Having a responsible, productive relationship with technologies- Digital Minimalism- Cal Newport’s new book

Cal Newport’s new book, Digital Minimalism: Choose a Focused Life in a Noisy World, builds on his previous work of offering arguments as to why we should moderate our use of technologies. Newport, a computer scientist at Georgetown University, stitches together the ways that we open ourselves to constant distractions. And as a result, we are ill-suited to perform well in our lives. The ability to focus and do “deep work” is the more valuable today than IQ, according to Newport.

Learn more about the book and Cal at his website here.

And listen to is interview on WBUR here.

Communication Tech and Free Speech Spur Sociopolitical Change

Originally published here: Insidesources.com – Posted to Technology March 26, 2015 by 

Communication Tech and Free Speech Spur Sociopolitical Change

During the previous 10 years, conflicts and sociopolitical instability of different types touched nearly every corner of the world. New communication technologies are at the center of the discussion regarding strategy, policy and outcomes of these conflicts.  With the assistance of camera-phones, the civil war in Syria could very well be the most documented war of all time. ISIS is demonstrating technological sophistication by using social media to gain supporters and recruits.

On December 17, 2010, police in Tunisia confiscated a vegetable cart from jobless, college-educated Tunisian citizen, Muhamed Bouazizi, who subsequently set himself on fire in protest.  Since then, a wave of violent and nonviolent regime change has taken down Egypt’s Mubarak, Libya’s Gaddafi, and Tunisia’s Ben Ali, while still threatening others.

What these activities in diverse environments demonstrate is that new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social media are now an integral part of protest movements and violent conflicts around the globe.

But we are only starting to learn about the role of ICTs on sociopolitical engagement and activism. Theoretically, these technologies allow the citizenry to create and acquire information outside of state-controlled media.  Governments try to control online activity, but savvy users can circumvent the authorities, eroding the regime’s chokehold on public discourse.

One of the more prominent debates about the complex relationship of new ICTs and activism during the Arab Spring sprang from discussions between Clay Shirky and Evgeny Morozov. Shirky, a technological optimist, provided numerous examples of social media and communication technologies enabling quick and decisive political action. For example, Filipino citizens using text messaging to help spur mass protests to bring down Philippine President Joseph Estrada as far back as 2001.

But Morozov illuminated numerous problems regarding the democratizing force of communication technologies. He pointed to the failed Green Revolution in Iran in 2009, which many in the West deemed the “Twitter Revolution,” as an example of not only the limited capacity of communication technologies to usher in change, but also the dangers with which the technologies can be used against the protesters when the resistance fails. Governments are increasingly savvy at surveillance, censorship, producing propaganda, and digitally tracking dissenters.  He warned against “technological determinism,” the certainty that technologies forge political, social, and cultural changes.

In my recently-completed dissertation, I tested the theoretical propositions set forth by Shirky, Morozov, and many other scholars, including Dr. Erica Chenoweth, at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and Dr. Jacob Groshek at the Emerging Media Studies Division at Boston University.

Using cross-national panel data from 1990-2012, I examined the relationships among sociopolitical instability, major intrastate conflicts, democracy levels, and media and new ICT penetration rates and press freedoms. My results suggested several compelling conclusions.

First, countries with higher rates of Internet and cell-phone penetration are more likely to experience nonviolent conflict compared to violent conflict and to have higher levels of institutionalized democracy. Similarly, higher levels of press freedoms were strong predictors of sociopolitical stability, nonviolent conflict over violent conflict, and increased levels of institutionalized democracy.

Second, Internet and cell-phone use strongly related to increased occurrences of anti-government demonstrations but also purges and government crackdowns on political opposition.

These results add insight into whether dissenters or governments use new ICTs alternatively to organize or suppress opposition.  In fact, both sides of the argument deserve credit.  New ICTs were related to higher instances of anti-government organization and instances of government crackdowns.

These findings confirm the intuition that technology now plays a central role in the dynamics of political change.  There is strong evidence that new ICTs are democratizing influences.  They appear to be highly related to regime-challenging nonviolent conflict, which is quicker, more effective, and more likely to lead to democracy than violent conflict.

This reinforces the understood concept that freedom of speech and expression help societies deliberate their futures. While, to some, freedom of expression is a “western value,” it is nonetheless positively related to democracy, and to nonviolent rather than to violent conflict. And ample experience and research demonstrates that this type of stability is a key to long-term peace and prosperity.  In this way, ICTs help contribute to prosperous and peaceful societies.

These findings should be of interest to researchers, democracy and civil rights advocates, and policymakers. Supporting authoritarian governments that control the media and new ICT systems in a country may appeal to some people who opt for short-term stability over freedom of speech and democratic rights.  But ICTs are making that an ever-more difficult and unproductive task.  In the long run, the goal must be longer-lasting peace and development. The Internet, social media, and mobile devices have upped the stakes for both protesters and authoritarian regimes and must be taken into account when making policy towards them.

The US, Cuba, and the Internet

Originally published by Insidesources.com


The US, Cuba, and the Internet



One of the main focal points surrounding the recent US-Cuba diplomatic discussions has been increasing Internet and mobile phone access among the Cuban population. Around 25 percent of the Cuban population has access to the Internet, which is under strict surveillance and regulation by the government.  President Obama named new technological development one of his key ingredients of a successful recipe for new relations between the two countries.

New information and communication technologies (new ICTs) such as the Internet and mobile phones are considered by many to be instruments of democratization. The abundance of information online and the speed with which individuals can acquire, produce, and share information provides the potential for information penetrating the public sphere that is different from the state controlled media messages handed down by most authoritarian regimes.

