In this post, I will look at how the web has power, and how a web doomsday call cause it to fall. In particular, I will consider how modern society is so affected by the web and how it drives our economy.
I mentioned before that the web is valued differently by different people. Some people seldom use it – for them it is a luxury. Some people depend on it – for them it is a basic need. But as the number of people using the web increases, it has meant that more people are depending on it. In fact, it has gone beyond enhancing the lives of individuals, it has affected politics, activism, and media. Perhaps the biggest change of all is the shift of business from brick-and-mortar to the web. The web is a platform for business, and has completely changed the economy. People have jobs online. New businesses operate entirely online. Online business are closing down high street shops.
The web has made such vast changes to society, that we can consider the web as having a huge power. It is socially driven, but at the same time is a technical tool that is prone to failures that are completely unpredictable. So what would the consequences be if this power were to fall?
We have a small glipse of what could happen. Earlier this year, Nasdaq’s servers couldn’t cope with demand, so was shut down. In response to this, Sal Arnuk, co-head of equity trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, New Jersey stated:
“Any brokerage firm gets paid by executing orders. So yes, we are frustrated, and this hurts us, it hurts the market and it hurts public confidence.”
We need to learn lessons from these incidents. These systems are no longer a luxury or convenience, they form part of society and should be modelled as critical systems. So perhaps a focus on understanding the web as a social platform as well as a technical one is crucial.
In the next post, I will look at how the economy might react if the web were to disappear.
In this post, I’ll be looking at how losing access to the web could be analogous to losing access to other resources that we are dependant on. In this respect, I’ll be looking at the web in three categories: a luxury, a convenience and a basic need.
Understanding this needs the study of people and society. A good place to start is with Anthropology, which, in her book What Do Anthropologist Do? Veronica Strang, is defined as “a social science that involves the study of human groups and their behaviour”. It seems perfectly suited for understanding the relationship between groups of of people and the web.
The psychologist Abraham Maslow devised a way of categorising psychological needs as a hierarchy. From the most basic needs to the needs for self-actualisation, the web has changed every aspect for modern society – online dating, employment in the web, getting information about health through the web, online communities and friendships, the web as a way of expressing creativity etc. Anthropology is increasingly relied on to consider these issues.
For some, the web is merely acts as an alternative to the real world – not really forming part of daily life, and more for the occasional streaming of a movie for entertainment. For these people, the web is a seldom-used luxury. Some people use the web more often, perhaps for online shopping or communicating with friends that they know in real life. The web is a convenience for these people. Finally, there are those who depend on the web for friendships, dating, and even getting food if going to the shops is not a viable option. For these people, the web is a basic need.
Losing the web will affect the latter the most, whose basic needs are fulfilled by access to the web. Meanwhile, those who use the web as a luxury may not find themselves directly affected. Could there be a greater dependence on the web in the future for these individuals?
In the next blog post, I will consider what the indirect effects of a web blackout may be for those who use the web as a convenience or a luxury.
In this post, I will discuss how censorship in China is analogous to the lack of web availability. In this, I will consider how people have reacted and what the long-term effects have been.
In mid-2012, Michael Anti, a web blogger from China, shared his experience from behind the Great Firewall of China in a TED talk. In China, there exists heavy censorship on a country-wide and local scale – the biggest digital censorship in the world. This is despite it having over 500 million internet users, and over 300 million microbloggers – almost the population of the USA. So called Chinanet due to its partial segregation from the worldwide Internet, it is particularly famous for blocking common web services from Chinese citizens, such as Facebook and Twitter. But Anti describes how following blocks, it is common for new similar services to pop up for use only within China. One example is Weibo in place of Twitter – it looks like Twitter, behaves like Twitter and people use it like Twitter.
