I admit my emotions took me by surprise when I took my oldest daughter to her first day of Kindergarten this past week. I found myself blinking back the tears as we packed her snack in her new backpack; and when I saw her sitting at her little desk for the first time, I had to concentrate hard not to lose it. I was reassured by the sight of other moms and dads that seemed to be in the same boat - grappling with this major milestone.
It's not just the realization that your child is growing up, it's the fact that they are on their way to becoming an individual and are starting to make their own way in the world. In this Digital Information Age, that way is constantly evolving, growing in scope, both in terms of possibilities and challenges. While the opportunities are unpredented for us to participate and succeed on a global scale, there is also competition unlike anything we have ever seen from the global community.
Every parent wants to do what is best for their children and give them the skills and confidence they need to go out and succeed in the world. An education represents one of the foundational steps on that path, and as such it arguably plays the single largest role in preparing our children to participate in the global economy. Which is why stats, such as the those released <a href="http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/11/19/US-slipping-in-education-rankings/UPI-90221227104776/">last November </a> by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which placed the United States 18th among the 36 nations examined, are troubling.
(I recognize there are so many ways to rank schools - just look at the litany of higher education <a href="http://www.library.illinois.edu/edx/rankings/rankint.html"></a> rankings - and it is often hard to draw a lot of meaningful conclusions from the results, however, they are good indicators and can help draw attention to potential issues that need scrutiny and action. Note, OECD plans to publish the <a href="http://www.oecd.org/document/59/0,3343,en_2649_37455_43590267_1_1_1_1,00.html">2009 edition of Education at a Glance </a>next week, Sept. 8th to be exact.)
There are huge debates around exactly what changes are needed to improve our eductional systems, but one thing is constant, we need to modernize and better leverage technology to give our children every advantage to compete in this Digital Age. Broadband penetration is critical to ensure everyone has access to the global information, resources and opportunities available online. It probably isn't a coincidence that South Korea, <a href="http://www.networkworld.com/news/2008/072408-broadband-penetration-gartner-study.html?hpg1=bn">whichaccording to Gartner has a broadband penetration of 97%</a>, also moved to the top of OECD's rankings, with 93 percent of high school students graduating on time.
Extending broadband into the classroom and integrating technology into curricula is proven to <a href="http://www.edutopia.org/teaching-module-technology-integration-why">improve teaching and learning </a> (take a look at the recent <a href="http://ssw.stanford.edu/">Stanford Study of Writing</a>, which found that young people today tend to write more than any other generation), it is also vital for the ongoing competitiveness of generations to come in the global economy. It extends the reach of learning, helping people of all ages get the skills and information they need when they need it. It has the potential to bring greater interactivity, personalization and relevancy into the educational process. The possibilities, like the technology itself, are endless.
So, as I dropped my daughter off, I took comfort in the computer with the Ethernet cable that sat in the corner of the room and got oddly excited by the computer lab. No doubt about it, the world we live in has gone digital. It is our collective responsibility to make sure we arm our children with the technological tools they need to effectively make the most of it, then just think of where the imaginations and innovations of my kindergartner and her fellow classmates around the world are going to take us!
Sarah is the author of The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet. The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.
I haven't been able to get the recent New York Times article, "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/magazine/23Women-t.html?_r=1&hp#">the Women's Crusade</a>," by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, out of my mind. It's not the stories or statistics that haunt me - though I admit upon reading, they simultaneously made my heart ache and my blood boil. It's the realization that so little has changed over the years. Why is it that with all of our modern day advances, we have been unable to truly move the plight of women forward around the world? Why is the brutality tolerated?
None of what they reported is really new... <a href="http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economics/laureates/1998/sen-autobio.html">Amartya Sen's </a>analysis that was referenced in the article estimated more than 100 million missing women in the world back in 1990. In 2002, <a href="http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/violence/world_report/en/summary_en.pdf">the World Health Organization's World Report on Violence and Health</a> identified "in surveys from around the world, 10-69% of women report being physically assaulted by an intimate male partner at some point in their lives." And then there are the myriad of reports on <a href="http://www.iast.net/thefacts.htm">women and children trafficking </a>, bride burnings and general acts of oppression that come out from time to time (though not frequently or prominently enough, if you ask me):
---Interpol estimated in 2001 it generates $19 billion annuallly
---India's National Crime Records statistics found over 58,000 incidents of dowry harassment and over 6,700 dowry murders in 2005 - which is up significantly from just ten years earlier - in 1994 there were 25,946 cases of dowry harassment and 4,935 recorded dowry deaths
---Women are routinely denied an education and marginalized both within their immediate family units and the society at large (<a href="http://www.hrw.org/">Human Rights Watch </a>periodically publishes statistics)
What's alarming is that despite laws being passed, such as the Indian Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961, and international pressure being applied, such as <a href="http://www.amnesty.org/en/campaigns/stop-violence-against-women">Amnesty International's Stop Violence Against Women</a> campaign, the statistics have remained the same (and are even on the rise in some areas) for so long. Why? Deep rooted attitudes and social norms persist that allow for the continued brutality, held in place, in large part, by impoverished conditions that provide very few possibilities for improvement (real or perceived).
