I recently listened to a podcast discussing the sociological effects of technology. Few people would deny that technology has had a huge effect on our lives, and some would say that it’s probably had more effect than any other aspect of human endeavour, such as politics, religion, business, the arts, or even pure science. I agree this is debatable and many of the areas are inter-related – for example, science leads to technology which is used by business and coordinated by politics – but let’s just agree that it is important.
So what sort of effects are we talking about here and are they good or bad on balance? You probably won’t be surprised to know that I, as an IT professional and technology enthusiast, think that on balance the effects have been strongly positive.
There are several common complaints people have about technology. One is that using technology is addictive and people spend too much time with it. We hear about afflictions like “internet addiction” even though, as far as I am aware, this is an not officially recognised condition. Another common “addiction” is over-use of computer and console games. I’m sure there are examples of gamers whose lives have been significantly affected but I doubt whether it’s as common as is often claimed.
Another alleged problem is how technology causes people to disconnect from society. Social internet sites, like Facebook, are alleged to result in people interacting on-line instead of in person. Again this is usually suggested without any corroborating evidence.
There’s also the claim that people use technology where they would previously have used their own brain. For example, many people can’t do basic arithmetic because their computer does that for them, or they don’t remember phone numbers because they are all stored in their cell phones, or they can’t read maps because all their navigation is done with a GPS device. I’m sure this is true in many cases but isn’t that what technology is for? Doesn’t it take over some of the more mundane tasks we would normally do ourselves so we can concentrate on more complex and important things? Of course, this theory only works if their are more important things to worry about, but I think in most cases their are.
The final big issue (I’m sure there are other minor ones) is privacy. Many people seem to think that anyone who stores any information on the internet is almost certain to be stalked by some pervert, or be hacked by some malicious group from Russia, or to be ridiculed by the on-line community after they read and distributed personal details. Yeah sure, all those things happen in rare cases, but the reality is the risk has been blown out of all proportion.
Clinical psychologist and university sociologist Sherry Turkle has written a book titled “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other” which discusses many of these points. I haven’t read the book so it is difficult to comment on it. I’m not sure, for example, how much of her opinion is based on facts and experiment and how much is based on opinion and anecdotes.
I do know that some real research has indicated trends in the opposite direction to what the book suggests: that people who use Facebook more also interact with real people more, that gamers sometimes broaden their horizons by interacting with other people all around the world who have a wide variety of experience, and that sharing information on the internet more often leads to good outcomes than bad.
I guess, like a lot of social science, there is evidence showing contradictory outcomes. And in the end the debate doesn’t matter anyway because technology, especially computers and the internet, is just too useful no matter what the disadvantages are. Few people will give up their social internet use just because there is an occasional unpleasant incident linked to it, no one is going to give up using a calculator or a GPS because it makes skills from the past redundant, and spending less time in front of a screen (computer, TV, or game) doesn’t seem to be much of a trend no matter what the naysayers are telling us.
It’s almost impossible to imagine life without these technologies now that we have them. I believe my horizons have broadened hugely since I started using the internet. I now know a lot more about a much wider range of topics than would have been practical without it. I find it hard to imagine how I could do much without my iPhone – it’s an ever-present source of information and communications. And I can do mental arithmetic quite well, I can remember many numbers, and I am quite good at reading maps, but I feel little need to utilise these skills because I just don’t need to.
We stopped riding horses everywhere when we got cars. Cars introduced many hazards, reduced the level of equestrian skills greatly, and had many other bad effects, but would we really want to go back to horses except as a recreational choice? Obviously not. The same argument applies to modern technology and if some people can’t cope with that then they should just get out of the way, saddle up their horses, and ride off into the sunset!
Where is the world of computers going in the next few years? If I, or anyone else, knew that they could become quite rich as in investor, or maybe extremely well known as a future technology commentator. But the fact is that often experts are hardly better than any other person at predicting where technology trends will go and IT must be the most prominent example of this.
