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Why Don’t We Care?

In this digital technology class, an issue of ethics comes up a lot.  As we spend all day on our smart phones, computers and so on, we are asked who has made it possible for us to have these gadgets at a more or less reasonable price.  The answer usually lies somewhere in China, Taiwan, Mexico or India.  The question however, is not usually where do the gadgets come from, but why don’t we care about the people who are making our products.  No one can deny that the people who are making our technology devices are not living in the best conditions, nor working for the best wages.  If they were, then our cell phones and ipads would cost us a lot more then they do.  The question surrounding the issue of price/ affordability of a product vs. the ethics behind the people who make it remains an issue that we have only slightly covered in class.  I think that in general Americans (and most people in other countries) do care about the living/ working conditions of the people who make our gadgets, but only up to a point.  We care, but when our caring hurts our wallets then we start to question whether we should be getting involved.

I think that this attitude has to do with American Exceptionalism.  Many Americans think that they are so great, and in some situations that we are so caring too.  But I really do not think that many people would be willing to pay more for their products so that the people making those products could live better.  That argument relates very much to the idea of buying things that are made in the US.  For a while now, many efforts have been made for people to buy US cars, US clothes and foods grown in the US.  It is not that many people do not want to buy US products, I think if most people had the choice they would buy American things.  But the common argument against buying American things is the costs.  It usually costs more for people to buy things that are made in the US because American workers demand higher wages and better working environments then people in foreign countries would ask for.  So again we return to the issue of ethics and why don’t we care about the people making our things.  As we progress into the digital age, I don’t think that this issue will be resolved.  Even though the internet has made it more possible for Americans to connect with people around the world, I don’t know if that would make it more likely for people to care more about those people.  I would hope that it would, but I really do not know.  And as Apple, Sony, Microsoft and many other companies compete to come up with the newest must have gadget, the problem could only continue.

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Who Is Really the Slave: Us or the Machines

A few classes ago we pondered the idea of a robot consciousness.  Questions of whether a robot consciousness could exist and what would humans do if it did exist were considered.  We wondered if we treat robots/ machines as the modern day slaves.  But as I thought it over more and more, I wondered whether the machines were the slaves, or were we naively and unknowingly the slaves to the machines?

In many ways I can see how humans treat machines like slaves.  But I can also see how our dependence on machines has made us a sort of slave to the technology.  There are few people in America that can honestly say that their life is not reliant on some sort of technology.  Most people cannot even make it a couple of hours without their gadgets, let alone an entire day or week without their much beloved and needed cell phone/tv/ computer/ ipod/ car/ stove and so on.  But as one recognizes that we may be a slave to technology, one must ponder what this means for humans.  Have humans dug themselves into a whole that they cannot get out of?  Will Americans ever be able to survive without technology?  What would such a life look like?  Aaahhhhh…… so many questions, so little time.

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As we investigated the hoochie algorithm in class, it made me realize how algorithms are all around us.  I know that an algorithm is a step by step set of instructions used to solve a problem, but I no idea how they are prevalently used to sell things to the public.  I thought that it was so interesting to see how all our examples in class were all about people/ companies selling us things.  By fitting us into neatly made columns and categories, companies are able to find out what we like and how we think.  It is scary to think that we are all seen as having dollar signs on the top of our foreheads, just waiting for the next sales pitch to made to us.

But hearing everyone’s example of how an algorithm was applied to them made me also realize that algorithms can also work as a form of stereotyping.  I remember when we got the algorithm assignment, I remembered a time when I went dress shopping with my sister at a high end store in Ala Moana and no one in the store would help us.  Upon looking at the other customers who were being helped, it did not take us long before we figured out that we weren’t being helped because we were not dressed appropriately as we were not wearing designer clothes nor had the matching designer bags/ accessories.  And since many dress stores ask their customers what school they go to, to make sure that no one else from their school is getting the same dress from the store, once the sales ladies heard that the other girls went to Punahou, we knew it was all over for us and there was no way we would have been helped in that particular store.  I hated that feeling though, being stereotyped as not being good enough because we weren’t wearing the right clothes or didn’t go to the right schools.  It was just like in Pretty Woman, when no one would help Julia Roberts when she was shopping at the store on Rodeo Drive.  In that particular instance it is clear that the sales associates in that store were using certain markers to target who the more affluent (and therefore the better) customers.  In seeing how algorithms are used to sell things to people,  I wondered if digital algorithms could in some way be stereotyping people and their habits?  I only wondered because I really disliked being stereotyped in person, I would really not like it to happen online, where we are supposed to be free to be whoever we want to.

