Bitcoins: The Future of Currency

3 May

If you’re a semi-avid Internet browser, then it is rather likely that you’ve heard the term ‘Bitcoin’ floating around the web–especially within the last five years. The term Bitcoin is a clever and appropriate name, amalgamating the words ‘Bit’ and ‘Coin’ to represent its digital and economic components respectively. So what is Bitcoin? Simply put, Bitcoin is the future of money.

Essentially, Bitcoin is electronic cash. Unlike credit cards or Paypal, which are ostensible digital currency, Bitcoin lacks intermediate institutions that financially ground it with tangible, paper currency. Instead, Bitcoin can be considered more of a “Peer-to-Peer, electonic cash system” (Satoshi Nakamoto). Bitcoin was created as a way to circumvent corporations, who have become integral components regarding the process of electronic payments, shifting the responsibility from intermediate corporations into the hands of the user. Lacking a central bank, Bitcoins transactions are instead mediated through a complex algorithm that monitors and ledgers the creation of Bitcoins, generating a continually up-to-date archive. According to Nakamoto, the flow of Bitcoins generated will reach a trickle–capping at 21 million Bitcoins.

Bitcoin is an unprecedented form of “crypto-currency”, designed to upset the centralized power that current insitutions exert over the transaction of contemporary currency. Bitcoin has been met with critical reception–the future promise of this new e-currency is the subject of much dissent. Bitcoin has been criticized for its fluctuating values, volatile market, and limited capacity (21 million Bitcoins). Obviously, Bitcoin also has a limited demographic, available only to those with a steady Internet connection, higher-end computers, and proficient tech & net skills. There is already a stratification in wealth distribution with paper currency–with the majority of power and influence wielded by those who can afford it– yet will the exclusion of central figures be sufficient enough to prevent select entities from acquiring vast amount of Bitcoins? and subsequently digital affluence?

Currently, Bitcoin is a burgeoning economic asset that is surrounding in controversy and infamy. Deep Web sites–sites unaccessible by traditional browsing methods– are hubs of illicit activity and have adopted the Bitcoin as their primary method of currency. Bitcoins are being used for myriad illegal activities, ranging from the exchange of narcotics and weapons to contracted killings and illegal game trading. While I do not support illegal activities, it is difficult to argue that organized crime syndicates are  not particularly skilled in proliferating furtive commerce; savvy to the newest and most efficient methods of surreptitious money-making.

The future of Bitcoin can be considered either bright or grim–but there is indeed a future. If Bitcoin is able to regulate its volatile market and successfully integrate computer-challenged consumers, Bitcoin may very well establish itself as a permanent, yet alterative form of electronic currency. There are huge benefits and risks to such a massive shift. We’d eliminate our growing dependence of paper money and simultaneously ease environmental strains, however, how do we protect consumers from people who dedicate themselves solely to developing computational prowess (i.e., hackers) that would relish the opportunity of what essentially is a massive, unregulated, online wallet.

Physical manifestation of Bitcoins. Currently 1 Bitcoin = 48 U.S Dollars (March 2013)

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Google Maps: The Rise of the Virtual Roadmap

30 Apr

It’s a common sight to see, especially if you operate a motor vehicle nowadays– a driver leaning forward in their seat, phone in hand, attention divided between passing street signs and cross-referencing them with the GPS directions from their device. Travel back in time merely three decades and the motorist would be relying on traditional printed roadmaps in order to reach his destination–provided he had one for the area. Even in the mid 1990’s–as the Internet was becoming more mainstream–the best ally a driver could have had against getting lost would have been a printout of text-based directions provided by MapQuest, a pioneer in web mapping services. Drivers now utilize smartphones with access to up-to-date, digital roadmaps that feature GPS technology. These maps are not only more convient, but allow for greater accuracy and detail compared to their cumbersome and informationally ephemeral paper counterparts.

Google–one of the world’s foremost companies in terms of developing Internet-related products and services– has made significant advances in web mapping technologies. In February of 2005, Google announced the development of Google Maps, a web-based application that gave users access to global satellite images. It wasn’t until 2006 that Google Maps began featuring road maps of the USA, as well as Japan, UK, and Puerto Rico. Google now operates one of the most comprehensive web mapping services on the planet, its unprecedented degree of detail and accuracy make Google Maps the leading industry standard.

