Friday, October 31, 2014

The Effect of Technology on Memory

The human mind has always been designed to store, from what we know, an unlimited amount of knowledge. So why is it that in modern day society, most of us cannot even seem to remember the 10-digit phone numbers of our closest loved ones? With the ubiquity of devices that are readily designed to store information, our brains are becoming more and more dependent on external drives to hold all sorts of information for us. These devices range from anything to the latest released smartphone all the way to simple ink on paper. Plato explains in his book, Phaedrus, that there are many reasons that using external drives to remember things has become harmful to humans. First off, it inhibits the ability for a person to actually “know” any piece of information. Information that is not retained within our brains cannot be information that we truly are knowledgeable of. If we are of constant reference to external devices for information, what is it that we truly know when put to the test of our own knowledge? Plato’s next reason for why other storage devices for information is not necessarily as successful as our brains is that actual objects of information can be transported all around to all sorts of audience without the correct context. The subjectivity of a reader’s mind when analyzing any sort of reading material is very apparent in the way that the reader’s perspectives and experiences affect the way that they view the particular reading. Therefore anything that is not directly spoken may very easily be taken out of context. However while Plato was talking about the main external source of keeping information, writing, modern day society includes myriads of possibilities of storing information that leads to even more issues.When things are posted on the internet, they are stored, in some sense permanently into the world wide web. This completely redefines the term "memory". Human memory stores what we depict to be important and there are several details which are not retained within our brains. However technology differs in the fact that they were designed almost to "never forget". This has led to leaks of private information and a whole new discussion over the invasion of personal information through technology. 

Creative Anarchy

          During our class discussion on patents and copyrights following the "Everything is a Remix" video, someone proposed the question: what would the world of creativity look like without patents and copyrights? Now, in order to answer this, we must first have a greater understanding of the subject matter. So, patents and copyrights - what are they? If you would like to know the exact definition of each, I have posted a link at the bottom of the page. However, to sum things up, copyrights and patents both give exclusive rights for the use and distribution of either an invention in the case of patents, or an original work in the case of copyrights. Some might argue that these do more harm than good, as it certainly slows down the process of getting new ideas and inventions out into the world. On the other hand, I believe patents and copyrights have there place within our society.

          Let's imagine a world without copyrights or patents for a moment. From one point of view, this could be seen as a beneficial to the consumer, as new technologies and creative works could reach the public at a much faster rate. In consequence, those that conceive these new products may suffer, as credit may not always be given where it is due and it would be far to easy to take credit for someone else's work. With that said, a world without copyrights or patents could actually hinder creativity, rather than benefit it. Instead of coming up with new ideas, businesses would be competing to get the same idea out into the public's hands faster in order to make money. As a result, the number of competitors would be so high, that the only successful business is the one that can distribute it most efficiently, and not always the one that invents the product in the first place.

          At this point, a fair question to ask might very well be: why should I care? Well, put yourself in the shoes of an inventor for an instant. Say you were to create something totally new which frankly, in this day and age, is quite rare (as pointed out in "Everything is a Remix").

You've invented something so incredibly original that it could benefit the public, and also pay off handsomely for those that get it out into the masses first. In this case, wouldn't you want your idea to be protected somehow? If your answer is no, than that means one of two things: you are either naturally selfless or a liar. If you answered yes, however, than you are in the same boat as I am.

          Imagine, you've just made this invention and the next step is to sell it to the masses. Even with the aide of a professional business, competitors are bound to get ahold of this new discovery and distribute it on their own as well. With patents and copyrights, your idea is protected, but this can also be a slow and painful process. In a world where copyrights and patents are nonexistent, you are now making a fraction of what you could have with one. 

          Although it may seem as if I am arguing in favor of copyrights and patents, I will say that there are indeed flaws with both. As mentioned before, applying and receiving either can be a lengthy affair. In addition, one might ask: what constitutes an original idea? or When is an idea considered original enough to where a patent or copyright comes into play? This certainly complicates the entirety of the subject matter, and highlights much of the frustration behind "intellectual property." . So, while copyrights and patents certainly contain flaws, a world without any kind of creative security does not solve the problem either. I believe that the solution lies somewhere in the middle. 