But despite what I said above I am going to offer a few observations on current trends and where I think they will lead. I guess I can check back on this blog in a few years and see how close I got to reality but until then my guess is as good as any other, and better than most!
The general trend will be for more people to use tablets and smart phones and for traditional computers to become less relevant. That is clear to most of us already so it’s hardly a brilliant revelation. I think Android phones and tablets wil become the basic unit that most people will use, just like Windows is now on computers. Apple’s iOS devices – the iPhone and iPad – will be the premium device just like the Mac is now in computers. And Microsoft won’t be very relevant.
Microsoft seem to think they can create a device which is really a poorly designed laptop, add a few tablet-like features and call it a tablet or hybrid device. I don’t think this approach works. The way people would use a Surface tablet to its strengths would be just like they would use a laptop: while seated at a desk, with a physical keyboard, in landscape mode, and avoiding touch features.
So why have a Microsoft tablet at all? Why not just buy a compact laptop? There is no reason at all but Microsoft are just so intent on maintaining their existing advantage that they can’t move on. Well those who don’t move on disappear and it’s obvious this is already happening to Microsoft. They never have innovated, they’ve always been followers, but they have succeeded anyway because of historical factors. That won’t happen again. Goodbye Microsoft. You won’t be missed!
And Windows 8 hasn’t exactly been an outrageous success. Sure there have been a lot of people switch to it but they are the people trapped in the old paradigm. That market is shrinking every year. Already there are many bad reviews of Windows 8 (after all it’s just Windows 7 with some confusing coloured tiles thrown on top with no real thought to integrated design) plus a critical security flaw has already been patched and it was hacked the day it was released.
I admit I haven’t used Windows 8 very much but I still have it on a virtual machine on my Mac laptop where it has been for a month before most of my PC using friends got it. When I did use it I just found it confusing and pointless.
What about Android? Again I have only used Android devices for short periods of time so I don’t claim to be an expert. My conclusion, based on this short period of trial, would be that Android is quite good but it’s nowhere near as intuitive, consistent, smooth, or trouble-free as iOS.
So Android is a bit like what Windows used to be: a fairly decent system for the majority of people who want something fairly cheap and who don’t demand the ultimate in security, elegance, or reliability. That does sound quite condescending, doesn’t it? Typical Apple fan-boy stuff. But I think I can defend that point.
There are many advantages to Android over iOS (just like there are advantages to Windows over OS X) but I don’t think they outweigh the disadvantages. The advantages include that Android runs on a wide range of hardware, it runs on cheaper devices, it’s more open, and it’s more configurable. But those are the exact same points which are disadvantages because it means the Android system isn’t as closely tied to the hardware so consistency, security, and reliability inevitably suffer, exactly the same situation as occurred with Windows (notice how I refer to Windows in the past tense, as if it just doesn’t matter any more).
So in 5 years time here’s where we’ll be with IT: most people will use tablets and smartphones and most of those will run Android. Apple’s devices will be a significant factor at the top end of the market. In computers Microsoft will still have the biggest share but Apple will make steady gains. Linux will be even less relevant on the desktop, but increasingly relevant in supercomputing and servers.
And new super-compact devices, such as phones with built-in projectors and devices which project an image directly onto the user’s eye will begin to appear.
Everything will connect to the internet wirelessly: appliances, vehicles, everything. And the Internet will increase it’s importance as the major source of information including books, TV, radio, and news.
None of the above is particularly outrageous but I am only predicting the future in 5 years. If I was thinking ahead 10 or more years instead I might be tempted to contemplate far more dramatic changes. But those are the ones which no one ever predicts so why should I try?
All I can say is that working in IT is great. There’s always something new and interesting happening. Whatever happens it will be a wild ride!
Imagine someone sets up an internet service which is used to store files and there is some reason to think that some of the users of the service store material which might be covered by copyright even though there is a clear mechanism to remove that material. What would be an appropriate response in this situation?
