Where Everybody Knows Your Name – Maybe Online, But Not in Real Time

Before there was Facebook and Twitter (I do remember), people would actually talk to each other face-to-face.  They were not as concerned about the number of retweets or likes they received on social media (there was none).  Maybe they just wanted to have a few close friends or family members that they could always count on to be around whenever they needed them, or just wanted to enjoy each other’s company.  In our virtual world of today when can choose to be connected to our friends and family whenever, and in whatever ways we choose.  But living in the virtual world full time may actually deprive us of having a longer life.  Feeling isolated and disconnected from the real world can actually make us sick.

Recent  research suggests that being unpopular (in the real world) can be hazardous to our health.  In fact, it might even kill us.  Yet most don’t realize that there’s more than one type of popularity and social media may not supply the one that makes us feel good.  This same research also reveals that there is more than one type of popularity, and most of us may be investing in the wrong kind.  We can be popular by simply being likeable.  Likeability reflects kindness, benevolent leadership and selfless, prosocial behavior.  This same research suggests that this form of popularity offers lifelong advantages, and leads to relationships that confer the greatest health benefits.  We may be built by evolution to care deeply about popularity, but it’s up to us to chose the nature of the relationships we want with our peers.  It may also mean that we step away from Twitter once in a while.

May we all live long and prosper in real time.  🖖

Ray Myers

Faked Out by Fake News

Oh, those automated algorithms!  One day they are riding high as our anointed saviors from being duped by fake news and exposed to gory live streaming, and the next day we are not quite so sure (see my post on May 3).  So what is Mark Zuckerberg and others to do?  I guess they will have to hire more humans or, as they are called in the business, “screeners.”  So how many for how long?  And why are we so gullible, and so intrigued by gory spectacles we can watch on demand.  Sounds like the old days of the Roman Empire when they threw the Christians to the lions.  Only now you can watch it at any time and any place thanks to technology.  Not to mention reading the fake news to fill in your spare time.  Can Mark Zuckerberg or anybody really solve this problem

Despite Zuckerberg’s pledge to do a better job in screening content, many Facebook users did not seem to believe that much would change.  Hundreds of commenters on his post related personal experiences of reporting inappropriate content to Facebook that the company declined to remove.  So who are these reviewers and what standards do they apply?  Most of them are low-paid contractors overseas who spend an average of just a few seconds on each post.  A National Public Radio investigation last year found that they inconsistently apply Facebook’s standards, echoing previous  research by other outlets.  Hmmmm, I wonder if some of these same people work in those famous “call centers” that American companies have established abroad?

Sounds to me that we may be “faked out” for a long time to come.

Ray Myers

P.S.  I will not be posting on Friday.  Busy weekend ahead.  Enjoy yours.  Back on Monday.



Let Your Fingers Do the Walking – Shop/Search Online

Remember the Yellow Pages?  I know I am walking down memory lane a lot lately, but things are changing so quickly.  I often like to think about life before tech because it has certainly changed the way we do just about everything.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that!  What would we do now without Amazon or Google?  As long as you are near a computer screen in whatever form you prefer, you can probably survive living alone on an island provided there is connectivity and free home delivery.

Here is what one NY Times reporter noted recently: “When the kids were born, it (Amazon) become my household Costco – supplier of diapers and other baby gear.  Then it began a services designed to remove any decision-making from shopping:  My toilet paper, paper towels and other consumables now come to my house on schedule, no thinking required.  Then Amazon moves into media, and I was more hooked:  It had me for packaged goods, so why not movies and TV shows too?”  And now there is even more.  Amazon gave us Echo, the company’s talking computer which speaks through a persona known as Alexa, and which has now infected American families like a happy virus.

But if it’s not Amazon for you, it’ll be one of other tech giants:  Alphabet (Google), Apple, Facebook, or Microsoft.  It’s too late to escape.

