Politics and Technology of Control: Introduction

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January 24

The Net has great potential for “good” (e.g. innovation, economic growth, education, and access to information), and likewise is a great platform for the bawdy, tawdry and illegal. Is this platform about fundamental social, political and economic change, or about easier access to pornography, cheap pharmaceuticals, free music and poker at home? This question leads us to a host of interesting issues that weave their way through the course related to openness, access, regulatory control, free speech, anonymity, intellectual property rights, democracy, transparency, norms and values, economic and cultural change, and cyber-terrorism, as well as scamsters and thieves.

Preparation (Assignment "Zero")

  • Reflect on what you believe are the most significant social, cultural, political or economic changes associated with the spread of digital technologies?

In a few sentences, please offer 2-3 examples in the Class Discussion section below and be prepared to discuss them during class.


Optional Readings

Videos Watched in Class

Class Discussion

The most significant changes and challenges brought on by digital technologies.

What comes to mind immediately is the use of Twitter and Facebook with regards to the Arab Springs and Occupy movements. Economically, the 2010 "flash crash" and dynamics behind with regards to global economies are of significance. Also, as cloud computing is becoming more abundant, I wonder what role it will play with regards to this spectrum. Mvalerio 21:40, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

With the spread of digital technologies there have been many changes in the social, cultural, political and economic aspects in the world. For example, in the social aspect, the necessity to be with others has been decreasing over time due to social media and smart devices. It comes to mind the now popular image of a group of people being together in a table but chatting in their smart phones, or the number of friends one can have from other countries. Likewise, in the political field we can say that the Internet propitiated the Arab Spring, helping countries in the Middle East like Egypt, Morocco and Libya to fight against their leaders. Finally, we have seen a cultural change in how people get informed and interpret information; before the digital technologies were part of our lives, people read only the local newspapers, but now people can read foreign newspapers, magazines, blogs and different sources of information, and judge by themselves whether inside their countries the news are being properly transmitted or not.Fabiancelisj 19:21, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

Please remember to sign your postings by adding four tildes (~~~~) to the end of your contribution. This will automatically add your username and the date/time of your post, like so: RobF 14:15, 15 January 2012 (UTC)

The largest changes I see are in expectations and perceptions of the world, especially resulting from the amount of, and lack of standardization and quality controls on information available. I will use the hypothetical example of a car company to illustrate: Because there is so much information available on this hypothetical car company, anything that happens, whether good or bad, has the potential to be widely publicized. Let's say they have a part that failed on some cars, and instituted a recall. In the past, if this was a small issue, it could be done quietly. With the easy access to information, what was previously a small recall, only impacting a few customers (inevitable with such a complex product), it may make big news. Or it may go unnoticed in the flood of information available, even if it was in reality, rather serious. If a potential customer is trying to decide on a car to buy, they may learn of this recall, and have second thoughts. This may be for legitimate reasons, or it may be something that is not the company's fault, and possibly other companies the customer is considering may even be much worse. But, seeing this safety recall, and becoming concerned, the potential customer may now purchase a car from a competitor. The information in an improper context may give the customer a false impression. It may also be something that is not normally considered important. A dashboard gizmo may be something most car companies don't normally consider as important, and doesn't undergo as rigorous as testing. A simple recall, and the problem is a non-issue safety wise. But that's not how the customer perceives it. A similar example can be found in employers screening job applicants with a web search. If there are say, embarrassing photos found of the applicant at a party in college, this may seriously harm the applicant's chances. All the while, the other 4 applicants may have even worse pictures, but they simply don't come up to the top of the search results. These types of possibilities change both how we perceive the world, and what we expect out of entities in the world, because of the mere possibility of data being discovered. BlakeGeno 19:18, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

I think digital technologies' most significant effects so far have included fundamentally altering how people view themselves w/r/t society as a whole. Previously people viewed themselves as either being recognized or ignored by media that monopolized the civic discourse on many levels, now there are plenty of platforms for people to present themselves and be legitimated on their own terms. Tools and platforms for creating and distributing art (movies, music, podcasts etc.) certainly play a role in that, but so have social networking platforms, where folks can connect with other like-minded people and coordinate brick and mortar, face-to-face interactions (movie screenings, lectures, art shows, discussion groups, etc.)David Taber 04:12, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