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The need to be entertained

In class we continually ask ourselves to question our dependence on technology.  But an interesting point was also brought up as well as we questioned why technology is needed.  Other then the fastness and convenience of technology it is apparent that most technology satisfies a need for us to be entertained.  The continual need to have our cell phones around us at all times, the need to be around a computer when we get to work  and the need to turn on the TV when we get home are all examples of how humans need to have some form of pleasurable distraction close at hand in order to get through their class, work, or day.  Although such a conclusion makes humans sound like entertainment junkies, who cannot survive (or sometimes even think) without being captivated by something interesting, one may also conclude how necessary it is for people to have some kind of outlet and distraction from their everyday lives.  For example, after a hard day’s work at the office, who can blame the person who wants to go home and watch TV or play video games all night, especially when one considers that the difficulties from work will only return the next morning.  I think that if people had to constantly face and think about the problems in their lives, most people would go crazy or have a nervous breakdown.  People would be stressed out all the time and be yelling at everyone in their way and would therefore be passing on their problem to everyone else.  In such a way, our computers, TV, video games or cell phones provide a way for people to forget their problems and put them on the side until later.

But even though technology can provide people with a release from their problems, I think that people also need to have a balance in their lives.  I think that sometimes problems arise when people use technology to escape their problems, but when that technology is gone, people often forget to deal with or find a solution to their problem.  So instead of solving the problem, people get distracted (with technology) and forget about the problem all together.  In such a way, technology could just be making people avoid their problems, rather than dealing with them, which does not usually solve anything.  Other problems arise when people need to be entertained all day but cannot concentrate on their work or school because they cannot be without their cell phone or so on.  In such a way, technology becomes a distraction from the problems in a person’s life, while at the same time, technology is also causing other problems in that same person’s life.


Robot Consciousness

In class we mentioned the idea that a “robot consciousness” which is a possibility reality that could come to the forefront in a matter of years.  Based on the way that our technology is progressing, it is certainly believable that such a circumstance could be an issue in our lifetimes.  Faced with this problem, the question on floor remains what do we do when our technologically advanced machines  gain a consciousness and wants things?  The general answer is that us mere humans would not be able to grasp or recognize such a response (uprising) from our technology.  As humans continually dumb down our technology,  I think that it is certainly possible that such an uprising could have or is already happening, and I will be the first to admit that I would be one of the last people to recognize this.  At first I considered the possibility that I could tell the difference between an inanimate thing which has no feeling, and an animate one which most of the times does.  But after we watched the Kara video, it is evident that the line between human feelings and robot “feelings” are becoming more and more blurred.

I think that it is and will be extremely difficult for humans to grasps and be okay with the idea of a machine consciousness.  In no way do we want to feel like we are exploiting our technological gadgets at our expense.  But as humans who bought a machine or invested time in creating a gadget, we do want, and expects at most times, for our machines to do a particular job or achieve a certain purpose (especially if a machine was expensive, we don’t want our money to go to waste).  I’m not sure how many people would be comfortable with (or willing to) giving our machines a rest because it wants a break or has some other feelings.  In such an instance it seems that humans would be empathetic to a machine consciousness up to a certain point.  Or in other words, humans want to care, AS LONG AS our machines still do their jobs.  If humans do care about their machine’s consciousness up to a certain point, I wonder if society as a whole has become the slave owners of America’s past?