Nowadays, smartphones that feature Android operating systems,developed by Google subsidiary company Android Inc, are optimized for use with Google services. ‘Navigation’, the most popular GPS application for Android phones relies heavily on information stored in the Google Maps Database. The only comparable mobile service would be Apple Maps, developed by Apple, which requires substantial improvements in performance and accuracy. Google Navigation has voice and turn-by-turn GPS direction, as well as composite images of satellite and map views. Other competent web mapping service companies include: Bing maps, Yahoo! maps, and MapQuest.

Android smartphone GPS services rely on services from Google.

So what’s the future of Google’s mobile services? In March of 2012, Nevada passed a law that allowed the use of driverless cars on the road. Permission was granted specifically for a Toyota Prius modified by Google’s Driverless technology, The tech uses a system that drives at the speed limit and maintains its distance from other vehicles using its system of delicate sensors. Pretty soon, drivers will not only rely on Google services to provide directions to their destination–but maybe even to chauffer them there.

BlackBerry CEO predicts tablets will be dead in five years

30 Apr

BGR

Given the epic flop that was the BlackBerry PlayBook, it’s easy to understand why BlackBerry would want to forget all about tablets. That said, it’s one thing to ignore tablets and another to predict that tablets will go away all together. While speaking at the Milken Institute conference in Los Angeles on Monday, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins said that BlackBerry doesn’t need to invest more resources in creating another tablet because tablets will all but disappear from the market within the next five years.

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Social Network Profiles: Taste Statements & The Digital Looking Glass Self

30 Apr

Social Network Profiles, nearly almost all of us have one. In fact, according to a study conducted in 2011, approximately 1 in 13 people on Earth have a Facebook Profile. Social Network Profiles are a way for Social Network Service members to create distinguished online personas–utilizing custom entry fields to publicly display their general interests. Users generate custom lists of their basic interests, alternatively known as  “interest tokens”, in order to create profiles that resemble their desired online identities. The methodical creation of these lists allows for the existence of contextual relationships between a users selected interests. In other words, users can use the connotative relationships that exist between particular interests in order to create interpretive meaning, allowing them to be portrayed in a certain fashion.

A professional twitter feed must tame their taste statements to provide SFW interest tokens

Hugo Liu’s article “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performances” argues that studying users’ selected interests can yield insight into  how users go about defining their virtual selves, as well as how they are received by their community peers.

These “taste statements” offer an ostensible look into how users see themselves–assuming they’ve selected tokens that genuinely reflect their interests and tastes. Liu, however, shares sociologist Erving Goffman’s skepticism when it comes to the practice of what they call “everyday performance”. Liu and Goffman were aware of the fact that the scrutiny of the public eye  will undoubtedly cause taste statements to be “crafted” and “tailored” so as to stand up to the scrutiny of an audience that is able to ‘‘glean unofficially by close observation’’ (Goffman, 1959, p. 144). Due to the constant fear of judgment, it can be argued that the way a user is perceived is just as influential when it comes to what information they choose to display.

The Looking Glass Self theory is a modern concept, primarily discussed within the field of social psychology. The Looking Glass Self refers to the theory that people construct their identity based on how they believe others perceive them to be. It is only through another’s perception can a member gain identity. Social Network Profiles are essentially the digital versions of the Looking Glass Self theory. Liu believes that aside from ones socio-economic and aesthetic influences, it is only through validation or rejection from fellow community members that we can get a sense of how a profile is received by its peers. Liu maintains that through analyzing these “interest tokens”, we can eventually garner information regarding the “expressive coherence” of taste statements lends evidence to support the idea of calculated profile creation with sensitivity to how “fragile” impressions and interpretations of tokens are.

Long story short. It’s difficult to discern whether or not we allow our imagined reception by others to influence the types of representative profile info we publish or whether we “develop ourselves through the judgement  of others” (Yeung, et al. 2003). Whichever the case may be, there a clear correlation between taste statements, the development of profile dynamics, and community reception.

Friending: Adds, Removes, and Awkward Friend Groups.

