I may be in the Minority, but this report looks frightening.

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The Future of Communications:

When the movie, The Minority Report first hit the cinemas in 2002, it seemed like complete science fiction. There’s no way these technological advancements – like eye tracking, intuitive billboards, crime prevention and an all-knowing government apparatus – would ever happen in my lifetime. Now, as scary as it seems, much of it has come to pass, or will in the foreseeable future.

With web 3.0 and the semantic web tracking every digital move we make, cookies collecting data on our habits, our desires, our frailties, our finances, our sexual orientation, et al and storing it all in Big Data’s data banks, this future is now a sobering reality. Could we be far from the scene of Tom Cruise walking through a mall with billboards and kiosks recognizing him by tracking his eyes, and asking him about the jeans he bought last week, and whether or not he needs a new shirt to go with them? All that data was instantaneously available and matched to his eyeballs, in the film.

We already have facial recognition technology on Facebook that is startlingly accurate!

This technology that learns about you and knows you perhaps better than you know yourself, promises to make our lives easier. It provides convenience, organizes information that we seek and even forecasts things we may want. The more we are lulled into the sense of security that this self-serving technology provides, the more the web and big data will know about us.

But all of this knowledge can have profound ramifications on privacy. How can an individual be a full participatory citizen when he or she may fear what’s in the data banks? How will the government react to knowing everything about you?

Among the themes of the movie are”the role of preventive government in protecting its citizenry, & the role of media in a future state where technological advancements make its presence nearly boundless,” according to a Wikipedia post.

Which begs the question, is this utopia worth the cost? Surrendering your privacy for the greater good?

In “The Minority Report, the government sought to stop crimes before they were committed. How would that capability affect the freedom of the individual? Time will tell, but the prospects of all this knowledge can be frightful.

Artificial intelligence is another area of either great promise or great concern. Robots are already in development that can think and react like humans. If they know everything the web knows about us, how will they react when encountering real human beings? This seems the stuff of science fiction, but they soon may be a grim reality. Let’s hope global warming melts the icecaps and sends us to Waterworld before this all happens.

 

 

 

 

My, how TV tune-in advertising has changed.

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In the pre-digital age, you would learn about upcoming television programs from mainly two places, commercial clips running on TV itself, or TV guide. Ads on television networks would promote their own programming as interstitials between shows, telling you to tune in to watch the next episode of “I Love Lucy,” or “Dallas,” or “Seinfeld.” Then two things happened. One, cable television came on the scene, and suddenly there were 500-1000 channels to watch. Then, the internet came of age, and suddenly viewers weren’t just watching TV, they were interacting with TV.

Shows like “The Voice” and “American Idol” introduced fan voting, first over the phone and then online. Suddenly consumers had a new voice. Tweets started appearing and running during some shows, where your voice could be seen as well as heard.

Recently, we’ve been seeing some pretty inventive programming promotion going on that was inspired by fans, and powered by user interactivity. The “Fire & Ice” promotion of “Game of Thrones” season 7 was live-streamed on Facebook Live and over 162,000 GOT fans stuck around for over an hour to find out when the new season would premiere. The show’s cast members popped up and encouraged fans to type the word FIRE on their keyboards to speed up the process, and many did.

Then there was the “House of Cards” promotion during last fall’s presidential debates featuring candidate Frank Underwood making promises worthy of real presidential candidates, and the hashtag #FU2016 became a top trending topic on Twitter. Viewers could even type FU in response to any issue facing America today on Frank Underwood’s fictional campaign website.

Finally, there’s the brilliant promotion of the Netflix program “Narcos,” that was actually inspired by fans tweeting about the bilingual show. Tweets like…”#Narcos is pretty much free Spanish lessons,” “They should show Narcos in school to teach Spanish,” and “It’s a proven fact that you can learn Spanish if you watch enough episodes of “Narcos,” birthed the second season’s advertising campaign. “Learn Spanish with Narcos” featured characters from the show giving Spanish lessons to fans.

See it here: https://almaad.com/work/spanish-lessons/

Although the Spanish words the fans were learning were mostly off-color and obscene, the lessons were edgy, and attracted even more fans. The campaign grew organically on social networking sites with results that were off the charts. More than 12 million views, a 40% increase in followers, and more than 50 million people reached, according to the show’s press releases. Not bad numbers for a foreign language course!