Would it be to use the existing mechanism to have the copyrighted material removed? Would it be to notify the operator that the material exists? Or would it be to plan an extensive international operation to have a heavily armed paramilitary force invade the owner’s house, threaten his staff and family, and steal his assets?
Apparently if you are the police in an allegedly democratic country like New Zealand and are approached by the FBI you choose the last option, especially when your government is determined to “suck up” to the Americans as much as possible.
I’m talking about the recent raid on Kim Dotcom obviously, an action which the New Zealand police are currently being severely criticised for in the media, and righty so because the whole thing is a total disgrace. Why use an armed anti-terrorism force (and we all know alleged terrorism is a standard excuse to persecute anyone the authorities don’t like) when a simple visit from a couple of cops would have done? Apparently because the FBI wanted to set an example to anyone else who dared challenge the corrupt monopoly big business has now.
It has become increasingly obvious that this is a political setup, driven by big business in the US, and that the New Zealand police have just been the puppets chosen to carry out this illegal, undemocratic, and immoral action. In some ways you have to feel a bit sorry for the police, and in others not so much.
At the very least there should be several resignations from the senior ranks of police who authorised this complete overreaction. And the police staff who actually carried out the unnecessarily violence should be fired, and possibly prosecuted too. Oh and let’s have the minister of police resign as well – I’ve never liked her!
I do concede that Dotcom has cleverly manipulated the situation to gain public support and I say good for him! The police never hesitate to resort to misleading propaganda to support their various causes so why shouldn’t the other side as well?
I do want to say that I think the New Zealand police are overall OK (yes, just OK, that’s as positive as I can be) and that this is an exceptional case, but it is getting to the point where I am more concerned about the potential harm from a corrupt police force than I am about criminal activity! That’s not a healthy situation and one we would never have thought possible here a few years ago.
The police are trying to excuse their actions by suggesting their “target” (yes they use that term in the audio) might have been armed and dangerous or had a “doomsday device” (what an emotionally charged and inappropriate description that is) which could erase the contents of his servers.
How long does a thorough erase of that much data take? A real secure erase is a very slow process and even after the arrival by helicopter there would have been plenty of time for Dotcom to have initiated it because it took police a while to find him even though they knew the layout of the house. Also, no such device was found. Is this another “weapon of mass destruction” which only exists in the minds of the US authorities?
According to Kim Dotcom in a recent tweet (yes, I follow him): “It sucks being a candlestick maker in an electric light world. Unless you get government to pass laws that attack electric lights.” This is an obvious suggestion that the attack on his service was simply to protect the existing big media companies. But that implies his service is a challenge to them which also implies there is illegal material on his servers. Or maybe the implication is this is conventional movie and music corporations versus the internet in general.
Whatever the facts regarding Dotcom’s guilt or otherwise in relation to hosting copyrighted material the New Zealand’s police conduct was inexcusable. They have either watched too many American action movies and see themselves as some sort of Antipodean Dirty Harry, or they just followed instructions from the FBI (henceforth known as the Federal Bureau of Intimidation) to make an example of Dotcom as a warning to anyone else who might dare to challenge the existing big business model no matter how irrelevant and immoral it has become.
I really hope that things will get embarrassing enough that some senior police managers will resign. That’s who the message really needs to go to. They need to stop wasting public money, stop intimidating innocent citizens, and stop pandering to big business.
We need to let the candlestick makers fail before electric light can succeed.
There is a well known “law” which is often mentioned in Internet discussion forums called “Godwin’s Law”. It is the humorous observation made by Mike Godwin in 1989 which states: “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” (The number 1 here is a more technically correct term for 100%)
The law is also known as Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies or Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies and is sometimes extended with the rule that anyone daring to mention the Nazis automatically loses the argument he is involved in.
For me there are times when the temptation to include a Nazi analogy is just too strong and if you search this blog for terms like “Nazi” you will find many posts. More recently I have at least made an effort to note that those statements possibly contravene Godwin’s Law!