Ray Myers


Tech Tackles Fake News

What’s all this about fake news? (remember Rosenne Rosanadana, TV’s Saturday Night Live).  I just read the other day that computer experts are using sophisticated algorithms and online data to spot misinformation.  So now it seems that we have “machine learning” tools that use artificial intelligence to combat fake news.  A growing number of technology experts worldwide are now harnessing their skills to tackle misinformation online.  Calls for combating fake news have focused on some of the biggest online players, including American giants like Facebook and Google.  Why did we have to wait for this call until after a U.S. Presidential election?  Does fake news really have more readers than real news?

I am not really a conspiracy theorist, and maybe the technology and needed algorithms were not fully developed in time for last year’s election, but perhaps it’s just another example of “timing being everything.”  Technology still seems to hold a revered place as our best hope for discerning fact from fiction.  But many Europeans are not so optimistic.  With fake news already swirling around their forthcoming elections, analysts also worry that technology on its on may not be enough to combat the threat.  

Remember the old adage, “All I know is what I read in the newspapers.”  I guess it’s time to rethink that old saw, or maybe we should literally start reading (and listening) again with a more critical perspective.  We must never think that technology can do all this for us.

Ray Myers

Corralling the Social Media Market

Do you ever think of social media as a business that has to be regulated in order to ensure fair competition in this marketing space.  In the period of ten years we have gone from a time when the American marketplace was dominated by  companies such as Exxon Mobil, General Electric, Microsoft, Citigroup and Bank of America to a new era of technology companies replacing them in the size of their market caps.  Microsoft remains in the middle of this group at #3, but is now joined by its largest tech competitors: Apple (1), Alphabet (2, Google parent company), Amazon (4), and Facebook (5).    We may eventually have to regulate these tech giants if they are determined to truly be monopolies that limit competition by smaller tech businesses in this space.

“We are going to have to decide fairly soon whether Google, Facebook and Amazon are the kinds of natural monopolies that need to be regulated, or whether we allow the status quo to continue, pretending that unfettered monoliths don’t inflict damage on our privacy and democracy.  It is impossible to deny that Facebook, Google and Amazon have stymied innovation on a broad scale. To begin with, the platforms of Google and Facebook are the point of access to all media for the majority of Americans.  While profits at Google, Facebook and Amazon have soared, revenues in media businesses like newspaper publishing or the music business have, since 2001, fallen by 70 percent.”   So most Americans can now “proudly” say that they only know what they see on their computer screens (of varying sizes).  Maybe this is really how all those fake news stories began?

Fewer newspaper readers, but more “screen” readers.  Let’s face it, our social media markets are like the Wild West of the Digital Age.  Maybe we do need a few Marshall Dillons to protect all of us law-abiding citizens (anyone remember Gunsmoke?).

Ray Myers


Choose Your Own News and TV Program Endings

Now it seems that you may never have to live in the “real world.”  Or at least when you are watching TV or searching for the latest news online (some people, I guess, still buy daily newspapers, and end their searching there).  But technology has made it possible for us to go online and search for whatever news we may like.  Sorry, but I am getting very confused here.  Maybe Kellyanne Conway was right: there may truly be “alternative realities” out there, and you can pick whatever one you like.  

Some reporting on the recent South by Southwest Interactive Festival may be helpful in trying to understand it all.  “(Netflix) is developing new interactive technology allowing viewers to direct the plots of certain TV shows, Chose-Your-Own Adventure style.”  They are also focusing on children’s programming, more as a developmental learning tool than as some new twist on the modern media sphere’s rush to give you exactly what you want when you want it.   Well, as the old expression goes: “Good luck with that!”  It just might turn out that it will be more profitable for Netflix  and others to give their audiences what they want, and then what?  They are already giving viewers the opportunity to choose their own endings!

So much news, so little time.  Who do you trust?  Dan Rather?  Kellyanne Conway?

Ray Myers


Face Time, Refugees and Trump Travel Ban

Maybe technology can really help us all stay connected in the “time of Trump” wherever we are.  I guess we are all stil free to travel whenever and wherever we want, but I am not really that sure anymore?  Luckily we now have video “portals” that allow us to keep in touch with relatives, possibly refugees, who may be stranded in some country that our “so-called” president has now decided is inhabited by terrorists who are intent on infiltrating the heartland of America.  Can someone really give this current White House occupant a more reasoned and experienced view of who are real foreign enemies might be.  Russia somehow comes to mind.

