Future of Authority: Understanding McLuhan

07/14/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

As the 100th birthday of Marshall McLuhan approaches we will take time as part of our broader investigation into the future of authority to examine one of the world's foremost authorities on media and technology.

Equally controversial and misunderstood, the rise of the so called patron saint of technology is just as interesting as the ideas he shared, both shaping our understanding of media, and the impact of technology upon society.

What exactly was Marshall McLuhan trying to say decades ago that can help us understand our own present? If he were alive today what would he think of social media and the web as we know it? How has his notion of a global village framed our own experiences with glocalization (i.e. the fusion of the local and the global)? What were his influences, and who has he (not) influenced? Is the medium really the message?

We'll address these questions and more in this week's seminar. Participation is open to subscribers only. Please contact us to subscribe.

Is Internet Access a Human Right?

07/07/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

In a landmark report issued last month, the United Nations has declared Internet access to be a human right and come out swinging against attempts by states and private actors to curb freedom of expression online. Authored by special rapporteur Frank LaRue, and described by The Atlantic as a "tip of the hat to Wikileaks and its campaign for transparency", the report is nothing less than scathing in its assessment of a number of online trends, including Obama's war against whistleblowers, Facebook's real name requirement and aggressive intellectual property laws that criminalize users and allow governments to seize foreign domain names.

Coming both in the wake of the Arab Spring -- in which online communication played a vital role -- and at a time when online censorship and filtering is creeping steadily westward, LaRue's writing is refreshingly radical. However, it raises a number of important questions, not the least of which is whether the report will be heeded. Will governments be willing to take a U-turn in their policy making, or will this simply be another example of the impotency of the UN?

As well, how do we begin to conceive of the Internet as a universal human right? After all, bandwith, infrastructure, regulatory regimes, market structures and literacies -- all terms that could be lumped under the umbrella of "access" -- vary tremendously as one moves across the globe. Also, it is even sensible to declare Internet access a right when so many other "rights" -- including clean water and sanitation -- are not being met in many parts of the global south?

McLuhan 100 : The City That Made McLuhan @ Toronto Reference Library

07/18/2011 18:30
07/18/2011 20:30
Canada/Eastern

Toronto Reference Library, The Appel Salon
789 Yonge St.
90 minute discussion

This is one of three events Metaviews is participating in for the McLuhan 100.

What role did Toronto play in Marshall McLuhan's understanding of media and how were we affected in return? Hosted by CBC Technology Columnist Jesse Hirsh.

This event is the first part of a series of three Monday Night Seminars that celebrate Marshall McLuhan and his legacy. The series is part of a city-wide celebration of the centenary of McLuhan's birth. For more events, visit www.mcluhan100.ca

Tickets are required for admission to all Appel Salon events. Tickets are free, and are available online at torontopubliclibrary.ca/appelsalon, starting four weeks before the event, unless otherwise noted.

Note: Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Join us for a drink at a cash bar reception starting at 6:30 pm.

For more information about the event click here.

To order free tickets online click here.

Sellsumers, Micro-Transactions, and the Social Economy

06/30/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

The traditionally passive identity of the consumer is slowly but steadily shifting into more active forms, encouraged and enticed by social media and online networks. In particular the notion of a "sellsumer" is gaining traction as individuals start realizing the value of their personal information and their ability to command attention.

For example consumers are able to gain money or discounts by filling out surveys or providing market research relating to their consumptive habits. In spending their time saturated by advertising they also understand how powerful attention is and embrace advertising as a means of earning more income. While this is most visible via wrapper ads adorned on automobiles, it's also popping up in the form of ads within auto-replies, people trying to cash-in while on vacation.

What might the impact be if this phenomena were combined with the rise of micro-transactions? Social media for example extends this kind of micro-advertising and micro-sponsorship to the individual level, could the rewards for such activity also become possible? As gamers begin to understand the virtual labour they invest in a game, can micro-transactions provide a means of payment or remuneration?

