Posts Tagged ‘technology’

A new study shows that homeless young people use Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks as often as college students. The author of the study (available here; subscription needed) hypothesizes that this means that the “digital divide” is overblown, and primarily a generational, rather than income-based, one.

But this assumes that simply using technology is where the divide exists. When I taught high school, my students struggled with the very basics of word processing: touch-typing, setting the margins, spellcheck. When it came to online research, copying and pasting from Wikipedia was par for the course. They could play plenty of Flash games, but they had trouble accessing information useful in their lives — banking, local resources, scholarships.

We need to think about the use case for technology and how to make it useful for low-income families and young people, rather than just patting ourselves on the back for having access across demographic and income groups. How could we better connect them to job training and placement, political groups, continuing education (that isn’t a scam), etc.?

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A look at the latest market cap numbers for Facebook’s IPO suggest that Facebook’s total shares are worth >$100 million–more than Amazon, Visa, and McDonald’s. This seems fucking crazy.

Consider Facebook’s price-to-earnings ratio. At $100 billion/($205 million*4 quarters), that’s a P/E ratio of 100. (Yes, I know P/E ratio is not a great indicator of true stock value, but it is a great comparison of how a company is doing compared to how stock speculators think the stock is doing.) Which means that everyone thinks Facebook’s profits are going to skyrocket:

Sundaram says judging from this price these investors seem to believe that the company’s profits will double, and then double again, and then double again — all within the next few years.

For that to happen, Facebook will need to attract 10 percent of all advertising dollars spent on the planet “across all media – print, billboards, radio, television, Internet,” Sundaram says. While this is theoretically possible, Sundaram says it’s “an extremely low probability.”

Last year, Facebook had just over $3 billion in global ad sales. TV ad sales in the U.S. alone last year were $68 billion.

Facebook has convinced investors that its 1 billion users and deep data mining on its users will make it an advertising gold mine. Unfortunately for Facebook, it’s not a fledgling start-up with lots of room to grow. Instead, Facebook is plateauing, without a clear vision of how advertising will expand at a dramatic rate.

I’m not saying that buying Facebook stock is a bad bet. It may well be a good bet, as everyone else seems to be betting the same thing, thus raising stock prices. Irrational exuberance is all part of the game. But I am wondering why people consider Facebook such a “sure thing.” As far as I can tell, Facebook doesn’t actually make that much money, which doesn’t seem to be a recipe for long-term success.

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I ask because every time Apple launches a new product, it’s front-page news at CNN.com. Like it is right now for today’s announcement of the iPad 2. Here’s the lede:

With a surprise appearance by CEO Steve Jobs, Apple debuted the iPad 2, updating the gadget that’s become practically synonymous with tablet computing.

I apparently don’t understand the difference between how CNN reports Apple announcements and what the world would look like if Apple bought paid advertisements on CNN’s front page. As far as I can tell, they’re the same fucking thing.

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I’ve been watching the James Burke series “Connections” recently, in between studying for finals. One striking element of the series (if you haven’t seen it, you can watch them all here) is how bizarre and almost incomprehensible many old (but absolutely essential) technologies seem to us today. For example, gear manipulation was the basis for all industry for 1500 years, but I doubt most people could identify a cam if they saw one today. Particularly with the recent past, however, we have seen technology and change speed up to such an extent that these broad technological changes are taking place within people’s lifetimes and even smaller increments. Within ten years, a technological can go from novelty to ubiquitous or ubiquitous to obsolete.

I wonder, however, how much this speed sacrifices the benefits of advancing technology. That is to say, one of the benefits of living now is that we have all the knowledge and technology of the past at our fingertips. I don’t have to reinvent electricity; I just have to flick on the light switch. I no longer have to reinvent algebra; I just have to use it. Unfortunately, this leads to a world where we get farther and farther away from first principles, where those who have the knowledge are few and far between. The information age has made it so easy to find things, that we have no reason to find them for ourselves in the first place.

Without context, without history, how will we as a society ever understand our fast-moving present? That’s not to say that everyone should know what a punch card is or how it works. One should, however, understand that the development of the world we live in is essential to the development of the world to come.

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Unpersons hero Scott Horton notes another nail in the coffin for the Fourth Amendment in our permanent surveillance culture. Because of the increasing number of intermediaries between our information, we no longer have control over it or privacy with it.

From Horton:

The government sought to subpoena the emails of a suspect in a criminal investigation. It issued a subpoena to Google, but it failed to give notice to the subscriber as the federal rules and statute would appear to require. The purpose of notice is fairly straightforward: it gives the subject the opportunity to contest the subpoena and puts him on notice of the government’s investigation. Implementing the protections of the Fourth Amendment, isn’t the subscriber entitled to notice? Not in the view of Judge Michael Mosman…

It’s odd that we must become comfortable with an age wherein we no longer have privacy. No secret will remain our own simply because every piece of information we own is not our own. Our e-mails are the property of ISPs; our phone calls run through a phantom series of networks; our conversations and actions are picked up by cameras, microphones, etc. So much of our “homes” are no longer our own; our most valuable property today — e-mail, documents, and ideas — are free to be released into the open without even a brief notice to the original creator of these ideas.

At some point, either we will have to accept that the Fourth Amendment is simply no longer operative over the bulk of our online lives, or we have to broaden the definition of “persons, houses, papers and effects” to a much wider scope than it has previously been understood.

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