Are you playing games on the Internet? Are you addicted? That depends who you ask. At least one government is considering jumping into the fray.

23 04 2010

There is no denying that the Internet serves a myriad of uses. In large part, the Internet has grown into an incredible productivity generator for people all over the world. Furthermore, the Internet has become an increasingly necessary tool to carry out critical tasks that can carry serious consequences if ignored.

With that being said, concern has been mounting about the possibility of Internet addiction. This controversial topic is a difficult one to grasp. What qualifies as excessive Internet use? Who decides these criteria? What are consequences for excessive use?

These are some of the very questions that governments are beginning to scope out as a means of building a regulatory framework to limit excessive Internet use that can be deemed harmful.

South Korea is at the forefront of regulations applying specifically to Internet gaming. A leading regulatory idea  is a gaming curfew where blocks of time are deemed periods of no play or at least limited play in order to encourage people to pull away from computer screens and get some rest. Granted, South Korea is in somewhat of a unique position due to the country’s advanced Internet infrastructure that allow tremendous bandwidth and speeds for all Koreans who are online.

I have some concerns about these proposals stemming from the South Korean government. Sure, actions that are harmful should be studied to determine the real, as opposed to perceived, threat that may be present. However, where does personal freedom factor into these scenarios, particularly in the United States? If people are in their own homes, using their own property to access the Internet and utilize it as they please, what right does the government have to step in and say essentially “Turn it off! Go to bed!” If South Korea were to fully embrace regulations about Internet gaming activities, will these actions translate into regulatory actions in the United States that are comparable to restrictions on tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption?

One of the principle problems with the idea of regulating Internet time use is the controversy around the concept of Internet addition. Some experts feel that abundant use the Internet is not classifiable as a true addition under widely acknowledged medical definitions. Others, such as Dr. Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction, claim the exact opposite based upon symptomatic criteria. The following list reflects some measures by which she deems addiction to exist in Internet users:

  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Ignoring sleep in order to stay online
  • Euphoria when engaged with the Internet
  • Lack of behavior control
  • Being dishonest towards other people
  • Physical changes stemming from long periods of Internet use such as weight gain, carpal tunnel syndrome etc.
  • Absence in pleasure that previously resulted from other activities

Sifting through a variety of perspectives that exist on this issue, some major themes seem clear. First, spending too much time on the Internet either playing games or visiting pornography websites, can result in harmful health effects. The main effects cited tend to center around social isolation resulting from the deterioration of real life, face-to-face social skills. Second, the idea of excessive Internet usage needs to be scientifically proven as an addiction. Transparent studies to determine the validity of these claims should help clear the air on this topic. Finally, only after both of the aforementioned themes have been addressed can governments realize a more clairvoyant perspective on possible regulatory approaches to consider for Internet gaming and excessive Internet usage. 





Net Neutrality and the Appellate Court: Reasons for Concern and Praise in FCC Defeat

10 04 2010

A recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding net neutrality standards raises a bunch of far-reaching consequences for Internet users. The court’s decision stated in no uncertain terms that the Federal Communications Commission does not have the authority to regulate how Internet service providers (ISP) restrict access to content that is accessed over their electronic networks. In essence, the court handed a victory to the big media companies in this country in so far that they can decide as private industry players what you and I view online.

If this potential power grab by media companies scares you, rest assured you are not alone. At first I was one of those who felt very uneasy about the effects this decision could have on my Internet surfing. However, the more I looked into the topic, the more I realized this issue has many, many sides to it.

It is likely a safe assumption that most people who have grown nervous with the Appellate Courts decision feel this way because of possible restrictions towards online content. This is a valid concern. I also do not want one company, such as Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner or any other Internet provider, to decide what I can and cannot check out online in my home on my time. Whenever public freedom to access information is restricted, there is a problem. My own ability to judge what I want to see, read or hear online should be my decision. If this recent court ruling erodes my ability to carry out this activity, I will be one unhappy camper.

When reading about the Appellate Court’s decision, I realized that there is a hypothetical elephant in the room that must be acknowledged. The elephant -–rather issue—is in regards to what the FCC can regulate. If the FCC does not possess the regulatory power for ISPs, then who or what does? Where are the safety measures, the checks and balances to power, that are meant to secure the interests of the public at large? Sure, some claim that as a private industry, self-regulation will ensure that the public is treated fairly when it comes to Internet access. However, we have seen numerous examples of corporate debacles stemming from deregulation activities in this country and the serious ripple effects the public experiences when they occur. Considering the FCC has been sidelined in terms of regulatory activity on the Internet, this leads to my next point.

