Not the real thing, but an incredible simulation … (COM 580 Final)

[Blogger’s note:  a little explanation to the structure and content of this posting …

COM580A: Final exam

Due: 11:59 p.m. Saturday. Pin to the top of your course blog. I would recommend writing and editing in Word, then pasting your response into WordPress.

– Elon’s iMedia program is sponsoring a Media Issues Symposium titled “The New Media Landscape: What Should We Be Most Concerned About?” featuring Robert McChesney, Ken Auletta, Daniel Solove and Jonathan Zittrain.
1) For each panelist, outline his opening remarks.
2) You have been chosen as a moderator for the event. Critique two of the panelists’ remarks, drawing upon your own expertise and other perspectives on their topics.

If you want to get in groups to discuss the question, fine, but your writing must be your own. Cite other evidence (Zittrain, 245).]

In an effort to encapsulate and present some of the issues us new iMedia folks may likely face as we embark on our new professions, a hypothetical.  We assembled the best and brightest when it comes to analyzing media – Robert McChesney, Ken Auletta, Daniel Solove and Jonathan Zittrain – to participate in the inaugural Media Issues Symposium “The New Media Landscape: What Should We Be Most Concerned About?” (sponsored by the charter class of Elon University’s new Master’s in Interactive Media program).  In the interest of time and space, I’ll quickly summarize each panelists opening remarks.

Robert McChesney: (commercialism/capitalism/neoliberalism and the media, our democracy)

Per usual, Mr. McChesney is trumpeting the decline of journalism in the United States at the hands of neoliberalism.  He lays the blame for the current sorry state of American journalism at the feet of capitalist system in which the U.S. media operate.  By relying so heavily on the steady stream of outside funds to keep it operating, journalism has all but killed it’s claim of ‘professionalism’ instead giving way to an inherently corrupt system.  The ‘too-close-for-comfort’ link between the advertisers/business interest of journalism and the editorial content interest of journalism has irretrievably opened the content to manipulation, bias and erosion to the lowest common denominator.  On that point, because journalism is a business and has had to worry about keeping readers and staying in the black, quality, hard-hitting, investigative journalism has slowly been abandoned for lighter, more sensational, celebrity rumor and tabloid-style entertainment ‘news’ to attract the most people possible.

The other piece of McChesney’s argument is that this decline in journalism is threatening our freedom and democracy.  As he explains – “One of the ironies of neoliberalism – as manifested in the Bush-Cheney variant – is that its contempt for government (and much professed love for the wisdom of private citizens) does not extend to encouraging the citizenry to have much of a clue of what the government is doing in its name” (McChesney, 39).  The neoliberal system, where market forces reign supreme, is inherently anti-government and pro-people, but its pro-people feeling does compel it to inform the people about what their government is doing – something essential for a functioning, healthy democracy.  Because, in his view, a solid press practicing quality journalism is essential to a democratic and free society, the solution is to have the press government funded – vouchers to publicly subsidize the media/journalism.  He contends that there has always been some form of subsidy for the newspapers/press – most of it being in the form of postal and printing subsidies.  For the sake of our democracy, the security of our freedom and the future of our country, a press that engages in hard news/investigative journalism (often the most expensive, kind with a narrow appeal) is essential, so the government should have a role in supporting the system, ensuring its survival.

Ken Auletta: (information, business and trust)

Auletta comes to the panel representing arguably the biggest player in the new media landscape, Google.  Started by a pair of engineers (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) with a simple question – why?  As engineers, their first inclination is to look at the way things are as inefficient.  Keeping the focus on the user and their experience, zeroing in on the process, particularly by asking things like why it is done this way; how it can be done differently to make it more efficient and what can we do to improve the user experience – that is what is at the heart of Google and their mission.