Thanks to these video portals, American immigrants from majority Muslim countries (not sure of the exact number now since it seems to vary on Trump’s whims on a given day) now have an opportunity to share their thoughts and stories about their lives in these times.  If they don’t, that’s okay too.  I can remember a time when a newly-formed NGO, Global Nomads, just before the Iraqi War, conducted a similar type of video exchange between American and Iraqi teenagers.  It all seemed so hopeful at that time, and then the bombs fell.  Global Nomads is still pursuing such video portal exchanges around the world, http://www.gng.org

But even the mundane commonalities and awkward exchanges resonate: there is the sudden proximity to a person who might share your favorite soccer team, who likes to hang out at coffee shops and scroll through Facebook – even if they happen to live in a sprawling, dust-covered refugee camp where they share a single tent with several family members.

Ray Myers




Shared Science Goes Social!

I never thought science as something that would become part of the twenty-first century phenomenon of social networking.  But this has apparently become a new form of academic “outreach” in our connected world.  So long Ivory Tower!  This new scientific social network is called ResearchGate and was started in Berlin with three partners in 2008.  Now they have signed up 12 million scientists, or about 60 percent of all such potential users worldwide.

Researchers upload roughly 2.5 million papers to ResearchGate every month.  In comparison, scientists added the same amount of research over the first four years of the network’s operation.  ResearchGate has also taken advantage of the growing trend across the scientific world to open up to the wider public and take advantage of technology like machine learning to conduct projects across borders and faster.  The network is not alone in making science more transparent and open.  Cancer researchers, for instance, recently created a video game that allows people to participate in the crunching of complex data on their smartphones by guiding a “spacecraft” along paths based on genetic sequencing from breast cancer patients.

I can remember going to science labs in high school and working in assigned teams (hopefully with people you liked who were also smarter and shared their expertise).  At that time, sharing was not always seen as a way of learning how science works.  

Ray Myers

Going Global with Mark Zuckerberg 

He says we need a “social infrastructure” that goes global.  Now who’s not for that?  In his own words: “There’s a social infrastructure that needs to get built to deal with modern problems in order for humanity to get to the next level.  I just think it would be good of more people thought about things like this.”  He came to realize that more people were feeling left behind by globalization, and by societal and technological changes.  “We have to build a global community that works for everyone.”

Maybe this is the technological dawning of the astrological “Age of Aquarius.”  (See the play or the movie “Hair” if you are really not that old).  Now back to the Facebook generation.  Mr. Zuckerberg also is emphasizing Facebook’s role in keeping communities well-informed, which will necessitate tackling misinformation and highly polarized news (sign me up!).  He alluded to Facebook’s shifting role as a distributor of news, saying the social network is “not just technology or media.”  I think he sees a better future in creating more tightly knit online groups that would make traditional institutions, like government, religious groups, and other communities that share interests, even stronger.

Some say that Zuckerberg is attempting to buck the tide against increasing isolationismm and nationalism that is rising around the world.  Can Facebook save us?

Ray Myers

P.S.

I will be taking a late winter break until next Monday.  Thanks for following TechtoExpress.


Face-to-Face, not Facetime

I used to like going to meetings in our government office (well, most of the time), but I am not sure I would feel the same way today.  To be honest, the best part may have been the donuts and/or other pastries that would appear in the center of the table.  I also gained a few pounds over those years, but those culinary incentives usually assured that most staff would attend, usually with a freshly brewed cup of coffee in hand (those were also the pre-Starbucks days).  They really were old-fashioned meetings with all their open and hidden agendas on display.  You really got to know and/or distrust certain colleagues pretty quickly.