While awareness and pressures to create change are critical, real change will likely only come when there is greater opportunity. And this is where the network can play a role. As the network permeates more and more parts of the world, it can be used to connect women to the information and resources they need to create opportunities for improvement. It opens up access - to education, social services and the world's markets. All of which are critical components for the disruption of the devastaing cycles of subjugation and violence against women. As noted, in the article, when women have control they tend to spend the money on food, shelter, health care and education, all of which create healthier children and a more productive society.
One key is create the economic opportunities. While "<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/magazine/23Women-t.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=print">critics note that there has been no correlation between amounts of aid going to countries and their economic growth rates</a>," there certainly is a correlation between broadband penetration and economic potential. In fact, its one reason broadband penetration is a leading economic indicator (<a href="http://www.oecd.org/document/54/0,3343,en_2649_34225_38690102_1_1_1_1,00.html">see OECD statistics</a>), used to determine a country's overall vibrancy. So, what if we did a better job of combining programs that extend the network's access with those that target women.
For example, the success that microfinancing, targeted towards women, has had on combatting poverty has been well documented. The network makes it easy to extend the model to locations where traditional financial institutions and infrastructure may not exist. It's the basis for the success of organizations like <a href="http://www.kiva.org">Kiva.org </a>and <a href="http://www.villagebanking.org/site/c.erKPI2PCIoE/b.2394109/k.BEA3/Home.htm">FINCA</a> - who have made it easy for people to go online and make a difference in the lives of enterprising people around the world. What if we did more of that?
What if we placed more emphasis on creating access to the network and teaching women to use it to get the information and ongoing support they need? (Note, use of technology wasn't even mentioned in the NY Times article.) Now, I recognize there are basic needs that need to be met first, however, think how much a cell phone - which can deliver news, local market prices, health care alerts, weather, etc. - could help. Or how many women and children could benefit from all the information and connections they can make via the web - e.g. online tutorials, educational materials, social services and resources, etc.? Shouldn't efforts try to include a network (and technology) component to help extend the education and general outreach efforts? The goal is to create sustainable change, and we already know, from our own lives that the network is good at doing that.
You have probably seen the headlines about the largest-ever identity theft scheme that was just broken up by federal officials. The crime ring hacked into the databases of some of the U.S.'s largest companies (7-Eleven, Heartland Payment Systems, Hannaford Brothers and a couple others that weren't named) and stole financial data (think credit and debit card information) on more than 130 million individuals.
Albert Gonzalez and two cohorts (which stayed in touch evidently by using Instant Messaging) would then turn around and try to make purchases or withdrawals with the information or sell it to other enterprising criminals. The scheme wasn't a one time thing - it went on from Oct. 2006 until May of 2008 (<a href="http://media.nbclocalmedia.com/documents/Indictment.pdf">here's the indictment</a>). This means repeated intrusions into sensitive databases, which in theory should have been protected by the security machinations and experts of each company.
I wish this was just a one time thing, but I am afraid it is simply indicative of what's to come. There are a lot of indicators that attacks are on the rise and they are getting more and more sophisticated (according to an Aladdin eSafe CSRT study in 2008, spyware was found to be doubling every month - and that's just one attack type). The network's ability to support so many different users, devices and applications and to extend the reach of all who use it also makes it a harder environment to control and protect. Mixed in with all the good that the network enables, is bad and malicious traffic (such as Albert's SQL attacks and malware).