Key to the success of Google is the degree of trust the user has in the company.  Following their mission of “Don’t Be Evil” and always acting in the best interests of the user/public, Google needs its users to believe that about them, that Google is trustworthy.  By trusting them with your information – your search queries, e-mails, documents, maps and directions, etc. – they can make the user experience virtually seamless, and that is what Google is striving for.  “Thinking that ‘your customer or users are always right, and your goal is to build systems that work for them in a natural way, is a good attitude to have …. You can replace the system.  You can’t replace the user” (Auletta, 38).  Ultimately, the Internet is free and should be about providing information to people – get the user to what they want as quickly as possible.  Through Google search and the rest of the ‘Google Suite’ of programs, they want to open up the Internet and its vast amounts of information to everyone, because that is the right thing to do – making the Internet better, more efficient, more valuable to the user.

Daniel Solove: (privacy and reputation)

Mr. Solove was brought to the panel to address the growing concerns about privacy and personal information as we move toward a more online and connected life.  Both the shifting nature of media and the growth of the Internet as the primary means of interaction have left legal protections of privacy and reputation lagging behind those technological developments.  Antiquated notions of privacy being an either/or proposition is not fit to cover such concerns when it comes to the Internet.  Just because something happens in public doesn’t mean its claim to privacy is voided.

Back in the day, if word got out about something foolish that you had done, or if someone started a negative rumor about you or one of your skeletons got out of the closet, the potential reach of that information was minimal.  More often than not, the people hearing the information knew you personally, making judgment of the validity and importance of the information all the easier.  Over time, the information faded from the minds and lips of your fellow villagers, their attention moving on to the next interesting topic.  Yet, in the era of the Internet, the information doesn’t fade away.  Every faux pas, youthful indiscretion, false rumor and juicy piece of gossip is immortalized in the annals of Internet browser histories, forever smudging your good name.

Solove suggests a structure to the legal protection that makes a lawsuit the last resort, instead promoting dispute resolution between the parties involved before bringing the issue to court.  Having mechanisms in place to handle claims of privacy invasion without involving the court system – either in the laws themselves or at the level of the individual websites – could help bridge the gap in privacy and reputation protection.  There is a need to strike a delicate balance between the freewheeling, wild west mentality of the Internet, where free speech reigns supreme and the standards and practices of everyday life, where people depend upon and expect some level of order, the ability to control at least some pieces of their lives.

Jonathan Zittrain: (generativity vs. locked devices)

Mr. Zittrain was brought to the panel to tell us why the iPad will destroy the Internet.  The iPad and other devices like it – non-generative, closed systems, tethered to a central manufacturer/controller – are replacing the open source, open destination, generative nature of the Internet.  And that replacement is at the expense of innovation, creativity and development.

Of course, there are pluses and minuses to each.  Keeping things open and generative keeps with the original spirit of the Internet, yet the price of that openness is risking exposure to viruses, malware and bad code that could potentially wreak havoc on one’s personal computer or the Internet as a whole. The reverse is the case with a closed, non-generative set-up. There is greater protection against the evils of the Internet, but at the expense of openness, creativity and innovation.

The general consensus is a balance between the two systems. Not everyone will be comfortable with abdicating control to a central organization. Not everyone will be comfortable with everything being wide-open. The key is going to be striking that balance to keep the generative spirit alive while addressing the security concerns.

As the hypothetical moderator of this panel, a moment to critique and examine a pair of the panelists comments …

Up first, Daniel Solove …

Having personally done some research into the issue of privacy, I can’t help but concur with Mr. Solove’s remarks.  One of the main tenets that came from my future of privacy research is the shift in ideology from efforts to keep your information secret to being able to control your information.  With an increasing amount of our lives being lived online, an increasing amount of ourselves is residing online, leaving us more vulnerable than ever before.

Given the nature of the Internet and online mechanics, once something is out there, it is out there for good.  It appears to be that the redefinition of privacy as control over your own information is emerging as the possible operating concept of privacy in the technological future.  “Privacy can be violated not just be revealing previously concealed secrets, but by increasing the accessibility to information already available.  The desire for privacy is thus much more granular than the current binary model recognizes.  Privacy involves degrees, not absolutes.  It involves establishing control over person information, not merely keeping it completely secret” (Solove 170).

