The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'social implications'
The advent of the MP3 has changed the music-listening experience, as many musicians and old-timers will tell you; no longer do you sit on the floor by the Dansette meditating on the 12" square of lovingly designed artwork in your hands as the artists take you on a journey in the order they intended; no, you're free to listen to music a track at a time. Which, of course, has its upsides (for one, since the invention of the CD, the recording industry has been raking it in by requiring artists wanting that one good song to pay for the other 75 minutes of hastily cobbled together filler), but, on the other hand, the experience of the-album-as-totality is no longer there (and a folder of MP3s played in sequence isn't quite the same).
But now, Apple has launched a standard format for encapsulating the other bits of an album. Named "iTunes LP", it includes clickable artwork, lyrics and other media. An "iTunes LP" is downloaded with the AAC files when you buy an album from, you guessed it, iTunes.
An article in the Graun looks at how changes in telephone technology have affected the plots of novels, plays and films:
Victoria Wood's Talent, first staged in 1978 and now showing at the Old Laundry theatre in Bowness-on-Windermere, includes a scene in which an important call is made from a coin-operated phonebox. Wood, who is directing, had to explain to young members of the cast how the strange apparatus worked: listen for an answer, then push in your sometimes-resistant 10p pieces. It sounded like science fiction to the young actors. So, while the play's first audiences will have regarded this scene as social realism (perhaps reflecting on their own experiences of trying to finding an unvandalised phone that didn't spit your silver out), the same sequence, within three decades, has become social history.
In Pedro Almodóvar's latest movie, Broken Embraces, which cuts from the present to the 1980s, the director uses mobiles as a visual clue to where we are. The older sequences are signalled by the wielding of brick-like instruments, while present-day characters effortlessly palm their thin, flippable devices.
Wood, in Talent, rings comic embarrassment from the fact that a character's mother has an extension in her bedroom. But the detail is revealing in other ways: in the 1970s, multiple receivers in the home distinguished the upper-middle classes from the plebs who had a single instrument in the hallway. In a later TV play by Wood, it matters that a character has a "kitchen extension". Indeed, in Dial M for Murder, the "perfect murder plot" turns on luring a woman to the living room to answer the phone. Within 20 years, Knott's plot had been rendered a period piece by multi-phone homes; after a further 30, mobiles had made the plot absurd.
But, although mobiles have provided writers with rich new storylines, they have also worryingly closed off many traditional developments. This is of most concern to authors of horrors, thrillers and mysteries, in which a regular premise is the protagonist's total isolation. If there had been a Nokia in Janet Leigh's handbag, Hitchcock's Psycho would have been a short film with a happy ending. The avoidance of this problem has already created a new movie cliche: the closeup showing the "no signal" warning on the star's phone.
In his WIRED column, Lore Sjöberg savours his last days without an iPhone:
Right now, I can have a thought like, "I wonder who had a hit first, Chuck Berry or Little Richard?" and allow that question to wander around in my head. Maybe I'll remember it and look it up when I get the chance; maybe I'll just let it go. I suspect that this time next month I'll be pulling over to the side of the road -- I hope I'll pull over to the side of the road -- to get the answer immediately.
Right now, my friends are not subjected to photos of every "witty" stop sign annotation I encounter. In fact, they can actually hang out with me with no fear of showing up in my Flickr stream with basil in their teeth.
Right now, I do not post to Twitter every time I see a dachshund.
Right now, I am capable of referring to my cellphone without actually telling people what brand it is.
The Irish Independent has a piece on how social networking websites are changing relationships, and in particular, how they end and what happens afterward:
I started getting clues that I might be about to become a free man when my girlfriend's friends posted messages to her that read: "Good luck with tonight -- it's for the best."
First came the announcement online of my new 'Single' status. Deftly inserted into Facebook's running newsfeed, it informed everyone that both she and I knew that I had been dumped, in much the same way that Reuters proclaims the engagement of a minor member of the British royal family. There was no way of deleting it, so it sat there haunting me.
But then her status updates started to tell a story. Just three days after we broke up, she changed hers to: "2008, new job (check), new flat (check), new man (working on it)."
Your ex's blog may only be read by five and half people, but you still don't really want them telling complete strangers how you were unable to put the loo seat down and never really gave the choosing of shelves the attention it deserved, and how these things were symptomatic of your lack of commitment to the relationship.
It makes me think that our grandparents had an easier time. If one of their relationships went bad they could always go to sea -- or at least the next village -- and never see the other person again.The whole issue of relationship breakups in the age of the internet recently hit the spotlight spectacularly with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales' breakup with his girlfriend, FoxNews journalist Rachel Marsden. Wales apparently dumped her on Wikipedia, and she retaliated by releasing transcripts of their online chats, the major upshot of which was a revelation that these lofty public figures were, scandalously, quite into having sex with each other while they were going out.