It is critical we do all we can to secure the network, particularly as more and more of our personal and professional business is conducted online - <a href="http://www.iab.net/about_the_iab/recent_press_releases/press_release_archive/press_release/pr-061009-value">in the U.S. alone, there are estimates that the "ad-supported Internet" contributes $300 billion to the econom</a>y. As we increasingly rely on the network to do almost everything, from buying a home to finding a date, we need to have confidence in the fidelity of these activities, which requires all of us to take some responsibility for the overall network.
Individuals, businesses and governments alike need to play a role in trying to protect the information that flows over the network. However, we also all need to be realistic - nothing is totally secure. There are risks to the physical world (when you hand your credit card over to that waiter, whose to say they aren't going out back and making a copy... when you put your valuables in a safety deposit box, whose to say it can't be stolen in a bank heist), and their are risks to the digital one. We need to be aware of the risks, do what we can to mitigate them, and then understand that it's a process that's constantly evolving. As such, we need to have ways to effectively deal with breaches when they happen (and they will) and then, just as in the physical world, the vigilance and fortitude to seek justice.
This, in my mind, is why this identify theft case is so interesting - law enforcement was involved and committed to prosecuting the case. To date, that seems to be the exception versus the rule. Only 60% of the respondents to the <a href="http://www.gocsi.com/">ComputerSecurity Institute's annual survey</a> said they attempted to identify the perpetrator of an attack on their network and only 27% actually reported incidents to a law enforcement agency of any kind (citing the incidents were either too small, or they didn't think law enforcement could help, or they wanted to avoid negative publicity). This thinking has to change.
Companies need to be held accountable, but they also need to be able to disclose incidents without being unduly punished. We need to know about the risks and then take the precautions to do all we can to mitigate them. The responsibility is on all of us. We will only use the network, if we trust it, and we are only going to trust it if we have a system in place that can protect and defend it. It is absolutely critical for the sustainability of the network that its security continues to evolve and keep pace with both the inventiveness of the hackers and the innovation of all its users.
Sarah is the author of The Sustainable Network: The Accidental Answer for a Troubled Planet. The Sustainable Network demonstrates how we can tackle challenges, ranging from energy conservation to economic and social innovation, using the global network -- of which the public Internet is just one piece. This book demystifies the power of the network, and issues a strong call to action.
In the recent <a href="http://www.economist.com/">Economist </a>there is an article, "Iraq's freedoms under threat: Could a police state return?" that takes a look at some of the slippery slopes the country is traveling down that could affect the future freedoms of the Iraqi people. Among those threatened is the unfettered access to the power of the Internet; the Iraqi government announced they are going to censor imported books as well as the Internet to prevent "hate credos and pornography." Internet cafes are being forced to register users, taking away some of the protective anonymity that bloggers and e-mailers have used to make sure their opinions and voices are heard.
Now, these attempts to control access and content on the Internet is not unique to any one government or country. As I discuss in <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Sustainable-Network-Accidental-Answer-Troubled/dp/0596157037/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1252514403&sr=8-1">my book</a> there are many countries around the world that see censoring the Internet as one of the "protective services" they can offer their constituents. China, Thailand, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, to name just a few, have been known to regularly block content that they deem dangerous and objectionable.
Even in the U.S., where we are fiercely protective of our individual freedoms, we have seen evidence of how easy it is to start going down the slippery slope. Given all the confusing information that is out and about on the topic of healthcare, it seems innocent enough for the current administration to ask people to send alerts to email@example.com when they see something online on healthcare reform "that seems fishy." However, when you think about it, this isn't too many steps removed from the efforts of other governments (a.k.a. Iran, China or Singapore) that identify and then try to stop information that they deem dangerous, inappropriate or not in the best interests of their citizens. Who decides what is okay? What is fishy - is it any opposing view? What will be done with the information? What is the recourse?
Now, I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/Facts-Are-Stubborn-Things/">requestfrom the administration </a> was not meant to deter free speech (based on the administration's earlier attempts to come up with ways to fight censorship; see <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jun/30/us-firms-aiding-censorship">Obama's call for stopping Internet censorship</a>, which we can discuss in a later blog). The reality is there are consequences that can result from even a seemingly innocuous request such as this one. When governments start policing the content traversing the network, there is the risk it will chill and even stymy the open, free exchange of information that represents the transformative force of the network. The power of the network is that it levels the playing field and enables everyone to have a voice and a way to participate in the public dialogue.