Take for instance any of the multiple privacy debates centering on social networking sites like Facebook and reframe them in terms of control over information.  When users post their information online, they set the privacy parameters on who gets to see what information.  A stranger gaining access to your information strips that control from the user – they no longer dictate how their information is viewed and shared, they’ve lost control over their online lives.  Currently there aren’t adequate measures in place to address the permanent nature of information once it goes online – can’t put the proverbial genie back in the bottle.  Far too often, the behaviors of those who post and share online are viewed in the either/or privacy world – well, they put it online … obviously privacy is not a concern for them.  That unfortunately is not necessarily the case.  There needs to be a fundamental shift in looking at privacy on a graduated scale with levels of control, not so much being secret vs. being known.

Ultimately, it comes down to control.  The notion that privacy equals secrecy doesn’t fit in today’s connected and networked world.  Information is going to get out, either by your own hand or by someone else’s – friend or foe.  Going forward, mechanisms need to be in place for people to control access to their information.  Those mechanisms can be a simple as privacy settings on an individual website or as involved as legal means to maintain control over your personal information.

[As an aside, Solove’s suggestion of a system where the lawsuit is the last resort is one I found particularly interesting.  The notion of placing the emphasis on dispute resolution, encouraging the people involved to work out a solution before bringing the issue to court is a solution I hadn’t encountered it in my previous research.  I believe it is an intriguing concept, one that may be a bit too far outside the box to gain any traction for the time being.  As we move forward, this solution may get another look.]

And of course, Robert McChesney…

So, let’s see … the neoliberal, capitalist system in which the American main stream media lives is killing the press and taking our democracy with it.  The press isn’t dying, its just going through a metamorphosis, and our democracy isn’t going anywhere either.

[Before we go any further, it may be beneficial to define neoliberalism according to McChesney – “Neoliberalism, put crudely, refers to the doctrine that profits should rule as much of social life as possible, and anything that gets in the way of profit making is suspect, if not condemned” (McChesney, 15).

OK, so maybe by relying almost exclusively on outside funds (advertising) to survive, journalism in the US has all but killed it’s claim of ‘professionalism’ mutating it into a flawed system where money buys power and influence.  Since the very life of the papers/journalism is so tied to the advertisers and the business side of journalism, the content side of journalism is totally vulnerable to manipulation, bias and pandering to the masses.  So McChesney’s assertion that quality journalism (the kind necessary for a healthy democracy) is being abandoned for lighter, more sensational fare on its face seems to be true.  Yet, one can get into a highly circular ‘which-came-first’ argument about reasons behind this shift.  McChesney seems to lay the blame for the decline of journalism at the feet of the capitalism.  The system that formed our media structure – regulation and capitalism – is the very thing causing its demise.  That system has desensitized the audience so much that they wouldn’t know quality journalism if it hit them upside the head.  On the other hand, is the audience responsible, as in being uneducated or apathetic, so journalism is merely providing what the audience wants with the lighter, tabloid-esque content?

The bottom line is well … the bottom line.  The business of media requires money and that money has to come from somewhere – be it advertisers, companies and corporations or the government.  Someone is always going to be holding the purse strings.  And because of that, there will always be the risk of that monetary control turning into editorial influence.  It seems to be that there has to be a middle ground, a place to find the answer, between the McChesney ‘capitalism is destroying the media and in turn, our democracy’ and Gordon Gekko from Wall Street “the point is… that greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”  Finding that balance point, that middle ground, will be the key to keeping the journalism ‘vital for our democracy’ alive and well.

iMedia: Too Tough To Tame?

As we move toward just 10 laps to go in this marathon race that has been the inaugural exploration of interactive media … we’ve got issues.

Of course, that may be because of one of our courses focused solely on issues in the contemporary/new/interactive media arena.  Nevertheless, we’ve got ‘em and now we’ve got to figure out what to do with them.

