April 19, 2014

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Copyrights, Fundamental Rights, and the Constitution

There was a lot to take issue with in Scott Turow’s recent op-ed in The New York Times. Turow, who is currently President of the Authors Guild, took to The Times to criticize the Supreme Court’s decision in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, which brought physical books manufactured and sold abroad within the protective scope of copyright’s first sale doctrine. Turow cast the Court’s decision as another blow to authors’ rights, which, by his account, are being pitilessly washed away by the digital tides. He blames the usual suspects: e-books, Amazon.com, pirates, Google, and—this last one may surprise you—libraries. The coup de grace, he asserted, will be the extension of first sale rights to digital copies of books. (It may comfort him to know that the possibility of that happening is more remote following Redigi’s recent defeat in federal district court.)
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Principles #4 and #5 for Fostering Civic Engagement Through Digital Technologies: Engage On-line and Off-line, and Prepare for the Future

As part of my continuing series, today I’ll discuss two more principles for fostering civic engagement and digital technologies. My earlier posts are:
#1 Know Your Community
#2 Keep it Simple
#3 Leverage Entrepreneurial Intermediaries

Principle #4: Utilize Creative Combinations of On-line and Off-line Communications

Whether it’s a grass roots organization, national political campaign or local government agency, any group that wishes to identify and motivate people to become involved in civic affairs needs to use creative combinations of on-line and off-line communications. In today’s post, I will discuss two different situations where I’ve observed people combining new technology and traditional grass roots organizing to foster civic engagement.

On Twitter, I recently came across an account dedicated to a student’s grass roots campaign for Vice President of the student government at The University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). Her tweets below are a simple representation of today’s hybrid on-line/off-line grass roots campaign.

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First Principles for Fostering Civic Engagement via Digital Technologies #2 and #3: Keep it Simple and Leverage Entrepreneurial Intermediaries

In my previous blog post, I set out the first of ten principles that local governments and communities should look to as they evaluate whether their community is using digital technology effectively to promote civic engagement and solve local problems. Today, I’m setting forth my second and third principles, “Simplicity – Bang for the Buck” and “Digital Intermediaries.” I have chosen to present these two principles together because they are linked thematically.

In almost every community, people are seeking information on public safety, jobs, education, transportation and healthcare. My second principle, “Simplicity – Bang for the Buck” suggests that governments, when determining which problems they can solve through an investment in digital technology, should look to improving government processes related to these core issues. My third principle acknowledges the reality that government itself cannot alone provide all of the information residents are seeking. Therefore, in a community which is engaged digitally, “Digital Intermediaries” – entrepreneurs, including journalists, who are a trusted source for providing local or hyper-local information to residents – will develop Internet and mobile broadband-based businesses providing people with information on these important topics.

Principle #2: “Simplicity – Bang for the Buck”
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Now Available in Print and eBook: “Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring”

I am happy to announce that my new book, co-authored with Muzammil M. Hussain, is now available in print (Oxford University Press, Amazon, Google Books) and eBook (Kindle).

In April of last year, I presented some of our initial findings and described the methodology in a presentation at the Center for Information Technology at Princeton. You can listen to that presentation here:
Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Information Technologies and the Fuzzy Causes of the Arab Spring

Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring
Philip N. Howard and Muzammil M. Hussain

Did digital media really “cause” the Arab Spring, or is it an important factor of the story behind what might become democracy’s fourth wave? An unlikely network of citizens used digital media to start a cascade of social protest that ultimately toppled four of the world’s most entrenched dictators. Howard and Hussain find that the complex causal recipe includes several economic, political and cultural factors, but that digital media is consistently one of the most important sufficient and necessary conditions for explaining both the fragility of regimes and the success of social movements. This book looks at not only the unexpected evolution of events during the Arab Spring, but the deeper history of creative digital activism throughout the region.

Philip N. Howard is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Washington, with adjunct appointments at the Jackson School of International Studies and the Information School.

