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The End of Cyberspace

Were any kids named «cyberspace» or «TCP/IP» or «Compuserve»?

Would you name your child Nokia?

Ever since mobile phone services were introduced in KwaZulu-Natal some parents have named their children after some of the terms used by mobile services providers.

According to Home Affairs statistics some of the children born from 1993 when mobile services were introduced in the province (and the rest of SA) have the following names:

1. Network Madondo 2. Subscriber Zulu 3. Nokia Khumalo 4. Siemens Mdlalose 5. Motorola Buthelezi 6. Dial Magubane 7. Vodacom Mkhize 8. Call Later Ndlovu 9. Voicemail Ngobese 10 Simcard Makhathini 11 Scratchcard Mlaba 12 Talktime Luthuli 13 Send Ndebele 14 Paging Nyawose 15 Cellphone Mpungose 16 Message Gumede 17 SMS Mabaso 18 Phonebook Dlamini 19 Ringtone Khoza 20 MTN Shezi 21 Prepaid Zwane 22 Pay as you go Mfeka 23 Please Call Me Cetshwayo 24 Contract Mabaso 25 Charger Ngobese 26 Hands Free Tshabalala 27 Unavailable Masondo 28 Switchoff Mabuza 29 Sim-Rejected Hlongwane 30 Airtime Zwelithini 31 Internet Mthethwa

32 Server Mkhize

Obviously you can read this as a measure of the social or psychological importance of cellphones, though I think there’s also a tradition in southern Africa of adopting words from other languages into names.

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The End of Cyberspace

« August 2009 | Main | October 2009 »

15 posts from September 2009

  • «FutureNovo provides a forum and tools designed to promote foresight and dialog about future technology.» Yet another abortive Web 2.0, wiki-like project. What is about futures that makes us think these things should work? Clearly there’s some desire there, but why do these projects run aground?
  • Look at your computer setup and imagine that you hooked up a 3D printer. Instead of printing on bits of paper this 3D printer makes real, robust, mechanical parts. To give you an idea of how robust, think Lego bricks and you’re in the right area. You could make lots of useful stuff, but interestingly you could also make most of the parts to make another 3D printer. That would be a machine that could copy itself.

Hear, hear:

For almost two decades, when we imagined the future, we imagined ourselves tapped into cyberspace via our deck alongside Case, the protagonist in Neuromancer.

[To the tune of Alban Berg Quartet, «String Quartet Op.132 No.15 in A minor: III. Molto adagio,» from the album Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets (Disc 7) (I give it 5 stars).]

I suppose it was inevitable: coathangr, which describes itself as «social networking for your pants.» Less whimsically, it also says it’s a «social network for sharing fashion advice,» and finding people who share your fashion taste.

It would be interesting to see how the system is used. Does it actually encourages better fashion sense? Is it used maliciously by people giving intentionally bad fashion advice?

On a more serious note, this is a good example of what Jyri Engstrom calls «object-centered sociality:»

the term ‘social networking’ makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it’s not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term ‘social network.’ The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They’re not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That’s why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about ‘socio-material networks’, or just ‘activities’ or ‘practices’ (as I do) instead of social networks.

[To the tune of Alban Berg Quartet, «String Quartet Op.132 No.15 in A minor: I. Allegro sostenuto — Allegro,» from the album Beethoven: The Complete String Quartets (Disc 7) (I give it 5 stars).]

I seem to have an article in Disegno industriale 39. I can’t read it, but it seems to be there. Hooray!

[To the tune of The Police, «When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around,» from the album Message In A Box: The Complete Recordings (Disc 2) (I give it 3 stars).]

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  • «It is fair to say that Singapore recognises the need for decision-makers to prepare for the future. Our efforts to understand and plan for the future have evolved and improved over the years. Scenario planning is now a key part of the Government’s strategic planning process, and has proven useful in surfacing otherwise hidden assumptions and mental models about the world. More importantly, the scenario planning process has helped to inculcate an “anticipatory” mindset in many of our civil servants by getting them to raise “what if” questions on the issues that they deal with. Yet why do decision-makers, who have ready access to ample information, fail to respond to warning signals of imminent crises? Why, despite support from the public sector leadership, and years of scenario planning workshops, and with new tools like RAHS, are we still not fully adept in anticipating the future? How can government agencies better organise their strategic thinking about the future?»
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I seem to have an article in Disegno industriale 39. I can’t read it, but it seems to be there. Hooray!

[To the tune of The Police, «When The World Is Running Down, You Make The Best Of What’s Still Around,» from the album Message In A Box: The Complete Recordings (Disc 2) (I give it 3 stars).]

