Friday, 30 May 2014

Teens take the Internet for granted. They believe that it's their birthright. Why not? They have never known a world without it.

He is connected to the most powerful network 
that has ever existed just to interact with his friends.

Some thoughts about Internet use by pubescents and teenagers. 

My own grandchildren all have smart cell phones, iPads and some have portable computers. The oldest is 16 and the other seven are recent new teenagers and younger. It is a normal part of lives to use this networked technology. They don't know a world without it. It’s routine.

Students with smart phones and pads are constantly connected to the most complex two way broadband network that has ever existed. We know of no other experience like this in human history save the introductions of printing in the middle 16th Century which created an almost glacial change to society. 

This was followed by electric based broadcast radio and later TV which was faster in its socio-political impact when it brought the Vietnam and presidential assassinations into our living rooms. Now a two way broadband network can instantly stream video of a school dance indiscretion to the world.

Grade 7 and 8 pubescents are connected to this endless ever expanding network and use it to define their social norms with each other as they mature towards relationships. What they develop becomes networked social norms and values. In fact their growth towards adulthood may well be formed not only by direct human interaction but by these socially taut mediated network experiences. This is a phenomenon that needs a lot more study.

Children this age know the techniques but not the outcomes of these cyber techniques. I  know from my questions to them, that they understand the surface of this network but do not realize that the personal profiling that social media providers build about their users profiles them for life. They don't realize that future employers now see this trail of social interactions as fuel for their hiring decisions.

Instant tweets of bullying are compounded by these networked connections. It has created recent cyber bullying legislation as governments react to tragedies. This is the result of young impressionable teenagers first warning of a suicide and then actually doing it. And before they commit suicide they do a show on YouTube with cue cards expressing their angst.

Living a cyber life or a mediated life through the network can be dangerous. Selfies, comments all expressed in a short hand cyber language indicates that the medium is clearly the message as it redefines social interactions. To be negatively featured on Tweets and Facebook has had drastic outcomes. When bullying was confined to the school yard or neighbourhood it was manageable. Now that it posted on a network and it compounds literally at the speed of light and becomes unmanageable by anyone.

This is the first time in history that culture develops using a networked cyber techniques. The implications of this technology in the hands of impressionable sensitive kids is now being seen by the increase in suicides. 

School is now a real life drop in centre. Kids attend real school but remain connected to the internet. School becomes a convenient WiFi connection centre. Teachers are now using the internet with their tech savvy students to advance educational opportunities. The extent  that curricula is also integrated into the internet is growing and it to has implications to learning when it is cyber focused. Anything this network touches is transformed.

Certainly constant networking via cyber techniques will redefine culture.  This is normal for anyone born after 1985. Internet is "normal" to a pre millennium 20 somethings. Everyone born after 2000 does not know a world that is not networked. 

This change to society not only a first world phenomenon. Third world cell phone and now smart phone use is very large and also not expensive as I found out in 2010 on a visit to Egypt. 

Cell phones were everywhere even in remote areas at the bottom of the country on Lake Nasser. When the Arab Spring started in 2011 the Egyptian authorities tried to turn off the cell phone networks and the internet. Much of the protest of the Mubarak regime was fuelled by either cell phone networks or the internet social media.

Social change comes to our kids using powerful networks for their social interactions as much as socio-political change occurs when and where these technologies are available. You cannot have a broadband networks running 24/7 worldwide without creating changes to how humans interact with each other. What is personal  can quickly become viral and takes off on tangents never intended by the person who posted the information.

© Copyright 2014 Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Before the World Wide Web really got rolling there was the hard work of developing the content of the new medium. Pioneering content is not always profitable.

The original menu of the TVOntario Telidon Project.

A sample of Telidon graphics on a standard NTSC television.