The ad agency that created the campaign, Alma DDB was founded to “bridge the gap between the Hispanic and General Market.” And with the “Spanish Lessons” campaign for “Narcos” they fulfilled their mission.

What kind of programming promotion will we see in the future? It’s anyone’s guess. But “Narcos” sure ain’t “I Love Lucy,” and the next generation of tune in ads will most likely be breaking new ground in advertising.

 

“Not Just the Facts Ma’am” A Report Card. Journalism and the 2016 Election.

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The news industry has a black eye after the brawling, bruising election of 2016. There really were no winners in this bloodbath. Among politicians the codes of decency, civility and honor were decimated. But the real losers were basic journalistic values, which took a severe beating throughout the months of endless barrages of insults, false reports, fake news and bruising accusations.

What follows is a report card reflecting the grades I would hand out to the media after the election.

Value:                                                                         Grade:

Neutral observers                                                    D-  

Comments:

I’ve talked with people from both red and blue states and not once did I hear of anyone who found a truly credible source working without an agenda. This is truly sad, given that one of the foundations of journalism is to provide an objective voice and 3rd person point of view. Republicans complain of the slanted coverage on CNN, the New York Times, Huffington Post, etc. Democrats point to the conservative agenda of Fox News, Briebart, the Drudge Report etc. In my opinion, just about every news source is guilty of putting their POV across in the selection of hosts, guests, analysis and content.

Truth & Accuracy                                                     F   

Comments:

When you have both sides of the aisle complaining of “Fake News” from the other you know that something is amiss. With the new president’s press corps proclaiming a new era of “alternate facts” and the complaints from conservatives of the “enemy media” and fake news claims from both sides, really, it seems truth is in short supply. Also fact checkers had a field day looking to substantiate some of the claims carelessly flung around by the candidates. Accuracy is a casualty of the rush to get an edge, to get the story out first, without consideration of the facts.

Present Facts Without Passing Judgment             C-  

Comments:

This one is a little tricky. Some of the newspapers and networks seem like they are being objective, and upholding objectivity and journalistic integrity. But, it’s easy to see the bias implicit in their reporting. Editors select what stories to follow and what to pass on. When the New York Times runs five or six stories critical of the new Trump administration in their lead, and Fox News leads with their stories in support, the partisan press disguised as an objective press comes into focus.

Crediting Sources                                                      D

Comments:

In the “Society of Professional journalists’ code of Ethics” journalists are urged to “Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.’ In this new era of “partisan news” however, stories begin in the strangest and murkiest of places. The participatory culture has given us bloggers who have no journalistic training, and partisan viewpoints that need nurturing. So a “source” could be a fabricated fake news story started on a political blogger’s site, which is picked up by more seemingly reputable news organizations and reported as “news.” One glaring example of this was Buzzfeed’s decision to run the “Trump Russian Dossier” story without fully vetting its sources and verifying its authenticity. Next thing you know the dossier is the talk of all of the news shows.

Public Interest                                                           D

Comments:

“Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.” Again this statement from the journalistic “Code of Ethics” is debatable. A journalist with partisan views may feel he is serving the public’s interest by writing stories that support his or her political positions. Even though personal bias is frowned upon, it is clear from some of the partisan coverage mentioned above, that a not-so-hidden agenda is being served by most of the reputable journalistic institutions like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times, right down to the news aggregators with partisan views like Briebart and the Huffington Post.

In Summary:

Whereas we the people depend on a free and independent press to tell us the truth (or in Walter Cronkite’s famous sign off – “That’s the Way it is…”), today’s journalistic climate of political bias deserves a near failing grade. It leaves more citizens wondering, “Who can I trust?”

 

Big Data: Magic Bullet or Loaded Gun?

In the article, “We’re going to tell people how to interview databases;” The rise of data (big and small) in journalism, author Viktor Mayer-Schönberger reflects on his new book, Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work and Think.

On the bright side, big data seems incredibly tantalizing. Having access to vast amounts of information will change the way we live, and especially the way journalists do their jobs. It can help editors discover the information that their audiences crave and dig for online. He suggests that algorithms might better know what readers may want to read than editors, and that’s a bitter pill for some “high priests of mainstream media.”