So what is the motivation behind this? Why does the government feel that services used within China use should be hosted in China? Anti explains that when a service is run in China, the government has access to the data. With this, they have the ability to monitor and police the activities that happen online. For example, someone trying to arrange a coup (even if it was just a joke) would be immediately flagged and arrested. It’s not possible to post the name of the president, post the city “Chongqing” or search for the name of many famous leaders. If a group of people arrange to meet, the police will be at the meeting place ready to turn people back. This is the government’s response to a fear that a large congregation, whether on the web or in person, is a threat to the regime that could lead to a revolution.
But Anti also raises the point that Chinese citizens live like this, with relatively few disturbances caused by the censorship. This is in great contrast to Hosni Mubarak’s shut down of the internet in Egypt, which caused riots on the street. Anti suggests that in China, the firewall is not perceived as an extreme measure – it’s possible to still speak out online. He give the example of a train crash involving two high-speed trains. Millions became angry at the railway minister ‘s handling of the situation, accusing him of a cover-up. Protesters took to microblogging, despite the tight control of what is posted. But the rail minister was subsequently sacked. Anti suggests that the government were fed up of the rail minister and used public opinion as an excuse to sack and imprison him. Anti further suggests that this happens on a much wider scale – people are free to criticise those that the government secretly wish to discredit. In other words, the censorship has become a tool for a political fight.
Anti describes it as a cat-and-mouse game, where internet-users (the mice) are in a constant pursuit by the censorship (the cat). He goes on to suggest that these cats may spread to a wider audience, with legislation such as SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, TPP and ITU becoming threats to the freedom of the Web. Further to this, he questions whether we should believe the big companies such as Faceook and Google are friends of the mouse, or if they are becoming the cats. After all, if the West were to experience loss of the web in some degree caused by a political agenda, it would probably be sudden, in the form of legislation or commercial interest. So Anti’s warning is apt – the risk to the web from political and commercial interests is very real, and now is an important time to consider those risks.
In the next blog post, I’ll be discussing the web as a convenience and a luxury, and what the reaction might be if we were to lose the web.
Psychology and computer science are clearly distinct disciplines. As we have seen, there are obvious differences within the definitions and methodological approaches of the two. Still, despite the differences, there are some interdisciplinary subfields that try to fuse the two.
An interdisciplinary perspective on the two disciplines is cognitive science, wherein the human mind is seen as an information processor, a machine. According to cognitive scientists, the mind sees information in the same manner as computers do. First, it receives ‘input’ from a source. Then, this input is stored on some kind of ‘hard drive’. Finally, the input will be processed. The results of this process is the ‘output’ (Friedenberg, Silverman, 2006: p. 3). The mental representation of information is thus a significant part of cognitive science, which can be compared with information processing on computers.
A field that draws upon this is human-computer interaction (HCI). HCI can be seen as a merge between cognitive psychology and programming aspects of computer science, to create well designed interfaces. According to Carroll, it looks at how humans interact with technology, and how that can be supported through the design. It came into being partly because of “the recognition that computers can be deliberately designed to facilitate human activity and experience only when social and cognitive requirements drive the design process throughout” (Carroll, 1997: p. 62, 79). Therefore, cognitive psychology should be considered for the design of computer systems.
Another example is artificial intelligence (AI), early mentioned as a subset of computer science. AI scientists try to build machines that can automatically make intelligent decisions. They try to do this at the level of intelligence of a human agent, which should lead to the fact that the machine can act in the same manner as humans (Friedenberg, Silverman, 2006: p. 320). The consideration of what this intelligent behaviour is, comes from psychology.
Carroll, John M. (1997) ‘HUMAN-COMPUTER INTERACTION: Psychology as a Science of Design’, Annual Rev. Psych., 48, pp. 61-83.
Friedenberg, Jay, Gordon Silverman. (2006) Cognitive Science. An introduction to the Study of Mind. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications Inc.
