29 December 2005

Information, Knowledge, Power and Trust

Jo-Jo, one of my commenters, asked, “Is information really power? I think people and corporations try to control information flows because they believe they gain leverage by knowing stuff other people don't know, but this argument doesn't scan for me. My own opinion is that one has more power when one is transparent and honest.

In 1959, Bertram Raven and John French proposed six bases of power, a model that Raven has updated and further differentiated. (French & Raven, 1959; Raven, 1992) In traditional, hierarchical organizations, power is typically aligned with status, so that one’s superior has the power of reward and coercion by virtue of his or her position – legitimate power. Particularly in organizations in which technical knowledge is valued, expertise is a basis of power, as is the control of information, as noted by Alberts and Hayes (2003). Conventionally, reward, coercion, and legitimate power are delegated by the organization. Expert and information power are generally assumed by an individual of their own accord. However, referent power differs from other forms, as it must be granted by subordinates to the person so empowered. It is therefore the most elusive of the six forms, both to initially acquire and to retain. It is born of respect, admiration, and role modeling (Raven, 1992), and perhaps most important, trust.

There is, of course, the old adage that “knowledge is power.” Some take this to mean that possessing knowledge is a path to power, and making a case for staying in school. Others interpret this cliché as meaning that knowledge is a scarce resource; he who has the knowledge has power over s/he who has not. In his landmark work, Discipline and Punish, French philosopher Michel Foucault makes the case that power is not something that one possesses, but is instead something that flows between one who exercises control and another who resists that control. Indeed, power and knowledge are intimately related in Foucault's construction of human relations. He considers power to be a flow that is created when control meets resistance in the “subjectification” of humankind. As Foucault relates history from the seventeenth century to contemporary times, the techniques of control have changed, from “discipline-blockade” to “discipline-mechanism” (1979) to “biopower” (1980). In each instance, the objective is the same: to change the human actor in such a way so as to ensure compliance and conformity with normative structures of behaviour in the context of geographically- and temporally-located social relations. Munro (2000) maintains that, at each age, new forms of power can be detected through the emergence of new forms of resistance. But what happens to power if the nature of resistance itself is turned on its head, a consequence of contemporary societal reversals effected by a communication revolution?

Both control and resistance presume the existence of a system or organization structure within which control/resistance operates and knowledge of the domain of control is revealed. With the “rise of the network society,” and the emergence of “network enterprises” (Castells, 1996), I argue that the traditional bounded domain of control/resistance ultimately breaks down. I suggest that the result of this morphological shift is potentially the emergence of a post-Foucauldian environment in which control dissipates and power paradoxically exists everywhere and nowhere.

Most of the above was from a recent, as-yet unpublished working paper called, “You’re Not the Boss of Me! Control, trust and the knowledge worker.” (If you’d like a copy, please email me.) I maintain that referent power is the only form of power that is appropriate for, and actually effective in, a UCaPP* world. Further (again from the working paper) power deciphered in a true network of relations founded on mutual trust is no longer in tension. Rather, it permeates the entire environment, paradoxically existing everywhere among all nodes, and nowhere as there is no domination differential among the nodes, and hence no Foucauldian power flow. In the absence of trust, there must be mechanisms of control within an organization or social system. With control, there is resistance, be it explicit or tacit. The tension between the two represents the flow of power, through which humans become subjects, and knowledge about the nature and conditions of that subjectification in the social context emerges. In the context of a network enterprise founded on a culture of trust, control dissipates, leaving power to become pervasively embodied in each “node” or individual. This, too, represents new knowledge about the nature and conditions of a new social context.
*UCaPP = Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate

ALBERTS, D.S. & HAYES, R.E. (2003). Power to the Edge: Command... control... in the information age. Command and Control Research Program, U.S. Department of Defense. Retrieved from http://www.dodccrp.org/publications/pdf/Alberts_Power.pdf.
CASTELLS, M. (1996). The rise of the network society. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers.
FOUCAULT, M. (1979). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books.
FOUCAULT, M. (1980). The history of sexuality (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books.
FRENCH, J.R.P., Jr. & RAVEN, B.H. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (ed.) Studies in Social Power, (pp. 150-167). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.
MUNRO, I. (2000). Non-disciplinary power and the network society. Organization, 7(4), 679-695.
RAVEN, B.H. (1992). A power/interaction model of interpersonal influence: French and Raven thirty years later. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 7(2), 217-244.
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27 December 2005

Them's Firin' Words!

Among many other people, this teacher was fired from her position at DeVry "University" in Colorado, apparently for something she had put on her blog. I say apparently, because the DeVry administration chose not to tell her specifically what they found so offensive. Nor did they give her any warning, a chance to say goodbye to colleagues and students, nor an opportunity to defend herself. Apparently, there are no laws against wrongful dismissal in Colorado.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find this bozo, an executive of the Ontario wing of the federal Liberal Party, resigning over blatantly offensive postings on his blog about NDP Leader Jack Layton, his wife and NDP candidate Olivia Chow, and Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. Mike Klander's offensive blog is now offline - a case of not only the horse having bolted, but the barn having been burned to the ground. Good thing the story broke on Boxing Day when no one was paying attention.

What do these stories have in common? They both are indicative of the monumental cluelessness of the Corporate Mindset (note the capitals) relative to the effect of blogs specifically, and the effects of a UCaPP* world in general. In a nutshell, blogs amplify voice, and provide a human face - and more often a composite of many human faces - to a soulless corporation. There are two complementary effects of these actions. First, a blog can speak directly to the corporation's constituency - what are conventionally called "stakeholders" but include others in the corporation's total environment. This direct voice helps to provide the type of transparency that is increasingly becoming an important attribute of organizations that people trust, with trust becoming an important factor in choice decisions. Second - and here's the reversal - employee's blogs can reveal the "black heart" of an organization, particularly if the organization chooses to respond in an aggressive fashion. Essentially, because of the phenomenon of emergent transparency, organizations will find it exceedingly difficult to hide behind obscurity and obfuscation - spin, appeals to "confidentiality," and stonewalling.

In the case of DeVry, potential teaching staff may think twice about contracting their services. Students may reconsider education decisions based on ethical reputation. In the case of the Liberal Party of Canada, voters may consider Klander's very unfortunate blog posts as indicative of the Liberal heart. The answer to both cases is NOT to control blogging, but rather to open it up. Allow your people to reveal who and what you really are - and if who and what you really are is embarrassing, perhaps you should reconsider your actions and activities.
*UCaPP = Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate
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24 December 2005

What a Strange Year

What a strange year it has been. If you believe in God – as in a God who sends messages, signs and harbingers in phenomena of nature – it would seem as if He is none too pleased with the goings on here in this corner of the universe. Beginning the year with tsunami floods, reprising those with hurricane floods, disastrous earthquakes that devastated some of the most poverty-stricken people on the planet, plagues of diseases that increasingly defy treatment, miscellaneous pestilence, famine, fiery heat in the summer... As I said, He is none too pleased.

If you do not believe in God, or if you believe in a God who adopts a more “hands-off” management policy (as it were) yet nonetheless allows humankind to make its own mistakes if we collectively choose to do so, all of the above must still give one pause. In the free will department, despite the fact that the total number of armed conflicts, as well as the total number of people who die at the hands of their fellow wo/man, have both declined, the most powerful nation on earth continues to behave like a good, old fashioned oligarchical, totalitarian state of the 20th century, both within its borders and around the world. As some commentators have noted, first went international treaties, then the Geneva Convention, and now the constitution. Imagine – a country at war with an elusive enemy, until the leader of that country says otherwise, with said leader effectively having almost total power. And only 21 years late.

