If you have the time this weekend, there is a very worthwhile video at the Milken Institute site from a conference held this week. The session linked to was titled, “The Attention Deficit Society: What Technology Is Doing to Our Brains,” where four expert speakers addressed this subject matter:

Put down the iPad and pay attention: Technology may be rewiring your brain. Scientists say our ability to focus is being undermined by Twitter feeds, smartphones and other digital distractions. Many experts believe excessive use of technology can make users more impatient, impulsive, forgetful and even narcissistic. It may reduce the ability to process information and think deeply and creatively. Distracted drivers have become a menace on the roads. Even worse, tech-obsessed parents spend less quality time with their children, causing not only hurt feelings but potentially stunting a child’s vocabulary and development. At the same time, studies show Internet users are more efficient at finding information, and gamers develop better visual acuity. Is the technology that was intended to make us more productive actually dumbing us down? Is its use in the classroom counterproductive? How does it change our culture and society in general?

That our brains are adapting to the constant use of technology is the contention of the first panellist, Nicholas Carr. Doesn’t sound like rocket science when you put it that way, it sounds like common sense but I’m not sure how much time people actually spend thinking about how they are using their own technology – smart phones, iPads, iPods – and how it is really changing their lives and their own capacities. It is very intriguing to hear the entire panel speak about the issues set out above. One of the other professors on the panel is presently living in the dorm rooms at Stanford to observe the way students are using technology. The MIT professor is fascinating.

If you have time for it, even part of it, it’s a good one. Our politics are affected by the way people are living with, using new technologies and getting changed by them. Anyone interested in crafting policies and messages going forward might be interested in giving it a look.


The above picture captures Canada’s Public Safety Minister Vic Toews during a sleepy Sunday afternoon cybersecurity public relations event held back on October 3, 2010. That Sunday afternoon event marked the official announcement of Canada’s cybersecurity strategy. It has turned out to be a rather unfortunate photo-op at the present moment. Canada was hit with major news this past week (that has actually been bubbling for a few weeks now) about a cyberattack against our government systems of Chinese origin. See, for example: “Foreign hackers attack Canadian government,”Chinese hackers targeted House of Commons.”

The talking points were deployed to downplay the attack, as if little of consequence had happened. Prime Minister Harper and Toews spoke on Thursday about the matter, Harper in what seem to be newly perfected dulcet tones that characterize his manner in recent months:

But he said at a press conference in Toronto that he recognized cybersecurity was “a growing issue of importance, not just in this country, but across the world.”

He added that in anticipating potential cyberattacks, “we have a strategy in place to try and evolve our systems as those who would attack them become more sophisticated.”

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said he could not speak about details pertaining to security-related incidents, but he said the government takes such threats seriously and has “measures in place” to address them.

Lulling Canadians to sleep, as they so expertly do. It’s as if nothing, really, bothers these guys. Cyberattacks are everywhere, not just in Canada. What’s more, they explained, a government strategy is in place, the October launched strategy. The Harper government strategy is so successful, in fact, that the computers of Treasury Board, Finance and National Defence have been attacked over the past few weeks and the hackers “also cracked into the computer system of the House of Commons.” The severity of the breach is canvassed in the video report from CBC below, which reports the hackers “trolled government networks for weeks without a trace” for example. See also this expert: “…even in just a few seconds, if it was properly targeted — and it sounds like it was targeted — information of immense value could have been exchanged.” It’s a heck of a strategy that’s in place.