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The End of Cyberspace

There are a growing number of systems that push market price information to farmers, fishermen and ranchers who traditionally have had to either make a guess about where they should sell their goods, or sell to intermediaries. I just came across another one in the State Department’s eJournal:

The Armenian Agricultural Market Information System… distributes daily fruit and vegetable prices from the large city markets, using text messages sent over the country’s extensive cell phone network…. [F]armers pay a small fee for the service, allowing them to dial in a code to a market-specific phone number, which then triggers an automated text response from a central database of market information. This information puts [cucumber farmer Rafik] Smbatyan [and others] in a much better position to bargain with food wholesalers, improves his competitive position in the marketplace, and increases profits.

I always wonder what middlemen think of these systems, and how they’ve reacted to them. Have they provided actual value that these systems are in danger of undercutting, or they have merely arbitraged information?

And it’s actually a pretty nice-looking Web site. Even here in California it loads quickly. Did you know that green apples are selling today in Armavir for an average of 425? (I don’t know if that’s 425 per apple or per bushel, or even what you need 425 of to buy however many apples you can buy in Armavir, but— I know that’s how much, or many, you need. If you’re there.)

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Just over four years ago, Apple came out with the Mighty Mouse, its now-standard multi-button mouse with a scroll ball. I talked about the mouse as a canonical example of a device that is «easy to use,» but its evolution shows that the definition of «easy to use» changes a lot over time. The release of the Magic Mouse shows the same pattern: it’s a device that Apple is presenting as easy to use (and at the same time revolutionary), but its ease of use depends not on the permanent revolutionary genius of Steve & Co., but on the changing repertoire of user skills.

As I explained in a 2005 post, when it first appeared in the early 1980s,

the mouse was a total novelty, and anything with more than one button required users to think and make decisions. In contrast, in an age of Game Boy, Playstation, Treo, Blackberry, and the cell phone (not to mention multibutton mice on Wintel machines), kids can look at a device with four buttons and a scroll ball and think, «Hey, that’s easy to use.» To me, the best indicator of just how far the goal-posts that define ease of use have moved is the now-pervasive use of thumb buttons on mice. Doug Engelbart wanted to put more than three buttons on his mouse, but couldn’t figure out how; apparently they didn’t think of putting them on the side of the mouse, under the thumb.

What this tells us is that while the concept of «ease of use» is wonderful, and to be encouraged at all times, just what constitutes ease of use will change over time. It’s not some unchanging Platonic ideal; it varies and evolves over time, and is defined by a community’s exposure to earlier technologies, levels of mechanical or physical skill, and a bunch of other factors.

The Magic Mouse represents another example of practices that now define «easy to use» but were once obscure. The top surface of the mouse is one big multitouch area, like an iPhone or iPod Touch: there’s no physical button, and instead the surface identifies certain zones as the equivalent of a left button, right button, etc.. You can also do two-fingered swiping.

Before the appearance of the iPhone and other devices with haptic interfaces, the physical vocabulary of swiping, of having zones on a device that changed their function depending on what program was being used or what mode you’re in, would have been alien and confusing. Now, no longer. It’s another section in the secret history of physical skill that’s part of the history of computing (and which we still don’t pay enough attention to).

[To the tune of John Coltrane, «Sun Ship,» from the album The Classic Quartet — The Complete Impulse! Studio Recordings (I give it 3 stars).]

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(Notes from Mobile Mash-Up 2007. As usual, these are my notes, for what they’re worth.)

Moderator: Serena Glover, Tango Matthew Rothenberg, Flickr. Jessica Alter, Bebo.

Kevin Yen, YouTube.

SG: Where do you see communities going? Broader with less depth, lots of focused communities, what?

MR: People tell stories through photographs; we’re enabling that. JA: The purpose of most networks is to facilitate self-expression. People go to Flickr to interact, but also to express themselves: they say things, and have people to say them to.

KY: Groups within Flickr are forming around specific interests; we provide breadth, and let people create their own depth.

SG: How will open APIs change the nature of communities? Good, bad, change the value proposition?

KY: The cool opportunity is to develop one app that works across several platforms, eliminating versioning work (which «is a big drag on creativity»). Little apps may clutter the experience. JA: We’re surprised by what people turn out to like. Multiplatform development is good for developers. Downsides: something like Open Social probably won’t be as deep as the applications developed for Facebook; user experience can be diluted and made more confusing by a proliferation of apps; you’ve got to give up some control.

