Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Digital fatigue

Note -- Just try and keep up with all the changes and news about the digital world. I dare you. Just try to.
I took a quick look in early December of 2007 and was impressed with all the activity labeled "digital."

By Mike McIlvain

Digital researchers could find themselves feeling much like reporters, detectives and occasional diplomats all rolled into one with rapid-fire developments in this relatively new science blazing through news media skies and the cyber world like lightning bolts in an intense electrical storm.
More ways to see, read and hear information are enhancing digital storytelling and political engagement through traditional and non-traditional means probably well beyond the imagination of any of our grandparents.
San Diego, California blogger Jim Pinto might have coined it best, using a June 2000 story published in Controls Intelligence and Plant Systems Report:
“In the last century, new products took 3 years to develop. In the Internet age Time is critical and clearly a competitive weapon. With accelerating technology, some products are obsolete within months. Move fast, or become history.”
America’s Cable News Network’s ongoing YouTube Debates are one of many new innovative wrinkles involving both digital media and politics. Public-based questions from digitally-pictured citizens asking questions almost directly to the presidential candidates, and the viewing public simultaneously are educating US observers and bringing the US public closer to its next eventual president in virtual face-to-face meetings. Thanks to YouTube, numerous blogs and digital media, political journalism does not belong exclusively to journalists, anymore.
Potential questions are screened by CNN, allowing the world to see and hear the more clearly-stated, better understood questions while also noting facial expressions, age, and tone of the various questioners from YouTube. This digitally-enhanced advancement gives the viewing public perspectives it never had in more traditional presidential debates limited to questions from familiar reporters usually either entrenched in their capital city environments or weary of the campaign trail.
Similarly, the campaign to map out, understand and help link digital forces together could leave Leeds digital hunter gatherers a bit weary at some stopping point later on, or when it is necessary to hand the computer mouse and office keys over to new researchers. The trail seems to be warming up by the minute now and adrenaline flow should certainly make a three year research campaign go very fast.
Digital researchers anywhere are likely to be on the telephone or in longer and more frequent e-mail exchanges than they might have been only a few years ago. Technicians and executives in the various related businesses and institutions could be asking as many questions as they might be receiving.
People continue to show a strong desire for information – even if there appears to be an overload of available news. British newspapers are noting record jumps in online attention.
A Nov. 22, 2007 story by Oliver Luft on reports that “the websites of the Guardian, Mail and Telegraph all received record traffic in October, according to the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic.”
Luft’s story says the Mail saw the number of users on its site leap nearly 16 per cent from 13,531,174 from 11,689,985 in September.
An online seminar advertisement speaks to the exponential global growth of the Internet and what could happen as result.
“A disconnect looms between traditional internet architecture and consumer demand as the Internet struggles to keep up with increasing multimedia and mobile internet-based traffic. As video downloads, telephone traffic and other burdens multiply, the Internet’s basic technology faces collapse unless several key actions are taken soon,” reads the advert for a journalists’ gathering in early December 2007 in San Diego, California.
The Foundation for American Communications tele-seminar was entitled, “The Internet Overwhelmed: Old Technology, YouTube and Other Stresses,” which might not surprise anyone who has stopped during their busy online day anywhere to read about the worldwide web, but the seminar series title might raise an eyebrow in wider circles – “The Aging Internet: Confusions, Problems and Fixes.”
Thinking of the Internet in terms of sprouting gray hair and seeing the doctor more frequently is hardly the material of daily public conversation.
For millions, the Internet is a take-it-for-granted everyday tool, only a concern when a technician has to be called in to kill a disruptive virus or fix an ailing server, but digital services are still something of a class-system matter for many more millions yet to get their first e-mail account and hesitating when considering the best and safest password.
London-based contributor James Crabtree wrote about his vision of a public e-democracy in a June 12, 2007 story.
“It should be connecting ordinary people with other ordinary people. And there should be applications that help these people to help each other. A programme supporting civic hacking can do this,” he wrote. “This should become the ethic of e-democracy: mutual-aid and self-help among citizens, helping to overcome civic problems. It would encourage a market in application development. It would encourage self-reliance, or community-reliance, rather than reliance on the state.”
Crabtree also advocated the support of city governments in establishing such systems.
Internet cafes do not exist everywhere and that pound, dollar or rupee necessary for 30 minutes access can mean an entire meal in some cases.
“Such a system would be about helping people to help themselves. It would create electronic spaces in which the communicative power of the internet can be used to help citizens help each other overcome life’s challenges. Most importantly, by making useful applications, it would help make participatory democracy seem useful too,” Crabtree said in summary. “Bottom line: it is a political project. It needs backers. Any champion of e-democracy should take up the fight.”
Crabtree’s colleague Becky Hogge credits the UK’s for being the closest to meeting a public’s political communication needs.
She said she doubts that she will ever tire of promoting their efforts in a April 23, 2007 entry.
“Their projects include, which puts people in touch with their elected representatives in two clicks of a mouse, and, an accessible version of the parliamentary record which (among other things) emails subscribers each time their parliamentary representative speaks in the House of Commons,” Hogge wrote.