Yet, I am an optimist. My optimism stems from a standpoint that some may describe as technological determinism, yet those who would do so do not understand the subtleties of Marshall McLuhan’s work, nor my own application of his insights. The electric age of the last century, whose pinnacle was exemplified by the dominance of the television screen, was not the completion of McLuhan’s vision that he shared in his work Understanding Media. McLuhan was not thinking of the television we know when he described his “tele-vision” (get it?). Our television enables a mind-numbing, intensely focused vision of the world that, in turn, creates an environment of which I lament. It is an environment in which the cult of celebrity permeates not only pop culture, but business, politics and policy. It is an environment in which an “I’m Okay Jack, and to Hell With You” attitude becomes a credo. It is a psycho-social environment that exists in almost perfect conflict with the biological environment that gives it life. Unlike Neil Postman, I do not believe we are “amusing ourselves to death.” Rather, it seems to me that many people’s awareness and ability to relate to one another in a way other than that modelled by television content is actively under attack, and in some has been completely destroyed.

My optimism originates in the environmental effects created by today’s dominant technologies of instantaneous, multi-way communication – the UCaPP (ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate) effects of which I often speak and write. A UCaPP environment affect not only those who are wired or “wirelessed,” but also those who are indirectly connected at a secondary or tertiary or even quaternary level. The technologically-enabled network of connections, interpersonal dynamics and relationships creates an active awareness of the total environmental effects in each of us, so long as we each are willing to become aware. The effects of this evolving and emergent awareness is already being felt in cultural aspects of many societies, observable through the resistant ripple effects occurring in the reflexive, characteristically 20th century reactions of corporate leaders and politicians. Over time, such awareness will begin to change the other structural foundations of our society: politics, business, education. But it will take time and yet several generations of people who have been socialized and acculturated into this new environment to overcome a century of old practices with new technology. I consider myself fortunate indeed to be alive at a time in which both old and new generations coexist, and I can observe the transition. Such is a rare occurrence in the course of human history. With awareness and conscious effort, the transition will occur in a way that we can collectively manage with deliberation and resolve. That, I think, should define our resolution for the coming year: To work together to create a world in which we will all want to live.

To all my readers, friends and those who will become readers and friends in the future, I wish a happy and joyous holiday season, and a healthy, prosperous new year. And to us all, I wish satisfaction, fulfilment, and most of all, peace.
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18 December 2005

Doonesbury on Evolution and Creationism

This one from Doonesbury had me chortling into my cornflakes!

This Doonesbury comic is a great example of what is called Menippean satire. For those who like a dose of academics with their humour, here's an excerpt from my essay, "The Fifth Law of Media" that explains such comic shenanigans in a larger context:

Today, comedian Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart demonstrates both the form and intent of Menippean satire. All of these writers share a common purpose. “Menippean satire mirrors a world that is in ceaseless motion and where nothing is certain… [I]ts authors’ intentions seem, in nearly every case, to demonstrate the disabling and limiting conditions under which the human intellect operates” (Blanchard, 1995, p. 11). Eric McLuhan is more specific about the role Menippean satire plays in creating awareness among an otherwise oblivious public.

As an active form, a Menippean satire goes to any extreme necessary in order to frustrate objectivity or detachment on the part of the reader. … Cynics, and Diogenes in particular … were often referred to as ‘laughing philosophers,’ for they refused to take seriously any political, private, social, intellectual, or other kind of pretentiousness” (McLuhan, 1997, p. 5).

Instead they create what Eric McLuhan calls the “cynic effect” – a satirical response that creates new awareness by awakening the dulled perception of the reader. Thus, Menippean satire is not merely humour or irony, but humour or irony with a specific intentionality.

It is, according to Northrop Frye, the intentionality that distinguishes satire from mere irony, that is a component of many humorous – and even tragic – forms. “Two things, then, are essential to satire; one is wit or humor founded on fantasy or a sense of the grotesque or absurd, the other is an object of attack” (Frye, 1957, p. 224). Irony itself is the “humor founded on … a sense of the grotesque or absurd,” as Frye describes. Irony is the delivery vehicle; it is the attack that transforms irony into satire. As Frye observes, “The chief distinction between irony and satire is that satire is militant irony” (p. 223).

Eric McLuhan points out that in each age of an advance in technology, the Menippeans are there to reveal “the readers’ ignorance of and assumptions about that culture, and on the technology of language as an up-to-date storehouse of the culture’s experience and perception” (McLuhan, 1997, p. 12). For example, he associates Rabelais with the printing press and Flaubert with the newspaper. Sterne’s Tristam Shandy and Swift’s Tale of a Tub satirize the five divisions of classical rhetoric as an attack on “the prevailing abuses of religion and of learning” (ibid.). He concludes that today,
a Cynic would promptly stand you on your head and force you to see your world aright; your ground, anew, and long enough for the fresh awareness to settle into habit. In so doing, the Cynic writers simply bring up-to-date centuries- or millennia-old techniques for reading the Book of the World (McLuhan, 1997, p. 13).
The specifically Menippean forms of satire are not merely reactions to the absurdity of the modern condition, but rather create the consciousness of that absurdity. It is the consciousness and intentionality that gives these forms of satire their force and effect to heighten awareness, particularly of the underlying context, or ground, of the situation.

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17 December 2005

The Latest from JibJab - Bush 2-0-5

Those guys at JibJab have come up with another great one! And a-one, and a-two...
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16 December 2005

Survivor Vancouver: a.k.a The Leaders' Debate

Here's the thing about so-called Reality TV: it's unscripted in the sense that writers don't provide the actual lines to the participants, but the characters all play to form, and the lines are all cliché. And that about sums up the first English-language leader's debate of the 2006 Canadian election.

Martin and Layton put on their best passion play, wearing their country on their respective sleeves. Martin's constant refrain was "the country is great, look at all we've done," while Layton responded with "the country is becoming great because of all we've done, send more NDPers to Ottawa." I guess he missed his wife over the last eighteen months. Duceppe, who was first to say that once something is decided by a free vote that should be the end of it (as in same-sex marriage), and the last to say that Québec should keep having referenda until the answer comes out "right." And Harper? He looked like someone slipped him a Valium before the debate, wearing a smug smile and telling Canadians to make a change, without asking too many questions about precisely what the changes Harper has in mind might really do to the country.

Although I very much liked the format - the stereotypical ordinary Canadians asking the tough questions with moderator Trina McQueen doing the follow-ups - any attempt at one leader attempting to hold another's feet to the fire was easily sloughed off, with very few exceptions. So it wasn't really a debate; more like "which policy line do I read in response to this question?"

I know someone will ask whether it was hot or cool (hot being higher definition, little participation, inducing a trance-like state; cool being less information, a greater need to fill-in-the-blanks, awakening awareness). Almost by definition, such an exercise as a leaders' debate cannot be a cool event, as the cool politician would almost invariably be accused of evading the issues. While the videotaped questions might appear to make it a cooler event, the reality of the matter is that the questions asked were selected from among 10,000 submitted; no surprises, nothing unexpected, no chance to be cool. And I guess that goes double for Harper. (Mock turtle-neck sweaters don't make you cool, Stephen.)

On a related matter, why was Giles Duceppe in the English-language debate, anyway? He has nothing useful to say to English-Canadian voters. (Don't get me wrong: the cultural concerns and equity concerns of Québec are legitimate and important components of the national discourse, but I, and most Canadians have no way to respond to Duceppe during an election.) Duceppe has no candidates running outside of Québec. His podium should better be relinquished to the Green Party, who DO have something potentially different to say to English Canada (as well as to Canada Français). And hearing something different might even be a welcome change.
Apology: As pointed out by one of the commenters, I completely forgot about the approximately 10% of Québecers for whom English is their first language, and who deserve to hear Duceppe in his second language.
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15 December 2005

Three Blind Mice...

...see how they run. I'm talking about Martin, Harper and Layton, of course. The blindness to which I refer is their collective ignoring of a large, nominally disaffected constituency who are relatively removed from the broadcast media (i.e., few-to-many media, including television and the press) in which the current election campaign is primarily being run. Among a very large demographic of people who don't watch television and don't read the mainstream press, relatively little of the major parties' respective political "messages" are getting through. And, for these people - largely voters up to the age of approximately 30, but definitely those between 18 and 25 - their lack of attendance on voting day is not so much a result of being apathetic, so much as a lack of connection with the process.

