« Previous | Main | Next »

Revolution round-up: week seven (Video)

Another week of ideas and debate, with some hugely helpful information exchanges on the blog from users with keen tech and web knowledge. Once again, I'll attempt to round up some of the points and arguments made this week, as appropriate to their programme or topic.

Programme Two; breaking the web:

The discussion of the web's vulnerability to attacks of various kinds continued with interesting insights into the resilience of the web to the majority of these ongoing battles online. DS Wall suggesting that one real way of damaging the web was to damage its credibility, rather than damage its infrastructure.

@cyberissues cites Turkey as an example of a nation state which rather than using a blanket firewall, applies legal pressure to ISPs to block 'offending' sites. And points out that the UK has similar controls over sites and their content via the IWF that are currently a voluntary opt-in.

@EnglishFolkFan brought up the idea of 'net neutrality' (as championed by Vint Cerf) but this appears to be an issue, indeed term, closer to US hearts and minds. Does the UK have a similar champion? Sir Tim Berners-Lee perhaps, in his assertion that the web should be like a blank piece of paper upon which no rules are imposed by that paper - that you may write (or draw) upon it what you will.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

There was a general consensus that the internet and web, whilst disruptible were unlikely to be destructible. Users @jayfurneaux and @earthgecko pointed to the more likely point of failure - power supply!

And while language on the web (English-based code and western message) as soft-imperialism has been roundly argued against previously on the blog @TaiwanChallenges noted a potential political point being made by the languages offered by an open source translation program. Perhaps the medium can indeed be the message?

As part of the series we will be using a graphics company to visualise various processes to explain the workings of the net. Two such processes were being taken to the graphics company this week and programme two director, Frank Hanly, asked blog users to check the tech we were asking the graphics team to illustrate: packet switching and filtering/blocking. The replies were a much appreciated sanity check.

When those graphics are developed further we'll get them up onto the blog to show how your input helped.

Programme three - the cost of free

Aleks Krotoski provided a starter for ten on the issues of privacy and the information economy this week, invoking her fondness for Orwell's 1984. Aleks argues that rather than Big Brother's gaze having been imposed upon us by a dictatorship, we have in fact opened the door and invited into our lives the gaze of... any number of eyes.

These musings inspired the inner dystopian in a number of us on the blog: concerns of unique online identity, and the creation of a unique and consistent lie for yourself online.

While @cyberissues echoed DS Wall's point of trust and engagement being a fine balance for the web and its applications alike: 'Now there presents a problem - too much suspicion in these social services and they become unusable; too little and disaster may ensue.'

While @TaiwanChallenges saw Aleks' Orwell and raised her a Huxley:

'The survival of democracy depends on the ability of large numbers of people to make realistic choices in the light of adequate information. A dictatorship, on the other hand, maintains itself by censoring or dis­torting the facts, and by appealing, not to reason, not to enlightened self-interest, but to passion and prej­udice, to the powerful "hidden forces," as Hitler called them, present in the unconscious depths of every hu­man mind.'

Experiments - testing the web

Multiplatform Content Producer Dan Gluckman joined the blog party to preview Digital Revolution's intentions to test the web in various ways. Interestingly there were a number of responses on other posts which make for interesting reading there: particularly @EnglishFolkFan's pointing out an experiment into multitasking abilities.

@GaryGSCC suggested planting a fib/lie into the web and tracing its course and spread through the web. This, they suggest, should be planted via a variety of sources, reliable, respected to the more scurrilous, to see whether the inception point would affect the spread of the (mis)information.

@SheffTim sets a challenge to find out as much about a person as possible via their digital presence and footprint. Following that, to what extent could you track a person via the net (and beyond)?

On Twitter @vo0ds suggested testing 'the (random number)% of the internet is porn myth

Programme four - is the web changing us?

More information around the themes of programme four - the web is changing us - are coming in the next week, but almost in a prelude to the impending discussions @TaiwanChallenges took to task one of the main questions of the series: the effect of the web on the human brain. This is an excellent and considered look at the differences between the Asian and Western approaches to language and communication (though not exclusively Far East/West divisions): 'there is the possibility that using the web - the western web as it is today - will make 'us' become more like Asians in the respect that we learn to process information more contextually, more holistically'

Next week, expect blog posts from Jon Webster on artists' surviving in a world that increasingly expects to consume their content for free, more info on programmes three and four and Tim Berners-Lee's views on privacy online.


