Friday, July 26, 2013

Checking in with The Citizen Lab

Since political power as it relates to cyberspace is only becoming more central to our field, the Citizen Lab project at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto is worth keeping an eye on, if not getting actively involved with.

They describe themselves as "a 'hothouse' that combines the disciplines of political science, sociology, computer science, engineering, and graphic design. Our mission is to undertake advanced research and engage in development that monitors, analyses, and impacts the exercise of political power in cyberspace. We undertake this mission through collaborative partnerships with leading edge research centers, organizations, and individuals around the world, and through a unique “mixed methods” approach that combines technical analysis with intensive field research, qualitative social science, and legal and policy analysis methods undertaken by subject matter experts."

In addition to designing censorship circumvention software, The Lab is a research partner in the OpenNet Initiative along with  the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University; and the SecDev Group (Ottawa) whose aim is to investigate, expose and analyze Internet filtering and surveillance practices in a methodologically sound, non-partisan fashion.

The Citizen Lab is prolific, too--thanks largely to Director of The Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab, Ronald J. Deibert (pictured).

Publications include monthly newsletters on internet surveillance from around the world:

Latin America and the Caribbean CyberWatch
Middle East and North Africa CyberWatch
Social Media CyberWatch
Southeast Asia CyberWatch

and a long list of research briefs and guides, books, case studies, and op-eds.

You can follow the Lab on Twitter.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July CommQuote

This month's quote is brought to us by Nick Bilton, author, professor and technology reporter for The New York Times in his July 1 Disruptions column, "Dropping the Tedium of Typing for Photos That Say It All." Given the article's length I'm excerpting way too much of it I'm sure. But it's chock full of so many interesting observations I couldn't rein in the work of my scissors (and Elmer's glue). 

"Photos, once slices of a moment in the past - sunsets, meetings with friends, the family vacation - are fast becoming an entirely new type of dialogue. The cutting-edge crowd is learning that communicating with a simple image, be it a picture of what's for dinner or a street sign that slyly indicates to a friend, "Hey, I'm waiting for you," is easier than bothering with words, even in a world of hyper-abbreviated Twitter posts and texts. "This is a watershed time where we are moving away from photography as a way of recording and storing a past moment," said Robin Kelsey, a professor of photography at Harvard, and we are "turning photography into a communication medium."

...Snapchat is a mobile application that allows a person to take and send a picture or video, then control how long - up to 10 seconds - it's visible to the person who receives it. After the photo is viewed, it disappears forever, like a casual exchange on the street. "You have images now that have no possible afterlife," said Kelsey. "They are simply communicative."

...What's more, there are no language barriers with images. As the world grows smaller, thanks to technology, people from all over the globe can chat with images that translate into a universal tongue. Do you speak only Mandarin? No problem, you can now communicate with someone who speaks only English. Take a picture and reply. Germans and Spaniards? Snap! Send. Done.

...It's a shift that appears to be coming at the expense of the last big thing. Images sent between cellphones are on the rise as text messages continue to fall, according to CTIA, the trade association for the wireless industry. An industry report released this year said 2.19 trillion text messages were sent and received in 2012, about 5 percent less than a year earlier. In comparison, MMS, or multimedia messages that include photos and videos, grew by 41 percent to 74.5 billion in 2012.

...So isn't this all bad for society? Another blow for the English language where children won't even bother to communicate in LOL-speak anymore? "We're tiptoeing into a potentially very deep and interesting new way of communicating," said Mitchell Stephens, author of "The Rise of the Image, the Fall of the Word," and a journalism professor at New York University."--Nick Bilton, NYT, Business section, July 1

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