Archives for posts with tag: Technology

Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that in the coming weeks JSTOR will make a subset of it’s archive of academic journals available to anyone who registers for a free account. This is, generally speaking, a good thing. However, as Alexis Madrigal of the Atlantic points out, details from the Chronicle’s article suggests that this is, at best, a very small victory for open access. He writes:

JSTOR told the Chronicle that each and every year, they turn away 150 million attempts to gain access to articles. That’s right. 150 million attempts!

The way I see it, that’s 150 million chances lost to improve the quality of the Internet. JSTOR, as the keeper of so much great scholarly work, should be one of the Internet’s dominant suppliers of facts and serious research. But if something is not publicly available, key gatekeepers like journalists and Wikipedians, move to the best available source, even if they know that there probably is a better source behind JSTOR’s paywall. So, instead, JSTOR’s vast troves of valuable information remain within academia and the broader Internet’s immune system is that much weaker.

Madrigal is makes an important point. Search engines like Google now regularly return links to academic articles as part of search results. For most people1 following a journal link leads to a page that informs you that you don’t have access to that article. Want to experience it for yourself, just follow this link to as article on Open access and academic journal quality … #irony.

Other than examining attempts, there are other ways to wrap our head around the problem. I decided that I’d look into how many articles are firewalled at JSTOR. To do this, I ran a number of queries on the JSTOR search engine2 using variations on the string (cty:(journal) AND ty:(fla)) AND (year:[1 TO 2012]) The results are rather sobering. Here’s the top line:

Publicly available articles on JSTOR as of 1÷13÷2011 total articles publicly accessible articles publicly available as a % of total
All articles on JSTOR 3,816,066 272,475 7.14%
Texts out of copyright (beginning-​1922) 533,282 264,384 49.58%
Texts published since 1922 3,172,269 8,085 0.25%

Currently, only 7% of all of JSTOR’s content is freely available.

Worse yet, only half of articles that have entered the public domain are publicly available via JSTOR!

0 of the 2,465,468 articles published between 1923 and 1996 are publicly available.

In 1997 the first open journals began to publish. However, only 8,085 — less than 1% — of the 829,330 JSTOR articles published after 1997 are publicly available.

These are big numbers.

In theory, the point of publishing is to disseminate research for the development of knowledge. Further, many of those 3 million articles were built on data collected through publicly funded research. I have a hard time seeing how we can say the public is getting a solid return on its research investment when it still doesn’t have open access to research it helped funded over fifty-​years ago.

As an academic of sorts, I appreciate the need to protect the work of research. But I cannot buy into the idea that copyright is the right way to protect that work (especially when the one who benefits in the long term is the archive as opposed to the scholar). Imagine an alternative scenario. For example, that academic publication were handled more like patents — which enter into the public domain after 20 years for the good of society. JSTOR currently holds approximately 2,567,820 articles that would, under patent laws, have entered the public domain, versus the 533,282 that currently have passed out of copyright.3

All of this speaks to Madrigal ‘s point. This massive amount of information that is only available to those of us who are lucky enough to be in institutions that are willing to pay for it.

Admittedly, as I understand things, JSTOR has no legal obligation to provide free access to any of this content. And the price of access for back articles is often set by the journals, or rather their publishers. However, moral obligations are entirely different.

To their credit, in September of 2011 JSTOR began the process of opening up access to all their content that has entered into the public domain. Approximately 50% of it is currently available, but that still leaves half of it behind firewalls.

Hopefully, JSTOR’s new program will greatly improve public access. However, given the fact that there are over three million articles that currently remain beyond the reach of the public (and many scholars), it’s going to take a lot to make a real dent.

BTW, I’ve made all of the data I collected available via google docs. Please feel free to use it as you’d like. If you do something cool with it, let me know.

  1. this includes academics as there are far more journals available than even the most affluent research institutions can afford to subscribe to []
  2. I had to brute force this. I’d love it if someone could point me to a example of python code to do the same sort of thing. []
  3. Currently 2,303,436 of those articles are firewalled. []

On Friday, August 6, Techcrunch reported that Nicholas Negroponte, chairman emeritus of MIT’s Media Lab and founder of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) association, proclaimed that the physical book would be dead in five years. A short article that I wrote in response to the subject is now live at Internet Evolution. Normally I’d mirror it here, but since there’s a lively discussion going on there, I’, just going to link to it instead. Give it a read and join the conversation!