It is understandable that governments are becoming increasingly interested in the online activity of its citizens. According to Albrechtslund, governments are looking for information about individuals such as “shared activities and circles of friends, as well as personal data about political views, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and preferences regarding everyday life activities (Albrechtslund, 2008). Social networking sites are for example used to get this information. The information that governments often want can also be stored in email conversations, on personal computers, in the cloud and so on.
Computer science can offer many perspectives on online surveillance. It does not necessarily look at the motives for or consequences of surveillance, like psychology does, but can focus on how surveillance is made possible or can be prevented through a technological perspective. It can address all the different phases in the process of online surveillance from the ‘Big Brother perspective and from the perspective of the person who is being watched. This means that it can look at where to look for useful data, how to retrieve this information, and how to analyze it, but at the same time it can look at how to prevent people spying on ones data.
Examples of where computer scientists thus might look for could be where data is stored on personal computers, how this data can be accessed, how encryptions can be created or cracked, which algorithms represent useful data, and how retrieved datasets can be analyzed. In many possible examples creating programs that can scan large and varying sets of data are important. Also, it is necessary to let these programs find specific words, websites, connections and so on, that might be interesting for the party that is watching.
Next time I will write my last blogpost about how computer science and psychology are related and how they can be bundled to study online surveillance.
Albrechtslund, Anders. (2008) ‘Online Social Networking as Participatory Surveillance’, in First Monday, 13(3), online at: <http://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2142/1949>
According to Open Data Institute, it could be defined as follows:
“Open data is information that is available for anyone to use, for any purpose, at no cost.” (3)
It is also mentioned that in order to be cataloged as an open data, this must be explicitly stated in its license of use. A license means that the owner of the information declare what type of access or transfer is permitted to other to use the data meaning. When people create data and someone else wants or needs to use it, they must ask request owner´s permission. An example of data license (4) is when a person get a job and in your work contract it is stated that everything you create or generate related to your labor activity belongs to your employer. In contrast, if you create your own data, you can donate this creation stating that your data is for public use and anyone can use it. It is important to mention that every country has their own laws about copy rights and they need to checked before you decide what kind of license is more suitable for your data. For instance, in the European community there are two kind of legislation: Copyright and database right. Furthermore, there exist also is another license called “Open Licenses” that refers to your data with few restrictions about a person or organization can do with the content. An Open license allows other to “republish the content or data on their own website, derive new content or data from yours, make money by selling products that use your content or data, republish the content or data while charging a fee for access” (4) and in accordance with the Open Definition which defines openness in relation to data and content (5) “ “A piece of data or content is open if anyone is free to use, reuse, and redistribute it — subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and/or share-alike.” The next step is to indicate what kind of license is most appropriate to meet your purposes that you should show your data license in a human readable description and computer readable metadata. In regards to computer readable metadata it should under the in open standards figure that it refers to a format which is amply accepted across diverse third party, generating mainly interoperability among cross platforms, for example, RDF, XML, JSON.
Defining your license is an important issue related to your data and purpose, as an individual or an organization. In both cases, there are implicit benefits publishing open data. For instance, there is a model of business in the data industry by which it makes profit from selling access to data. Open data tends to find potential customers by creating an economy with open data from a service model more than a product model generating more services related a specif subset of open data.
Open Data and Governments
We could define a government system as
A group of people in charge who makes decisions about the direction and control of a community, or state and the main purpose of the government is to protect the individual rights for its members through specific laws that conduct a pleasant behavior in society.
Therefore, as an individual we should be concerned about the importance of open data and the role that it plays in relation to governance. Transparency and accountability is one of the main points in which are important for open data because in a democratic system, citizens needs to know what their government is doing, and leading the national resources. Furthermore, transparency promotes the improvement of public services because citizens can monitor impact indicators and government agency´s goals.
