Category Archives: politics

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 external voting question

This is somewhat a detour from the usual MICT stuff, but I hope you forgive me as I think the topic is interesting.

The Israeli political scene seems to be very disturbed recently.  No, it is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is not about Iran, and it is not about about the recent tensions with Syria.  The debate is about a proposal by the government to amend external voting in the law or in other words to allow Israeli citizens abroad to vote in the election (HE).  I’ve heard this idea floating before, but I have never seen such a vibrant debate about this issue, which has recently become very close to my heart.

The situation today is that anybody holding an Israeli passport can vote in the Israeli election, but this person has to be physically present in Israel on the election day.  If you are studying, working, or simply on vacation abroad during the election day, you cannot go to the consulate and vote.  The only people entitled to vote remotely are diplomats and sailors.

The debate is happening on two levels.  On one level, it is a purely political debate, because some believe that the voters living abroad tend to vote to the right and thus the government is pushing for the change of law and the opposition is vigorously opposing it (HE1, HE2, HE3).  On another level, which constitutes most of the rhetoric, the debate is about values – should people who are not living in the country, particularly such country as Israel, be able to decide for those who will actually have to live with the consequences ? (HE1, HE2, HE3, He4, He5, HE6, HE7, HE8)

Deciding on big issues - poster calling for release of Gilad Shalit in Tel-Aviv

Some context may help understanding the later facet of the debate better.  Ever since the establishment of the state, people moving to live in Israel were referred to as “olim” or people who are “coming up” to live in and build the country.  On the other hand, people who left Israel to live elsewhere were referred to as “yordim,” meaning people who “stepped down,” left, deserted or abandoned the enterprise of building a Jewish state.  Traditionally, it was completely unacceptable to leave the country.  People who did that, and in fact their entire families, were frowned upon and looked down at.  However, in the past decade or so the criticism softened and in fact Israel is experiencing a brain drain (there are about 500-700K holders of Israeli passports currently living abroad).  The argument of those opposing the law thus resonates with the old sentiment and claims that the people who decided to abandon the not-so-luxurious Israeli realities have no right to decide for those who stayed.  In Israel, they say, election are not just about social issues, which are also important, but they are also about existential topics like war and peace.  If you are not going to live with the consequences of the vote, you shouldn’t have the right to vote, in the first place.  If it is important for you to vote, you can invest in coming to Israel once in four years to do that.

And this is where it is getting personal for me I guess.  It is getting personal because I couldn’t vote in the last election and given the frequency with which elections happen in Israel, I most probably won’t be able to vote in the next one as well.  The issue I am taking with this situation can also be viewed on a couple of level.  First, there is a financial  and logistic concern.  As a student, I simply cannot afford a random visit to Israel.  No matter how much I care about the democracy, the Maslow principles are getting in the way (not to mention the fact that my life is pretty much dictated by the academic calendar).  Second, there is a more substantive argument about my right to influence the reality of my country.  At the end of the day you can take an Israeli out of Israel, but you cannot take Israel completely out of the Israeli.  It starts with the fact that even though I am physically not in Israel at the moment, I am still influenced by the political decisions of its leaders (whether these are some of the taxes I am still paying or protests I encounter on campus, on  street or anywhere else).  But even more that that, as someone currently living abroad on a student visa, I think I should be able to influence the realities I am supposed to come back to upon completion of my studies.  I may decide not to go back to Israel after I finish my PhD, but then it will be a totally different story; right now I don’t have any tools to influence the reality I am supposed to return to, which I think is counterproductive for the country if it wants me back (somewhat related HE).

2008-12-ElectionPosters2Small

I may be wrong, but at this point of my life it somehow makes sense (and apparently not just to me – HE1, HE2).  Many of the arguments I read are dismissing any variation of making voting accessible to Israelis living abroad (here is an article in HE stating that 66% of Israelis oppose this idea).  It is “either you are with us or you are against us,” which I find both outdated and counterproductive.  There was a study triggered by this debate, which compared the external voting arrangements in other countries and showed how most of the world has reacted to globalization and to the fact that citizens who live abroad are still citizens of the country (PDF in HE).  In fact, one of the proposed versions of the law is taking a moderate approach that limits the period when one could vote abroad to six years, subject to spending at least 40 days over that period in Israel (HE), but the public discourse neglects the details and focuses on the principle.  This situation is similar to the arrangement in New-Zealand for example.  To be fair, some people do say that students should be given the right to vote (HE), but I think that if such an arrangement will be accepted, let’s say with the conditions similar to what is stated above, it should cover not just the students, but everybody else as well.