The abundance of all our technological tools has changed all that.  “Meetings?  Ha!  Who has the time?  An article in the British Psychology Society’s Research Digest said a third of all meetings are unproductive, costing companies $37 billion a year (Washington Post, 2/13/17).”  And even when you go to these meetings most attendees are usually distracted with their heads down, looking at their smartphones.  That’s if you even bother to attend.  If you are not at the meeting’s location, just “dial in” from wherever you are: watch on your computer or just listen on your phone.  There seem to an increasing number of partially occupied conference rooms in government buildings where scheduled  meetings are held.  I think coffee may still be a mainstay at these meetings, but I am not sure if you can multitask while eating a donut, and keep up with all that’s going on.

John Kelly, who authored the article in the Washington Post quoted above, wonders if our ability to multitask during meetings has just spawned more meetings.  “Someone should probably schedule a meeting to discuss that.”

Ray Myers

Facebook Wants You!  Young Muslim Jihadist.

Some call this guerrila marketing in an attempt to persuade young potential jihadist NOT to join Islamic State.   Michael Lumpkin at the State Department realized that “You’re not going to convince die-hard jihadists.  We were not resonating with the audiences that we needed to resonate with.  We needed to engage with with people who haven’t yet joined ISIL.  It’s how you starve them out of recruits.”  By buying ads on Facebook – something never before attempted in this way – the officials found that they could tap into vast troves of data on the interests and browsing habits of legions of Facebook users, allowing them to pinpoint individuals who showed an affinity for jihadist groups and causes.”  Maybe Mr. Lumpkin can help Mark Zuckerberg in his efforts to ferret out fake news?

Mr. Lumpkin further argues that the efffort remains a critical one for a reason that has been long apparent to terrorism experts around the globe:  Extremist ideologies can’t be defeated with conventional weapons alone.  “We are not going to message our way out of this conflict, nor are we going to kill our way out.  We have to have a layers and balanced approach.”  Unfortunately Mr. Lumpkin has to leave his position on January 20 (he was not a career civil servant, various types of “political appointments throughout the federal bureaucracy).  He left with this message:  “For $15,000 you can buy an audience.  And you can make sure you’re hitting them with the best information based on their profiles.  That’s good business.”

And we were always afraid that “Big brother was watching.”  In this case, I am a little less concerned since he seems to be watching us and others who may do us harm.

Ray Myers

What’s App?  Nothing, in China and Russia!

Unfortunately, the censorship of apps on the Internet is a much easier tool for repressive governments to apply.   In countries such as China and Russia, it is like a return to the “good old days” when books were banned by totalitarian governments or local authorities and other self-appointed censors.  It seems like censoring apps can be done in a very effective and efficient way if any government so chooses.  Banning an app from an App Store is like shutting down the printing press before the book is ever published.  If the app isn’t in a country’s App Store, it effectively doesn’t exist.  The censorship is nearly total and inescapable.

In the last few weeks, the Chinese government compelled Apple to remove the New York Times apps from the Chinese version of the App Store.  Then the Russian government had Apple and Google pull the app for LinkedIn, the professional social network, after the networks declined to relocate its data on Russian citizens to servers in that country.  Finally, two weeks ago, a Chinese regulator asked App Stores operating in the country to register with the government, an apparent precursor to wider restrictions on app marketplaces.

Decentralized communications was once a central promise of the Internet.  Not any more.  Big brother may be watching, and blocking.

Ray Myers




Tech and Trump Collide!

Figuratively speaking that is.  But this all about how technology has expanded as an industry that has a global reach.  Not only in terms of the powers of the Internet, but its effect on humanity around the world.  Many different races and people from all corners of the globe can now benefit and contribute to its continuing growth and reach.  Silicon Valley has brought some of the most talented tech “workers” from around the world into the U.S.  We are talking about companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft.  Trump’s proposed immigration ban could impair the ability of top U.S. companies to recruit and retain such talent in order to better compete globally.

In a company-wide email, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, stated his opposition very clearly, particularly in terms of its impact on immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.  “I’ve heard from many of you who are deeply concerned about the executive order issued yesterday restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.  I share your concerns.  It is not a policy we support.”  In open letters and other public statements during the Presidential campaign, tech executives and workers also objected to Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, and some signed onto a commitment not to help design his proposed Muslim registry.