Kara, The Female Robot

How Offensive. I thought that the Kara video was so insulting to ALL women.  But what is even more enraging about the video is that subjugated female robots (or enslaved women in general) who are at the will of the domineering man in control,  is such a common theme.  Though the graphics in this video were great, I vehemently did not like the themes in it.  First of all, one of the themes that I got from this video is that women are replaceable, not by another woman or a man, but by a machine.  Some of the ways that I came to this conclusion was because Kara seemed to possess the ideal female characteristics.  For example, not only was Kara docile, but she seemed to be programmed to be okay with doing the household/ domestic chores around the house and to be used for sexual purposes.  Is this the way men view women?  Are such characteristics the only positive things about women?  Are human women so futile, expendable and ineffectual that men feel entitled to substitute females with a replica that comes custom made with ideal attributes?

The other reason I found this video very degrading to women was because it depicted the idea of women’s dependence on men.  For example, Kara’s literal existence is dependent on the male operator. In addition to that is the idea that only when Kara agrees to be compliant, not to complain and not to cause any problems does the operator consider putting her on the shelf.  Furthermore, one must not forget that Kara is a product which implies the idea that women can be bought and sold.

But the main reason that this video is so bothersome, is the fact that, as someone mentioned in class, the subject matter of this video is nothing new.  The theme of a female robot, who comes fully prepared with ideal features, who can by bought and sold and is more or less compliant and dependent on men, is a topic that we have seen before.  I just wait for the day when male robots, who take orders from women and are there to please the every need of a woman, becomes a common theme.


Calling For A Social Change

1) What Do I Care About?  I care about things and people in my inner circles.  I care about my family, friends and my pets.  For example, I care a lot when people criticize unions and government and federal workers because my parents are in unions and are government and federal workers who have been personally affected by furloughs and wage freezes.  I also care about things that will affect me such as local issues in Hawaii, things that affect my job and my ability to go to school (like increasing tuition and the threat of less federal aid for financial aid) and things that affect/ influence my future (like the availability of jobs when I graduate from college).

2) Do I Want Social Change?  I do but only for certain things.  Its really hard to care about everything and for me some social changes are less important for me than others are.  For example, I heard that HI lawmakers were recently trying to pass a law to make it legal for dogs to be in restaurants (and not just seeing eye dogs or dogs that help people with disabilities, but all kinds of small and large dogs).  While I do like dogs, I think that this type of social change is not a precedence that needs to be addressed now.  However, if something will negatively affect the things/ people  I care about, including my self, then I definitely would want social change to happen.  But realistically, I do not think that I could instigate or help to make a difference in any type of social change.  I feel so insignificant because of my age and the fact that I am a student who has no extra time to go and fight a battle.

I think that if I were going to start a type of social change it would be either to find more ways for Hawaii to become more self sustaining like investing in more forms of alternative energy and so on, rather than relying on tourism and the military as Hawaii’s main economic contributors.  I know that it is unrealistic for Hawaii’s dependence on outsider influences (like the military or tourism) to completely disappear.  But I do not like the fact that we always have to depend on others for so many things.  Because we always have to present Hawaii as this “Paradise” we are always developing new hotels or making new shopping malls that are just adding more congestion to the roads and making other problems as well.  I would like to see Hawaii provide more food for itself and so on by investing in more agricultural ideas (if it is even possible).  Another social change that I would want would be to find a way for women to become more equal in America’s workforce.  As a female, I really dislike the fact that women doing the same jobs as men STILL get paid less then men and there are far fewer women in positions of management versus the amount of men in such positions.

3) How Can I Start or Prevent It?  The obvious way to prevent any type of social change would be to do nothing.  But I don’t want to be one of those adults who complains all the time and does nothing.  So if I wanted to start a social change, perhaps a call for it could be made on Facebook or by calling on my friends and family and other networks.

4) Are These People Smarter Than Me?  Yes.  Considering that I know very little about technology and many other things as well, I have no problem believing that the people of the Share conference are smarter and more driven than me.