The Information Age: The timing of innovation and the introduction of ancillary technologies really make it possible for a new medium to develop. Here is an account of such a time ten years before the World Wide Web was launched. 

 by Tom Thorne

In 1982 the concepts for the World Wide Web was still only in the heads of a few people such as Tim Berners-Lee. The idea was current in very limited academic and military circles. Those in the know thought it might become a networked system for general use about ten years in the future. That time line turned out to be relatively correct when the web took off in the middle 1990's.

During the 1980's I began to work on Telidon systems which had started out in the fertile labs of the Canadian Federal Department of Communications (DOC). The DOC labs were involved in the science of how digital information could be transported over television signals and telephone lines. 

What made the DOC work really interesting was they saw this effort not as a text based system, such as the work of the BBC in Britain and other experiments like Antiope in France, but as a series of graphic primitives combined with text. In effect they pioneered the way web graphics and text are largely done today but at the lower resolution of NTSC North American television standards.

This clever notion suggested that a new digital graphic and text medium would be born. Combined with the first web work mentioned earlier, this idea was very promising. In 1981 I had visited Britain in my capacity as Director of Information for TVOntario to look at their alpha mosaic (text based graphics) service they had put up in prototype. They had two systems, one on line by telephone and Ceefax which stored its digital content in the blanking interval of a television picture.

I liked both BBC services when I saw them and immediately thought of the Telidon work going on in Ottawa as a natural extension using more sophisticated graphics and text than the British systems. The Canadian system was technically more advanced than the BBC. However the British had already produced content on line and across their broadcasting network which gave them a leading editorial application edge.

It was at this moment that TVOntario got involved in a Telidon project which would insert our networked television blanking interval with about 100 pages of information. Simultaneously we decided to  create an online telephone content with a trial called VISTA sponsored by Bell Canada. Soon we were joined by a CBC project and the digital media world was born. 

We worked very hard on our services producing pages of content for both of these new services. The promise of the television blanking interval system was having student or teacher notes to accompany an educational program imbedded in the broadcast. A Telidon box attached to the TV could bring them up on the screen. Much of our TVOntario work focused on these kinds of application along with weather and our broadcast schedule.

The VISTA trial with Bell took us into the world of telephone dial up digital services. The big problem of these systems was the slowness, even at 1500 baud, of our pictures. We knew very early that something had to give on the speed front if these services online were to be commercially viable. 

We saw the future one day at the DOC labs. It was fibre optic phone or cable TV lines. In all technologies there are promising starts but the online world as we know it now can only be achieved if line speeds are fast and fibre optics was the answer. 

Fibre optics was an infrastructure logistics problem that took Canadian telcos and cable companies the next decade to install. Only then could the web be available with any kind of viable wait times.

After I had worked on the TVOntario Telidon Project I was approached by some people who wanted to use Telidon for commercial applications. Their plan was to provide a stock market charting service using this technology. It meant that they could get some help from the Federal Department of Communications for equipment. They had also had a bite from Statistics Canada who also wanted to provide their information in chart form.

I joined this group in 1982  and we named the company Faxtel Information Systems Ltd.
We began to write the software for a Telidon-based charting and graphing service and it went very well due to some former Bell Labs people and some excellent free lance software experts in the VAX-VMS operating systems.

The stock market charts we produced were revolutionary. Technical analysis experts were literally blown away that we could instantly chart all major stock market historical data right up to the day's closing numbers. Not only that, we could put other useful statistical lines through the charts that indicated trends for technical analysts.

Before our system, which we dubbed Marketfax, technical analysis was done by hand. One service that felt threatened by our new service put out a weekly booklet of charts for the market. They worried that their business was now passé. By computerizing their business we had made their weekly chart book a dodo. We thought their expertise in interpreting charted market data was invaluable and we offered them a terminal and an association with us. They refused.

We very soon had terminals in six Toronto brokerages and in several sites in New York. We also pioneered the use of the first  1984 Apple Macintosh computer as an intelligent terminal for Marketfax. This was a radical step because we wrote software to make this happen that meant that Apple personal computers could access our services on line. It was the first  service specific App.

