Category Archives: observation

Is it the time to lobby?

It’s been quiet on this blog for a while, so I decided to share an observation based on some conversations I recently had at one of the Internet governance meetings.  The conversations were about ICT companies and the point was that while Western companies are extremely enthusiastic about emerging markets, they do not consider their regulatory systems with the same rigor as they do in the developed world.  In other words, while in the developed countries these companies invest considerable resources in working with the governments and lobbying, in the developing countries their efforts are primarily in marketing.  Even when they do work with governments, it is mostly done through the marketing departments where the governments are viewed primarily as costumers, less as regulators.

I heard similar observations from a number of industry players and also from a government official.  I listened and “filed” these observations, but they were  brought back to life with the recent explosion of the BlackBerry story.  You may know that the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and now also India and a number of other countries, are threatening to ban BlackBerry unless RIM allows them access to the encrypted email data of BlackBerry users, stored on the company’s servers.  India gave RIM an ultimatum until the end of the month to comply and the rumor is that the Indian government has similar plans for Google, Skype, and perhaps others.

I wonder how did RIM find itself in such a situation?  Will other global technological companies find themselves in a similar situation soon too?  Peter Svensson writes in Washington Post today:

“Threats by the governments of India, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to shut down BlackBerry’s corporate e-mail services reflect unease about a technology that the U.S. government also took a while to accept.  The foreign governments are essentially a decade behind in coming to terms with encryption, a technology that’s fundamental to the Internet as a medium of commerce. (…) RIM, the company behind the BlackBerry, doesn’t have years to wait for foreign governments to adopt the more relaxed U.S. stance toward encryption.”

I assume Svensson is right about his historical perspective; after all, writing about this is his bread an butter.  At the same time, given that all the governments currently having an issue with BlackBerry are in developing countries, I think he is missing the point made by the people I talked to about the Western companies’ attitudes to the emerging markets’ governments.

It did not take the US government years to figure out its stand on encryption on its own.  On the contrary, this position is a result of years of dialogue, argument, and debates between the government and the various interest groups, primarily the industry, through its lobbying activities, and the civil society.  We can see a similar discussion taking place these days around the issue of net neutrality.

It seems to me that until the RIMs, Googles, and Skypes of this world won’t take the regulators in the developing world as seriously as they take the governments back home, we will continue seeing more “BlackBerry” cases.  Until the multinational MICT companies will not engage in a meaningful  way with the local governments in the emerging markets, the barriers to their activities there will continue growing and become more sophisticated, especially when it comes to such a politicized area as information.

So, I wonder if it is the time for these companies to start lobbying in the developing world just the way they are lobbying here.  While I am aware of the potentially harmful influences of lobbying, it is an integral part of the policymaking mechanism and, for better or worse, it also has an educational impact on the policymakers.  At the end of the day, usually those are the governments that are catching up with technology, while the industry is ahead of the curve.

What do you think?  Is it the time to lobby?

The duality of hoidays

Quoting my dear friend, Anichka: “Hello Two Thousand and Ten! You be good now.”  This is my first post in the new year and I would like to use this opportunity to share a short semi-theoretical observation.

There was an article in the NY Times titled “Saying No, No, No to the Ho-Ho-Ho.”  The article is about people who have decided not to celebrate Christmas in 2009.  People did it for various reasons, but the following quote from Renata Rafferty, a 53-year-old philanthropy adviser, I think summarizes the overall sentiment.  She said that she decided not to stress herself by “conforming to some tyranny of the ‘shoulds.’”

I think this idea of the “tyranny of ‘shoulds'” is a great example of social structures as those are defined in the Theory of Structuration.  We do things because this is the way it is, because we are used to.  This is how we grew up doing them and we do not think much about their meaning or why we partake in that specific activity.  People celebrate Christmas (or any other holiday for that matter) in a particular way because they should and because they grew up doing it that way.  People in many places over the world shop away the month of December, just because this is “expected” and constantly reinforced.  For example, until recently, once of the jewelry counters in a local mall, had a sign saying “Accessorize your love this Christmas” and that was the leitmotif of the entire holiday season elsewhere.