  • Comment number 1.

    Another unfinished thought:

    There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about 'the new capitalism' in a post-global-crisis world. The BBC's BizDaily team talk about this a lot and recently reported on the tension between bankers who want to 'redistribute' wealth and those who feel that capitalism should create wealth. (Approximate quote, full story here: https://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/worldservice/bizdaily/bizdaily_20090825-0949a.mp3%29

    At the same time we have a parallel discussion about open-source, GPL, etc vs for-profit services. (Or should I say 'for-agenda' servces?)

    The common strand is the conflict between those who are trying to make things better, however they may define better, and those who are motivated by the money. The former group includes, say, the postman who goes out in the pouring rain to make sure you get your gas bill even though he could make more money churning out widgets in a factory as well as the group that came up with the Apache web server. The latter includes, say, the guy who sells you a mortgage even though he should really know that you can't afford the repayments, and the people who want to endure that you can't copy CDs you have paid for and listen to them on your MP3 player.

    The battle between these forces is probably one of the most pressing issues of our time, and I think the boundary between the two is often blurred. But a very interesting observation I came across recently is that extrinsic motivations (eg money) apparently lead to poorer outcomes than intrinsic motivations such as the joy of doing the task.

    Quote: Last month, just last month, economists at LSE looked at 51 studies of paid for performance plants, inside of companies. Here's what the economists there said, "We find that financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance." (https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html%29

    If he's right then the truly-free offering out there on the web will eventually surpass the for-profit equivalents in quality and usefulness. People see problems and they solve them because they need to be solved, not just because people can make money by solving them.

    Does this mean that "real-life" practises will be influenced by the movements that have flowered with the internet? Sites like Kiva.org and prosper.com suggest that traditional financial institutions may one day find themselves fighting the same kind of desperate rearguard action as the music industry is today.

    Just a thought.

  • Comment number 2.

    Caveat to the above: people need to make a living first and foremost, but once the basic needs are taken care of... well why do nerds live in bedsits and create fantastically useful new applications? Or why do they hack into the Pentagon looking for flying saucers when they could be making big money working for the establishment?

    Next: If it is possible for 'the truth' to be redefined by the winner-takes-all nature of the web, eg by promulgating a story that becomes universally accepted despite not being true, then what does that mean for our ability to make the rational informed decisions on which our democracy rests?

    If advertisers are able to use their understanding of human psychology to manipulate us into believing whatever they want us to believe, and those beliefs can become universally accepted due to the viral nature of ideas, then why are we allowing people to "provide information about new products and services" to us in exchange for access to 'free services' like gmail and facebook? All the evidence so far is that we are losing the power/ability reason through the onslaught of 'information' that the web offers, so we are increasingly susceptible to manipulation.

    Most 'free' services are offered by people with something to sell, making use of their knowledge of how our minds work to change our behaviour. This much is verifiable fact. putting this together with the above post, we consent to be manipulated by people who want to redistribute wealth in their own favour, in exchange for services that are probably inferior to those that could be provided by by people who just want to make the world a better place. Crazy.

    Perhaps the government (UN?) should enable some means by which the OS movement could create applications which provide the same/better services without the advertising? How much of the BBC's budget would be required to hold everyone's personal data and make it available (by permission only) at no cost? Brief outline here: https://www.mysociety.org/2009/08/16/the-data-haven/

  • Comment number 3.

    Some thought on privacy. Take a look this to get an idea of how personal information can be collected and presented.


    Add to this capability the idea of an organisation with resources comparable to Google, and imagine them crawling the web building up a database of individuals. This includes images. Imagine this data being shared with organisations that you buy things from.

    So you're walking down the street and someone with a camera relays your image to his company database where it is matched with your online photo gallery, and entire online persona. Suddenly, someone is walking next to you and knows what you spend your money on, where you live, what your interests are, how you responded last time one of his colleagues accosted you, and much much more. Soonner or later he's going to sell you something.

    Or worse, you're waiting for a bus in the rain and the bus shelter starts targetting ads at you personally, or even talking to you.

  • Comment number 4.