          Improvements can certainly be made to better the "system" that is intellectual property. With that said, I have one suggestion: lessen copyright/patent durations.this allows for sufficient time for the creator to receive credit where it is due and to distribute an invention/idea to the masses, while at the same time allowing for improvements upon the original product by others later on. With that, I leave you with this: what improvements do you think can be made to patents and or copyrights? (and please, feel free to respond)


Originality in the Music Industry

We live in a world where every new idea can be related to a similar idea from the past. Ideas evolve over time to create new technology, songs, and other human inventions. Similar to the idea of evolution among living things, there appears to be an evolution of ideas. For example, the discovery of the wheel worked its way throughout history as part of a chariot, which eventually became part of a wagon, which transformed into the basic part in modern transportation (cars, buses, etc.). Similar to the transformation of the wheel, I believe that ideas are manipulated to form newer, more advanced ideas. The concept of originality loses its significance as more ideas and inventions are brought into modern life.

It is my belief that music relies on originality to survive. If every song had the same beat and similar chords, listeners would soon grow frustrated with the lack of diversity among artists. Due to this, artists seek to create their own music in a unique way. Many musicians use a similar sound or instrument in their songs which differentiates their music from other artists in the same genre. For example, Pitbull often uses Hispanic words and instruments in his songs to make it sound different from other pop artists (and in my opinion, much worse). Tactics like this help artists separate their work from others.

As more and more songs are recorded and shared for the world to hear, many of the same sounds become repeated. With this comes the topic of plagiarism. At what point is the use of similar sounds previously produced by an artist considered plagiarism? This is a very controversial topic that relies mostly on personal opinion. Some believe that any use of copied sounds is considered plagiarism while others believe that the copying of sounds is okay in certain amounts. There are also those who believe no one person can claim ownership of an inanimate object like music. No matter the opinion, the topic of plagiarism is intriguing and easily debated.

One of the most notorious cases of plagiarism in music involves Vanilla Ice’s song “Ice Ice Baby.” This song has a nearly identical baseline as the song “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie. While his song hit number one in America, Vanilla Ice was definitely “Under Pressure” by Queen and Bowie due to the lawsuit being filed against him. Below is a link to a video where Vanilla Ice speaks about how artists need to have music that stands out. He also mentions that he added an additional “ding” sound to the baseline, and therefore it is different from Queen and David Bowie’s baseline to “Under Pressure.” What are your thoughts on the topic? Was the minor change to the baseline and the rapping added over the baseline enough to make the song his own original creation?

My personal belief is that if an artist publishes a song, that song should belong to him or her until death. Once the artist dies he or she no longer has reason to own the song. This would provide solid boundaries for plagiarism cases and encourage artists to create unique music. Once an artist has died, their music should be available for anyone to remix and make new of old music. I believe this would keep music from the past alive and add more history to modern music. For example, G-Eazy remixes the song “Roundabout Sue” and makes it into a modern hit. I can see more hits like this becoming popular if music became available for all to use legally when the original artist passed away.

In conclusion, it is becoming more and more challenging to create unique and original ideas in today’s culture, especially in the music industry. In order to keep music unique, artists often sample parts of songs created by other artists, both legally and illegally. In combination with this, the use of similar sounds allows artists to differentiate themselves in a crowded industry. With a hazy boundary of what is considered plagiarism and what isn’t, I believe a new system needs to be implemented to clarify plagiarism in the music industry. If the original artist is still alive and has not given permission to someone to sample his or her music, it should be considered plagiarism. Once that artist has died, their music should be available for all to sample and remix. This would keep old songs alive for years to come.

The Yak Attack

The Yak Attack

As the old saying goes, nothing brings people within a 1.5 mile radius of each other together quite like a social media app named after a shaggy, horned ox.

The first time that I, personally, heard of Yik Yak was near the end of August when an ambulance came barrelling past my dorm room window and parked a little further down the street. Curious as to what was going on, I asked one of my friends if they knew anything, to which she announced, "Let me go check Yik Yak." Once the initial confusion cleared, and I realized she wasn't hacking up a lung, she gave me a small summary of the app. And thus, the concept was introduced.