I wonder if you have any thoughts on the subject and what the situation is in your country?

“Digital” vs. “real”

Evgeny Morozov started an interesting conversation on the webpages of the Prospect Magazine about the role of “new” media in civic activism under repressive regimes.  He is rather skeptical about the equation “internet=democracy” and provides a plethora of examples where relying on “new” media can stagnate and/or backfire at attempts of civil activism or apprising.

I find particularly compelling his longitudinal view of things as opposed to focusing on a momentary instance (i.e. Twitter/Facebook/OtherTrendyWebsite Revolution).  For example, he refers to the protests in Belarus, which followed their presidential election in 2006 – there were flash mob protests organized using LiveJournal, which attracted a lot of attention from the Western media.  However, looking back, the results of those protests and the online activism are minimal to non-existent.

However, Evgeny does not stop there and suggests that the oppressive regimes are also learning to use the web.  Not only they use the web to to get to the activists (for example see how the Iranian government is using the web to identify the particularly active individuals in the post-election protests in the country), but they are also learning to use the “new” media to fight back and even to predict future unrest.

Evgeny explicitly mentions Clay Shirky as “the man most responsible for the intellectual confusion over the political role of the internet.”  Shiry responds, acknowledging some of Morozov’s criticism, but stating that regardless of that the “new” media should not be disregarded.  Unfortunately, in his argument, Shirky he seems to repeat some of the old claims focused on what might happen based on very limited evidence.  For example he writes: “It is impossible to know how the next few months in Iran will unfold, but the use of social media has already passed several tests: it has enabled citizens to coordinate with one another better than previously, to broadcast events like Basij violence or the killing of Neda Aga Soltan to the rest of the world, and, by forcing the regime to shut down communications apparatus, the protesters have infected Iran with a kind of technological auto-immune disease.”  However I don’t think he provides much evidential support for those predication, at least at this point.  Having said that, I admit that I don’t know much about the idea of “information cascades” and cannot address their debate on that ground (others seem to know much more about that).

I think one of the points Evgeny is making in this article (as well in some of his other commentary), even if he is not stating this explicitly, is about the dichotomy between the online and physical spaces.  The narrative of digital activism as a catalyst of  “real” political change is heavily based in the assumption that the “digital” realm is substantively different from the “real” and it is possible to change the later through affecting the former.  First, the old-fashioned political apparatus is not as savvy in comprehending this “digital” realm, which supposedly allows the activists new forms of engagement, communication, and mobilization.  Second, whatever emerges in the “digital” world has “real” impact on the “real” world (but rarely the other way around).  The result of this last assumption is a hype about Facebook uprisings and Twitter revolutions.

Evgeny’s skepticism, and to a degree Caly’s reply, highlight that the distinction between the “digital” and the “real” does not hold water as the “digital” is inherently rooted the “real.”  Adoption and diffusion of information technology does not happen in vacuum, but under physical and social constraints that constitute the “realities” on the ground.  The technology is not infused into existing societies and immediately starts processes of change, but it is appropriated, reinvented, and reinterpreted subject to the norms, customs, legal, political, and economic systems of the place and more.  That is not to say that adoption of the technology does not have an impact, but if we are to wear an activist hat and look for efficient ways of utilizing technology for civil activism, particularly under oppressive regimes, we should be blinded by the convenience of the artificial separation between the “digital” and “real.”

For me, the takeaway from this debate is that thinking about the role of political uses of “new” media it is important to keep the big picture in mind.  While those can be useful tools for enhancing the flow of information and potentially empower grassroots activism, the “digital” realm in itself does produce “real” change.  Revolutions, dissent, and political change are very “real” and are conducted through very tangible means.  Thus, while it is important to continue the discussion and the study of the political role of “new” media, the digital tools cannot be viewed as detached from the realities on the ground.

These are my thoughts.  What are yours?