    Here's something a bit more solid:

    How are computers and the internet being used in education? How could they be used? Are we making the most of this resource? My feeling is no.

    You could also take a look at the rationale behind the One Laptop Per Child project, and revisit it to see if it's successful.

  • Comment number 5.

    Lots of food for thought there @TaiwanChallenges - many thanks. Re your point a very interesting observation I came across recently is that extrinsic motivations (eg money) apparently lead to poorer outcomes than intrinsic motivations such as the joy of doing the task is that from Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody? I seem to recall a story about a group of workers who, when given control over their own workload, workrate and time, actually proved to increase their productivity. And so there are also examples of many, many Open Source community-built apps - Wikipedia, arguably, the biggest of all.

    'why do nerds live in bedsits and create fantastically useful new applications? While I'm sure there's a great deal of the inventive, tinkering, making the world a better place to it, there's probably a small aspirant light within benchmarking Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates or the Google team.

    I watched that TED talk you pointed to. It seems... Far out. But maybe not so far off. It does suggest a gradual elision of the private and public will continue until we are all just walking barcodes to be scanned by friends and other advertisers. But, I wonder - the bus shelter that offers you razors when it sees you're stubbly - would that be so awful? Or something we would just come to expect and tune out? The escalators on the London Tube already have video ads - at first a BladeRunner moment, but quickly wallpaper.

    Is that the 'trouble' though? That we are edging ever closer to living very open, readable lives? On the one hand, if you follow Bill Thompson's line, open is good; on the other, if you follow Aleks' train of thought(crime?) - clearly there are things to be wary of.

  • Comment number 6.

    Random thoughts:

    I think I read somewhere that Ben & Jerry's ice cream used to operate on the principle that everyone knew what needed to be done and nobody had a pre-defined job, so everyone just did whatever they felt like doing. I have no idea if that's true though.

    If I'm stubbly, it's usually because I choose to be. Do you think I would be unaware that I'm stubbly? Would I need to be reminded to buy razors? Would I need to be reminded that I need anything? Who is to decide what I need? "You're walking kind of slowly there, Dan, you need a spring in your step. Why not treat yourself to a Red Bull? That redhead you're dating will really appreciate the new supercharged you." Or "Take the wight off your feet and recharge your battteries by spending an insane amount of money on overpriced crap coffee at the place across the street. They have chewy caramel on special offer - you're favourite variety. No, really, you're not OK. You need to take it easy. Just look at yourself. You're a walking train-wreck. That party last night really took it out of you and you said yourself that you're not getting any younger. You look really old in those pics Aleks posted of you dancing naked." Etc.

    Someone, I think it was Justin Webb, wrote about drugs advertising in the USA a while back. Can't find it now, but the point for me is that advertising is all about making people do something they wouldn't do otherwise. What happened to informed choices? If advertising doesn't change your behaviour then why do companies spend so much on it?

    On that theme there was a podcast recently (Material World, I think) about scientists measuring brainwaves to see which advertising was most effective - ie most likely to produce a change in behaviour. One of the things they said was that today's younger generation respond to very different stimuli. It might be worth looking into that for Prog 4.

    The aspirant light: hmmmm. I used to have a friend at high school who was always strumming away on his guitar. Like many other people, he had dreams of being a famous musician, and later on he was in a band. Of course, he never got famous, but how many mature adults continue to play music for small audiences? The drive to be creative may be encouraged by the possibility of great wealth, but it exists even when common sense tells us that we are unlikely to be the lucky one. Expert opinion told JK Rowling there was no market for Harry Potter, but she wrote the book anyway. Thousands of other books are written by people who know that the chances of being the next bestselling author are minimal. (More Black Swan thoughts here!)

    And why do some of us spend our time putting ideas on your blog? I don't recall being offered any money.

    As for 'open is good,' try 'open may be inevitable' and then ask do we want open to exploitation or openness as an expression of our freedom. Try Arthur Clarke's The Light of Other Days - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Light_Of_Other_Days

    Finally, you never replied to my email about the experiment to try on the web.

  • Comment number 7.

    Seriously, if computers are changing the way we think then surely this has an impact on how we use computers in education. How do we use computers in education anyway? Maybe you should talk about this?

