Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Business and convergent technologies 7 – ubiquitous computing and the level playing field

I should start out by noting that while a great deal of the literature that connects to globalization and the pushback against it comes from lawyers, I am not one. I approach this as someone with a scientific and technical background, who has come to focus on how technology can be better applied in support of business and in enabling communities.

For a more legal framework-oriented approach to this, I would recommend:

• Benkler, Yochai. (2006) The Wealth of Networks: how social production transforms markets and freedom. Yale University Press

The basic issues that are developed and analyzed there still apply even as new efforts proliferate, both to flatten markets with commonly held and developed resources and to create lumps with ownership and private access protection.

In this regard, I have recently been reading in the news about ongoing developments stemming from initiatives like the Eco-Patents Commons, begun in January, 2008 by IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony, acting in collaboration with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. A couple of weeks ago I attended a Proskauer Rose LLP conference on cloud computing and the law, this past week I attended a second, larger conference they held on new media, technology and the law and later this week I will be going to one on emerging issues in healthcare that is also approaching its focus topic from the perspective of legal issues and that also focuses on new information technologies that are crucial to globalization. And these conferences all deal with law and case studies that elaborate on how globalization progresses and how it is challenged as well. There is a lot out there on the legal aspects of this ongoing, rapid change in technology and its increasingly global applications and implications. I want to, however, take a different approach here. And I start with a basic question.

• What do these new technologies and theirs newly emerging applications in creating and sharing information and knowledge mean for us, and do to us as individuals?

I divide this into two areas that I contend we all need to understand for their impact on our own lives.

1. What does this do to define and shape our relationships with others when we can connect directly and immediately with virtually anyone anywhere, at any time (at least in principle)?

This becomes important as our ongoing participation in online networking shifts down the relative importance of our more direct, geographically bound relationships – an inevitable consequence from the increasing levels of competition online networking can offer for our time and attention.

2. What do ubiquitous computing and communications do to the communities we collectively form and enter into when we can readily find others who agree with us completely on even our most extreme positions and views, and when we can surround ourselves with this type of mutually reinforcing positive feedback, all the time?

I think of the way extremism is coming to shape political discourse as I write that, where we no longer have what could be viewed as a build-in leavening influence of compromised dissent that geographically bound communities can in effect mandate, if we are to remain effectively connected to the communities around us.

This is a set of issues that is impacted upon by the sequestering of data and knowledge and of specific resources for sharing and accessing it. This is impacted upon by efforts and initiatives to create a commons in which more and more data, knowledge and the capabilities of creating and manipulating them are freely available to all.

The legal balance of open access as a commons and private access through patent, copyright and the like is and will continue to shift. But the basic issues are there now and simply becoming more pressing as this emerging capability forces us to in effect redefine our relationships with others and even our own beliefs, priorities and principles. Community per se takes on new meanings. That forces a redefinition as to our relationships to community and within it.

This is an area for which no one can point to a clear path moving forward. What ubiquitous computing and communications do and regardless of the legal struggles and issues, is to force us to redefine our collective worldview and we are moving into new and unexplored territory with that. The give and take of global flattening and reactive lump and ridge forming, as played out in this emerging ubiquitous computing and communications environment simply sets parameters to the arena that all of this is taking place in.

I have written some on the technology of this in this series and I will look further into that in subsequent postings but the technology per se has to be considered in this context of the people who use and are in fact immersed in it – us and all of us, early, middle and late adaptors, one and all.

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