After being founded only a year ago - in October of 2013 - Yik Yak has grown to be one of the most infectiously popular social media apps available to students in college or even high school. Similar to Twitter, Yik Yak allows its users to post short thoughts and either vote 'up' or vote 'down' other posts. The major catch? It's completely anonymous - which, naturally, draws in a decent amount of criticism.

It isn't difficult to stumble across criticism of any of the rapidly burgeoning forms of social media these days, not merely Yik Yak. In May, a psychiatrist writing for Fox News stated that social media in general is "an inherently antisocial medium" and often "contributes to narcissism, depression, and impaired interpersonal relationships." Furthermore, Public Relations Specialist Karen Frazier has outlined other negative impacts, such as reduced privacy, isolation, and the spread of misinformation. On top of that, it's often argued that social media diminishes the capacity for intricate thought, as people have to shove their ideas through filters and character counts.

On the flip side, it seems that there's praise to counteract each bout of criticism, or a pro for roughly every con. Networks such as Facebook allow us to reach out to relatives and friends who would otherwise be difficult - or impossible - to contact. Tumblr, Pinterest, and other sites in the same vein can promote creativity and personal expression. Youtube comments are a fantastic source for entertainment.

However, some argue that in regards to Yik Yak, the cons outweigh the pros. The glaring fact that each post is anonymous seems to truly tip the scale - which is a characteristic of the app that increases the potential for cyber-bullying - but its drawbacks aren't limited merely to its anonymity. Here are four of the many issues users may have with the application:
  1. Posts never go away. Well, theoretically, if a Yak gets voted "down" five times, or floats around for an extended period of time, eventually it will disappear from users' feeds. But, as is true for other social media networks like Facebook or Twitter, archives still exist, meaning that posts - some of which can be derogatory, incriminating, or simply contain false information - never truly disappear. The internet does, after all, have a disgustingly good memory.
  2. Personal privacy can be threatened. Students of a college in New Jersey posted a sex tape of a fellow student this past September without the consent of the subject. Although their identities were able to be retrieved by authorities, the victim's personal privacy was still violated. Unfortunately, this was just one instance of many, in which anonymous users took to posting incriminating pictures or videos of their classmates without consent. When anonymity is available, the privacy of those around them can easily disapparate. 
  3. What about ethos? Because the identity of the person behind each post is withheld, Yik Yak users are unable to determine the person's credibility. For example: Say a post surfaces and announces that there will be a snow day tomorrow. Would it make a difference if a faculty member or a freshman on Abel 10 had posted it?
  4. Character counts. 90% of the things worth saying can't be said in 200 characters or less.
Ultimately, it seems that this recent addition to the social networking world may not be of the highest quality. While anonymity does prompt more freedom of humor and expression in general, and character limits prevent rants, as I see it, Yik Yak presents more issues than it does innovation.
So, while there may be nothing that brings people within a 1.5 mile radius together in the same way that Yik Yak does, there also doesn't appear to be anything as problematic.

But that's enough yak about that.

Works Cited:

Software Patents: Claiming to Invent the Obvious

Companies or people who write software have two options to protect their work.  The first is copyright.  Immediately upon publication, their work becomes copyrighted.  This copyright can be bolstered by immediately registering a copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office.  This allows the copyright owner to sue for damages (which they can do without registering their copyright), and also guarantees that if they win the case they can sue for legal fees and statutory damages (without having to prove specific damages).

 Alternatively, developers can patent their software.  This allows software developers to describe a feature, generally in terms that are as vague as possible, and grants them sole ownership over the rights of its usage for 20 years.  This allows companies like Amazon to patent things as simple as “1-click” software.  Companies have patented programs much more ridiculously simplistic than Amazon’s 1-click software.  One company tried to patent software running bingo on a computer; another tried to patent the concept of planning meals on a computer to follow a diet.  These are just a couple of a long list of patents that take an old idea and do it on a computer.  Luckily, a Supreme Court decision this year, and subsequent Federal Court rulings have invalidated this style of “do it on a computer” patent.