Reading “Delete”

I wanted to post reflections on various readings here before, but never got to it.  This is my first attempt.  I just finished reading “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age” by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, who is directing the I+I Centre where I am spending this semester.  The book tackles the phenomenon of digital remembering, its potential social repercussions, and ways to address those.  On the publisher’s website it says that the book:

“…looks at the surprising phenomenon of perfect remembering in the digital age, and reveals why we must reintroduce our capacity to forget. Digital technology empowers us as never before, yet it has unforeseen consequences as well…  In Delete, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger traces the important role that forgetting has played throughout human history, from the ability to make sound decisions unencumbered by the past to the possibility of second chances. The written word made it possible for humans to remember across generations and time, yet now digital technology and global networks are overriding our natural ability to forget–the past is ever present, ready to be called up at the click of a mouse. Mayer-Schönberger examines the technology that’s facilitating the end of forgetting–digitization, cheap storage and easy retrieval, global access, and increasingly powerful software–and describes the dangers of everlasting digital memory, whether it’s outdated information taken out of context or compromising photos the Web won’t let us forget. He explains why information privacy rights and other fixes can’t help us, and proposes an ingeniously simple solution–expiration dates on information–that may.”

However, I think the book talks more about issues of information control and management, where forgetting is an important mechanism that allows the users to exercise their agency in an environment, which is becoming more and more information-intensive. The first half of the book is dedicated to setting the stage. It is a rather detailed and rich account of the history of the contemporary information environment particularly print, evolution of the memory devices and information storage, and development of information governance institutions (defined in broader terms) such as copyright. While I was aware of some of the stories, many of them were rather new to me. For example, did you know that the subject index, as an alphabetical list of topics covered in a book, was introduced in thirteenth century, but the idea of adding page numbers to the index to ease the actual navigation was added only in the sixteenth century? Quite interesting.

DeleteCoverTelling this history Mayer-Schönberger draws a picture of ever growing body of information about us, as individual members of society, and the way we may interact with it, even if in an indirect way. One of his favorite examples is the story of Stacy Snyder who was denied her teaching certificate because of a picture she had posted on MySpace of her dressed as a drunken pirate. The gist of the argument, if I read it correctly, is that while it becomes easier and cheaper to collect and store information about us and our behavior, we, as individuals, are losing more and more control over that information (once you or somebody else posts your picture online, you no longer have control over where it may appear, who may see it, and in what context). He labels it in terms of remembering and forgetting – if in the past it was difficult and costly to remember and easy and cheap to forget, this balance has reversed.

These days it is so easy and cheap to remember that we start losing our ability to forget. The repercussions of this development are that the accessible, durable, and comprehensive digital record of our past directly impacts the way we conduct and make decisions in the present. For example, I know that once this post will be published, it will become a permanent record of my take on “Delete”. Knowing that, I should probably be very careful with what I say about it, because it may impact my future interaction not just with Viktor (with whom I am currently working), but also with other potential readers of this post. I may choose to self censor myself, to present a biased view, or abstain from publishing it altogether. The point is that my behavior today is guided by the uncertainty about the future uses of this information – on the one hand I know it is there to stay, probably attached to my name, but on the other hand, I have no idea who, when, and under what circumstances will use and interpret this post.

To better understand this idea, I think it is helpful to focus on some aspects of socio-psychological functioning of information, which Mayer-Schönberger discusses in length in the book. One of those aspects is interpretation. The bits and bytes in themselves do not mean much, unless we interpret them (similar to the idea of data in knowledge management). It is through interpretation that the information gains meaning and thus also social functions. This leads to another important aspect, which is context. In different contexts we will interpret the same information differently and this is one of the dangers of digitized memory – information is recorded in a certain time and in a given context, but when it gets retrieved at a different time and in a different context, it will likely have different meaning. Thus we are losing control over the interpretation and meaning of the digital information about us and our behavior. When we, as individuals, are losing control over the information, we are becoming powerless compared to other actors (like the state and the corporate world) who have the capacity to collect, store, and retrieve information about us, thus making them even more powerful (they know more about us than we know about them and they control the interpretation process of information about us). Another aspect of this is the negation of time, which threats our ability to make rational decision in the present. Instead of focusing on the big picture, we are focusing on managing the mundane details of our lives, because those are recorded and stored and will have impact on us in the future.

