Steve Nay's ramblings

Global Constant

Cell phone service on NYC subway platforms

AT&T and T-Mobile are expected to roll out cell phone service tomorrow to several platforms in the New York subway system. This is not unprecedented; California’s BART and Boston’s MBTA have had similar systems for years. This is a good move technologically, but many passengers have come to value their time in subway tunnels as a respite from the hectic above-ground life. As I’ve written before, we still need time to think, disconnected from cell phones and WiFi. Offering cell phone service in the subway extends the enticing tentacles of connection, making it harder to put away the devices and ponder. Ultimately, however, it’s still our choice whether to use that time for quiet reflection or feverish emailing.

Posted 26 September 2011

Paying for something “free”

Netflix got a lot of backlash when they raised prices last month by separating subscriptions for their streaming and DVD-by-mail services. Today they announced that the DVD service is being spun off as a separate business unit with a new name of dubious merit: Qwikster. The negative response to these actions emphasizes a critical point of consumer psychology in the Internet era, which Megan McArdle puts well: If people have come to expect something for free, “you will have a devilishly hard time getting them to pay for it.” Netflix has already suffered losses from trying to charge for something people thought was free, and breaking off the DVD service only compounds that problem. A company like Redbox that appears to offer more value per dollar stands to gain the customers Netflix is losing.

Posted 20 September 2011

Subscription services

Amazon is reported to be “in talks” to create a subscription service for ebooks. While Amazon’s “selling” (read: licensing) of ebooks through their Kindle ecosystem currently blurs the distinction between owning something and merely being allowed to use it, subscription services blur that even more. Spotify and Netflix have done that for movies and music–I don’t own the songs I’ve starred in Spotify, even though I seem to be able to listen to them whenever I want. For the convenience of having access to a vast library of media, I have relinquished my claim to control over that media; my ability to stream is at the mercy of Spotify. Amazon would like to do a similar thing with books. It will be a difficult proposition for both publishers and consumers.

Posted 13 September 2011

Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” So wrote T. S. Eliot. Technology puts in our hands a tremendous source of information. Google, for example, has obsoleted the pedantic memorization of facts. But that very technology we call a boon threatens to erode our knowledge in a flood of information, endangering the wisdom that arises from knowledge. Information, while a valuable tool, must not supplant introspection, synthesis, and learning; it should rather enhance them. Technology must not corrode intellectual development but empower it.

Inspiration drawn from “Focus and Priorities” by Dallin H. Oaks and “Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change” by Neil Postman, both of which cite this idea from T. S. Eliot.

Posted 7 September 2011

Posts to come for CS 404: Ethics and Computers in Society

This semester at BYU I’m enrolled in Charles Knutson’s CS 404 course, entitled “Ethics and Computers in Society.” As part of that class, I will write regular posts in response to the assigned reading material. I’ve decided to post those on this blog, rather than create a separate blog. You, dear reader, will thus have the privilege of reading my thoughts from this class.

All the CS 404 posts will be available as a separate feed if you so desire (my classmates will find that useful). It is available here: CS 404.

As always, feel free to leave comments and share your thoughts.

Posted 30 August 2011