Politics and the Internet Go Together Like Copy and Paste

Google and Microsoft Big Obama DonorsAs a quick follow up to my previous blog about the SOPA bill, which aimed to protect entertainment companies from copyright infringement but threatened internet freedom as we know it, I wanted to share how much the web industry is playing a role in the upcoming elections.

In a recent article I read on Adweek.com titled, “The Internet’s Role in the Democratic Platform: The Web is Now a Big Part of the Political Discussion,” I learned that internet governance policies are hot topics for Democrats and Republicans during this election year. And, in some areas, they actually are in agreement. Both parties believe that internet regulation by outside organizations like the United Nations is out of the question, and that our personal data should be kept private. So while both parties share support of some issues affecting the online industry, political support among the major players in this business is not shared. Microsoft and Google employees are betting their money on Barack Obama as the better industry advocate.  According to OpenSecrets.org, those company’s PACs are the #2 and #3 contributors to his campaign.  Clearly, the battle over internet piracy protection (backed by Republicans) vs. internet freedom (backed by Democrats) is still playing out.  Scroll down to my earlier post, “SOPA and PIPA Bills Postponed but What’s Next?” to read more about this topic.

Between the stopping of the SOPA bill earlier this year and the cash being funneled into Obama’s campaign in order to protect its interests, the online industry is now officially a powerful player in the political scene.  So what’s next?


Blackberry 10, Will You Take Me Back?

Blackberry 10

New Blackberry 10 expected to be released at the end of 2012

Very first Blackberry

BlackBerry 850 was the first BlackBerry device introduced in 1999. It supported email and limited HTML browsing, but was not a phone.

Dearest Blackberry,

When you weren’t the hottest thing in town anymore, I left you for what I thought was something better and I’m sorry.  Sure, I was enticed by the other guy’s sexy screen and gorgeous camera, but turns out that was all smoke and mirrors – surface fluff that never really met my needs.  Oh my precious Blackberry, I can’t tell you how many times I have yearned for the days when I held you in my hands.   I remember how your QWERTY would type whatever I wanted.  A “w” was a “w” and a “t” was a “t.”  No game-playing, no struggles, no giving me an inferiority complex by correcting me all the time.  You also talked to me straight-up, heard you loud and clear.  And, you really listened too.  That annoying “can you hear me now?” never even crossed my microphone.  Even if I was complaining or having a bad day, you never dropped me like a hot potato.  Sorry I didn’t do the same.

And now, I heard the news that you might be coming back around.  Rumor has it you have lost your keyboard.  That was what I loved about you most, but it’s OK.  I’m still ready to try again.  I also hear that how you are presenting yourself to the world might not be perfect and app developers are not welcoming you with open arms either, but you have some really good qualities too (check out Mashable’s article on the subject including, “5 Things that are Actually Pretty Cool about Blackberry 10”).  One of your hippest features is your time-machine like camera that captures images from seconds before or after the picture was taken so users can use the best shot (think eyes closed vs. eyes opened).  Oh Blackberry 10, you are clearly offering second chances.  So is there hope for me?

SOPA and PIPA Bills Postponed but What’s Next?

Google protesting SOPA - Against Internet CensureshipThe SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Internet Property Act) bills were put on the shelf last month because the public and internet community joined together and successfully convinced enough lawmakers in Washington that they were a bad idea.  The anti-piracy laws pushed by the Entertainment industry were so broadly written that they threatened the peoples’ right to freedom of speech, and paved the way for government censorship of the internet.   In addition, the ISPs, search engines, ad networks, payment companies and sites that provide shared content like YouTube and Facebook would potentially be run out of business because the demands made on them to enforce these laws would be impossible to meet.  Since the massive public outcry and internet blackout led by companies like Reddit, Google and Wikipedia on Jan 18th led to the bill’s being shelved just two days later, one would think that democracy prevailed and we can all move on, right?  According to a recent article on Gizmodo.com, this is not the case.  The push for uncompromising anti-piracy laws continues, “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid still wants to censor the internet with a new bill hidden under the mask of cybersecurity. SOPA in sheep’s clothing.”    The following quote by former Senator Chris Dodd, who is now the head of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) provides a clue as to why these strict bills just won’t go away, “Those who count on quote Hollywood for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake.  Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”

For those of you who are still fuzzy on what the SOPA bill was about, here’s Wikipedia.org’s description:

“The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is a United States bill introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) to expand the ability of US law enforcement to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods. Provisions include the requesting of court orders to bar advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with infringing websites, and search engines from linking to the sites, and court orders requiring Internet service providers to block access to the sites. The law would expand existing criminal laws to include unauthorized streaming of copyright material, imposing a maximum penalty of five years in prison.”

