Archive for the ‘Digital Rights’ Category
Just like last year I decided to publish an overview of the books that I’ve read during the year.
This year I managed to read 48 books (I am really missing my daily commute, don’t believe the 47 in the picture above) which I’ve put in the following categories:
Mcluhan’s Understanding Media is the single most important book on technology that I’ve ever read. His probes are all-encompassing and still very relevant 50 years after their first publication. Taleb gave me a new way of looking at the world and a set of tools for thinking that is richer than Dennett’s attempt at doing the same. Carse’s classic is well worth reading and I would love to read more Žižek in 2014.
- Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man — Marshall McLuhan (link)
- Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder — Nassim Nicholas Taleb (link)
- Intuition Pumps And Other Tools for Thinking — Daniel C. Dennett (link)
- Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility — James P. Carse (link)
- Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium — Paul Levinson (link)
- First as Tragedy, Then as Farce — Slavoj Žižek (link)
- Het socratisch gesprek — Jos Delnoij (link)
- McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed — W. Terrence Gordon (link)
- The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust — Robert David Steele (link)
I expect this category to grow in 2014 with more books about privacy, freedom of expression and the Internet. Solove delivers good arguments on why privacy is important and Edwards (inadvertently) showed me how scary it is to work for Google.
- Nothing to Hide: The False Tradeoff between Privacy and Security — Daniel J. Solove (link)
- I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59 — Douglas Edwards (link)
My focus will move away from learning, but I still managed to read some fascinating books on the topic in 2013. Harrison left me itching to try his method for running meetings with large and diverse groups. Illich clearly showed the institutionalizing effects of schooling (confusing being taught with learning and confusing certification with competence). Gatto made me loathe to put children in schools (read Dumbing Us Down, the Underground History is less cogent).
- Open Space Technology: A User’s Guide — Harrison Owen (link)
- Deschooling Society — Ivan Illich (link)
- Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling — John Taylor Gatto (link)
- De canon van het onderwijs — Emma Los (link)
- The Underground History of American Education: An Intimate Investigation Into the Prison of Modern Schooling — John Taylor Gatto (link)
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The book club read nine books in 2013. By far the most thought- and discussion-provoking was Morozov battling “internet-centrism”, “epochalism” and “solutionism”. Eggers enlarged current Google and Facebook practices to show us the grotesque direction we are moving in. Zamyatin wrote a Russian version of “1984″ (way before Orwell) subverting the concept of freedom. Silver was a great read and Lanier gave me the useful concept of “Siren Servers”.
- To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism — Evgeny Morozov (link)
- Makers: The New Industrial Revolution — Chris Anderson (link)
- The Circle — Dave Eggers (link)
- Cypherpunks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet — Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Jérémie Zimmermann (link)
- The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t — Nate Silver (link)
- Bleeding Edge — Thomas Pynchon (link)
- We — Yevgeny Zamyatin (link)
- Who Owns the Future? — Jaron Lanier (link)
- The New Industrial Revolution: Consumers, Globalization and the End of Mass Production — Peter Marsh (link)
For some reason I had yet to read Kafka’s The Trial. It didn’t disappoint. Shteyngart made me laugh the hardest (with Thomése coming in a close second) with his near-future dystopian novel on our hypercommercialized digital future.
- The Trial — Franz Kafka (link)
- Super Sad True Love Story — Gary Shteyngart (link)
- Cat’s Cradle — Kurt Vonnegut (link)
- De laatkomer — Dimitri Verhulst (link)
- 2BR02B — Kurt Vonnegut (link)
- How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia — Mohsin Hamid (link)
- Homeland (Little Brother, #2) — Cory Doctorow (link)
- Het bamischandaal — P.F. Thomése (link)
- Gelukkige Slaven — Tom Lanoye (link)
There were some real gems in this miscellaneous category. Feddes has set the standard for books on cities. Because of Hillis I finally understand how computers work. My friend Dorien Zandbergen‘s PhD thesis gave some wonderful insights into hacker culture in the bay area. Van Casteren’s book made me think of my early teenage years living in a young neighbourhood in a forensic town just above Amsterdam.
- 1000 jaar Amsterdam — Fred Feddes (link)
- Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping — Mike Clelland (link)
- The Pattern on the Stone (Science Masters) — W. Daniel Hillis (link)
- Japan’s Cultural Code Words: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese — Boyé Lafayette de Mente (link)
- The Incredible Secret Money Machine — Don Lancaster (link)
- New Edge, Technology and Spirituality in the San Francisco Bay Area — Dorien Zandbergen (link)
- Thoughtless Acts?: Observations on Intuitive Design — Jane Fulton Suri (link)
- The Big Lebowski: An Illustrated, Annotated History of the Greatest Cult Film of All Time — Jenny M. Jones (link)
- Lelystad — Joris van Casteren (link)
- Treat Your Own Neck 5th Ed (803-5) — Robin McKenzie (link)
- The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm — Tom Kelley (link)
- Een halve hond heel denken: Een boek over kijken — Joke van Leeuwen (link)
- How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum — Keri Smith (link)
- What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers — Richard Nelson Bolles (link)
About 4.5 years ago I wrote about me going to work for Shell. Now I am changing employer again. Starting today I will be the director of Bits of Freedom, a Dutch organization focusing on privacy and freedom of communication in the digital age.
