Orwell, Huxley, Banksy

Last month two new Banksy installations emerged, and they have something important to say about what we choose to fear in the age of the Internet. In the first piece, a stone-wall mural near the headquarters of GCHQ (Britain’s equivalent of the NSA), three special agents in trench coats and fedoras attempt to surveil a derelict phone booth. In the second, on a wood panel screwed into a stone wall in Bristol, a man and woman embrace in darkness, each halfway breaking their hug to check a glowing smartphone held behind the other’s head. Neither piece was, in itself, very notable. In fact, there was […]

Fighting Diseases with Smart Phones

Can South Africans tackle heart disease with the help of an egg cup and a Android phone? In their talk at the Martin School on Feb 6, Dr Fred Hersch and Professor Gari Clifford answered with a qualified, but hopeful, “yes.” Dumb sensors, smart phones Hersch and Clifford’s work focuses on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in low- and middle-income countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines NCDs as diseases that are “not passed from person to person,” such as heart disease, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and diabetes. A paucity of doctors and under-resourced health systems mean that in low- and middle-income countries, […]

The Dance of Twitter-plomacy

UPDATE: One day after this post was published, Michael McFaul announced his resignation from the post. The New York Times wrote a frank article about him, where his  Twitter skills took front and center. It is good to see mainstream publications are recognizing government talent in digital skills!   Contemporary communication brings a need for diplomacy to even seemingly trivial channels. Case in point: a few days ago, the US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul posted the following tweet about the upcoming Olympics in Sochi: McFaul is in an interesting position on this. On the one hand, the Olympics are an inherently […]

The New ‘Power of Now’ and the Perils of the Hyper-Present

With modern technology, living life ‘in the moment’ has never been easier. But this new nowness is far from what earlier advocates had in mind, and might only be distracting us from the planet’s ever more pressing challenges. Last week’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos saw a host of political and business leaders facing up to an ever-growing roster of pressing global problems. But a new article from Douglas Rushkoff suggests that one of the primary challenges these pioneers face relates to the very process of getting things done in the modern age, the result of […]

Mobile Apps for Behavior Change

Graphs attribution: Molly Norris, Conference Photo Behavior change is one of the most difficult things to achieve whether you’re trying to alter consumer purchases or harmful lifestyles. I was able to share my thinking on how mobile apps contribute to the war being waged in becoming our better selves at Editorial Intelligence’s Mobile World Conference in association with Vodafone, The Huffington Post and Channel 4. I see two main models that inform how app developers hope to change behaviour: the rational and social learner. Apps that involve logging new data about oneself expose the previously unseen. Apps to track fitness […]

YouTube Still Appreciates User-Generated Content (For Now)

  “YouTube is popular.” There it is, folks. The safest sentence I have written on this blog. With 60 hours of content uploaded every minute and 4 billion page views every day, the pre-eminent video sharing site has found monumental success. But since 2007, what can be less confidently asserted is that YouTube is a champion of user-generated content, a bastion of hope for the layman with a camera or video file. Of course, a statement like this was tautological when YouTube was created. The only content on YouTube was of the user-generated variety, and so the site fostered the […]

Exploring the Geography of WorldBank.org

 “Once we become critical of the assumption that the Web is a neutral repository of information, the structure of the Web becomes much more interesting.” – M.H Jackson, 1997 Absences speak volumes, and yet, interpreting information gaps online has produced only muffled truths. Studies on the geographical origin of Internet content have shown old divides between rich and poor countries repeat themselves online. For example, the vast majority of the shares of Google’s user generated content, academic journal citations and authorship of Wikipedia entries tilt to the wealthier global north. Admittedly, exploring digital landscapes is far less adventurous than the globetrotting variety. However, these journeys allow us to […]

Your Voice–Your Vote?

Facebook is updating its privacy policy and its users can vote which policy version they actually want to have. Considering the torrent of criticism about Facebook’s general approach to privacy, that sounds like a good idea. Except it is not. It presents itself as a democratic procedure but is far away from the standards of an actual referendum. A chance to enhance the self-regulation process has been wasted. Who should get to decide how long Facebook should keep personal data or how they should deploy targeted advertising? The future of privacy will be decided by little tweaks in the phrasing of regulation terminology and users are […]

How Privacy Advocates Respond to Piracy Hawks: a rudimentary analysis on public salience

It makes sense that the salience of these two issues would be related. Anti-piracy laws and countermeasures tend to violate traditional privacy norms – indeed they are perhaps the biggest threat to our online privacy these days. The Google insight chart below shows the relative volume of ‘privacy’ and ‘piracy’ in news headlines since 2008. What we see here is that often after an upward blip in the public salience of piracy, there is a corresponding upward blip in the public salience of privacy (there are, however, spikes in privacy that are seemingly unrelated to piracy salience). This fits with […]

Losing a Grip on Your Facebook Account? You’re Not the Only One

Having a Facebook page is becoming more and more of a liability. Surely we’ve heard it all before, though. Journalists, authors, bloggers, and even occasionally incredulous Masters’ students love talking about the potential negative Facebook effects, from loss of self-esteem to increased anxiety or jealousy. But there’s a much more tangible one: you can be expelled or not hired based on what is posted on your Facebook wall. This is hardly a newsflash depending on how jaded you are about invasions of privacy, but the situation has gotten worse. In 2009, the University of Oxford’s student population discovered that their […]