I am not an absolutist when it comes to following laws, and that includes both real laws and humorous observations which have been called laws such as Godwin’s. I think it is useful to be aware that by making analogies with Nazism you might be reaching a point where you could be accused of hyperbole or making an appeal to an inappropriately emotional statement instead of facts, but I also think Nazi analogies are sometimes useful.
So it’s important to think about Godwin’s law when you are writing or otherwise communicating on a subject. I wonder if New Zealand Labour politician, Megan Woods, knows about it. She recently tweeted the following message: “Hitler had a pretty clear manifesto that he campaigned and won on … does this make what he did OK?”. This was in relation to the National government’s habit of using the fact that it won the last election as an excuse to carry out any policy it wants, no matter how unpopular that policy might be (specifically related to partial asset sales in this case).
In fact, despite the possible contravention of Godwin’s Law I think this message has a lot of merit. She actually makes a good point and I think her subsequent apology was totally unnecessary. Of course from a political perspective it is often useful to not say what you really think even when that opinion can be successfully defended. And sometimes it’s just better not to mention subjects such as Naziism!
But getting back to the underlying question: does a victory in a democratic election give a government the right to carry out unpopular policies, especially if those policies were well indicated in the campaign? I think there would be a case to say the answer is yes: the Nats have a perfect right to carry out the sales because that is effectively what people voted for.
But on the other hand people vote in elections for many different reasons and, probably of more relevance in this case, they fail to vote for different reasons as well. National’s victory at the last election was more the result of apathy from the left than enthusiasm from the right. So there is also a good case to say that there is no good mandate for the sales.
Whatever your opinion on the subject the comparison that Woods made between asset sales and invading Poland clearly involves a huge escalation in the severity of the action being considered. But sometimes an extreme example makes the underlying principle more clear and I think there was nothing at all wrong with the tweet. Woods also tweeted: “Point is that simply stating something before an election does not make it right! Example is extreme but exposes logic”. Exactly.
In fact if you look at the wording there is no suggestion that the Nats are acting like Nazis so the complaints that many people have against it are ridiculous. But as I said above, references to the Nazis do seem to unleash criticism based more on emotion than rationality so for that reason alone it might have been best to avoid it.
In some ways I think the asset sales might be quite a good thing. Despite the fact that National itself has good voter support all of its support parties are dead or dying (and rightly so because they are universally awful). National will almost certainly lose the next election because of its arrogance on subjects such as asset sales and it is unlikely to get back into power quickly because of its lack of partners.
If we can survive to the next election with out the Nats messing the country up too much we should be able to expect 9 years of decent center-left governments. I agree that long term predictions like this are fraught with difficulties and who knows what international or local political disasters might interfere with that simplistic prediction but I still think it is a point worth reflecting on.
And now just to finish off this discussion I want to violate Godwin’s Law by making another observation: there are similarities between prime minister John Key and Hitler. Both were good at manipulating the population into believing their ideas even though they had little real merit. Both used the dire condition of their respective country’s economies as an excuse to introduce ultimately counter-productive policies. And both used harsh actions against unpopular minorities as a tool to gain endorsement from their more totalitarian base of supporters. Yes, I think Megan Woods had more of a point than even she realised!
Who are the heroes in modern society, especially in a society where the internet plays an increasingly important role? Some might claim a conventional answer to the question: politicians, movie stars, sport celebrities, etc, but I’m not so sure.
I think the heroes might be the people who are stirring up trouble by using the internet to push the boundaries: people like Julian Assange and Kim Dotcom! The fact that both of these heroes are currently in legal “difficulties” makes them even more heroic to those of us who reject the status quo.
I agree that there are significant complicating factors in both cases. Dotcom must have known that his site was being used for both illegal and immoral purposes, and Assange released material without full regard for the problems it might cause. Also Dotcom made a lot of money out of a service which was really just a copy of something which had been done many times before, and Assange used his site to further his own fame. So yes, these heroes are flawed, just like all real heroes. That’s what makes them so much more interesting.
Whatever faults these two might have I would be far more concerned about the faults the action against them has revealed in how the legal system (the system that some people incongruously call the “justice” system) works.