(For more examples of struck-down computer patents and for my source, visit here: ).

Tim Lee, a senior writer at and former Washington Post writer, wants to do away with software patents ( ), because they’re too broad, unenforceable, and don’t make sense. To avoid infringement, someone would need to hire a lawyer to ensure that every line of code and every process is not infringing upon someone’s patent.  This is obviously impractical, and so software writers will often unknowingly infringe upon patents.  Luckily, most of these situations go unenforced, because the patent owners will only go for the big fish.  However, it’s a bad law if everyone breaks it, yet only a small fraction gets punished for it.  Software patents just don’t make a lot of sense when compared to other patents.   Patents make sense in the pharmaceutical industry, where there is a discrete product that takes a lot of time and money to develop.  The only way for companies to innovate is if they can make money off it.  On the other hand, software development produces a vague product that costs much less money to make.  They can still recoup their profits simply by copyrighting it and either licensing it to others (like Microsoft Office) or just using it improve their website or other interfaces.

Personally, I’m in favor of getting rid of most or all software patents because most do not constitute “an original idea”.  The concept of an original idea is very hard to define, however, design patents (which software patents fall under), must be “original”.  The US Patent and Trademark Office doesn’t attempt to define it, instead they only say what isn’t original,  stating that “Clearly a design that simulates a well-known or naturally occurring object or person is not original as required by the statute“.  Personally, I’m in favor of the patent office and judges following ex-Supreme Court Justice Stewart’s philosophy of “I’ll know it when I see it”.  I think this would be beneficial because it would save on frivolous patents and frivolous patent lawsuits, because many companies wouldn’t want to waste money on a patent or on legal fees unless they knew their software was actually novel.

One example of “original” that disgusts me is Amazon’s 1-click patent.  Personally, I believe this does not constitute an invention.  People have used one click of the mouse to do a wide variety of things.  Using just one click to buy and pay for something online is not an original idea. To me, it would be the equivalent of Facebook patenting a technology that logged you in with one click.  Another example of a software patent that I don’t believe to be particularly novel or inventive is Namco’s patent on mini-games during the load screen.  Developers have long thought of ways to entertain people during the load screen with tips, humorous jokes, or cut scenes.  Expanding it to a mini-game would have been a logical conclusion of this idea that was enabled by developments in computing power that made it possible.

Software patents are harmful to the industry, because many developers unknowingly infringe upon them, and the only way to ensure compliance is by spending large amounts of money on a legal team.  Software patents take obvious or well-known concepts and turn them into software; this is not original.  However, software does take time, and the actual coding process requires creativity.  That is why I believe most software should just be copyrighted, so that people can’t steal it, and the company can be rewarded for any innovation.  However, they should not be able to patent most ideas involving software.  Thus, I believe the number of software patents should be dramatically reduced.  

Copyrights and Patents: A Balancing Act

Copyrights and Patents: A Balancing Act
           There have always been great, cutting-edge ideas and products that come out of The United States. However with such strict and antiquated copyright laws, how can creativity flourish? Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple binary answer. Copyright laws both hinder and promote creativity; it just depends on how they are implemented. The current legislation in The United States leans more towards hindering creativity, plagued with arbitrary standards and frivolous lawsuits. Although a complete abolition of intellectual property laws is not healthy for creativity either. It’s important to find the right guidelines that maximize ingenuity and progress.
            When talking about the evolution of ideas into works or businesses, an argument could be made that no idea is 100% original. With our culture being almost completely interconnected, each idea is sparked from an outside influence or experience that we’ve come across throughout our lives. So it’s silly to assert that anybody could have a completely original idea. Unfortunately, this is how much of the copyright legislation sees it today. Take the example of the podcast: Jim Logan held a patent for a magazine that provided audio with the articles. His broad and vague language has allowed him to assert a patent over all podcasts and require payment. As well, it’s important to note that Logan never made a podcast himself but merely came up with an idea similar, and he is legally able to amend his patent retroactively to assume the role of a podcast. As a result, many recreational podcasters have had to abandon their hobby for fears of being sued. The backward legislation has literally stifled the creative voice that many people had and closes a possible outlet for discourse. Even as I write this blog in my words with my own ideas, all of these words and their products don’t belong solely to me. As I’m geographically on campus and using University Wi-Fi, any money I could potentially receive for this blog wouldn’t necessarily belong to me(purely hypothetical as I don't know why anybody would pay for this). If I weren’t doing this for a purely pedagogical purpose, then I could possibly feel like there is no point in publishing it all. This depicts the crux with too much intellectual property laws.
            Although copyrights and patents can deter intellectuals from putting their work out there, they also give a fiscal incentive to keep creating and pushing forward. If an author didn’t have any assurance that his work would be properly compensated, they might decide not to publish at all. This happens more in developing countries where books are just reprinted without author approval. There has to be a balance between the two because a world free of copyright hinders creativity and expression just as much as an overbearing copyright system. That being said, the current laws that govern intellectual property have to be revised. The retroactive additions and weak standards to get approved for copyright and patents need to be changed for a more creative environment.  This would center the intellectual property debate and lead to an all around maximization of creativity and expression.

