Wednesday, January 21, 2009

States can employ netwar too

In Arquila and Ronfeldt's book Networks and Netwar and Castells' The Power of Identity, among other sources, the Zapatistas are singled out as an example of how a militarily weak force can leverage non-governmental organizations and public media to forestall crippling attacks by state armies. That is, a networked organizational structure can successfully prosecute asymmetric war against a state by stringing together other actants.

One particular state - Israel - has been active in leveraging this networked model for their own advantage. Wired's Noah Schachtman chronicles how Israel has been using digital video to document their operations "to defend themselves in the court of public opinion" -- for instance, by documenting the presence of anti-aircraft cannon inside mosques that they subsequently bombed. To distribute the video, they circumvented the established media and set up a YouTube channel.

We'll see more of this across conflicts, I think, as global information and monetary flows increasingly bind states and make "the court of public opinion" more critical for states' military operations.

Monday, January 19, 2009

"Let me transfer you to Unsupported Devices."

So I'm perfectly happy with the T-Mobile G1, which uses Google's Android OS. The phone is clunky, and the UI has that beta software feel, but as a remote internet terminal it's great. Especially the push email and IM.

My wife likes the idea of Android, but not the form factor. It felt like a brick to her. So instead, we bought a secondhand iPhone 3G, jailbroke it, installed yellowsn0w, and stuck in the T-Mobile SIM. Voice worked immediately. When we called T-Mobile about the data plan, we were reluctant to admit that we were trying to attach an AT&T phone to their network - but they were perfectly at ease with it, suggested a data plan, and told us when we could expect to have the plan kick in.

So if we both had smartphones with always-on internet, why would we need that expensive SMS plan? We'd just IM each other, we decided, and cut the SMS. "Are you sure?" the T-Mobile rep asked my wife. "He sent over 1200 text messages last month alone!"

The next day, the iPhone wouldn't catch the internet, so we called tech support. "Let me transfer you to Unsupported Devices," the T-Mobile representative said. The name was an oxymoron, like "jumbo shrimp" or "military intelligence" or "too much garlic." Anyway, the tech at Unsupported Devices quickly identified the problem and led me through the steps.

Then we came to an ugly realization: The iPhone doesn't support push email and IM. You actually have to check it yourself. Yes, AT&T has some sort of enterprise plan and a more general service is in the works, but that will be based on their network; T-Mobile won't support it. So our plan to IM each other had run into a real snag.

Today, we turned SMS back on. Expensive? Sure. But we rely on that instant connectivity more than we knew. And I also began to realize that we text our friends and family a lot - people who don't check email or use IM or own smartphones. That is, we weren't paying for the service so much as the network to which it gave entrance.

My wife has concluded one other thing. She had thought the iPhone would be like a little computer. But it's crippled: you have to connect it to a desktop or laptop computer in order to download applications, and other independent capabilities are similarly stunted. In contrast, the G1 never has to be connected to a device - and if it is, it's just seen as an external drive. "I want the iPhone and G1 to get married and have offspring," she concluded, "and that's the phone I will buy. It will have the body of the iPhone but the brains of the G1."

So here's what I will conclude. I really appreciate T-Mobile's attitude toward unsupported devices. If only we could extend that to all devices, allowing us to switch them from network to network seamlessly and without gray-market hacks! How much effort that would save us. Open devices, open standards, open roadmaps would increase the value of these devices and the services attached to them - at least for us.

The new portfolio

At Confused of Calcutta, JP continues to crank out some great posts about the changes being brought by new information technologies.

In "Musing about lifestreaming and learning," JP examines the Feltron Report, Nick Feltron's report on his personal activities for the year. The cost of collecting, aggregating, summarizing, and posting tremendous amounts of personal data has dropped, making it possible to assemble a "portfolio" or "CV" or appraisal stream of one's activities. The result is potentially exhibitionism, or pervasive surveillance, or accountability, or - I hope, in some cases - an accounting of informational worth or social capital across one's many networks.

In "Thinking about Twitter: a submarine in the ocean of the Web," JP describes the many ways that he uses Twitter. In a way, this is the flip side of the lifestreaming post: he looks at the fraction of people's lifestreams that bleed through on Twitter and makes judgments about sources, services, and content via their recommendations. This post provides a nice view of how social capital (using the term loosely) is created through the "capillary conversations" going on in this part of the lifestreams.

Taken together, these give us a broader idea of what the new portfolio should look like. I see applications to formal (academic) programs, but other realms as well.

"Now, my working assumption, and this is not new, is that everything I write on e-mail could end up being on CNN."

Obama talks about his Blackberry, echoing my working assumptions about my email, texting, and Twittering.

Written Communication: Special Issue on Writing and Medicine

If you're doing something in medical rhetoric or medical writing, consider Written Communication's upcoming Special Issue on Writing and Medicine.

The Prospects for Cyberocracy

David Ronfeldt, who has been instrumental in my thinking about networks and netwar, has recently retired from RAND. But he has also just published a paper on the prospects for cyberocracy, and is also now blogging at . Looking forward to reading both.