I think most people would say that the New Zealand police force is fairly free from corruption and that most cops genuinely try to do a good job but it’s difficult not to reach the conclusion that they can be trusted less and less. There is a clear trend to using tactics which are out of proportion to the alleged crime.
Dotcom’s case is just the most obvious one where the police have been totally out of line. Someone should be fired over that for sure. If I was on that police team I would be leaking information about those responsible: probably to Julian Assange’s Wikileaks site!
And there’s the point I’m trying to make: the internet is the one thing which gives the majority of people a way to fight back. And that is no doubt why the corporations and organisations who feel so threatened by it are trying to stop it using the draconian, dishonest, violent, and immoral methods we have seen.
Every time I hear of another victory in court for Dotcom (and there have been plenty) I feel that there is still some hope for the New Zealand legal system, even though our police were clearly hijacked by the FBI to do their dirty work for them. But in the future we shouldn’t even let the police be used like that to start with.
Assange’s case isn’t going so well unfortunately. Yesterday he lost his UK extradition appeal even though it’s obvious to most people that he was clearly set up for political purposes. Of course, it was part of his flawed character that he allowed that to happen.
There are a lot of rather shady deals going on behind the scenes but most of them are not being initiated by the side you would think. Who are the heroes? They’re certainly not who many people think they are!
A series of incidents have recently caused some controversy in the US. They involved the legality (and/or morality) of potential employers requiring people being interviewed for jobs to give up their Facebook passwords so that they could be “checked up on” for things the company might not like, such as drug or alcohol abuse in the past, controversial political views, and other things which don’t necessarily have direct relevance to the job in question.
On one occasion the person really needed the job so he gave the interviewer his password and on another the person refused (I don’t know whether either got the job or not after that). Since then Facebook has said they don’t condone this sort of behaviour and will try to stop it. The issue has even gone as far as the US senate and is being investigated as a breach of privacy laws. The senator involved sees it as an “unreasonable invasion of privacy for people seeking work.” That’s undoubtedly true.
But on the other hand, what’s the problem really? If the person applying for the job finds the interview techniques of a company that draconian they probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway. And is it really a breach of privacy because the person has the choice on whether they give up the password or not. And doesn’t the company have the right to know what sort of person they are hiring?
Actually I’m not totally serious about the comments above but I have worked out a strategy which I would use in a similar situation. The trick is to create a fake profile which contains material potential employers would like and would generally be totally false. For example you could be applying for a job at an oil company and say you admire the company’s values where in real life you rant against their environmental abuses.
Some people might say that this is dishonest and not a good start to an employer/employee relationship. I agree, but I don’t think most companies deserve enough respect to be treated with total honesty anyway.
It would be impossible for some people to cover their true opinions of course. For example, I don’t think my anti-establishment rants in this blog and on various prominent sites could be easily disguised, but I don’t really care.
I also think that privacy is becoming less of an issue to people who spend a lot of time on-line. If everyone is open about their opinions and activities then it won’t really matter what they say on various web sites. If the norm is to say what you really think in public then employers won’t have much choice but to accept employees anyway and in that case the need to view personal information on social sites would become unimportant.
There certainly appears to be a lot of concern about privacy on the internet but it seems to be mainly from people who don’t use services like Facebook and Twitter (which is where they seem to think privacy standards are being breached). Most people who use these services a lot have a pretty good idea about what they are doing.
Some do let their enthusiasm go too far and should probably back off a little bit on the personal accusations and other controversial and malicious or even potentially libellous comments. On the other hand the internet is the last place where free speech is possible with minimum interference from political or corporate forces so I think it’s important to try to preserve that.
People should act responsibly and avoid putting extreme and inflammatory comments in their blog posts and other contributions. Just look at the example I set… yeah, right!
Kim Dotcom is like a new geek hero. I just watched him on Campbell Live (a New Zealand current affairs program) and I was really impressed at how he presented his side of the debate regarding his alleged piracy. He was fairly reasonable and restrained but made it perfectly clear that he views the FBI as politically motivated liars and the New Zealand police as puppets who just follow their unprincipled masters.