Is your Iphone ruining Hollywood?

Over the past 5 or 6 years accessibility to cameras has skyrocketed. This is largely due to the significant increase in quality of cellphone cameras and popularization of smartphones. While pocket sized cameras are by no means a new thing, rarely did a person have one on them all the time though. Now with the dawn of “quality” cameras on phones however, nearly everyone has a camera and camcorder with them 24/7. Great, right? Well… maybe not.
Because of how accessible “quality” cameras are now many critics argue that it is diluting the artistic space. One particular blog (linked below) goes off on a diatribe against the popular photo sharing app instagram. Their criticisms of instagram mainly revolve around what they call “phoneography.” The blogger defines this mostly as people who take pictures of singular “artsy” objects such as “a light post, a mailbox, their coffee and random stuff lying around the house,” and then add a filter to it. While the author of this particular blog does not have anything against instagram in particular she takes offense at the atmosphere it has perpetuated, one where everyone feels they are the next Van Gogh.
This blog contrasts nicely with another blog I found while researching this topic that praises the wide availability of cameras. While the author of this blog does give some concessions they are largely in favor of this availability as they can’t help but, “be happy for those falling in love with photography.” They do however end their blog in a casual yet radical way saying, “So iPhone developers, bring on the photo and video apps. Help us do amazing things that we used to be completely unqualified to do. Help us shake things up and ruin a few industries while we’re at it.”
These two blogs nicely outline the opposing sides of this argument. One side claiming that the wide availability is ruining “pure” film while the other side mostly just wants people to have fun who are starting to get interested in photography. Not all things taken on phone cameras are medium to low quality either, take the popular YouTube channel Rocket Jump for example. This channel originally famous for their high quality, action filled shorts and now famous for the wildly popular web series Video Game High School took the challenge of recording one of their videos entirely on a Samsung Galaxy sIII. While this of course was also part of an advertising campaign for Samsung, the video itself also turned out pretty well. However, it is important to realize that the producers of this channel both have film school degrees and they used professional mounts and other equipment during the shoot. In short, what they did with this phone camera would be nearly impossible to reproduce by oneself.
It is not only phone cameras however that are diluting the camera market though. Within the last five years there has also been a large growth in both dslr cameras and medium level camcorders. Dslr cameras are fairly high quality cameras that typically cost less than $1000 which is pretty darn cheap considering their quality. Camcorders have also become much more affordable with semi-professional one costing in $2500-5000 range. Again looking at Rocket Jump, they have put both of these pieces of technology in their videos with pretty amazing results and even more amazing low price tags (below I have linked their detailed price breakdown of the first series of VGHS). These productions can be a serious threat to the film industry who spends more than 10x what Rocket Jump spends for products that are hard to differentiate. So few content creators are on that level though, are they really a threat?
No. Well, atleast not yet and probably not for a while. I recently had the opportunity to work on an actual professional movie set as part of the lighting and grip department. The movie was far and beyond what you would find in an independent film  but it probably won’t be one that makes it into major theatres. My point with this is, the production quality on even a movie of this level blows Rocket Jump out of the water.
While purists might be offended by the volume of lower quality productions the film and photography industries have little to worry about. The quality that is easily accessible still has quite a way to go before it threatens the professional, high budget productions of Hollywood.