We may not agree with all the views all the time, but the fact that someone has an unfettered way to say them actually benefits us all. Think about Iran - <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/iran-liveblogging">without the network</a>, we would not have seen firsthand what transpired after the presidential election and we would not know what the individuals rioting on the street protesting the results were thinking. If it were <a href="http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/economy/ap/51587502.html">up to the Iranian government</a>, which tried desperately to stop any opposing information from getting out, we would never know the opposition's view.
Granted, I acknowedge lines need to be drawn to protect us from that which is truly harmful - for example, I applaud and want to make available every resource possible to those who are responsible for hunting down and stopping each and every child predator out there. But we have to be very careful about where we place the lines. We need a considerate debate on how far we want to go. Which personal freedoms should be protected at all cost? What are we willing to risk? These are not easy questions to tackle, particularly on a global scale. But the network is a global tool and its transformative power is based on its ability to freely connect people, resources and ideas. We need to protect the right for all to access it to make sure that it remains a platform that can sustain greater freedoms and opportunities that benefit us all.
You can't go anywhere these days without hearing snippets of the healthcare debate - what should and shouldn't be a part of any government plan, the promise and the challenges of universal healthcare (which would extend access to the 50 million people currently uninsured in the U.S.), the potential ins and outs of legislation currently on the drawing board, etc. The options can be dizzying and there is much confusion around what is even up for debate The Daily Show for a little comic relief).
In the face of all this uncertainty, one thing that is certain is technology (Health IT) is going to play a large role in the transformation and advancement of the every day health and wellness of individuals around the world. Just think of all the information that is already accessible to help individuals learn about and manage their health (ever go to WebMD or your health provider's Web site?) Then think about all the information that can be digitized and linked to create relationships and uncover trends or connections that can lead to improved diagnoses and treatments. (There's a fun story on mapping our genomes from the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/magazine/11Genome-t.html?pagewanted=8&_r=1">New York Times</a> that can get the brain turning.) The possibilities truly open up when all of this information is at the fingertips of every doctor, from wherever they are, and can be quickly applied to improve the treatment of patients everywhere.
Healthcare organizations are starting to recognize the potential and integrate the network and the healthcare applications it enables into their patient care and future plans. I think U.S. provider <a href="http://xnet.kp.org/future">Kaiser Permanente</a> articulates their vision and the role technology plays in that vision well: "We need data, connectivity, accessibility, and absolute confidentiality. We need real time data to support patient care. We need systems that provide medical science as well as medical records. We need systems that link patients to doctors, doctors to doctors, doctors to nurses and care team members, laboratories to databases, imaging centers to databases. We also need monitoring equipment to computer oversight systems that provide a new safety net and support structure for care. Patients should be able to do e-scheduling, e-visits, e-referrals, e-tests results, and electronic secure messaging with their caregivers.
The system should be so electronic that the administrative overhead linked to paper sorting, filing, generating, and processing should be instantaneous and extremely accurate. Paper medical records should be the rare exception rather than the rule. Imaging results should go directly from the scanners to the physicians with no film or files to be lost in transit. Patients in their own homes should be able to link up in telemedicine consults with their doctors and nurses--avoiding major transportation headaches and providing instant responses to in-home crises and potential problems. Homes should have scales linked to caregivers for congestive heart failure crisis and motion monitors for patients with hip or stoke issues. Safe reliable in-home care should be the expectation of most patients."
It's a vision that I am sure we would all like to see come to fruition sooner rather than later. If for no other reason than Health IT can help automate the healthcare system to improve information accuracy and reduce mistakes. It is estimated that <a href="http://www.internetnews.com/government/article.php/3796636/Senate+Mulls+Stimulus+Funds+for+Health+IT.htm">98,000preventable deaths</a> occur at U.S. hospitals each year, a number which could be reduced if patient information could be accurately correlated with medication and treatment plan information. The United Kingdom's <a href="http://www.nhs.org">National Health Service</a> has quantified the number of the health service's errors derived from poor information at 27% (leading to close to 1200 deaths a year in England and Wales).
As with any diagnosis and treatment plan, however, it's not perfect and there are complications to be aware of before adopting all of this technology. First and foremost, the information must remain secure (which requires healthcare organizations becoming proficient in the complexities of network and data security and the proper <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/healthcare/clinical-systems/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=219100499&cid=nl_IWK_health_html">storage</a> of all this information). Then there is the issue of confidentiality: Where are the lines drawn between a patient's rights and a patient's right to know? What is the most effective use of these tools (particularly around <a href="http://www.informationweek.com/news/healthcare/patient/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=219200127&cid=nl_IWK_health_html">social media</a> and Web 2.0 services and applications). Who even <a href="http://radar.oreilly.com/2009/06/manifesto-health-data-rights.html">owns</a> all of this information.
