All posts by coneys.e

Reaction to NSA Articles

The NSA Files revealed a lot about the workings of the NSA that I previously did not know. What Snowden was able to expose about the NSA was incredible. For years Americans have been recorded, spied upon, and lied to by NSA officials. One moment in the NSA Files that struck me was when the quote “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” appeared. This quote seemed like it would be taken out of “1984” or some other dystopian novel in which Big Brother watched over and surveilled its citizens. It does not seem like the type of thing that would be said in the United States. Yet this quote was used to describe the workings of the NSA, which truly revealed how intrusive the NSA has become.

On November 3 we looked at the piece The Assault on Privacy by Arthur Miller. In it, he warned of the dangers of computers and the ways in which computer technology would threaten informational privacy. As we discussed it, no one seemed too threatened. The ideas of passwords and encryption seemed like enough protection for us. But for Miller, it wasn’t. Instead he explained that the only way to truly protect our information was to have trustworthy information managers with a code of ethics and to eliminate the collection of sensitive information. These protocols seem almost obvious in that they should be done, yet through the NSA readings, it seems like these were not done. For example, Jameel Jaffar explains that the government is collecting extremely sensitive information about people to learn the associations between people. The NSA has tapped into links to access information about millions of Americans and has exploited the law to do so. This is both shocking and disturbing. If we are supposed to be living in a democracy with freedom of speech, how can surveillance of this kind be allowed?

When reading about the NSA I thought it was incredibly interesting how the article and the website looked at the NSA and the government as an enemy. For example, Eric Grosse said “It’s an arms race. We see these government agencies as among the most skilled players in the game.” It is not often that the government is portrayed so openly and so publically as a competitor or rival. Yet in the articles, the NSA’s infringement upon American lives made it the true enemy.

Response to Weaving the Web

The reading on the process of coming up with and implementing the World Wide Web was interesting in that it raised many different questions. Previously, I had not known the difference between the World Wide Web and the Internet, so the first few chapters from this book were very enlightening to me. Also, the site of the production of the Web interested me a lot. In the past, I had only truly known about CERN from the novel Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. In the novel, CERN is the site from which a canister that contains antimatter is stolen, and CERN is described as a place with incredible scientific minds. However, CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research and is never mentioned in the novel to be the birthplace of the Web, so the fact that Berners-Lee invented the Web there really surprised me. It seemed as though he too believed CERN was not the most ideal place for him to do his work. For example, when writing a proposal to create the Web, Berners-Lee had trouble convincing CERN to allow him to do so. On page 32, he states “Another reason for the lackluster response was that CERN was a physics lab,” which further emphasizes how strange it was that such an important computing technology came out of such a place.

As I mentioned above, before this reading I had not known the difference between the World Wide Web and the Internet. I believe this is because the two are often used almost interchangeably in everyday language, although this is incorrect. This was confusing when first reading the chapters, because I believed the two words to be interchangeable, and thus believed Berners-Lee was incorrect in claiming he invented the World Wide Web. Yet as the chapters continued, the distinction between the two became evident. The Internet, created before the Web, connects different computers together and uses a variety of different computing languages to do so. However, the Web is only one part of the Internet and uses HTTP for hypertext. This made me a little bit confused. If the Web is only part of the Internet, what other parts exist? Are emails separate from the Web? And what about Instant Messaging? Are these separate from the World Wide Web, or have they become part of the Web as time has gone on?

Another detail that made me have questions was the idea of external and internal links. Although I understood the internal link, which could go in either direction, I had questions about the external links. If there were an external link that only went in one direction, would there be a way to go back to a previous link? (Is there a “back” arrow?). These different types of links were created so that external links could prevent information overload, while internal links could appear in both nodes, which may cause files to “get out of step.” Yet the distinction between the two and the need for both was confusing to me.