It’s difficult to disagree. There’s no doubt that his site was used to swap copyrighted material but so what? Sony’s DVD recorders are used to write commercial material onto DVD, Xerox’s photocopiers are used to copy books and other material, and Dell’s computers are used to duplicate movies on DVD.
Do any of those companies have to put up with a bunch of over-enthusiastic cops jumping out of helicopters with automatic weapons? Do they have all their assets stolen by the state for no good reason? Do their executives get locked up in prison without being found guilty of any crime?
It’s no wonder so many people have lost a lot of their confidence in the New Zealand police. They do a good job a lot of the time, I agree, but increasingly they are just a tool of a repressive regime more interested in maintaining the power and profits of outmoded multi-nationals than genuinely maintaining the fair and reasonable laws of our country.
Is there really nothing more important for the FBI, New Zealand police, and New Zealand legal system to be concentrating on than this? I think it’s obvious that the big music and movie companies are using their influence to push this immoral action through, so not only has Dotcom been victimised but legitimate users of his site have lost their data and the police have wasted their time and money.
Dotcom says he will fight the charges against him and he seems to have the legal support to do that, although he can’t pay for that support now because all of his money has been taken. He also cannot use communications technology, such as smart phones, or the internet.
The whole sorry story has become quite ridiculous. New Zealand really is becoming a police state, apparently.
Is it OK to break the law in a situation you consider unjust? That is a question which I have covered a few times in the past and my conclusion has been that people should do what they consider is the right thing whether that agrees with the law or not. It’s a philosophy I follow and it can be controversial, of course.
There are two considerations which need to be applied here though. The first is that most laws are reasonably fair and because we have to peacefully co-exist with other people we should usually follow them just so that society works smoothly. And the second is that if an individual does choose to ignore the law they should expect there to be consequences. So breaking a law might lead to a person being punished but that doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person.
In fact breaking the law is sometimes the only moral thing to do, and those people who do it should be admired rather than vilified. A recent local case involving a doctor helping his terminally ill mother to die peacefully (at her own request) lead to him being found guilty of a crime, but most people (although certainly not all) admired him for his courage instead of condemning him for breaking the law.
The same applies to many legal issues associated with the internet. To many people piracy is a reaction to a perceived injustice, and while some activities of this sort are possibly illegal (the actual legal status of some of them is uncertain) they aren’t always necessarily wrong.
The recent situation where New Zealand police attacked the mansion of internet “entrepreneur” Kim Dotcom – jumping out of helicopters and brandishing automatic weapons like a bunch of crazed ninjas who have watched too many American crime movies – is a classic case. If there was ever a case of an over-reaction and a huge waste of police time and money, this was it.
It seems certain there was pirated material on Megaupload’s servers but there is similar material on many other servers around the world. And why do people feel the need to pirate material of this sort anyway? Because the way things work now is unfair and set up almost entirely for the benefit of big corporations. I think most people would prefer to buy movies and music at a reasonable price, in a reasonable way, and knowing that a reasonable proportion of the price goes back to the original artist, but none of this happens with the existing model.
The recording industry, instead of trying to use the internet to give the consumer a fair deal, simply tries to block the inevitable changes by lobbying governments (mainly in the US but even here in New Zealand too) to make laws which support their antiquated business model.
But attempts at blocking piracy haven’t been conspicuously successful anyway. When a law of that type was introduced here the amount of peer to peer traffic on the internet in New Zealand dropped significantly but the amount of secure proxy traffic increased, showing people just bypassed detection by using different technologies.
The evidence is that people will buy material if it is priced and distributed fairly. Apple’s music and app stores are a classic example but there are even better models where large corporations are bypassed completely. An American comedian recently made a million dollars by distributing his work on the internet. The file was available for free but he appealed to peoples’ sense of fairness and asked for a $5 payment. It obviously worked!