As an aside, I would say that a lack of connection with the process is a malady that affects many Canadians, irrespective of age. One major intended effect of broadcast politics as it is currently waged is precisely that: to disconnect people from active engagement with the demoncratic process, and instead, hypnotize them with slogans, quick fixes that are "good politics but bad policy" (a phrase that I've heard repeated after the daily partisan policy announcement), and attention focused on irrelevant "issues" rather than on thoughtful deliberation. (An example of this is the emphasis on change for the sake of change, with little thought given to the nature of the change, the effects of the change alternatives, and so forth.)

But all of that is not really the point of this post. None of the English Canada campaigns have an online presence with which people can truly engage. (The Bloc Québecois, to their credit for cluefulness, have a blog on which people can leave comments, including those that express dissenting views. Vive le Québec discours libre!) Those that have blogs use them as either comic relief, or as merely another broadcast medium. The lessons of the "Howard Dean Experience" concerning engagement are two-fold: First, by allowing comments, you encourage people to become engaged in conversations with the campaign, and coversations are the beginning of involvement and commitment. Second, by actively encouraging supporters to set up blogs (that is, by creating blogrolls on the campaign blog, by linking to entries in supporters' blogs - you know, all the regular bloggy stuff) you encourage those who have reach into communities that the main campaign cannot reach to "get out the vote" among those who wouldn't otherwise vote. That's why was saw the likes of "Punkers for Dean," "Bikers for Dean," "Grannies for Dean," and even "Born Again Christians for Dean."

Last night, I heard a piece on CBC Radio One's The World at Six in which a person, presumably in her twenties was interviewed at her business. She said that she doesn't watch TV, and were it not for "Moe," would not be interested in the election and would likely not vote. The reason: the mainstream parties are completely ignoring her. Moe, on the other hand, is representative of an incredibly influential political power. He has an email mailing list 5,000 strong, and he's not afraid to use it to influence otherwise unreached and unreachable potential voters. Most "Moes" around the country have blogs, connections, networks and, most important of all, credibility. While they cannot be co-opted by the major parties, they can become connected. All it takes is the major parties to realize that the Internet is not a broadcast medium, but a medium of connections, relationships, conversations and engagement. Sounds a whole lot like democratic processes to me.

If you find the insights of this post interesting, why don't you stop by the main blog page for more?

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13 December 2005

They'll Do It Every Time!

I remember this famous comic strip - They'll Do It Every Time - from when I was a kid. "They'll Do It Every Time, is a humorous look at human hypocrisy, inconsistencies or one of the quirky twists of fate that beleaguer us all. Originated in 1929 by Jimmy Hatlo, a sports cartoonist for The Call-Bulletin in San Francisco, the feature was created on the spur of the moment when a syndicated cartoon was lost in the mail. The cartoon soon attracted the attention of readers, who submitted their own examples of human foibles."

I was reminded of the strip today, when I read this piece about how
AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp. are lobbying Capitol Hill for the right to create a two-tiered Internet, where the telecom carriers' own Internet services would be transmitted faster and more efficiently than those of their competitors. The proposal is certain to provoke a major fight with Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Time Warner Inc., and Microsoft Corp., the powerful owners of popular Internet sites. The companies fear such a move would give telecommunications companies too much control over a fast-growing part of the Internet.
While I don't blame these latter-day carpetbaggers for wanting to milk as much money from the Internet as possible - after all, once a monopolist always a monopolist. I do marvel, however, at the shortsightedness of greedy industry executives, be they from the telcos, the recording industry, software industry... you name it!

The traditional view is that a successful industry is built on the basis of investment, risk-taking, expertise and hard work. What has not been acknowledged until recently - and only in the context of FLOSS - is that successful industries are also a result of market participation among consumer-producers (by which I mean consumers who also produce the market itself; ideas, suggestions and techniques that are incorporated into offerings; actual content that enables the offering; social dynamics that create a desire/need and hence fuel the market's growth; among many other aspects). In fact, under UCaPP* conditions, traditional consumers reverse to producers, without whom there would have been no Google, no Yahoo, no browsers, no streaming video, no nothing that would have generated the type of demand that allows these telcos to make the types of profitable investments upon which they are now capitalizing. For them to turn around and effectively say, "let's eliminate the conditions that made us successful so that no one else can be" is the type of hypocrisy that makes me say...

They'll do it every time! (But only if we allow them to.)

*UCaPP = ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate

Update: BusinessWeek reports on this issue, and identify what's At Stake: The Net as We Know It:
But express lanes for certain bits could give network providers a chance to shunt other services into the slow lane, unless they pay up. A phone company could tell Google or another independent Web service that it must pay extra to ensure speedy, reliable service.

That could result in an Internet of haves, who can afford to pay the network operators more to ensure smooth service, and have-nots. Trouble is, those have-nots may include the Next Big Thing -- whether it be mom-and-pop podcasting or video blogging. The fewer innovative services on the Net, the less reason Web users have to want broadband. Both the network operators and the Internet could lose out in the end.

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12 December 2005

English Exams, the Medium, and the Message

It is end of term in high schools, and my daughter is once again preparing for that unique Foucauldian form of discipline known as exam time. As it turns out, the English exam will prove to be particularly problematic for her for a reason that is decidedly, if not ironically, McLuhanesque.

Unlike me, who graduated both high school and (undergrad) university before the advent of word processing, my daughter learned to compose text directly onto a computer. More than spell check, she has full access to a thesaurus - which she learned to use in the third grade - countless editing and revision opportunities, and a particular tactile relationship with the written word that is percussive in typing keyboarding, as opposed to legato in cursive script.

Unfortunately, the English exam is a hand-written essay. In her last test (that consisted of an essay question), she found herself unable to shepherd her thoughts to the paper, because of what she reported as a type of disconnection between her mind and the pen. Further, she spent too much time sans thesaurus trying to think of just the right word to express the nuance she wanted, and too much time revising the opening paragraph to get it just so. She ran out of time.

There is clearly a cognitive effect of composing on a computer keyboard that is different than composing with pen and paper. They are two different media, and we should expect there to be two different effects - two different messages. I notice this myself, using pen and paper for more "artistic" or "creative" aspects of my writing - outlining, constructing an argument - and keyboard for the actual production. Because I am aware of ground effects, I experience two different aspects of cognition when I use the two different media, and I use which ever medium is most appropriate for the specific cognitive effect I want to create in myself.

Now consider the exam. In addition to the student's command of the content to be tested as figure, the exam is also testing the student's facility with the (hidden) ground of the writing medium. Ironically, the student who has trained herself to do the things good writers do - select the right words to convey the right effects, revise and edit - is at a decided disadvantage in the exam. Teachers must become aware of all that is being tested, and decide if the exam as it is administered is truly an appropriate test.

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06 December 2005

Remembering Fourteen Young Women

Today, December 6, is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, commemorating the sixteenth anniversary of the massacre of fourteen young women at l'École Polytechnique de Montréal. They were slaughtered only because of their gender, and the blind hate that possessed of one vicious man.

If violence against women was limited to one man, there would be no need for a national day of remembrance and action. But, tragically, throughout our world, and indeed throughout our nation, our province and our city, there remain thousands of women who survive in a daily existence shrouded by fear, and physical and psychological abuse. They are persecuted and punished for no other reason than who and what they are, and the deranged psychology that possesses their abusers. Sometimes, abusers hide behind the apparent legitimacy offered to their unacceptable behaviours by long standing traditions of non-Western cultures. In other cases, it is the result of an individual's own feelings of powerlessness or low self-esteem that causes him to lash out at a person perceived as weaker. Regardless of the reason or supposed justification, the tragic deaths of fourteen must serve as both a stunning reminder of, and a clarion call to action against, all forms of violence, dehumanizing behaviours, and unthinking degradation of women.