Muzammil M. Hussain is a Ph.D. candidate in Communication at the University of Washington and Visiting Scientist at the Center for Comparative and International Studies, ETH Zurich.

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First Principles for Fostering Civic Engagement via Digital Technologies: #1 Know Your Community

Over the first few months of my Fellowship at CITP, I have had the pleasure of meeting with a number of people from academia, non-profits, for-profit companies and government to discuss the role of digital technologies in fostering civic engagement.  In a series of blog posts, I plan to set out ten principles that local governments and communities should look to as they evaluate whether their community is using digital technology effectively to promote civic engagement and solve local problems.  Because I do not think that my work developing these principles is complete, I hope to use this forum as a way to offer ideas for further exploration.  Feedback is welcome!

Principle #1: Know Your Community
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Technology & Nature – Perfect Together?

The ongoing recovery from Sandy’s devastating impact from the Caribbean to the East Coast of the U.S. – particularly New Jersey and New York – highlights for me the complex relationship between nature and technology. Satellite technology and meteorology were vital in predicting the storm and undoubtedly saved lives. No matter the accuracy of the predictions, however, Mother Nature still rendered many laptops and iPhones useless. On the day after the storm, electricity starved wireless device users, fortunate to not have other, critical needs, were lined up at libraries and other public places with open power outlets.

At this point, it is well known that mobile devices, texting, and Twitter play critical roles in linking citizens with government officials, including first responders. Mobile devices and social media allow families, friends, and neighbors to collaborate and comfort each other during emergencies. Particularly in times of weather-related adversity, wireless technology is vital to bringing communities together.

What about in quieter times? Does wireless technology enhance or detract from an individual’s relationship with nature when there is no crisis? When there is no urgency to tweet a photo? Great authors have grappled with this question recently. Princeton graduate Walter Kirn argued earlier this year in an excellent article in Outside magazine that “nature and technology need not be kept at a distance, as though they might spoil each other if they should touch.” I agree. Out on a bike ride, I enjoy stopping for a moment to capture with my iPhone camera the sun glistening off a pond or the fall flowers blooming at the edge of the road. Using my iPhone briefly does not jar me from appreciating the simplicity and beauty of my surroundings; it allows me to capture a moment and share the joy of that experience later with family and friends.
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Can you Hear me Now? In 2012, Some Political Pollsters Still Can’t

Recently, I received a call from Gallup on our landline home phone, seeking to speak with my wife, presumably for a political poll. Because she was not at home at the time, Gallup’s representative told me he would call back later. To our knowledge that follow-up call never came. Gallup’s representative never asked me for my wife’s cell phone number, e-mail address, or any way to reach her beyond calling our home phone number again. Why not?

Apparently, some political polling efforts fail to recognize the variety of ways in which Americans communicate today. On his election season must-read blog FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver wrote a post last month entitled “Obama’s Lead Looks Stronger in Polls That Include Cellphones.” Specifically, Mr. Silver observed that polls that use live interviewers and include cell phones show stronger results for President Obama than polls that use automated dialing methods or exclude cellphones. According to Mr. Silver, roughly one-third of American households are excluded by polls that call landlines only.
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My Work at Princeton: Mobile Technology, Community Building and Civic Engagement

I’m excited to spend my year as a Fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy exploring and testing ideas about how broadband technology – particularly mobile wireless services – can and should be used to build strong local communities.

Patent Diagram ThumbmnailI have always been interested in how seemingly simple improvements to the existing way of doing something can make a big difference. As I was heading off to become an undergrad, I received a patent on new type of plastic bottle for dispensing thick liquids, such as ketchup. I figured that every extra little bit that people could get out of the bottom of ketchup, lotion, shampoo, and salad dressing bottles would save consumers a little money and add a little bit of convenience. For a variety of reasons that I’d be happy to discuss more in person, the plastic bottling industry did not shower me with royalties.
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