Sunday 01 June 2008

Leaving My Digital Footprint

Having recently celebrated my birthday, I reminisced about the memories of my own childhood in Hong Kong. After searching long for old personal memorabilia, I only found a handful of dated photographs taken of me as a baby and a young boy. The colors in the pictures had mostly faded, and many of the prints were badly cracked. There were no negatives kept for these photos because of the added film expense at the time. Looking back, I regret for not having kept a better pictorial record of myself—not for reasons of vanity, but for the prosperity of my family in the future.

Today, it is much easier for anyone to create and keep a record of one’s life (even after one’s death). This “digital footprint” can take the form of digital photographs, digital recordings of audio and video, digital scans of handwritten documents, personal blogs (such as this blog I am now writing), personal websites, and many other online presence. As technology and the internet continue to grow, so will our footprint left in this digital world. Unlike our ancestors, our legacy will not be pieced together by morsels of rotting artifacts buried in the earth but by streams of bits and bytes of digital information perpetually stored for eternity.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Family • Under Life • Under Tech
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Wednesday 01 August 2007

A Global Individual

Years ago, I chose to register my own name as a .com domain. At the time, I did it more for novelty than for a need to secure an identity for myself. For most people, the need to establish oneself as a global individual seems both superfluous and egotistical. Yet, as we choose to increasingly congregate in this global village (both virtual and real) of ours, we are also unwittingly forfeiting our individual identity to exist in this shared space. This is because, in the history of civilization, societies have never seen a need to establish a global system to identity their citizens. Such identities are not meant to be exploited by a government to control its people. Rather, they are meant to liberate the people to exist with a global presence so that any oppression of an individual can be openly challenged. Much like a global corporation that struggles to keep its brand, a global individual must fight to maintain a distinct identity. We cannot afford to be lost in this world, and the world cannot afford to lose us as individuals.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Tech • Under World
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Sunday 01 July 2007

Video Game Addiction: A Phantom Disease?

Last month the American Medical Association (AMA) rejected a controversial proposal to classify video game addition as a mental disorder. As both an avid gamer and a health professional myself, I applaud the decision by the AMA to instead recommend that more rigorous scientific research be done to study this phenomena (or epiphenomena). I make no claim to have any medical knowledge on addiction; still, I find it troublesome to label the overuse of video gaming as an addiction akin to alcohol or drug addiction. This is because the mere overuse or overindulgence of an activity, such as video gaming, cannot by itself define it to be an addiction. Not only such an act wrongly promotes a societal stereotype (of a video game “junkie"), the act of labeling (someone to have a disease when there is none) may even be medically harmful. It may lead to a misdiagnosis of an underlying illness (mental or physical) for which so-called video game addiction is simply an epiphenomena or a mere sign of an undiagnosed disease. Undoubtedly, there are rare cases of individuals (particularly adolescents) reported by the mainstream media in whom playing video games has led to addiction-like behaviors. In these cases, however, it is more (or equally) likely that these individuals are suffering from some other legitimate mental disorders for which playing video games has simply become a platform for the underlying disease to manifest. In other words, until science can validate such claims, diagnosing video addiction today may be akin to diagnosing “female hysteria” centuries ago, a practice that once led to the ludicrous use of pelvic massage to treat a phantom disease.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Health • Under Play • Under Tech • Under Work • Under World
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Tuesday 01 May 2007

Addicted To Technology: BlackBerry Or CrackBerry

Last month, Research In Motion suffered an unforeseen system failure that caused an interruption of its email service to all Canadian users of its BlackBerry devices. BlackBerrys are mobile devices widely used among business executives, professionals (including doctors and lawyers), and even politicians. Despite that the service interruption lasted only less than a day, the outage made much news in the mainstream media which reported many users to be suffering from the so-called CrackBerry withdrawal during the service outage. As a longtime avid technology user, I have been mindful not to let myself to grow addicted to using such a device, regardless of the potential great convenience that the device seemingly offers to its users. I believe that we must only use technology to enrich the lives we live but not to let technology dictate instead how our lives are to be lived daily. In this extreme, it is distributing to see that we can grow so attached on such technology, as if it replaces all real forms of human interactions in our desire to communicate. Rather, we must learn to detach ourselves from becoming the slaves of such technology, for otherwise we may find ourselves one day unable and unwilling to live our lives any other way without it.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Tech
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Sunday 01 April 2007

Why Are User-Generated Contents So Popular On The Internet?