I’ve had a wonderful time at Shell: a steep learning curve, many opportunities for doing interesting projects in the learning technology and disruptive innovation fields, smart colleagues and enough scale and budget to try out big things. I wasn’t looking to leave, but couldn’t let this chance pass by.
If you know me even a little, then you will understand that going to work for Bits of Freedom is very much a passionate choice. As somebody who understands and appreciates the positive potential of technology, I am deeply worried about the technology-mediated future we are currently creating for ourselves. I want to make an impact and change that for the better. I can’t imagine a place in the Netherlands that is more at the forefront on issues like surveillance, the EU privacy directive or net neutrality than Bits of Freedom. I am honoured that I get to work there for the next few years.
This will likely also mean a change in course for this blog. Future digital rights related posts will go up in Dutch on the Bits of Freedom blog (Creative Commons-licensed naturally). I will have less time to focus on the world of learning, but will put some thinking into privacy of learners, data ownership and learning analytics in the next few months. Let’s see what gets posted here going forward…
Just now I attended an event organized by the Club of Amsterdam (“Shaping Your Future in the Knowledge Society”) about the Future of Digital Identity at Info.nl. After getting a badge and being photographed without my consent I could enter.
There were three speakers, below my notes.
Can you be in control of your online identity?
Nowadays we can’t imagine a world without Internet anymore. We use the Internet for Social media, shopping, search engine etc and because of that we share a whole lot of information about ourselves. Once the information is there, it is nearly impossible to get it of the Internet. Is there a way we are able to change this? I think there is hope for all of us!
Hagen’s business is built on the inconvenience of having to identify yourself with paper things to do significant things online (like opening a bank account).
When you buy something in the offline world you aren’t asked a lot of information when you buy (a magazine paid for by cash for example), in the online world you need to share lots of personal details. This is not only inconvenient, but also is a security risk. He thinks these details should be left in a secure place (trusted 3rd parties), like E-Herkenning or NSTIC. They should be the trusted intermediary between you and an online service provider (or merchant). This can only work if these parties are free for the consumer (but they can make money with the data that you are willing to give away), independent and international/global.
IDchecker is only one part of the total puzzle (not an e-identity provider) . They have three main services:
- ID Document verification
- Intelligent Data Capture
- Face recognition (biometrics)
There was some strong criticism from Rop Gongrijp who said that these three things are trivial to forge, meaning that either the consumer doesn’t get what is promised or merchant gets the wrong information. Rop said: “Are you aware that you are potentially creating a worse nightmare than you are solving?” Another person asked why he would centralize information that was decentralized before (“my airline currently doesn’t know what books I buy”). According to Hagen these are issues with the trusted 3rd party e-identity providers and not with his ID checking service.
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Living in the Panopticon
Balázs Bodó described his talk as follows:
The story of having a double identity / multiple personas is one of the most basic toposes of human imagination. We don’t need to be Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde), or Superman (and Clarke Kent) to realize that most of us have more than one face. One we show in public, one, we prefer to keep private, one, we consciously maintain, another we unwillingly hint at, etc. The Internet makes it hard to compartmentalize these personas, since we all live in the “perfect prison”, in the Panopticon. Will Jeremy Bentham’s dream “Morals reformed — health preserved — industry invigorated — instruction diffused — public burthens lightened — Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock — the gordian knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied — all by a simple idea in Architecture!” will finally be achieved now?
The notion of privacy is culturally determined. Since moving to the Netherlands he has been thinking about how to live in a surveillance society. He doesn’t mean government surveillance, but the surveillance we create for ourselves with our smartphones. The definition between the public and the private has become somewhat blurry. He showed a Facebook graph search query: Family members of people who live in China who like Falun Gong. This is information that we create ourselves.
He asked people why we have such big windows in the Netherlands without curtains. They came back with a few answers:
- Showing off wealth
- Calvinist prescriptions
- Transparency as the casual enforcement of civility
The last of course relates to Bentham’s panopticon and Foucault describing how this type of thinking has completely permeated our everyday lives. Will transparency and reform our society? To more tolerance? Or to better ways of lying and deceiving?
We don’t really seem to care about these questions if we can:
- privatize surveillance
- turns privacy into an (exclusive) commodity
- data mine the networks
- turn the lack of privacy, and the decentralized resources of those observed into shareholder value
But Foucault also said “Where there is power there is resistance.”. There is a re-emergence of an underground (like the enlightenment and pirate publisher and the samizdat in the past) on the Internet. Think of things like Wikileaks, VPN, TOR, etc. According to Bodó we might have people taking advantage of our current privacy state, but in the long run “The technologies of disappearance will create gaps” and will “win”.
Panoptic Dystopia or Citizens’ Utopia?
Annie Machon‘s talk was summarized as::
We are at a crossroads in history: never before have people had such access to information and the ability to communicate with others as the Internet now provides. Conversely, never before have governments, intelligence agencies and corporations had such an ability to track our every move, thought and word, with social media such as Facebook providing access the spies could only dream of 15 years ago. As technology continues to evolve, how do we, as citizens, preserve our basic freedoms?
Machon used to be an MI5 intelligence officer and turned into a whistleblower because she saw many things in there that were wrong and illegal. This turned her and her partner into criminal and they had to go on the run. Having to be careful for many years about her behaviour has led her to think about how it would be to live in a police state.
