Will Digg's implosion change the world?

Post ImageWow, just wow. Digg has imploded. This might seem comical at the moment, but I think May 1st, 2007 may go down in Internet history as a very critical day. Ryan Block has the best recap of what has transpired that I’ve seen:

Brace yourself: there is a revolt underway at Digg. Users are virulently spreading the HD DVD AACS decryption key against Digg’s wishes, with each removed post spawning dozens more in its place. But how did such a loyal userbase as Digg’s so quickly divert its all-consuming energy to defying — even damaging — the company to which it was so loyal?

The rest of his post explains the timeline. Basically it’s like this:

  • Someone posted the HD-DVD decryption key on Digg.
  • The story was removed, and that user was banned.
  • The story was reposted, and removed again.
  • Digg users then flooded the site with stories about the key.

As Ryan says, the web has just witnessed its first “massive, simultaneous revolt.”

When I started writing this post a few minutes ago, digg.com was down. Looks like it is back up now, but for how long? Digg’s founder Kevin Rose had this to say earlier tonight:

We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.

If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.

If there was ever a reason to start realizing the power of the web, this is it. Who cares what happens to Digg…what does this event mean for the web and society in general? I’m not sure how yet, but I think Digg’s implosion might just have changed the world.

Read: Ryan Block

The Digital Family

Post ImageMy immediate family is very much what I would call a “digital family”. We each have at least one computer, cell phone, digital music player, etc. There’s lots of electronics in our houses, from TVs to networking equipment. Additionally, each one of us uses email, instant messaging, and the web on a daily basis. My extended family is much less a digital family, rarely using email and counting the TV as their most prominent digital device. When I went home for Christmas, it occurred to me that being a digital family is definitely the way to be. I compared my immediate family and my extended family in a very common setting – the living room – to reach my conclusion. I’m going to share my observations here using the living room as my lab, but rest assured, the same principles can be applied to any environment, which is why I refer to a “digital family” and not a “digital household”. The point is the digital family embraces technology.

First, let’s describe the living room. You might think it’s silly to suggest that an entire family can spend some time together in their living room given that everyone these days is so busy. And normally I’d agree, but the holidays afford a little more time, so I was able to make some observations. What happens in a living room (or family room if that’s more to your liking)? Usually there’s TV, maybe you chat amongst yourselves, there might be some food, and in the digital family at least, there’s at least one computer. In the case of my family this past holiday, there was usually three and sometimes four computers – my parents each have a laptop, I had my tablet, and my brother occasionally brought his laptop upstairs. Also important is that the computers are all connected to the Internet wirelessly.

So let’s describe a typical scenario:

The family is sitting down watching television together. Doesn’t really matter what program is on, just that they are all watching. A familiar face comes on the screen, and someone in the living room wonders who it is. The other family members don’t know, but maybe they recognize the face too.

What happens in a non-digital family? The family all agrees that they recognize the face, but with no way to find out who it is, nothing further is said. The face remains nameless. What about in the digital family? Someone picks up the laptop, heads to IMDB and looks up the show the family is watching. A few seconds later, the family is able to put a name to the familiar face.

If you think that’s a silly example, think again. I was watching TV with my grandparents one time in their living room when just this scenario happened. My grandfather recognized the face, but with no way to find out who it was, the conversation just stopped. Over the holidays the same thing happened with my digital family – my Dad recognized someone. This time we were able to look up the show using one of our laptops, and my Dad realized that the person he recognized was Robin Tunney from the popular show Prison Break. Later that night we decided to watch Vertical Limit, a movie from 2000 that Ms. Tunney co-starred in.

Think about that for a minute, think about how powerful that is! There’s lots of research to suggest that actually going through the process of doing something helps you learn it – my Dad probably won’t forget her name again. We already owned Vertical Limit on DVD, but imagine we hadn’t? We might have decided to purchase it right then and there. The possibilities are endless.

The digital family immediately impacts the world.

Here’s another example. My brother received March of the Penguins on DVD for Christmas, so one night we decided to watch it. The movie was very well done, and very interesting, but the most fascinating part to me was what happened after we watched it. The movie focuses on Emperor Penguins, so we discussed what other penguins also made the march, and how long they lived, and various other questions. We decided to watch another movie though, so nobody picked up the laptop. The next morning my Mom had been searching the Internet and found the answers to all of our questions. What might normally have been unanswered or forgotton questions became information we all learned.

The digital family actively learns together.

These are just two examples of the power of the digital family, and there are many more. I haven’t lived with my parents for almost eight years now, and yet I talk to them every day using instant messaging. Where many families might drift apart, we’ve used the technology available to remain close and up-to-date on each other’s lives (true the phone would work, but that is disruptive and very expensive by comparison). Many people cite our society’s growing reliance on digital devices as a negative thing, but I feel it’s entirely the opposite, and I think the digital family is a great way to illustrate why. Certainly if one person is completely digital but the rest of the family is not, there might be difficulties, but when the entire family is a digital family, there’s lots of benefits.