Today, Canada's flags fly at half-staff in honour of the fourteen. May the memory of these young women act as a beacon, guiding our society, and all societies, towards a more enlightened and just world in which all may be safe. May their memory be for a blessing:

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Barbara Klucznik Widajewicz
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte

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05 December 2005

How Police States Begin

Given the tenor of our time, and the slow but steady encroachments on constitutional rights made in the name of security, this is disturbing news indeed. CBC reports (and where is the rest of the mainstream media on this one?) that
Police are conducting searches of houses and apartments in Parkdale as they try to identify a woman whose dismembered remains were found last month. ... Officers are going door to door in Parkdale, asking residents if they can look through their homes — and in some cases, their freezers — as they search for clues. Police point out that it's the same strategy that helped them identify the man now charged in the abduction and murder of nine-year-old Holly Jones in 2003. In that case, the man who was eventually charged with Holly's murder was one of just a few local residents who refused to let police search his home in a similar sweep.
Essentially what is happening is this: Police knock on your door and ask for your consent to search your premises without a warrant. If you refuse, that is if you exercise your constitutional rights, you will be considered a suspect, and clearly subject to more rigorous, onerous, and disruptive processes of investigation. Effectively, there is tacit coercion to abdicate your rights in the face of an implied threat of considerable future harassment. People "volunteer" because of the tacit, but clear consequences of not "volunteering."

Because of the implicit threat (not to mention the de facto intimidation of two large and armed policemen showing up unexpectedly at one's door), it can be argued that the so-called consent to enter is not given freely. I would guess that a good defense lawyer would be able to successfully argue that any fruits of such a search would be inadmissible as evidence, since consent was arguably not freely given (i.e. without coercion, and full understanding of consequences). Beside this, such actions promulgate the police state mentality of "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear."

Among the principles of a democratic society is the rule of law, that is, no one is above the laws of the land. That especially includes those among the population who are given special permission to be armed in public, to effect arrests, and to inflict the weight of the judiciary on any individual. Bypassing due process of law in the name of expediency is the beginning of a long decline in the direction of fascism. Or, to paraphrase the cliché, if you have nothing to hide, you have EVERYTHING to fear if authorities nonetheless decide that you are hiding something. Just ask these people.

Update: The Toronto Star covers the story here.
"This type of investigation is problematic. We feel this is a significant intrusion," said Alexi Wood of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. "Armed police officers are asking to be let into homes. We've had at least one call from a member very upset, feeling the police are being very intimidating with this type of activity."

Wood, of the civil liberties group, said she sees no problem with officers knocking on doors and talking to people about what happened to gather more information, but asking to look inside the home crosses the line. "Some people think if they don't let the police in, there could be consequences," Wood said. People can choose to exercise their right to refuse an officer entry, she said.

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02 December 2005

Role* Research - The Serious Stuff

Several people have recently asked me about the more, shall we say, theoretical work that underlies Role*. They are referring to my recently completed thesis. I have prepared a thesis synopsis [pdf] that summarizes in five pages what I took nearly 170 pages to derive. It includes the key elements from the literature, my derivation and situation of the particular aspects of the method, a description of the empirical research methodology, and a summary of the findings.

If, after reading the synopsis, you have a serious interest in the full work, please write to me describing your interest, and we'll see how I can help.

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30 November 2005

"I Only Paint Fakes," and Offended People

Like many of you, I've ended up on a few listservs that are not so troublesome or voluminous that it merits the effort to unsubscribe, but they are only of peripheral interest. Mostly, it happens when I attend a meeting or seminar during which they pass a sign-up sheet for announcements of future events. Mostly, as it turns out, future events do not seem as interesting as the one that got me to loan out my name.

And so the emails roll in to the inbox, and out to the deleted mail file.

Today, a notice came on one particular list that is run by a professor at my institution about two former(?) students who were recently written up in minor news outlets. One of them, Diane Zorn, is engaged in a particularly interesting line of research concerning academics who suffer from what she calls, "The Imposter Phenomenon." As she describes it, the Imposter Phenomenon is
"an internal experience of intellectual phoniness common among high-achieving people". She has found that IP can affect anyone from PhD candidates preparing for their comprehensives to established and tenured professors. "At one workshop a professor who was two years away from retirement told me that he still lived in fear of being revealed as a fraud," said Zorn.
I can relate to this phenomenon, but from a different ground. In my research on Role*, I describe the experience of what I call the "exo-self":
Exo-self is a shorthand for the apparent receptacle of extrinsic motivation. Through my years in corporate life, the social norms of my milieu necessitated external trappings, including demonstrations of affluence, hierarchical status, credentials and accreditations, as sources of personal value and validation. All of these are proxies for the ways in which others might regard me in the social contexts of work/life. That regard became so important to my sense of self that the proxy replaced any internal sense of worth, value or validation. I mistook these proxies as my self; the agglomeration of the proxies thus comprised my exo-self.

...My value instead was reflected in the trappings that adorn the exo-self; the trappings themselves awarded or acquired as a direct result of the external evaluations – sales wins, for example – over which I had relatively little direct influence (despite the prevailing fiction that underlies the salesman’s job), and even less control.

In general, the exo-self reflects not the capabilities or intrinsic worth of the individuals in question, but rather the dominant socio-cultural assessment of how well the individual plays her/his assigned and expected role in society at large, and the particular subculture within that society with which the individual chooses to associate.
I would thus identify Zorn's Imposter Phenomenon with the tensions that exist within an individual among the oppression of assuming her/his exo-self, their unique role* motivating aspects, and the specific roles in which they feel they must perform.

As interesting as is Zorn's work (not to mention the cool connection I can make with my own stuff), that's not the point of this post. The notice of Zorn's article came on the listserv, as I mentioned. One of the people on the list responded by saying, "academics and scholars feel like frauds because THEY ARE. I know it keeps me grounded knowing this simple truth." And then he referred to himself as "the fraud."

I read this statement in two ways. First, I saw it as a satirical commentary on the nature of the roles we all don in the course of our individual professions. Second, I read it as a reminder that we should not take ourselves seriously. Our work, our students, our commitments to each other - those aspects we should absolutely take seriously. Ourselves, never, as that leads to arrogance and the sort of haughty, ivory-towerish detachment of which many academics are accused. Truly great people realize this. Picasso was once apparently asked how many paintings he had created. He responded that the number was around 2000. When told that there were at least 5000 of his paintings for sale in the U.S. alone, he shrugged and said, "I only paint fakes."

The moderator of the list was not so sanguine at the attempted satirical commentary that reveals an important truth. She labelled the comment as "abusive" and said that she would "not tolerate it." The person who posted the comment was not only removed from the list, but a special email was sent to the rest of the list notifying all of the banishment that would undoubtedly prove to have a chilling effect on future commentary. It is within the prerogative of a list moderator to include and exclude whatever s/he would like. However, in this case the moderator is an avowed feminist (and thus nominally interested in promoting non-dominant discourse), and a professor in an institution renowned for encouraging dissenting voices and social justice.

Unfortunately, a sense of humour and an appreciation of the importance of satire to "speak truth to power" doesn't seem to be a prerequisite for her department.

Update: The person was reinstated, as he objected to a "one-strike-you're-out" rule as being unfair. The moderator, however, still deemed the comment objectionable, as she read it as disrespectful to the "vulnerability of intellectual exploration and expression." Given the tremendous privilege that academics enjoy, my reaction to this comment was certainly a raised eyebrow.

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28 November 2005

Juxtaposition of the Incongruent

Two juxtaposed posts on boingboing today that are striking in their demonstration of the fundamental tension of the Internet today. One aspect of that tension are those who are vested in an Industrial Age model of business and enterprise, while the other represents "network thinking," characteristic of a UCaPP - ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate - world.