5) How Are These People Different From Me?  I am not sure but I think that one of the points of the Share conference was about finding ways to share information, movies, music and so on with the public so that they can have their own voice without governmental and corporate interference.  The organizers want to empower young and poor people into instituting social change for their own society.  Because the Share conference target audience is much larger and they actually have a clear vision of how they want to accomplish their goal, I would say that the organizers of the Share conference are much more driven, organized and nobler than any social changes that I could have come up with.  The Share Conference seemed like something to empower the little person and getting people in a society to speak up and make the necessary changes for their own people.  The bigger message seemed to be one of “If you don’t do it, then who will.”

6) What would it take for you to institute or get involved in a social change?

7) Why are younger generations so reluctant to get involved in today’s social issues?  Has America’s Reluctance to Get Involved Made Us a Selfish, Idle and Lazy Society?


Anti Socialism in Black Mirror

Although there were many things happening in Black Mirror, one of the themes that stood out the most was this societies limited communication skills.  In this possibly ‘future world’ where humans are literally the battery supply and where technology is present in almost every aspect of ones life from fake sun up to fake sun down, a person’s whole life evolves around the bike.  It was clear from the beginning that the people in Black Mirror are more engaged in the screen in front of them, then having a conversation with a REAL person (even though they have no problem interacting through their avatar).  For example, in the opening sequence, when Bing is in the elevator with all those other people, everyone seems to be in their own world, listening to their own music.  I mean until Bing started talking to Abi, I thought that he might actually be a mute.  The rudimentary social skills of the people in this movie are clearly seen as Bing’s bicycle neighbor continuously yells and rants at the poor lady custodian, who was only trying to do her job.

But I thought that the fact that filmmakers picked up on the ‘anti socialism’ in the Black Mirror population, is so relevant to today’s society.  I took a class earlier that argued that today’s people, both old and young, are part of what the teacher called ‘the ipod society.’  What my teacher meant by this was that we are so consumed with our selves when we around technology, that we block out everything around us, just like when we are wearing an ipod.  He was trying to point out that as we go through life in our little secluded bubble, we are creating more and more distance between ourselves and the rest of society.  And even if we are physically next to other people, like in a class or in a store, we are using our technology to distract us, rather then engaging in friendly conversations to make new and more human connections.  Whereas in the past, when we were without our laptops and cell phone, we were forced to talk to our neighbors to entertain us or to just sit quietly in our seats until class began.  Our teacher made his point by assigning us a treasure hunt assignment, where most of the questions could only be answered by calling around (or making more human connections).  When he collected our answers for the assignment, he asked us how it went, and as a class we collectively found that calling around was much harder for most of us to do, whereas the questions that could be answered through the internet were less strenuous.  After the students gave their remarks, our teacher told us that he gave us this assignment to get us out from behind our screens, as he wanted us to call around for the information because he felt that today’s youngsters don’t know how to make phone call to find info anymore.  Our teacher was also trying to get the point across about how unapproachable people can be with their ipods on or with their cell phones in their faces.  So as a result people are walking around or going through life with a type of ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign in front of them.

At first I didn’t think that this concept was true, but as I have noticed more and more people walking down the street looking at their iPhone, talking on their cell phones or listening to their ipods with a blank expression on their face, I came to realize how this analogy is actually becoming more and more true everyday.  I can’t tell you how many people have almost walked into me because they were busy texting and therefore walked right in front of me.  The other thing that I have noticed even more is having a meal or a conversation with a person who constantly has their phone in front of their face, which makes me feel like I’m having a conversation with the back of a phone.  My Dad and I once had dinner with my sister and her boyfriend, and my sister’s boyfriend told us at that dinner that he was going to go 1 whole week without his iphone.  Well I’ll tell you he couldn’t even make it through that one meal, it must have been 20 -30 minutes after he made that pledge where he decided he couldn’t last any longer without his much beloved iphone.  And throughout the time he was without his iphone, he looked really uncomfortable and it seemed like he didn’t know what to say because he was really quiet.  So even though technology has a lot of benefits like convenience, speed and so on, one has to wonder, what are the costs or effects of having such technology so readily at our hands.  Because really, I don’t want to live in a world like Black Mirror, where people mostly interact through their avatar.