Some governments believe that transparency means simply publishing information about a specific data set, and for this reason they argue that they have an open data policy in their national agenda; however, in order to consider that a government is applying an open data policy, the information should be open and free to anyone to use, reuse and redistribute, and the internet is a perfect platform to disclosure it. In addition, the information should be preferably in a readable machine format such as: XLM, CSV, JSON or API because it creates more interoperability across platforms. Furthermore, transparency promotes public services improvement
Another reason why governments should encourage an open data policy is the fact that people become more informed and involved in important decisions the government should make. This means that open data promotes a dynamic society in which citizens are contributing in an active way. Furthermore, when governments open their data it encourages the creation of new business models and services because this generates clusters of suppliers offering new services.
To sum up, as a citizens we have the right to be informed from governments about they are using national resources, the impact of social policy and the effectiveness of governmental agencies and open data is a key tool that promotes transparency, accountability, new business models and people participation in government policy in an active way.
1.-Open Source Initiative [n.d.] Open Source Initiative [online]
Available from: http://opensource.org/osd [Accessed 05 November 2013]
2.-Bruce Perens (2005) The Emerging Economic Paradigm of Open Source [online] George Washington University. Available from: http://perens.com/works/articles/Economic.html [Accessed 12 November 2013]
3.-Open Data Institute [n.d.] Open Data Institute Guides [online]
Available from: http://theodi.org/guides/what-open-data
4.- Open Data Institute [n.d.] Publisher Guide to Open Data Licensing [online]
Available from: http://theodi.org/guides/publishers-guide-open-data-licensing
5.-Open Definition [n.d.] Open Definition [online]
Available from: http://opendefinition.org/
This week I will look at online surveillance and how psychology is related to it. Online surveillance has been a hot topic in the last couple of years.
During the Arab Spring, many Middle-Eastern governments have been accused of tracking down (potential) opponents and arresting them because of their online activity. Also, the revelations by Edward Snowden about the NSA have led to more attention to how the Web can be used as a tool of espionage. The rise in these kinds of activity show similarities with 1984, by George Orwell. This book describes a society wherein the government continuously watches and monitors its population. With the rise of the World Wide Web, people have put more and more information about themselves online. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly interesting for different (authoritarian) governments to ‘watch and monitor’ this information. Herewith, they can potentially control their country in an Orwellian way by arresting people who might potentially be a threat for them.
Of course, citizens are also becoming aware of the omnipresent online surveillance by governments. If they hear about people that have been arrested because of things they have posted on the Web, they might alter their (online) behaviour. From a psychological perspective, it is interesting to see how the mind and behaviour of people is changing because of this. Their response can be compared with psychological experiments, wherein the term social interference can be used to refer to such a response. This effect is a decline in performance when observers are present (Gray, 2007: p. 502). With an increasing notion of online surveillance, which might have consequences (i.e. physical punishment, imprisonment or worse) for a certain way of behaving, a citizen might become less (visibly) active online. This could be seen as a decline in performance.
This response can also be seen as the outcome of anxiety, which according to psychological terms can be seen as the mental situation when people worry excessively about a “stimulus or event that are vague, not identifiable, or in the future” (Gray, 2007: p. 590). When one does not know what future dangers may lie ahead, but expects consequences for certain actions, behaviour can change.
Social interference and anxiety are just two topics that can be used to look at online surveillance from a psychological perspective. Still, it offers many other perspectives to look at the subject. The approaches that I described earlier in a blogpost (biological, behaviourist, cognitive, psychodynamic, and humanistic) can for example all be used to look at online surveillance in a different way.
Next time, I will look at how online surveillance can be studied from the perspective of computer science. Also, I will look at how psychology and computer science can be combined to study online surveillance.
Gray, Peter. Psychology. Fifth Edition. New York: Worth Publishers, 2007.
