Author: Deven Desai

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What Is Internet Use?

What is Internet use? The answer: It depends and it might matter. Pew has some ongoing work about the demographics of Internet use. The classic term is digital divide. A few things pop out here. Is Internet synonymous with the Web? With broadband? Are things shifting such that whether one is on a computer or phone matters? Think HTML 5 here and the dream of program once for a range of devices. According to Pew:

African Americans have long been less likely than whites to use the internet and to have high speed broadband access at home, and that continues to be the case. Today, African Americans trail whites by seven percentage points when it comes to overall internet use (87% of whites and 80% of blacks are internet users), and by twelve percentage points when it comes to home broadband adoption (74% of whites and 62% of blacks have some sort of broadband connection at home). At the same time, blacks and whites are on more equal footing when it comes to other types of access, especially on mobile platforms.

Pew draws a distinction between Internet and cell use. That may not be wise, although it may capture some differences. More and more folks hop onto a phone or tablet (or excuse me while I gag on the word “phablet”) to access the Internet. Cellular companies are shifting to data plans more than calling and texts. Why? Folks are using mobile devices to get on the Internet.

Of course it matters that any group is not accessing, or is not able to access, information. HTML 5 seems to be doing well, but a developer I met said that native (as in designed for a particular device) still matters for high quality interaction and offerings (such as apps for a service). Perhaps the most heartening finding was “Overall, 72% of all African Americans—and 98% of those between the ages of 18 and 29—have either a broadband connection or a smartphone.” But there is a hidden cost.

As Paul DiMaggio noted some time back TV was expensive in that one might pay it off over a few years, but it kept delivering well after that cost. The upside to cable, the Internet, and more is less centralized control. The downside is continual payment to access information. Even if one uses only a smartphone for information, the annual cost is hundreds of dollars. Throw in cable and the cost goes up.

Although some heads will explode, I must ask whether a public data system would be the sort of infrastructure that unleashes all sorts of good outcomes. Yet as I write these words, I know that the upkeep of networks, bandwidth problems, and other issues plague such a dream. Then again, the slowness of current networks and the numbers of people unable to be online suggest the market is not doing as well as it could.

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Hockney, Phones, and Is It Art?

Payphones DeYoungI was lucky enough to visit friends in the Bay Area and go to the de Young David Hockney exhibit. It is a large exhibit that starts on the bottom floor and moves up to another. In between you pass through a store for the exhibit. Beyond that I saw some other unintentional art. Three pay phones. 50 cents a call. I assume they worked. Didn’t touch. Might have been an installation of quaint technology.

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A silly game for those at AALS and the blogger event

Someone thinks they can tell what your politics are based on what you drink:

Consumer data suggests Democrats prefer clear spirits, while Republicans like their brown liquor. Democratic drinkers are more likely to sip Absolut and Grey Goose vodkas, while Republican tipplers are more likely to savor Jim Beam, Canadian Club and Crown Royal. That research comes from consumer data supplied by GFK MRI, and analyzed by Jennifer Dube of National Media Research Planning and Placement, an Alexandria-based Republican consulting firm.

I assume a political consulting firm wants to know this data so that it can target potential voters, especially those likely to vote and vote a certain way.

Then again, I wonder at the biases here. It does not look like the brand scatter relates only to price. So bourbons may be more favored in Republican areas. But San Francisco, that conservative stronghold, has a an excellent run of rum and whiskey focused bars.

Maybe the best idea is to be equal opportunity as a drinker. Start with gin, move to rum, have some wine, close with whiskey or port. Or drink cocktails. In the words of Radar O’Reilly “Uh, sir, if you’re thirsty. Compliments of Colonel Blake. Scotch. Gin. Vodka. And for your convenience all in the same bottle.”

For now, enjoy guessing what your colleague’s drink says about their politics.

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Public Domain? We ain’t got no Public Domain. We don’t need no Public Domain! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ Public Domain!

With apologies to B. Traven and John Huston, I note that Duke’s Center for the Public Domain has a nice post about what might have been in the public domain. In my paper The Life and Death of Copyright, I go over how a few authors rallied with American interests to extend copyright term. I also show that no matter which of the main theories one looks to for IP, none supports copyright after death. None.

In other words, folks who usually disagree about all sorts of nuances in copyright, (It’s labor! It’s the personhood! It’s utilitarian!) converge on, or at least have no good support for copyright after death. Paul Heald’s work shows that the dreaded under-production myth is just that, a myth. Aram Sinnreich’s The Piracy Crusade just came out and gets into the problems with locking up work. I’ve just started it, but his run through history, sociology, and more looks to be a great addition to the literature in this space.

So it’s a new year. Old fights are with us. New ones will come. The sun also rises. Time for naked lunch.