Despite the assigned articles we just read about some of the ways governments try to limit online activity and sharing, to me the most significant changes brought about by the spread of digital technologies are all related to freedom of information and the vast amount of information now accessible. This has political implications in both huge and radical ways (like the way Twitter is used as a organizing tool in many of the Arab Spring movements) and in smaller ways that fit within existing political structures but empower the average person much more (with the internet, I can check any American Senator's voting record, write a letter directly to my congresswoman, etc.). It also has cultural and social implications in the way ideas spread and are shared and altered. Regardless of where you are born or living, you can find people who hold almost any political/social/cultural/religious views online somewhere, and make that your primary community, rather than the one you physically live in. The sheer amount of information and connectedness made possible by the spread of digital technology are at the heart of most major changes based off that technology. AlexLE 16:34, 23 January 2012 (UTC)

Freedom. Users have the ability to post any piece of information they wish using digital technologies. This platform is free and happens in real time causing an immediate impact. Put to good use these, digital technologies such as Twitter can connect high school friends in a matter of minutes. Likewise, the same communication method could be used to post a video bullying classmates for being different. The impact of both situations is immediate and with real consequences. The question remains how much policing is necessary to continue maintaining an accessible environment. HopeS 17:15, 23 January 2012 (UTC)

"Perfect enforcement" by the government utilizing the internet and the growing number of tethering devices is a an area of interest of mine. One would be wise to question the extent to which we are likely to be monitored by the government, knowingly or unknowingly, as technology grows. In addition, I am also interested in the drastic political change that social media is capable of spurring. I am interested in learning more about the extent to which governments may be involved, now and in the future. Lastly, I would like to explore potential innovative educational opportunities that may be created in developing nations with the advent of virtual classrooms and online academies. Cfleming27 22:34, 23 January 2012 (UTC)

The Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace treats the internet as if it were a public good. However, it does not consider that the Internet is not free and therefore it can and will be regulated to a certain extent. Governments will seek to regulate the Internet on some issues, while corporations that subsidize news, Web content, and even access - via mobile devices will censor the net on other issues. The remaining "free space" of the Internet and pressure that the public at large can apply to advertisers and commercial interests that build out the infrastructure access to the web, is the space that will be left over for this utopian "social contract" that will enforce Web behavior. Demands for increased access and less regulation will be met with the challenges of governments and entities that will provide that infrastructure, perhaps shaping the Internet in a very different way, and this is what I see as the next big challenge of the digital age. ˜˜˜˜ Rberk2012 20:27 January 23, 2012

I believe the most significant change brought forth by the internet has been the globalization of the marketplace. First, firms now have the capacity to do business without any real barriers, and in real-time. A small business in Germany, for instance, can now conduct business with a small business in the United States. Communication barriers have been eliminated. Firms can communicate with each other cost-effectively and immediately through things like Skype/VOIP and email. This also holds true for the business-to-customer relationship with the substantial role eCommerce plays for the majority of the population. Secondly, I believe the dissemination of information is another significant change. Questions and curiosities that may have taken a vast amount of personal time and research can now be accessed almost instantaneously via a cell phone with apps like Wikipedia. Similarly, one can even attend school without ever stepping foot into a classroom. JeffKimble 02:10, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

With digital technologies, access to information is available for everyone to access immediately. This can have both positive and negative consequences, depending on your vantage point. Consider WikiLeaks.org: For the government, it represents a gross breach of national security, but for concerned citizens, such organizations provide a public service, forcing the government to be more transparent. This raises a number of important questions regarding freedom of speech, privacy, regulatory controls, and even third parties on the web that host or store popular/unpopular content on their servers. Who has the authority to say what content is appropriate for public consumption? Anyone with access to the internet can publish anything they want, and unlike WikiLeaks, may make no attempt at redacting sensitive material. As Zittrain points out, the internet was designed to be “generative”; it was created to “accept any contribution”. Should the government have the power to censor such content, even if it stored outside of U.S. jurisdiction? If so, where does this censorship end? Joymiller 02:14, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

Instant consumption of accessible information in an international context. Users have the ability to obtain as well as post unfiltered real-time data through an assortment of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. As the speed of information increases through these media sources, it becomes more difficult to verify the legitimacy of these sites. Readers must process the unfiltered information analytically and are obligated to perform own due diligence. Big business and government have acknowledged the use of social media as a tool to create a more efficient marketing plan through sentiment analysis. Szakuto 02:36, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