Her whole talk consisted of terrible examples of how we are heedlessly sliding towards a panoptic distopia, she likes to spread the awareness…
In certain parts of the world this police state is in actual effect already: the American kill list leads to many people being killed in North Africa and the Middle East by drones without the US justifying this from a legal perspective. The Patriot Act has shredded the American constitution according to Machon. Websites with an American TLD like .com, .org or .net can just be taken down without any due process. The most famous case being Kim Dotcom who was illegally spied on by the US in New Zealand and arrested by an FBI swat team. We now even pursue thought crimes. She gave the example of a professor who posted his plan to behead a fake copy of prince William during the prince’s marriage ceremony and was promptly and pre-emptively locked up for 24 hours. The UK is famous for its CCTV cameras (currently there are at least 4 million publicly owned cameras). There are even talking CCTV cameras now that are monitored live. The next step will of course will be drones for crowd control.
Mussolini said that “Fascism is the merger of the corporate with the state” and this is precisely what we are seeing in the West. We need to fight back.
The workshop opened with a presentation on the influence of engineering on society. Julian and Danja refer to themselves as critical engineers and have a clear understanding of the deep influence of technology on how we relate to each other (“Look at what Easyjet has done to the shape of Europe.”).
According to them we have more and more black boxes (often locked down) which place a rich interface (a marketing, business or political decision) between the person and the device while at the same time being very intimate to us: think about the iPod Nano in your pocket (and compare it to the old grammophone). Opening these blackboxes (essentially hacking) should then be considered research. The right to open the things we own, if only for study, is increasingly contested. This is problematic because they think technology you depend upon should be understood.
They define the Internet as a deeply misunderstood technology that we have become deeply dependent on. Somebody does own (parts of) the Internet. When they did a workshop in Peru they found out that all of the Internet traffic in that country was routed through Telefonica, giving Spain the hypothetical power to turn off Peru’s Internet when they want to. The question of geography is interesting on the Internet. Where are you on the Internet? Can you access your data and get to it? What will they say when you show up at a data center and request your files? Olver and Vasiliev consider the cloud to be a dangerous form of reductionism.
McLuhan writes in one of his introductions for Understanding Media:
The power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments, by a generation and more, has long been recognized. In this century Ezra Pound called the artist “the antennae of the race”. Art as radar acts as “an early alarm system,” as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them. This concept of the arts as prophetic, contrasts with the popular idea of them as mere self-expression. [..] Art as a radar environment takes on the function of indispensable perceptual training rather than the role of a privileged diet for the elite.
Julian and Danja showed their abilities as a radar by talking about some of their artistic projects that they are working on to try and problematize these topics. Julian has just made something he calls the Transparency Grenade, a little computer wrapped in a grenade shaped holder which start snooping on the wireless netwerks around it whenever you pull out the pin. Danja is working on Netless which tries to be a network of nodes that connect to each other independently from the net. Both of them showed worked in a recent exhibit for which the Weise7 book was created. It is a box shaped like an old-fashioned book with a computer inside. When you open the book it becomes a Wifi access point that allows you to read all the information about the exhibit. When you close the book, the computer turns itself off. They also created a project that plays with what they call the “browser-defined reality”: NewsTweek which used the faux sloga: “Behind every mind is a network. Own it. Fixing the facts. One hotspot at a time”. I’ve written about this project before. It allows you to change news sites in your local wifi network. You can check what people are changning on the NewsTweek Twitter account.
All workshop participants then got a specially designed virtual machine full of networking tools that we could run in VirtualBox. Everybody had to get up to speed with the command line which got a wondeful ode by Julian: Knowing the command line is great because it is a shared language across many machines. You are talking to the computer and it is talking straight back to you. You ask and the computer responds. You can take the output of one program and make it the input of the next program. It allows you to automate the operating system (rather than the computer turning you into a proletarian clicking machine). The command line is far from going away. As computers get smaller, the command line interaction becomes a dominant model.
The artists gave us a crash course on how to use the command line interface. I love how they desribed moving between the directories as moving inside the spatial landscape of your computer. We quickly moved on to commands like netcat (or nc), ifconfig, arp arp-scan, ssh and scp. We discussed what a network packet consists of, the header (SRC, DEST, LEN, SWQ) and the body with its payload.
On the fourth day we got a short lecture on routing and how to set your default gateway on the command line. At that point in time we had created and configured our own little network and were able to ping eachother, log into each others machines and go online using the “base” computer as the gateway and our local DNS server.
In the afternoon we explored the inherent vulnerabilities in using open Wifi networks. By using Aircrack and Driftnet we were able to see images scrolling by from sites that people were browsing on a public Wifi network in a local bar. Driftnet’s manual says the following:
Driftnet watches network traffic, and picks out and displays JPEG and GIF images for display. It is an horrific invasion of privacy and shouldn’t be used by anyone anywhere.