However our market was limited to those brokers who did technical analysis of the the stock markets. Not every brokerage had such a person on staff and so our excellent product had a limited market.  Technical analysts were very keen to have one of terminals and high rollers paid for it themselves rather than wait for their firms to provide it.

Marketfax was a MiniVAX head end software package that drew raw data from stock market databases on mainframe computers and massaged it into usable dynamic graphic charts. The important change in this service was the user defined aspect. Customers chose what charts they wanted and how to display them for decisions. That is what dynamic means.  

We drew the raw data from mainframe storage companies for one cent and sold it for six cents. Marketfax was the first service of its kind and it is now commonplace within the investment community. After the first year the raw data providers wanted more money for their data because our service added value.

A bright spot for our fledging firm was a contract we got from Statistics Canada to chart their data. This was a great help to keep our  business afloat. Although our systems were excellent we had the usual start up problems of limited capital and a tight technical analysis marketplace. Several offers came from stock market firms to buy us out but no real interest in long term development of our firm Faxtel.

About this time I began to plan a post Marketfax set of  services for Faxtel to develop. One major service I saw was Economic Development for municipalities. Our charting expertise would be applicable in this project  and we could sell to companies that were looking to locate a factory.  

The information on this service would be drawn from statistical data like the sources we used for the stock market. In addition we would provide editorial material about each community. This service would be online and would first cover Ontario and then the rest of Canada. It could be cloned for any jurisdiction once it was running. However this project ran afoul of governments who held this data and didn’t want to release it to a private company.

All of these services are available today. The point is that all services and technologies have their time and space when they are commercially viable or come into a time when it is obvious to produce a service. 

The World Wide Web provided the opportunity to develop a new medium and that has happened. At the beginning most of the websites were purely informational. Very few interacted with the customer to the level of Marketfax. Even fewer websites were transactional and could take an order.

My early work in an interactive service was instrumental in what came in the next decade and my work before that with TVOntario always makes me think that in a certain space and time innovation sometimes has a long way to go before it is viable. I left Faxtel in 1984 and came to a college to teach digital marketing. Over the past 30 years all marketing has become digitally based.

A useful book about the early World Wide Web:
Weaving the Web The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Its Inventor, Tim Berners-Lee with Mark Fischetti, Harper Collins Publishers, San Francisco, 1999, ISBN 0-06-251586. Paperback: ISBN 0-06-251587X

A web site about early Telidon projects:

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Spirituality is changing because of the Information Age. It is all becoming "me" centred.

Information Age Spirituality: Personalized religion is here to stay.

by Tom Thorne

In the past I have made the point that one of the outcomes of the Information Age is a more personal focus on all aspects of life. This situation is brought about by highly personalized digital media largely focused on the individual and their needs and wants. Life events are focused as a series of "selfies".

This phenomenon may account for the much more personal view that people have towards how they see metaphysics and God. They now do not need a church liturgy or structure to have highly personalized ideas about spirituality and ethical behaviours. They can do it themselves without the benefit of clergy or if they go to a church for help they ask clergy to adapt to their personal spiritual and religious ideas.

Pentecostal church attendance has grown mainly because they enable ways for people to define and focus their personal views and find their way to come to Jesus. Other churches maintain a formula way to God which has less appeal than finding your personal Saviour.

Churches with hierarchical liturgies are in decline because contemporary people have to fit into a way of thinking rather than define and tailor their own. Decline is also partially due in North America and Europe to an aging demographic. Younger people are less evident in hierarchical places of worship. 

However, they seem to have a sense that life, death, and events like births,  and marriages need some kind of ceremony. The actual regular attendance at churches and other places of worship has fallen off. Church is now a drop in centre where liturgical services are accessed as needed.