There are a lot of questions that need to be answered; hopefully they will be during the larger healthcare debates that are taking place right now. While all the details may still be fuzzy on what the future of healthcare looks like, it is clear that the network and the Health IT services and applications it enables will be critical in the creation of a more sustainable healthcare system.
At the crux of a recent New York Times article "Stock Traders Find Speed Pays, in Milliseconds," was the question of what the reward should be for organizations that are able to effectively leverage innovative technology to differentiate themselves and establish a competitive edge. The New York Times focused on the stock market, which is slightly more complicated in that the integrity of the system is based on maintaining a level playing field and removing competitive differences - everyone should have the same opportunity to trade and sell on the open market.
But it brings up an interesting point, businesses today are increasingly relying on technology and the underlying network that links all their digital assets and information together to improve their competitive position. In this Digital Information Age, those organizations that can quickly amass and analyze data and then capitalize on the opportunities they uncover or represent, oh and do it before anyone else, will have the advantage. I call this in my book "Network Time" - speed has always been an asset, but in today's connected world, its an imperative for ongoing relevance. If you are slow to adapt, you risk being irrelevant.
Now in the stock market example, they are talking a matter of miliseconds; for most organizations the timeframe is a little bit longer, but the difference it can make in the business' ability to compete and win is the same. And it extends across the entire business - How fast can you respond to customer requests? How quickly can you bring a product to market - from concept to delivery? How effectively can you make changes based on new market environments or opportunities?
And the answers to those questions often depend on how well you are able to leverage technology and whether or not the underlying network that connects all your people, resources and operations together can deliver the flexibility and agility you need to support your ever changing business requirements. How easy is it for employees to collaborate and share information across department lines? Do you have the mechanisms to collect and analyze information from all the inputs you need at any given time? How quickly can you roll out a new service or application? How difficult is it to adopt a new process or change a work stream?
For those who are skeptical that the network can really impact the business, the best thing to do is think about what would happen is something goes wrong with it. The Strategy Group conducted the annual Ziff Davis <a href="http://www.cioinsight.com/c/b/Research/">enterprise editorial research study </a> and found that large businesses estimate they lose an average of 3.6% in annual revenue due to network downtime each year, with an impaired network estimated to cost companies $3 million per day or more. That's significant. And its why the ongoing relevance and sustainability of any business is closely tied to the technology underpinnings of that business.
In an interview with McKinsey, Google's Eric Schmidt observed, "One of the characteristics of time, if you look over the last couple hundred years, is that time has gotten more and more compressed. Every product cycle, every information cycle, every bubble, everything happens faster. It is because of all these network effects, where everyone is connected and everyone is talking to one another, and so forth and so on. So there is every reason to believe that those people who are really stressed out by the rate of change now are going to be even more stressed out"
That's network time! Sounds fun doesn't it!
In my last blog <a href="http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2009/07/networks-impact-on-media.html"></a> I observed that the network (Internet Web sites and tools) was changing the news industry (print, radio and TV), essentially opening up the flow of information to reduce the control and impact that any one outlet has on the telling of the news. it is also forcing these traditional news sources to look at ways to leverage the network to remain relevant (not to mention solvent).
Information can come from anyone and anywhere and can be distributed worldwide in a matter of seconds. Anyone with an Internet connection can be a reporter. In an industry where speed is of the utmost importance, increasingly, we have seen bloggers "break" the news first. We have seen simple bystanders take on the role of "on the spot" reporters, capturing video footage with their smartphones and providing commentary of an event as it unfolds. "Tweets" on the social networking site Twitter reported the U.S. Airways Hudson River plane crash in January 2009 before most major news outlets realized it happened - eyewitnesses were sending information, including photos, as it was happening.
The same thing occurred in Iran, when the government actively attempted to stop information from getting out around the presidential election and the ensuing riots in June 2009. The world watched videos from the smartphones and handheld video cameras of citizens who were on the streets. As much as the government tried to control the situation and take down sites, there were simply too many individuals and too many sites to stop. This is the power and benefit of the network - people who have traditionally been voiceless, now have a platform from which they can be heard.