So here’s my theory in an nutshell:

The digital family embraces technology in all its forms and utilizes it to the fullest extent. As a result, the digital family is stronger, better educated, and has a greater impact on the world around them.

I’m probably not the first person to come up with such a concept, but I think it’s pretty powerful nonetheless. You might have heard of something called the “digital lifestyle”, but very often I find it focuses on the individual instead of the family. Bill Gates’ recent keynote at CES 2006 definitely mentioned some family aspects, but mostly it focused on the individual. And even more often I find that for the individual to follow the digital lifestyle, their entire family needs to be a digital family. So often there are demonstrations of keeping an eye on your kids, or handling your family’s medical information, but those things all require a digital family, not a digital individual, which is why I think the digital family concept is potentially more powerful.

I’m glad my family is a digital family – imagine if every family was!

A Theory On Technological Innovation

I’m currently taking an Economics course (ECON 222) at the
University of Alberta entitled “Economic Growth, Technology, and
Institutions.” I find it very interesting, which is hardly surprising
given my liberal use of technology and the number of economics courses
I have taken as part of my Computing Science degree. As a result, I
like to think that I know a thing or two about technology and it’s
relation to economics (though I am sure to learn more before this
course is complete). At the very least, I can make some educated
assertions and theories. So today when I came across Tony Long’s Wired
article entitled “Dark Underbelly of Technology
I felt the need to say something, presumably because I’m a blogger and
thus, in his words, “everything [I] say is so interesting it should be
shared with everyone.”

Besides that little swipe at bloggers, it’s actually a well-written
opinion piece. The gist of his column can be found in the second last
paragraph (incidentially, I’m also taking a Sociology course right now,
so perhaps I can touch on that):

Anything that diminishes the value of a single human being poses a
threat to a rational, humane society. When technology can cure a
disease or help you with your homework or bring a little joy to a
shut-in, that’s great. But when it costs you your job, or trashes the
environment, or takes you out of the real world in favor of a virtual
one, or drives your blood pressure through the roof, it’s a monster.

First, let’s tackle the issue of technology negatively impacting us
as individuals. Sure when the computer crashes, or something breaks, we
get annoyed. But if you really think your ancestors were not also
annoyed by their technology, you’re mistaken! I don’t imagine it was
very much fun to have to fix the farm equipment when most people lived
and worked in the fields. Technology is created by humans, and I don’t
know about you but I don’t know anyone who’s perfect, so there’s no
reason to expect that technology should be.

Then there is the very common argument that technology forces us to
lose touch with humanity; that technology negatively impacts society as
a whole. Being connected all the time but never interacting face to
face is “bad”, or so the theory goes. I think the claim that we’re
“losing touch with humanity” is pretty baseless. Most people who make
the claim overlook a simple fact of history – that has never been the
case. Here’s why.

Technology is not new! Since the dawn of time pretty much, humans have created technology. Take the printing press
for example, which was developed in the 15th century. There are a few
important things to note about its development. First, the printing
press took a while to impact society – it was not an overnight change.
Second, there were very few other “major” technologies created around
the time of the printing press. And while the printing press did put a
few people out of work (scribes, for instance), it created far more
jobs than it destroyed.

Why did I mention the printing press? Because it’s a good example of
something I learned in my ECON 222 class. To summarize what my
professor and the textbook said:

Before 1800, people figured they lived in a static world simply because
growth was too slow for them to be aware it was happening at all. While
some economists and historians will claim that economic growth prior to
1820 was 0%, this is most definitely not true and even though growth
rates were tiny, compounded they still result in significant economic
growth over time.

Technology is one of the major reasons we see economic growth, so
it’s not unfair to say that if there was economic growth, there was
probably technological innovation too. And as economic growth since
1800 has been much higher, it’s likely that there has been more
technology developed. And given that the year 1800 was only just more
than 200 years ago, it’s fair to say that the period of high economic
growth and technology development has been fairly rapid in the grand
scheme of things. And that’s what is forgotten in articles and opinion
pieces like the one I mentioned above.

Most people are too quick to say that technology is harmful, simply
because they see development and change a lot faster than their
grandparents or great-grandparents ever did. Does that make it bad or
harmful? I would say no. In the past, people were not aware that
technology was changing and improving, so they didn’t care if it
affected society negatively (sure a few individuals did, but nothing
like today). And as history has shown, it didn’t affect society
negatively – we are several times richer than our parents and
grandparents (in terms of money, standard of living, education,
productivity, all those things). So therein lies my theory:

In the long run, technological innovation will always benefit society.

If we didn’t pay so much attention to whether or not technology was
negatively affecting society, we would carry on with our lives,
technology would continue to develop, and everyone would end up better
off, just as in the past.