It’s taken a long time for me to make this second blog post and in the meantime I’ve read a lot. I started with Atkinson and Higard’s Introduction to Psychology and that made me realise something essential that I’d managed to miss – Psychology is a discipline that looks at a lot of things. That might sound obvious but the big problem is that the various things that psychology studies are all different and looked at in different ways. And so it became important to decide what it is that I actually need to study…
One of the big mysteries of viral media is why they go viral. At first, I assumed it was always a positive thing. People might find something funny or find a song catchy and so they might share it with friends who share it with more friends and hey presto, you’ve got a viral object. And this is the assumption I was operating on right up until a few weeks ago when an article was published in the Guardian newspaper about an advertising campaign which had gone viral because (and this is important) people were offended by it. It portrayed ‘stereotypical’ Islamic women with soldiers as some kind of cheesy example of something people might find surprising. And it had been shared by so many people, as an example of something negative, that it had gone viral. So viral, it had ended up in the Guardian.
And that rather ruined all my nice ideas, but helped cement one very important one – The idea of the importance of emotions. People share viral media, generally, when the media illicits an intense emotional response. And if there’s one thing that psychology definitely studies, it’s emotions. But things aren’t as easy as I had first thought. The more I read into emotions in psychology, the more complex things got. Atkinson and Hilgard made it clear that emotions can be deceptive and through Google searches, I started to learn how deceptive. It’s easy to think that when you feel angry, that’s because you’re literally feeling angry. But emotions are in fact simply hormonal and chemical changes in the body. And they can be the result of hormone imbalances as opposed to, say, an external stimulus causing anger. But more than that, the way we perceive other people’s emotions is incredibly deceptive. Images of a ‘sad’ expression on a man’s face tend to appear much more angry than an identical expression on a woman’s face. And then when you get into the issues of ‘projecting’, where you perceive someone else’s emotions as your own, when they might be quite different…Well, that’s where it all gets complicated. So I’m trying to understand emotions at the moment, which is pretty much what I have been doing for some time. Seeing how to study these emotions and how to understand their effects, while not allowing myself to be ‘tricked’ into seeing what I want to see is the big problem of the moment with psychology. It looks like the best way to study these things is through very small scale, tight projects – Measuring hormone levels in subjects, for example. Not the traditional way Web Science might seek to solve these issues. But there aren’t many simple ways to just overcome the problem of emotional biases. And there are other issues which make this more complicated and introduce the importance of the ‘small scale’ nature of these projedcts.
Herd behaviour is a big one. People might see an item becoming popular and then ‘share’ it to become part of a group. This is particularly popular among teenagers and that’s a problem – It might lead to say, a feedback loop – People see item x become cool. They then share item x. This leads to item x becoming cooler and more people sharing item x…But it might be none of these people really like the item, or have the same emotional response as the earlier sharers…They just share it because it’s the cool thing to do. Then if you throw in ‘hipsters‘ or people who are anti-mainstream, they might refuse to share something even if they enjoyed it, to avoid being part of the crowd. People are very complicated…
However, I feel emotions are key to this. Unlike I first thought, these emotions don’t need to be positive, but they do start to dictate whether an item becomes ‘popular’ – famous or infamous – and that is the most important factor for these other behaviours.
So that’s where I’m at with psychology. The more I read, the more things get complicated and the more I seem to have to read. Next time an update with where I’m at with complexity science, which I almost gave up on for a time…
Researcher: Jo Munson
Title: Can there ever be a “Cohesive Global Web”?
Disciplines: Economics, Ethnography (Cultural Anthropology)
Lawrence Klein, Econometrician who won a Nobel prize for his Economic forecasting models. Lawrence passed away on 20 October, aged 93.
Methods in Economics
When questioning the world, Economists consider questions of two types:
- Normative – subjective, opinion based statements that dictate “what ought to be”.
- Positive – objective, fact based statements that describe “what is” and that can be proved or disproved.
In order to establish the validity of Positive statements Economists propose a question or theory (state their hypothesis), construct a simplified model of the Economic phenomenon they are observing, collect data and make statistical inferences to establish the veracity of their initial theory, or make improvements to it. Normative statements can then be derived from Positive research to make statements about how things should be. The most comon application of Normative statements is in Economic design.