Those voices can be used en masse to try to affect change, but on the flip side, the resulting proliferation of sources has some very real challenges. It can fracture and lessen the impact of any particular voice. It can be hard to wade through all the information that's available to figure out exactly what is going on at any particular time on any particular topic.
In addition, because information can come from anyone and anywhere, it is hard to verify. Unlike traditional media outlets, where theoretically they are double-checking their sources and ensuring the validity of their reporting, in the online world, we have seen that often speed versus accuracy is the brass ring online reports try to grab. And we all know that once something is out there, it's virtually (yes, that's a bad pun) impossible "to get back."
There is a somewhat self-regulating function for news disseminated on the Internet, as online populations can question anything that seems suspicious or skewed too far one way or another. Counter posts can voice concerns and challenges that enable the online communities to achieve a relatively objective perspective. However, the burden is on the reader/viewer to question (In fact, do not trust online news outlets that do not allow posts by viewers and readers - that isn't news, that's opinion.) and that may be becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.
Because the Internet makes it easy for individuals to find other like-minded individuals, who share their views and interests, there is the potential fear that as people receive all of their information from their favorite (potentially biased sites), the balance of any story might be lost. We have seen this happen during elections, where outlets splintered along party lines and individuals actively sought out the news that most matched their thoughts and opinions. As a result, there is the chance that the "unbiased" news reporting of old could be lost unless we, as consumers of the information, demand open lines of communications and forums that foster points and counterpoints. Because the news can come from all of us, it is our collective responsibility to create an unspoken yet vibrant series of checks and balances in the news we consume.
In fact, one of the values of online news is that can offer analysis that is unconnected to word count or "space available." While there's something to be said for the thoughtful, reasoned presentation of information you can get from professionals who have honed their writing skills, waded through mountains of information and asked the poignant questions, traditional media is restrained by paper, by number of columns, by broadcast time. A web page is cheap. An article that runs until it's over is capable on any online outlet, but not on traditional media due to time or space. Combine that limitless space to cover what is necessary, with the ability of readers to comment and respond to any article, and a single news story can take on a long life of insightful analysis, with contributions from anywhere in the world.
As a result, creators of online content are capable of creating a level of credibility at least on par with traditional media sources. In fact, as we've noted, traditional media outlets are increasingly leveraging the online content in their coverage. For example, media outlet Al Jazeera used Twitter and text posts as part of their coverage of the conflict in the Gaza Strip, condensing the general sentiments on their Web site. (Full disclosure, they had the fairly unique capability of being able to confirm the online individual accounts via the reporters they had actually stationed in Gaza.)
Those organizations that can successfully integrate newer online offerings and channels with their more traditional "offline" delivery mechanisms have been able to thrive. But it's not about creating the same content and simply repurposing it - it's about understanding the medium and creating "content products" that are optimized for that delivery. The <a href="http://www.nytimes.com">New York Times </a>has done a wonderful job at using it's online versions not just to report, but to engage the reader and move beyond text on a background. The NY Times has an iPhone app that is quite perfect for that device's capabilities. The online edition has email and text alerts, video, animation, and live blogging.
The network has the ability to permeate all corners of the globe and create new relationships that tie us all together in ways previously impossible. This is both a benefit and a responsibility, which is incumbent upon us all to nourish and protect in order to ensure we maintain open, honest dialogues on what is happening in the world around us.
I was sad to hear that Walter Cronkite, the iconic CBS anchorman, who for decades brought us the news and told us the stories of our time passed away on Friday, July 17th. It got me thinking about how the world of journalism has evolved. When Cronkite took his anchor role in 1962 and introduced a thrity minute broadcast done directly from the news room, he changed the way we digested daily news and framed moments, such as JFK's assassination and man's first steps on the moon, with real-time commentary.
Now, think about how much Cronkite had seen in his 92 years and then think about how the last few probably eclipsed all of the previous decades in terms of accelerated change, due to the proliferation of so many new outlets (cable and Web sites) and online tools. I will avoid the obligatory discussions around the substance of many of these news outlets and focus simply on the network's impact on the media - it's changing everything.
I am not pointing out anything new, when I say that the traditional media outlets that resisted the change or who were too slow to adapt, have found themselves struggling to retain a consumer base and relevancy in an increasingly digital world. It's the reason we have seen so many declarations of the newspaper's inevitable demise.