    The OLPC project doesn't sound like a shining example though. It seems to have lost its way completely, despite all the hype about how web access would transform peoples' lives. https://www.engadget.com/2008/04/21/olpc-head-of-software-and-content-resigns-possibly-over-transit/

  • Comment number 8.

    @TaiwanChallenges apologies if I've missed your email. I will look out for that and reply asap.

    The computers in education (with the internet) is very much in the thinking for programme four. In fact, we're looking for examples of UK schools that are connecting with international schools (particularly in Korea) to consider the opportunities the internet is creating to interact with other cultures and languages more directly.

    The potential concerns around the difference of the learning approaches that computers and the internet have brought will also likely feature. Certainly issues such as Baroness Greenfield's worry over three year-olds being taught how to google will be considered in the process. Do you have other specifics we should look at in mind?

  • Comment number 9.

    My email didn't say anything other than 'drop me a line', so feel free.

    I'm interested in how we can better use computers in the classroom, whether connected or not. I haven't looked very hard, but have heard it said that we teach students how to use computers without using computers to teach, for instance, history. I'd love to see examples of how people are using computers to teach real-life skills as well as computing skills.

    The OLPC was interesting because it promised to provide people in poor countries with access to the net, and help them solve their real-life problems. I want to know how exactly that works. As far as I can tell, it hasn't and the reason appears to be that it was all about technology rather than about education. Someone was in love with his own idea.

    Using computers to connect is one approach. I'm starting classes at a couple of high schools in Taiwan this week. (In 30 mins, actually.) Do you want to hook me up with schools in the UK that want to collaborate? I'm also associated with the main teacher-training university in Taiwan.

    But what about the whole virtual reality field? As a very simple example, I play Third World Farmer with some of my classes. It teaches awareness of the issue, gives students a new perspective, and it's all about economics. https://www.3rdworldfarmer.com/

    I haven't ventured into Eve online, or Second Life, yet but I see occasional reports (hype) about the educational benefits of these sites. (You might also consider looking at them for program three too. Virtual currencies are an interesting topic.) What can we do with the internet to teach something other than computing?

    Are any schools using stuff like the virtual Pompeii simulation to bring history to life? https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/04/080418-pompeii-video-ap.html

    Are there any facilities like this in existence, or planned, for schools?

    Robert Ballard, the guy who found the wreck of the Titanic, goes into schools and lets kids drive ROVs exploring the deep ocean via satellite link.

    And on a sillier note, there are 'educational videos' out there created by well-meaning ameteurs. You might try talking to Zefrank, who for a short time was the most famous man on the internet after accidentally spawning one of the first viral campaigns with his 'how to dance properly' video: https://www.zefrank.com/invite/swfs/index2.html

    Ze is a brilliant speaker (look him up on TED.com) and also has some profound observations to share about the economy of the web.

    Another application is the use of computing in language-teaching. Take a look at MyET (https://www.myet.com/MyETWeb/PersonalizedPage.aspx%29, which helps students visualise what they need to do with their mouths in order to get the right pronunciation.

    I have to run now, but there was someone recently on TED.com talking about training the brain in order to combat dementia etc. He uses computer 'games' to reverse neurological decline and also to help kids with difficulties.

  • Comment number 10.

    More stuff;

    1. Maybe you should have a 'general' page somewhere for people to leave comments that are not related to the most recent blog entries?

    2. The easiest way to experiment would be a simple google-bombing campaign. It took me two weeks to get listed as "the sexiest man in Taipei" last year - https://www.TaiwanChallenges.com

    3. The more I think about this series, the more I think about the Meidocristan vs Extremistan example used by Taleb in Black Swan. Most of our real-life endeavours are examples of Mediocristan, where averages are important because distributions are normal. Online distributions, of popularity or wealth, are not normal and the important bits are not average, hence the term "Extremistan." This seems to apply to everything. For instance, the recycling clicks entry is an example of someone cornering the market in a particular application and getting millions of free person-hours as a result. If someone else wanted to do something similar, how would they get a look in?

  • Comment number 11.

    A longer one, still in need of refinement.

    There has been a lot written recently about the idea that our perceptions, ways of thinking, and reactions are the result of evolution that has left us predisposed to make certain mistakes. An easy example would be the way we 'see' faces in natural phenomena such as pieces of toast or volcanoes on Mars.

