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The Future of the Post Office and the Digital Divide

September 14, 2011 1 comment

The Digital Divide

What does the future of the United States Post Office hold for the people affected by the Digital Divide?

I wish I knew.

What I do know is that the current state of Internet access in the US is completely inadequate for us to consider ourselves a functioning democracy.  As the New York Times and SavetheInternet.com just noted, we’re behind ROMANIA in terms of Internet speed (25th out of developed nations).

Here are just some of the reasons that Internet Access should be considered a basic right for all people:

Political Involvement:

  • Legislation moves quickly enough now that the standard “snail mail” (plus the added time it takes for legislators to screen their mail given the threat of terrorism) means it’s really too slow anyway and now the spectre of privatizing the mail service is in the future which will increase costs to send a letter (because it’s no longer subsidized by the government).
  • Want to send a fax to your legislator?  Unless you own a fax machine, most places charge a dollar or more per page.
  • Many required disclosures by public organizations have moved online, and virtually all historical documents and records are available online.
  • Citizen Journalism is a burgeoning phenomena that could potentially bring a great deal more transparency to the world we live in, but it also requires high-speed Internet access to work.

Career Advancement:

  • Moving onward and upward without Internet Access is extraordinarily difficult.  Consider the impact of the decline of the newspaper industry on access to classified ads for jobs.  Many organizations have moved to online job listings through web-based services like Monster.com, Indeed.com, Beyond.com, etc.
  • Networking still happens face-to-face, and it’s still valuable, but networking (and maintaining networks) online is rapidly becoming a new norm.
  • Social networking and other web-based platforms are now integral to most work that pays a decent wage – using those tools requires a considerable amount of time online to learn and practice skills.

Entrepreneurship:

  • The other day I saw a van for a local HVAC servicing company wrapped with branding imagery that included a Facebook button.  The “Flat Earth” has brought about a revolution in commerce and anyone can easily start up a business with far fewer resources because so many things can be accomplished inexpensively online (from payroll to managing finances to setting up an e-commerce platform).

Not enough attention is being paid to this issue.  Here’s a great example; even PBS has retired its Digital Divide site:

PBS Digital Divide Site Retired

Edutopia has a well-written piece on the state of the Digital Divide in the US which was recently updated and includes contextual information on the last decade of attempts to address it.

One of the ways to address the digital divide is to break the stranglehold the for-profit telecommunications industry has on Internet Access.  Attempts nationwide have been made to provide low-cost or free Internet access – like municipalities purchasing and providing wi-fi for their citizens (which have been fought tooth and nail by the telecoms).  That’s the main reason I was so excited about Google Fiber; the possibility that experiment holds for bridging the digital divide is promising.

GoogleFiber4GR

Even Grand Rapids has attempted to bring low-cost or free Internet access to its citizens (GR’s “The Rapidian” has a good write-up about the current efforts involving a company called Clear“) but progress has been slow.If the Post Office is dramatically cut or eliminated outright, that’s going to dramatically ramp up the need for a “digital” equivalent of those “analog” services.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns Crassly Exploits AZ Shooting With Facebook Ad

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment

[Updated] Check out this utterly crass and opportunistic ad that just appeared on Facebook featuring the mugshot photo of Jared Loughner pitching a message in support of gun control.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns Facebook Ad

Mayors Against Illegal Guns Facebook Ad

The ad is linked to the webpage of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and a petition to implement gun control measures.

Mayors Against Illegal Guns Petition Page

Mayors Against Illegal Guns Petition Page

Apart from the vulture-like timing, there are at least a couple of things wrong with the ad (not the least of which is the reality that none of the measures proposed by MAIG would have stopped Loughner given that he legally-purchased his firearms from licensed vendors):

  1. It uses Jared Loughner’s image to endorse something without his permission.  As near as I can remember, we’re still living in the United States where we afford the accused due process before they’re convicted.  Talk about “poisoning the well.”
  2. Even the Dalai Llama would likely find it difficult to muster sympathy for Loughner, but the reality is in all liklihood he is severely mentally-ill.  Exploiting the fearsome, contorted visage in his mug shot is nothing short of macabre and cruel (and ultimately contributes to the stigma that mental illness carries with it – making it less likely that others will seek treatment).
  3. As if reality weren’t scary/horrible enough, it also appears the MAIG doctored the photo of Loughner; cutting his head out of his mugshot photo and pasting it into a body wearing a hoodie and standing in front of a criminal line-up backdrop.  I guess a suspected shooter in a white t-shirt isn’t menacing enough; he needs to be stereotyped by clothing as well?
Apparently Doctored Photo of Jared Loughner in MAIG Ad

Apparently Doctored Photo of Jared Loughner in MAIG Ad

In the communications field, it’s important to contextualize your message and relate it to current events.  This, however, is a rather cynical and unethical application of those principles.

Shame on the MAIG for exploiting the tragedy to serve their political ends (after the nation has had a long, deliberate discussion about precisely how misguided that practice was immediately after the tragedy) and shame on Facebook for approving that ad for publication.

More PR Trouble for BP: Great Case Study in the Filters of the Web

June 1, 2010 Leave a comment

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I wrote a while earlier about the impact of the new era of transparency on BP’s continuing public relations crisis.  Since then, a couple of other new phenomenon caught my attention:

  • Google Sidewiki: This somewhat-forgotten tool created by Google to accompany webpages and help contextualize them with user contributions has a bit of content that isn’t exactly kind to BP.
  • The Black Oil Firefox Plugin:  Designed by design agency Jess3, this add-on to Firefox makes the pages viewed by your browser look like a redacted document from the CIA as it blacks out references to British Petroleum (the blacked out portions eventually animate and drip ala crude).

These two items may seem like frivolous distractions, but they’re not.  They’re exquisite reminders of how little control we exercise over the web, particularly as the content that populates it and the tools that browse it become more and more sophisticated and oriented toward individual control.

You can spend all the time you want tweaking your website until it’s just the way you want, but what you create may not at all be what ends up being delivered to the end user.

The Intersection of Video Games and Education

September 18, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the things I’m most fascinated by is the concept that videogames are not merely a form of mindless entertainment, but that they can be important tools to further learning and improve society. Wired’s Clive Thompson wrote an excellent piece a while ago [Why we Need More Torture in Videogames] on the intersection of videogames and education that was prompted by a torture sequence added to an expansion pack for World of Warcraft; “Wrath of the Lich King.”

Here’s an excerpt that distills his thesis: Read more…

The Impending Doom of the Telecoms

August 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Slashdot just reported on an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development) report that (unsurprisingly) shows that US mobile phone plans are the most expensive in the world.

Cell phone companies (like cable/satellite TV providers) have long taken advantage of their customers by forcing them to pay for things that they don’t need (like refusing to offer a la carte channel selection, or bundling everything and structuring pricing so that one must go with a higher priced bundle in order to get enough time/channels).

Data is data, and data wants to be free.  We’re in a new era when consumers only need are devices that can connect to any wireless data network and we can do anything (email, surf the web, make phone calls with Google Voice).   The opportunities to corral consumers into profitable behaviors are evaporating every single day.

Read more…