I’m also happy to announce that our panel “Virtuality, Simulation, and Social Life” got accepted for this year’s American Anthropological Association Conference! Even more exciting, one of my discussants is an “anthro hero” of mine: Lucy Suchman! How cool is that!

Thats about it! School starts next week and I’m heading down to Ithaca this weekend.

[Sony Guy featured at Unplugged]Unplugged ran this photo yesterday with the following text:

One rad dude with his late 80’s tech toys. The only thing we’d imagine using amongst his array of electronics is the calculator; fascinating to note these all were ubiquitous items in households not too long ago, but have been mostly phased out with the march of time.

What the comment misses is that the vast majority of these devices (video cameras, video recorders, audio editing, calculators, portable audio, portable video, …) haven’t been phased out, just transformed. For example, VHS tapes are on the way out, but video recording and replay continues. What it also misses is that if the photo was taken today, it might look something like this:

The vast majority of those device functions (video recording, video replay, camera, video camera, portable audio, calculation) are available on most smart phones. This is one of the most revolutionary aspects of new digital technologies. Not only do they compress (and sometimes expand) time and space, but the move to digital allows devices to “fold” into each other.

Once information is reduced into 0’s and 1’s, as long as your device (phone, computer, tablet, you-​name-​it) can run a program that can manipulate those digits without destroying their relations (the overall structure of the file), then you can add on whatever playback and editing features you want.

29/365 (IPAD) by Jesus Belzuncem Licensed Through CCLast week two opposing editorials appeared on TechCrunch representing the two oppositional poles of a discussion on reading and the iPad. On the side of the iPad killing reading was Paul Carr’s NSFW: I Admit It, The iPad Is A Kindle Killer. I Just Wish It Weren’t Going To Kill Reading Too . In opposition to Carr, stating the iPad is going to fundamentally change reading and we need to rethink books is Dear Authors, Your Next Book Should be an App, Not an iBook, written by 21 year old1 Cody Brown.

On the weekend of its launch Cory Doctorow and others (like myself) critiqued the closed nature of the iPad development platform and its relationship to innovation. Others have written in support of it.

What is it about the iPad that activates discussions like these? I mean, it’s a wonderfully engineered device, but it’s not all that and the proverbial bag of chips. Though it may replace some people’s “traditional” computers2 , neither the desktop, nor the notebook, will be going away anytime soon. And, while Apple will probably capture the slate tablet market, there are tons of competing tablet devices on the way. However, if the iPad had “just” been a tablet (like upcoming models from HP, Dell, or Google), I doubt that we’d be been having such focused conversations.

Having been witness to lots of debates on the iPad and its potential effects on publishing by pragmatic folks who, though technologists, are excellent at getting beyond the spin, I don’t think most of these discussions can be dismissed as simply buying into hype .

Nor is it necessarily the given reality of the situation, though transformations within the marketplace, like the move in publishing to agency model pricing is most definitely based in the immediate real. For the most part these conversations, take for example Carr and Brown, are fixated on the future.

So what’s driving all the churn?

I propose that the iPad is the metaphor3 that has allowed/​enabled existing ideas to be developed in new (and potentially more productive) ways.

The iPad’s promise of a tight “device” (versus computer) experience, able to be “infinity” expanded through apps, creates just enough space of ideation to activate all the debates that we’ve seen (open v. closed, book v. app, etc). What the iPad adds to this discussion is a common understand of interaction and experience that allows us to greatly refine the discussion.

Beyond the specifics (like app store pricing and agency models), the iPad offers an “open bounded” experience — neither as single purpose as an “eReader” or as open as a “computer” (or perhaps even a “website) — with an easily understood interface (emphasizing the immediacy of touch) and platform (the easy availability of apps). If you’re in a ‘modern’4 country and within a general age/​demographic grouping, you don’t need to have held an iPad to participate in the discussion — we can easily conceptualize the experience from interactions with other technologies (computers and cell phones being obvious examples, but also think about interactions with touch screen interfaces in retail and other locations).