The shift of control over information and negation of time are at the heart of Mayer-Schönberger’s concern with digital remembering. The rest the book is dedicated to analysis of potential responses to this concern and finally a proposal of an alternative solution. The book lists six different potential responses, each addresses either the power or the time aspect of digital remembering on one of the three levels: individual, law, and technology. The six solutions are digital abstinence, information privacy rights, digital privacy rights (sort of a DRM for personal information), cognitive adjustment, information ecology, and perfect contextualization. Each one of the approaches has its merits, but each one also has its drawbacks either at the conceptual or practical levels.

Mayer-Schönberger suggests expiration date for information as his solution to the negative effects of digital remembering. On the face of it, this is a rather straight forward idea – we need a piece of meta-data attached to each bit of information, which will determine how long this bit of information should be retained. Of course, his suggestion is much more nuanced and he goes into various scenarios of different ways in which information can be forgotten or partially forgotten, but I hope my one-line explanation carries over the gist of the argument. Mayer-Schönberger acknowledges in his book that expiration date addresses the time-related aspect of digital remembering, but it does little at the “power” front. In fact, the “power” is supposedly influenced indirectly, as by allowing automatic deletion of information the powerful side in the interaction is giving up some of its powers (if my power stems from having information about you and being able to mine it for my purposes, giving up the control over when this information is deleted, is equivalent to giving up part of my power).

I think that the main weakness of the expiration date argument lies not in the fact that it focuses primarily on the “time” aspect of the issue, but in the fact that it puts great hopes into the agency of the user. The idea of expiration dates gives user the power to decide for each and every piece of information how long they want to retain it. However, I am still slightly skeptical whether the user will use that power, because it comes with a cost. This idea assumes that (1) people want to make a decision about each bit of information they process and (2) they are capable of estimating the usable time span of each and every bit. I am not sure that people are that zealous about managing their information and are that thoughtful about the future prospects of its use. Just imagine if you had to decide for each one of the 300 pictures from your last trip, how long you want to retain it… wouldn’t it be easier just to keep them all? … just in case?

However, I think the main task of “Delete” is not offering a practical solution (that may be better done through establishing a startup :), but undertaking a rather ambitious conceptual and educational task – bringing the idea of “finitness of information” (p.171) into the public consciousness.  There may be numerous socio-technical solution to the negative effects of digital remembering, but you need a well stated argument to start thinking in that direction.  I think this is what “Delete” is trying to achieve.

Here is also Viktor’s talk about the book at Berkman, just about a month and a half ago (caution: it is rather long – over an hour):

OLPCorps Africa – March 27 deadline

Although it received quite a lot of (somewhat just) criticism on OLPC news (here and here with the second post trying to make sense of the first one), I think this is quite an interesting move on behalf of OLPC.  I think there is a lot of the youth potential, which the author of the blog post is overlooking and I would like to share this opportunity with those of you who are interested in OLPC-related activities.  For example, I think it may particularly interest those of you who were at the last ITU YF in Bangkok and had an opportunity to be thoroughly introduced to the XO laptops.

Here is the gist of the initiative:

What?

OLPCorps Africa is a unique grant program focused specifically on learning in Africa. Student teams are equipped with the tools, resources, and know-how to develop grassroots learning environments in an African country of their choice. OLPC is drawing upon the world’s student leaders to spark a university-led grassroots initiative in this global learning movement. Through OLPCorps Africa, OLPC is creating a global network of student leaders who will create a lasting impact at the local level, build a network of student activists, and initiate a grant program that will become renown.  (source)

Eligibility? - Undergraduate and graduate students, over 18 years old, from any country.

How?

$3,500,000 for 100 teams of college students to get $35,000 in support for 10 week projects in Africa. Each group gets 100 XO laptops, assorted hardware, a $10,000 stipend, and 10-day training in Kigali, Rwanda, before being sent out to projects. (source)

When?

The workshop will begin June 8th and end June 17th. Teams should arrive at least 1 day before. However, teams are encouraged to arrive as early as the 6th in order to adjust to the time-difference and leave room for flight-delays or any other unexpected circumstances which may arise. (source)

The duration of the Grant Program is 10 weeks (June – August), including the orientation in Kigali. Teams should arrange with their local partner to stay for at least 9 weeks. (source)

Proposals deadline is March 27th.

Please consult the wiki of the project for further details.  Note that there are many people there who are looking for local partners to form a proposal team.  So, if you are in Africa, you may find good partners there.

I was also excited to see that there is a group of Cornell students who have applied for this opportunity.  I hope to get in touch with them and offer them my help.  If any of you is applying, I would be also glad to hear about that!  Please let me know if I can help, particularly with linking people who are looking for partners.