(Note: Burroughs claimed the phrase, Naked Lunch, meant a “frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.” or the truth albeit ugly).

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Tech Literacy: One more of my end of year, bookmarked to share posts

A few weeks back Juliet Walters wrote an op-ed called the The Code Life. I had read the Eggers excerpt of The Circle and thought it was odd; odd because having worked at Google and been in the Valley, his portrayal was not that creepy. It was just corporate America. Office Space alone captures the be all you can as part of a team which may not value you (cue Lorde to contrast and for irony). Walters goes further. She has tried coding as a way to understand and take some control over her life. She used Code Academy to learn coding and found

Yes, programming is challenging, frustrating and often tedious. But it offers satisfactions that are not unlike those of writing. The elegant loops of logic, the attention to detail, the mission of getting the maximum amount of impact from the fewest possible lines, the feeling of making something engaging from a few wispy, abstract ideas — these challenges were familiar to me as a critic. By my third month, I had internalized a new logic, a different way of looking at information. By the time summer came around, I was learning about good web design by constructing web applications, taking them from simple prototypes to something sophisticated enough to test with users. And by the end of the course, I knew the basic structure of computer operating systems.

For me, even reading computer science papers and theory has given me a better, deeper appreciation for the tech world, how it works, and policy debates (both worthwhile and frivolous). And I was happy to read Walters re-calibrated her life:

The biggest surprise has been the recovery of the feeling that my mind is once again my own. The “always-on” agenda of mobile technology, now visible to me in the very design of the devices, could not manipulate me as easily. Where my devices were interrupting my work or my life in these ways, I’ve had an easier time filtering and controlling them.

It’s also become more obvious to me how to use social media to enrich my life, not unravel it. For one, I don’t waste time trying to “catch up” on a Twitter or Facebook feed, any more than I would waste time ringing the doorbell of every person in my neighborhood every day.

With understanding comes more reasoned responses to technology and how it fits into our life. When Walters write she sympathizes with Eggers and Franzen (another tech critic) but rejected their tribalism and embrace of “techno-illiteracy.” Her example is a call for STEM without being explicit. I hope to add some Code Academy to my learning list this year. I don’t always get to such goals, but Walters, a humanities type, like me, found a world I like too. Coding may not set us free, but it may open the door to new freedoms. Tech literacy should at least help stop the real threat of those who misuse technology by allowing us to offer other options and to call B.S. on tech utopianism, and thus counter the downside of technology more than we suspect.

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Are you ready for the Zombies?

Zombie HammerIt’s New Year’s Eve and I am used to at least some telling me the end of the world is nigh. Be it the Rapture or some other event to end times. My friend Kevin Stampfl is prepared. That is his zombie hammer. I might have to learn how that might fit into mixed martial arts. Ah and there’s another New Year’s resolution. Well, assuming the zombies don’t come right away.

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We Will All Be Jaime Sommers – 3D printing ears

Thanks to 3D printing and advances in material sciences, questions I had a few years ago about what data is sent, how we are regulated, and of course illusive ownership are hitting home for biomedical, implanted devices. I wrote about some of these issues in a short piece about the implications of a post-human world. I thought about implanted medical devices and the idea that we are becoming appliances with all the contracts and data issues we see online moving to the body.

On the one hand, I love some of the outcomes of this engineering. For example, what if we all could be the Bionic Woman? Michael McAlpine of Princeton may be making it so that anyone could have a bionic ear, and he wants to improve us even more. He is engineering:

a synthetic ear made with a 3-D bioprinter, is a realization of that vision. The complex biomechanical structure was fabricated by depositing live cells and conductive silver in layers. It started as an exploration of material properties, but commercial applications started to appear rapidly. He discovered that cochlear implants, a leading treatment for those with some hearing impairment, are made by hand in a slow and laborious process with costs to match.

His work draws on the way hearing works. The interface sends “the electronic signal right into your medula and brings us one step closer to a world where we can learn kung fu by plugging into a computer.” That idea is fantastic (as in fantasy) but his main point, “It will just be considered normal that you have electronics embedded in your body, … You won’t think its weird that a door will just open up as you walk towards it. We will become cyborgs and it will be seen as just a normal thing” connects to my piece.

So on the other hand, as these changes move forward, we will have to consider what is control over health and other data that may come from within us. Security and hacking will take on new dimensions. I also think that class will play a role. If devices and surgery are expensive but “natural” will only the rich get to have them? Will the poor be stuck sneaking steroids will the privileged pay for dexterity enhancement?

I don’t think dystopia is ahead. I think these questions are the right and fun ones to consider and manage. Again the New Year looks good.

P.S. Jamie Boyle’s Shamans, Software, and Spleens is ever more relevant, as we move into the next technology era.