Canadians have been told there will be no effect on the upcoming budget, presently thought to be forthcoming on March 22 or March 29, a budget which will be a confidence vote and could see the defeat of the government, provoking a spring election. How the government is able to assure us, however, that no information pertinent to the budget has been lost is unclear. A security expert cited in the New York Times reporting on the breach was not convinced. We can imagine the fallout if the day after the budget were to be released any suspicious market moves were to occur. That’s a matter of speculation at the moment, given the uncertainty surrounding the hacking and the inability to get definitive information, but it’s something for rational observers to consider. How the government acts now in respect of the budget is something to watch. Indeed, on Friday, the Prime Minister engaged in sudden budget consultations with the leader of the fourth largest party in Parliament, the New Democratic Party. Whether this attack has factored into that consultation to any extent is anyone’s guess, given that there are other major controversies facing the Conservative government at the moment that may just as likely motivate them to stave off an election (they need only the support of one of the three opposition parties in order to survive a confidence vote).

Other points of interest surrounding Canada’s efforts on cybersecurity and this recent attack…

A paltry $90 million has been allocated by the Harper government over a period of five years to the task of cybersecurity. Those funds were allotted in the 2010 budget after their having been in office for four years and represent less than one year’s worth of promotional advertising for the Harper government.

It’s worth wondering what’s been done prior to and since Toews’ hastily arranged Sunday October news conference. Inquiring minds would like to know. Much of anything? It certainly served a useful purpose this week for the government and media to point to the event as an indication of the existence of a government cyberstrategy.

Canada’s Conservative government likes to characterize itself as tough on crime. They budget lots of money to build brick and mortar jails, billions in fact. But the above referenced cyberattack that has come to light fully in the past week, as they say in the online community, looks to be a big fail.

CBC video:


The New York Times Bits blog invites a number of readers to “unthether” themselves from technology for a period of time and to create a video of their experience. Reactions to this mini-exercise ran the gamut:

For Jenn Monroe, 40, giving up the Internet and phone led to a desire to purge other technologies from her life.

“I didn’t want to open my computer at all, even though that wasn’t part of the deal,” she said. “I avoided the microwave, which was also sort of strange and surprising to me.”

But for many, finding the right balance can be hard. James Cornell, 18, spent his day away from his cellphone feeling jittery, and he worried that he was annoying people by not responding to them. John Stark, 46, told his friends that he wouldn’t be responding to text messages, expecting them to call him on the phone if they needed to communicate. They sent text messages to his wife instead, asking her to relay information to him.

I know I have to make it a point to turn the computer off when I’m with my six year old. The instant gratification of a tweet or an e-mail is hard to resist. But then again, so is television, food, a good novel, smoking, etc. The need to distract ourselves from our daily lives does not begin and end with the Internet. The distraction might be more visceral on-line, but couldn’t we say the same thing about radio, print, phonographs, etc. I worry about this “Google is making us stupid” meme, popularized by Nick Carr’s Atlantic article, is producing a whole set of articles and books that don’t really advance our understanding of the effect of technology on our lives. Imagine an article called “is alcohol making me drunk”? or “is food making me fat”? You couldn’t. It’s more complicated than that. The point isn’t that the medium has no effect on humans, it’s that those effects are nuanced and contextual.

iphone drawing, BBC
My blog on Rhizomicon details the issues behind the antitrust probe of Apple, although there is some degree of overlap. If you’re interested, feel free to read that blog post first.

Currently, the US Department of Justice {DOJ} and the Federal Trade Commission {FTC} are determining if Apple should be investigated for antitrust activities. The issues are::
  1. Apple announced it will not allow Adobe’s Flash middleware on its iPhone platform
  2. Apple’s current software development kit for the iPhone limits the use of third-party technologies
  3. Steve Jobs wrote a blog explaining why Flash was an inferior technology
  4. The DOJ & FTC are reported to be looking into antitrust actions by Apple
  5. Some economists and strategists are claiming that antitrust is unwinnable because of Apple’s relatively small share in iPhone handsets

In the US, antitrust law and the Sherman Antitrust Act are focused on fostering competition and the competitive landscape, not protecting competitors. A monopolist is one seller and many buyers and their profit comes from a lack of competition and a manipulation of supply. Regulating monopolies and enforcing antitrust often {ideally} considers the “welfare” of the consumer, particularly in terms of pricing. Generally speaking, antitrust cases involve the following, often within the context of fairness::