This blog is very much my notebook too. I therefore want to make sure I keep the following three commands (in this order):
sudo ifconfig wlan0 down sudo airmon-ng check kill sudo airmon-ng start wlan0 sudo airodump-ng mon0
The final day was about how to protect yourself a bit better online (a lot of the participants had started to feel “naked” after the Wifi snooping sessions of a day earlier. We discussed how encryption helps you with your basic human right to privacy while in the public space called the network and looked at the difference between anonimity and encryption. They explained HTTPS and Tor with this live diagram from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF):
They also made us download the the Tor Browser Bundle and discussed a few handy Firefox addons:
- GoogleSharing to anonimize your Google searches.
- User Agent Switcher allows you to change your browser user agent so that the webpage thinks you are using a different device.
- HTTPS everywhere to force your browser to use HTTPS whenever it is available.
- DoNotTrackMe helps to protect you against companies tracking you online (they want to do sentiment-analysis and try to pre-empt your behaviour.
We looked at setting up a VPN which is great tool to protect you against Wifi sniffing and to quickly . They showed us ipredator and OpenVPN and have inspired me to finally turn on the VPN capabilities of my VPN server.
Finally they shared a link to their Cryptoparty Handbook. This 400 page book was written in four day sprint and provides a comprehensive overview of everything that we learned (and much more).
For many participants this workshop was a truly transforming experience, hopefully changing their relationship to technology forever. I need to thank Dorien Zandbergen for masterminding this and making it possible!
This afternoon I attended a session at info.nl in Amsterdam with Brewster Kahle who wants to create “Universal Access to All Knowledge”. He has founded The Internet Archive, a non-profit library with about 150 people. It is best known for its Wayback Machine (collecting about 5 billion web pages a month, amazingly still fitting in a container).
They are convinced that it is feasible to store all the world’s knowledge. Texts are being digitized (i.e. scanned) for representation on the screen (see Open Library for examples) and are openly available. The Internet Archive have made their own scanners pushing the costs per scanned page (mostly labour) down to about 10 cents per page. Their scanning centers now have 3,000,000 free ebooks available online (incl. 500,000 for the blind/dyslexic and 250,000 modern books available for lending) and they have about 8 million more to go. They have made a book mobile that can download and print a book for about one dollar.
They are also focusing on archiving all audio, offering unlimited storage and unlimited bandwidth for free and for ever to bands who want to store their tapes online. They have over 1 million audio items in over 100 collections. They are doing similar things to moving images, making permanent archives of video sites that have gone out of business, home movies and even television (do check that one out, it makes TV news quotable and even includes a lending model for physical DVDs of TV news).
They store their 10 Petabytes of data in a redundant fashion and also store 600,000 books in a physical archive (growing fast of course).
Brewster also talked a little bit about his case against the US government when he received a national security letter from the FBI which was deemed unconstitutional with a bit of help from the EFF and from the fact that he is a library.
Daniel Erasmus from Digital Thinking Network (DTN) did a short presentation on NewsConsole which uses a big data approach and aims to collect all the world’s news and put it in an interface that allows for easy interacting with it. I’ve been using it for a while to find news in the field of learning technology. I particularly liked his key lessons from working with big data, like:
- SQL won’t cut it
- Big data is messy, a lot of effort goes into cleaning it up
- Moving a petabyte of data is very expensive and difficult, store it correctly the first time
- Testing on small subsets doesn’t work, because you get unexpected bottlenecks when you scale
- It is a humbling problem
Vlemmix deftly shows that many people in the Netherlands think they have “nothing to hide”, while living in a society which is increasing the level of control and eroding their privacy. Even though I follow this topic actively, the film still managed to upset me. I didn’t know that the trams in Rotterdam do facial recognition or that psychiatrists have to list the diagnosis of their patients in a centralized repository (see this Dutch article, and these Dutch sites of psychiatrists battling this DBC).
Watching the film made me angry and worried. How much further before the police will start pro-actively arresting people for what they might do even before they do it, the infamous pre-crime?. The technology is already capable.
It was interesting to see how Germany, with its Nazi and Stasi history, has much more awareness of the dangers of storing too much data. They refuse to implement the EU’s data retention policy for example.
As you can see, there is ample need for a strong Dutch voice protecting your privacy. Bits of Freedom is doing a great job defending your digital rights.
They could really use your donation.
I attended Ars Electronica this year and noticed their was a lot of art about privacy. I’ve written a Dutch blog post for the civil rights activists Bits of Freedom about these art works. You can read it below or find the original here.
Ieder jaar wordt in Linz (Oostenrijk) Ars Electronica Festival for Art, Technology and Society gehouden. Dit jaar barstte het festival van de privacy gerelateerde kunst. Hieronder een aantal highlights.
Memopol-2 van de Estlandse kunstenaar Timo Toots was de winnaar van de Golden Nica voor interactieve kunst. Deze dystopisch aandoende kamergrote installatie scant paspoorten van bezoekers en verzamelt daarmee zoveel mogelijk informatie online. Deze informatie wordt met een donkere en enge esthetiek getoond aan de bezoekers. Door slim met gegevens om te gaan wordt bijvoorbeeld niet alleen je geboortejaar maar ook het jaar waarop je statistisch gezien gaat sterven getoond.
Kyle McDonald is bekend van het controversiele project People Staring at Computers waarin hij met webcams foto’s maakte van nietsvermoedende computer gebruikers in Apple winkels in New York. Hij wilde met dit sousveillance project de lege blikken laten zien van mensen die computers gebruiken. Omdat McDonald in een juridische strijd met Apple verwikkeld is heeft David Pierce aquarellen gemaakt van een aantal van zijn foto’s. Die werden op het festival getoond.