Well, it’s the start of another work week at the White House.  Although it’s only the second one, it already seems like a long time from the inauguration.  I’m still waiting for the part where we become “great again!”

Ray Myers


It’s News to Me, Fake or Real?

As reported in the New York Times, Google and Facebook “stroll to the starting line.”  I am not talking about a foot race here, but rather the rate of responsiveness in their efforts to vett or block the reporting of fake news on their websites.     Here is one account of what these two companies have been doing:  “Google and Facebook have been taking steps to curb the number  of false news articles propagated across their sites.  On Wednesday, the Silicon Valley companies showed that they were still in the early stages of their battle to limit misinformation online.”

Just this week, these tech giants announced that recent updates to their sites will help prevent hoaxes and fake news from being posted.  Still, industry watchdogs remain skeptical about the effectiveness of these moves.  Some experts remain unconvinced: “Nothing drives clicks better than when the headline is exactly what people want to hear or believe. . . without significant changes to the economies and the technology of online ads, banning individual sites would not produce change in the long run.”  In many ways, these efforts showed how the fight against fake news remains a work in progress.

So I guess it all comes back to the individual reader of the news.  Whether it’s digital or print, what we choose to believe may all still be in the “eye of the beholder.”

Ray Myers


Facebook and the News Media

Facebook is now launching a “Journalism Project.” It will be continuing its efforts to change the way media organizations work with the social network. Or maybe you can also say Facebook is changing the way it is working with the news media. You might even call it trying to help its users improve their media literacy. Now that’s a social media project I can really get behind, to put a “good face” on :).

Now part of this new initiative certainly relates to Facebook’s vow last year to crack down on fake news. Facebook has struggled with defining its place in the media world over the past several months, coming to a head just after the election. Many raised concerns about whether fake news articles passed around on the site could have influenced the outcome. Mark Zuckerberg has dismissed this possibility as “extremely unlikely.” But continued questions about Facebook and other tech firms responsibility to vet news or curtail misinformation led to Facebook announcing that it would begin submitting stories reported as false to third-party fact-checking sites and then labeling stories found to be “disputed.”

This maybe too little too late in terms of this past Presidential election, but let’a just say we have all, hopedully,learned something “the hard way.”

Ray Myers

Terrorist Propaganda and the Open Internet

Is it really all about the message, or the role of the messenger?  I was always told to not believe everything I read in the newspaper or saw or heard on TV and radio (I am not sure why – and of course this was all before the dawn of the Internet).  So what has happened to dull our senses to be able to discern what is obviously false and what is true.  Maybe it’s so much easier now to choose what you want to believe and ignore that which might make you change your mind?  There are just so many information “sources”to choose from.   And I guess we have the luxury and liberty to select whatever we want to believe.  You may even like your news completely fabricated and prefer that to “real reporting.”  See my blog of 11/23: “All the News, All Fake, All the Time!”

Now we have some of our top technology companies volunteering to do some censoring for us.  They have formed a coalition to try and save us from terrorist propaganda and recruitment.  Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft announced earlier this week that they have teamed up to fight the spread of terrorist content over the web by sharing technology and information to reduce the flow of terrorist propaganda across their services.  And they are also welcoming any other tech company to join them in this endeavor.  But not everyone is so keen on sharing their secret encryption “sauce.”  Tim Cook, CEO of Apple among them.  Remember his refusal to a FBI request after the San Bernadino attacks in 2015.  The FBI then hired some hackers to access the iPhone used by one of the attackers.

I am afraid that this fight over open access to the Internet and freedom of speech is going to get more sinister.  We in the U.S. have been relatively immune to governmental interference at any level, but some of our newly elected political leaders may feel less constrained.

Ray Myers

All the News, All Fake, All the Time!

Who really wants to read a factual news story any more? I guess we have come to a time when Americans would rather read fiction over fact, but we are talking about news reporters, not novelists. Just make it up and see who buys it?  The “reporters” at the Liberty Writers News are doing exactly that, and being paid handsomely for it. They are making the average American’s yearly salary in one month.  Why not fake it.  Is the truth really that important?   Well after the recent Presidential election here in the States, I am starting to wonder myself.