The justice system that exists today in the United States is overburdened in many ways. Political leaders, judges and citizens have cried foul over the length of time it can take for court cases to be decided in this country. If there already is a problem of case overload in our judicial system and the FCC has now been ordered to stand down from regulating Internet providers, who then will have to step up to the plate and take on these regulatory duties? It would seem that by default, the United States’ courts are set to become the go-to entity in regulating Internet accessibility, as if the courts did not have enough on their plates already! This is a particular concern because it seems this will have far-reaching effects as this massive responsibility will only clog an already over burdened justice system. Additionally, if one were to factor in the increasingly partisan politics in our nations capital, the ideological differences among politicians has slowed the process of filling vacant federal court judgeship’s to a crawl. Yet another example of what may help to further strain the administration of justice across the country.

In conclusion, I must be fair in highlighting a major point of support I have towards the Appellate Court’s ruling against the FCC. From a strict business perspective, the claim by ISPs that it is neither fair nor reasonable for bandwidth hogging applications to be charged the exact same fees as normal bandwidth users is correct. If someone is using a program online that takes up a disproportionately large amount of bandwidth so that it infringes upon the Internet experience for other users, that one user should be charged more. In simplistic terms, this concept is similar to the way taxes are determined in the United States. The more income you make, the more you pay in taxes. Similarly, the more Internet bandwidth you use, the more you pay for that usage. Conceivably, the ISPs can reinvest the extra funding generated in this way for higher bandwidth capacity cables so that the Internet experience can be consistent and reliable for all users.

Stay tuned for future developments on net neutrality as the Appellate Court ruling is a beginning, not an end, to a significantly important issue facing the future of Internet use in the United States.





The premise behind Internet frameworks: open access or suffocating structure?

19 03 2010

When you search for material on the Internet, do you know how you come across the results that you view? Are there influences actively dictating what you view and what you do not have a chance to comprehend? In essence, these are some of the primary points focused on in Jonathan Zittrain’s book, The Future of the Internet.

Within this weighty yet interesting book Zittrain attempts to dissect the nature of the Internet’s DNA. Often times the Internet is though of being the ultimate example of pure openness, where anyone, anywhere can contribute anything for others to view, enjoy or revolt against. Specifically, Zittrain isolates the method for this occurrence into two distinct camps: generative nature and proprietary means.

The wider ranging of these two concepts is that of generative nature. Just as the name describes, “generativity considers how a system might grow or change over time as the uses of a technology by one group are shared with other individuals, thereby extending the generative platform (78).” The basic premise being that there is an active fostering of the possibility to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences.

Contrasting this approach is the proprietary model comprised of the tethered appliance. In its most basic form, the appliance being either an Internet service provider or a physical product that locks users into using the said product as the exclusive means of accessing what is desired. Freedom to roam, explore, contribute or change the basic dynamics is largely lacking. Innovation is the curse instead of the buzz within this framework.

Zittrain pairs both of these approaches to online existence as we know it currently and explores associated issues with each one. A common, yet incredibly fundamental component of both approaches are security. It does not take much effort to realize the potential security problems arising from vast, open electronic networks where anyone can contribute content regardless what the intent may be. This is exactly how computer viruses gained prominence during the fledgling days of the Internet, as there was an unprotected network of interconnected computers completely willing to accept malicious code of it were introduced. This lack of care for purpose was exactly the motivation of early Internet programmers, who could have cared less about how the Internet was used. Instead, they only cared that the Internet was functional (28). Zittrain reflected upon these risks associated with this approach, “The most salient feature of a PC is its openness to new functionality with minimal gate keeping. This is also its greatest danger (57).”

Response to such vulnerabilities inherent from complete openness has been proprietary measures to provide great control to allow measured functionality. The upside to this approach is that greater security can result. However, the downside is limited accessibility to content and perspective. In an online environment of the twenty-first century, this is an extremely serious constraint to content with. Even if malicious actions can be reduced via the increase in tethered appliances among consumer markets to help ensure more stable performance, an entirely new risk emerges. Not just is content access controlled by a centralized authority but Those who control the tethered appliances can control the behavior undertaken with the advice in a number of ways: preemption, specific injunction, and surveillance (107).”