Het project qual.net won een beurs. Deze open source technologie maakt het mogelijk om compleet ad hoc een netwerk te maken tussen verschillende apparaten met een Wi-Fi antenne. De netwerkverbindingen worden niet centraal geregeld maar verspreiden zich als een virus. qual.net kan dus gebruikt worden om Internet blokkades te omzeilen en is ook een goed alternatief voor overbelaste netwerken.
Het Ars Electronica centrum heeft op dit moment een vaste tentoonstelling getiteld Out of Control – What the Internet Knows About You waarin de verschuivende grens tussen publiek en privé wordt onderzocht. Drie projecten maakten indruk:
Newstweek bestaat uit een klein kastje dat je op kunt hangen op een plek met een draadloos netwerk (bijvoorbeeld een Starbucks). Het kastje logt in op het netwerk en corrumpeert de ARP tabellen zodat al het netwerkverkeer via het kastje loopt. Met een simpele webinterface kun je daarna de tekst van bekende nieuws websites (onder andere het NRC) aanpassen en je eigen propaganda creeëren. Gebruikers van het netwerk zien dan bij een bezoek aan de nieuws site jouw aangepaste tekst in plats van de originele tekst:
Faceless is een wat ouder project van Manu Luksch. Zij heeft een film gemaakt door voor het oog van London’s surveillance camera’s een aantal scenes op te voeren. Door middel van recht op inzage verzoeken heeft zij vervolgens alle beelden van die scenes opgevraagd. Om de privacy van de ommestaanders te garanderen moeten al hun gezichten geanonimiseerd worden. Vandaar de titel Faceless.
De Oostenrijkse student Max Schrems heeft vorig jaar alle door Facebook opgeslagen informatie over hem opgevraagd. Na wat juridisch gesteggel heeft Facebook uiteindelijk een dossier van 1200 pagina’s opgeleverd. Een uitvoerige analyse van de gegevens laat zien wat voor soort gegevens allemaal door Facebook worden opgeslagen. Dit zijn niet alleen maar de connecties met je vrienden, je foto’s en je status updates, maar ook zaken als je laatst opgeslagen locatie, gegevens over alle apparaten waarme je Facebook gebruikt, de mensen waarmee je inmiddels geen vriend meer bent, en je complete log in geschiedenis (zie hier voor de ontnuchterende complete lijst). In het Ars Electronica centrum werden de 57 categorieën mooi verbeeld als verschillende puzzelstukjes die tezamen het lijf van Max Schrems legden.
Schrems is inmiddels een campagne gestart, Europe vs. Facebook, met vier eisen aan Facebook:
- Meer transparantie over de gegevens die door Facebook worden opgeslagen
- Opt-in in plaats van het nu gehanteerde opt-uit
- Echte controle over de eigen data door de gebruiker
- Data opslag minimalisatie
Daarnaast vindt Schrems het onacceptabel dat Facebook sommige gegevens voor eeuwig bewaard en gebruikers niet de mogelijkheid geeft om deze voorgoed te wissen.
Naast installaties over privacy was er aan de Donau nog veel meer interessante digitale kunst te zien. Ars Electronica is echt een aanrader.
Doc Searls – How the Old Bottom is the New Top
Searls spoke at at SxSW earlier this year. I caught him there already and made some notes. His talk today was very similar and still relates to the new book he has written: The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge.
Andy Hood – The Unselfish Gene
Hood is from AKQA a (marketing? branding? ad?) agency and sponsor of the festival that helps brands “improve business performance through innovation”. He talked about how in our current times it is incredibly necessary to try things and to make sure you learn from whatever it is that you try. According to Hood whenever you learn you can consider yourself to be successful. He quoted Wayne Gretzky who said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. Having learned something you have to act on it and follow it through.
His reference to The Selfish Gene was a bit thin: “evolve or die” (meaning you need to keep learning) and “the genepool needs to be diverse” (meaning you need to have an ecosystem of partners).
Finally he referenced an interesting Disney project around gesture recognition on normal surfaces (like a door knob):
Rupert Turnbull – An Inside Job: Tales from a Corporate Startup
Turnbull is the publisher of Wired UK. He talked about intrapeneurship (although I am not sure what he meant to say other than that we should cherish intrapeneurs). He beliefs we are all born with an entrepeneurial spirit, but that we don’t all use this spirit when we grow up. Turnbull is a good storyteller and shared his own forays into the world of starting businesses. He also discussed how disruption can be an opportunity: Wired UK has an incredibly diverse sets of business outlets: website, magazine (print and tablet), podcast, consulting, events, hospitality, retail, etc.
Louisa Heinrich – I am Superman
Heinrich works for Fjord and has no slides (brave!). She talked about how the extended Quantified Self movement and its thinking can make us better human beings. Our lives are made of thousands of decisions every day without us even being conscious about many of those decisions. Our brains process massive amounts of data and it is an illusion to think that computers can just take over that task.
We are inherently narrative creatures. We think of our own lives as a set of very rich stories and we cannot help but see patterns in these stories. She loves the ideas of technology helping us creating stories about ourselves on the basis of the data that is in our lives. When this happens we should all have the power to decide who gets to look at our data though.
