Why we use technology: Checkov’s gun & expiry dates

This tweet by @Asher_Wolf at 4:25 am on 25 December contains a photo of a tear gas canister used by the police to try to control the Delhi rape riots. The interesting thing here is that the tear gas has an expiry date of May 2009.

The picture got me thinking about different motivating factors for using a certain technology. This post is an exploration. It is not a critique of the decision by the police to use tear gas in this specific situation.

Checkov’s gun

Chekhov’s gun is a metaphor for a dramatic principle a certain inevitability. If a loaded gun is shown in the beginning of a play it will be used before the play is over. Otherwise the gun should not have been shown.

In this case Checkov’s gun is the fact that police have tear gas in their supplies. Any technology we have at our disposal does not simply provide us with an opportunity for action but also creates a demand for action. Possessing the technology creates a desire for it’s use. Checkov’s gun is particularly true of new technology.

The desperation of technology

Spending Christmas in Stockholm this year provided an excellent example of this. The days before Christmas saw large amounts of powdery new white snow fall on the city. Christmas day, therefore naturally saw many kids playing with new winter gear. My home city of Göteborg was less fortunate. Much of the snow had melted due to rain. Despite this many kids were trying to use sleighs on the few icy patches available. They had new technology and were driven to use it.

The frugal cook

One of the common complaint on these days after Christmas is that many are forced to continue eating Christmas food. We may be tired of the taste but we cannot bring ourselves to throw away good food. There is another reason. The Christmas season is a particularly expensive one. So after the main event, after the wrapping paper is cleared away it is naturally that our more frugal natures rise to the fore.

We are not necessarily eating Christmas leftovers because we like them, nor because we cannot afford alternative food – we are eating them as a form of punishment for our excess: the term “waste not, want not” is, in this case, a form of puritanical punishment.

Frugal Riot Control

Therefore the case of the outdated riot gear.

(1) Since the tear gas has been bought it must be used (Checkov’s gun).

(2) If no legitimate situation arises we will redefine reality to legitimize use. (Desperation of technology)

(3) Stockpiles of old technology prevent us from buying new technology. Therefore we must use the old in order to be allowed to by new (frugal cook).

So what?

Attempting to understand why people act is very interesting – but it is also quite impossible to know for certain. While I am sure that all official records of the use of tear gas during the riots will show that the situation warranted its use  – the nagging question always rests in my mind: Why did they use this technology? Why now?

Technology drives human action. It’s not deterministic we have choice. But many of the reasons we decide to use, or not to use, technology may have less to do with us than with technology.

Contributing to the commodification of our existence

When you think you have seen it all… Göteborg this week experienced a “slut shaming riot” (not three words I expect to see in one sentence) actually the background is better explained here but I couldn’t resist “slut shaming riot”. The short version is:

The turmoil was set off after an Instagram user asked for tips on “sluts” in Gothenburg, and promised anonymity to anyone sending in pictures. More than 200 pictures were submitted, giving names and alleged sexual activities of girls aged 13 to 14.

A 17-year-old girl was outed on Facebook as being behind the Instagram account, a mob  organized via Facebook, set off to teach her a lesson.

The rioting students then moved over to the Nordstan mall in central Gothenburg, forcing confused holiday shoppers to take cover inside stores as police work to bring the unruly teens under control.

Naturally the media was asking lots of strange questions attempting to find someone to hang. Who’s fault is it? Kids today? Social media? Technology in general?

Most reports didn’t explicitly say it but they were steeped in the nostalgia of days gone by and the illusion magnified through history that these kinds of things never happened when they were young, that things really were better in the good old days.

Really stupid. A largely non-violent riot made up of teenagers? The concept is as old as history. People using an external trigger to let of steam and to take advantage of a situation… That must describe almost every riot in history!