One thing is pretty clear; the Internet is here to stay. It is not going to disappear anytime soon. In turn, the continued functionality of Internetusability requires a balancing act when it comes to security by way of open platforms and securely controlled access. Over extending in either direction will only lead to revolt and possible disruption. A balanced approach is needed where security plays a distinct motivating role but open accessibility, determined by individual users, is weighted just as heavily. Zittrain suggests that a keen balance is necessary where regulation from within, among users, can actively assuage security fears if given the chance to work (102-103). Furthering this approach, he references the online encyclopedia Wikipedia as one example where users act as collective bastions in protecting the platform while still maintaining open access to almost anyone to view or contribute. Although I personally believe it is too early to know with certainty if a mainstream ethos of established boundaries is sweeping the Internet, I do think that lessons can be learned and applied to some degree from Wikipedia. The question remains, when will we know and will you be able to tell?





The Sweetest Fruit of Power and Profit: Modern Media?

19 02 2010

Over the course of my reading Robert McChesney’s book, The Political Economy of Media, I have had to think about the current state of media in the United States. As seen in my post last week relating to the same book, clearly there are issues that could be interpreted as major problems with the current media environment. However, others may feel content with the current state of things as capitalist, free markets serve as the underlying basis of operations for media in this country.

Regardless of which side, if any, you feel most reflects your stance on this issue; several points mentioned in the book are worthy of exploration.

Increasing media conglomeration has largely occurred outside of public consciousness. It could be argued this is because mainstream media outlets, which reach the most people, do not cover these proceedings within the government hence the public is largely unaware. Even if that were a completely accurate argument, one fact does remain. This fact is one that really makes me cringe. When business leaders or politicians equate criticism of business practices to being unpatriotic. This, my friend, is a ridiculous argument. Democracy is meant to function by the people. Without public say, our country would not exist in the twenty-first century. By over simplifying the relations between media ownership, the public and criticism of media conglomeration as unpatriotic, this in itself runs contrary to the fundamental ideals that this country’s constitution is premised upon.

With that being said, I must take exception to some of McChesney’s own words. He does not get off scot free on this topic. On page 321 it is stated that “The global commercial media system is radical in that it will respect no tradition or custom, on balance, if it stands in the way of profits.” I find this quote rather ironic. The media industry itself is actively using the “custom” of patriotism in the United States to serve as a front for protection from criticism. Using a fundamental pillar of democracy to shield the media industry from the inherent checks and balances democracy is meant to actively utilize for public good is pitiful. It is unfortunate that the media industry acts cowardly by using democratic principles to protect their own isolated interests, whereas criticism of such measures is deemed unpatriotic. Furthermore, McChesney deserves to be chastised for demonizing the media industry in the aforementioned statement, painting the industry as an all-evil entity. He does not immediately follow the statement to point out the industry’s reliance on said principles for its own protection.

Another issue of concern dealt with in the latest chapters of McChesney’s book is context, context of information to be specific. Increasingly, McChesney claims, media outlets are trying to avoid providing contextual basis for stories. In essence, the stories presented are seen strictly as is without any understanding for the consumer to make sense of the story as it relates to much broader, possibly significant societal issues. Ted Turner, a media maven and entrepreneur, wrote in a 2004 column for the Washington Monthly magazine, why he was concerned about consolidation of the media industry. He furthered his point by referencing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black commenting on the importance of accessible information from many sources:

“The First Amendment rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.”

As the media industry consolidates, the diversity of information becomes endangered. Furthermore, without news stories expressed with regard to contextual background, the public is left unsure where to look or even unaware of what to look for. Currently, the lack of context can be seen in relation to Internet control within the media industry. When the topic surfaces in the news, it is almost always framed as a business story instead of a public interest story. In turn, the information is arguable exposed to those already in the know, whereas the public, who could be adversely affected by Internet ownership, are left scratching their heads. Connecting the dots between stories, showing the bigger picture and the potential implications, is not happening.





Changing Journalism for Better or Worse

12 02 2010

The media industry in the United States that you and I experience on a daily basis has morphed from its existence a generation ago. However, when analyzing how these changes have occurred, whether they are good or bad and for whom, much debate ensues.

One prime example of such perspectives can be found in Robert McChesney’s book The Political Economy of Media. It is within this text that McChesney lays down his case that the journalism industry in the United States is tremendously flawed, off-balanced and in many ways failing. He provides numerous reasons why this evolution of the journalism industry is so calamitous and paints a disheartening picture for the future of not just journalism but democracy, since they are closely related, if nothing is done to arrive at a solution. Although McChesney assigns blame to numerous situations and institutions, I will focus on a couple that I believe are of great significance.

Deregulation is presented as a topic of grave concern relating to journalism, as the tendency for business interests to trump journalistic motivations occur when fewer rules are in place. In turn, media power becomes isolated among a fewer number of large media conglomerates which drowns out competition. McChesney argues that the government is the only safeguard that can prevent this scenario from occurring rampantly.