Ross Ashcroft – No More Business As Usual
His talk was also mainly about storytelling. He showed the Hollywood formula:
On the basis of these plot elements Ashcroft told a story about a new way of doing business and “new ownership” (the theme of PICNIC). Similarly to the talks of Turnbull and Hood this seemed to be more about how you say something than what you say. I’m left with barely any content… Yes, the world is changing. Now what?
Elizabeth Stark – The Democratization of Knowledge and Innovation
Stark talked about the largest online protest in history: against SOPA. She described how the media portrayed the demonstrations as a top down approach from a set of Silicon Valley executives, whereas in reality it very much was a bottom-up, decentralized and chaotic movement. Stark sees this as a way of working and innovating in the future: harnessing the creativity of millions of people who realise that you can learn anything you want, that experts are made (rather than born) and you don’t need a PhD to innovate.
Farid Tabarki – Burdened with Radical Freedom
Tabarki (a trendwatcher with his own company Studio Zeitgeist) started his talk by looking back at the rise of Lady Gaga who rose to the position of most influential woman in media in only two to three years. She was able to do this because of three things:
- In the past you needed MTV to become well known. Lady Gaga uses a platform where anybody can tune in anytime (2 billion views on her YouTube channel)
- Before you could only communicate with your fans through magazines. She has around 30 million followers on Twitter.
- In the past you had to make sure your records were in physical stores, now you have global instant delivery with things like iTunes.
We are all little Lady Gagas: we are also liberated from the constraints of the past and we live in the age of digital decentralization. The next part of his talk focused on education (the usual Coursera-like examples). These new ways of doing education are based on the fact that one size no longer fits all. Other fundamental changes are related to sharing, transparency (check out this Norwegian website showing the income of all Norwegians for an example of true radical transparency). Finally, we will also have a much more hybrid approach to things.
How will we go from the old centralized system to the new system? Will it be a revolution or a transformation? One thing is for sure: we need take some risks.
Cathal Garvey – Enter Bio-Hacking!
Garvey is a biohacker and an academic (his slides actualy have content, unique in PICNIC):
His wish is for this “most fundamental technology of them all” to be democratized. Garvey showed quotes from Bill Gates and Freeman Dyson saying how important biotechnology will be in the future (“the machine language of life”). Biotechnology as the original open source technology, it is there for anyone to hack on.
Why biohacking? Basically because it is about the ownership of self. 20% of the Human genome is currently patented (WTF?!). So there is a rich community of hackers (in hackspaces and dedicated biolabs) and biopunkers using things like the OpenPCR (for thermocycling) trying to democratize access to this type of technology and genetic information.
Jon Lombardo – HealthyShare: Because Friends are Good for Your Health
Lombardo leads social media for GE and talked about their new app: HealthyShare, a way to let your friends help you with your health challenges. GE sees health as a social thing. There are four things you do to or with others when it comes to health:
The app transfers these pre-existing things to the online domain (unfortunaty this is another app that is heavily based on Facebook). Right now the app is mainly focused on what he calls “casual health”. They want to move it to the more serious health concerns.
Tim O’Reilly – The Clothesline Paradox and the Sharing Economy
I saw O’Reilly being interviewed on the same topic at SxSW and wrote a blogpost about it. His truly excellent talk today (refreshingly full of content compared to the morning) was mainly a rehashing of what was discussed there.
O’Reilly has published a case study documenting the economic impact of open source on small business.
Finally O’Reilly talked about skateboarder Rodney Mullen talking about innovation and creativity:
Clash of Systems: A Socratic Conversation
Humberto Schwab, the “innovation philosopher for business” who used to be my philosophy teacher at the Montessori Lyceum and was called Huib then, led a Socratic conversation with a few of the speakers of the day.
Schwab started by outlining the basic rules for the Socratic method (as one way of battling the intellectual fallacy and putting the practical knowledge and practical intelligence in the center of our acting):
- You can only get the floor when you ask for it by raising your hand, and only then when the chair gives you the floor
- There is no discussion, you are in a process of thinking together and trying to answer a question
- Before you can speak, you have to be capable of repeating what the person before you said and you have to be able to summarize the previous 15 minutes of dialogue
- You are not allowed to refer to books, investigations or other smart people
- You have to use simple and concrete language
- The chair will be a philosopher, who will not provide any content but will make sure that all dimensions of the question are explored by creating the space for that
- If the rules madden you then you can ask for a timeout
He then asked the four speakers to come up with one philosophic question each. The speakers asked the following questions:
- Why do people do things for eachother without necessarily getting something in return?
- Do we own ourselves?
- What am I willing to share as a human being?
- Are we losing leadership?
I focused more on the methodology than on the contents of the discussion, very interesting!
- Is forgiving and forgetting worth protecting in the digital age?
- How does the Right to be Forgotten work in EU member countries?
- Does the First Amendment prevent any possibility of a Right to be Forgotten in the US?
- How does time change the value of information?
- Can anything ever really be deleted from the Internet?
From the online summary of the session:
The digital age has eternalized information that was once fleeting, and the Right to be Forgotten has gained traction in the EU. A controversial aspect of these rights is that truthful, newsworthy information residing online may be removed after a certain amount of time in an attempt to make the information private again. Two compelling camps have arisen: Preservationists and Deletionists. Preservationists believe the web offers the most comprehensive history of humanity ever collected and feel a duty to protect digital legacies without censorship. Deletionists argue that the web must learn to forget in order to preserve vital societal values and that threats to the dignity and privacy of individuals will create an oppressive networked space.