It'll be interesting to see how the standards of socially acceptable conduct evolve once it is literally impossible to dissociate oneself from an ex without becoming a hermit. Will slagging off one's exes and their failings in public blogs become taboo, or restricted to some acceptable bounds of fair play? Or will people get used to the fact that anyone in the dating marketplace probably has several scathingly negative references from their various exes? (Perhaps there is a niche for a site which aggregates exes' references, along with reputation scores for the referers?) Will things like Rachel Marsden's release of the chat transcripts become unacceptable, the social equivalent of a nuclear first strike?
London's Brick Lane is installing padded lamp posts to reduce injuries to people walking into them whilst texting on their mobile phones.
Is this a common problem? It could be argued that it would be better to attach spikes to the lamp posts, and let the not-looking-where-you're-going gene weed itself out of the gene pool.
The latest innovation from Japan: photographic age verification for vending machines. Cigarette vending machines are being deployed which contain a camera and face-recognition software which estimates the customer's age from their photograph. Given that such a process can't be particularly accurate (would one look that different immediately after one's 20th birthday?), they will also accept ID cards as proof of age.
Charlie Stross attempts to extrapolate the future from current trends in computing and storage technologies, and concludes that, eventually, everything that anyone ever does will be documented, stored and accessible for all time:
10Tb is an interesting number. That's a megabit for every second in a year -- there are roughly 10 million seconds per year. That's enough to store a live DivX video stream -- compressed a lot relative to a DVD, but the same overall resolution -- of everything I look at for a year, including time I spend sleeping, or in the bathroom. Realistically, with multiplexing, it puts three or four video channels and a sound channel and other telemetry -- a heart monitor, say, a running GPS/Galileo location signal, everything I type and every mouse event I send -- onto that chip, while I'm awake. All the time. It's a life log; replay it and you've got a journal file for my life. Ten euros a year in 2027, or maybe a thousand euros a year in 2017.
Our concept of privacy relies on the fact that it's hard to discover information about other people. Today, you've all got private lives that are not open to me. Even those of you with blogs, or even lifelogs. But we're already seeing some interesting tendencies in the area of attitudes to privacy on the internet among young people, under about 25; if they've grown up with the internet they have no expectation of being able to conceal information about themselves. They seem to work on the assumption that anything that is known about them will turn up on the net sooner or later, at which point it is trivially searchable.
The political hazards of lifelogging are, or should be, semi-obvious. In the short term, we're going to have to learn to do without a lot of bad laws. If it's an offense to pick your nose in public, someone, sooner or later, will write a 'bot to hunt down nose-pickers and refer them to the police. Or people who put the wrong type of rubbish in the recycling bags. Or cross the road without using a pedestrian crossing, when there's no traffic about. If you dig hard enough, everyone is a criminal. In the UK, today, there are only about four million public CCTV surveillance cameras; I'm asking myself, what is life going to be like when there are, say, four hundred million of them? And everything they see is recorded and retained forever, and can be searched retroactively for wrong-doing.
This century we're going to learn a lesson about what it means to be unable to forget anything. And it's going to go on, and on. Barring a catastrophic universal collapse of human civilization -- which I should note was widely predicted from August 1945 onward, and hasn't happened yet -- we're going to be laying down memories in diamond that will outlast our bones, and our civilizations, and our languages. Sixty kilograms will handily sum up the total history of the human species, up to the year 2000. From then on ... we still don't need much storage, in bulk or mass terms. There's no reason not to massively replicate it and ensure that it survives into the deep future.
And with ubiquitous lifelogs, and the internet, and attempts at providing a unified interface to all interesting information -- wikipedia, let's say -- we're going to give future historians a chance to build an annotated, comprehensive history of the entire human race. Charting the relationships and interactions between everyone who's ever lived since the dawn of history -- or at least, the dawn of the new kind of history that is about to be born this century.And as a footnote, we will soon have driverless cars, after which human-driven cars will be banned (after all, driver error causes most accidents), and a whole host of social changes as the nature of personal transport is changed.