This change may be a result of the downgraded  influence and importance of hierarchical structures in daily life. It may also be  the general dislike people now have for top down ways to worship. One thing is certain attendance at church is falling as most clergy can attest. 

Because people do not attend places of worship it does not mean that they have abandoned goodness or abandoned themselves to wanton lifestyles. They have personalized how they deal with ethical matters and religious ideas.  Some see nature as a spiritual experience. Some focus on their families and children without the benefit of clergy and formal churches, often bringing up highly motivated and ethical children. Church is often Christmas and Easter services that evoke some ethereal connection to another time and place. 

They don't like rituals or formal services. They tend to take over wedding liturgies of churches and tailor them with their own vows to each other. They ask traditional clergy to do untraditional things with their formal services such as having a wedding outside of the church or allowing people to comment and make highly personal commitments concerning their union.

I have seen a Roman Catholic priest deal with two funerals both held at a funeral home. The children provided input to the priest about what they wanted to do for their parent's funeral and the priest wove the traditional Catholic commitment service into their ideas as best he could. When I quizzed the priest about this he said that he would rather do something than nothing. He also said that the children had no real idea about Catholic practice for a funeral and so the starting point was to listen to what they wanted. The children simply wanted to honour their parents who were practicing Catholics.

Nothing was really compromised. The service turned out to be respectful and a refreshing celebration of life. It never occurred to the children that what they wanted for their parent's funeral was wrong or stressed out any church principles. They personalized what they thought was appropriate and in this case it turned out well if not really a traditional Catholic funeral.

Doing your own thing is an effect of the Information Age. If you need a wedding or a funeral you Google the topic where you will find a plethora of notions, ideas and ways to do the job. Then you pick and choose what you think is appropriate for you. It is very "me" focused which is a feature of the children of the Information Age. Information technologies are so ubiquitous today that they will be the toolkit to redefine deeper thoughts and spirituality of their users.

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Rethinking aboriginal education may need more than Bill 33. The federal government should transfer aboriginal education to the provinces. Then the funding would be equitable.

Well educated aboriginal youth are the key to Canada's 
prosperity and the security of aboriginal culture.

A modest proposal for First Nation education.

by Tom Thorne

The Federal Government has jurisdiction over First Nation’s education. Over the years funding for this activity has remained at about 50 percent of the provincial funding per student compared with the rest of Canadians. This is clearly inequitable and unacceptable in contemporary Canada.

The federal government, allegedly  because of the resignation of Assembly of First Nations grand chief Shawn Atleo, is sitting on Bill 33 until the native organization or chiefs can decide what their views of this education legislation will finally be. In short any hope for improvement to native education controlled by the Federal Government is now in limbo. However this legislation only continues federal control of education funding to status native people. That needs to change.

Native Canadians are caught in the wiles and tortured history of the federal Indian Act. They retain even with this new Bill 33 a paternal relationship with the Federal Government that at this time is becoming untenable. The federal government through the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development retains funding control over status first nations education.

My modest proposal is straight forward. Since education is a provincial responsibility and native people have the franchise in both federal and provincial elections like all Canadians, it is a simple matter to transfer the responsibility for education to the provinces. That act would ensure that native students receive equitable funding per student. The federal government can transfer their funding to provincial ministries of education. Reserves could have their own school boards.

The truth is many native status people already access provincially funded educational services especially at the secondary and post secondary level. This change of jurisdiction from federal to provincial would mean that equitable funding for K-12 would be in place for all native students. Each provincial curricula could include useful course material about native history and issues. In some cases, such as Ontario, this has already happened.

Ultimately the history of the Indian Act and all other land settlements with First Nations creates a kind of apartheid in Canada. At some point all Canadians must share equitable access to services such as education and health. The special status either from treaties or from land claims with native people in this country is a hinderance to a long range view of equity for all Canadian citizens including aboriginal people.