In other words, if this bill had passed the government would have had the right, without due process, to:

  • Immediately shut down any site that might be infringing on copyright laws
  • Force advertisers and companies like Paypal to stop doing business with these sites
  • Force the ISPs and search engines not to link to such sites
  • Throw anyone in jail for up to five years just for sharing content that has been copyrighted

It is disturbing that such loosely written laws that could potentially destroy the internet and threaten democracy were so seriously debated in Washington, and that they continue to show signs of life.  This enduring support from lawmakers will inevitably result in deepening the level of mistrust that the American people have for their political leaders.  Even more seriously, this alienation is giving rise to extreme groups that are threatening a “Cyber war” against the government.  Recently, the group Anonymous took credit for hacking the CIA’s website.

The postponement of the SOPA and PIPA bills proved that Americans still have a voice and that the internet is a free and powerful tool that can be used to alert lawmakers that they are not acting in the best interests of the people they serve.  Of course the movie and music makers have a right to shield themselves against piracy, but more fair and balanced laws are required.  Unfortunately, despite massive protests by millions, such laws do not seem to be in the works right now. The best case scenario in the near future is that, with the help of the internet, the people keep fighting and winning (while mistrust of the government deepens).  The worse case scenario is that these unpopular bills, in whatever mask they are wearing, actually become law.  And then what?  Tell me what you think.

Goodbye Alec Baldwin Tweets

Alec Baldwin Twitter

courtesy of radaronline.com

I followed Alec Baldwin on Twitter because he is a funny guy who is not afraid to let his true opinions be known and I found that refreshing and entertaining.  And, did I mention he is funny?  In my last post, I wrote about how social media is a tool that empowers people to connect with one another and bring about worldwide action practically overnight, as evidenced by the explosion of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  But upon learning that my favorite SNL host cancelled his Twitter account following an incident with American Airlines, I got to thinking that the immediacy and extent of reach social media offers is not always a good thing.

In case you haven’t heard, the Emmy-award winner apparently refused to stop playing a game called Words With Friends on his mobile device and turn it off when asked to by a flight attendant. Since the flight was about to depart, he was kicked off and had to board a new flight a little later.  Here are some of the tweets he fired off during the incident:

“Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving. #nowonderamericaairisbankrupt.”

“But, oddly, 30 Rock plays inflight on American. #theresalwaysunited”

 “Now on the 3 o’clock American flight. The flight attendants already look…..smarter.”

 #theresalwaysunited Last flight w American. Where retired Catholic school gym teachers from the 1950’s find jobs as flight attendants”

Here is the retaliation from American Airlines via its Facebook page:

“Since an extremely vocal customer has publicly identified himself as being removed from an American Airlines flight on Tuesday, Dec. 6, we have elected to provide the actual facts of the matter as well as the FAA regulations which American, and all airlines, must enforce.  This passenger declined to turn off his cell phone when asked to do so at the appropriate time. The passenger ultimately stood up (with the seat belt light still on for departure) and took his phone into the plane’s lavatory. He slammed the lavatory door so hard, the cockpit crew heard it and became alarmed…The passenger was extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language. Given the facts above, the passenger was removed from the flight and denied boarding.”

And finally just for fun, here what Baldwin’s publicist tweeted as a response:

 “hey @American_AA: How come ok 4 other 1st class passengers 2 tweet while @alecbaldwin asked to leave while using his device? #hypocrisy.”

It doesn’t matter who is right and who is wrong here.  The point is that somehow the need to vent and get revenge makes people forget that their audience is made up of real people, and messages cannot be deleted from cyberspace once that send button is pressed.   Another example of the use (or abuse?) of social media for this destructive purpose can be found in the article, “Hilariously Awkward Facebook Interactions,” that I originally found on Mashable.  While I have to admit to cracking up while reading these, when I got to the last one, my jaw dropped and I was kind of cringing (in case my Dad reads this, you will have to find the details of the FB post I am referencing by clicking on the link.) Had this disgruntled teenager, pre-Facebook, decided to take revenge on his sister in a similar manner, he would maybe have had to go about it like this:  sneak out of his house (remember he was punished), go to the nearest library (if it was still open – no 24 hr. Kinkos back then) to photocopy the letter he found containing his sister’s private, shall we call it “love thoughts?”, then wake up the next day and stand in front of her school handing out copies of it while saying something like, “My sister is a slut. Read on.”  I know slightly crazy, short-tempered, childish people out there exist but maybe, just maybe, the lapse in time and face-to-face effort involved would have caused this kid to realize his plan for revenge was a bad idea. Or, maybe he would have revealed his sinister plan to a friend the night before, who would have convinced him that punching her was a better idea.

People saying and doing dumb things, and fighting and blabbering about it to anyone that will listen are nothing new. But, whether you are a celebrity or random high school kid, using social media to vent and extract revenge, well, you might want to think about it for a half-second first.

P.S. Alec Baldwin posted his side of the story on The Huffington Post if you’re interested:  My Flying Lesson.

What’s Behind the Occupy Wall Street Movement?

#OccupyWallStreet protest sign posted at OWS NYC movement

In about a third of the amount of time it has taken Kim Kardashian to get married and file for divorce, the Occupy Wall Street movement spread from New York City on September 17th to, according to Wikipedia.org, seventy major cities and six-hundred communities in the US by October 9th.  Here we are a month later and the effort is still going and has spread to cities around the world.  Fascinated by the rapid birth and growth of OWS, I did a little research to find how it all began, how it spread so fast and how it keeps going.