Amid all this media clutter the question gets asked: Are we going to grow up and stop using social media? The answer is most obviously NO. Social media users like using social media – it fills a need and provides a service. Obviously we will not stop using this medium.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think about what the medium is doing to us. There is a great level of social media fatigue. My favorite example comes in the form of humor. We are developing a larger ability to poke fun at social media use – it’s not pointing at the stupidity of others but actually poking fun at our own use.

Take for example the excellent Look at this Instagram (Nickelback Parody) which show’s how our need to “share” is not innovative, creative or special. Seriously “Look at this coffee foam… I’m frigging Michelangelo” talks to me :)

However there are more important problems that are being missed. Our “bad” behaviors – oversharing, outing others, narcissism, voyeurism, stalking… just to name a few – need to be addressed but while we argue on the correct social norms of social media use we are blind to the bigger problem.

We are contributing to the commodification of our own existence. The companies that provide these services are collecting all our data. It’s not only the material you share but all your behavior (check out YouTube What Facebook Knows About You & Malte Spitz’s TEDTalk: Your phone company is watching).

These massive surveillance systems use the data they collect to manipulate the way we think by hiding and revealing different information to different users (Have written and spoken a lot about this. Here is an example). Then there is the question of who should own the rights to a users data. BTW please remember a picture of your face, flirting online & comforting a loved one is all “data”.

The licensing puts the legal right in the hands of the companies. You signed the license. You don’t like it? Then f**k off. But there is more to rights than licenses. I like the way Mat Honan expresses his sense of being betrayed in Why I Quit Instagram

By now you’ve likely heard Instagram changed its terms of service. There is a lot not to like, but I didn’t quit because of any single change in particular.

Why did I quit Instagram? It’s the thoughtlessness, stupid.

Instagram was built not by a team of ten in San Francisco’s South Park – but by tens of millions and then hundreds of millions of people all over the world. …

Which makes it remarkable that the company has shown such utter disrespect for that very network of people.

We like using social media and should be allowed to use social media. What the discussion should be is turning to the question of why companies are allowed to profiteer in the way they do on our data.

Who is going to protect us? Well it should be the same legislators who are busy abdicating their power to the social media companies and hiding behind the sanctity of the contract: In this case a ridiculous document few have read, even fewer can understand and whose terms get changed at the drop of a hat.

We are protected by lofty human and civil rights documents. Government has a duty of care to ensure that we are not harmed. And still nothing.

The rights we have worked hard to achieve, the rights we so proudly proclaim in other circumstances are now all being contractually frittered away…

Every pic you take
Every post you make
Everything you like
All your friends in sight
Facebook’s using you

Every smiling friend
You post on Instagram
Won’t belong to you
Nothing you can do
Facebook’s using you

Oh can’t you see
They know you and me
Can match your name to a face, that can be accessed anyplace

And maybe just next year
Whatever shop you near
Cameras ID you
To further market to
Facebook now owns ‘you’

Since it came the net is a worse space
If I share I feel like I’ll be traced
The buttons and the “like us” pleas disgrace
The thoughtful words that they replaced
I just can’t not feel paranoid

You own nothing here
It couldn’t be more clear
Instead of getting mean
You feed the machine
The one that’s using you

—© 2012 Facebook
via Rosinal McDonald (found in the comments section of Why I Quit Instagram)

European CC Affiliates Celebrate #cc10 with a Mixtape of Inspiring CC-Licensed Music

This is taken from the Creative Commons blog. It was definitely worth sharing in full so here it is:

Guest blog post by Teresa Nobre, Legal Project Lead at Creative Commons Portugal

One of the opportunities for Creative Commons to continue its rapid evolution is more collaboration between the various affiliates. In September, representatives of CC’s affiliates in 17 different European countries attended a regional meeting and discussed, among other things, Creative Commons’ 10th birthday. Most of the affiliates were already planning activities and events in their own countries; nevertheless, we felt that it was important to find a way to celebrate this important date as a regional network. Since the majority of the affiliates are volunteers, we cannot commit ourselves to carry out as many common actions as we would like. With other priorities in both the national and regional agendas, this activity could not require much planning and execution. The idea of creating a mixtape with Creative Commons–licensed music from around Europe – where each affiliate just had to suggest one or two tracks from her own country – seemed, therefore, a good option and got the general agreement of all those present at the meeting.