I am very interested in the digital divide from generational, economic, and geographic perspectives. When I was living in South Africa, the impact of slow, unreliable, and expensive Internet controlled by an entrenched monopoly had a very noticeable effect on my organization's ability to meet international expectations and on the degree to which people were willing and able to interact with new technologies. As certain regions blaze ahead digitally, it seems that other regions will only fall further behind the rapidly increasing expectations for connectivity, productivity, and innovation. I’m reminded of a section of Paul Collier’s The Bottom Billion (which I admittedly haven’t read recently so apologies for mangling this) where he discusses a window in the the 1970s where Africa had an opportunity to be competitive with Asia in manufacturing and the textile industry but, missing its opportunity, was unable to find a competitive toehold later resulting in severe economic ramifications. I’m interested in exploring how disparities in opportunity and access can be addressed and how the egalitarian, democratic ideals of many Internet users can be leveraged to reach out to people who are currently excluded from the system. Aditkowsky 02:48, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

The most significant changes brought on by digital technologies have been the increased ease-of-access to information around the world, the result of which has been a domino effect still taking place. The transfer of technology that is studied in economics, where a lesser developed country gains from the investment of a richer one, is taking place in the form of the spread of information around the world. This mass transfer has triggered milestone events in academics, economics, science and government. Significant challenges that may come from these rapidly developing technologies will be a divide on the interpretation of what they were developed for ("social" news vs traditional news media) and ultimately if they can be used to improve the quality of life for the majority of people. Brendanlong 02:50, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

It is my understanding that the most significant changes that digital technologies brought on us, is how we access information we are looking for. In the past, we relied on books and libraries to provide us with any kind of information even though most of it was outdated, but today we can gain access to any type of information within minutes and information that is up to date and always updating. With this, of course we have noticed challenges it has given us. We cannot know what information is reliable, and which is not. Erzhik 11:05, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

In the recent years, advances in the digital technologies have changed the world communicate and the way we live. Information are accessible at our palm. It has decrease the distance of time and space as communication is now very convenient with the creation of smartphones and the various social media people use to keep in touch with each other. We also moved from being passive consumers to active creators of news which were not available for us before. The interactions we experience through the technology also created a new common ground for us to understand different culture and people from all around the world. However, the advantages of these connections also bring into light many questions. For examples, how those informations are used and where to draw the line of privacy in regards to what we share. Selina2012 14:07, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

I believe that people’s lives have changed drastically over the past years because of the Internet. From my point of view, I don’t need to go out and buy a newspaper to know what is going on, but simply turn on my computer and go on Wikipedia or any news website. Another example concerns communication; I live in Italy and yet I can follow lectures and be enrolled in a degree program without having to physically be in the classroom. A few years ago I interned at the District Attorney’s Office, and among other duties I was asked to search for criminal history of certain suspects; what I thought would be a lengthy task, involving thousands of paper files, actually took me less than a minute by accessing a specific online database. In conclusion, I feel that digital technologies have made life easier and have allowed people with limited resources to gain knowledge by simply surfing the web. Emanuele 16:05, 24 January 2012 (UTC) Emanuele

While Arab Spring and Wikileaks immediately jump to mind when I think of major events and changes that were enabled by digital technologies, only recently did those events became a real force. While the freedom to immediately access an abundant amount of information (and information overload) in many countries is certainly a significant change brought on by digital technologies, the community should be seriously considered as well. I think our sense of community, for good and bad, has changed with the advent of digital technologies. You can be connected to so many people over the Internet in an instant and your community is independent of your geographical location. Examples include blogging, social platforms like Facebook, MMOs like WoW and Call of Duty, Quora, Reddit, and Internet Relay Chat (and tons more!). Aberg 05:24, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