anti-instagram blog:
pro-independant photography blog:
Rocket Jump’s video filmed on Samsung Galaxy SIII:
Rocket Jump’s budget breakdown of VGHS:

A Shift Towards Thinking

If you google the phrase “most prolific science fiction author,” you're going to come up with Isaac Asimov. Science fiction authors don't just write down happy stories, sad stories, or meaningful stories. Science fiction authors speculate at what the future will hold. They guess at what will be, what technology we will have, what our society will be like, what problems we'll have solved, and what problems we'll have created. The selection from Phaedrus, The Drunken Pirate, and Megan's post reminded me of two of Asimov's short stories, The Dead Past and Profession. I'll make an effort not to spoil either's plot, but I do need their settings.

The Dead Past is set in a society where academic fields are heavily regulated by the government and the individual scholar is forced to specialize to get government funding. Humanity has gathered too much knowledge; scientific progress requires vast amounts of resources and individuals with heavily specialized knowledge to continue, and government intervention was the solution Asimov came up with. Humanity has just passed the point where one man can know everything about everything.

Profession is set much further in the future than The Dead Past. In it, scientific knowledge has progressed to the point where learning for oneself has become absurd. There's simply too much to know. Instead, people are “educated” instantly at certain points in their lives by interfacing directly with a computer. Newly educated adults are given highly specialized talents because it is believe a given brain is best suited to a given profession. Humanity is well beyond the point where one man can know even most things. “Education” itself has been mystified.

In both of his shorts, Asimov paints societies where the way people learn, and thus the structure of academia and the economy, is heavily influenced by the supposed necessity to retain all of the information they need access to in their own minds. Academic types must specialize in The Dead Past because it's believed their time and mental storage would be wasted otherwise. Everyone is specialized in Profession for much the same reason. Preceding both plots is the question, “What will we do when we know too much to know it all ourselves?”

How remembering is changing, or, as other authors like to put it, Google making us stupid, is not a detriment to our society, but our answer to Asimov's question. Perhaps having different intentions for his stories than my own, Asimov never considers the possibility of offloading information. His societies attempt to cram as much information as possible into the limited space in the human head, and academics and economics are profoundly influenced by this blatant short coming.

We have a different answer: externalizing information. The human mind was never meant for storage; it just doesn't handle the task well. I can only recall what I had for lunch yesterday because I have the same delicious turkey-salami-provolone-cucumber-chipotle sandwich every day. I couldn't tell you what I had for breakfast. I couldn't even tell you where I ate breakfast. I walked out of my room in the middle of the night last night, to investigate an odd noise and evict a friend who was making it rather difficult to sleep. I forgot my key. 

Rather than using my mind as an organic hard drive limited by relatively slow read/write speeds, shoddy recall, and minuscule storage space, I should have used it as a processor, sifting through information stored in the much more reliable form of the note on my door (that I ignored...) saying in bold red letters “REMEMBER KEY CARD.” Had I used my door as my memory, rather than my head, I wouldn't have had to walk down and up four flights of stairs at one in the morning.

Offloading information presents its own challenges, of course. Much of the outcry seems to be from the older generation against the behavioral differences between our generation and theirs, and some cries voice well-reasoned fears, many echoing Socrates' complaints in Phaedrus. They aren't entirely wrong; there certainly will be complications, but there is no reason to fear this particular change. We know too much to continue using our minds the way we have in the past.

Now, I don't want to say Asimov got it all wrong. He's written a lot more than I have read; he may have reached the same conclusion elsewhere. But it seems we have found a better answer than Asimov ever dreamed up. Rather than using our minds as storage space, we use them as tools to sift through what we have stored elsewhere. Externalizing information allows us to spend less time memorizing, and more time thinking. It will change our society, change us, not by turning us all into pale, under-socialized basement dwellers who wouldn't recognize another human if they met one in person, but by preventing intellectual stagnation and allowing us to build a new culture centered on thinking rather than knowing.