This month is the 15th anniversary of the creation of the first web page, and ultimately the World-Wide Web; an occurrence made more remarkable when you think that something like that could not arise today, because the brief window of the possibility of disruptive technologies has largely been closed by powerful vested interests aware of their consequences:
Imagine a network with the opposite design. Imagine that your terminal came hardwired from the manufacturer with a particular set of programs and functions. No experimenting with new technologies developed by third parties instant messaging, Google Earth, flash animations...Imagine also that the network was closed and flowed from a central source. More like pay-television than web. No one can decide on a whim to create a new site. The New York Times might secure a foothold on such a network. Your blog, or Wikipedia, or Jib Jab need not apply. Imagine that the software and protocols were proprietary. You could not design a new service to run on this system, because you do not know what the system is and, anyway, it might be illegal. Imagine something with all the excitement and creativity of a train timetable.
The web developed because we went in the opposite direction towards openness and lack of centralised control. Unless you believe that some invisible hand of technological inevitability is pushing us towards openness I am a sceptic we have a remarkable historical conjunction of technologies.
Why might we not create the web today? The web became hugely popular too quickly to control. The lawyers and policymakers and copyright holders were not there at the time of its conception. What would they have said, had they been? What would a web designed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation or the Disney Corporation have looked like? It would have looked more like pay-television, or Minitel, the French computer network. Beforehand, the logic of control always makes sense. Allow anyone to connect to the network? Anyone to decide what content to put up? That is a recipe for piracy and pornography.Then again, the WIPO-sanctioned, corporate-controlled walled-garden web would have probably met with an underwhelming reception and withered away like AOL or the original MSN, while, somewhere, an underground, decentralised network evolved by a series of accidents. Unless, of course, they banned and eradicated the original, anarchic Internet and replaced it with Internet 2.0™, a network designed from the ground up for control, and somehow managed not to send the communications-dependent world economy into a depression in doing so.
A NYTimes piece about the social impact of mobile phones: (via FmH)
In Malaysia, mobile phones are so widespread that Muslim leaders send out S.M.S. reminders to call the faithful to prayer, five times a day. Muslims in other countries -- like Britain -- have begun using a service that tells them the prayer times in Mecca, which means they essentially live in two time zones at once: local time for their professional lives and Saudi time for their spiritual lives. ''They're existing in two countries simultaneously,'' Bell notes.
Of course, living in two places -- even virtually -- means being spread thin. Rich Ling, a sociologist working for Telenor, a Norwegian telecommunications company, has interviewed thousands of mobile-phone texters, and he has noticed that they actually feel more disconnected from the world around them. Consider it the mobile-age version of Bowling Alone: text-messagers are connected more tightly than ever to their core friends and family but are less likely to engage the civic life around them. ''When you're waiting for the bus and it's late, you could talk to the person next to you. But if you're texting to someone, you won't talk to that stranger,'' he says.
Xeni Jardin writes in WIRED about the emerging social applications of camera-equipped mobile phones.
Whipping out a cheap phonecam at the height of a late-night bash, a Michigan frat boy snaps his own Girls Gone Wild shots and instantly uploads them to an online gallery accessible by anyone in the world. At a Los Angeles convenience store, a woman witnesses a holdup - and with the press of a button, she captures the thief's image and zaps it to 911. In Hong Kong, a mobile phone user photographs the apartment complex of a neighbor suspected of carrying SARS. He posts the pictures, details, and GPS coordinates to an unofficial database designed to do what the government won't: collect and provide data about the spread of the virus.
As William Gibson said, the street finds its own uses for things. Most of the uses, unsurprisingly, are of a prurient nature:
"Upskirt" phonecam voyeurism in Japan is already a growing challenge for law enforcement. The device's low profile makes snapshot-sneaking easier and detection harder. (The devices are already banned in some Hong Kong changing rooms.) Portals like Cam7.com or uboot.com's SMS network - which allows users to view webcam images on their smartphones or share phone-captured pics and video - seem destined for pornographic deployment. And fans of photo showcases like PhoneBin are already competing in hot-or-not picture wars. Inevitably, the image with the most skin wins.
An article looking at the social impact of mobile phones. From workers being "on call" 24 hours a day, and the increased vagueness of distracted conversations, to users tuning out their environment and sharing their private conversations with strangers, to the phones' double-edged effect on social connection and isolation, an interesting study in unintended consequences: (via Techdirt)
The portable phones, depending on their usage, can by turns be a shield against loneliness or create isolation. At one end of a restaurant, a patron dining alone places his or her order, then dials a friend - alone but not alone. At the other end of the restaurant, a cell phone conversation interrupts a face-to-face dinner conversation - leaving one party dining alone.
I wonder what effect PXE phones with built-in digital cameras capable of taking and sending instant photographs will be; the immediate will be teenagers zapping pictures of themselves and friends gurning bozotically to their friends and the like, but chances are that a synergistic combination of two features, and the human tendency towards all sorts of social interactions, will go in directions nobody has anticipated. As Gibson said, the street finds its own uses for things.