The most profound challenges visible today regarding the advent of dynamic digital technologies seems to be the wanton attempts at futilely regulating internet access and use, (e.g. Stop Online Piracy Act, [SOPA], Protect Intellectual Property Act, [PIPA]), and a topic that Cory Doctorow refers to as "The Coming War on General Computation" (a topic that the introduction of Jonathan Zittrain's book, which has conveniently been assigned as required reading for this course, hints at discussing in some depth). The debate on legislature like SOPA and PIPA arrives at a question quite familiar to the citizens of a post 9/11 society (Patriot Act, NDAA 2012), should individual freedoms, privacy, or constitutional rights be violated in the interest of the rights of copyright holders or government interests? The answer, it seems, should of course be no. The debate, however, is somehow being held on the floors of the United States Congress, and Senate. With regard to general purpose computers, the discussion circles around special purpose devices. Zittrain calls the iPhone and the XBox "sterile appliances tethered to a network of control." Perhaps he's right, as mobile devices recently took heat for hosting key logging/location monitoring software made to fit on your cute little smartphone by Carrier IQ. Similarly Sony took heat for prosecuting hacker George "Geohotz" Hotz and Alex Egorenkov "graf_chokolo" of "fail0verflow" for installing Linux onto the Playstation 3 after Sony removed their "Other OS" support. The topic under debate here, should individuals be able to use something they purchased in legal ways to do whatever they see fit? Ultimately the challenges we face are indicative of the greatest advent to come out of the Technological Revolution, the ability for individuals to disseminate information and rally support against corporate and government interests.

Doctorow, Cory. "The Coming War on General Computation" Keynote Speech 28c3 Conference 2011. Video. Web 1/24/2012


Doctorow, Cory. "The Coming War on General Computation" Keynote Speech 28c3 Conference 2011 Transcript. Web 1/24/2012.


Kravets, David. "Carrier IQ Explains Secret Monitoring Software to FTC, FCC" Wired 14 Dec 2011. Web 1/24/2012.


Wikipedia. "Sony Computer Entertainment America v. George Hotz." Web 1/24/2012.


Zittrain, Jonathan The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. Introduction. 2008 Yale University Press. HTML Version. Web 1/24/2012.


BSK342 16:30, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

I think that digital technologies have increased the pace of life. For instance, a letter sent by original mail takes much longer to receive than one sent by email. This means that you can (and are expected to) reply much sooner too. Further, I think that digital technologies require a different set of skills for various professions. I am originally from The Netherlands and used to be a lawyer there. I find that it is not not only important how much you know, but also how fast you can find something, e.g. case law, rules and regulations or any informaton about a person or a company. The internet, but also various other (digital) databases, have made the latter much easier. The ability to use these digital technologies have become very important. Digital technologies have also a big impact on maintaining relationships. I live and have lived on another continent and in a different time zone for almost two years now, but thanks to Skype, Facebook, Linkedin, Whatsapp and email, I am still very much involved in and informed on the lives of my friends, family and former colleagues overseas.Marjolein Siegenthaler 18:20, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

In the social sphere, I would say that digital technology has brought people closer together because it is so much easier to communicate by email. There are even fast and, it seems, often successful services for mates to find each other. In all of the social, cultural, and political areas, I think it is easier to sway the masses with trends and fashions, and many people easily follow along with whatever is portrayed as the in thing. News reaches people more quickly, and can easily be manipulated, depending on who is in control of the media. On the other side of the coin, social media such as Face Book, Skype, and Youtube make it possible for many opinions to be aired publicly, not only the voice of the news media. These capabilities were not so readily available before the spread of digital technologies. Trade and commerce can be transacted much more quickly than ever before over the internet.Mike 18:26, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

I would be quite remiss if I did not mention the numerous freedoms that digital technology, the internet included, provides. Not only is communication enabled on a greater, more accessible, real-time platform, but also the freedom of the content of that communication. While these freedoms have granted exceptional benefits, ranging from market-level trading (as is done between the European, East Asian, and American Markets), to revolutionary movements (the Arab Spring), they also come with drawbacks. These drawbacks are based upon the legal standing of communication in those countries where it can be an issue. Once digital technology is broken down to its basic form, it is merely a means of communication, no different than a print newspaper, a poster board, a phonograph, or a TV or radio signal. All of these forms of communication have limits on their communication, either through decency laws, copyright protection, or FCC regulation. The internet, or any digital medium for that matter, does not necessarily fall under a specific, current legal code, particularly because of the anonymity of the internet, including the anonymity of nationality. Unfortunately old legislation that is applied to current digital medium was written for tangible, real items, rather than virtual items as a digital medium. This creates the problem of controlling or regulating that medium to conform to established standards for non-digital medium, and unfortunately, that is increasingly difficult given the propensity of the digital world to exist outside of borders, and outside of jurisdictions.Nthib 18:33, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