However, ideas such as those presented in the NYT article, are an example of reflexive monitoring of our behavior.  It provides a collection of opinion where people are discursively reflecting on their behavior, which in turn allows them to change it. The fact that this reflection is discursive allows others (like me, and now you reading this post) to reevaluate their behavior regarding that structure.  The interesting part in my eyes, that if you read the comments to the article you can see that this discursive reflection is used by some to reinforce their current behavior (particularly for those who don’t like what they see the holiday has become) or to alter it (the article was an “aha” moment for some of the readers) – all this happens in the context of how each one of those people is celebrating Christmas and how they grew up thinking about it (read, duality of structure).  Moreover, for yet another category of readers, especially those who like Christmas and the way it is celebrated, this discursive reflection caused to look for an alternative explanation as to why they think it should be kept the way it is.  Overall, there can be a great number of different reactions, but all of them would be fueled by the same reflective mechanism.

I think this is a really nice and interesting example of how the structuration works.  What do you think?  I only hope that I am not that owner of a hummer (theory) who views everything as nails (structuration).

NewYear2010

On the importance of being there

With all the beauty of the Internet and the fact that it helps us dealing with distance and phisical presence, there is something really valuable about “being there.”  The Berkman Center places tons of material online and theoretically, nothing stops me from spending hours on their website listening to the talks and reading the reports.  However, for me this rarely happens, unless I have a concrete task in hand and am looking for a specific piece of information.

Now, spending the summer at Berkman, makes me more conscious of the online materials the center is releasing.  For example, about a week ago Jonathan Zittrain (JZ) gave a really interesting talk about the history of the internet through the lens of domain name regulation.  Unfortunately, that one was not documented, but then, when I came across the video below, I did sit down to watch (most of) it.  I don’t think I would do it unless I had the opportunity to listen to JZ “live” just a couple of days before, but now I know that there is a good explanation of the basics of the Internet out there that I can use.

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Same goes for other items, such as the luncheon talks.  For example, this week, Eszter Hargittai presented her new data about disparities in Internet-related skills among college students.  Although I am following Eszter’s blog and try to read what she publishes, I doubt I would have a chance to spare an hour watching her recorder talk.  Now, after actually being there, I would encourage you to watch both, her talk from this week and another one she gave about a year ago (below).

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Of course I am not the first one to think about the importance of being there.  The idea has been around for a while, especially in the business world.  However, it is always fascinating to reach a similar conclusion based on your own observations.  It seems that the ability to attach a “face” to the content has an aura effect, beyond the immediate enhancement of communication between the people involved.  It shifts one’s attention towards other information produced in the same space, and most interestingly, it extends to the online environment.  I think that so far I was paying attention only to the reverse dynamics (when online communication enhances the following offline interaction).  It is interesting to now how it works in the opposite direction as well.  Being there focuses you on the materials produced by the people and institutions invovled, while probably taking away from your attention to informatin produced elswhere, even if that is a place where you have previously spent a lot of time at.  Some food for thought…

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:

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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?

Mumbai terror and MICT – an observation

I was really horrified to hear about the ongoing attack in Mumbai this evening.  Currently, there is still not much information about what is actually going on.  I truly hope that the situation will become clearer soon and the loss of human lives will stop.

In an attempt to fill the information vacuum about what is going on, I found myself switching between various website.  Veronica first noticed the report on Ynet (HE), then I checked NY Times, CNN, Washington Post, back to Ynet (HE), Haaretz (HE), BBC.  All the media seem to be rehearsing the same update about the estimated casualties, ongoing battles, hostages, and the fire.  Nevertheless, and this may sound crazy, I couldn’t help myself but noticing a number of media related phenomena.

The comment section on Ynet, included not just the expected emotional reactions, but also practical attempts to establish connection with people in India.  You may know that India is a popular destination for young Israelis who spend there extensive periods of time, usually before they embark on an academic journey.  So, among the comments to various reports about the attack, you could see people asking their friends and relatives to call back home and let them know that everything OK.  This is really interesting not only because the comment section is being reinvented for purposes initially not intended, but also because those who posted those comments, assumed that their friends/relatives in India will refer to the Hebrew online newspaper for information in such a critical time.

NY Times reported that a lot of information about the casualties and what is actually going on in Mumbai, is coming from blogs, Twitter, and other social media.  They mentioned (but not linked to) Noah Shachtman of Wired, who reported on the issue in their emergency blog (not sure how long this link will remain active).  Just a hint of where the journalists look for the information they later report in the mainstream outlets.  It also looks like the same pictures from the scene are circulating all over the cyberspace.

Finally, I briefly checked Facebook, and just a few hours after the the events began, there are 5 or 6 groups dedicated to the topic and a couple of them already have a few dozens participants.  Also, just a few hours after the attack search for “Mumbai terror” on Youtube returned almost 500 results and at least the entire first page seemed relevant.