In the first corner are the telcos who consider the Internet as nothing more than a transport mechanism (that they own) for content (of which they want a part for the privilege of transporting). These are folks who consider the Internet as nothing more than a broadcast medium, as was radio, television, and heck - even telegraph. Doc Searls has a thought-provoking (if a tad long) essay that discusses Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes. Consider what is on the telco's agenda. Here's Edward Whiteacre, CEO of SBC, the "baby bell" that just swallowed AT&T, one of the world's premier, tier 1 ISPs, as quoted in BusinessWeek: "The Internet can't be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!" Why has the Internet become so important to the world of both commerce and culture? Simply because the Internet grew before short-sighted, greedy people - behaviours exemplified by Whiteacre - could stick their hooks in it. Searls observes,
As a place, the Net has always been independent of the carriage on which it relies, which is one reason it also encourages and rewards independence. The independence of the Net and its inhabitants is precisely what accounts for countless new businesses and improved old ones...

Advocating and saving the Net is not a partisan issue. Lawmakers and regulators aren't screwing up the Net because they're "Friends of Bush" or "Friends of Hollywood" or liberals or conservatives. They're doing it because one way of framing the Net - as a transport system for content - is winning over another way of framing the Net - as a place where markets and business and culture and governance can all thrive. Otherwise helpful documents, including Ernest Partridge's "After the Internet" fail because they blame "Bush-friendly conservative corporations" and appeal only to one political constituency, in this case, progressives. Freedom, independence, the sovereignty of the individual, private rights and open frontiers are a few among many values shared by progressives and conservatives. All are better supported, in obvious ways, by the Net as a place rather than as a transport system.

In the other corner is someone who is not afraid of the changes, and in fact, has thrived because the changes have freed her from the indentured servitude that the old business models represent. Jane Siberry, a marvellous musicians whose music I have loved for years, has created a truly UCaPP business for promoting and selling her music. As the EFF's Fred von Lohmann describes it,
Her new download store, recently unveiled at her site, is a model of what the music downloading world could be. All of her songs are available as plain MP3s, which means they will play on your iPod and are not loaded with DRM restrictions (much less evil rootkits).

And you pay whatever you like for them. Yes, you set whatever price you like. Options include:

* free ("gift from Jane");
* a standard price (CAN$0.99);
* self-determined price - pay now; or
* self-determined price - pay later (to facilitate try-before-you-buy).

When you purchase the song, moreover, you can select up to 5 people to whom you can email a link to the song... She summed it up this way: "I want to treat people the way I'd like to be treated. I don't like being treated like a child, so I won't be doing that to other people."
Go check out her site, and her music. You won't be disappointed by either the quality of her singing, or the quality of her business acumen.
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Why Johnny and Janey Can't Read

What with being ill and then trying to catch up late in the semester, I've been away from blogging for a while. Today, however, I had the opportunity to give a lecture to the University of Toronto Senior Alumni Association, a group that believes that one's brain is like a muscle - it needs to be continually exercised to stay in shape.

I shared with them my thoughts on "Why Johnny and Janey Can't Read, and Why Mr. and Ms. Smith Can't Teach: The challenge of multiple media literacies in tumultuous times." The talk traced the thinking of the Toronto School of Communication. In doing so, I
introduce the notion that our beloved literacy is now nothing but a quaint notion, an aesthetic form that is as irrelevant to the real questions and issues of pedagogy today as is recited poetry – clearly not devoid of value, but equally no longer the structuring force of society. I will ask you to consider that our society’s obsessive focus on literacy would doom future generations to oblivion and ignorance, if only they cared a whit about what, and how, we think. Further, I am going to challenge the assumptive ground upon which our institutions of education – primary, secondary and tertiary – are built, and raise the real question of our time – and of any time – namely, what is valued as knowledge, who decides, and who is valued as authority.
The folks who attended were an attentive and engaged audience, asking many thought-provoking questions after the lecture, and raising many important issues for our time. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, as I hope they did too.

As with almost all my stuff, it's available for download [pdf] and reuse under a Creative Commons license.

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09 November 2005

Rehabilitation or Change? Remaking the Corporation

Note to readers: It never rains, but it pours, as the cliché goes. So many bloggable items have hit me today, after a while of focusing on other matters. And then there are the items for which there is just too little time... On with the post!

What to do about corporations? There are few among the population who believe that our current corporate form is the best we can do, and many who believe that some of our modern corporations are evil incarnate. The question is, what should be done.

Over the next few years, I am embarking on a serious (as in PhD-serious) study of the emergence of a new corporate form that is consistent with the 21st century, as opposed to being grounded in the 19th century and the Industrial Age. More about that over the coming months. However, an article came to my attention this morning that raises the question of apparent corporate rehabilitation vs. real corporate change in the context of the Washington, D.C.-based Business for Social Responsibility group.

The group was originally founded in the late 1990s by Laury Hammel who
owns a string of health clubs in Boston. Hammel wanted BSR to help business become more socially responsible, but also to engage in the public policy debate. "We were sick and tired of having the Chamber of Commerce being the voice for business," Hammel said. So, he started the group, and brought in such luminaries as Arnold Hiatt, former CEO of Stride Rite.
The idea was to create a body through which the voices of small and medium-sized independent businesses could be heard, and potentially have an influence on policy.

However, the group has been recently taken over by large business interests. The new board has shut down local chapters, and forced out those who are interested in grassroots influence in the process of change for social responsiblity. In particular, any discussion of government regulation, national health care, war and peace, cracking down on criminal activities by corporate executives was to be stricken from the BSR agenda. The reason?
"[Former Levi Strauss vice-president, and now BSR President, Robert] Dunn didn't want anything to do with influencing government policy," Hammel said. "Dunn believed that we would never change the world if we didn't get big corporations behind us. And we would never get them on board if we kept our foot in the public policy arena."
So now, BSR has become yet another lobby group for large business under the imprimateur of social responsiblity. The list of corporate sponsors of BSR's recent conference can be read right from the Fortune 25 list of corporate giants: ExxonMobil, Chevron, AstraZeneca, Walt Disney, Pfizer, General Electric, Altria/Philip Morris, McDonald's, Edison International, Starbucks, Ford Motor Company, Coca-Cola, Abbott Labs, Microsoft, Monsanto, KPMG, Chiquita.

The nominal theme of BSR's new corporate image is "change from within." The actual effect is nominal rehabilitation in order to become more acceptable to a population who tune into the buzzwords of social responsibility, but are generally unable to dig beneath the surface. Here's the real bottom line: Change isn't coming from within, it is coming from without - people without jobs, people without health care, people without a living wage, people without justice and equity, people without privilege, people without local investment, people without blinkers and blinders who can see what is actually being done to both the social environment and the bio-environment, are the ones who will begin to effect the environmental changes that are now possible under UCaPP conditions.

And that certainly is a change.
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Fallujah - The Hidden Massacre

What really happened at Fallujah in 2004? A new documentary, produced by the Italian TV network, RAI, reveals that Weapons of Mass Destruction - and in particular chemical weapons - were used in Iraq by the U.S. military against civilians.

The weapon in question, apparently called MK77, is the replacement for napalm that caused so much horrific death and destruction in Vietnam, and was subsequently banned by the United Nations. However, a weapon with precisely the same grotesque and deadly effects, under a different name, is being used by the very country that is loudly decrying WMDs.

MK77 apparently contains "whiskey pete," the military slang for white phosphorus. According to two soldiers who participated in these missions, and now (after being discharged) have supplied information to the RAI producers, white phosphorus incendiary bombs explode on impact and spread a gaseous cloud for 150 metres in all directions. Wherever the gas touches skin, the skin burns immediately. White phosphorus gas actually burns the skin to the bone beneath clothing, leaving grotesque corpses with apparently undamaged clothing. Gas masks are of no use, since the gas melts the rubber, and the skin underneath. If you inhale the gas, "it will blister your throat and lungs, and you will suffocate, and then burn from the inside out."

This nearly 30-minute documentary (in English), Fallujah - The Hidden Massacre, (asf version here)contains very graphic and very disturbing footage of the results of what cannot be described in any other terms than American war crimes. View with caution.