Computer Girls and Sexism

A major theme throughout the piece “When Computers Were Women” is the idea of subtle sexism. Subtle sexism is a branch of sexism that seems so regular to us, that it goes almost unrecognized. Because of this, it is almost never addressed and continues to be an issue in our nation. The sexism explored in this document is displayed in the article “The Computer Girls” and includes specific wordings, phrases and sentences that were truly awful. These sentences and phrases were used to undermine the intelligence of the work the women were doing and the women themselves. For example, it was noted that “A good programmer doesn’t read more into a problem than is already there.” This is an example of subtle sexism because although it is not completely obvious or blunt in its wording, the sentence still is insulting towards women in that it suggests women will not think about the work they do. This sentence suggests that women will not or perhaps can not think deeply about the work they do, and instead blindly accept the instructions given to them by their male superiors. Even the mindset in which Lois Mandel portrays typical parenting when it came to math grades was incredibly sexist. For example, Mandel explains it is often believed that mathematics is not feminine and little girls should not be expected to learn arithmetic beyond the “bank balance” and “grocery bill”. Although Mandel encourages the girls to explore mathematics more thoroughly, it is not because she believes they can make breakthroughs in the scientific and mathematical fields. Instead she points to the opportunities to make money and meet men. Her comments about men bring up another form of subtle sexism.

Mandel’s comments when it came to men were very sexist. For example, she comments on the ability to meet men in computer work, and explains the staggering statistics. “The field is overrun with males,” Mandel explains when trying to show how easy it is to find a man. In addition, she quotes one computer industry man as saying “We like having the girls around… They’re prettier than the rest of us.” These are more forms of both subtle and blatant sexism. Mandel here shows she does not think that women are important factors in the computer industry by encouraging them to get involved not to make progress in the field, but to possibly find a husband. The man she quotes is more blatant in his sexism. He clearly does not value nor recognize the skills women may have to offer in the world of computers.

The two documents on women in the computer industry clearly show how prominent sexism was in the 1940s. Yet sexism is still a very prominent issue today. Psychologist Madeline E. Heilman of New York University describes modern subtle sexism in this way: “The issue is: men and women are probably behaving exactly the same but women are taking a hit.” This description is incredibly accurate. An example of this is the idea of having children and a job. If a man has children and is dedicated to his work, he is seen as a hero- devoting his life towards working for his kids to have a better future. Yet when a woman becomes a mother, she is expected to dedicate her life to her child. To do this, a mother is often expected to give up her career. Working mothers are often looked down upon and blamed for issues their children may have in the future. Another example of subtle sexism comes in the form of dating. If a nerdy guy asks a beautiful girl on a date and she rejects him, people believe it is because the girl is shallow and mean. Yet if a nerdy girl asks a good-looking guy on a date, he may reject her because she seems “desperate”. In both examples, men and women are acting in the exact same ways, yet are viewed and judged differently for their actions. This is subtle sexism.

Reactions to the Bush Readings

The concept of a “memex” as described by Vannevar Bush was quite a modern concept for the time. Although computers existed, Bush looked towards a future in which a type of personal computer existed. Though the computers of his time worked by indexing, he suggested the usage of association to index the massive amounts of data that could be stored in computers. This would thus allow a person to keep their entire libraries on their “memex” machines, and create “trails” between different articles or books. The trails could link similar concepts as seen in different documents, and would thus lead to a catalog based upon association. These trails would never fade and could provide key links between different source materials. Bush also described the trend of repetitive data in some cases and a lack of acknowledgement of data in other cases. By creating trails, a person could see the links between different sources, which could then end the large amounts of lost or repetitive thoughts and ideas.

Although the way in which Bush described the processes that the memex was designed for, I thought the most interesting part of both essays was the physical description of the machine. Bush decided that a memex machine would appear to be a normal desk. Yet on top of the desk would be slanting translucent screens, onto which material would be projected. The desk would have a keyboard and a series of different levers and buttons. Because computers were so massive at the time, Bush’s description may have seemed unrealistic. Yet what he described is incredibly similar to (somewhat) modern day desktop computers. Although a modern desktop would have a mouse instead of many levers, it would be very similar otherwise to what Bush described. For example, a desktop from the early 2000s would have a computer monitor (which is similar to the screens Bush described) and a large case that may house a disc drive, hard drive, power supply, and other important components. The case would be similar to the inside of the “desk” of the memex that Bush described. Both would house the inner workings of the machines and thus are very similar in many aspects.

