Monthly Archives: December 2008

Seasons Greetings!

I have been traveling in the last couple of weeks, so I couldn’t write (or even post some drafts) here a lot.  So, at this point, I just wanted to wish everybody reading this a Happy New Year and best wishes for all the holidays that took place in December.

Wishing you a Happy New Year, it turns out that our happiness resides mostly in our own hands.  So, instead of a traditional holiday card, here is a video with a TED Talk that “reveals” the mechanism of happiness:

[HTML1]

And if you have even more time, here is another talk on the subject:

[HTML2]

Watching Queen Rania’s videos

As I wrote before, I find Queen Rania’s YouTube project very interesting and apparently thought and conversation promoting.  Also, as I wrote before, I do have a comment at least about one item published under her project (have not watched them all yet :).

It is a video about the stereotypes Middle Easterners encounter in the US, which is done with a lot of humor featuring young people sharing their thoughts. Here it is:

[HTML1]

I can really relate to people interviewed in the video in a sense of being tired from dealing with stereotypes. When people hear that I am from Israel, one of the most common responses (perhaps the most common) is “So, have you served in the army?”, which projects a very particular image of the entire people.

What I cannot relate to, is the way people in the interviews picture the way they would like to be treated.  All of them want everybody else to thank them for some positive (yet still stereotypical) characteristics or ancient achievements of their people.  For me that is a rather disappointing dream.

In my utopian world, the nominal labels attached to you, such as race, religion, nationality, etc., are really not important.  What important is what you put into these labels as a person.  I believe that I treat people first of all for what they and this is how I would like to be treated.  I wish the people in the video would simply asked to be treated for what they are.

I realize the constraints in which Rania’s project is operating as well as its stated purpose of “breaking down stereotypes about the Arab and Muslim worlds.”  I also realize that this is just a video amidst a myriad of other information and initiative related to the subject.  However I do think that she is in a more influential position than many other people.  This is why I think continuing framing the issue in terms of “us” and “them”, trying to show “them” that “us” are as good as “them” if not better, is not necessarily the best way to “bridging the East-West divide.”  I wish Queen Rania could raise above the regionalism and promote a more inclusive framework of tolerance and inclusiveness.

What do you think?

The “digital divide” is on the map (again)

In his recent weekly address, Obama revealed parts of his economic recovery plan.  Interestingly, one of the main points he chose to reveal was actually about the “digital divide” even though he is not using the term.  Here is his address:

[HTML1]

In case you skipped the video, here are the MICT related highlights:

Third, my economic recovery plan will launch the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen.  We will repair broken schools, make them energy-efficient, and put new computers in our classrooms. Because to help our children compete in a 21st century economy, we need to send them to 21st century schools.

As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway. It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption. Here, in the country that invented the internet, every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m President – because that’s how we’ll strengthen America’s competitiveness in the world.

Even though Obama is not using the term “digital divide”, on its face we can see both components of the debate present in his speech.  First, he is talking about access (emphasizing the bandwidth as the key issue).  Second, he is talking about education, which refers to the skills aspect of the “digital divide”.

In a recent study, Erik Nisbet and I found that the skills frame of “digital divide” usually leads people attribute the problem to individual.  In simple words, if you frame the “digital divide” as an issue of access, people will expect the government to solve the problem.  However, if you frame the “digital divide” as a matter of skills, people tend to hold the individual responsible for lack of knowledge.

This is why it is really interesting that Obama is framing the issue in a rather sophisticated way.  In his plan, it is not an issue of children lacking skills, as much as it is an issue of the school systems lacking the infrastructure.  In other words, the issue of skills is being transformed into an issue of infrastructure – if we bring the technology to schools, the students will figure out how to use it in the best possible way.  Re-framing the issue in terms of access definitely makes it more amenable to a centralized solution and rationalizes future government spending on public works, however, I wonder if it actually adequately addresses the issue of promoting digital literacy.  At the end of the day, we do need computers in schools, but we also need the manpower and an educational paradigm in order to empower the next generation through their use of MICT.

