Now, is this vow for transparency in government, and for the use of the Internet to get people more acquainted with what’s going on behind doors having an effect beyond US borders?

The American model democracy is at its best in the world when it can predicate with the example. Its influence does not come mainly because it has big and powerful missiles, amazing military technology, or the biggest economy in the world. It comes through soft power. Is this new link between technology and democracy a new US export?

Categories
Politics Technology

Socialising government: collaborative government on social networks

Do you know Beth Noveck? She is the xxxx in the Obama administration. She was also the director of the Institute for Information Law and Policy and New York Law School, one of the creators of Peer-to-Patent, and the writer of the book Wiki Government. It is because of the latter that I write this post.

In the book she says:

In devising these practices [open and collaborative consultation of experts online], we have to remain open to all forms of technology, even those that initially seem trivial or irrelevant. Potentially, ubiquitous social networking technologies like Facebook and MySpace, in which participants “friend” and “poke” those in their personal networks, can teach us more about the idiom of participation than the legalistic practices in which so few of us actually participate (page 143, stress added)

We not only have to remain open to these technologies, but we may be relying on them much more than on any other. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter (and others) have developed a set of social networking technologies that are applicable not only to making and keeping friends, but also to a diverse variety of activities, including government. Socialisation is a human constant. Very rarely what we do is isolated from our social environment. Our actions are fed by it and we feed it in turn. Therefore, the change in the dimensions of socialisation by new technologies has consequences beyond our friendships. Using these same technologies for citizen collaboration in government may be a solution to many of the problems we have experienced in participative platforms until now (e.g. low participation, spam, trolling, redundancy, low quality…). For this we’ll need that those that have developed and implement them understand that there might be a business opportunity here.

Categories
Europe Information Politics Technology

From Russia with Twitter (and my blog) in defence of our online rights

This week is ending. I’ve been (still I am) in Moscow for a week of teaching at the MGIMO, as I do every six months. On the academic side, no big changes or problems – well, besides a drunk student who told me in front of the rest of the students that “this year everything is changing”, for I will have to start teaching in Russian (!), because he couldn’t understand English and my subject interested him very much (ignoring the fact that there was very good simultaneous translation!). I took it as a funny anecdote anyway, similar to the email I got last year from the worst-translator-ever, who was complaining that he got fired because of me.

The big news for me are that while I was in Russia, I could do politics in Spain. I could participate as a blogger and citizen in the massive online protest against the surreptitious provision included at the end (and some say in the last minute) of Prime Minister Zapatero’s new Ley de Economía Sostenible (Law for a Sustainable Economy), currently being read by the Spanish Parliament. This provision modifies the Spanish Information Society Law passed in 2002. It creates a new Commission for Intellectual Property (Comisión de Propiedad Intelectual) in the Ministry of Culture. And, according to the interpretation I concur with, it gives to this Commission powers to shut off a website or online service infringing intellectual property rights without judicial intervention. This set off a viral fire on the web in a matter of hours. Twitter was the main conduct through which this increasingly candescent political momentum ran. The morning after the law proposal was presented to the Parliament, a (still) unidentified group of “journalists, bloggers, professionals and creators” had written a Manifesto for the defence of the rights of Internet users (Manifiesto en defensa de los derechos fundamentales en Internet).

Categories
Information Politics Technology

The social benefits of online piracy

pirate-main

For many, “online piracy” appears to be a bad thing. The music, film and software industries and governments want to convince us that IT IS bad. Bad not only for the poor artist or programmer, but also for innovation and for society as a whole. However, many practice it. Many copy songs, movies or software using the Internet. And I say, many do a good thing.

Before the Internet, people could indeed photocopy a book, copy a record on tape or duplicate a movie on VHS, these were possible, though somehow cumbersome and quality-reducing mechanisms of reducing the cost of our “intellectual consumption”. Without them, many people would have probably read less books, listened to less new songs and watched less stories on the screen. Nevertheless, the scale of it was small, thus its social effect tiny. Today, the liberty and usability feature of the Internet have opened unimaginable venues for these “unauthorized” reproduction of intellectual goods, the scale is, indeed, very, very relevant. Thanks to file sharing, hundreds of thousands of people have at their disposal a myriad of intellectual products that were unattainable before, be it for price or accessibility. Thanks to “piracy”, these people, adults and children, are expanding their intellectual scope, they are probably becoming more demanding, in search of more and more varied things.

Categories
Europe Information Politics Technology

Spanish Manifesto on the rights of Internet users

A group of journalists, bloggers, professionals and creators want to express their firm opposition to the inclusion in a Draft Law of some changes to Spanish laws restricting the freedoms of expression, information and access to culture on the Internet. They also declare that:

1 .- Copyright should not be placed above citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy, security, presumption of innocence, effective judicial protection and freedom of expression.

2 .- Suspension of fundamental rights is and must remain an exclusive competence of judges. This blueprint, contrary to the provisions of Article 20.5 of the Spanish Constitution, places in the hands of the executive the power to keep Spanish citizens from accessing certain websites.

3 .- The proposed laws would create legal uncertainty across Spanish IT companies, damaging one of the few areas of development and future of our economy, hindering the creation of startups, introducing barriers to competition and slowing down its international projection.

4 .- The proposed laws threaten creativity and hinder cultural development. The Internet and new technologies have democratized the creation and publication of all types of content, which no longer depends on an old small industry but on multiple and different sources.

5 .- Authors, like all workers, are entitled to live out of their creative ideas, business models and activities linked to their creations. Trying to hold an obsolete industry with legislative changes is neither fair nor realistic. If their business model was based on controlling copies of any creation and this is not possible any more on the Internet, they should look for a new business model.

6 .- We believe that cultural industries need modern, effective, credible and affordable alternatives to survive. They also need to adapt to new social practices.

7 .- The Internet should be free and not have any interference from groups that seek to perpetuate obsolete business models and stop the free flow of human knowledge.

8 .- We ask the Government to guarantee net neutrality in Spain, as it will act as a framework in which a sustainable economy may develop.

9 .- We propose a real reform of intellectual property rights in order to ensure a society of knowledge, promote the public domain and limit abuses from copyright organizations.

10 .- In a democracy, laws and their amendments should only be adopted after a timely public debate and consultation with all involved parties. Legislative changes affecting fundamental rights can only be made in a Constitutional law.

translation taken from Cory Doctorow’s http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/02/spanish-activists-is.html