MR: Flickr was built on open APIs, and they’ve always wanted to make it as easy as possible to move data into and out of the service. Open APIs don’t excuse us from having to moderate and watch what these APIs do, or what people do on them: if application developers subvert the tacit social contract between Flickr and its users, then we’ve got to step in.

JA: Needs to be a real focus on the user experience. Mobile «is an inherently different beast than the Web.» (What differentiates genuinely mobile networks from ones that have a mobile portal?) KY: Utility is obviously very important, and people will be willing to trade a measure of convenience or ease of use for functionality. MR: Interaction of mobility with social interaction sites: ease of accessing or creating content. «The next generation is creating services that augment your experience in the real world.» Most current services are about taking you away from your social context, but social context matters immensely for mobile phone use.

JA: Mobile phones matter a lot more than PCs in other parts of the world: you’ve gotta pay attention to that.

SG: Do you think existing communities will jump to mobile?

KY: «Flash communities» of people who are in the same event— like this conference. From taking pictures to live streaming media.
JA: Mobile social networks have a Web component; you’ve got to design for both. «Taking your real life and creating a mobile experience» around it will be really important.

SG: Web communities are global, and users play a big role shaping those communities and their norms. Will mobile communities be more local, or have other kinds of social norms than obtain in Web communities?

KY: In YouTube, we’re still learning: for a long time it was all in English, and we’re starting to localize in the UK, Japan, and elsewhere. Even still, a huge amount of the traffic goes to the U.S.
MR: Flickr has been a global site since the beginning, and we’re trying to figure out how to make it possible for users to group and wall themselves off when they really want to— or protect themselves from things they consider objectionable.

Technorati Tags: community, end of cyberspace, Mobile Mash-Up 2007, mobility, social software, Web 2.0

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  • «Progress, whether scientific, economic, or social, is driven by innovation – which serves to produce a diversity of ideas – and imitation through a social network – which serves to diffuse these ideas. In this paper, we construct an agent-based computational model of this process, in which the agents in the population are heterogeneous in their abilities to innovate and imitate. The model incorporates the three primary forces: the discovery of new ideas by those with superior abilities to innovate, the observation and adoption of the ideas of others by those with superior abilities to communicate and imitate, and the endogenous development of social networks among heterogeneous agents. The objective is to explore the evolving architecture of social networks and the critical roles that the innovators and imitators play in the process.»
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The End of Cyberspace

« May 2009 | Main | July 2009 »

9 posts from June 2009

  • «The uncertainty of a software development effort estimate can be indicated through a prediction interval (PI), i.e., the estimated minimum and maximum effort corresponding to a specific confidence level. For example, a project manager may be “90% confident” or believe that is it “very likely” that the effort required to complete a project will be between 8000 and 12,000 work-hours. This paper describes results from four studies (Studies A–D) on human judgement (expert) based PIs of software development effort. Study A examines the accuracy of the PIs in real software projects. The results suggest that the PIs were generally much too narrow to reflect the chosen level of confidence, i.e., that there was a strong over-confidence.»
  • Bibliography of Roger Buehler.
  • Planning, personality, and prediction
  • «The present studies examined cognitive processes underlying the tendency to underestimate project completion times. Two experiments tested the hypothesis that people generate overly optimistic predictions, in part, because they focus narrowly on their future plans for the target task and thus neglect other useful sources of information. Consistent with the hypothesis, instructing participants to adopt a »future focus»-in which they generated concrete, specific plans for the task at hand-led them to make more optimistic predictions about when they would complete their intended Christmas shopping (Study 1) and major school assignments (Study 2). The future focus manipulation did not have a corresponding effect on actual completion times, and thus increased the degree of optimistic bias in prediction. The studies also demonstrated that the optimistic prediction bias generalized across different task domains, relevant individual differences… and other contextual variations.»

Paul Miller has an interesting piece in The Independent on government and cyberspace:

The relationship between government and the internet has always been tense. “Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel”, typed John Perry Barlow in 1996, “your legal concepts of property, expression, identity, movement, and context do not apply to us. They are all based on matter and there is no matter here.”

His Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace spread quickly among the libertarian digerati of the time. For those who craved a space over which governments could have no influence, it was an appealing idea. They also believed that the internet age would herald an era when decentralised technology could do away with the need for government at all.

John Perry Barlow and his friends, of course, were wrong. The internet hasn’t swept away government, neither has the internet completely escaped government intervention… But we’re still just at the beginning of understanding the relationship between government and the ways that the internet can help deliver public goods – sometimes through government itself and sometimes through new lightweight public service start-ups. As we attempt to understand what might be possible, we need to replace Barlow’s black or white ‘cyberspace versus government’ with a new understanding of the way that online tools could help us to live the lives we want to lead….