Back to our home countries, we relied on the network mailing list to get everyone involved. We did not nominate an official project lead and we did not establish any requirements other than the music being the affiliate’s preferred CC-licensed music. We could have decided to use the mixtape to promote just music licensed with one of CC’s free culture licenses (CC BY and CC BY-SA), but we wanted to get as many affiliates involved as possible and we knew that adding such limitation would only make searching for work more difficult. After all, only a very few of us work in the music industry (the others are lawyers, open content advisors, entrepreneurs, academic researchers, engineers, etc.) and not all of us are familiar with our national CC-licensed music.

Some affiliates went on asking for suggestions to their local communities and some even did contests to find their national CC-licensed music that would make into the compilation. Not all the European affiliates were able to get involved in the project, but those involved were really motivated and even found time to send contributions in respect to other European countries. In total, 16 affiliates worked together, devoting much more time than they initially thought they had available, to make this mixtape happen.

The resulting mixtape showcases the talent of 20 artists from 20 European countries: Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. The tracks are from genres as diverse as electronic, folk, classic, drum & bass, rock, ska and tango, and they sound awesome together (despite the fact that they were compiled by a non-musician lawyer!). Give it a listen! It is available for download under various Creative Commons licenses at Free Music Archive, SoundCloud, and the Internet Archive. The album artwork is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

CC10 Musicians: Celebrating 10 years of Commons

The great people at CC Korea have now launched the “CC10Musicians” iPhone app (It’s available for download on iTunes itun.es/kr/N9ibJ.i)
The App provides free access to free Creative Commons music. I can only agree with CC Korea
Please download, enjoy, and spread it to as many people around you as possible to let them have a chance to discover the coolest musicians from CC music scene!
The App is launched to coincide with Creative Commons 10 year celebrations – it’s also a very cool way to find and get acquainted with artists who spread their material under Creative Commons licenses.
Congratulations CC Korea! Thanks for this App!

Whether it’s better to be right or to be relevant?

An interesting statement was made here in a discussion on the attribution of photographers.

“who told me” becomes more important than “who made it”. Sandra Snan

The whole interesting back-story to this discussion, and the quote was passed on to me by Kristina Alexanderson (Yes, she of Stormtrooper fame) and the words have stuck. Have we come to this? Is it really more important to source things by the person who spreads information than the creator?

Certain libraries, archives and art museums have certainly been in this position (where the collection is more than the individual creators) for some time. But this is a question of collecting and aggregating. Does it really apply to the fast moving flows of information online.

One of the truisms of the digital age is that we have moved from an era of information scarcity to an age of information surplus. What does this mean?
Take the example of Television. It has evolved from a limited number of channels to more channels than most can follow, in addition to view-on-demand services and a whole pile of online viewing options. The content on YouTube alone is mindboggling: 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute (http://www.youtube.com/t/press_statistics).

This change in access to culture changes the ways in which we relate to, and consume cultural expressions. We can longer, alone or with the help of others, maintain any form of useful overview over the content. This situation is aggravated by the huge number of alternative sources of material (other video sources), in addition to the large number of other sources (texts, still images).

With two many creators vying for our time and attention the role of the information organizer becomes more interesting.

The increase in information has also created a challenge to many “scientific truths”. Not a day goes by without the media reporting from several scientific studies proving one thing or another. With alarming regularity these scientists are contradicting each other.

Actually in many cases they are not really contradicting each other but much of the nuance and understanding is lost between the laboratories to the media. Ben Goldacre’s excellent book Bad Science is a good place to begin to explore this.

So if we are drowning in information, without the tools or the time to carry out rigorous background checks the question must change. If faced with a choice between Truth and Relevance. The answer used to be truth, but today its relevance. This is particularly true in the shift from blogging to microblogging. In blogging we followed the source, the producer of information. In Twitter we follow the people who point at the most interesting things.