Also in the “pro Big Data” column, you might consider the fact that this data, when used effectively, can help back up the instincts of journalists, and even shed new light on what might be popular with readers.

“I recognize that in some ways I have good instincts, but in some ways I am blindfolded. I am not going to blindly accept the data, but I’m not going to be blind to it either,”  “Big Data,” co-author Kenneth Cukier imagines some editors commenting.

This is also why he proposes the idea that in the future journalists will not only be taught how to interview people, but also how to interview big data banks. This seemingly less than human “informational science” may be an irresistible and illuminating beacon that can shed new light on very human behaviors and trends that people will want to know about.

However, Big Data has its dark side, of which everyone should be wary of, and one that is very concerning. Once data falls into the wrong hands, or is abused by an authoritarian government, the situation looks dire.

When talking about the “dark shadows where big data can lead us,” Mayer-Schönberger makes a familiar sounding comment: “The culprit is not big data itself, but how we use it.”

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This statement reminds me of the NRA and gun lobby’s favorite saying…”Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” So if big data isn’t the culprit but those who abuse it are potential culprits, how can we be assured that our data will be safe from those who may invade our privacy, or do us harm?

Who is protecting our privacy from big data? Who controls the data banks, and how can we control what data about us is shared? These are questions you’re not likely to get answers to in big data’s data banks.

But they’re questions that every person should be asking.

Caroline O’Donovan, We’re going to tell people how to interview databases;” The rise of data (big and small) in journalism, Nieman Lab, March 8, 2013.

Second thoughts on the First Amendment

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The Statue of Liberty once welcomed immigrants to our shores with a plaque reading…”give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…” Soon they may be greeted with…”give me your cell phone, your log in ID and your passwords…”

According to recent reports, the Department of Homeland Security may start forcing immigrants and refugees to hand over their social media login details at the country’s borders. Once the “Land of Liberty,” is America on the road to becoming “Land of Invaded Privacy?”

Possibly.  This is exactly what the new administration is looking into as part of its “extreme vetting” campaign for immigrants and refugees from the seven “banned” Muslim majority countries named in Trump’s travel restrictions. The proposed action would force these people to be vetted further at the border when entering the US. If they refuse to cooperate, they would be refused entry.

Supporters say that this action is necessary to keep America safe from “bad hombres” and  terrorists who may pose a threat to the country. Critics say that these practices violate the basic human rights of these foreigners. The right to privacy is protected in US Constitution. Some see it as a blatant form of racism against Muslims, which is prohibited in the First Amendment.

Some opponents say that any new immigrants and refugees already go through intense scrutiny before even being allowed to board a flight for the US. But the DHS doesn’t think they have enough information and are seeking to add additional layers of security.

The Obama administration had already proposed a plan to access social networking sites to vet applicants, and dropped it in 2015. However, this new Trump plan pushed the idea further by denying entry right at the border.

To me, this extreme vetting seems like extreme stupidity. First of all, these newcomers should be thoroughly scrutinized before appearing at the border. And from some accounts they are. But secondly, if they were really evil doers intent on committing acts of terrorism, they probably wouldn’t be carrying such information on their cellphones as they tried to enter the US.

ISIS and other terror groups have demonstrated their digital sophistication and mastery of the internet through their global recruitment efforts on the web. So they are keenly aware that you could easily set up fake social media accounts to get around the vetting at the border. Only the most hapless and careless of criminals would be detained and denied entry. (Although some “lone wolf” terrorists have demonstrated extreme stupidity – like the “pressure cooker” bomber who used his cell phone as a detonation device, complete with his selfies and fingerprints all over it).

I believe America needs to defend itself from militant ideologies. But if America compromises its founding principles and rights to thwart anyone who could be a suspected terrorist, does it weaken the very thing that America stands for?   When I think of the First Amendment, I think our forefathers got it right the first time.  No second thoughts required.

 

 

 

 

 

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Internet

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 6.37.20 PM.pngWhen Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence in 1776 he declared that all men had an “unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”

But if the world wide web had been around back then, chances are Jefferson might have googled “egalitarianism.” And he could have concluded that “internet access” is a basic human right, given its potential to provide higher levels of education, wealth, well being, and well – happiness.

Did our founding fathers have the internet in mind when they designed the US Constitution to be a “living document” that could be amended to adapt to the needs of future generations? Not likely. But if Jefferson and his pals were alive today, perhaps they would consider access to internet a basic human right.