As the ones who will bear the torch and carry the flag into the interactive media future, we have got plenty to keep our eyes on.  Such as …

  • Piracy – the open nature of the online world allows for the (far too) easy copying and transferring of files and content.  Since most of us will likely be content creators, how do we ensure we can earn a decent living and not have all our stuff stolen?
  • The Environment – all of our fancy gadgets and electronics need energy to run (obviously).  The developing nature of technology in general usually means what we just bought will be obsolete in a matter of months.  What happens to all those obsolete electronics (e-waste)?  What can we do as industry leaders to lessen the environmental impact of our technology-driven profession?
  • Bloggers v. Citizen Journalists – the demise of the journalism industry may have been greatly exaggerated.  It will undoubtedly change (and is changing), but there will always be a place for it at the media table.  That change is embodied by the rise of the blogosphere – John and Jane American publishing what they want when they want for whomever to consume.  Should there be standards and guidelines in place to distinguish the ‘basement blogger’ from the online Woodward’s and Bernstein’s?
  • Media Ownership – as a result of consolidation, fewer and fewer companies are controlling more and more of our media landscape.
    • What impact does that have on the messages disseminated, the voices heard, the issues talked about?  Do those with less money and power get drowned out by those with bigger war chests, or bought out?
    • What about the under-representation of ethnic groups and minorities when it comes to their issues being addressed, is it because they are missing from the ranks of media ownership?
    • What happens when the content being covered and the medium covering it are controlled by the same entity (as in sports leagues running their own networks)?  Is there an explicit mandate to always portray your employer in a positive light, or is it enough to be concerned about if it is only implied?
  • Cyber Warfare – with so much of the United States’ and the world’s basic systems online, they are exposed to the security threat that is the Internet.  The odds that the next attack on America won’t be a car bomb in a crowded city, but a logic bomb in our network, are increasing.  What can we do to ensure the safety and security of our interests online?
  • Effects on our children and/or grandchildren – we in essence are ‘naturalized digital citizens’ knowing a world pre-hyper-connected and one where we live almost exclusively online.  What effects, positive and negative, are we going to experience as a result of our online lives?  What about our children, ‘digital natives’ who know of no other world than one so dependent upon online interaction?  How will they be impacted mentally, physically and socially?

Yet, focusing on just the issues, the roadblocks, the debris that litters the track so-to-speak, will keep us from moving past them, working on solutions for all our issues, continuing down the racetrack of development.

Speaking of racetracks … like racing at Darlington Raceway (whew, finally got my NASCAR reference in) – if we focus on racing the cars around us (concentrating on staying ahead of this issue or that concern), we stop racing the racetrack (we lose focus on the bigger picture), and before we know it, we’re in the wall getting our ‘Darlington stripe’ (innovation and advancement is stalled, delayed or halted because we got spun out by some car (issue) that came out of nowhere)).

I’m not saying we should just ignore the issues we are facing, not at all.  In fact, awareness of the issues that are inherent in interactive media is important to being successful in this business.  Yet, we must remember to race the racetrack, not get bogged down with the cars around us and pick our battles, so we can be around at the end with a chance to win.

“The Entertainmentification of the American Mediascape”

As we race toward the finish in the vision quest that is the inaugural season of the iMedia master’s program, it’s all about discussion, looking toward the future and trying to figure out where we fit in in this crazy mixed-up media world of ours.

A recent presentation/discussion centered on the growing trend of entertainment as news.  Increasingly, news on celebrity scandal, reality television results, pop culture and the entertainment industry as a whole is taking up residence right along side news about wars, the economy and government.