The brilliance of Apple, for better or worse, is the iPad’s intuitiveness5 — using an iPad is far easier to imagine and explain than any other type of computer (including Macs).

If we take the iPad as both the subject of and a metaphor for the arguments, we can try and “step outside” the discussions to see what’s actually being argued. And the answer is, “the future.” Each of the debates, and positions held there in, encapsulate a specific ideology/​imagination of a future (for publishing, for software, for users) which have been going on for quite a while. Should devices (with the iPad standing in for all) be open (democratic) or closed (authoritarian)? Will literacy fail or be irrevocably transformed? Is all development positive? And what is lost when, with the move to digital production and distribution, “all that is solid melts into air?” 6

From this perspective, the increasing heat of these reactivated debates should not be a surprise. Previous discussions about future7 suffered from lack of a shared conceptualization of computing. We might have conceptualized unfettered computers with transparent interfaces, “elegantly” fitting into our lives, but I don’t think that most of us were truly able to imagine them, at least in a shared way. Turning Marx’s quote on its head, Apple has taken the conceptual and given it a material form. And it doing that, it’s (momentarily at least) reshaped the discussion.

  1. The only reason I called out the authors age is that it was invoked twice within the article, once by TechCrunch and once by the author himself. I’m assuming that being 21 years old is important to understand his right to comment on these issues (as opposed to the fact that he’s a Reynolds Scholar in Social Entrepreneurship at NYU, and on the board of CoPress). For the record, as of presstime, Mr. Carr is 30 and I’m 35. Hopefully our ages are as important to our messages as Mr. Brown’s is to his). []
  2. in particular folks who use a computer primarily for eMail, web surfing, & light word processing []
  3. I’m thinking about a metaphor in terms of Wittensteinian categorization, and not necessarily as Lakoff and Johnson do. []
  4. I admit that Modern is a deeply problematic term. I had initially “first-​world”, but that is equally, if not more, problematic. Any suggestions? []
  5. Intuitiveness should be thought of as a mediation between intangible individual and cultural expectations about how a device should work and its material functioning. It emerges in dialog with an ever emerging total social experience of technology, and is therefore a constantly moving target. []
  6. Marx and Engles, The Manifesto of the Communist Party []
  7. I’d go so far as to say every discussion of the future, as like technology, the discussions around it are in an ever emergent state. Thus categories and concepts are always being created and modified []

Disclaimer 1: I haven’t played with an iPad yet.
Disclaimer 2: While I agree with everything Cory Doctorow wrote about the iPad, I still want one. Please don’t judge me…

Today is launch day for the iPad, and, it’s going to be remembered as an “important” day in the development of computers, as the launch day of the iPhone represents an important day in the history of the mobile phone (and, as we’ve discovered, the eReader and the computer). That said, I think it’s important to stress that the iPad is not a computer.

In an editorial published yesterday entitled “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)”, Cory Doctorow makes the case for why the iPad is not a “revolutionary” product when it comes to user empowerment. Take a moment and go read the article. Seriously… whether or not you agree with Doctorow’s conclusion this is an important discussion.

I for one agree with Doctorow. Apple, by extending the “successes” of the iPhone with the iPad, is defining a new, restrictive, device space — one in which the device you purchase is wired shut (I’m borrowing both the phrase and concept from Tarleton Gillespie1) . As Doctorow points out, as with the iPhone, the iPad is a device that you buy but don’t own.

  • Even though you paid hundreds for it, you can’t take it apart without voiding the warranty.2
  • Even though you paid hundreds for it, you can’t customize it in an non-​Apple approved way it without voiding the warranty.3
  • Even though you paid hundreds for it, you can’t load apps from 3rd parties without going through the Official App store without voiding the warranty.

To appreciate how this model is different, think about a car. I can perform routine maintenance on my car without voiding the warranty (provided I do it correctly). I can put alternative grades of gas in their car without voiding the warranty. Most importantly, I can open up the hood and take a look at the engine without voiding their warranty.

The iPad is, to borrow another metaphor from Gillespie, a car whose hood is welded shut. If you break that seal, even if you don’t touch a thing, you’ve voided the warranty. Further it’s a car in which I can only put in approved gas, and that gas can only be bought from the manufacturer of the car.