Don’t trust the mainstream media.  Just read what you like or want to hear.   It’s more entertaining and you can make up your own stories, and make money doing it while print newspapers keep losing readership and revenue. The news media now encompasses the digital news that doesn’t seem to need facts as much as a vivid imagination. This explosion of fake news has further eroded the media landscape.

Even Mark Zuckerberg is perplexed.  Facebook is trying to find the “right place” between censorship and propagating dangerous untruths.  My advice is to work hard on finding those dangerous untruths.  I wouldn’t call it censorship. Let’s say “fact checking.”

Ray Myers

Happy Thanksgiving!

The President of Digital Content, and Hope for Hillary

President Obama, in fact, will be leaving office with far more digital content to archive than any previous president.  Not very surprising, you might say, considering the years of his presidency and the rise of social media during his term.   He will have attracted 11.1 million Twitter followers, not to mention the numbers who follow him on Facebook and Instagram.  Obama’s tweets will move over to a new handle, @POTUS44, maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.  Maybe the Archives and Records Administration could be a helpful agency to Hillary Clinton in maintaining a repository of all her digital communications (on both government and personal servers) during her term as Secretary of State.   Or at least I think that is all that the FBI is really interested in?

Just archive them and then make them all available whenever she finishes any future government assignment she may have, like President of the United States?  Okay, if she doesn’t win, I guess it’s all fair game, but how much time does Congress or any other “aggrieved party” want to spend on all this mess.  Anthony Weiner’s sextexting emails included.  Really?  Unfortunately, we don’t have any Donald Trump sexual harassment activities on videotape, but we certainly have enough testimony from women who have been harassed by him.  Let’s face it.  If you have been a star on reality TV, you must be now qualified to be President.

Please!  Let’s stop the madness before it is too late.  Think about your own and your children’s future.  Obama has brought us back from a financial disaster that he inherited in 2008.  I think he truly made America a better country in more ways than economically.  Don’t turn back the clock on this progress.  It’s not really all about Twitter and social media, but Obama used it to unite us, not divide us.

Ray Myers

Happy 🎃 👻 Halloween!

Trick or treat time in the U.S.A., and I am not talking about the upcoming Presidential Election as scary as that may be.  And I do promise to stop using my newly discovered emoticons in my blog titles (well at least not in every one of them).  I think just following the news for the next week will probably be more entertaining (frightening?) than any new technology development I can post.

Perhaps with one exception.  Some states are now utilizing Facebook to post more information about what the ballots will look like before you go to your polling place.  You can also save and print out your choices and bring them to the ballot box where phones are generally prohibited.  In paper we trust.  And maybe we always will – the old paper trail!  But even with paper we might have some problems with those troublesome “hanging chads” in certain States (Florida 2000).

Please don’t be scared.  It will all be over soon.  Halloween will be over in a day.  We should know who the next American President will be in a little over a week.  Or maybe NOT?

Ray Myers


Calling All Cars – Social Media Alert!

I guess we all know that police use scanners to receive alerts and messages concerning possible criminal activity or traffic violations in their vicinity.  Well now some ingenious entrepreneurs in Chicago have created a social media scanner that will alert authorities to potential “social protests.”  I am not talking about Vladimir Putin here (sorry Donald).   I am actually referring to a company called Geofeedia that can use data collected from social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to help law enforcement monitor and respond to potentially disruptive activity in certain parts of its community.  Geofeedia was in Baltimore in April 2015 after Freddie Gray died in police custody.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have now said that they have cut off Geofeedia’s access to their information.  Too little too late?  Civil liberties advocates still criticize the companies for lax oversight and challenge them to create better mechanisms to monitor how their data is being used.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Northern California still seems wary of these assurances.  “When they open their feeds to companies that market surveillance products, they risk putting their users in harm’s way.”  I guess we are still in living in the days of “buyer beware!

At the same time, there also seems to be a more serious concern.  “Users of social media websites do not expect or want the government to be monitoring this information.  And users should not be at risk of being branded a risk to public safety simply for speaking their mind  on social media.”

Ray Myers