They kicked off the conversation with the example of a girl in college who did somebody stupid which was posted on Facebook and surfaced 6 years later. We were also asked to remember our most embarassing moment and then imagine that being posted on the Internet and showing up as the first result on a search for your name. They then handed out a roadmap for the discussion (which I think some of the other discussion sessions could have used).
Forgetting is incredibly important to our emotional health. How human do we want our technologies to be? This becomes more important now that it is becoming harder to keep yourself out of the online context and are forced to live some of your civic life online. Digital life is also core to our expression rights. Somebody in the audience had a disability with his hands. He is now scared to post pictures of himself online being happy, because they might take his disability insurance away if he doesn’t look “disabled” enough.
In general the tone of the discussion seemed to be very pro right-to-forget (so deletionist). One German lady brought in the perspective of her press job. The press is very nervous about how this right will be used to censor the press.
My personal question on this topic relates to the ability to reinvent yourself. This will become much harder once everybody has something like a “Facebook timeline”. The assumption behind this seems to be that people don’t change and that identity is a constant concept. This semi-objective (it still is a subjective lens) digital history might become the single source of truth about who you are.
There are a lot of behaviours and social norms that are coming through that are helping us cope with this situation. There are also options to enforce law with forced technological solutions.
On Thursday, November 10th and Friday, November 11th, I am attending a chapter workshop of the Internet Society (ISOC). Below my (largely unedited) notes on these two days. This might be less relevant for my regular readers. But you might still find something useful here, especially if you are interested in how to create sustainable volunteer based organisations.
Opening of the day, introduction to ISOC.
The European bureau was started about one and a half years ago to help the relationship between ISOC and its members. Looking back on 2011, there have been many European activities around the following topics:
- Network neutrality
- DNS blocking
- ISOC has been recognized by the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)
- Human rights and the Internet
The future will be much more complex, so ISOC has put a lot of their plans for 2012-2014 online.
Jacek Gajewski is the new chapter development manager. There are also some next generation leaders in the room.
Currently there are about 84 ISOC chapters all over the world. The number of chapters is still increasing (20% growth in 2011!). Chapters have life cycles. Sometimes they are very lively and then sometimes they become inactive and need to be rejuvenated. There a few basic documents that can help you start and run a chapter. They are developing a dashboard for chapters (draft). There are also several toolkits (examples are Mobilising volunteers or Unravelling the Net Neutrality/Open Internetworking Debate). There are website templates for new chapters. They have many regional workshops for chapters (next year they will have a global INET workshop for the 20th anniversary of the ISOC, April 2012 in Geneva).
Some new services are being developed. An example are the live streams of previous ISOC related meetings.
Helping associations create value and have long term health
Peggy Hofman and Peter Houstle from Mariner Management have a lot of experience in “helping association volunteers and staff create the greatest possible value for [their] members and in ensuring the long term health and growth of [their] association”. They facilitate the day.
Are chapters structures that can actually do large projects?
The head of the Romanian chapter talked about what he calls “Hobbit Management”. They run the chapter by projects. For every project they define a project leader who is 100% responsible for the project. They try to have a diversity of project leaders. In the European Union there is already a lot of money available for projects. This is maybe why European chapters make less use of the chapter funding that ISOC provides. To be able to deal with the EU, you need to have a real formal organisation and need to have the ability to check off all the points on their checklists. One question he has is whether we can use ISOC Geneva as a proxy organisation that enables local chapters to do EU projects.
Walda Roseman, COO of ISOC, shares with us that there will be an incorporated ISOC entity in each region. This will make it easier to take part in intergovernmental activities and it will create a way for ISOC to receive grant money. They are also planning to help chapters get better at applying for community grants by teaching them how to write grant proposals and by sharing grant program best practices.
The head of the Armenian chapter for ISOC shared some of the projects that the Armenian chapter had been involved with recently. They created and up-to-date regional community Internet center, helped to start up an Armenian Internet Exchange (ARMIX foundation), upgraded an Armenian academic (research) network for IPv6 readiness and is establishing a content creation centre for Armenia. They have a true multi-stakeholder model. I believe that this is something that ISOC NL can work a bit more on. Especially the corporate side is underrepresented in our Dutch ISOC community.
How do we arrive at common ISOC positions and how does an ISOC chapter get their position heard?
There is a feeling that it is difficult to arrive at common positions about certain topics. We were urged to have more bottom-up discussions: we can ask questions on the regional ISOC mailing lists and have a discussion about the topic afterwards.
I suggested that ISOC could be inspired by the way that the online discussion was held around the writing of the GPL v3. They used stet (which is not actively developed any more, the project now recommends Co-ment) that allowed people to comment on parts of the text. The more comments a piece of text go the more red it would become. This could be a way for ISOC to develop its policy in a slightly more transparent way.