This all leads me to why the iPad and other upcoming tablets are not computers. The computer, as we understand it, was the ultimate in customizable equipment. Take a trip to the grocery store and take a look at the magazine rack. Even at a time when magazines are ceasing print edition, you’ll still find numerous magazine dedicated to how you can mod your computer. And even if you aren’t interested in modifying your computer, you still have full choice over what software you can load on it. You can purchase software at computer/​electronic stores, big box business stores like Staples, and even at supermarkets and dollar stores. You can also download software from countless websites. There’s no approval processes. For better or worse, anyone can write and distribute software. For all the reasons stated above, this isn’t the case with the iPad.

The iPad is not a computer. It’s a device which the user has limited control over.

An argument has been made that this closeness doesn’t matter when the platform is so easy to program for that a 13 year old child can create and market their own app through the store. The problem this argument conflates access to authoring tools and a marketing channel with control over the device/​distribution. Put it a different way, yes that child can build their own app. That’s nothing new, precocious children have been programming for years! What this argument fails to take into account is that the child’s ability to distribute that app is controlled not by the child but by Apple. If Apple decides that the app is inappropriate — of course, everything that junior-​high-​school-​age boys produce is always appropriate —then it will be removed from the store. Once that happens, there is no way to load it onto the iPad, even if that child ops to eMail it to friends. Private distribution, outside of the app store, is not a option.

And while someone might say that the child could get around this restriction by building their application on the web, there are two problems with this model. First, there is still no easy way to charge for access to a web app. Second, and more important, the primary graphic tool for building web applications, Adobe’s Flash, cannot run on the iPad.

Others have suggested that the iPad is nowhere near as closed a platform as the printed book. While this is a bit of an “apples vs. remote controls” type of move, even if we take the comparison seriously, I don’t think it holds up. Yes, I can’t directly change the content of the book. I’m not easily able to add pages or words for example (at least not additional printed words). However, I’m free to alter the book in any way I want. I can make notes in the margins. If I’m a dadaist (or a ransom note writer), I can cut the book apart and reassemble the words in different formats. And I can also choose to create my own book, radically altering the form of the book, as well as its contents.

What is particularly interesting for me, as a social scientist, is that this “locking down” of the iPad and other tablets can be seen as reversing a key trend of modernity/​promise of technology. According to its proponents, the “computer/​internet revolution” enabled us to move beyond the “mass” prefix. No longer were we the “mass produced” culture of the industrial age. Technology enabled choice; it allowed us to personalize our commodities and our media. Mass media was replaced by web 2.0 where anyone could create their own content and share it.

The iPhone, the iPad, and a number of other devices on the horizon, step away from this. In the name of user experience4 we are taking a step back towards Fordism (“You can have any app you want on your iPod as long as it’s approved by Apple.”) Cynically, one might argue that what this is really doing is pulling the veil off of the “mass customization” that we have really been experiencing5 — that we have never realized the freedoms promised to us by technology. I’m not quite that cynical.

I, like Doctorow, think it’s important for a space of experimentation and resistance to be available.6 And the failure of the iPad, and a number of other tablets that look to be on the way, is that it doesn’t provide that space. If anything, the iPad works to enclose possibilities, not expand them. My hope is that this model will not win out. My expectation (especially considering that after writing all of this I still want an iPad) is that this will be the future (or at least for a while).

Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)

  1. For an excellent summary of the parts Gillespie’s argument that are especially relevant to this discussion see his article “Designed to Effectively Frustrate.” []
  2. Note that the iPad and the iPhone were by no means the first devices to forbid the user from taking them apart. []
  3. The iPhone was, however, the device that popularized the App store model which has since been embraced by Google and Microsoft. []
  4. Note that I don’t want this to be an either/​or situation. Just about every decision Apple has made can be justified in terms of user experience. Of that there is little question. However, failing to acknowledge the trade offs that are occurring because of this and contemplate how this may be indicative of a larger trend would be a mistake as well. []
  5. See Mark Andrejevic’s iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Internet Era for a particularly excellent summary of this position. []
  6. This is a fundamentally different position than being technological Utopian — I don’t think technology is the solution, its what the people do with the technology that matters. []