Techno Utopias: Computers and Their Impact on Culture

06/16/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

As 2011 has progressed we have seen events and trends that suggest computers are on the verge of changing the world for the better. The Arab Spring has certainly given pause to cynics about the power of communications technology to organize real insurrections against the status quo. In the West writers, marketers and academics like Jane McGonigol have looked to videogames and the trend of gamification to give an edge to businesses and even save the world.

But this is nothing new. Techno-Utopians for quite a while have influenced our day-to-day lives in ways we probably have never considered. Three weeks ago the first episode of Adam Curtis' new documentary series aired, titled All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. In three parts Curtis tracks how it is machines - computers - that have dominated and framed how we see the world now, for quite a while. The connections begin with Ayn Rand's radical objectivism bleeding its way into the libertarian's of Silicon vally, who begin to build computers with ability to provide "perfect" feedback that would stabilize the markets and therefore break the cycle of overproduction that has always plagued capitalism. Utopians in the 1970s commune movements began to see themselves as computers; systems of individuals who, through feedback from their peers, would live in perfect harmony with each other.

As we know, these utopian visions did not come to pass. In 2007 the market overproduced housing and credit and crashed, despite the hedge funds and the computer models. The communes failed, in large part due to massive power imbalances between men and women. Their failure, to Curtis, exemplifies how power doesn't dissipate when computers enter the mix, or when we begin to see ourselves as computers. Power is always there, and the people who know how to wield it will still set the agenda.

Future of Authority Mid-Term Report

06/23/2011 16:00
Canada/Eastern

In December of 2010 we began our first major research project, examining the future of authority. After six months we're ready to deliver the project's mid-term report.
The goal of this project is to investigate how authority is changing in the network age. How is it established, how is it maintained, how is it legitimized? Is a new form of authority emerging? How can and should authority react to dissidents and opposition?
As social upheaval and discontent with government spreads across the Middle East and Northern Africa, doing so in a consciously networked, internet-oriented way, we begin to wonder about the implications for North America, South America, Europe, and Asia, places that are even more networked and have broader online access. With this report we examine the implications of the internet as a challenge to and the legitimization of authority.

Hacking the Kinect and Augmented Reality

06/09/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

The success of Microsoft's Kinect camera quickly transcended the world of gaming and captured the attention of hackers and researchers eager to see what is possible with this low priced yet highly capable device. While the field of augmented reality has been slow to take off, will the Kinect help propel the genre into the mainstream by bringing the idea into town squares and public spaces? Whether living room, dorm room, or board room, the Kinect is capturing a lot of attention and in this seminar we will take a closer look.

Microsoft has already announced their plans for the next version of the Kinect, including the ability to interpret audio and be controlled via voice commands. Plans to combine this functionality with their Bing search engine and the Windows operating system means that early hacks to turn the Kinect into a kind of navigational device have already trickled back up to be included as core functionality.

Further, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via the company Nuvixa have combined their "ZD" technology to the Kinect to create what they refer to as "StagePresence" which seamlessly and automatically creates a green-screen like augmented reality. The Z in ZD refers to the z axis, i.e. depth, which is the key feature of the Kinect camera. Does their notion of Z-Definition create a new platform for real time interaction with signs and advertising?

What other applications are those playing and hacking with the Kinect coming up with? How can "ZD" and similar emerging augmented reality protocols be used for creative and functional purposes? As we add depth to our video what sort of interactions can be derived? Can this depth perception be used for measurement and not just interaction?

The Future of Authority: Bitcoin and Alternative Currencies

06/02/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

Bitcoin is a 2 year old electronic currency that is taking the internet by storm. It combines the basic economic concept of scarcity = value, and that cryptographic operations are computationally expensive. Hundreds of businesses accept them as payment online, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation now accepts donations in BTC. The current global market is worth approx. $US 50M+ at current exchange rates, with over $5M USD traded on May 26th, increasing exponentially as Bitcoin goes viral.