23 Apr

‘Friending’, the mutual agreement between two Social Networking Site users’ to acknowledge each other as a ‘Friend’ and display their online relationship to the public. Friending is one of the core components of most social networking services, such as MySpace.com, Friendster.com, and of course Facebook. While originally designed by sites like MySpace and Friendster in order for users to search and add their own “real life friends“.  Users Friended people for a myriad of reasons, from ‘Collecting’ friends to seem popular and integrated to Friending someone because their profile is cool or because its easier and less awkward than saying no. Users were content to Friend just about anyone and anything as it meant, at least early on in the SNS days of Friendster and MySpace, greater access to a bigger network of profiles and users. However, the more ‘Friends’ a user adds, the more likely it is that a user will eventually create a virtual Friendship with someone whom they have a relationship with awkward power dynamics, creating tension and dissonance within a users Friend network.

Thanks to MySpace’s private profiles and Friendster’s ‘four degrees of friendship’, people engaged with early social networking services actually had to work laboriously to become “social” network users. These barriers to ‘Friendship’ meant that obtaining rare and cool ‘Friends’ was just as important as adding true friends and real life acquaintances. These barriers also created a narrow ‘field’ of Friends in that commonalities between Friends were often the driving force behind friendship. The fact that everyone has the flat status of Friend, and that there was no nuances to explain the relationship between Friends created awkward online moments, especially when having to decide whether or not to accept a Friend who exercises unique control or power over the user. This posed a unique problem to users in that surely one profile/page would prove insufficient to attract both real-life friend users as well as more elusive and desirable ‘cool’  virtual friends. As expert Danah Boyd claims in her article, entitled “Friends, Friendsters, & MySpace Top 8″:

The users of social network sites are faced with the same conundrum, particularly those who must simultaneously interact with their peers and those who hold power over them. Teenagers, for example, have no way of being simultaneously cool to their friends and cool to their parents. Thus, they often choose to represent themselves as they want to beseen by their friends, even when this presentation outrages their parents (Boyd, 15)

While having to add your parents as Friends is painful, and having to remove your boss thanks to your page’s content more painful still, a unique affordance of SNS ‘Friending’ offers a third avenue of awkwardness; the pending friendship. Due to the limited method of user identity (i.e., one MySpace page per user) it was a generally difficult task to achieve a balance between having the profile you wanted and simultaneously attracting virtual and real-life friends (would you really want your Professor to see your ‘420: Blaze It Erryday’ flashing GIF banner?). The faux pa of mixing business (known authority-friends) and pleasure (virtual anonymous-friends) was a more prevalent issue in the Friendster & MySpace era, resulting in the Friend request being placed under an effective stasis known as ‘Pending’.

Virtual ‘Friend’ Limbo: The pending status

A pending request systems disallow the initiating user to resubmit a second Friend request; the user on the other end must either approve or decline the Friend request in order to alleviate the user from virtual limbo. The awkwardness comes from the fact that it is “generally known that the pending list is the first thing you see when you login, it is considered rude to login and not respond to a request” (Boyd, 9). Thus, in order to avoid rejecting or ignoring someone, users went against site original site design and often simply accepted most Friend requests from whomever.

The politics and nuances behind ‘Friending’ within the context of the more classic Social Networking Sites such as Friendster and MySpace may have given rise to many of the rituals and habits observed in modern SNS sites like Facebook. In fact, the processes of requesting, denying, and pending Friendships almosts translates verbatim today, with many of the determining factors (such as profile content and direction) remaining just as integral when it comes to deciding who to be Friends with nowadays.

Satellite Radio : Audio stimuli & the Imagination

22 Apr

In a world where it has become increasingly common to divide our attention amongst several different screens, simultaneously of course, how does any media that lacks the affordances of screens and digital imagery remain prevalent in today’s society–let’s ask Satellite Radio.

Radio broadcast is one of the most influential, persistent, and revolutionary mediums of communication developed in the last century. A mass extension of the oral traditions of old, radio allowed for storytelling on a massive, societal scale. Predating the invention of the television by several decades, radio was once the pinnacle of communication and information exchange within the USA. Nowadays, radio must compete with News Apps, SNS networks, and mobile internet when it comes to the exchange of breaking news. Regardless, radio remains a source of news and info exchange, yet radio broadcast has had a resurgence in popularity, particularly within the area of Satellite Radio–traditional radio’s reaction to the digital movement.

Satellite radio titan ‘SiriusXM’ boasts 20 million subscribers and multi-platform capabilities. 