Can’t… resist… Google… can’t… resist…

I think I’ve been somewhat hypocritical about Google.  On the one hand, since I started blogging, I voiced occasional criticism of Google, concern about it collecting all this information about us, and the fact that its search algorithm is turning into a lens through which we comprehend reality.  On the other hand, I am using many of Google’s services, because, what can you do, they create great products.  The result of this self search – I am not really doing what I preach.

I tried to think about all the Google products I use (from the most to the least used I think)…  Google, Gmail, Reader, Picasa, Youtube, Google docs, Google Calendar, G-Talk, Google Analytics… so whom am I kidding about being a careful user of Google’s products?  Just about a year ago, II used to log off my Google account when I did not need it, but I noticed that I am not doing it anymore.  So maybe it is time to stop pretending and simply embrace it?

What would it mean for me to embrace it?  I guess it would mainly mean dropping some of my clients and switching completely to Google application.  Today, I use Gmail with MS Outlook client and I refer to Google calendar or Google docs only for group projects.  “Embracing” would probably mean skipping MS Outlook and relying solely on the web applications.  I think I would also start using i-Google.

My main concern in this case is backup.  A while ago, I had a very unpleasant encounter with Google, when I got locked out of my Gmail account for almost a week.  There was nobody to talk to, because Google does not have a costumer support in a traditional sense and was really bad with getting back on the service requests submitted through its online support.  If that happens when Google is my main organizational tool, I will be in big trouble.  But maybe there are backup solutions that I am not aware of?

What do you think?

The real change in change.gov

Not so long ago, i draw a short comparison between change.gov and kremlin.ru.  I think my main observation was that both websites are more of propaganda machines that allow no feedback mechanisms.  It looks like I was wrong and I am happy to admit that.

As i noticed in the last digest, change.gov is now offering a mechanism for interaction and is trying to build an active community on their website.  First there was a discussion about health care and now there is a discussion about economy.  They keep those discussions limited in time, which is understandable, and it will be interesting to see how these discussions will be implemented in actual policy making.

In a number of face to face conversations I had with people following my post criticizing change.gov for lack of a feedback mechanism, was the trickiness of having an open platform when it comes to an official website.  While it is natural and expected that on an election website there would be heated, and not always politically correct debates, it is not necessarily appropriate for an official government website.  Moreover, while it can be understandable if messages viewed as inappropriate by the campaign are removed from the website, it is again much more complicated when it comes to an official government website.  What does it say about free speech, when the government website starts making decision about appropriate and inappropriate content produced by it users.  Where is the line between censorship, or even more so, appearance of censorship?

Back then, I argued that clear and up-front community rules, may be a solution for this sensitive situation.  Interestingly, this is was the strategy taken by change.gov.  They just published a guide to comments, which is also linked to the comments policy.  They implement a set of community principles and technical tools to foster a community.  For example, while you can comment each time by a different name, they encourage you to register and maintain an online identity as a means for community-building.  They also have a rating system for comments, which seems like a useful tool.  The comment policy is also very simple, yet it leaves an ample room for the website managers to remove content and block users.

All in all, the first steps look very promising and the snippets of discussion that I saw seem rather thoughtful and constructive.  It will be interesting to see how the website managers will deal with removing content and blocking users, something that will have eventually happen.

A couple of side thoughts, though…

First, I wonder if what allows such an open policy is the fact that change.gov is not really a government website.  I remember reading that the website is run by an NGO registered to support the transition team (even though I could not find a reference to that on the website now).  So, formally, even though the website carries a .gov domain, it is not a government website, thus there are less strings attached to what can be done there.  I wonder, whether after the inauguration, they will maintain a similar approach.

Second, I think that if this approach of using online tools for an open public discussion will take off, we will probably witness a renewed debate about the digital divide.  The kind of discussion hosted at change.gov is absolutely unprecedented in its scope and it is open to many more people than any other government discussion so far.  However, it clearly leaves out those who do not have the technology, or who are not technologically savvy enough to engage in an online discussion.

The MICT-related innovation of Obama administration is definitely impressive and I feel I am really lucky to being in the US to witness this.