I wouldn't call these folks Nostradamus - anyone who has looked at a newspaper lately knows that a simple sneeze might blow it away. And the bankruptcy filings of some of the U.S.'s largest newspapers, including the <a href="http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/08/tribune-files-for-bankruptcy/">Tribune Company in December of 2008</a>, may have provided some hints. Another could have come from the Pew Research Center - since 1994, the share of Americans reading a newspaper has dropped from 58% to 34% and, in 2008, the Internet overtook newspapers as the main source for national and international news.
But it's not just newspapers, it's the news industry as a whole. According to NPR, over the past twenty years, traditional broadcast news programs have lost a million viewers each year. On the flip side, in 2008, the top twenty online news sites saw an increase of 27% in their traffic. The Internet has shaken the very foundation from which traditional news organizations, including print, radio, and TV, originally gained strength and status.
The traditional news sources no longer have "control" over the distribution medium because the Internet is open to everyone. Information can come from anywhere and be distributed worldwide at the click of a button. This has impacted the way we value content as a whole, which is often available for free. Intellectual property is freely circulated - rather than trying to prevent distribution (remember - All Rights Reserved or Do not distribute disclaimers?), content creators are now looking at ways to increase it (providing attributions and easy links). Information derives value from greater reach versus tighter control.
News reporters aren't the only ones that have a pulse on what's going on; now, anyone with an Internet connection can report the news. And the role reporters needed to play as an objective third-party witness to events is now a collective responsibility (the implications of which is the topic for another blog). With the portability of Internet-connected devices, anyone that is present when news occurs can capture the facts and immediately post them to inform the world. Sometimes they are the only ones that can get the news out, such as in areas of conflict where traditional media may be banned - for example during the riots following the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/06/13/iran-demonstrations-viole_n_215189.html">presidential election in Iran</a>, citizen videos, phone calls, Tweets and blog posts were the only way we received real-time information on what was going on in the streets.
News organizations have also always prided themselves on being the authorities on what is news and of interest to the public; but the Internet has turned this paradigm on its head - the public is determining what is newsworthy (which has pros and cons, again another topic for another blog) and anyone can be the one to report on it. Some news organizations have harnessed the public's manpower, such as <a href="http://english.ohmynews.com/">OhmyNews</a>, which has 60,000 "citizen reporters" that contribute to making it one of South Korea's most influential media outlets.
The network is creating a different world that is connected together unlike anything we have ever seen. Any company, organization, government, school, religion, charity, or sports team that does not use this new found connectivity, will lose their impact. It's not just the news, it's the future. Or as Cronkite would have said "And that's the way it is..."
In my last blog, I discussed the U.S. Clean Energy and Security Act that passed the House and is now up for debate in the Senate. Legislation of this kind is key to understanding future technology trends and requirements, particularly around Green Tech. For example, its passage could spur greater investment in teleconferencing technologies, accelerate smart grid projects and increase interest in building automation tools.
Why? Because all of these technologies have the potential to abate carbon emissions, which will be critical to the efforts to achieve reduction targets. The "Smart 2020 Report" estimated that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry could cut annual CO2 emissions in the U.S. between 13 percent and 22 percent through 2020, translating into gross fuel and energy savings of between $140 billion and $240 billion.
Getting down to specifics, transportation is one of the biggest causes of carbon emissions, with automobiles alone accounting for approximately 20% of the country's greenhouse gas emissions. Using technologies, such as Web and video conferencing and remote access solutions that enable employees to securely connect into their company's network to access the information and resources they need to do their jobs, can reduce daily commutes into the office and subsequent emissions.
The Consumer Electronics Association found that telecommuting in the U.S. saves nine to fourteen billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually, reducing gasoline consumption by 840 million gallons, which represents close to 14 million tonnes of carbon emissions. Combine this statistic with the U.S. Census Bureau's research that found 9 out 10 workers drive to work and 78% are solo drivers, and you can start to see the potential for significant reductions. Even if employees just telecommuted one day a week, organizations could reap great benefits. For example, Sun Microsystems has more than half of its employees (approximately 20,000 employees) working from home at least one or two days a week under their "Open Work" program, resulting in reductions of approximately 31,000 tons of CO2 emissions. InformationWeek's story.)
The same dramatic savings can be achieved with the roll out of smart energy grids that modernize power generation and distribution to make the overall electric system more stable. It hinges on smart meter and reliable networking technologies, among other solutions, to link energy sources and destinations to achieve a real-time understanding of supply and demand, and then facilitate more granular controls and automated responses to better manage the overall system. We have seen glimpses of its potential. As reported in the New York Times, the Department of Energy conducted a trial in Washington State that demonstrated 15% reductions in consumption due to the visibility, efficiencies, and control of the system made possible by the smart grid.