  • Market definition, in order to determine if a firm has market power
  • Market power, i.e., the ability of a firm to charge a very high price, relative to {marginal} cost
  • Barriers-to-entry, i.e., the ability of an incumbent firm to limit competition or secure resources or advantages that others cannot
Examining the Apple decision to dump Flash may appear to be a non-sequitur when it comes to antitrust. Many have analyzed the situation in the following fashion:
  • Apple operates in defined market of smartphones
  • Apple’s market share in smartphones is relatively small, hence has little market power
  • Apple is fostering more competition by embracing open technologies, rather than the middleware of Flash {middleware allows a program to operate across platforms}

The problem here is the narrow definition of what Apple does. The focus here is on the single market of the hardware, i.e., handsets. In reality, Apple not only sells handsets, but has created a platform that incorporates both hardware and software {apps}, which are interrelated. The more apps, the more attractive the platform. The more attractive the platform, the more incentive there is to develop apps.

In order to address the analysis of platforms in antitrust, multi-sided markets, which are characteristic of platforms with more than one distinct set of clients/consumers, offers useful insights. Apple’s set of interrelated multi-sided markets are::

  1. iPhone hardware {smartphone}/iPad hardware {tablet} sold to consumers
  2. Apps and digital content sold to consumers on the web/mobile web
  3. Platform for smartphone/tablet apps for developers
These intertwined sides of Apple’s market help to properly define it. Examining Apple’s “market power” in terms of smartphone market share is woefully misguided. Let’s assess Apple’s market power in the above three areas::
  1. 15% of the smartphone market, 33% of touchscreen smartphone market [1]; tablet share-??? developing {Apple has relatively low market power in hardware}
  2. 99.4% of mobile apps {$4.2B market-2009} [2]; 25% of all music, 69% of digital [3] {other content types ???} {Apple has moderate to strong market power in software}
  3. See #2 {Apple is a monopolist in apps, but the dynamics of the market are very fluid}
The unknowns {???} are evolving stories or issues I haven’t researched yet. In light of Flash, the most damning market share figure is not the sales of hardware, but the share of apps that’s over 99%, which includes free apps. Apple dominates in this rapidly growing category and by thwarting the middleware of Flash, its market power forces developers to prioritize Apple and obliterates the possibility of a single build that can be used across platforms and devices.
I believe that the platform needs to be examined in its entirety, not just the market share of hardware, and that care should be taken to determine the effects of Apple’s conduct.While Adobe may be worse off due to the fact that developers are likely to channel development towards the dominant iPhone platform that doesn’t use Flash, the acid test will be if developers are worse off. The following table does a rough assessment of Apple’s market sides in smartphones::
Market Sides\Antitrust Dimensions Market Definition Market Power Barriers-to-Entry
Hardware Smartphone handsets & tablets for consumers Low Low
Apps Software for iPhone-based hardware Very high Very High
Platform for Apps Marketplace to sell apps to consumers Very high Very High

In terms of hardware, Apple is profiting from its relationship with AT&T, which is subsidizing the price of the iPhone. Teardowns of the iPad show that margins are relatively slim, but the strategy is to increase the number of users to attract developers. In terms of software, Apple controls the app game.

How I see it is that by forcing Flash off of the iPhone platform, it’s giving developers fewer degrees of freedom for technologies that use Flash. Rather than develop one build for an app that uses Flash middleware, developers will have to create several builds using HTML5. Given the dominance of Apple’s App Store, there are strong incentives to develop for that platform crowding out resources to develop for others, such as Android. Apple’s justification is that it needs to preserve the quality of the user experience, but will that be good enough for the DOJ or the FTC under the Obama administration? Technology is full of uncertainty and fortunes can change overnight. Scrutiny of Apple should consider multi-sided markets and address the health of the competitive environment.

