On standardization, hard vs software, and privacy

Although I felt a little lost in what was being discussed in today’s seminar, there were interesting points that were brought up that are worth reflecting on. First is the issue of standardization.  Next will be the competing design philosophies.  And finally, privacy will be given another look.

It seems that economics gets in the way of establishing standards.  For instance, the emojis between iOS and Android devices are sometimes incompatible, resulting in a box-with-question-mark-inside “emoji.”  This often surprises and might even scare the user into thinking that there is a bug in their phone.  By standardizing what the bits represent, problems like this could be alleviated, and we could finally know the full meaning of the message.  However, the issue is not how hard is it to implement.  Rather, it is who gets to decide what the standards are, and who will have to change to follow these standards.  If Google’s rules becomes the standard, then Apple will not only spend millions of dollars changing their source code, but they will risk losing their customer base.  Arguably, setting standards for the network early on was an ingenious move, rather than trying to please all the different entities with their unique computers.  However, what standardization does is remove uniqueness.  Progress only occurs at the rate at which the standardizer wants.  A more nuanced analysis of standardization should take place because if we rely on economics to give us a clear answer, it would most likely be “It depends.”

Discussing about the design philosophies regarding the hardware and software of the Internet was intriguing.  Hardware was designed by companies such as Honeywell, with university professors working on it.  Furthermore, this hardware was designed for a specific purpose, making it inflexible with certain tasks.  On the other hand, software was seen as the less noble pursuit.  Thus, graduate students were put in charge of it.  Additionally, it was designed to be malleable.  This dichotomy further reinforces the idea of hardware and software; one is hard to modify and done by certain groups, while the other is soft to change and can be done by many people.  This idea in technology is still reflected in the present day.  Not everyone can make their own computer hardware, but almost anyone with a computer can make software.

The last but certainly not the last that we will hear of it, privacy.  Jim brought up an interesting point about cellphones: they always know where you are, even with location services turned off.  Although this was required by law for emergency purposes, is it really ethical for our movements be able to be tracked?  Tying back to the article discussed last week, how much information being collected is too much information?  This problem will only exacerbate as technology progresses and becomes more integrated into our lives.  Do we have to trade our privacy for customization and convenience?  

1 Comment »

  1. Mike Smith

    September 17, 2017 @ 5:45 pm


    Robert, if you ever feel lost in class, please stop us and ask. I’m sure others will be too!

    You hit the nail on the head with your discussion of standards. It all comes down to an argument of who gets to decide. This is difficult enough when you’re focused on a small community of users (as in the early ARPANET) or a single country (before the Internet), but becomes nearly impossible when you’re talking about something that spans the world and so many of its inhabitants!

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