A Polish chapter lead showed how they become a real public policy partner in his country. They were forced to start dealing with public policy issues by a set of laws that they didn’t like. His first advice is to take your time. Some policy decision take a real long time. They now became part of the law-making process: they have survived six prime ministers. This allows you to focus on your core values (because you know your counter party will not be around forever). We have a huge advantage over other lobbyists: we do it for a passion. This makes it easy to stay neutral. The first step to get there is: write, write, write. “Publish or perish”. You have to put your position on (digital) paper. Over time you will be part of their mailing list, then slowly you get involved in the real decision making process. If you publish: others may pick up your work and new people will come and join you. What motivates him: the opportunity to work with incredible people that normally you would not have access to. Also “hacking the system is fun”, he is changing the world in his own way. His advice comes with some disclaimers: “Caveat Emptor, your mileage may vary”, but “do try this at home!”
“Call in the young people because they are afraid of nothing” “Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it” “You have to be very careful with what your values are”
Homework for me: we need to be more clear about what our values are in the Dutch chapter. What are things that we are willing to really “lobby” for?
Ideas about future ISOC e-courses
Ulkar Bayramova presented her thoughts about future ISOC e-courses. She thinks that is important because courses will give a lot of people access to the knowledge around ISOC, it will bring people together and can find talented future leaders. The courses should be made interesting by the topic (useful in life or career), the methodology (multi-medial, based on peer interactions) and by giving out university certificates at the end of it. It is important to take bandwidth considerations into account. She would also like to give people access to the e-libraries of universities (I personally don’t think that is strictly necessary: this is not an academic course perse and all the information that is needed for it should be open and public anyway).
A participant in the Next Generation Leaders programme gave a couple of ideas for making the courses more widely available. One thing that is very important is localization. She also suggested using SCORM to create personalised learning journeys. I don’t think that would add anything, so will lobby ISOC to stay well away from SCORM and spend their energy elsewhere.
Roseman announced that ISOC will launch a new program next year titled: “Sustainable leadership” with three pillars:
- Social responsibility
They still need to do thinking around how to run this program efficiently and effectively.
How do you engage people in volunteering?
In break-out groups we tried to answer the following question: “The last time I got someone to do something for the chapter it was because I…” or its counterpart “The last time I personally offered to do something for the chapter it was because I…”.
Our group came up with the following ideas:
- Giving them the opportunity to be important, empowering them to be in charge.
- Calling it a “Macedodian” ISOC (this only makes sense if you know about this!)
- Giving people an opportunity to be connected to another world
- By being connected to all the player in the IT field in your country (while staying neutral of course)
- Allow people to bring their ideas
- Allow access to knowledge and experience (can be important when it is hard to get internships) and provide facilities for training
- Access to facilities (e.g. internet access or computers) that they might otherwise not have access to
- Ask people to do what they are good at or what they would love to do
- Hook into what people were going to do anyway, focus on passion
- Create small tasks for other people to do: creating a process/infrastructure that lowers the transaction costs to farm out work to others. Only by giving people the opportunity to participate will they actually participate. This hurts in the beginning!
- Use more interactive technology: like an email newsletter via WordPress and the social networks
- Because of being a bit more daring and provocative (counter to ISOC default way of operating), maybe even activist
- Give away something for free, but get commitment back for it
- The opportunity to promote yourself
- If they like the topic of an event it is more interesting to get them involved
- Look at psychology: empathy, seduction, manipulation, conversion
- The opportunity to travel or enlarge their personal perspective in a particular way
Another interesting one that was added by another group was:
- Use crisis as an opportunity: always great to bring people together
Research into volunteers has shown that volunteers get activated because of three things:
- There has to be passion involved
- They will get something back (“what’s in it for me”)
- There has to be a “Personal ask”. This is the most important one as people will rarely say “no” to something when they are personally asked. When they have said “yes” once, it is likely that they will say “yes” again.
We also discussed the issue of succession. One truism that came out of that was: The longer you stay in position, the harder it will become to find a replacement.
The new ISOC website
ISOC will launch a new website very soon. It won’t be a static launch, but rather they are ready to get input and iterate. This will also likely mean a new website template (improving this old one) The ISOC Asssociation Management System (AMS) will be made a bit more friendly. There will be a series of webinars explaining chapter how to use the chapter portal (this will include the AMS).
My thoughts and reflections
After spending three days with some of the people at the core of the Internet Society two things struck me pretty clearly:
- For an organization that is completely focused on the Internet, it is slightly ironic that in the way that ISOC organizes itself it seems to have taken none of the lessons of the Internet on board. I am not sure how aware its leadership is of this fact and don’t see any easy way to change this, but I do believe it will hinder ISOC’s effectiveness in the long run.
- The shift from engineers to lawyers, or rather from technical advocacy to policy advocacy is very palpable. From a the viewpoint of a relative outsider it looks like there is great governance for the technical problems (with many of the technical problems already behind us), whereas there is little or no clarity about policy problems. I have doubts whether ISOC is positioning itself well enough to be able to handle this shift (I believe a clear majority of the people in the workshop were engineers).
Sidenote: Fridtjof Nansen and the Nansen passport
At one part during the workshop we had a discussion about digital IDs. One of the workshop delegates mentioned the Nansen passport which is something I hadn’t heard about before. In the summer of 2010 I visited the Fram Museum and learned about Nansen’s heroic adventures trying to get to the north pole. I didn’t learn there about his work for the League of Nations. Now I have all the more reason to start reading his biography that has been sitting on my bookshelves for a while now.