What will this mean for academics, libraries, archives and society in general might be interesting to think more deeply about.

Bileta 2013 Call for papers

I have a soft spot for the Bileta conference. It’s one of the earliest technology law conferences I began to attend and many of the people I met at the early conference are still colleagues. Bileta is the British and Irish law education and technology association and this years conference will be held between 10th – 12th April 2013 at the Liverpool Law School, University of Liverpool.

The extended call is here: http://www.bileta.ac.uk/content/files/2013_conference_call.pdf

Important Dates

January 18, 2013: Submission of abstracts and panels (subject to double blind review).  February 1, 2013: Notification of acceptances.
March 15, 2013: Full Papers (between 7,000 and 10,000 words, excluding footnotes).

Can we have some Bildung, please?

The Germanic languages are filled with several words packed with historical context and culture that makes them virtually untranslatable (schadenfreude, angst, blitzkrieg, doppelgänger, ersatz).

So while the British are boastfully proud of their bad weather they don’t have a word like the Swedish “Uppehållsväder” which describes a surprising lull between rainstorms. It’s a word for the absence of falling rain.

Among the more interesting words is “bildning” which comes from the German word “bildung” and is described by Wikipedia as:

…refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation, (as related to the German for: creation, image, shape), wherein philosophy and education are linked in manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation.  This maturation is described as a harmonization of the individual’s mind and heart and in a unification of selfhood and identity within the broader society…

On one level there is an element of education so a person of bildung is a person who is educated but it cannot be confused with education as that would be too simplistic. So how on earth should I translate this term?

There are several terms that seem to be used almost as synonyms liberal education, liberal arts, lifelong learning, adult or civic education, folk education (which stems from another Germanic term Folkbildning). The problem is that all these terms have odd connotations which drag the term in “wrong” directions:

The prefix Liberal brings to mind studies of classics and while this naturally can play a part it is hardly necessary today to have read Homer to be considered a person of bildung.

Lifelong learning may have the unfortunate associations with some form of refresher course necessary to enable people to remain relevant in some context.

Adult education feels like its all about getting people back into the job market after being made redundant. It smacks of re-education.

And any use of the prefix Folk raises pictures of some form of arts and crafts movement or carries the unnecessary connections with folk art or folk singing.

So the problem remains: Can we really discuss that of which we have no name? Is the mind controlled by the word? (sapir whorf hypothesis) or it may be that the word we use is not be so important – just the fact that we point towards the concept shows the importance of bildung.

No matter what I am still stuck attempting to explain bildung briefly and elegantly in a text. And without the word the concept is clumsy: Any tips?

Release Bassel Khartabil

The post is copied in its entirety from the Creative Commons weblog

What open means to you
Bassel / joi / CC BY

Earlier this year, Creative Commons issued a statement in support of Bassel Khartabil, a longtime CC volunteer who has been detained by Syrian authorities since March 15. Amnesty International recently released a document with information suggesting that Bassel has been ill-treated and even tortured. This morning, we sent a letter to President Bashar al-Assad, Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al-Mu’allim, and Minister of Defense ‘Imad al-Fraij; urging that Bassel be released unless he is promptly charged with an internationally recognized criminal offense. We urge Syrian authorities to grant Bassel immediate access to his family, a lawyer of his choice, and all necessary medical treatment.

Bassel has played a crucial role in the open technology and culture communities, both in Syria and around the world. Through his service as Creative Commons’ project lead in Syria and his numerous contributions to the advancement of open source and related technologies, Bassel has spent his career working toward a more free Internet. Many of us at Creative Commons have become friends of Bassel’s over the years. All of us have benefited from his leadership and expertise.

Please stand with us in support of Bassel. Amnesty International has provided instructions for contacting Syrian authorities. For more information, visit freebassel.org.

Read Creative Commons’ call for the release of Bassel Khartabil (PDF).