I am not jumping on any conclusion, but I felt it is important to document those developments.  It got me thinking about (1) the grassroots use of MICT and (2) about the changing relationships between the grassroots content creators and the mainstream media in emergency situation like this.  The last thought was also fueled by a recent conversation with Grisha about his followup of the reports about a plane crush in Russia a few months ago.

If you have any thoughts on the topic, please share.  In the meantime, I hope the situation will get resolved with minimal further casualties.

Eyes on Africa

Some time ago I shared my thoughts about Africa’s potential as the next Asia in terms of socioeconomic development, particularly when it comes to the MICT related issues.  Recently I have encountered a couple of observations that support this intuition.

First, it seems that mobile equipment manufacturers and service providers discover more interest in the African market.  Here are a number of examples: MTN, the South Africa based telecom was recently voted as the most preferred place to work for in Uganda; originally Kuwaiti Zain group has announced that is going to invest “$1bn per annum in Nigeria till 2011″; Nokia is about to ship 3G enabled phone with Amharic interface to Ethiopia; and Telecom Kenya is about to start selling iPhones in the country under the Orange brand.  Some of these moves can be of course viewed as political, but nevertheless, i think they indicate a development in the African telecom market.

Second, I am noticing that a number of countries in the region are taking off in terms of their activity in the field of telecom.  For example, Egypt is becoming a major telecom hub in the region.  Here is an article suggesting that it is becoming Africa’s leading market.  But not only that.  It is also becoming a major venue for international telecom policy debates.  Just a few months ago it hosted ITU Telecom Africa, later this year it is going to host a major ICANN meeting, and it has a record of hosting other internainal telecom related events in recent past.  Also, South Africa, a more veteran leader on this scene, has been hosting telecom related venues with global impact such as the upcoming World Telecommunication Standartization Assembly (WTSA).  Again, I realize that the processes in Egypt are probably due to the efforts of the Mubarak family, which seems to be in a not very stable political situation.  Nevertheless, it is bringing more of the global policy debates to the continent, which contributes to my argument of Africa starting to play a more prominent role.

Have you had any observations like that?  Do they make sense?  Or have you encountered information that supports/chllanges my observations?  Please share.

How “old” technology stopped the “new”

This is probably my way of explaining to my few readers why I haven’t blogged for a while – I was moving.  Part of moving is getting various services to the new place, internet being one of the vital ones.  Following is a short sketch about how a piece of rather “old” technology delayed me in receiving this rather “new” one.

I made an arrangement with the local cable company and patiently waited for the “cable guy” to show up within the 5 hour window set for me by the service center.  When he finally arrived, he turned to be a very nice, rather senior, man who worked as a subcontractor for the cable company and happened to be new to the are.  He started setting up a cable modem – a procedure that is supposed to take about 15 minutes – when he realized that he does not have the keys to utility room of the apartment complex where cable box is located.  It took us between 20-30 minutes to bring the manager of the complex to open the utility room, just to figure out that the padlock key for the box itself was not matching as well.  It took us another 20-30 minutes until the cable company representative showed up and unlocked the box.  Five minutes later i had internet in the new house.

That may be a slightly boring story, but it made me thinking how a 4000 years old technology keeps on playing such a central role in our lives and even has the ability of interfering in our interaction with the “newer” technologies.  A simple few dollars lock and (lack of) and even cheaper key prevented my access for over an hour to one of the more sophisticated contemporary pieces of technology in domestic use.  It was both ironic and fascinating to think about about it.

More so, it was really interesting to think about the human factor involved in any technology application.  At the end of the day the fact that the “cable guy” did not have the right keys was a results of a human error or organizational failure.  It is fascinating how little things actually change at the base even as technical sophistication grows.

Making the “new” media “old”

I have blogged before about the internet censorship law in Israel and it seems to become a rather worrisome trend.  Here is a story about prospective Russian limitations on Internet in their country (thanks to “Information Policy” for the initial link).  Every society seems to do it of their own interests, but the result is pretty much the same – suppressing the factors that made the “new media” “new”, such as interactivity, ubiquity, and openness.

Al Gore’s media event

Yesterday was my first time at a typical media event in the US.  Thanks to Joanne, I went to Al Gore’s announcement of a national challenge on climate and energy.  The event was very popular and it was a rather interesting experience.