In the future Canadians from all origins should share a common set of services from their federal and provincial governments. This does not mean that aboriginal people surrender their heritage and culture. It doesn't mean that they have to experience a melting pot. What it does mean is native Canadians get equal opportunity for education that is properly funded by the provinces.

Ultimately aboriginal Canadians must be seen as full Canadian citizens not wards of the state. This means that there will have to be a special effort to reach remote reserves with educational services that are equal in quality and funding to any other Canadian citizen's rights. Much could be done to enable this by skillful use of the Internet and other educational media to bring contemporary curricula to remote reserves.

The poverty found on remote reserves in this country is appalling. The biggest contributor to this poverty is the lack of meaningful education and the aggravated drop out rate of aboriginal teenagers who lose hope. 

Infrastructure issues such as good housing and water are simply unacceptable if students on these remote reserves are to really benefit from educational services. However education is always a weapon to break poverty cycles and it should now be delivered to status native people by each provincial education ministry not the federal government. 

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, 12 May 2014

The Rob and Doug Ford show descends to new levels of despair. Is there any rehab for this new revelation?

Rob and Doug Ford share equally in the public relations
nightmare they have created for The City of Toronto.

Rob Ford: A public and media relations debacle.

by Tom Thorne

Ho hum. In this morning's Globe and Mail there is a story about Rob Ford yet again. This time the Globe and Mail alleges that while the mayor and his brother Doug served as members of Toronto City Council they helped a client of their private business, Deco Labels and Tags, get a tax break from city officials.

This type of story combined with Rob Ford's various escapades with public drunkenness and alleged use of illegal drugs would have killed the political prospects of most politicians.

Rob Ford’s blatantness and penchant for saying he is sorry over and over seems to set him up for some kind of sympathy if not with fellow politicians certainly with some segments of his "Ford Nation" constituency. 

Just what sticks in the minds of the "Ford Nation" seems to be a kind of mindless approval of a big guy on a constant tear just being good old Rob. Well now that Rob Ford is in rehab there may be some hope that what emerges from this process will be a more reasonable and level headed Rob Ford.

While Rob Ford is in rehab his name remains on the ballot as a candidate for mayor of Toronto this fall. While he undergoes treatment for his addictions we are still faced with the prospect that he will emerge for the election a newly made man. A kind of Ford phoenix rising from his ashes of excess.

That may suit the "Ford Nation" people who will see him as refreshed and ready to take on the big spenders again at Toronto City Hall. His return to active politics has however wider implications for the good name of Toronto.

Rob Ford and his antics has sullied the name of Toronto not only here but in the United States and around the world. The fact that he couldn't be removed from office at the height of his goofy antics makes Toronto and Ontario look bad and ineffective.

The optics of Rob Ford re-elected this fall is a way for Toronto to fall further as a world class city. Rob Ford's buffoonery on US network television earlier this year was a net loss for Toronto. There is no way that any amount of public and media relations work can rebuild any kind of reputation for Toronto if Rob Ford is returned as mayor.

If his brother Doug Ford, now a Toronto city councillor, threw his hat into the mayoral ring rather than Rob Ford that might be marginally better. However Doug Ford is also stained with Rob's antics because Doug is his constant apologizer and protector. From a public and media relations point of view both Ford brothers are tainted and carry too much negative baggage.

Doug Ford would carry the baggage of his brother he he made an attempt to run for mayor instead of Rob.  Now with new allegations this morning the Fords look like political dynamite with a lit fuse.

What ever happens with the Fords the City of Toronto loses. It is a public and media relations lose-lose proposition. They can only bluff and duck allegations  about what has happened before Rob Ford entered rehab. Now with this new concern today bluff and bravado won’t do it anymore.

Toronto needs a Ford free civic election this fall if there is any hope of recouping the damage of the last year or so. No amount of Ford bluster or promises can do anything positive for the City of Toronto. The Ford brothers should return to the label business which would go a long way to help Toronto recover its reputation as a world class city.

© Copyright 2014, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.