The points raised are many, perhaps too many to mention here (but I’ll give it a whirl):

  • Typically people classify events as ‘newsworthy’ when they are timely, recent and of an important nature and public concern.  So, is a continuous tally of Tiger’s mistresses newsworthy?
  • The whole chicken/egg argument — Did the public’s appetite for the softer, celebrity news drive the media to give us more of that, or did the media giving us the softer news make us want it more?
  • The issue of mergers and consolidated ownership — News organizations are finding themselves as part of larger media companies with heavy entertainment interests.  Seeking to maximize coverage and potential profit, news may be called upon to cross promote an upcoming movie premiere or the previous night’s reality competition results.
  • Asking why viewers consume the softer entertainment news – is it to escape the harsh realities of the everyday world, or a more personal reason?

Soft entertainment news actually isn’t totally bad as we discussed.  Despite it:

  • reinforcing existing beliefs, not challenging viewers to consider alternatives
  • simplifying issues so much as to influence political attitudes & voting
  • getting us to judge based on morals not factual analysis
  • changing our values of what we consider important enough to cover

it also works to:

  • connect politics w/ pop culture
  • provide a checks and balance system with the polarized news media
  • diversify the news audience

so it’s not all doom and gloom.

So I got to thinking about where I have seen this in my day-to-day and if I have been affected by entertainment encroaching on to hard news’ turf.  I have to admit it likely has to some degree – I mean, look at the title of this post, which is a nod to Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report.

But then I thought of another example.  Given that my primary area of research and focus has been where sports, sports networks, sports coverage and interactive media collide, I thought of a new show that debuted on SPEED Channel this year.  SPEED Channel, a network devoted to coverage of motorsports and disseminating news about said motorsports, started airing a show called “Fast Track to Fame.”  Originating from the track where NASCAR is racing that particular weekend, fans participate in a talent competition.  It’s American Idol meets America’s Got Talent meets stock car racing.  One could make the argument that such a program really has no place on the schedule of a motorsports network.  The only tie to the actual sport is the location of the show each week – the track.  You could also argue that SPEED is only following the trend of standard network television, shifting toward reality programming that is cheaper to produce and popular with the viewers.

Is it OK that such a program airs on such a network?  Has the move toward entertainment clouded our perceptions of what is important, valuable and newsworthy?  Are we, as Postman said, amusing ourselves to death?

Just some things to keep in mind.

I win, you lose … we’ll all lose

[Writer’s note:  Point of reference is Contemporary Media Issue Symposium presentation by Paul R. Wagner]

One of my esteemed colleagues, Mr. Wagner, took the helm one day this past week, leading a very informative and entertaining discussion titled The Evolution of Cooperation – Communications in the Conceptual Age.  After spending much of the past 10 months or so immersed in the world of Interactive Media academia – fixating on getting that Flash game to work or that CSS coding to work the HTML page – it was interesting to take a step back and look at our chosen profession in a slightly different way.

A common theme running through much of the study of Interactive Media is the notion of teams.  Out in the professional world, one usually works as part of a project team when dealing with iMedia, so teamwork and cooperation are key to being successful.  What Paul was trying to convey, at least in part, is the idea that this is not a new concept for mankind.  Whether you are talking about civilization back in 12000 BC or today’s iPad generation, we (humans) have found greater success when working as part of a group or team, with the belief that what is good for all of us is good for the one.  In contrast to the Darwinian zero-sum ideology of ‘survival of the fittest,’ it is the non-zero sum way, one that   succeed not at the expense of the other, but rather along with the other, that will stand the test of time.  Developing technologies, enacting laws, constructing systems that offer a positive benefit to all involved is the best way to go about things in the long run.

Again, that way is typically referred to as “non-zero sum” or “win/win.”  Whatever the item in question – be it a law/statute, a system, a piece of technology – if I get something out of it and you get something out of it (win/win), those are the items that will last the longest, they are the ones with the most value.

In one of the many ‘accidental intellectual collisions’ that happen in graduate school, parallels can be drawn from the ideas of “zero sum” vs. “non-zero sum” and  “win/lose” vs. “win/win” that Paul discussed in terms of human nature, technology and communication to the world of professional sports (I hope you all knew that I would eventually tie this back to racing somehow).