Talk about retrieving the Vietnam era...
(Thanks, I think, Gianluca.)
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RoleStar at CSTD

Yesterday, I had been invited to do a poster session at the annual conference of CSTD, a professional association for workplace learning and performance practitioners. For those of you not in the academic world, think back to the sixth or seventh grade, when you had to submit your school project on a sheet of bristol board, stand up in front of the class and present it. Afterwards, it was pinned up on the wall - if you were good enough, you got a gold star.

Academic poster sessions are the same thing - without the gold star. In this case, we were asked to prepare a 99-second pitch about our research. Here's how I condensed my 161-page thesis into about 90 seconds:
What motivates you? What really engages you in whatever it is that you do? Oh, I’m not talking about money, or power, or responsibility, or being involved in decision making – these are all external, environmental factors that, while important, don’t get to the heart of your intrinsic motivation. My research shows that what you do is not as important to your sense of engagement with your work as how you go about doing it, in terms of the interpersonal dynamics and interactions that you create in your immediate environment. By employing a composite qualitative methodology that incorporates heuristic inquiry, grounded theory and a feminist approach to interviewing, I have developed the theory, and practice, of enabling most people to discover their unique motivating, and demotivating, aspects. In doing so, I reverse the conventional notion of role, from being a mere enactment of behaviours, to becoming an empowering resource. My name is Mark Federman, and my project is called, “Rolestar – Discovering the passion in your work and your life.”
Not bad, if I do say so myself.

I prepared a 10-page handout that includes a one-page overview of RoleStar and the Discovery Conversation, the fairy tale that describes the theory in a way that even a child can understand, a synopsis of the thesis in a more academic tone, and an invitation letter that asks,
Is a role* discovery conversation for you? Are you facing an important career decision, or concerned about your career progress to date? Are you considering a new career at mid-life? Or, are you seeking a deeper understanding of what motivates and demotivates you, to figure out why you are sometimes totally engaged and passionate about what you do, and at other times, completely turned off and apathetic?
If you are seeking a brand new approach to career and life coaching, please contact me – perhaps I can help. You can reach me by email.
You can download the brochure for yourself right here [pdf].

Thanks to those who stopped by to chat, and especially to one of my regular readers.
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And How is One Certified as Sane?

Although this story is a year old, one of our students brought it to my attention last evening. According to the British Medical Journal (and numerous other sources), Bush plans to screen whole US population for mental illness
A sweeping mental health initiative will be unveiled by President George W Bush in July. The plan promises to integrate mentally ill patients fully into the community by providing "services in the community, rather than institutions...

According to the commission, "Each year, young children are expelled from preschools and childcare facilities for severely disruptive behaviours and emotional disorders." Schools, wrote the commission, are in a "key position" to screen the 52 million students and 6 million adults who work at the schools.

The commission also recommended "Linkage [of screening] with treatment and supports" including "state-of-the-art treatments" using "specific medications for specific conditions." The commission commended the Texas Medication Algorithm Project (TMAP) as a "model" medication treatment plan that "illustrates an evidence-based practice that results in better consumer outcomes."
In other words, everyone gets screened, and issued the right drug to treat what ails 'em. One of the respondents to the article reports,
The Bush screening program asks a variety of questions about mental well-being. Examples include: "In the last year, has there been a time when nothing was fun for you and you just weren't interested in anything?" and "Has there been a time when you couldn't think as clearly or as fast as usual?"

Is this for real? Taken in account the abovementioned questions, every US citizen will be a candidate to be labelled mentally ill... So, according to this plan, which seems to be going ahead, EVERY man, woman and child in the United States is to be screened, analyzed and monitored by the US government and legal enforceable personalized "care" regimes applied to those exhibiting signs of "mental illness"
Imagine a society in which people who believe the government is acting against their interests, and that members of the government may be conspiring to commit nefarious acts, (like... I don't know... how about thrusting the country into a costly war under false pretenses that will benefit certain business interests while costing tens of thousands of lives, two thousand of which - and counting - are American lives), are mandatorily screened, diagnosed as being delusional with paranoid tendencies, and medicated to shut them up. This strategy is far more effective (in theory, at least) than directly suppressing their speech, or making them disappear, as often occurs in other, less sophisticated, fascist regimes. I'm just saying...

There is much discussion in response to the article on the BMJ site.
(Thanks Paula!)
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03 November 2005

EPIC 2015 - The Sequel to the Future

I wrote about EPIC 2014 shortly after it came out a year ago. As you may recall, it told the story of the future of mass-news-media, in which all was swallowed up by "Googlezon." Well, a year has passed, and accordingly, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson have again cast their vision forward with an update. EPIC 2015 isn't as dark as 2014, but it still asks some provocative questions in the context of telling future history.

In a world (today, that is) in which the news-media create, rather than merely report on, the news, what happens when the current reversal from consumers to producers runs its course? In 2015, according to Sloan and Thompson, news ranges from the profound to the trivial - much like today's news and commentary, come to think of it. McLuhan always said "never predict anything that hasn't already happened," and I have to agree with both McLuhan, and Sloan and Thompson: Under UCaPP (ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate) conditions, the effects of EPIC are already here.
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01 November 2005

Gender Divide?

I don't usually take transit, preferring to walk the hour to and from the campus. This morning, with an early medical appointment downtown, I found myself on the subway about 8:30 a.m. Looking around the jam-packed subway car, I noticed that women outnumbered men by a factor of 2 to 1. (I actually counted among the people I could see.) Glancing at subway platforms, especially at the more crowded stations, I noticed the same gender disparity.

Is this difference merely a random occurence?
Do men travel earlier to work?
Does public transit attract more women than men?

If there is an explanation that accounts for this difference, it would undoubtedly reveal some interesting insights into the nature and dynamics of either the gendered workplace, or the gendered (perhaps classed?) nature of urban transportation, or both.

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31 October 2005

Dear Sony: Why Are You Acting Like a Criminal?

If you buy Sony CDs with their copy protection / Digital Rights Management, and you play that CD on your Windows PC, there is a good chance that your computer will be hacked - make that cracked - by the black hat folks at Sony. A very technical, for-geeks-only write-up is here, with an almost lay explanation of what happens about two-thirds of the way down the page.
The DRM reference made me recall having purchased a CD recently that can only be played using the media player that ships on the CD itself and that limits you to at most 3 copies. I scrounged through my CD’s and found it, Sony BMG’s Get Right with the Man (the name is ironic under the circumstances) CD by the Van Zant brothers. I hadn’t noticed when I purchased the CD from Amazon.com that it’s protected with DRM software, but if I had looked more closely at the text on the Amazon.com web page I would have known. ... The entire experience was frustrating and irritating. Not only had Sony put software on my system that uses techniques commonly used by malware to mask its presence, the software is poorly written and provides no means for uninstall. Worse, most users that stumble across the cloaked files with a RKR scan will cripple their computer if they attempt the obvious step of deleting the cloaked files.

While I believe in the media industry’s right to use copy protection mechanisms to prevent illegal copying, I don’t think that we’ve found the right balance of fair use and copy protection, yet. This is a clear case of Sony taking DRM too far.
Too far indeed! If the report is true - and the technical details are far too involved to be a fabrication - surreptitiously installing code on a user's machine, with no way of uninstalling it, that consumes resources by merely being there, that is poorly written (and therefore potentially a target of a subsequent compromising attack), and that will cripple the entire machine if an unsuspecting user tries to delete the malicious files is AGAINST THE LAW in both the U.S. and Canada, and probably elsewhere as well.

Last holiday season, my daughter (who happens to be involved in Digital Copyright Canada's petition campaign) received a DRM'ed Sony CD and refused to play it. Now I'm doubly glad she did! To paraphrase the cliché, friends won't let friends buy Sony CDs. Or, put another way, isn't hijacking a machine like this an act of... piracy?

For shame, Sony. For shame.

P.S. The Slashdot commentary - unusually salient on this topic - is here.