Next time (and beyond)…
I’ve had a quick reshuffle of the order, but broadly, I will be covering the following in the proceeding weeks:
Can there ever be a “Cohesive Global Web”? Ethnography 1 – Introduction & Definition Ethnography 2 – Disciplinary Approach Economics 1 – Introduction & Definition Economics 2 – Disciplinary Approach Ethnography 3 – Theories & Methodologies Economics 3 – Modelling & Methodologies
- Ethnographic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
- Economic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
- Ethno-Economic Approach to the “Cohesive Global Web”
Peoples, J. and Bailey, G. 1997. Humanity. Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth.
Barnard, A. 2000. Social anthropology. Taunton: Studymates.
Image retrieved from: http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2013-10/77881428.jpg
How is gender equality represented on the web? What defines an gender equal web in terms of philosophy? no comments
Going back to my second post (http://blog.soton.ac.uk/comp6044/2013/10/21/how-is-gender-equality-represented-on-the-web-philosophy-back-to-basics/) looking at the different types of equality and the arguments against them, this post will be addressing how a gender equal web would be defined in philosophical terms, from the different viewpoints.
Moral/Ontological Equality (equality of all persons): In this sense a ‘gender equal’ web would be one where both genders should be valued the same on the web.
Legal Equality (equality of result and outcome): In this sense a ‘gender equal’ web would be one where both genders have the same legal rights and responsibilities (and would be treated in the same way if they committed a web based crime) in relation to the web.
Political Equality (equal votes for all): less relevant for the web but arguably could still be relevant. In any sites where a decision needed to be made with a vote, these votes would have to be equal for both genders. In addition. any online material in respect to politics or voting would have to be without gender bias.
Social Equality (equal access vs equal opportunities): The argument for this is that both genders should have equal access to the webs resources and subsequent benefits.
Argument 1: Society is not by design equal. This looks at the equal access vs equal opportunities, directly in conflict with the social equality argument. Gender’s can’t be truly equal based on this argument as their positions within the online society will be different. For example, in academic websites men and women won’t necessarily be treated the same because how they are treated will depend on their academic prowess or integrity. Sites specific to certain universities for example our own university library site which only allows access to Southampton University students, that’s based on membership of an institution rather than gender. The validity of the social equality argument is that there should not be discrimination against a group (in this case gender, but be it racial or ethnical either) that disallows their access to services. However I fundamentally disagree that EVERYONE should have the same access. Everyone should have the OPPORTUNITY to gain that access but after that it should be based on ability.
Argument 2: Impossible to adhere to full social equality. Unless we live in a totalitarian system full equality can’t be enforced. The web gives the ability for everyone to air their personal opinions in a relatively impersonal sense. Unless the web became locked down such that all data was checked for potential gender imbalance, we can arguably never achieve full gender equality on the web, or indeed any equality. However equality like all other things is relative. If both sides have their opnions and there is a relatively equal distribution on both sides, then perhaps that’s equality after all.
Argument 3: Is full equality necessarily desirable? Following on from the second argument, would we necessarily want such a locked down system where everything was regimented to enforce equality? I know I wouldn’t!
Using these philosophical perspectives and arguments against them, the view of a ‘gender equal’ web that I have deduced from the following is:
- a web where nobody is restricted based on gender (unless it’s for a very justifiable reason, e.g a group dedicated to a specific disease that only affects one gender)
- a web where neither gender is severely discriminated against
- a web where academic integrity reaches higher than your gender
- and yet, a web where both genders are still free to speak their mind.
Those points in themselves are contradictions of one another, and i’m not sure that it’s possible to reach any ‘fully equal’ platform, whether it be the web or otherwise. Therefore I suppose that arguments 2 and 3 come into play. Full equality isn’t ever going to be possible in a free society, nor would we want it to. The best aspiration is to reach a stable situation where both genders can live in harmony with each other, enjoying the same privaledges that aren’t dealt out based on gender