To even begin to quantify the changes that technology has brought to our lives, good and bad, would be an enormous task. But, from a largely legal perspective, I would say that the greatest change in our societies and lives is our understanding of privacy. For ever piece of digital technology that we enjoy there are potential losses to our privacy. Right at this moment I am withing three feet of three different machines that could be used to not only track my location at any time, but could also be monitored to trove my emails, text messages, and phone calls. These "not really consented to" examples are only one aspect. In addition, we now live in a time when even the privacy afforded by something being in the past is lost. How many 15 year old girls out there will post racy pictures of themselves on facebook or tweet idiotic nonsense and have it reappear in decades to come because of the potentially indelible nature of the internet and all information fed to it. Also, we live in a time when almost any aspect of a person's life could be affected by their credit score, but it is at greater risk of violation than s preacher's daughter with a six pack. All our money and personal information is becoming virtual, yet there is no real protection against that being used; if someone wants it they will get it. It worries me that the risk of all this change in legal privacy is not entirely a reality to us yet. Cmartis 19:20, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

Along with all the good uses of technology available today, we cannot overlook that shady people and their organizations utilize those same tools to harm society and cultures. One example is Child trafficking which has grown in part as a result of the advances in technology and the use of the internet which vehicle makes the demand market grow tremendously and easily obtainable by traffickers and buyers worldwide. Secondly Auctions are held in live mode where a buyer or a john can view children’s’ photographs and make the deal all via his/her computer. Thirdly, child sex tourism is one of the world's largest industries, which also feeds off of electronic communications and child trafficking continues to grow rapidly, where it has surpass the illegal gun trade and perhaps it will surpass the illegal drug trade. It has become integrated into the economy of many countries. However it underscores the fact that child trafficking and slavery truly represent the trading of children as tinny commodities whom are traded for money and profitability increases with each trade, and the vicious cycle continues when advances in technology fallen into the wrong hands. Sophia 11:51, 24 january 2012 (UTC)

First thing that comes to mind is easy accessibility to information, how we quickly receive and disseminate data, and communicate with one another enabling new forms of human interaction through various devices, social media, news sites, etc . Also, new platforms that provide millions to rally against badly written legislation (SOPA/PIPA) or support various causes in developing countries, and voice political concerns/opinions that can now be heard on a global scale. As digital technologies have increased, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in how we use and link traditional communications such as mobile and TV, driving necessary recalibrations in advertising, commerce, agriculture, business, education, health, etc. It’s quite remarkable that a 19 yr old can start a blog from a remote location (parent’s house in Scotland) and turn it into one of the world’s largest news websites with 50+ million monthly page views and a substantially growing business with 50+ employees in just a short time. Or how the continuous spread of online education efforts are wearing down traditional views on schooling. Or how Google has completely changed the way we seek information and Facebook has revolutionized how we’re connected through social media becoming one of the world’s most powerful and universal platforms across many countries, ages, races, etc. Or how a 26 yr old professor is using machine-learning programs similar to what Google/Facebook uses to develop AI programs that uncover how genes lead to disease. These digital breakthroughs are reshaping and redefining industries, cultures, the way we interact, and changing our way of life around the globe.JennLopez 20:01, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

I like to think about two big changes Internet provoked in communication. The first one is how it keeps turning tangible media obsolete, providing instant access to content that had to be transported. For books, as example, you have to go to a bookstore and if it was out of stock had to wait to arrive, something that changed to an instant buy behavior. The other point is how it changed the way we communicate with our family. We use to spend money on long-distance phone calls, that now are made using Skype. Not only this, the fact that you are not paying for each minute makes a huge impact on conversations, for some people making them longer chats.Andrepase 20:06, 24 January 2012 (UTC)

I believe that the most significant changes associated with the internet and digital technologies are the advent of tools for increased global communication. This includes e-mail, video conferencing, and social networking sites such as Facebook. E-mail has opened up a realm of possibilities for faster, easier, and more effective ways of communication. To provide an anecdotal example, people use email to communicate with everyone from their bosses to their grandparents. Moreover, other tools including video conferencing softwares like Skype and social networking websites like Facebook have revolutionized the way people connect on the internet, and de facto in the words of Mark Zuckerberg make the world a “more open and connected place.” Qdang 22:23, 24 January 2012 (UTC)