The Occupy Wall Street movement began by a message sent to 90,000 email subscribers of the magazine Adbusters, an ad-free publication that challenges consumerism.  The email suggested a peaceful occupation of Wall St. –tents and all- to demand an end to the influence that money has on government; “#OccupyWallStreet, Democracy not Corporatocracy” was the main message.  A crowd gathered and grew largely by people, especially the younger generation, finding out about the movement on Facebook and Twitter.   Reading the tweets and posts of the early weeks of the movement, it seems the mainstream media was missing from the early demonstrations, even with crowds as large as 50,000.  So it was by user-generated social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube, and others like Livestream.com and Reddit.com, that news, videos and information about the movement spread.  OWS also has its own website which offers daily schedules of upcoming events, along with other news and information.  So, digital methods like email blasts, websites and social media tools can be credited for sparking and quickly fueling the fire for America’s current social movement.  But that still doesn’t answer the last part of my question about how it keeeps going.  Why hasn’t the flame burned out yet?

Over the weekend I finally went to Zuccotti Park in my hometown of NYC to see for myself what this Occupy movement was all about.  I saw the wall-to-wall tents (or should I say concrete to concrete?), listened to the drumming, talked to some of the protesters, and watched a crowd of people that look like you and me organize and head out to Foley Square for yet another demonstration (this time to urge Obama not to go through with a “cash-for-immunity” deal with the big banks).  Besides the cry for justice for the “99%” others at the park, representing all races and ages, had their own agendas to promote such as:  benefits of composting, dangers of “fracking”(drilling for natural gas while potentially polluting the environment and water supplies), threat of budget cuts for senior benefits, and more.  While there were a variety of messages and people making them, the common vibe was loud and clear to me:


The Occupy Wall Street movement spread so fast and so wide because it hit a nerve among all types of people, all over the place. So while digital communication helps start and quickly advance modern social revolutions, it is the people who keep them alive.  If the issues like corrupt big bank and corporate business practices, massive job loss, foreclosures, wars, and health insurance did not affect so many lives so deeply, with little hope in sight, all the tweets, Facebook fan pages and video uploads in the world wouldn’t have saved the OWS protest from being more than just a one-city, flash-in-the-pan demonstration.

We’ve come a long way since the days of the American Revolution when riding a horse was the fastest way to spread a message.  But, the people’s ability to mobilize and will to demand justice, equality, and fair government representation has not changed.

Is Steve Jobs a Hero?

Apple iVigil

When on a night hike over the weekend I was looking at the stars wondering what the really bright one close to the moon was, and bam! Someone in our group pointed his iPhone up at the sky and within seconds we learned it was the planet Jupiter. Pretty cool!  But, as someone who ONLY owns one Apple product and wouldn’t be caught dead camping out for days in order to be the first to get the latest version of iThis or iThat, I struggled to understand why so many people appeared to be so sad because Steve Jobs passed away.  Endless celebrity tweets, shrines made up of flowers and bitten apples, iVigils going on across the country…well, I just didn’t quite get it all.  Why in the era of Wall Street protests and raging unemployment, are so many people so sad because a billionaire CEO was dead? Most of us did not know the man personally, and publicly he was not known for his philanthropy, did not seem to care about how his products impacted the environment, security concerns, or about the unlivable working conditions of some of the places where his products were assembled (remember the Foxconn suicides?).   So, why was this guy elevated to godlike status upon his death?  I understood Steve Jobs was a pioneer who gave us great tools that hugely impacted our lives. They enabled us to make money, create social movements, and offered new ways to be entertained and educated. But still, it’s not like he sacrificed his life so I could get an instant astronomy lesson. He died of a disease like a regular mortal and did what he loved to do along the way.  So, do I consider him a hero? Turns out the answer is yes.

Just before he passed away, I attended a live event where a panel of leaders in the digital media world offered their opinions on the future of the industry.  The moderator’s opening question was whether or not it will still be a three device world – handhelds, tablets and PCs – in five years.  I realize he could have just as easily asked “Is Apple going to continue to provide the tools that shape our society in five years?”  After Jobs’ death, I read articles about his life and work, old speeches, interviews, etc. While you still won’t see me tweet “iSad- RIP SJ”, stand around with a fake candle or waste a good apple, I do now have a greater appreciation for the man himself and what he accomplished.  As a person looking for the next step in my career, I was especially inspired by this quote he gave at the Stanford University graduation ceremonies in 2005.  He said, “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”  So if a hero is someone that has great vision and passion, carves his own path in life despite many setbacks and provides me with inspiration to do the same, I will give Steve Jobs that honorable title.  His shortcomings as a CEO take a back seat to his brave approach to life.  He was guided by his own voice and nothing and nobody else. The revolutionary products he created and ton of money he made were just inevitable outcomes of who he was as a human being.  His ultimate goal was not to be a celebrity billionaire, but to follow his heart.

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