Sociability in the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is on its way. But I’m not going to talk about its potential benefits or about the privacy and security concerns coming with it.

No, I’m going to talk about the potential sociability effects of the IoT. In the digital streams of the IoT, all communication is indistinguishable. Doesn’t matter if its person to person, person to thing, or thing to thing; it all looks the same.

But this isn’t necessarily limited to digital streams. Humans have a huge tendency of personifying pretty much everything and developing emotional attachments. We do this to animals; if a cat meows in the middle of a person’s conversation we can sometimes act like the cat was contributing to that conversation. We do this with Roombas; some people assign personalities or genders to their little vacuuming robots and get upset when they no longer work.

roombasbro

With this strange pattern in human behaviour, I wonder how this will influence our relationships with IoT devices? If our fridges can talk to us and tell us when we’re running low on milk, will we assign a personality to it too? Will we, to some degree, emotionally mourn for that fridge when it stops working on us, as if we’d just lost a person?

And if we begin to interact with all objects as if they are people, will it change how humans interact with each other? Will we just be treating objects more like people, or will we maybe begin to treat people more like those objects?

The future has the potential to be a very strange and foreign place.

Bots, Misinformation, & the Disappearance of “Truth”

We’ve entered the digital age of fake news, misinformation, and post-truth.

It’s common knowledge at this stage that the internet – a repository of humanity’s collective information – is filled with misinformation and bots which aim to influence public perceptions. Most well known are the bots surrounding the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, and the claims of Russian bots that spreading misinformation by infiltrating all corners of the internet.

And those are just the ones we’ve been made aware of. It wouldn’t be too outlandish to believe that corporations and governments across the globe employ some sort of public opinion influencing campaigns through guerrilla bot tactics. The technology for them to do so clearly exists.

So if the internet is full of bots and misinformation, what can we trust?

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Sadly, it can be incredibly difficult to determine the truth when there are multiple conflicting narratives fighting for dominance. It’s exhausting to do so.

Instead, most of us are left believing in the truth of narratives that coincide with our personal beliefs, or which reinforce our preexisting worldviews. We’re let with echo chambers where each side of any debate becomes more and more sure in their convictions and debate becomes impossible. After all, anything said in opposition to your own beliefs could just be something being spread by bots.

As a young person living in this digital world where the truth can be so illusive, I’m concerned how this will impact human society’s future…

Hacking: the goal IS the process; not the end result

In many cases, crimes such as breaking and entering, and robbery are done pretty impulsively and with the goal of attaining some kind of short term reward (such as money). But interestingly, despite being similarly illegal, many hackers begin hacking without any such motives.

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One of the most common reasons people enter into hacking subcultures, is for fun and curiosity (Richer, 2013). There’s a special type of joy in opening something up, figuring out how it works, and using that knowledge in whatever way. Doubly so if you’re told you shouldn’t do it, or that it can’t be done.

Sure, many hackers go on to use their knowledge and skills to make money through accessing personal information and bank accounts, or for some sort of online activism (political or otherwise). But nevertheless, the culture surrounding hackers is very different from that of other criminals, since the goal is not in the benefit of the end result, but in the joy of the process.


Richer, J.L., 2013, ‘From young hackers to crackers’, International Journal of Human Interaction, vol.9, no.3, pp. 53-62

Did Outsiders Clog the Egyptian Revolution’s #Jan25 Tag?

I assume everyone reading this is aware of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution – where Twitter is accredited (and debated) as to having been a highly influential tool of the revolution.

Now, I’m not here to debate the role and effectiveness of social media in that event, but after seeing the “Egypt Influence Network” I do have some concerns regarding the English presence.

twitter-map

If social media was primarily used to organise the Egyptian revolution, there’s an awful large number of English (blue) tweets. Egyptian Arabic (red) is Egypt’s national language, so it would make logical sense for Egyptians to talk to each other in Arabic.

While I’m sure a portion of these tweets were essential in bringing international attention to the revolution at hand (although this was largely a domestic issue so I’m not sure how important international involvement would be), I wonder how many of these might have just clogged up the tags?

If you were trying to converse with other Egyptians to bring about national change, how much less efficient would the process be if you had to scroll past half of them because there were so many foreigners’ tweets mixed in?

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I don’t have nearly enough expertise on the topic to make any judgments either way, but I can’t help but be concerned about politically used social media tags and conversations being filled up by outsiders who aren’t really contributing anything.

‘A Bridge of Pebbles’: Can it be trusted?

The internet is filled with little bits and bites of information in the form of social media posts. From Twitter to Instagram to Facebook to everything in between; Huge amounts of pretty teeny tiny pieces of information.

Individually, each of the information pieces are so small that they might as well be worthless. But as a cumulative whole, they can form a substantially expansive picture of a news narrative; as Steven Johnson puts it, they form something akin to “a suspension bridge made of pebbles”.

twitter_bridge

However, since anyone can post a “pebble” there’s no guarantee that all those posts are true. Some could be true, some could be mistakenly incorrect, and some could be purposely false posts designed to muddle the narrative. After all, if you don’t like or agree with the main narrative, there’s nothing stopping you from injecting some false information to disrupt it’s communication.