The internet is increasingly becoming a platform for creative self-expression and exhibitionism. It has become a public stage for anyone who is willing to perform for the masses to see. Nowhere is this more true on the web than with the current popularity of user-generated contents in new media creation. Web services such as YouTube and Flickr allow users to upload and share self-made videos and photos online with anyone freely on the internet. The subject matters in these user-created media are often personal and frivolous, and the contents within are largely unfiltered and juvenile. Mostly, for the creators of these media, they serve little purpose except as a form of self-liberation. Equally, for the viewers of such contents, they serve little purpose except as a form of guilt-free voyeurism. In the extreme, this form of online exhibitionism uses live video and audio feeds to broadcast a person’s daily life, online and nonstop 24/7, on the internet. In effect, this is The Truman Show (an otherwise fictional drama) coming to real life. Perhaps we have always been preoccupied with the need to stroke our own ego, but it is not until now that the internet has provided such a simple means to soothe our own vanity.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Thursday 01 March 2007

The Binaries Of Life And Technology

Earlier this year Microsoft finally released the long-awaited computer operating system Windows Vista. With an installation base of more than 90% of all personal computers worldwide, this upgrade constitutes the largest consumer-based computer software implementation in history. Few companies, if any, in the technology industry enjoy the monopolistic dominance which Microsoft has in the computer software business. While companies that are in a position as Microsoft is in undoubtedly deliver innovative products to the benefits of consumers, the lack of competitions also means that consumers are left with little or no choice in what they can use. At a time when our daily lives are so intertwined with technology, most of which are dependent on software such as that made by Microsoft, it is frightening to speculate on the consequences of this dependency if a major breakdown ever occurs in the software on which our technology depends. Moreover, when there is only a single source or provider (Microsoft or otherwise) of the software that drives all of our technology, the risk of a breakdown and the magnitude of its consequences on our living are doubly increased. More than ever does our way of lives depend so readily on some binary strings of 1’s and 0’s in a computer program, written to serve a purpose larger than it is originally made to do.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Saturday 15 July 2006

Should The Internet Be Neutral?

Currently there is a heated debate among internet stakeholders on the merits of network or net neutrality. Although the term was only coined in 2005 by Tim Wu, the fundamentals of net neutrality actually dated back to when internet protocol was first conceived to guide data exchange across a global network. At the most basic level, net neutrality guarantees the indiscriminate delivery of information packets across the internet, regardless of their sources or destinations. Proponents of net neutrality, including many academics and Tim Berners-Lee (the father of the World Wide Web), have advocated such unrestricted access as a basic right of freedom to information. Opponents of net neutrality, such as the telecommunication industries, have argued for their right to rely on market economics to prioritize access to information on the internet. The latter is based on existing practice by common carriers, such as in cable television, where consumers are charged to pay differently depending on the level of content delivery. However, such argument ignores the fundamental differences between the internet and traditional media channel on how information reaches its consumers. As an avid consumer, my right to access such information must never be determined by economics or politics. Any challenge to this right is simply censorship, regardless of the regulatory disguise under which this censorship may hide.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech
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Wednesday 15 March 2006