Good luck everyone!

Oracles and the paliamentray system

As the Israeli election is approaching, I thought I should publish some of the posts that have been sitting in my drafts for a while now.  For example, I wrote this post over a month ago, but haven’t had a chance to publish it yet.  Interestingly, even though it is over a month old, I think it is still relevant.  The only thing I changed was adding a reference to Michal Shamir at the end.

Please let me know what you think about this.

Reading the Israeli press in the last month or so made an impression that the news media today are more focused on covering the future, rather than on reporting news.  For example, according to Gid’on Levi (HE) the Israeli election is already decided and Netanyahu is going to take the election with ease.  Udi Lebel, criticized the growing intervention of army officials in political processes by suggesting that Israeli should negotiate with Syria.  He opened his article with a claim that we are facing a new government with a Prime Minister (PM) who opposes such talks (HE).

These sentiments are supported by some polling data (HE), which shows that if the election would happen then (Nov, 20), Likud would have 32 seats in Knesset (6 more from the previous poll), Kadima would have 26 seats (3 less than before), and Avoda would practically disappear with only 8 seats (3 seats less than in the previous poll).  Although the data has slightly changed since then, the trends remain.

In fact, reading these articles and then the comments people leave as a response to them, definitely gives one a sense that this election is over, even before the parties have gone through the primaries.  I think it shows one of the greater weaknesses of the Israeli version of the parliamentary system (HE).  People seem to form their voting inclinations based on the person aiming for the PM post.  As if this person is going to have exclusive governing powers and the entire policy of the future government will be up to this person.  In reality, however, the PM has a lot, but not at all ultimate powers.  Because of the way the parliamentary system works in Israel, the PM is a hostage.  First of all, they are a hostage of their own party, and then of the other parties joining the coalition.

Right now, the dynamics of this campaign have been very personal.  It is definitely Zipi vs. Bibi as the “Economist” put it.  All the people who joined/left the major parties were nothing more than markers of the qualities of the candidates.  The more people (or should I say celebrities) have joined a certain party, the more credentials they are supposedly provide to the person heading that party.  It seems like neither the voters, nor the press, are paying attention to the individual admissions and ideological approaches of the newcomers and those who decided to change political affiliations.  Yet, once the election hype is over, these individual characteristics of people on each candidate’s list will become extremely important both for the political direction Israel is going to take and for the stability of the next government.

The last argument takes me back to the media and to the role of Oracles they have taken upon themselves.  Reading the predictions, I cannot help myself but seeing all good spiral of silence, agenda setting, framing, and a handful of other theoretical approaches playing off in front of my eyes.  I wonder to what degree focusing on the leaders of the parties and on the prediction contributes to making this prediction eventually come true?  I wonder if there is going to be any change in discourse once the primaries are over?  Will the actual teams matter in public discourse of these election?

One thing that becomes clearer and clearer to me is that the current version of the parialmentary system in Israel is not neccesarily the most productive model of government (and I am not alone – HE).  At the same time, it looks like changing this model may be difficult, to impossible, because the change is supposed to come from within the same milfancionting apparatus.  In one of the recent analysis of the voting patterns of the Israeli voters (HE), Prof. Michal Shamir expressed some optimism that at some point Israel can get its own Obama (I guess referring to the inspiration, enthusiasm, and hope his campaign and the begining of his presidency gave to the american people).  I would love to hope that she is right, but observing the election dynamics makes me more sceptical that the current system can produce a person who would will be free of its, not neccesarily healthy, influence.

Obama Effect 2

In one of my previous posts I described the “Obama Effect” as rhetoric of change and innovative/thoughtful use of information technology in election campaign.  Back then, I discussed a little bit the technological aspects as they apply to the Israeli case.  Now its time for a number of examples for the rhetorical aspects using the Israeli election as an example.

Recently, as Israel started warming up the election machine again, Zipi Livni was quoted saying that she would like that the atmosphere in Israel after the election would be similar to what she felt in Washington DC before the inauguration of Obama (HE). In her blog she has a video when she is briefly describing what saw and you can see that she is excited and that she really would like to be in the same place as him in terms of public support (HE).  This urged me to finish this post, which I started writing back in December.