Sirius and XM satellite radio, the industry leaders, offer their members over “140 channels” that provide members with 70+ commercial free music stations, the remainder of the channels are dedicated to provide talking and listening shows. Sirius currently boasts a subscriber base upwards of 20 million members–comparable to Netflix’s 33 million members as of March 2013.

The appeal and power of radio broadcast stems from the lack of a provided image. Listeners are forced to use their own imaginations to provide visual context to the sounds . Although the speaker may give the listener occasional clues, listeners are mostly left to their own devices. The profundity of our imaginations evokes unique and rich imagery in response to audio stimuli. To rely on one’s own imagination is refreshing for consumers that feel overwhelmed by the egregious amount of visual and digital content that is constantly infiltrating our everyday lives.

Radio broadcast is a carefully blended and manufactured medium that, unlike other mediums, refuses to enable society’s growing dependence on screen and digital content. In fact, it even opposes–to a degree– the growing “on-demand” services offered by most other digital service providers in that a subscriber must still tune into a scheduled broadcast time in order to enjoy it, otherwise the subscriber misses it. In a world where it’s all about the crispest resolution and the most interactive menus, Satellite radio continues to be a unique and stalwart presence amongst modern media communications today. By refusing to be behave like other modern media platforms, satellite radio provides a unique experience that doesn’t deviate too far from its analog spirit but remains relevant in an increasingly digital world.

Cyber Relationships: A new age of virtual romance

20 Apr

Using the Internet to find romance is a fairly recent, yet increasingly common social practice. It is with increasing frequency that individuals are turning to the Web to assist in their search for a romantic partner. Matchmaking sites such as eHarmony and Match.com are web-based companies that specialize in the creation and coordination of user generated web profiles. They use these profiles in order to pair site members with compatible personalities, based on user provided survey data. Match.com claims that “1 in 5 relationships start online”, implying that at least 200,000 of its 1,000,000 members will become romantically involved. However, websites that specifically cater to promoting relationships are hardly the only form of cyber romance –and not even the most successful. Currently, there is myriad ways for users to establish and foster online relationships,  ranging from forums, social networking sites, and even MMORPGs.

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, or MMORPGs, are rich and immersive worlds that allows users to create a character extension of themselves known as an ‘avatar’. An avatar represents whom the user desires to be within the context of these fictitious worlds, the degree of customizability reflecting what the user believes to be the most potentially attractive traits. World of Warcraft, currently the world’s largest and more frequented MMORPG, has a user base of 12 million to eHarmony’s 1 million. Invariably, more users allows for more opportunities for users to interact and potentially court each other. World of Warcraft even has dedicated servers ( realms) that have strict avatar naming policies and role-playing guidelines, in order to create a more immersive and elaborate fictional world. These RP (role-playing) realms are often the host of many in-game “weddings“, uniting two or more avatars -whom are often couples in committed relationships to each other- in virtual matrimony. Second Life, a more realistic based MMORPG, focuses less on challenge completing -like World of Warcraft- and occupies its users with the task of creating and maintaining personal relationships. The UI (user interface) is so intricate, that users can even engage in virtual sex –digital genitalia and all.

It is becoming increasingly rare nowadays to find someone who isn’t involved in social networking services, in fact about 1 in 13 people on Earth use Facebook. The sheer volume of users makes SNS services like Twitter and Facebook makes them useful in the search for potential romantic interests, however, a person’s profile may not exactly translate who they really are. A new series on MTV entitled Catfish focuses on determining the identity and validity of couples engaged in online relationships.

MTV’s new series Catfish. A show about the truth and lies of online dating.

As viewers of the show discover, quite often are online relationships discovered to have at least one person passing off as someone they’re not, utilizing false pictures and profile info in order to make themselves more attractive. In fact, in one of the episodes an alleged 20 year old girl was discovered to actually be a middle aged mother of four. The show doesn’t solely focus on exposing the frauds, it also shows the unique moment when couples engaged in a virtual relationship interact face-to-face with each other for the first time.

As we head into an increasingly technology oriented society, it comes as no real surprise to see a rise in the number of people using the Internet and web-based services to try to improve their love life. The vast connectivity afforded by the Internet has revolutionized the capacity for interpersonal relationships, eliminating the challenge of geographic distance and linking users from around the world together. Whether it be exploring the Tower of Azorra together in WoW, a personal on Craigslist, or a blind date from a matchmaking site, anytime theres a human connection –whether digital or analog– there is a chance for romance.

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