Accessing The Global Village Of Internet

Earlier this month the city of Toronto in Canada announced a plan to implement citywide wireless hotspot access to the internet. The plan would use radio access transmitting points mounted on street lamps to provide of a blanket of WiFi (Wireless Fidelity) coverage throughout the city to the public. The service would be run by a municipal-industry partnership between the city and Toronto Hydro. Such an initiative is similar to those already introduced in several other cities in North America, including San Francisco and Philadelphia. If successful, this framework will bring Toronto one step closer to the true vision of the Global Village put forth by Marshall McLuhan in 1961. Yet, while the ideal of a Global Village has been thoroughly debated to date, the practice to which this vision should be carried out has not been properly eluded. This is because any mass exposure of new technology is prone to be abused by a few individuals attempting to take advantage of the innocent public who is less familiar with such technology. For an electronic medium such as the internet, policing against such frauds and abuses on a global scale may not likely be possible. Without due diligence to implement measures ahead that will protect the public, I am afraid that this Global Village can easily be poisoned and all of us who live in it will pay an unwanted price for a technology that we still do not fully understand.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Monday 19 December 2005

Is Public Domain Knowledge Database Ready For Public Consumption?

Wikipedia is the poster child of public domain knowledge database. Found in 2001 by Jimmy Wales, the utilitarian goal of this “free” online encyclopaedia is to provide a platform where the “total” knowledge of humankind can be permanently recorded for prosperity. To keep up to date, this online knowledge repository can be continuously edited by anyone who chooses to contribute. With the increasing use of Wikipedia by the public, critics of Wikipedia have raised concerns about the credibility of such public domain knowledge database where no one truly polices the accuracy of the information within.

In November, the trustworthiness of Wikipedia was seriously called into question in an USA Today exposé by John Seigenthaler Sr., a former assistant of Robert Francis Kennedy, about his discovery of a false entry in the online encyclopedia in which he was implicated in the assassination of both Senator Kennedy and his brother President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Last week, the New York Times reported the perpetrator to be Brain Chase, who entered the false information into Wikipedia as a gag directed against the eminent Seigenthaler family in Nashville where Chase lives. This single act of sabotage exposes the vulnerability of Wikipedia in that the information within can easily be falsified by anyone for unethical gains.

In contrast, the accuracy of Wikipedia on scientific information appears to fair better. In a research paper just published from the prestigious scientific journal Nature, a peer-review comparison between Wikipedia and Britannica Encyclopedia on their contents across a board range of scientific disciplines found that the difference in accuracy between the two encyclopaedias was only small. On average, a scientific entry in Wikipedia contained about four errors as compared with three errors in a scientific entry in Britannica.

The creation of a public domain knowledge base such as Wikipedia is of great benefit to humankind. With proper safeguard to ensure the accuracy of its content, further development of such database should be actively encouraged and not prematurely abandoned because of “teething” problems.

By Philip Jong • At 12:01 AM • Under Column • Under Tech • Under World
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Monday 28 November 2005

Is Xbox 360 A Heed To True Convergence?

The dominance of Microsoft in personal computing is undeniable. The launch of the Xbox 360 last week marks the next effort following the original Xbox by Microsoft to dominate the personal gaming market. Its competitors are the Sony Playstation 3 and Nintendo Revolution that are not due out until 2006. More than a gaming console, the new Xbox differentiates itself from other systems by also billing its own to be the ultimate convergence device for all digital media—music, video, and pictures. Little attention, however, has been given to the “social” convergence that this device may bring. While the powerful hardware of the Xbox 360 is no doubt a technological marvel, its Xbox Live service may turn out to be the “killer” architecture that will bring on true convergence. The development of a persistent online community with its Live Marketplace creates an unique social construct through which gamers around the world can interact seamlessly with each other without ever meeting face to face. Over time, this social convergence beyond any geographical border will make a greater impact on our young generation than any technological convergence such machine may bring. Regardless of which platform emerges as the winner of this console war, ultimately it will be the social and not technological impact it may make that will determine its legacy.

By Philip Jong • At 07:12 AM • Under Column • Under Life • Under Play • Under Tech • Under World
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