    This has been researched a lot, mostly from the perspective of understanding the mechanisms or causes. Applications of this knowledge range from misdirection by stage magicians to tricks which help politicians, orators, salespeople, marketers, etc achieve their aims. Try Malcolm Gladwell's Blink as a starting point, although this topic is not really important for the shows you're making.

    The sum of our perceptual processes is, on balance, in favour of our continued existence. At least, it has been until now. But the modern world is very different from the one in which we evolved. So, according to some, we're now more prone to error than previously and the impacts of those errors can be greater. Taleb's Black Swan is probably the best reference here, but again it's probably not all that relevant to this series.

    But there is an interesting implication.

    The basic idea is that when we evolved in the trees, on the savannah's, and (according to some), as aquatic apes, we lived in fairly simple environments where cause and effect were closely related and the relationships were discernable. Everything made sense and the instinctive reaction was probably the right one because it was the one that had worked for millions of years previously. Humans evolved the ability to plan in the short-term and pay attention to what was visible - or visualisable.

    In the modern world, the most important things are often hidden and not easily visualisable. We are constantly challenged by statistics we don't understand, jobs that don't have clear beginnings and endings, social networks that are far larger than our brains are wired to handle, dangers we can't predict or understand until it's too late, the elusiveness or apparent randomness of success, and so on. The world is very big, complex and difficult to some to terms with.

    Some research talks about how we construct simplified realities in our own heads, we rationalise to explain things when we shouldn't, we ignore key facts that don't fit our preconceptions, etc. This is worth noting, but probably not important for your purposes either.

    The important thing is that millions of people take refuge in new worlds that are much easier to understand. In online games, cause and effect are once more readily apparent or at least decipherable. Tasks are more like hunting expeditions or river-crossings than endless days sitting behind desks. Gamers are usually 'in the zone' and not subject to the distractions of phones and emails, other people's meaningless deadlines, poorly-defined dangers as described by scientists.

    I've always felt that gamers were losers, people who couldn't handle living in the real world. I'm not a gamer, but I'm starting to feel that these things may play a huge role in helping peple stay sane. Obviously some people do develop problems because they neglect their physical needs while spending all their time in artificial worlds, but is this dependence a reaction to the inapropriate human environment we have created in real world?

    Or is scientific knowledge of human pschology and neurology being exploited to create experiences which are designed to get us hooked?

    There was a story recently about a game-addiction clinic in Holland having some radical things to say about the nature of gaming addiction. I can't find it now, but it may be related to this place: https://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5191678.stm

  • Comment number 12.

    A few more thoughts related to the above:

    If right-brain 'holistic' thinking is related to interdependence, and left-brain is generally associated with individuality, then an increase in right-brain thinking across the population should presumably lead to more of a herd mentality.

    Is there a case for arguing that the web is self-organising into some kind of system in which the individual components are increasingly less individual? And what are the wider implications for the way things are done?

    Left-brain thinking is associated with systemising, analysis, the processes that underpin the way we write computer programs or design other systems. Will this skill become less prevalent?

    Alternatively, is left-brain thinking natural? We've discovered that Asian people don't seem to favour this approach, and ancient European texts are not clear or structured in the way that we expect engineers, scientists, philosophers, or even high school kids to write today. I have this theory that the scientific method is a construct that has changed our neurology, language and culture since we invented it.

    There are people who argue that it's an approach that actually limits our ability to see the truth or reason things out because we are betrayed by our own propensity to seek data that confirms our preconceptions. In other words we define the problem in such restrictive terms that we're not open to new information, and also we tend to argue to prove/disprove something without allowing for alternatives we haven't thought of or don't wish to accept. Scientific method is compatible with binary logic, everything is yes/no or black/white.

    If it's true that the holistic nature of the web is changing the way people think, then maybe we're seeing the start of a 'return to' more natural ways of thinking? Perhaps the rational scientific approach will fall out of fashion?

    Or perhaps the rational scientific method is an evolutionary response to the pressures of an increasingly complex world? In this case, the internet is a trap for those who can't make the leap. You can learn to override your instinctive responses in favour of knowledge-based responses, and hope to thrive in the brave new world we have created. Or you can retreat into online games and the safety of the herd, and try to pretend that everything's OK out there in the real world.

    I wish I knew what was true, what was right!


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.