The same benefits can be applied to buildings (both commercial and residential), which account for 40% of the emissions in the U.S. Through the use of building management systems, metering technologies, sensors, energy auditing and optimization software all connected by the communication networks there is a lot of potential to eke out energy consumption efficiencies. For example, the European Union estimates that close to a quarter (70 billion of the 400 billion kWh) of the energy consumed in homes could be saved by these measures. And we can't forget the mecca of building inefficiencies - the data center, which represent a proverbial treasure trove of opportunity to reduce consumption through the deployment of more efficient technologies and architectures(that's a future blog unto itself).
The list of the ways in which technology can be applied to drive efficiencies and abate carbon emissions goes on and on. But this technology needs to be considered in the context of policy; just as policy needs to be considered in the context of its potential economic impacts; just as economic conditions need to be considered when developing and delivering technology, and so on. They are all tied together. Only when considered as an eco-system, will we have a sustainable model to effectively tackle clean energy and climate change issues.
While we may have had the weekend to try to digest the House's passage (by a close vote of 219-212) of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, I find there's still no consensus on what it means for the U.S. It's not just because it is hard to extract saliency from the 1200 pages that make up the bill, but rather because it's virtually impossible to understand what form the bill will ulitimately take if (and that's a potentially sizeable if) it gets through the Senate. (You may fondly remember the catchy Schoolhouse Rock song "I'm just a bill").
I was at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit yesterday at Stanford University, where experts debated almost everything about the bill, from whether the cap and trade system it introduces will be effective to whether the carbon emissions targets are going to be impactful. And after much discussion, no agreement could be reached on what form the bill would need to take in order to pass the Senate; questions of which were the biggest sticking points abounded. So rather than dwelling in the world of "what if," let's look at what it means today.
In a very broad nutshell, the Act as it stands now, also known as the "Waxman Markey" bill, uses a 2005 baseline to set reduction targets of 17% on carbon emissions by 2020 and 83% by 2050. These percentages would be used to cap "allowable" emissions, putting a limit on the amount of pollutants that an energy producer can emit into the atmosphere. These "allowances" will then be made available by the government in the form of permits, which can be traded on the open market (hence the moniker cap and trade system). Ultimately the cap will get "tighter" and the allowances fewer, with the intent of pushing up the price of emissions to motivate greater reductions. The benefit of a cap and trade system is that the outcome is predictable in the form of specific emisison reductions; the downside, is that the costs of achieving it are less so because they are set by the market.
With this backdrop, one of the biggest sticking points is that these targets don't align with the Koyoto Protocol, which is the international agreement that came out of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Koyoto Protocol uses a 1990 baseline to set reduction targets, which when compared to the Act's targets fall short by more than 5% of where the U.S. should be in 2020, if we had signed the accord (The Koyoto Protocol called for a U.S. reduction of 7% from 1990 levels; if we adjust the 17% reduction from 2005 levels, it translates to a 1.8% reduction from 1990 levels). These targets also are not in line with many European country's emissions targets (for example, the EU has set a target of 20% below 1990 levels by 2020).
Turning to the proposed cap and trade system, there are some that question the reasoning behind initially giving away many of the permits. There is also talk of whether a carbon tax would not be a more effective mechanism. The benefit of a tax is that it would fix the cost of carbon; the downside is there is no certainty of the outcome - depending on what that cost is, there is debate on whether a tax would be enough of an incentive for high pollutants to dramatically change. Still others question the impact that any new model might have on the recovery of our economic system.
So, when asked the question "what does this Act mean?" I think the only thing we can say for certain, is that it's a start. And it's an important one. Regardless of how much we may actually be doing to address climate change concerns (there are definite pockets of goodness that are recognized internationally, for example, in California, Colorado and the northeast), the U.S. as a nation has a perception problem that needs to be overcome. Timing is critical, as the December meeting in Copenhagen draws near. This is when the world, with President Obama at the table, will meet to try to come to agreement on where to take the Koyoto Protocol. The passage of this Clean Energy Act would help build credibility that our political machinations are ready and able to enact change, regardless of whether or not, it contains all the provisions and goals that advocates would like to see.
We have to start somewhere, and this is definitely a start.