Now, I am sure you are sitting there thinking –  “Hey, wait a minute.  Sports are inherently a zero sum situation.  One team wins, the other loses, and that’s that.”  On the surface, that is true.  The rules of the sport are zero sum – the whole point is to have a winner and a loser.  I submit though that the business of sport is best run as a non-zero sum proposition.

Think I’m crazy?  Two words – salary cap.  Two more words – revenue sharing.  Leagues like the NFL and MLB understand that it is in the best interest of everyone involved to have a system in place that is of benefit to everyone involved [the teams benefit, the league benefits – win/win].  The leagues know, for the long-term health, growth and success of the sport they depend upon, it is better to have in place a way for separate entities (teams) to work for the good of all, instead of being out to destroy one another, looking out for only themselves with no consideration to the other members of the league or the league itself.

They are still in competition with one another, but they are cooperating for the bigger picture – coopetition (thanks DW).

One sport that doesn’t necessarily always go with that flow is NASCAR.  With the teams being ‘independent contractors’ allowed to participate in the NASCAR sandbox, organizations look out for their own success and health. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on testing and R&D to get that edge so I win and you lose.  That wanting to win, to beat the other driver, is what makes NASCAR a sport – inherent in its rules is that someone wins and everyone else loses.  And that’s fine.  Other sports are the same way.

The thing that is not is the consolidation.  For the health of the sport, the winner needs 42 other cars out there to try and beat.  Nowadays, teams buy and merge with weaker, less-funded teams.  The more powerful, successful organizations get more powerful and successful by being able to attract the most talented, cherry-picking the best people from those teams without the means to compete on the same level.  When there is such a gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and there is realistically only about 6-10 other teams out there to beat, the sport suffers.  Fans will not buy tickets or watch on TV if they know one of only a handful of teams will likely win – that’s not exciting or dramatic; that doesn’t attract crowds; that isn’t successful in the long run.  The league (NASCAR) does what it can to regulate issues of inspection/standardization, safety and the like, for the good of the group.  Yet, as long as the participants operate under the ‘independent contractor’ model, with the win/lose mentality, over time, the sport will eventually lose.

“Boys, Have at it” — NASCAR’s generative push

[Writer’s note — Frame of reference is The Future of the Internet by Jonathan Zittrain]

The battle is on for the future of the Internet. The Internet as we know it is at stake. The free-wheeling, wild west, open source, open destination, generative nature of the Internet and the PC in general is under attack from the non-generative, closed systems and devices, tethered to a central manufacturer/controller.

Of course, there are pluses and minuses to each. Keeping things open and generative keeps with the original spirit of the Internet, allowing for maximum innovation, creativity and development. The price of that openness is risking exposure to viruses, malware and bad code that could potentially wreak havoc on one’s personal computer or the Internet as a whole. The reverse is the case with a closed, non-generative set-up. There is greater protection against the evils of the Internet, but at the expense of openness, creativity and innovation.

NASCAR (didn’t think I would get racing in again, did you) has had a similar battle, in the broadest sense of comparison. Before the start of the 2010 season, the powers that be at NASCAR told the drivers “boys, have at it.” This was in response to criticism that NASCAR was being too heavy-handed in policing driver conduct and racing, making for a more bland and boring product. The idea was to get things back to the way they used to be, letting the drivers police themselves, settle disagreements on their own and drive based on an unwritten gentlemen’s agreement, garage norms if you will.

Sounds awfully similar to the open, generative Internet of yesteryear and today. Sounds like the overarching ethos and spirit of Wikipedia — a community of users determining the best practices for themselves, the norms that will be accepted to be a part of the community.

Before, NASCAR kept a tight leash on the competitors, regulating issues such as bump drafting, aggressive driving and payback/retaliation. THe argument was that it was done in the interest of safety. They wanted some sense of order and regulation to the system … not having 43 guys spinning each other out as payback, bump drafting in the corners, getting one car sideways and taking out half the field.