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Anonymous and History

After learning about Anonymous in class, I can honestly say that I am a little frightened at the reach and capabilities of this group.  In many ways, Anonymous seems like today’s equivalent of a vigilante group, who are targeting the wrongdoings that they see in our world. As the government tries to put more and more restrictions on the internet, Anonymous embodies the idea of resistance, while trying to give the public access to as much information as possible, so that we can make our own decisions for ourselves (instead of what the government wants us to believe).  But the fact that there is no hierarchy, no names and no accountability for this group is extremely worrisome to me.  This group has a great amount of power within reach and the authority to choose which battles they feel are worth fighting.  But the weight of a battle can be very subjective, and what if mistakes happen along the way.  The results could be positive, worthwhile and helpful or also very negative, damaging and harmful.  In many ways, I can see how a lot of the power is in Anonymous’ corner, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  But I also feel that power or authority needs to be balanced and be checked, because power is so closely linked to greed and corruption (like dictators or like Gollum and the ring in the Lord of the Rings).

But the idea that Anonymous is today’s version of a vigilante group can be tied to our lecture about history repeating itself.  Though history does not exactly repeat itself, I personally feel that there are some parts of our history that are repetitive of past events.  If I had to assign a symbol to my idea of the past, it would be a combination of both the spiral and the fractal.  Our individual choices may take us in different and sometimes opposing directions, but there are also some times when we repeat decisions or mistakes that we made earlier.  Even the idea of Anonymous, can be seen as taking part in the spiral, fractal symbol of the past.  As Anonymous is the modern day resistance group who uses the computer and the internet as their tools of weapons, one can see that they are really not that different from and have many similarities with other resistance groups in the past.  For example, the American Revolutionary War was a resistance against the British, and the tools that American soldiers used were guns.  Also, the Civil Rights movements in the 1960’s was a form of resistance against Black racism and their tools were words and forms of protests like marches.  In both cases, it would seem like in the battle of good vs. evil, ‘Good’ won out.  But as always, defining who won a battle is usually a matter of perspective.  In the end, we will have to see who will win the next battle of our generation, that of Anonymous or the Bureaucracy.

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GPS….Gonna Protect Society…really???

No matter how alone we think we are, it seems as if someone usually knows where we are throughout the day.  Whether it is a phone company or Big Brother, now we that someone really does know our every location.  We do not like to think about it, but our phones , aka our lifelines to the outside world, has become a sort of GPS that we willingly carry around in our pockets and bags.  The government and corporations have been trying to convince the public about the good benefits of this technology with arguments like it can help to keep track of wandering children or teenagers or even cheating spouses.  Or these phones can help the government find potential terrorists.  There is also the sales pitch that iPhone apps can help owners locate their lost or stolen phones.

But even with all these benefits, I cannot help but feel that such technology is an invasion to my privacy.  Maybe it is just me, but I think that people should be allowed to do things that they do not want other people to know about, as long as it is not illegal.  Even though many services like Google Latitude have customers “opt in” in order to use their personal phones as a GPS, critics have argued that the public does not what info Google is retaining (even if Google claims that they are retaining nothing).  And even if Google is found to be participating in some kind of wrongdoing, our legal system is behind our technology, so it is doubtful that some form of legal action could successfully take place.  With few legal restrictions, the door has been left open for Google, as they have more opportunities to sell our data to whomever they want to.  But what bothers me the most about these hidden features in our technology is that society is willing to accept it in the name of convenience.  We may not like the fact that Big Brother is spying on us, but I do not know many people who will not carry around a phone, just so no one knows where he or she is.  And the US government recognizes our compliancy in this matter as reports have surfaced that the government is considering tracking our phones without a warrant because “Americans enjoy no “reasonable” expectation of privacy in their or at least their cell phones whereabouts.”  In the end, no matter how Americans feel about a GPS in their cell phones, we will do nothing about it.  For many members of our society, we have no problem complaining or voicing our opinions, but putting those words into actions is a whole other matter.

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