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29 October 2005

A Must Read: "Turing's Castle," by George Dyson

George Dyson, described as a historian of the future, recently visited Google on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of John von Neumann's proposal for a digital computer. His reflections, published online in the current edition of Edge, is a brilliant reflection on both Google as "14th-century cathedral — not in the 14th century but in the 12th century, while it was being built. Everyone was busy carving one stone here and another stone there, with some invisible architect getting everything to fit." Moreover, it is an equally brilliant reflection on the relationships among human biologically-based cognition, the computer's algorithmically-founded digital logic that operates on "bits that represent structure (differences in space) and bits that represent sequence (differences in time)," and the emergence of H.G. Wells's vision of a "World Brain":
"The whole human memory can be, and probably in a short time will be, made accessible to every individual," wrote H. G. Wells in his 1938 prophecy World Brain. "This new all-human cerebrum need not be concentrated in any one single place. It can be reproduced exactly and fully, in Peru, China, Iceland, Central Africa, or wherever else seems to afford an insurance against danger and interruption. It can have at once, the concentration of a craniate animal and the diffused vitality of an amoeba." Wells foresaw not only the distributed intelligence of the World Wide Web, but the inevitability that this intelligence would coalesce, and that power, as well as knowledge, would fall under its domain. "In a universal organization and clarification of knowledge and ideas... in the evocation, that is, of what I have here called a World Brain... in that and in that alone, it is maintained, is there any clear hope of a really Competent Receiver for world affairs... We do not want dictators, we do not want oligarchic parties or class rule, we want a widespread world intelligence conscious of itself."
This is a marvellous reflection, and perhaps provides a different perspective to our journey through the third communications break boundary.[Technorati tags: | | | ]

27 October 2005

CRIA Me a River

According to the Globe and Mail,
Canada's recording industry reported its worst financial showing in six years in 2003 with illegal downloading – never exactly music to the sector's ears – the likely culprit for plunging sales and dropping profits, Statistics Canada said Wednesday. In the year, the government agency said, the Canadian sound recording industry reported revenue of $708.7-million. That was down 17.7 per cent from 2000.
Startling news, no? The venerable Statscan - objective, armed with numbers and statistics and quantitative, scientific stuff like that - providing objective verification of what the Canadian Recording Industry Association has been saying for years: illegal downloading by all those pirates are killing their industry. After all, who can argue with objective statistics?

You have to go all the way down to paragraph nine in the article to discover this footnote to the whole thing: "In 2003, recording companies issued 5,619 new releases, down from 6,654 in 2000." Pulling out the old calculator (well, actually, using Google to do the calculation), we find that the number of new releases declined 15.5% over the same period.

Let's see, new releases down by 15.5%, corresponding to a revenue decline of nearly 18%, during a period of time that saw a signficant rise in spending for competing media: "Statscan said the decline in consumer spending may have also reflected increased competition from other media, such as DVDs and cell phones." Doesn't take an MBA to figure this one out.

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26 October 2005

The Failure of the ROKR in a UCaPP World

Wired has a great article that describes the structural failure that leads to the market failure of Motorola’s ROKR music-player-mobile-phone device. By structural, I’m referring to the incongruities and seemingly unresolvable conflicts among the interests of Motorola (supplier of the handset), Apple (supplier of the music licensing via iTunes), music labels (supplier of the licensed music), and the mobile carriers (supplier of the bandwidth).
When Jobs and Ed Zander, CEO of Motorola, announced 15 months ago that the two companies were going to partner on a new phone, people imagined a hybrid of two of the coolest products in existence: Apple's iPod and Moto's RAZR. For months the new gizmo glimmered mirage-like on gadget sites - ever promised, never delivered. When it finally did show up, it bore the unmistakable hump of a committee camel. Not sleek like an iPod, not slim like a RAZR - and when you saw the fine print, you discovered that you can't use it to buy music over the airwaves, that it's painfully slow at loading songs from iTunes on your computer, and that it comes pre-hobbled with a 100-song limit. No matter how much of its 512 megabytes of flash memory you have left, you can't load any more tracks onto the thing. The consensus: disappointing.
Not to mention the small detail that, going through iTunes, the customer bypasses the mobile network carriers’ “tollbooth” – the same carriers that distribute 99.5% of all handsets and mobile devices.

Until now, the “closed vs. open” debate centred on hardware, protocols, software applications, and what many problematically refer to as content. Keeping one’s design or specific implementation or specific content locked away, protected by so-called intellectual property rights, gave a company a competitive advantage, assuming, of course, that the proprietary gizmo, gadget or gewgaw was something that was sufficiently unique and compelling to the company’s would-be customers – for example, the design of the Apple iPod, or the noise of the latest Ashley Simpson karaoke fodder. On the other hand, making these aspects relatively available enables everyone to innovate, remix, extend and generally be creative, often leading to greater market opportunities in the long run – for example, the band that increases its fan base (and hence, concert and merchandising revenues), or creating an environment in which it is less expensive to create support chips for Intel microprocessors than any other. (If I was a shameless self-promoter, I would say that it’s about understanding what business you’re REALLY in.)

(If you are reading on the main page of the blog, click here to read the rest of the argument’s development.)

If we extend our thinking about closed vs. open standards, in the context of the Wired article’s description of What Went So Badly Wrong with the Motorola iTunes-(questionably)-enabled ROKR, we see that the closed vs. open debate describes the minds of those involved in the controversy. The closed minds camp are of the Michael Porter school of marketing thought that (among other things) supports protecting your competitive advantage at all costs, and focusing on your target demographics with laser-like precision. Steve Jobs, for instance, set up the announcements of the iPod nano and the Motorola ROKR to coincide at the same event.
If music phones are the biggest threat Apple has faced since Windows, September's dual product introduction showed two quite different responses to that challenge. The nano is the innovative response - an iPod so small, so powerful, so cool you might not care about a music phone. The ROKR is the cynical response: Here, you can have your music phone, but what you'll get is so uninspiring you'll wonder why you ever wanted one.
The music labels themselves hold true to the fantasy that if you completely restrict people’s ability to obtain music other than through them, the sky’s the limit on price:
Mobile downloads in the UK cost the equivalent of $2.75 per track, nearly twice as much as a computer download on Britain's iTunes store. Both music and wireless execs look at the extraordinary sums mobile subscribers have been paying for ring tones and figure people will happily shell out a similar amount for full tracks: Why shouldn't the whole song be worth as much as a snippet? … "The price associated with iTunes' launch was really about establishing some traction with consumers where there had been complete failure to show that people would pay any price," says Michael Nash, a digital strategy executive at Warner Music. "Where you don't have that artificial price depression, people are willing to pay more to get what they want, when they want."
Or so goes the theory. And the carriers demand their cut as well: “to buy new music, you have to access the iTunes store through your computer, bypassing the carrier's network and billing service.

Contrast this with an open mindset, one that seeks to expand the market by expanding innovation, even (especially) if it is not immediately apparent how a new market meshes with the old business plan. Imagine, for instance, a Nokia mobile device, the “N91, a 3G Symbian handset that will go on sale this winter. As a music phone, the N91 is everything the ROKR is not. It can hold a thousand songs or more. It has a rugged 4-gigabyte hard drive as well as Wi-Fi and a high-speed USB connection. "If you want to do file-sharing, this is also possible," Vanjoki says. "Because this is not a mobile phone, it is a computer." ” Imagine municipal WiMax on top of it, and closed, obsolete business models of the entire dysfunctional consortium from which the iTunes-ROKR is stillborn are completely bypassed.

Our world has changed dominant organizing principles from those based on the Industrial Age to new UCaPP* structures that are in the process of emerging. In a UCaPP business environment, it is the connections and relations that count. The hallmarks of creativity and innovation that some (but relatively few) are only beginning to recognize include collaborative creation that eliminate the interfaces – the stark demarcations – among those thought to be competitors, a feat that is achievable if business leaders and theorists alike expand their “scorecards of goodness” (currently imbalanced in favour of one predominant business measure) that will allow for innovations that Just Make Sense to everyone, except the defunct scorecard.

