by Spencer Gardner on December 4, 2012
Avoiding negative behavior without any positive direction will simply lead back to bad behavior. After perusing through ACM’s Code of Ethics for computer professionals and checking out the keywords with this tool, I discovered a fascinating lexical pattern:
- Words with negative connotations such as violate, harm, prohibit, loss, and consequence all occurred at least 100x more frequently than in a regular text in the British National Corpus.
- Words with positive connotations such as benefit, good, improve, aid and help were nearly non existent.
With the first discovery, it’s obvious and appropriate that those who comply to a code of ethics need to be warned specifically against behavior they shouldn’t participate in.
But with the second discovery, it’s clear that ACM is giving no clear direction as to exactly what computer professional should do. It’s up to the individual to determine that. Avoiding negative behavior without any positive direction will lead back to bad behavior. As countless organizations and individuals have done, ACM omitted crucial positive reinforcement that’s necessary to actually make the world a better place.
by Spencer Gardner on November 27, 2012
In an address delivered to members of the LDS Church entitled Things as They Really Are, Elder David A. Bednar warned of “the potentially stifling, suffocating, suppressing, and constraining impact of some kinds of cyberspace interactions and experiences upon our souls.”
By saying “our souls”, Elder Bednar is not merely focusing on society as a whole. Rather, he is underscoring the dangers of some online activities on the individual level. As I’ve touched on before, these dangers can include unchecked anonymity.
Offline’s depravity is quickly becoming Online’s affinity. It’s time to can political correctness (we’re on the Internet, aren’t we?) and stop beating around the bush. For example, it’s politically correct to demonize child pornography, while “normal” pornography is accepted like a Mastercard. Ignoring the personal consequences of unwise Web activity for ostensibly more pressing societal issues is like chewing a Tums to fix a broken leg. Let’s do ourselves a favor and grab a pair of crutches instead.
by Spencer Gardner on November 15, 2012
I’m a Mormon, and I’m flattered by all of the positive coverage the news media has given of my Church. Reporter after reporter has positive things to say about what they’ve experienced as they’ve interacted and studied us on small and large scale — for example, we operate the world’s largest genealogical database called FamilySearch . We mirror this same positive sentiment to countless other organizations and faiths.
One can travel most anywhere in the world and meet wonderful members of my Church. However, our motivations aren’t merely our deep tradition, excellent organization, or an impressive statistics sheet, as countless reports suggest. I’ve experienced nothing short of a positive and meaningful life because of the faith my Church encourages, not because of its impressive résumé.
In the technology and software industry, I’m aiming to stick to the same ideal — if a bit more on the business side. I hope to contribute to products that lend meaning and substance to our society, not solely to build a great corporation or turn a profit, but to change lives. A profitable business will hopefully be a side effect, but it certainly won’t be a life-and-death goal.
by Spencer Gardner on November 13, 2012
Make no mistake – as people are given tools to do things together, without depending on traditional organizational structures, the tectonic plates of creativity erupt in an earthquake of change. In “Here Comes Everybody”, a veritable Richter scale measuring this change, Clay Shirky outlines the newfangled avenues for producing content that the internet provides. Of particular interest is Shirky’s discussion of the seismic shift that traditional professionalism is experiencing, with particular emphasis on producing content.
That the internet and new technology has democratized content creation is of little question. Everyone can do it; this is Shirky’s central point. But what does “doing it” mean? Simply because someone has access to a camera, a computer, or a recording studio does not imply that the content they produce with those mediums will be of any significance to anyone but the creator.
It’s like the rich kid across the street with the sport court and new Nike’s. Sure, he has an excellent spot to play basketball. He might even go out and shoot a few hoops — but why wasn’t he always the best player on the team?
At the start of his career, Michael Jordan didn’t have the luxury of new shoes and state-of-the-art facilities, but that didn’t hold him back. He could still play before all of that came. Additionally, because he wasn’t swimming in sport courts and new Nike’s from day one, Jordan was forced to utilize what little he did have. As he improved, he could appreciate and leverage new means of improvement as he got them.
Let’s take this back to defining “professional” content creation. Each of us has the figurative sport court and Nike’s — a camera, a computer, the internet — just like the rich kid across the street. Our careers, at least the way Shirky thinks of them, have already begun, whether we know it or not. Will we drown in our own luxury, blinded by the means and mediums of creating great content? Or will we appreciate and utilize them to create something excellent?
While the word “professional” has evolved drastically and recently, professionalism still demands a professional-grade work ethic and deep dedication. Everyone has access to boilerplate means to create something great. It’s revolutionary. However, now more than ever, the decisive factor between those of us who can produce superior content and those who can’t isn’t the street dividing our house and the sport court.
by Spencer Gardner on November 1, 2012
Recently, I published a short video commentary calling out the web as a whole for it’s utterly myopic moral standards. I specifically decried the practice of obligatory anonymity on the web — a justification to avoid otherwise complex moral conundrums.
As a counterexample, consider the LDS Church’s recent redesign of Mormon.org, where the entire strategy hinges on prominently showcasing members’ names and faces for the world to see. About the profiles, The Church stated:
The one thing that helps people get past misconceptions about the Church is if they’ve had the opportunity to know a Mormon.
“Know[ing] a Mormon” — or anyone, for that matter — does not equate to knowing their alter ego. People act differently when the names they were born with are on the line. Just ask Violentacrez.