A substantial Twitter feed could show the big picture of any story, but it can also offer very little to verify that information.

FIGHT! Calling iOS & Android to the Ring

Generally when we buy a new phone, our choice in operating systems comes down to two options: Apple’s iOS, and Google’s android. At their core, these two OS have fundamentally differing design philosophies; philosophies that have spent the last decade fighting it out in the metaphorical boxing ring.

iOS is “closed” and restricts how users utilise their phones. Android is “open” and, for the most part, allows users more freedom in phone usage. (What does open vs. closed mean for users exactly?)

Android is more cyber-libertarian than iOS, allowing anyone to access it’s code and customise their phones. The official Google Play store is also much less restrictive with the apps it allows when compared to Apple’s app store. You can even get video game console emulators through Google Play.

 However, this comes at a cost. Since anyone can get access to the Android code, the OS as a whole is more prone to being hacked, than the more secure iOS is.

It’s too early so say which OS’s design philosophy will ultimately emerge victorious, but this may very well come down to what consumers are more concerned with: better security, or more freedom in their phone usage.

Information Has (not) Been Freed! – Online Walled Gardens

The internet is an open distributed network where everyone can interact with everyone else! You can say anything you want: there’s no real censors and information has been freed! …this may not be quite true anymore.

Nowadays people are likely to concentrate their time and presence on certain sites – in walled gardens – such as social media. People within one of these ‘gardens’ can only be contacted by someone else within that space.

Furthermore, someone owns and is in complete control of these gardens; they can choose what is allowed and what is not allowed within that space. Anything you say or post could be removed, if it doesn’t match the owners’ perceptions of how that space should be used. Everything is curated to the owners’ specifications.

And in a space where content and information can be removed for any possible infraction of vaguely laid out “terms of use,” is the internet really freeing information?

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The Long Tail – From Pop Music to Pirate Metal to Japanese Neoclassical Darkwave

In the days before the internet, if you wanted to buy something it would need to be physically sold in a shop you could get to. Stores were limited by what they could physically stock on their shelves, and it was only economical to store the most popular items. If you wanted some niche music CDs you might’ve been able to get it for a premium, but otherwise you were probably out of luck.

But now with the explosive expansion of the internet you can get ahold of pretty much anything, from anywhere. Consequently, the market for all those niches has also exploded.

You want to listen to some Korean pop? Italian operatic pop? Pirate Metal? Japanese neoclassical darkwave? With the internet you can have all of these and more. The world’s music is your oyster. We’ve broken the “tyranny of physical space“, and you and I and everyone else, can listen to whatever music suits our tastes no matter how niche or bizarre it might be.

https://soundcloud.com/elena-bozic-40326045/the-musical-long-tail

There’s an audience for everything somewhere, and the more hidden gems you find the more you want to look for more. It’s only natural (by the rules of the market and consumer demands) that physical stores are disappearing. They just can’t keep up with people’s individual tastes for the weirdest things.

Keeping Up With Information Streams: Constantly Working Overtime

Gone are the days where a worker’s job would unequivocally end with their shifts. Industrial machines turn off at 5pm, so of course you can’t keep working them. They’re off, go home.
Nowadays we work at a very different type of machine. Not those requiring our physical labour, but those requiring our intellectual labour; our networked devices.

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In the current network society paradigm, our main form of labour is information processing. With the global proliferation of the internet, there is a constant stream of new information every second of the day, from every part of the world. Thus, there is always more work to be done, and with our connected devices that work can be continued from anywhere, at any time. Family dinner, the weekend, on vacation; we could be contacted by our workplaces at any of these points in time.

More than ever before office workers are working undocumented and unpaid overtime, and we’re almost expected to do so. How else can individual workers keep up with the endless stream of information? How else can companies keep a competitive edge over their rivals?

How is this constant stress affecting out mental health and personal lives? How long can we go like this before we burn out entirely? France has taken steps to protect workers’ off time, but will the rest of the world follow? At this point, it might be early to say.

Reality is Already Cyberpunk… Sort Of

Towering skyscrapers awash in neon lights. Robots and artificial intelligence. Virtual reality and widespread internet accessibility. Body augmentation and modification. Mass surveillance, and societies ruled by megacorporate overlords.
These are just some of the tropes commonly be found in cyberpunk genre.

Debuting around the 1980s, cyberpunk arose in response to the technological advancements of the time. Many works explored how these technologies might influence our lives, as well as their potential moral and ethical implications (for example, in a world where humans can mechanically modify every part of their body, how do we distinguish between man and machine?).

The thing is, many of these cyberpunk elements now exist in reality (if only at very early stages, such as with A.I), but we’re still missing the aesthetics. If we’re already living in a cyberpunk world, where are the flying cars and those gorgeous cyberpunk cityscapes? Where are the things that just scream “FUTURE!”?

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cyberpunk city art (src)

It’s no wonder we’re seeing a resurgence in cyberpunk themed media, even if some of them are ignoring the genre’s themes, to tell their own stories but just with a cyberpunk looking setting. Genre pioneer William Gibson himself even compared the highly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 as just Grand Theft Auto with a cyberpunk retexture.

Then again, considering that cyberpunk works are largely dystopic, perhaps we should be a tad concerned?