The coins are generated and transactions verified by participants' computation with increasing difficulty over time. Already supplies of cheaper older computer gaming graphics cards (more efficient per watt than a CPU) are running out and there's a run on newer models. There is talk about custom ASICs (chips) fabricated to generate coins more efficiently - would Intel one day cash in, or the US Nat'l Security Agency compute an attack on the market with their supercomputers? Unlikely, say supporters - currently the computational power of the market is beyond the aggregate of the top 500 supercomputers in the world.

With a huge gap in a micro-payment solutions for the net (Paypal notwithstanding), can a libertarian-friendly currency - backed by no entity or commodity other than mere collective community fiat and a strong cryptographic algorithm - replace traditional paper-based currency? Bitcoin claims to be not easily manipulated, tracked or otherwise regulated by any government - presenting the ultimate in anonymous cash with instant micropayment capabilities transiting no middleman or costing any tangible transaction fee. This is fundamentally different from electronic payments with existing currencies in the digital economy - Bitcoin is an entirely new currency.

Privacy and the Social Web

05/26/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

While the web continues to deliver a new world of wonders, the one persistent and pervasive problem is the ongoing erosion of our privacy. The social web is opening up new frontiers for data to find its way from private hands into the public. Whether this is voluntary, or involuntary, it is foisting a new era of transparency onto a society that so far seems entirely unprepared.

The reality is that in spite of our general euphoria and embrace of social media we do still value privacy both personally and organizationally. Indeed most organizations are nowhere near ready to operate under the type of scrutiny and transparency that public officials are now subject to. Wikileaks as a cultural phenomena may represent a watershed of corporate information that will start to be leaked either as a public service, or just to disrupt and sabotage.

Privacy therefore is ripe for a rebound, along with a re-assessment of how we can protect and pursue the values associated with it. The notion of privacy-by-design speaks to the need to integrate privacy considerations into the heart of a product, service, or process, rather than appending it as if it were a nuisance one has to adhere to. Yet the expected expansion of data retention laws also makes it difficult to protect this privacy when massive pools of data are mandated into existence.

The Browser Wars

05/19/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

With the announcement and imminent release of the Google ChromeBook the coming of age of the browser is upon us, as the rise of HTML5 is helping to propel the browser into a new era of versatility and power.

Yet while Google may have the speed, the other challengers for framing our internet experience also have unique qualities to offer. Firefox powered by Mozilla has a strong, long term community-centric approach that has already provided some interesting mobile opportunities. Microsoft's recent purchase of skype can only help explorer especially when it comes to mobile browsing. Further Safari and Opera should also not be counted out, along with many others who always have a chance to play spoiler by finding a niche or feature by which to gain attention and users.

In this seminar we'll address both the role of the browser, but also it's potential. We'll look at the various contenders and platforms that exist, as well as the growing ecosystem of applications and add-ons that significantly augment their capability. Does the Chrome operating system offer a new mode of computing or is it just a web browser that limits the traditional power of the desktop user? What potential is there for the mobile browser to emulate if not replace more costlier mobile applications? What are the limits and security considerations that arise from using a web browser as the be all and end all?

Future of Authority: Persuasion vs Dialogue

05/12/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

Today, maybe more than ever, persuasion forms a core component in the operation of our daily lives. At the core of this is the question of “what is truth?” Every substantive argument attempts to lead us to truth using persuasion. Sometimes it is subtle, sometimes less so.

Each day we are propositioned by the advertising that attempts to persuade us of the truth of timeless styles and unrivalled utility. Telecommunications lobbyists attempt to persuade politicians about the truth of usage based billing or net-neutrality. Environmentalists and scientists attempt to persuade a sceptical public about harsh realities of climate change. All the while on message boards, chat clients and through text messaging, people are rabidly debating these things every day in a swirl of discourse.

Yet in the search for truth about all sorts of problems, there is the spectre of cognitive dissonance. In the age of “truthiness” do facts matter anymore? What does it take to persuade people today, especially in the face of information overload? What do activists, business leaders and politicians need to make good decisions, and how do people persuade them to do so? What technologies can aid or enhance persuasion, and what technologies inhibit it?