Try buying a DVD and compare the experience. First, you must find a store stocking it, then you need to find one which is the right region (is that region system the stupidest idea ever or what?), then you have to pay a price which means only a small fraction goes to the orignal artist, then you must sit through some tedious message about piracy before watching the movie.
Do the corporations not realise that the only people seeing those anti-piracy messages are legitimate buyers because the pirates always strip them out! How unbelievably stupid can they be? But that’s the problem: these people are both clueless and immoral. They sort of deserve to have their business destroyed.
The argument that artists, such as musicians and movie makers, lose because of piracy is partly true because there will be some material not being purchased that they would get payment for otherwise. But it’s not really that simple.
Assuming that every pirated movie represents a loss of income – as the industry has suggested – is dishonest. Most of those pirated movies would never have been bought by the person who pirated them so they represent no real loss.
And most of the material is mainstream stuff from commercially successful artists. Losing a little bit of income isn’t really going to harm them too much because they have so much already.
And finally, if the big media corporations can be destroyed by internet distribution then the artists will win in the end because they will be free from their control.
So piracy is often illegal and it certainly has doubtful moral value, but pretending it is the greatest threat to modern culture is just a self-serving myth invented by the big corporations growing rich from the current model without really contributing anything. Kim Dotcom is certainly no model for good ethical behaviour but he’s not the ultimate example of evil either.
I’m not a great fan of draconian laws intended to strengthen copyright restrictions and to combat piracy. I think it’s important that people should be rewarded for their creative work, but I don’t think that’s what so-called intellectual property protection, copyright enforcement, or anti-piracy laws are really all about. What they are primarily about is protecting the immoral and antiquated business model which media (movies, music, books, etc) companies currently enjoy.
The greatest part of the price the consumer pays for these items goes to individuals and companies other than the artists who originally created the work. In many cases the actual creator could do a lot better if they could bypass the publisher or distributor. And that’s what the internet allows which is why these corporations are so enthusiastic about shutting it down.
I recently saw a graphic which divided up where the money goes from the price we pay for a CD. It showed the record company making about 70%, the artist about 1% and the producer, manager, and studio, etc making the rest. I suspect this isn’t accurate but according to other sources the artist gets at most about 16%.
So yet again we have a case of worthless parasites (business people, lawyers, accountants) exploiting both the artists and the consumer (you and me) so you can see why some people feel justified in bypassing the corrupt system and acquiring their music and movies by other means.
I don’t support piracy in most cases but I would rather have piracy than restrictive laws which cripple the freedom of the internet. So if I was a person charged with enforcing the law I would ignore most of what currently goes on but I wouldn’t extend that to people who are professional pirates.
I’m usually hesitant to criticise sites which encourage file sharing, but the alleged piracy site, MegaUpload, which has recently been raided by the New Zealand police, is an interesting case. The rather suspicious seeming founder of the site, Kim Dotcom, was allowed into New Zealand despite his rather dubious background. That was an interesting decision and there are now allegations he “bought” his way into the country – something which seems entirely possible.
I think everyone agrees that swapping of copyright material does happen at this site but that doesn’t mean the owners are responsible for that activity and it doesn’t mean that they technically broke any laws. After all, whether something is immoral or ethical has little to do with whether it is legal or not.
There is also the consideration that Dotcom has made a fortune from this site plus his mansion contained many weapons: both legal and illegal. The police assault on the place, with a helicopter and armed defenders, did seem a bit over the top though. Are there not more important crime-related problems we can spend this sort of money on?
Another interesting event related to this whole sorry story is the attacks by the “Anonymous” movement who retaliated against the organisations who originated the charges by attacking several sites, including the Universal Music Group and the US Justice Department.
Some people have labelled Anonymous as terrorists, criminals, or hackers. Well according to some definitions they are, but they could also be labelled as activists who are doing what they think is right. Sure, they are using illegal tactics but when the laws exist almost solely for the benefit of big corporations who can blame them? Again, I don’t want to see laws broken without good cause but at the same time people must do what they think is right.