While much of the focus regarding the impacts of new ICTs are democratic, the economic benefits of developing technological infrastructures in countries are numerous. These economic benefits are the driving factors for the Cuban and US governments to move past the longtime embargo. In the age of globalization, the economic advantages of technological development are too great for most authoritarian governments to ignore. Choosing isolation over technological development in a country increases the risk of falling behind economically.

Developing new ICT infrastructure for economic purposes, however, increases communication outlets and flows, presenting the possibility of democratic political socialization. This is known as the dictator’s dilemma, and described by the researchers Christopher Kedzie and Janni Aragon, who note “…economic efficiency and political efficacy are positively related to each other, and negatively related to authoritarian control.” That is, loosening control over media systems for economic gains increases the chances of sociopolitical change.

The dictator’s dilemma and the democratizing power of new ICTs have been popular topics among scholars and pundits, particularly relating to the protests and conflicts during the Arab Spring. But is there any empirical support for these phenomena? China is a country with a relatively vibrant Internet and mobile phone environment, but one that is heavily regulated and controlled by the government.

Beginning in the 1990s, the Chinese media opened up to commercialization. Many experts thought that the introduction of capital into the Chinese media system would erode governmental control over content. Ya-Wen Lei, a Junior Fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, produced an article regarding the attitudes of Internet users in China.

Lei’s article titled “The Political Consequences of the Rise of the Internet: Political Beliefs and Practices of Chinese Netizens,” appeared in the July-September 2011 edition of Political Communication. The term “Netizens” (Net Citizens) describes individuals who use the Internet as citizens of the world connected through the availability of the Internet.

In an effort to empirically test the political beliefs of Chinese citizens, Lei used the 2007 China World Value Survey. The population of the 2007 China World Value Survey included 1,576 Chinese citizens between the ages 18-70. The researcher sought to distinguish the beliefs of netizens, traditional media users, and non-media consumers. Individuals who accessed information from the Internet within the previous week of the survey were categorized as netizens. The study measured two variables pertaining to political beliefs and one regarding collective action.

Compared to traditional media users and non-media users, Chinese netizens were much more likely to be politically opinionated. Netizens in China were more likely to possess dissenting views, diverging from the traditional hegemonic political ideology in the country. “Specifically, they (netizens) are more likely to simultaneously embrace the norms of democracy, be more critical of the political conditions and the party-state, and be willing to engage in politics,” states Lei. In addition, netizens in China are more likely to have participated in collective political action.

Lei contends that given the commercial and technological advantages provided by the Internet, Chinese political elites could not pass on the opportunity to adapt if China was to continue its rise in the international hierarchy. Confident in their ability to control and manipulate the traditional media, the Chinese government likely assumed they could successfully control the Internet.

To be sure, the government in China is not likely at serious risk of overthrow by popular demand anytime soon. But the winds of societal change could be blowing. These changes in the Internet using population in China could provide a look at the forthcoming shifts in Cuba. The motivation of the US to open relations with Cuba, and Obama’s emphasis on increasing communication technologies, are likely more capitalistic than democratic. The US government does not require that a government be democratic in order to conduct business with it, as is evident by the historical record of close ties with and support of authoritarian governments by the United States. Nevertheless, a bi-product of increased access to the Internet and mobile phones in Cuba could very well contribute to raising democratic aspirations and collective action capabilities of Cuban citizens.

The near-future of disinformation war and geopolitics

Interesting and disturbing mediation on deepfakes, technology and international relations, from Foreign Affairs.

Deepfakes are the product of recent advances in a form of artificial intelligence known as “deep learning,” in which sets of algorithms called “neural networks” learn to infer rules and replicate patterns by sifting through large data sets. (Google, for instance, has used this technique to develop powerful image-classification algorithms for its search engine.) Deepfakes emerge from a specific type of deep learning in which pairs of algorithms are pitted against each other in “generative adversarial networks,” or GANS.

Inside the Wild West of influencer marketing

Appearance of authenticity of social media influencers’ product endorsements costs thousands, and trashing your competitors costs more. Wired does a deep dive.

Lotti recalls the investor saying that if she wanted Lashify to succeed, quality didn’t matter, nor did customer satisfaction—only influencers. And they didn’t come cheap. She was told to expect to shell out $50,000 to $70,000 per influencer just to make her company’s name known, an insane amount for a new startup. There was no way around it; that’s just how things worked.

The trust problem of cryptocurrency

intriguing story and helpful explainer:

…after much deliberation and hand-wringing, in the aftermath of a multimillion-dollar swindle from his automated, algorithm-driven, supposedly foolproof corporation, Vitalik Buterin, then 22 years old, announced the ‘hard fork’ of the cryptocurrency Ethereum. By making that announcement, Buterin shattered certain tightly held assumptions about the future of trust and the nature of many vital institutions that make modern life possible. He also really pissed off a lot of people.

Influencers are overrated

A team at Stanford finds reasons to question the effectiveness of targeting influencers to spread info.

While tackling this question, a team of Stanford researchers found a remarkable result: Simply seeding a few more people at random avoids the challenge of mapping a network’s contours and can spread information in a way that is essentially indistinguishable from cases involving careful analysis; seeding seven people randomly may result in roughly the same reach as seeding five people optimally. (The results are available in their online working paper, “Just a Few Seeds More: Value of Network Information for Diffusion.”) finds reason to question influencer effectiveness at spreading information…