Since she declared that she is choosing election to a shaky government, Zipi Livni became associated with an expressions such as “new politics” or “different politics”, which implied politics focused on the needs and interests of the public as opposed to those in positions of power.  I am not sure to what extent her rhetoric back then was inspired by Obama, but it was clearly going in the similar direction of “change”, particularly when it comes to the way politics is done in Israel.  She got criticized for that statement and accused for using that as a rhetorical tool only.  Nevertheless, other politicians, particularly those who are aiming for the Prime Minister (PM) seat, have gladly adopted the same rhetoric, especially after they witnessed it working in the US.

For example, on a summit of Likud party in mid-November, Netanyahu was quoted saying:

“We are not [going back] to the old politics.”

followed by a promise of open and clear election campaign (HE).  During the same week, while speaking to the Assembly of the Jewish Agency about his approach to the peace process, he was quoted saying:

“We need a new approach.  The old one did not bring results. We need to build bottom-up by making the lives of our Palestinian neighbors better.” (HE)

Even though the rest of the speech included some old statements about united Jerusalem and negotiations from a position of strength, it was indeed packed in the rhetoric of change.

During the primaries season, the intra-parties campaigns could be viewed as another example.  Michael Eitan, a Likud MK, launched his entire campaign under the slogan: “To prove that it can be done differently” and he borrows broadly in his rhetoric and uses of technology from Obama.  But not only him.  Miri Regev, a newcomer to Likud, who seems like an Israeli version of Sarah Palin, launched her primaries campaign and referred to her hopes that members of Likud will choose good people to compete with Kadima.  Among other things she said that she hopes that the party will be “smart” to bring:

“People who grew bottom-up, who have record and an alternative, and who chose the political route because they care about the Israeli people and about the country.” (HE)

In a recent article addressing the dynamics of the campaign Yoel Marku in Haaretz quoted Livni’s advisers saying that the choice is between preserving the status quo and choosing Livin, who represents the “let’s do something new” approach (HE).

Aluf Ben, in his article in Haaretz (HE), summarized the rhetoric of the two main candidates for the PM:

Candidates in the election are always trying to present “change”, particularly this year, with the meteoric rise of Barak Obma to the White House out of nowhere.  It is difficult for both Livni and Netanyahu to sell this product.

And he goes on describing how both candidates are disparately trying to reinvent themselves with little credibility.

Perhaps Shas, the ultraorthodox party went furthest.  I do not have an article to link to and what I know is from talking to people, but apparently they simply translated Obama’s “yes we can!” adding “with God’s help”.

There are definitely many more examples out there, if one is looking.  One question I keep on asking myself is whether these are the candidates who are acting under the Obama Effect, or there is a different effect in motion.  After all, I am not listening to the actual speeches, and all I know is from the media.  So, Is it possible that these are the media who are acting under the “Obama Effect” or more so “Obama Coverage Effect”?  In other words, is it possible that it is the Israeli media that are influenced by their US (and global) counterparts and prefer focusing on rhetoric focusing on change and bottom-up approaches?  After all, the Israeli media even tried to copy the model of YouTube debates, even if with partial success (HE).

What do you think?

P.S.  And just because I couldn’t help myself, the evidence to the first part of Obama effect is so overwhelming!!!  Tzipi Livni has her own vblog (HE) and Kadima website was upgraded to look more 2.0ish,  Netanyahu, who has an Obama-clone website under a domain that has nothing to do with the party, but with him as an individual, has lunched daily addresses to the nation on… YouTube of course (HE).  Avoda has also launched a refreshed website (well, that was not hard to do, compared to what they had before) though, Barak does not blog or Twitter yet.  The highlight, however, I think is this rather bizzare phenomenon of “Livni Boy”.  Well, this is not exactly a phenomenon, but just a single instance, but it is nevertheless “interesting”:

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Visualizing the inauguration

In the spirit of recent days, AKA obsession with the inauguration, I thought to share a couple of visualizations of Obama’s speech.

The first one is using the IBM’s “Many Eyes“:

Obama's inaugurationspeech through Many Eyes

The other one is from NY Times:

Inauguration speech through NY Times

I am not sure what exactly stands behind each one of the visualizations, because the results are slightly different, but I think each one is interesting in its own way.  I think this is probably just the beginning of what we are going to see being done with all the information the new administration is putting out.  As one of my friends said: “Obama is over-communicator and it suits me”.