Sounds awfully similar to the non-generative/closed system issues. The main benefit highlighted by such a system is the safety and security such a set up affords the users. When there are clearly defined boundaries and centralized control, the risk of unexpected problems is nearly zero.

The general consensus is a balance between the two systems. Not everyone will be comfortable with abdicating control to a central organization. Not everyone will be comfortable with everything being wide-open. The key is going to be striking that balance to keep the generative spirit alive while addressing the security concerns.

NASCAR attempted to do just that with a scenario that occurred a couple weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway between the 99 of Carl Edwards and the 12 of Brad Keselowski. Relatively early in the event, Edwards and Keselowski had ‘one of them racin’ deals’ that ended up sending the Edwards to the garage. The 99 team spent over a third of the race making repairs. Close to the end of the race, Edwards was able to settle the score, getting into Keselowski’s car ‘lightly, slightly and oh-so politely’ (although it was more forcefully, directly and oh-so deliberately), sending the 12 car airborne. Edwards was parked for the remainder of the event (only a handful of laps) and placed on probation for the next three races. NASCAR kept to its pledge to be more ‘generative’ (boys, have at it) but stepped in when things went too far.

Sounds like the Wikipedia model. The community of users police themselves and set the norms, but there is an overarching center of control that can step in if things get out of hand.

It may not work for every situation, but it is a good place to start, to strike the balance between being too free and too restrictive.

So, users, have it at … but someone will be keeping an eye on things.

“Your privacy is invading our public …”

[Writer’s note:  Frame of reference is The Future of Reputation by Daniel J. Solove]

In the never-ending effort to solve the issues facing the new interactive media world into which we are about to enter, privacy and reputation were on the docket for examination.

Some of you, particularly regular readers of this fine site (I know there has to be at least one) might be getting that creepy de ja vu feeling – and that is not without merit.  I have tackled the issue of privacy on this blog before, as it was my fall research project – The Future of Privacy (Law) or CSI:ID.  So for me, in the spirit of Jamie McMurray reuniting with Chip Ganassi (didn’t think I would get the racing in, did you), this particular post can be called Privacy Redux.

In short, not much has changed in the few months that have passed since the end of that exploration and the revisit this week.  To cut to the chase — the shifting nature of media and the growth of the Internet as the primary means of interaction have left legal protections of privacy and reputation in the dust.  Antiquated notions of privacy being an either/or proposition is not fit to cover such concerns when it comes to the Internet.  Just because something happens in public doesn’t mean its claim to privacy is voided.

Back in the day, if word got out about something foolish that you had done, or if someone started a negative rumor about you or one of your skeletons got out of the closet, the potential reach of that information was minimal.  The information (or gossip or rumor) didn’t get too far beyond your village (literal and figurative) – your friends, neighbors, fellow townspeople.  More often than not, the people hearing the information knew you personally, making judgment of the validity and importance of the information all the easier.  Over time, the information faded from the minds and lips of your fellow villagers, their attention moving on to the next interesting topic.

In the age of the Internet ‘global village’ the information doesn’t fade away.  Every faux pas, youthful indiscretion, false rumor and juicy piece of gossip is immortalized in the annals of Internet browser histories, forever smudging your good name.  Currently there aren’t adequate measures in place to address the permanent nature of information once it goes online – can’t put the proverbial genie back in the bottle.  Solove suggests a structure to the legal protection that makes a lawsuit the last resort, instead promoting dispute resolution between the parties involved before bringing the issue to court.  Personally, I found this concept fascinating since I hadn’t encountered it in my previous research.  Having mechanisms in place to handle claims of privacy invasion without involving the court system – either in the laws themselves or at the level of the individual websites – could help bridge the gap in privacy and reputation protection.

At the heart of the matter is balancing the free-wheeling, wild west mentality of the Internet, where free speech reigns supreme with the standards and practices of everyday life, where people depend upon and expect some level of order, the ability to control at least some pieces of their lives.  Working to strike that balance is key to ensuring the longevity of the Internet.