The similarities observed between Bush’s memex and desktop computers are important because it seems as though Bush’s ideas influenced the manufacturing of computers. Bush’s ideas seem to advocate for the manufacturing of computers for the common man. He did not strive for huge calculating machines, but wanted instead a machine that would allow a more common man to process massive amounts of data without having to learn difficult coding or indexing techniques. The compact design of the memex also suggests it may be used in a home or in an office for a regular person. In this way, Bush’s ideas were incredibly important in the marketing and development of computers.

Ford Reading Reaction

In what situation would asking about the personal life of your employees be appropriate? It seems like such an intrusive practice that we wouldn’t even think of doing it today. Yet when it came to the personal lives of his employees, Ford was intent on understanding them in order to change them. By separating “profit” from “wages,” he was able to create the Five Dollar Day plan, which in some ways justified his invasive investigations. Still, some argue that his changing of the definition of profits and wages only allowed Ford to withhold money from employees whose lives he could not seem to command. For example, L. Paul Taylor noted “I believe that it is illegal to withhold a man’s wages if he has earned them, but when you call part of them ‘profits’ or a ‘bonus’ you get away with the reduction much easier” (p. 113). In my opinion, the combination of Ford’s obsession with the ideal American lifestyle and his immense power allowed him to pry into and control the lives of thousands of people. With the threat of losing a job or money, a worker would be intimidated into adhering to the “morals” defined by Ford, allowing him to gain almost complete control of the lives of his employees.

My opinions on Ford have been greatly altered by the time in which I’ve lived. Had I been around during his reign, perhaps his tactics would not seem so intrusive. Yet what I see in Ford is not someone who is trying to improve the factory conditions or the efficiency of the factory, but someone who is power-hungry and desperate to spread his own values and beliefs. When reading about Taylorism, Taylor’s goals were clear. He wanted to increase the efficiency of factories through scientific management. Although he did include ideas on the importance of choosing workers, he never seemed that interested in the lives of his workers outside of their positions in his factories. But Ford was different. Though he attempted to bribe workers to be more efficient, he offered bonus “profits” not for increased factory efficiency, but for following the approved lifestyle. This included having the proper home conditions, habits, and level of thrift. While Taylor’s work was scientific, Ford’s seems arbitrary. The extent of the investigations carried out by the Ford Sociological Department also seemed excessive, intrusive, and unnecessary. A worker could be extremely efficient within the factory and yet not live a life that is accepted by the Ford Company. Perhaps his is not thrifty enough, or lives with boarders who “disrupt the family unit,” or has “bad” habits. If it does not affect his work, it should not affect his pay. However, Ford did not think like that. He wanted his workers to behave a certain way- the “American” way. This obsession seems to me like Ford was attempting to push his beliefs onto his workers to make them more like him. His use of the Five Dollar Day was not to improve factory output, but to try to make his workers from all over the world into ideal American workers. This was an attempt to stifle the cultures of his workers and mold them into what Ford believed was right.  And that to me, is out of line.

Response to Industrial Revolution and Crisis of Control

 

After reading Beniger’s “Industrial Revolution and Crisis of Control,” I was intrigued mostly by the crisis in consumption and the idea that the Industrial Revolution was a Control Revolution. While much of the text examined the many problems that producers faced as technology advanced, it was not until the latter half of the lengthy text that the problems concerning consumerism were examined. Yet even these problems were looked at in the context of how they affected producers rather than how consumers were affected. This caused me to have many questions. But the question that irks me the most is this: are consumers controlled by advertisements? Although the rise of production of goods led to an increase in choice for consumers, advertisements allow producers to attempt to influence and control the consumers while encouraging them to use and want more than before.