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Bring Out Your Brands, More Brand Scholarship

If you’re looking for some perspectives on brands, maybe some reading for holiday trips or early conferences, the first part of the Brand New World Symposium is up at the UC Davis Law Review site. The Review is publishing, I believe, almost all the presenters’ work, which is a testament to the group that came together for the event. My piece will be in part two; more on that later. Part I kicks off with Mario Biagioli, Anupam Chander, and Madhavi Sunder’s introduction. It continues with work by law, i-school, design, business, anthropology, history of science, history of art & architecture, and Chinese studies professors from around the world. I am thrilled to see this work in print. The multi-disciplinary perspectives and depth make me even more excited for the next part of my brand work.

In addition, my friend, Paul Duguid, who has a piece in the symposium, also has a piece in Enterprise and Society called Information in the Mark and the Marketplace: A Multivocal Account (pay wall however). He digs into information theory and trademarks (a subject with which I have been playing), history of union marks, issues around producers as in mark holders versus the people involved with the actual production of goods, and much much more. The material about the politics and race issues with early marks systems and the application of Bhaktin to marks made this work a fun, insightful read. Paul has been a favorite sounding board and source for my work. This article adds to that respect and gratitude.

So into the New Year with more on brands to come.

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Of Wolfs, Wall Street, Art, and Poser Populists

I was not planning on seeing The Wolf of Wall Street but may have to after reading an op-ed by Christina McDowell, the daughter of Tom Prousalis who was a lawyer in the pump and dump schemes portrayed in the movie. She makes the argument that the film and especially the film makers, Scorsese, DiCaprio, and Winters, have glorified these tactics:

So here’s the deal. You people are dangerous. Your film is a reckless attempt at continuing to pretend that these sorts of schemes are entertaining, even as the country is reeling from yet another round of Wall Street scandals. We want to get lost in what? These phony financiers’ fun sexcapades and coke binges? Come on, we know the truth. This kind of behavior brought America to its knees.

And yet you’re glorifying it — you who call yourselves liberals. You were honored for career excellence and for your cultural influence by the Kennedy Center, Marty. You drive a Honda hybrid, Leo. Did you think about the cultural message you’d be sending when you decided to make this film? You have successfully aligned yourself with an accomplished criminal, a guy who still hasn’t made full restitution to his victims, exacerbating our national obsession with wealth and status and glorifying greed and psychopathic behavior. And don’t even get me started on the incomprehensible way in which your film degrades women, the misogynistic, ass-backwards message you endorse to younger generations of men.

On the one hand, I think McDowell is suggesting that these “liberal” film makers are what I like to call poser populists; lots of lip service to certain ideals but not much beyond that. Maybe that is so. Some artists and writers were horrible in private life but wrote works that capture and celebrate humanity. Do we stop reading them? No. When the opposite is true, however, we may indeed pass up the work. On the other hand, there is the film by itself. Is it that bad?

With McDowell’s critique, I find I may have to see the blasted thing to determine whether it is as lacking substance as it seems. The trailers made the film seem pretty much as McDowell describes. And I happen to find the Scorsese and DiCaprio combo flat film-making. But these images and perspectives of how to conduct one’s life come up in both business associations and professional responsibility. While I believe people should make what they wish for film, T.V., books, etc., if those works become popular, I find I want to know them so I can counter-punch the message or give some context to what students see. Thus I agree with McDowell that creators can exercise judgment in what they make, but once the thing is done, blast it all, I may have to dive in if I want to say “Not for me” and back it up with why.

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Digital Death – What Happens to Your Digital Stuff

What happens to your to your email and other digital content after you die? That question continues to pop up. Back in 2008, I wondered about the issue in a paper called Property, Persona, and Preservation. I noticed a sort of cloud effect. Once we moved email to the web, we were distanced from our creations. For those interested in the theories behind my argument, read the whole paper. But if you want to skip to the policy and application material, skip to part III starting at page 111.

In fact, while I was at Google, Google and a few other email providers started to come up with ways to let heirs access content and to let creators of content signal whether they wanted that work to be shared with heirs. Those solutions tracked some ideas I offered. I am not sure whether the paper was part of their reading but was happy to see the changes. Nonetheless as Pew shows, how we preserve, protect, and control that work will continue to be a problem. The Pew report notes that states and the Uniform Law Commission are starting to come up with laws to address digital estate issues. I will write a follow up to this post, but for now, I offer that any solution should allow Service Providers the ability to set defaults and users to alter them. In short, if someone wants to have an email account for things he or she would rather not have known, the user should be able to click a setting that says “This email account will self-destruct upon the provision of a death certificate.” Now we might want to let an executor verify these wishes and so on rather than relying on Service Provider’s insight or discretion. Still a clear signal about what one wants can be built into how we preserve or destroy our digital history.