Ultimately, it comes down to control.  The notion that privacy equals secrecy doesn’t fit in today’s connected and networked world.  Information is going to get out, either by your own hand or by someone else’s – friend or foe.  Going forward, mechanisms need to be in place for people to control access to their information.  Those mechanisms can be a simple as privacy settings on an individual website or as involved as legal means to maintain control over your personal information.

The times, they are a-changin’ … and our understandings of reputation and privacy and how to protect them have to change with it, or else it’s open season.

*As for the title, talk of public vs. private reminds me of a bit by comedian Jon Reep, which can be found here:

Jokes.com
Jon Reep – Guy on a Cell Phone
comedians.comedycentral.com
Joke of the Day Stand-Up Comedy Free Online Games

NASCAR has been ‘Googled’

[Writers Note:  Frame of reference is Googled: The End of the World as We Know It by Ken Auletta]

So far, our cohort discussion seems to center around the root of all evil – money.  Our previous text by McChesney lamented the erosion of journalism at the hands of corporate interests.  Google is becoming feared based on the vast amount of resources (read money) they have at their disposal.

From it’s humble beginnings as an idea from two college kids – Larry Page and Sergey Brin – into the multi-billion dollar behemoth it is today, Google has changed the way we use the Internet and is spreading its influence into nearly every aspect of our lives, from computer applications to mobile phones to advertising.

Hendrick Motorsports, rather the multi-car team in general, is NASCAR’s Google (didn’t think I would fit racing in here, did ya?)

When one company, team or entity comes to dominate so much, it threatens competition, fairness in opportunity and access – the quality of the product.

  • Google has gone from the simple search engine to a multi-faceted corporation with interests across the media landscape – videos, email, advertising, print (newspapers and books).  In the process, it has taken it’s engineering-style of problem solving – look for making it more efficient – along for the ride, fundamentally altering the business of media permanently.
  • Hendrick Motorsports has gone from a single car operation to the four-team juggernaut that has come to dominate the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, winning the last four championships and finishing 1-2-3 in the final standings in 2009.  Across the sport, races are won and dominated by cars from multi-car teams.  Fans complain about seeing the same people win week after week — the last 15 Cup championships have been won by multi-car teams.  Arguably, the multi-car way of business has stifled competition, making it harder for single car teams, new teams and owners to break into the sport, knowing they will need to match the resources of the multi-car teams just to be able to compete.

Both organizations are extremely successful at what they do.  Both inspire fierce loyalty to the founder/owner – ‘LarryandSergey’ for Google and Rick Hendrick for HMS.  Both have a way of doing things that every employee subscribes to, the overarching goal being the success of the company.

Often those with the most tend to acquire more – sponsors, backers, advertisers and partners gravitate toward what is successful, making the rich richer (literally and figuratively).  Yet, domination and power comes with baggage.  Google, in its mission to provide the world’s information to its users as efficiently as possible, has run afoul of newspapers, advertising, book publishers, traditional broadcast networks and the government to name a few.

I submit that it is not all about the money.  That’s not to say that money plays no role at all.  A level of influence and power comes with having the “benjamins” to back it up.  Money is the easiest thing to point to, the most visible symptom of an underlying problem – one of control, power and dominance.

Hendrick Motorsports and the multi-car teams (like Roush Fenway Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing) did not set out to squash competition, hoard all the sponsorship dollars and close off the system to new players.  Google did not set out to have their hands in advertising, online videos, maps and whatever else people could want.  They started with the intentions of making something better, doing things better.

People don’t like it when they feel they have lost control or that someone has power over them, particularly if you feel you did not voluntarily bequeath them that power.

The thing is, as we discussed in class, people did give Google that power, sort of.  For the free use of the Google suite of products, we gave up something more valuable to Google than our cash – our data.  That data — what we search for, our documents, our emails — is used to sell better, more effective advertising and tailor our online experience more to our specific needs.  Heaven help us if that information falls into the wrong hands.