Electronic Learning and Online Collaboration

05/05/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

We often take for granted the extent to which the internet as a whole has transformed the way we work and the way we learn. This is especially true for those of us who have been online for almost two decades, evolving with the tools and services to develop new ways of adapting and collaborating.

As we've held our teleseminars over the past several months we've experimented with a number of tools and platforms, while also reflecting on the habits and expectations we've developed when communicating with others via the internet. This week we'd like to take some time to reflect on what we've seen, what we'd like to see, and focus the discussion around the future of electronic learning and online collaboration.

For example what role does literacy play as a prerequisite for effective online learning? What kind of skills should be nurtured so as to enable online collaboration amongst a diverse constituency or range of participants? What tools exist for enabling e-learning, and to what extent is social media augmenting, improving, or replacing these tools? Are there exercises or formats that are more conducive to online learning and co-operation? What lessons and insights can be appropriated from the agile development model? Can online learning and virtual meetings improve the productivity and efficiency of organizations and enterprises?

Manipulating the Media: Social Media and the News Business

04/28/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

The potential influence of social media is often cited as a primary draw for users to the medium, but as Canada's federal election nears a close we'll host a discussion on how social media can and does influence news coverage. Whether the story is about politics, business, culture or sports, the time spent staring at social media seems to be having an effect on how coverage is shaped and even delivered.

The impact of the new media upon the news business has been studied quite closely, yet the role of transparency often serves to limit discussion on manipulation as the general assumption is that eventually any abuse will emerge and stand out due to the widespread scrutiny. However is that actually the case, or is the subtle and effective influence wielded via social media so pervasive that we've grown numb to its presence rather than remain watchful for the wielding of new tricks and tactics.

Future of Authority: Free and Open Source

04/21/2011 13:00
Canada/Eastern

As part of our ongoing research into the future of authority this seminar will examine the role of free and open source culture in shaping the broader social fabric of the internet economy. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Linux software project and the rest of the "FOSS" world is relatedly reaching significant milestones of maturity and stability. Yet the impact of free and open source as a culture goes beyond software and shapes much of the framework and success that many internet centric organizations embody.

Walking this path is often a byproduct of using free and open source technology. Whether operating system or web browser, the environmental effect of being a user of open source, or even further a member of an open source community, is incredibly beneficial when it comes to understanding how best to engage our world. Rarely is there a promotional vehicle for free and open source, the onus is largely upon the individual or organization to understand how they can and should benefit from the genre.

Similarly the free and open source movement has developed and generously offered not only software and technology but also a governance model that has enabled the formation and maintenance of legitimate authorities. Yet while these models of governance are perhaps without equal, they are still problematic, as they generally fail to introduce democratic accountability.

Political Games

National Post GeoPollster ARGDuring this week's Metaviews teleseminar I was informed about the existence of The National Post's GeoPollster, a foursquare style political Alternate Reality Game whose main goal is to increase voter turnout and interest in Canadian politics. I was immediately interested.

This is because for the most part the political parties, civil society groups and mainstream journalists in Canada seem uninterested, or unable, to use new media effectively. Sure each party uses Twitter and Facebook, but they do so badly. Earlier today Luke described how Micheal Ignatieff's Twitter kept pumping out status updates during this week's debate – effectively undermining the personal nature of social media. Iggy's Twitter was effectively a simulacrum of the real Iggy.

So if the political parties can barely understand how to use Twitter effectively, what hope is there for them to use videogames well? Not much.

This is to their detriment however, because videogames are ideally suited to political tasks. This is because they can engage in procedural rhetoric – something I have discussed at length before. Procedural rhetoric uses what computers do best – run procedures – to engage in arguments about how the world works. It helps that politics is all about ideology, which videogames happen to be excellent at expressing.

Ian Bogost in his book Persuasive Games says that “Political videogames use procedural rhetorics to expose how political structures operate, or how they fail to operate, or how they could or should operate.”