With our first real experiences with this new environment begin to sink in, it is easily seen how the IA mentality has simply been overlaid on the new environment – not surprising, since the first use of any new medium is to emulate the old medium. As our understanding of the new environment matures, many are beginning to understand that even the ‘net-enabled business environment behaves as a space of simultaneous relationships and connections among disparate companies and individuals: producers who where once consumers, consumers who were once producers, and companies across a wide variety of different industries who suddenly consider themselves bitter competitors within an amorphous market. In this, we can observe that the environment’s effects are characteristically organic, emergent and collaborative, as opposed to mechanistic, deterministic, and competitive. The sooner any given business or industry recognizes, and responds, to this new imperative, the sooner they – and we – will begin to reap the benefits.
*UCaPP is my shorthand for Ubiquitously Connected and Pervasively Proximate
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23 October 2005

Yahoo in China: Supporting Evil, or Forcing a Reversal?

Lauren Gelman at Stanford's Center for Internet and Society posts on the recent controversy about Yahoo revealing the identity of one of its Chinese posters to authorities, resulting in the arrest of the dissident. Activist Liu Xiaobo writes an open letter to Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, reported on in the Financial Times, criticizing him for collaborating with evil:
International companies are ignoring basic human rights in return for business opportunity, while the Communist party is offering profits in return for continued control of the internet and the ability to intimidate dissidents, Mr Liu writes.

“The collusion of these two kinds of ugliness means that there is no way for western investment to promote freedom of speech in China, and that in fact it greatly increases the ability of the Communist party to blockade and control the internet.”

“You are helping the Communist party maintain an evil system of control over freedom of information and speech,” he writes.
Gelman goes on to observe that Yahoo is not selling TVs, grain or even leather purses, but "a tool that can facilitate democracy or stifle it. Even if you accept the claim that engagement in China fosters human rights, selling the government a service that allows them to track people’s communications is different from selling them leather handbags."

Which is true, as far as it goes. Commenters are quick to argue the anti-capitalist angle, namely that corporations are not interested in fostering democracy (a word that is increasingly becoming problematic in our world) or freedom, but rather exist solely to make a profit. Others blame the Chinese people themselves for not rising up against the totalitarian regime. I, on the other hand, am observing an interesting potential for reversal.

It is true that, for now, the so-called price of doing business in China is to cooperate with authorities, and that means doing "evil" taken in a Western context. By doing so, online services - and online connections with the rest of the world - are created. Such an acceleration in connecting cultures and ideas will force a reversal in the society that will enable first privileged, and then "ordinary" Chinese citizens to question, and ultimately change their systems of governance. I would be very surprised if they adopt a Western style of democracy - the lack of which may well stick in the craw of American policy-makers. Nonetheless, without the intense acceleration brought about by UCaPP (ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate) conditions, change will be impossible without violence and bloodshed.
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14 October 2005

Terrorist TV, and Its Corporate Sponsors

The following article recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and was sent to me by a colleague of a colleague, whose brother is one of the authors. My apologies to Wall Street Journal for violating their copyright on this, but it is an important story about how young terrorists are made.

The Wall Street Journal

COMMENTARY: Advertising on Terror TV [Note: Paid subscription required.]
October 4, 2005

In one episode of the 29-part Ramadan special "Al-Shatat, The Diaspora," a rabbi orders his young son to kidnap a Christian friend so that his throat can be slit and the blood drained into a bedpan to be used to make food for Passover. The rest of the series tells the usual anti-Semitic plot of alleged Jewish aspirations for world domination. This TV show is just one example of the programming run by Hezbollah's global satellite channel, al-Manar. While the spread of this kind of hatred is despicable in any context, when it is broadcast to millions of viewers by terrorists intent on destroying lives, it becomes a weapon of global jihad.

Al-Manar routinely runs videos encouraging children to become suicide bombers, calls for terrorists to attack coalition soldiers in Iraq, and promises that "martyrs" will be rewarded in the afterlife.

Hezbollah established al-Manar in 1991 as an operational weapon to incite hatred and violence and recruit children and adults as terrorists. According to al-Manar officials interviewed by Hezbollah expert Avi Jorisch for his book "Beacon of Hatred," the station's programming is meant to "help people on the way to committing what you call in the West a suicide mission." Viewers are told: "The path to becoming a priest in Islam is through jihad," as Hezbollah's Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech on March 23, 2002. Every day al-Manar reaches millions of Arabic speakers in the Middle East, Europe and North Africa.

But these are the only areas where the station is available today, thanks to a broad coalition of organizations and individuals -- Muslim, Christian, Jewish and secular -- as well as lawmakers in the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America. When made aware of al-Manar's programming, seven satellite providers -- based in France, Spain, Holland, Hong Kong, Australia and Barbados -- decided that it was contrary to laws or basic decency, and ceased their broadcasts. These satellite providers recognized that far from being a freedom of expression issue, calls to murder can never be a legitimate part of the public debate.

But two satellite companies continue to broadcast the station's programming: Arabsat, whose largest shareholder is the Saudi government, and Nilesat, which is majority-owned by the Egyptian government. The footprint of these two providers covers all of Europe, from Spain to southern Sweden and the Balkans. It extends to North Africa and the Middle East. As a result, Arabic speakers in Paris, London, Madrid and elsewhere continue to have access to a station that fosters a culture of terrorism 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As al-Manar's former chairman Nayef Krayem said, "There is no act of resistance that can be classified as terrorism." The European Union must pressure the Saudi and Egyptian governments to stop broadcasting this hatred to impressionable young Muslims in Europe.

* * *
That's the political part of the fight against al-Manar. But there is also a commercial side to it. While a large part of al-Manar's operating budget comes from Iran, a significant portion is derived from ad revenue. There are a handful of multinational corporations that still advertise on al-Manar, indirectly endorsing its message of hatred and violence and directly supporting its operations by paying for air time.

Within the past few months, al-Manar broadcast ads for products from the following companies: Nissan, the Japanese car manufacturer; LG, the Korean electronics maker; Tefal, a producer of home cooking products and subsidiary of France-based Groupe SEB; Jovial, a manufacturer of Swiss watches; and Cellis-Alpha, a cellular SIM card provider owned by Fal Dete Telecommunications, a Saudi-German consortium majority-owned by Detecon, which in turn is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom.

We contacted the companies but their explanations were not very satisfactory. A spokesman for Tefal denied that its products were ever advertised on al-Manar. A spokesman for Nissan said the company was unaware that its ads were running on al-Manar; after investigating the matter he said the spots were placed by a local dealer, and that the ads would stop at year's end. The head of the LG liaison office in Lebanon said the ads were placed by a local agent and only during the recent Lebanese elections because al-Manar attracted a particularly large number of viewers during that time. He said he favored not advertising on al-Manar again but said that he had to first discuss it with LG's regional headquarters in Dubai. A spokesman for Jovial was not able to comment and did not provide further details on the company's position. Fal-Dete-Telecommunications also said they were not aware of the situation and that they are taking the matter seriously. They are currently inquiring with their partners in Lebanon. They also pointed out that they are not the owner of the Alfa network but they are managing it on behalf of the Republic of Lebanon for a period of four years.

While it is possible that these companies were not always aware that their ads were being placed on al-Manar, ignorance in this case is no excuse. Many of the world's largest corporations -- including Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Western Union -- stopped buying time on al-Manar more than three years ago when they realized what their ad dollars were supporting. Those companies still advertising on al-Manar should follow the example of the many governments and private and public firms that have ended their relationship with al-Manar. They should immediately pull any remaining ads and institute a permanent ban on future advertising.

European lives and values are under attack by Islamic extremists. Responsible companies should have no relationship with terrorist organizations. To do otherwise is to send a worrying signal to their customers, a message that seems to say that their lives are worth less than the sale of a few extra cars, watches, cellphones and home cooking products. At the very least, that cannot be good for business.

Mr. Mark Dubowitz is chief operating officer of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Ms. Roberta Bonazzi is the director of the Brussels-based European Foundation for Democracy and a founding member of the Coalition Against Terrorist Media.

This story is also available on the Coalition Against Terrorist Media site.
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