Hogge adds that what makes the MySociety sites successful is that it “positively exploits the best features of the new communications environment.”
Hogge also believes that MySociety’s simple design is public-friendly, and that it does not seek to deliver any particular message.
“Information that sheds light on the political process is a good thing,” her story said.
Digital pleasures and discomforts are still limited to the wealthier people of the world who have the money, or work for those who do, however. The digital world has advanced considerably since much more simple systems and initial office instruction touched many some 25 years ago, but it remains aloft from the masses.
It does not require much imagination to figure that office-hungry politicians would jump at the chance to have their speechwriters’ words manipulate those less educated into voting for them, too.
Warfare has often been a key instigator of invention and it is conceivable that political party warfare could enhance development into finding a way for people lacking computer access at home to go online at bus stops, street corners and shopping places for a synopsis on a political issue or short biography of a candidate.
Toronto Globe and Mail online journalist Mathew Ingram agrees that politicians would and have started to pander to digital media, much as they started to for television when that became a popular media, but he sees plenty of good and bad in this matter and possible growth area.
“I think the potential benefit for the political sphere is that the Web in all of its many forms -- blogs, wikis, discussion forums and so on -- allows many more people to express themselves and their opinions, and theoretically allows groups to form around an issue and make themselves heard where they might not have before” he said in an e-mail. “Of course, not everyone has the ability to take part in those forums -- but the number that do is growing all the time, and the attention that is being paid to those who are online seems to be increasing as well.
“I think on balance that is a positive thing for the political arena as a whole, even if there are downsides -- such as the tendency for politicians to pander.”
Veteran London journalist George Jones noticed much the same in a Dec. 3, 2007 online article on The Independent website.
“They recognize that there is an audience out there. I think online is bringing in a new audience,” Jones was quoted as saying. “People of my generation are visitors to the digital age. Anybody who has got children under 20 knows they are citizens of the digital age. There is a generation coming that expects to get their information digitally”.
Unfortunately, on the political screen, many candidates have continued to simply transfer the same old family and university days photos and stories to their websites, much as they ran in print flyers and on television in previous decades, leaving the public little reason to raise an eyebrow in awareness.
Catchy originality is best in an audience-hungry media, but researchers’ uploaded findings of previously obscure creations could help others copy and refine noteworthy concepts, however.
New York reporter Melissa Mansfield wrote on Dec. 6, 2007 about a website which allows New York state residents to track its government with a fairly liberal dose of transparency. Website clickers can see a bill, who lobbied for it and who donated to its sponsors campaign.
New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said that the site is an effort to alleviate the public’s cynicism about state government that he encountered while campaigning last year.
“Government by definition is only as good as the trust that citizens place in it,” Mansfield quotes Cuomo. “The more we can expose, the more we can restore trust, the better.” visitors get some inside information, previously reserved for investigative, or enterprise, reporters. Users can browse through information by elected official, legislation and lobbyist.
“Visitors also can search through campaign finance disclosures, lobbying lists, corporations, charities and state contracts, at the same time,” the story said.
While there might be a few bright signs for politics and the Internet in some places it is not a pretty picture in some international matters.
Yahoo has come under recent fire in the West for cooperating with the Chinese government in cases that resulted in the jailing of some of its users. A June 12, 2007 BBC online story said, “Human Rights Watch, a New York based campaign group, accused Yahoo, Google and Microsoft for ‘carrying out censorship for the Chinese government.’”
The same story said Yahoo says it must comply with local laws, and that whole websites - including media sources - are eliminated from Yahoo and Google in China.
Yahoo shareholders in June of this year rejected proposals overwhelmingly to stop censoring its Chinese customers and support human rights.
Amnesty International said in an Iain Thomson,, story on 14 June that it was bitterly disappointed and intends to monitor the situation and keep the pressure on Yahoo.
YouTube has reaped plenty of attention through its hand in US presidential debates, but appears to be in the middle of some serious international politics, too.
Internet news gatherer carries a Dec. 3, 2007 story by Esra’a, of Bahrain, writing for website Menassat about injustices in and around the Middle East involving YouTube.
Esra’a says is a vital source for videos that reveal human rights abuses and police brutality in restricted countries like Egypt, and many activists were comforted in the knowledge that new technology is helping them increase awareness about injustices.
Esra’a wrote of anti-torture activist and Egyptian blogger, Wael Abbas, whose YouTube account was disabled after revealing some previously unknown acts of brutality.
“Last week, its staff suspended Abbas’ YouTube account for several days, causing the deletion of dozens of videos that reveal torture taking place in Egyptian prisons. To YouTube’s credit, Abbas’ account was restored only days after its suspension, likely due to public concerns and pressure, but with all of the videos removed”, Esra’a wrote.
Esra’a noted that YouTube is owned by Google Inc.
“It’s therefore safe to assume that both sites maintain a similar philosophy,” Esra’a said.
The faces of the Internet are many and vary considerably, making the job of its researchers a challenge, an education, and a sheer satisfying delight.