Reflection: Discussion leader presentation

17 02 2009

Overall, I feel really good about my presentation tonight. The first presentation was a little rough, but the second and third rounds were just fine. I was happy with my short, pithy PowerPoint presentation and thought it complimented my content and presentation style.

One bump in the road was my YouTube video of Robert Alder. During the first presentation, I tried showing a clip, but Robert’s voice was too soft, even when I had the volume maximized. For the second presentation, I just showed the video briefly so that the small group could see who he was. For the final presentation, I skipped the clip altogether because it just wasn’t as effective as I would have hoped.

I was most pleased with the discussions in all of my groups. Everyone had something to say about technologies that contribute to the ego and challenged Rosen’s thesis about egocasting being negative. After this experience, I’m looking forward to the final class presentation.


Reading reflection #2

16 02 2009

In his article, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin takes a look at an ethical problem that he says technology can’t fix — overpopulation. He calls overpopulation and its extensions examples of “No technical solution problems.” Though several instances and taking a logical approach, Hardin argues how sharing common resources amongst a growing population simply doesn’t work, regardless of how technology can assist. He calls it the “tragedy of the commons” because there is no happy ending. Uplifting stuff.

For the purposes of this post I’d like to talk about his idea that problems exist that technology can’t solve. Is this really true, or just unimaginative?

Hardin uses an example of animals grazing a shared plot in his article. He assumes that by increasing the population of animals on the shared plot of land, the animals will lose resources at least as fast of the rate of their growth. But what if with technology we could grow the crop faster, or at multiple, vertical levels? What if we could optimize the nutrition of what was growing? These are the kind of creative ideas that Hardin should have considered before so quickly dismissing technology.

Even if technological development can help the issue of overpopulation, it may not be the most effective measure. This much is true. Hardin says in his conclusion, “The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon.” Certainly stopping people from repopulating is the ultimate solution, but it’s no more viable than leaning on technology because people consider freedom to repopulate a fundamental human right. Hardin says himself, “Freedom is the recognition of necessity,” and people find it necessary to procreate, to create new generations.

Hardin says “It is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed.” While there are bigger philosophical statements at play here, I find it interesting the way Hardin defines the role of education. What if education’s role were instead to be training for technological innovation? Would we need to abandon our very basic freedoms and human desires if education were used as a tool rather than a rallying cry?

Although I’ve brought up a a lot of counterarguments, Hardin’s core argument is valid: To stop overpopulation, limit reproduction. It’s just not realistic though. I know that it’s far-fetched to assume that technology won’t be able to solve major ethical issues like overpopulation, but considering the development of technology over the last 100 years, I’d place my bet that technology will be able to answer some of the big issues that we can’t answer with or without it today.

(Remote) Control and the ego

16 02 2009

Rosen, C. (Fall 2004/Winter 2005). The Age of Egocasting. The New Atlantis, Number 7. 51-72. Retrieved February 15, 2009 from

In her article for The New Atlantis, “The Age of Egocasting,” Christine Rosen reviews a recent history of technologies that have made media consumption more convenient and personal — too a fault. “By giving us the illusion of perfect control, these technologies risk making us incapable of ever being surprised,” she says. “They encourage not the cultivation of taste, but the numbing repetition of fetish.” The technologies Rosen refers to, includes:

The remote control: Zenith engineer Robert Adler said in his remote control patent: “It is highly desirable to provide a system to regulate the receiver operation without requiring the observer to leave the normal viewing position.” Basically, if people could chose to be immobile while enjoying entertainment, they would. The remote control was the birth of mainstream entertainment convenience.

DVRs: DVRs (like TiVo) have given us even greater control over television viewing than the remote because we can now choose our programming. Only 4 percent of homes had DVRs when Rosen’s article was published in 2004. According to a Nielsen report, 27 percent of all U.S. households have DVRs as of November 2008. For the week of January 5-11, 2009, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy had the largest audience via DVR viewing with 4.6 million viewers via DVRs. The adoption rate is growing and DVRs are quickly becoming mainstream.

Digital music players: Popularized by the iPod, digital music players have delivered on giving people choice for music entertainment. Whereas cassette players before them allowed people to create “mixtapes” to customize the order in which they played music, digital music players enable instant gratification by enabling instant access to a library only limited to the size of the lister’s music library. Rosen cited price to be a barrier to adoption when she wrote the article, but Apple sold more than 11 million iPods in its fourth quarter of 2008. Combine that with the notion of steady competition at lower price points than iPods, and it’s easy to see that digital music players have become a common entertainment technology.

All of these technologies follow the same trend: Choice is king.

And people want to crown themselves with control over their content. Rosen calls this egocasting — “a world where we exercise an unparalleled degree of control over what we watch and what we hear.” Whereas this freedom to choose what and when we want to consume media could be seen as positive, Rosen takes a more negative approach, calling it “selective avoidance.” She makes the point that if we are too fragmented and narrow in our choices, we have less opportunity to be exposed to other points of view are a therefore less informed public.

What is the next mainstream technology that will bring choice and convenience, perhaps to a fault? I’d argue the smartphone.

Most people today are already used to carrying at most three items with them: keys, a “dumb” phone and wallet (or purse). The smartphone can be all of these. New cars are already keyless. It’s only a matter of time before homes are. With Internet access on a smartphone, you soon will be able to complete any banking transaction you could with a credit card, and probably more. Lastly, smartphones are innately communication technologies, and on most of today’s phone people have access to some combination of voice, VOIP, SMS, MMS, IM and email.

If people are so enamored by nearly unlimited music or video selections of a digital media player today, then that should play to the success of smartphones, because they have multimedia capabilities, too. The only thing I can think of that a smartphone can’t do today is, ironically, be a TV remote control.

Questions for class:

  • What other technologies can you think of have catered to the ego (vs. convenience)? Have they succeeded, failed, or evolved into something different?
  • With regard to remote controls, DVRs and digital media players… Do you own one or all, and how has that changed your media consumption habits? Are those changes positive or negative?

See Robert Adler at (This video can not be embedded.)

  • At 18:00 “How was the remote control first received by the public?”
  • At 25:00 “What will become of the remote control?”



Apple reports fourth quarter results. (October 21, 2008). Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from

Goetzl, D. (November 4, 2008). DVR Usage Tops 30% In Major Markets. Media Daily News. Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from

Gorman, B. (January 6, 2009). Grey’s Anatomy has most DVR viewers, 90210 has greatest share of viewing by DVR. TV by the Numbers. Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from

Questions: Whithering Moore’s Law

2 02 2009
  1. Moore’s law basically says that technology is growing smaller, less expensive and more powerful at an exponential rate. What are some examples of technologies today that are growing at this rate, especially those that apply to communications?
  2. Because Moore’s law results in “overshooting consumers,” consumers are benefitting from technologies they haven’t ever needed. This changes market dynamics drastically, making consumers expect more of the unexpected. Are consumers expectations now unrealistic (i.e. the hoverboard in Back to the Future) because of Moore’s Law?
  3. Much of the technological advancements of the day are now virtual (i.e. search engines, virtualization, etc). How does Moore’s law apply to virtual innovations, or does it?