Friday, July 27, 2012

Hyper-connected; hypo-secure?

In his 5 June 2012 New York Times blog, Quentin Hardy explores the implications of 'Big Data' on security.  Here are some excerpts, mostly from Microsoft's Danah Boyd. Danah Boyd has been thinking about if and how social media contribute to a 'culture of fear.'

“Privacy is a source of tremendous tension and anxiety in Big Data,” says Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research. Speaking at a conference on Big Data at the University of California, Berkeley, she said, “It’s a general anxiety that you can’t pinpoint, this odd moment of creepiness.” She asked, Iis this moving towards a society that we want to build?”
If conventional understanding chafes at the idea that our names are mere noise, consider the challenge in Ms. Boyd’s point about the self in a highly networked society. Take personal genetic data. “If I give away data to 23andMe, I’m giving away some of my brother’s data, my mother’s data, my future kid’s data.” For that matter, “Who owns the e-mail chain between you and me?”
Privacy is not a universal or timeless quality. It is redefined by who one is talking to, or by the expectations of the larger society. In some countries, a woman’s ankle is a private matter; in some times and places, sexual orientations away from the norm are deeply private, or publicly celebrated. Privacy, Ms. Boyd notes, is not the same as security or anonymity. It is an ability to have control over one’s definition within an environment that is fully understood. Something, arguably, no one has anymore.
“Defaults around how we interact have changed,” she said. “A conversation in the hallway is private by default, public by effort. Online, our interactions become public by default, private by effort.”

Besides 'big data,' some scary possible futures enabled by connectivity include ubiquitous GPS tracking, as illustrated in Todd Humphrey's TED Talk.

And, Marc Goodman believes we have good reasons to be fearful and outlines the unintended consequences of connectivity in his TED Talk, 'A vision of the future of crime,' where open connectivity is both the problem and and solution in a technological arms race between good and evil.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Disconnected from craft work?

Who cares if you can't fix your own plumbing or build a deck?  A New York Times editorial by Louis Uchitelle asks whether America is loosing its connection to craftsmanship, or the ability to Do It Yourself (DIY).  The point is that 'crafts' represent more than just a cheap way of getting things done, but rather reflect self-reliance and a 'can do' attitude.  Moreover, physically making things can give a huge sense of achievement. In a world of digital tools, hammers and nails still have something to teach us.

This reminded me of a powerful book called Shop Class as Soulcraft, written by Matthew B. Crawford, who has a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Chicago and who runs a motorcycle repair shop in Virginia.  Besides being a well-crafted itself, the book--among other things--challenges the notion that so-called 'knowledge work' is somehow superior to say rebuilding a motorcycle engine.  Knowledge work as Crawford acutely observes can be tedious and mind-numbingly boring.  It can also be pointlessly stupid, as Dilbert cartoons illustrate so well. By contrast, envisioning a project, assembling materials and getting stuck into it--and sticking with it--hones the human soul. As they say, 'first enlightenment, then the laundry.'

Craftsmanship and connectivity are not mutually exclusive.  Thomas Jefferson traveled and read widely, but also enjoyed getting his hands dirty (at least metaphorically) on real projects at Monticello. And, many contemporary folks are cyber-connected, while keeping their feet on the ground and hands on the tools.  For example, Michael Healy, Founder of Yeoman Technologies and a contributor to InformationWeek, works on his house when he is not advising clients on information strategies or conducting industry research.

Personally, growing up on a farm in the Appalachia Mountains, I learned basic skills, if not crafts, in so many practical things, from driving tractors and milking cows to cutting timber and building fences.  Building sheering and wood sheds, decks and other features on our New Zealand property still gives me great pleasure. Craft can take many forms, but we should take care not to loose it, for its loss disconnects us from one of the building blocks of human capability.

Friday, July 13, 2012

iCrazy! Hyping hyper-connectivity

Going 'iCrazy'?  Newsweek this week* thinks we are, or at least some of us are.

Following on from the Atlantic's article asking if Facebook is making us lonely, Newsweek's Tony Dokoupil is asking 'iCrazy: Panic, Depression, Psychosis: Is the onslaught (of connectivity) making us crazy?' (To see a short, useful clip of the author, click here.)

Back in New Zealand, our television news ran a feature this week asking 'Are you addicted to your smart phone?' 