The flip side to this argument, that McChesney alludes to, is to allow the marketplace to evolve as it may with the belief that it is a self-regulating entity ensuring the best outcome for all concerned parties. Based upon the evidence presented in Chapter 1 and Chapter 5, along with my personal observations of the media industry, it seems the media industry is much more concerned with and tempted by shareholder influence than providing for the public good. In light of the Enron and WorldCom corporate debacles, where journalists largely failed to report upon the illegal activities of corporate leaders, a weakness of the modern journalism industry was highlighted. McChesney makes it clear that due to the profit pressures in journalism today it is the industry’s “…inability to provide criticism of the system as a whole-even when it was well deserved-[that] is an inherent flaw of professional journalism (51).” One hypothetical scenario from rampant media deregulation is that the public loses all respect for the industry, resulting in a new outcrop of smaller, independent media production outlets. However, a potential difficulty can arise from this scenario as well.

If journalism as has traditionally been known is dissolved into a plethora of smaller, isolated media sources, the risk for cognitive dissonance rears its ugly head. Psychologist Leon Festinger devised the idea behind cognitive dissonance in that people desire to reduce dissonance as much as possible in their lives. To do this, people establish a belief and seek only information that aligns with their personal beliefs while strictly avoiding influence from any differing lines of thought. The end result from this is largely ignorance through the inability to be exposed to a diversity of perspectives.

The potential ignorance resulting from the multiplication of these pseudo-journalistic echo chambers leads me to reflect upon my parent’s generation. During the 1950s and 1960s, journalism resulted from a more limited number of sources that were largely trusted and much less pressured by profits than the current industry. These limited resources forced anyone who desired to have an idea of what was happening in the world to tune in and, by default, be exposed to a greater degree of differing views and opinions. If this was a positive or negative attribute for journalism is a matter of opinion. One thing is clear though: journalism is not what it was a generation ago.





Public-Government Interactivity: An Example for the Future

19 12 2009

In the midst of partisan bickering and intra-party squabbling over major policy issues such as health care reform and the federal budget, it isn’t surprising some people are deeply upset over the current direction –or lack there of– of the United States government. However, I will not be weighing in on either of these political hot potato issues.

Instead, attention should be paid to an encouraging sign of the government actively soliciting public insights for greater transparency and interactivity. Luckily, I came across this awesome endeavor and felt it very worthy of passing along.

Following the lead of President Obama’s initiative for greater government transparency with the release of the Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies earlier this year, work is underway to increase public input on Data.gov’s future growth. For those unfamiliar with Data.gov, this website serves as a central nerve center of sorts for accessing a plethora of government information presented in one place online. The idea behind such a website is a strong one but it is clear that work remains to make the site more user friendly.

A promising step towards this feat comes through a collaborative effort between the Chief Information Officers Council and several other government groups to shape Data.gov based upon user suggestions. This attempt is being carried out now at the Evolving Data.gov With You website. Here, users can propose ideas for greater government transparency and efficiency that are then viewed by other visitors who can vote in favor of ideas they find most beneficial. The voting concept demonstrated here is very similar to the type of social ranking systems utilized by popular websites like Digg.com that rely upon user input to determine the popularity of user submitted stories.

You may be wondering:

  • Why is this important?
  • Why should I care that about this?
  • What’s in it for me?

For one, the idea that the government is actively working to make an easily accessible platform for visitors to shape how the future of Data.gov evolves is a rather new concept. This is especially relevant when considering it is not just a concept, it is actually being undertaken through actions.

Secondly, as citizens complain about the government turning a deaf ear towards what the people want this should serve as a demonstration of a changing mindset it Washington, D.C. President Obama proposed rather sweeping changes through the aforementioned Memorandum earlier this year to force government entities to tackle ways of making government more responsive to the people it is meant to serve.

Thirdly, the open forum for idea sharing and user contributions at Data.gov provides a free idea generator to the government. By soliciting insights from visitors who perhaps come from a wide range of professional backgrounds, the government can benefit greatly through the variety of different perspectives towards usability these citizens provide.

Along those lines, the website interface of the voting platform used with Data.gov is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate. The structure of each page on the site is consistent so as to limit the chances of a visitor getting lost with no way to retrace their steps. Also, the information presented is clearly separated into different categories allowing users to access the material they are most interested in without wadding through pages of unrelated material.

I have already voted for the ideas which I feel would be most beneficial to citizens trying to access and use information provided from the government. There are many ideas presently waiting for your vote. If you want government to be more responsive, you have to speak up. Here is a great opportunity to do just that. Encourage these initiatives to assist the government in order to help us. I did my part today in this process. Question is, will you do yours?