On the one hand it was well organized in terms of communication leading to the event.  By the time Joanne and I registered, we made it only to the waiting list.  Nevertheless, the organizers kept on communicating with us and encouraged us to come, assuming that they will be able to fit in everyone.  There were indeed a lot of people and getting in was quite a mess.  Of course there were some supporters of Al Gore’s ideas, some protesters, and some advocates for vegetarianvegan food, demonstrating outside.

Outside of Al Gore's speech venue.

Inside, it was rather impressive.  It was my first time in the DAR Constitutional Hall and it was packed (probably over three thousand people).  The crowd was extremely supportive.  Gore was received with standing ovations and many times his talk was interrupted with more ovations.  Well, in fact it wasn’t interrupted, as the speech was very well planned and the ovations came in all the expected places.  It was rather short and didn’t have any famous Al Gore’s use of gadgets (which I hoped for).  I didn’t have a normal camera with me, but took a few pictures with the cell phone.

Al Gore is speaking about the WE campaign.

The speech itself was rather simple and short.  This is not to say it was not good, but I felt slightly used, as it was too obvious that the entire event was held for the small army of journalists who were there typing, taking pictures, and filming.  The audience was there just as a decoration, and it was a really good and interactive decoration.  You usually see it on TV, but when it happens live, the feeling is quite different.

As I said, the message was simple:

  • The problem: United States is in a horrible shape with weak economy, distant wars, and high gasoline prices;
  • The reason: United States’ reliance on fossil fuels;
  • The solution: Shift to using renewable energy sources in 10 years from… NOW!

To help everybody with that Al Gore and Co. have launched the “We” campaign, which has a nice website with additional information about the idea and footage of yesterday’s speech.  According to the website, so far over 1.3 million people already signed up.  From a quick glance at the website, the primary goal of the campaign is advocacy and it is used as a vehicle to collect signatures on various petitions.

Again, it was an interesting experience.  It was not only a typical media event of a kind you usually see on TV (especially now, with all the coverage of US presidential election) – one that is carefully planned and has a weird mixture of sincere ideas and crafted messages.  The way the speech was delivered was also interesting.  Maybe this is the image of Al Gore that i had in my head – one of a global liberal thinker concerned with the future of the entire planet, but I found the speech to be extremely US-centric.  That makes sense in light of my other observations above (after all it is a carefully planned event), but the level of patriotism and nationalism in Al Gore’s speech caught my ear.  It sounded as if US is the world and solving the national problems will definitely make the rest of the planet a better place.  Without judging this way of presentation, it was surprising.

As to the substance, I am no expert on energy, but it looks like the speech was recieved with mixed feelings (not by the audience in the hall, but by experts elsewhere).  Nevertheless, it also seems that the environmental questions are entering every domain of public discourse, including telecom policy.

CNN 1.0

I watched some morning news on CNN today.  One of the main items was the reaction of Obama’s supporters to his vote for an amendment to FISA (official site).

For those who do not follow, a few days ago the senate voted for granting immunity to the telecommunication companies for participating in wiretapping program of the current administration.  In the past Obama opposed this legislation, but in the current vote he changed his mind and voted for the amendment.  As a result, many of Obama supporters came out criticizing him.  A lot of the criticism appeared on the social network component of Obama’s own campaign site (if you haven’t done it yet, take a look, there is a small Facebook on his website).  I think this is the story in a nutshell, but you can search for FISA and Obama for further details (here is an item on CNN’s website for example).

Now to my morning observation….

The main point, made a number of time during the morning news, was amusement, or even shock, about criticism taking place on Obama’s website.  How can it be that a campaign website hosts criticism of the candidate?!?!  After all, Obama is considered to be the one who harnessed the internet and reinvented election in the 21st century!  How come he allows criticism on his own campaign website?!  Is this what the new politics all about?

Leaving sarcasm aside, it really looked as if the anchors found it difficult to comprehend that there is a discussion going on a social networking platform on a candidate’s website.  And their shock/amusement went on and for the half an hour that i had the TV on.  However, what got lost in that shocking reveliation of new politics is the issue itself.  FISA did not get discussed and the change in Barak Obama’s stand deserved only limited attention (as a background to the virtual uprisal).  Most attention was focused on the fact that Barak Obama’s supporters are backlushing on him and they do it on his own campaign website.

The bottom line is that I think CNN missed the point.  In fact it was really surprising that a channel that markets itseld as technologically advanced (just remember all the touch screens obsession) has such an unsophisitcated amusement by technology as its main political item of the morning.  Not impressive at all.