We know hyper-connectivity can be a problem, but what will happen as the phenomenon gets hyped by the media?  The inference is that once given a tool and once a heavy user, always a heavy user, or worse yet an 'addict.'  Will we look at heavy users as derelicts, weak people?  This could be a dangerous assumption as most of us turn to our smartphones during what Kristine Dery calls 'micro-boredoms,' waiting to board a plane, waiting for someone to arrive, or waiting for kids.  This is less an addiction than a natural response to boredom and/or opportunity to get things done.

And, while teens' use of screens may cause some concern, as Dokoupil points out, we used to have similar concerns about teens watching too much TV.  Thankfully no one seems (yet) to equate the Internet with the work of the devil, as was done to rock n roll.

The article does cite some worrying conclusions from research from 'over a dozen countries,' which may be legitimate cause for alarm for some users.

'The computer is like electronic cocaine, fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches.' Peter Whybrow, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA

'It fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions' and 'It encourages--and even promotes--insanity,' according to Larry Rosen, who has written a book called, iDisorder.

'There's just something about the medium that's addictive.' Elias Aboujaoude, Stanford Medical School.

To be fair, the Newsweek article also cites research showing that 'Using our computers and smart phones is a form of brain exercise,' according to UCLA's Gary Small, who added, 'But too much tech time could have negative consequences.'

Doukopil answers his own rhetorical question: 'Does the Internet make us crazy?  Not the technology itself or the content, no.'

The author suggests 3 take aways from his research:

1. Be mindful of the amount of time spent on-line and/or with smartphones
2. Have face-to-face conversations whenever possible.
3. Be a good role model for kids (i.e., no phones at the dinner table).

*I bought a digital copy of Newsweek before it hit the newsstands for a fraction of the price I would normally pay for the print version.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Abundance, sharing and hope...

This was an emotional week.  We remember a dear close friend who has 'sailed on to higher realms,' have also met some amazing folks, who we hope will remain friends. Plus, I got to watch one of our students, who is inspiring and changing India. Together, they remind of how connectivity enables the best of what it means to be human.

First, as our friend Jay--amazing architect, visionary and one of the most amazing, generous individuals you could ever meet--sailed on to higher realms, we were able to hear about it through CaringBridge, a site that allows friends and family to stay in touch with those facing illness events.  It allows communication and compassion to spread and resonate throughout the world, without those affected needing to generate a million emails.  It is purpose-built and works well.  Thanks, Betsy, for your courage, warmth and sharing throughout the fight.

Second, we got to hang out for a warm sunny afternoon with Lauren and Michael and their sons and share stories of our home exchanges.  It was a treat to meet this great family, after having been in their lovely home in the States. They each do interesting work, which I will feature in future posts.  They had stayed and worked ('No rest for the virtual.' says Lauren) in our home in New Zealand while we travelled for 6 months.  We used Home for our first sabbatical in Europe in 2000 and it worked so well we used it again this year in France and the US with great experiences.  Home exchange trades on the simple idea that sharing and exchanging homes allows us not only to forego accommodation expenses, but also to experience a living, breathing home and neighborhood.  As baby boomers become freed up for travel, this movement will no doubt expand and grow. Sharing what we already have (a home), we can travel in a world of abundance.

Finally, at a business growth event sponsored by the ICEHOUSE, an organization I work with, I got to watch and listen to Rob Adams, business growth expert, Tim Longhurst, futurist, and Vinny Lohan, who blew me away!  Vinny is an entrepreneur and data engineer alum of our engineering school who has gone back to India to make a difference in the world.  Vinny demonstrates the wisdom, courage and genuine humanitarian vision (along with a great sense of humor) that you might expect from an older Steve Jobs.  One of his technological break-throughs involved taking a ubiquitous connective resource, i.e., radio signals, to connect and transfer data to computers, thereby overcoming the major challenge of connectivity in developing nations.  You can find out more about this astounding technology at

You can also see Vinny Lohan in action at a TEDx conference.  Watching him, you will see why I am proud of this U of A alum, but also why I feel encouraged that the real connectivity challenges of the world will be solved in the hands and hearts of technological leaders like Vinny.

In his TED talk, Vinny observes that we can live 40 days without food. We can live 4 days without water.  We can live 4 minutes without air.  But, 'we can only live 4 seconds without hope.'

Here's to hope and sharing in a world of abundance.