Also, you may be interested in checking out CNN’s 3D visualization using Microsoft’s Photosynth.  This one requires installation, but once you have it, you will be able to use the tool to view a 3D picture of the inauguration compiled from pictures that regular people have taken and volunteered to CNN/MS.  Unfortunately, there are not that many pictures in the database, so the result is not as smooth as some of the demos they had when the project was still in beta.

That’s it, this is my contribution to the hype at the moment.  Now back to work.

TIGRing

Just a day before the inauguration, the Obama team has published a video about their Technology, Innovation and Government Reform (TIGR) group.  As its name suggest, that is the group that will supposedly lead technological innovation in the Federal Government.  My understanding is that they are the people running change.gov and they were behind their Citizen’s Briefing Book initiative.

This latter idea probably deserves a separate post, but in the meantime, I just wanted to share a couple of observations from visiting change.gov after consuming it primarily via an RSS feed for quite a while now.  What you miss when you consume content via RSS are the comments.   This is where it is getting interesting.  When I checked the aforementioned post, there were only 16 comments and here is what I saw.

First, it is really difficult to maintain an open platform and at the same time maintain your agenda.  Naturally, the TIGRs are using change.gov in order to share information about government activities presented in a positive light.  However, it looks like people are not necessarily interested to talk just about the topic set by the administration.  Thus, for example, there were a number of comments dealing with some controversy surrounding Bishop Robinson.  I’ve been slightly out of the loop recently, so I am not sure what the controversy is about, but people seem to care and seem to feel free expressing their dissatisfaction and critique on the transition team’s website, even when the topic is something absolutely not related.

Second, kind of related to the previous one, if you open your communication channels, there is no way you will be able to downplay criticism.  In this particular post, people have been voicing their criticism also about the technology and innovation aspects of the transition team’s conduct.  Particularly, there were some comments about people’s dissatisfaction with the way their opinions were treated in the Citizen’s Briefing Book project.  Apparently, the visitors of change.gov voted legalization of Marijuana as their top priority, but this topic was apparently neglected from the book.  I am not sure whether this opinion represents the popular opinion of the American society or just that of those who feel comfortable using the web to participate actively.  Anyhow, the TIGRs are probably factoring in additional information and not just the users’ comments.  It looks though that the users of change.gov do view themselves as representing the entire country.

Third, again related to the previous, the issue of digital divide was brought up in this discussion by the users. A user named Mona Marlow wrote:

“While I think this is a vast improvement, one aspect has been overlooked. There is a huge portion of us who live and work in rual America. We cannot view some of this “new” tech, thus miss out on alot. Due to the lack of having access to or affording the high-end internet access required to partisipate and/or view some of this new content. It would be of great help and service to “us” if there was a basic html view as well. There is not much you can do of the video content, but perhaps have a transcript of it for rual America to read.
Thank You”

The bottom line is that after almost 3 months in the air, change.gov is evolving in terms of user participation and it will be interesting to see where the new administration will take it.

In the meantime, on the other side of the Atlantic, things are also changing.  The Russian president Medvedev has also opened his website to comments, but in the meantime only in the Russian version (RU).  I couldn’t spend much time on the site, but from what I saw the comments are more on the topic.  Of course the space is moderated (RU) and on the face of it there are more and clearer restrictions than on change.gov (here).  At the end of the day, however, I don’t think we have many chances to actually know what comments are not getting published on both websites.

So, these were my few observations for the moment.  Now back to work!

P.S. By the time I finished writing this post, there were already 33 comments on that post.  They got traffic!

P.P.S. An update. Actually, on kremlin.ru the discussion is also split. They actually provide a split of the main themes of the comments. So, in the latest post (RU) 785 comments were left on the topic (development of mass/public sport) and 396, the second largest category, were about the management of the comment space.  The admins of the website have even published stats for the period between Jan.12 and Jan. 19 (may be still available here in RU):

  • 7558 – Activated users
  • 961 – People who have not confirmed their email addresses
  • 230 – Blocked users
  • 2354 – Comments published
  • 982  – Blocked comments
  • 396 – Comments being reviewed

According to them, comments that were not published, contained personal complains or specific requests that needed an individual answer (that is not allowed according to their comment policy).  They say however that in all(?) those comments no contact information was provided, so they will not be able to take care of those complains and requests.

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:

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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.