Song:: Feist-‘We Can Work It Out’

Twitterversion:: Development of an #Apple  antitrust analysis framework. How competitive is ecosystem on iPhone platform #ThickCulture @Prof_K

On the lighter side, I offer this {click on image to play video}::


Via @ZanyPickle on Twitter.  I’m not geek enough to tell if this is 8-bit graphics or not.  I’ll freely admit that many readers of this blog might be muttering TLDR when seeing my blog posts.

Twitterversion:: RT: @ZanyPickle New: How to speek geek || #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Technologic (Radio Edit) – Daft Punk

Jessica Lussenhop says our kids are awash in pornography, but for the most part they can handle it, or at least exhibit a nonchalance about it. Shudder inducing quote (for me at least):

“I have 140 gigs of porn on my computer,” one of his buddies says. “I was going to put it all on an external hard drive and pass it to all my friends. And I said this in front of my friend’s parents.”

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, his frankness is astounding. Second, this very nice boy with the 140 gigs of pornography gives his first and last name to include in this article. I’m not going to print it here.

I’ve thought some about this ubiquitous pornography question because we had Naomi Wolf come to our campus a few months back and give a thought provoking talk about how the deluge of porn had the effect of demystifying (rationalizing – although she didn’t use that work) the female body. Channeling Max Weber, She called for bringing courtship and magic back into relationships.

My own view is similar to Weber’s in lamenting that “the romantic mystery ship has failed.” The broarder implications for me as a parent and as a political scientist is the hyper-rationalizing of our youth. Our students, in my view, are evolving into “hyper-processors” who are able to synthesize vast amounts of information. I think, in general, this makes them more goal oriented and focused. The flip side is that they are less reflective. I think my big fear is that our young people are losing an ability to be intentional in their behaviors….i.e. they are too preoccupied by their increasingly complex habitus that they find it increasingly difficult to exhibit the agency necessary to alter their habitus. Not to get all sci-fi, but it would seem like the technology pushes structural change in ways that are not rational or driven by conscious thought.

Anybody who reads this with regularity has probably come across me proclaiming my love for the article links in Bookforum. I’m not sure how they dredge the web for their content, but they never fail to uncover something interesting.

Today’s thought pellet comes from an interview with Christine Rosen in The University Bookman, a publication from the Russell Kirk Center (an “old school” conservative…I learned a great deal from The Conservative Mind — so props to him).

Rosen, who edits The New Atlantis: A Journal of Culture and Technology, questions a utopianist view of new technology and engages the potential deleterious effects on families.

The biggest challenge our new technologies pose for children and families is one of opportunity costs: too many of us are spending too much of our time in front of the screen instead of with each other in face-to-face communication, and this has adverse effects for families and for our culture.

I’m of two minds on this. Before I left for work today, I set my daughter up on a site called Strip Generator a site that allows her to make her own comic strips (don’t worry, she’s under supervision: no calls to Child Protective Services). I think new technology allows for a flowering of creative expression and I try to expose her to experiences on-line that engage her in creative production. But I must admit to wondering about the costs. Do these new technologies create habits that undermine face to face engagement. A possibility that I’m especially interested in as a political scientist who thinks about social capital and civic engagement.

As we think about how we deal with technological innovation in our own world, Rosen encourages us to think about how the Amish approach technology:

The Amish are a good (albeit rigorous) model for this. They are not opposed to every technology; but before they decide to incorporate one into their community, they first ask whether it will bolster or undermine the core values of the community.

This of course greatly offends libertarian sensitivities. Who is “the community” to tell me whether I can use a new technology. But if there are great social costs to new technology, we need to make it apparent. The literature thus far doesn’t seem to suggest a decline in face to face interaction as Internet usage increases, but we’re still at an early stage in this scholarship. there’s more thinkin’ and researchin’ to do.

I can hear my Internet and Politics students groaning 🙂 Stop hand wringing and let a 1,000 gadgets bloom! But I get paid to hand wring….so (not sure what the onomatopoeia for “hand wringing” is.