What Meetup and the hundreds of other online businesses that facilitate real world activity show is that the real power of the net in the future won’t be about information or content – although that’s what we use it for mainly these days – its real power is organisation away from the computer itself. The most successful services will be those with a ‘Why Don’t You’ ethic, which encourages us away from the screen and to be active participants in the world outside….

There was a time when digital technologies were about a new space, detached from the physical. The digerati took William Gibson’s word ‘cyberspace’ and made it their own. This was a place where the pioneers would be safe from governments or corporations or anybody impinging upon their freedom. It didn’t quite turn out like that. Actually, there’s no such thing as cyberspace. Cyberspace is dead. But I don’t think we should mourn it because what we should be working on is much more exciting. What we’ve realised is that the power of the internet is in changing the real world.

Those last three sentences summarize about half of my book.

  • «Progress, whether scientific, economic, or social, is driven by innovation – which serves to produce a diversity of ideas – and imitation through a social network – which serves to diffuse these ideas. In this paper, we construct an agent-based computational model of this process, in which the agents in the population are heterogeneous in their abilities to innovate and imitate. The model incorporates the three primary forces: the discovery of new ideas by those with superior abilities to innovate, the observation and adoption of the ideas of others by those with superior abilities to communicate and imitate, and the endogenous development of social networks among heterogeneous agents. The objective is to explore the evolving architecture of social networks and the critical roles that the innovators and imitators play in the process.»
  • «In the coming years communication chips will routinely be embedded in a great number and variety of everyday objects. Also, ever more segments in the world surrounding us become tagged with digital information. In what ways, from the point of view of the social sciences and philosophy, will the pattern of life change when ubiquitous communication extends to our inanimate environment when information exchange, and the coordination of activities, involves not only person-to-person connections, but also person-to-object, object-to-person, and indeed object-to-object ones? It is to be expected that philosophical notions like tool, agent, and even consciousness, will undergo radical changes.»
  • «Do you ever get sick of your phone ringing? What about Facebook fatigue? Does Twitter sometimes give you stress headaches, making you occasionally wish you could just yank the plug on your online life?

    «Well, you’re not alone, according to a recent report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, a nonprofit research group in Washington.

    «The report, written by John Horrigan, the project’s associate director of research, says 7 percent of Americans use the Internet as their primary means of social communication and also feel conflicted about that fact. These online social network users, which Horrigan calls «ambivalent networkers,» are so connected they feel like they can’t quit.»

  • «Among older people who went online last year, the number visiting social networks grew almost twice as fast as the overall rate of Internet use among that group, according to the media measurement company comScore. But now researchers who focus on aging are studying the phenomenon to see whether the networks can provide some of the benefits of a group of friends, while being much easier to assemble and maintain.»
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  • «Forward Engagement ® is a concept designed to describe a process of thinking systematically about complex, interactive, and longer-range issues in a way that is applicable to public policy.»
  • «This site contains information and tools for foresighting activities, specializing on society and technology issues. It also serves as part of my external digital brain and memory. The Futurist Databaseblog contains latest news (and news archives since 2007) about new technologies, scientific discussions, society, politics and ELSI issues in English, German and Dutch.»
  • «[T]he thesis is an account of the work I undertook in developing a new method for scenario-building — though in fact, the method, as it developed, ended up closer to causal layered analysis than to scenario planning. (The term «methodology» here refers to the procedure I used for developing the scenario method.) For those working in the area of foresight, the method developed may be a useful alternative to the standard scenario planning process. Compared with the common scenario planning approaches, Scenario Network Mapping (SNM for short) is designed to be easier to do by non-experts, more flexible, and more suitable for small organizations, industries, and regions. It involves four half-day workshops, plus some preliminary and follow-up work. However, it requires the participation of a very wide range of stakeholders.»
  • «Today’s societal developments are often influenced by improbable events with possibly high impact. This increasing complexity and uncertainty is reflected in the growing demand for tools and approaches for anticipatory or strategic intelligence, such as scenario analyses, Delphi surveys and modelling and simulation tools…. Often important events are preceded by a number of weak signals, that individually have been observed and noticed by different people, but not been put together to a larger picture. This means that often only from hindsight pieces of the puzzle are put together. This project, Scanning for Emerging Science and Technology Issues (SESTI), aims at further understanding the way these weak signals can be identified and collected. Furthermore, by collecting weak signals from different sources and people, this project aims to enable and facilitate the sense-making process early enough for policy to be prepared and react in advance.»