A major factor in the rise of the use of advertisement came in the form of an oatmeal producer. Henry P. Crowell was able to build a oatmeal empire through his revolutionary marketing techniques. Crowell was incredibly innovative when it came to advertising. He used publicity stunts, free samples, scientific endorsements, prizes, and a multitude of other original commercial techniques while branding his product and using trademarks to influence the consumer. His results were astonishing. Though oatmeal had previously been regarded as a subpar food, it was thrust onto breakfast tables across the country as Americans bought into whatever Crowell was saying. How did this occur? Was Crowell truly a genius when it came to marketing, or were consumers so unused to advertising that they trusted blindly the new and bright ads of Crowell. Does advertising control the consumer? Or can consumers retain their abilities to choose while being influenced by a multitude of endorsements? It is apparent through the text that although consumers may retain some choosing ability, producers have become so adept at understanding consumer habits through feedback and other surveying tactics that they are experts when it comes to what consumers want. So are we as consumers being controlled by producers? Or do producers tend to our wants?

It is my opinion that society is profoundly influenced by advertisements. This allows producers to have power over consumers, which allows them to become profitable off of our interests. Yet if there were no advertisements, consumers would not be tempted by unnecessary luxuries. They could live without greed or without excessive wants. However, the Industrial Revolution and the Control Revolution that went along with it has prevented this from being possible. As men such as Crowell revolutionized advertisement, the relationship between consumers and producers was forever changed.

Response to “J.H. Hammond Instructs His Overseer”

The piece “J.H. Hammond Instructs His Overseer” is from 1840-1850 and reflects much of the mindset of the time. Throughout the piece, Hammond gives general instructions to be taken into consideration when running a plantation. His major concern seems to be achieving efficiency in terms of produce while keeping separate the rest of the property. Hammond points to the Overseer of the plantation to achieve such efficiency. Hammond’s piece is incredibly didactic in nature, and is presented in such a way to instruct. The piece includes instructions on the issue of favoritism and also instructs on such matters as allowances and rewards. Finally the piece ends with a list of offenses and their corresponding punishments. Though the document is intended to be informative and instructive, its syntax also reveals the prejudices and attitude of the time.

Hammond reveals through his language the mindset of the time. For example, when examining what it takes to have an efficient crop, he lists slaves in the same category as “land, mules, stock, fences, ditches, farming utensils, &c.” (page 212). To group human beings in the same category as “ditches” is to remove their human qualities. Through this language, Hammond dehumanizes the enslaved people.  He does this by equating them to objects essential to the prosperity of plantations yet lacking qualities of people. In addition, Hammond advises to give allowances of food on Mondays as opposed to Sundays, to avoid the slaves from “eating it in consequence of having nothing to do” (page 214). In this way, he undermines the intelligence of the slaves by suggesting they have no concept of rationing food. Yet although Hammond continually insults the humanity of the slaves, he also urges the Overseer not to act too rashly towards the slaves. He explicitly states that under no circumstances should an Overseer kick, strike, or hit a slave with the handle of his whip. Instead he specifies the offences worth punishment and their individual punishments. The fact that a plantation owner would have to specify when and how punishments can be used suggests that there were previous issues with Overseers. Perhaps Overseers become too enraged or too power hungry and often get carried away with punishments. This suggests violence is common from Overseers and there may be a lack of control in the matters of punishment because of that.

Hammond’s piece is important in showing the mindset of the time, yet it was also written in a peculiar way. The document is broken up into different sections, which include step-by-step processes that should be followed. This is somewhat similar to a process of analysis writing piece. Though these pieces are often written in a technical sense, Hammond’s views on plantation life are quite technical. Through speaking about the slaves as though they are not human, he is able to give instructions on keeping them in order, just as he would give instructions for the upkeep of land, mules, fences, or ditches.