In the end, online anonymity is a double edged sword. Often, it’s used to protect and preserve. Too often, though, it slowly squirms it’s way into becoming a vile justification for grossly immoral behavior. Moral standards need to be raised — soon.
To quote the video post I linked to above,
…what’s more offensive? Pictures of dead children on a website? Or a website that raises standards a bit higher than you might like?
by Spencer Gardner on October 25, 2012
In these two short minutes, we witness a microcosm of the current copyright battle and the pending copyright war — big business vs the artists vs the consumers. The words exchanged between Joshua Topolsky and Ari Emmanuel are important, but the feelings exchanged are the real story. Hit mute and you’ll quickly see why. Frustration, pride, annoyance, misunderstanding, and selfishness are a few possibilities.
Both Topolsky and Emmanuel represent giants in their respective industries. Emmanuel is a well to do Hollywood regular – an actor and talent agent. Topolsky, the spiritual leader (if that’s the term) of The Verge, one of the web’s most influential and well formed voices in technology and culture. Emmanuel, large corporate media outlets, Topolsky the informed consumer.
The big business media moguls are presuming they’re going to weather these ominous copyright clouds, but the forecast is calling for an unavoidable storm. Hoping to escape, they could retreat to Mars — only to be pummeled by more fierce winds. The choice is clear: rainstorm now, or hell storm later.
by Spencer Gardner on October 23, 2012
Users on the internet who complain that they can’t act out their juvenile tendencies on the internet because of ‘silly standards’ need to be corrected. Soon.
by Spencer Gardner on October 14, 2012
In his article “The Bazaar and the Cathedral”, Eric Raymond champions software development patterns resembling a chaotic bazaar, which he contrasts with the traditional ‘cathedral building’ approach of managed, corporate development.
Software like iOS, Windows, and Facebook are worthy examples of corporations compiling cathedrals to fill coffers. Conversely, open source software springs from the combined efforts of individuals under a less corporately religious banner. Many of the tools used to conjure up software that has students and soccer moms talking employs code contributed to a communal coffer by mere peasants in huts.
The internet, as it empowers individuals, has eased the suppression of corporate rule. Now, the legitimacy of these kingly corporations of antiquity is being challenged and, as Raymond points out, often deposed.
Tech culture andculture culture, are merging quickly due to these developmental bazaars. The scope of this change has engulfed every country and culture, and it’s all due to a network of computer enthusiasts who enjoy their hobby. It’s a bizarre bazaar, but it’s nonetheless true.
by Spencer Gardner on October 9, 2012
In his piece entitled “Women, Mathematics, and Computing”, Paul De Palma equates a bolstered push for women in Computer Science to “social justice”; implying that anything otherwise is socially unjust. While De Palma’s push for parity in Computer Science gender ratios is certainly acceptable, it’s a far cry from truly advocating for “social justice”.
Two obscure issues are exposed here:
- Unequal ratios of men to women in education and occupations is clearly not unjust. If it was, De Palma ought to offer a quid pro quo piece entitled “Men, Health Care, and Nursing Degrees” to account for the field’s masculine minority. Such sentiment is tricky to find, however, even on the most chauvinistic depths of the web.
- Equality and equivalence are not synonymous. Men and boys have traditionally been technology tinkerers. Women and girls (again, traditionally) haven’t been. That trend is corroborated in De Palma’s statistics. If diversity is so desirable, why the push for equivalence? Equality, on the other hand, is the hidden ideal that should be hoisted as our banner.
All this, assuming gender as the only potential for diversity. It’s not social injustice — it’s merely happenstance.
by Spencer Gardner on October 4, 2012
Richard A. Clarke’s “Cyber War” aims to expose the dystopic, incalculable consequences that cyber war poses to the United States. Like many novels in its genre, Clarke employs a textbook dose of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt), clearly to pitch his work as a necessary read to the ill-informed. Whether or not the implications of internet based cyber war are as drastic as Clarke leads on is debatable. Clarke, however, certainly rocks this sparse genre with his writing.
Cautionary sentiment seeps gradually into the paperback as each page is turned. It’s as if the author knows something few others do; as if his eyes have absorbed more than he cared to share. Clarke’s posing as a sage of internet wisdom is downright uncanny. Since it’s a relatively adolescent technology, an authority figure on the internet seems to be out of place. Yet Clarke pulls it off.
Is the internet traipsing through harmless prepubescence or has it matured to unsheathe a double-edged sword? Clarke certainly embraces the latter. Every day, countless devices utilizing the internet are imperceptibly lodged into personal, governmental, and business infrastructure, the profound implications of which are put on the back burner to simmer.
As technology and pop culture continue to be synonymized, our dependence on the internet will become increasingly casual. It’s as if we’re loading every spare space in our world with dynamite; and strangely, it’s trendy. Clarke’s prophecy of pending Armageddon could be an exaggeration. Our internet dependence may not incite international war as Clarke presumes. Perhaps it will, or perhaps it will be an interpersonal war of egos and pride. Perhaps it will be a war against oneself, a war of regulation and self-control. A nation might lose it’s right to self-government, or an individual might lose their sense of self. Which is worse? Given the amount of dynamite in our pockets and drawers, however, we’d best learn how to handle it.
Related: A Modicum of Moderation