Why?

The Digital Divide. The gap between the internet haves and have nots is huge. Those developed, industrialized nations that have the wealth, adequate telecommunications structure, literacy/education and ability to access the internet have a higher standard of living than those without.

Even within a country like the United States several social factors, like age, income, education and even race divide the internet haves and have not. Those who are wealthy enough to afford internet access, have a distinct advantage over those who cannot afford it. These individuals have access to information, knowledge and jobs that those without internet do not.

The internet also provides an outlet for freedom of expression, that is a hallmark of a true democracy. So not only does the user have access to information, but they have a voice in society that can be expressed through social networking sites and blogs. On the internet anyone can participate in democracy and can become true digital citizens.

So is internet access a basic human right? Perhaps. If it is, what can we do about it?

That’s a head scratcher!

Well, for starters, we can make the internet accessible to everyone. Many towns offer free wifi. Most libraries offer basic civic internet service already. But not everyone can get there. How about those with disabilities? Don’t they have a right to internet access? And for those who have a fear of technology or resist participating as a personal choice, we can also improve understanding of the benefits of the internet, by improving education and training.

In the international community, the challenge is much greater. How do you bring internet to the far reaches of the globe? Is it even possible? Do they even want it? For developing nations, perhaps the United Nations could help sponsor programs for infrastructure.

There are independent sources as well. Like the One Laptop per Child organization (one.laptop.org). Its aim is to bring computer literacy to children in underdeveloped nations by providing. low power, low-cost computers. OLPC has received praise and even criticism from officials in some countries who feel other basic needs should come first.

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Politicians often say, “there’s more that unites us than divides us.” Perhaps we can unite behind a basic human right to information and participation via the internet, and close the digital divide.

I think Mr. Jefferson would be proud.

Where do old websites go when they die? Ask Mr. Peabody.

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Since the dawn of the digital age, billions and billions of web pages have populated Internet websites. This week we have shared snapshots of several current social networking sites, and studied the “Conversation Prism” constructed by Brian Solis, which maps hundreds of the most popular social networking sites. Last week, we wrote obituaries for websites that are now defunct.

But where does all this data go when these websites have their servers severed? Does it drift off into cyberspace and get sucked into a black hole, like George Clooney in Gravity? Does it get stored in an aircraft carrier-sized warehouse like the Ark of the Covenant in “Raiders of the Lost Ark?”

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Perhaps Mr. Peabody knows.

He’s the historian, time-traveling talking dog in the 1950’s TV cartoon, “Peabody’s Improbable History.” Along with his sidekick, Sherman, Mr. Peabody traveled back in time in his “Wayback Time Machine” to preserve history the way it is written in history books. Peabody’s machine inspired the “Wayback Machine” an ambitious digital archive of the internet created by the Internet Archive, a not for profit group based in San Francisco.

The Internet Archive is a free online storehouse of digital media and gets 2 to 3 million visitors a day to its website. Sign up for a free “virtual library card” and you can be one of those visitors. The incredible “Wayback Machine” contains over 450 billion webpages. Yes that’s billion, with a “b.” And it’s growing every day.

Mr. Brewster Kahle is the mastermind behind this project and like Mr. Peabody he is out to preserve history. Mr. Kahle developed software that crawls the web and pulls in snapshots of pages that are available to the public. The Wayback Machine’s mission is to capture and archive content that otherwise might be lost when a site is changed or closed down. His modest goal is to archive the entire Internet. (Hmm, suddenly my goals seem embarrassingly inadequate.)

Try as he may, however, it’s an impossible task. Not every website has been saved in the library. It does not include data that’s restricted by its publishers and the archive respects the rights of owners who opt for the date not to appear in search results or cached.

But you will find an overwhelming amount of internet information, including now defunct sites like…JenniCam (1996-2004) the first really successful “lifecasting” website, boo.com (1998-200), one of the first online fashion retailers, even “nupedia” (2000-2003) the precursor to Wikipedia.

The Internet Archive’s latest focus has been on archiving hundreds of thousands of news reports, music libraries, concerts, political advertising, even television shows.

Ironically, you can even find the movie version of Mr. Peabody & Sherman. Hopefully, the old cartoon series will be located somewhere in cyberspace and added here too!