The internet is currently under attack. Sure, in some ways it is the “wild west” but do we really want it subdued and turned into yet another tool for making the corporations even richer and more powerful? If a corporation can use the internet in a positive way then that’s fine. I buy stuff at the iTunes and app stores because they work well, have reasonable prices, and return most of what I pay to the actual developer (70% to the developers of iPhone apps). That’s reasonable and if the traditional media companies gave us what we wanted at a fair price I think people would avoid piracy. But they’re too ignorant and arrogant to do that. Who are the real criminals here?
The latest buzzword in computing for a few years now has been the “cloud”. The concept is that information is stored in non-specific locations on the internet for computer users who don’t know (or need to know) exactly where or how their information is stored.
I blogged about my thoughts regarding this trend about 2 years ago in an entry titled “A Cloudy Future” on 2009-08-03. The issues I talked about then haven’t changed much… or maybe they have.
There are several advantages to the cloud approach. First, the documents stored in the cloud are available to any device connected to the cloud (internet). So if a person needs a document but they don’t have their computer handy they can get it by logging in to their cloud account from a different computer. The same applies to other devices like tablets and smart phones. Sharing between devices like these should be transparent.
A second advantage is that the information (documents, music, movies, photos, etc) doesn’t need to be stored on the actual device in use so it’s possible to build tablet computers (for example) with small amounts of storage (making them cheaper, lighter, and less power hungry) while still having access to lots of data.
Other potential advantages include the fact that (presumably) the data is backed up by the company operating the cloud service. And with really fast internet it might even be possible to get a performance advantage as well.
There are a few disadvantages though. First, many people do not have fast networking available to them so in most cases documents stored in the cloud will be slower to access than those stored locally. There is also the problem of being disconnected from the internet completely: on a plane or in a remote area with no cell or wifi cover, for example.
Then there’s the possible cost involved. Many cloud services are free to a point but it might get expensive if the user has a lot of data. And depending on what data plans are in use the process of accessing the data will incur extra costs for the transfer.
Many cloud services rely on specialised applications to access the data. These are often web based and are usually considerably less powerful and more difficult to use than their desktop equivalents. So using cloud services might lead to a loss of functionality as well.
Finally there is security. Should users trust a cloud service provider which reads their information and inserts ads, for example? Is the data transferred in a secure and encrypted way? And has the provider taken sufficient steps to guard against its facility being hacked?
Now that I have got the introduction out of the way I want to consider the main point of this entry: Apple’s iCloud service. I don’t generally like commenting on products or services I haven’t used but I will make a few preliminary comments here and maybe comment further after I have actually used it for a while.
It seems to me that Apple are doing the cloud the way it should be done. Instead of a primary storage system it is used more as a distribution system. In other words, most of the documents exist on the individual devices like they always have. Because these are just documents they can be accessed using the same programs people have always used. And if there is slow or even no internet service all that happens is that synchronisation is temporarily stopped until the internet connection is re-established.
It’s very much like modern email systems where the same account can be accessed from multiple devices but the devices can still operate fully off-line as well. The email messages exist primarily on the server but they are cached locally on each device for when the network is unavailable and to improve performance.
There are some potential issues with this approach. For example, if more than one person modifies the same document off-line which copy is used when the connection returns? This is the sort of detail which Apple will have to get right if iCloud is going to be fully successful.
Many other issues seem to have already been answered: Apple will not scan the content of the documents it stores, it will not insert ads, it will encrypt data as it is sent and received, and it will provide a reasonable basic amount of storage for free.
I regularly use a Mac laptop, an iPad and an iPhone. I also use many other Macs for specific purposes (as servers for example) so a synchronisation service running through the cloud seems like it would be really useful to me.
iCloud isn’t the first cloud service but the Mac wasn’t the first computer, the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, the iPad wasn’t the first tablet, and the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone. All of these products weren’t the first but they are the best. If Apple does this properly then iCloud could be the best too.