Unwiring in upstate

Here in upstate NY, driving miles of country roads to go hiking in an ancient gorge and plunge into the cool depths of the natural swimming pool is well worth the trip.

Visiting Stony Brook takes me back nearly 4 decades, to looking for fossils in the ancient walls, waterfalls, and the indelible memory of chilly, clear waters dappled with sun.

As forest baths go, this was restorative.

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As screens become more ubiquitous, how people use them becomes more important

This weekend, the Sunday New York Times Magazine published a new feature that made a bold assertion: “human contact is now a luxury good.” (I tweeted out a thread about it, but it merits being a blog post.)

Honestly, before we accept an underlying premise, I’d like to see hard data that supports this article’s conclusion about how wealthy people live today, including:

  • how much screentime “the rich” spend daily vs everyone else
  • whether they’re on computing devices versus TVs
  • what they do on those screens (consumption, production, management)

It’s possible that wealthy people spending more on experiences versus on consumer technology reflects a cultural shift and their deeper understanding of the “secret to happiness.” It could also be that cohort already has big TVs, smartphones, tablets, & computers in 2019.

Minimizing screentime in favor of human assistants or meetings is one thing, but I’d like to read more about how, exactly, the wealthy have “opted out” of having their data and their attention sold as a product. Who has been able to leverage their wealth to do this, where, and how?

For instance, how much does Uber know about how some of the rich, more powerful people in the world move around DC and when? Have “the wealthy” opted out? Or what does Google know about their interests? Have they blocked data brokers compiling a profile? And so on.

I don’t doubt many wealthy parents have altered personal tech use themselves & academic use for kids in response to growing evidence of negative impact. We all should be. That’s why I wish NYT had linked to the NIH study on screen time, not a CBS News report on it.

Parents, teachers, principals, and legislators all need to be even more involved not just in crucial access issues (like whether a school has a broadband Internet access or a computer for each child) but also their use. Are kids gaming, watching and consuming? What? How often? At what ages? Or coding, writing, or creating? Are teachers showing them videos on their personal devices?

But education tech aside (the most important part of this piece, to me) I think the assertion that “human contact is rare” for poor people also needs more data behind it, particularly as the result of tech companies intending to confuse themes.

If you don’t have money, you can’t pay for someone else’s time. You can’t outsource a task or errand. You trade time, labor, & even health to earn money. For some parents, work means letting kids watch TV or phone isn’t as much of a choice.

The NYT reporter talked to Sherry Turkle about this, who compared screentime to fast food. It’s…an apt comparison! People know it’s unhealthy, but it’s cheap, accessible, ubiquitously marketed, & can be comforting. Behavioral addictions mediated by tech have parallels to other public health problems.

What’s missing is the extent to which tech use and human contact is mediated not just by wealth but by power, as I discussed with Turkle years ago. It’s implicit, but bears discussion. I suspect it’s only a “status symbol” to be device-free within tiny wealthy and/or highly educated cohorts.

As technology is integrated more into every profession & industry, who has to be connected & when is only the start of a conversation implicating not just workers’ rights but civil liberties & human dignity. Consider who has to wear GPS anklets after they serve their sentences in prison, or the explosion in workplace tracking and the expansion of the “employer surveillance state.”

The NYT article ends not by interrogating this dynamic between wealth or power, or disparities in screen use across class, race or gender, but exploring how tech connects humans in nursing homes, enabling remote workers interact with bed-ridden seniors, the impact of which could be its own followup story.

Some research I’ve seen (and the New York Times has published) suggests technology is not driving us apart, but connecting us.

How, where, when, who, and to what effect remain questions I hope we all keep asking.

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A new texting project to make sense of the zeitgeist

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This spring, I’ve started a new experiment to connect to people with ideas and, perhaps, to one another: a text messaging newsletter about democracy and technology.

Here’s my basic pitch: Emerging technology has the power to make democracy stronger or weaker.  For $2 every month, you’ll get a mix of news, ideas, projects, proposed laws, and analysis about how technologies are changing our democracy – or vice versa.

Understanding where, when, and how that’s happening is the hard part, as I’ve learned over the past decade of covering this space as an independent writer, digital governance expert, and open government advocate based in the District of Columbia. Figuring out why is often the most difficult, and it’s there that I hope to hear back from people, too: a distributed audience has always made me smarter.

I haven’t decided on how often I’ll send updates, but I’ve been trying a daily practice, to begin. I will be paying close to attention how people respond and what they want. If this interests you, I hope you’ll consider subscribing.

If you’re wondering how the financial side works, by the way, here’s the deal: a subscription cost $2 every month. Of that amount, Stripe will take 5%, data fees will take 5%, and Project Text (which is part of Advance Media) would take 10% of the remainder (18 cents), which would leave me with $1.62 per subscriber.

I should note that I have no plans to stop sharing public insights online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, articles,  interviews and talks. It’s just that it’s important to me professionally to keep growing, trying new things, and seeing if people are willing to pay a little bit for my insight.s

Thank you, as always, for listening.

Image: Wikimedia

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The Sounds of Email

Over on Twitter, Amie Stepanovich shared adapted lyrics to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence” to email.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I helped finish the song there yesterday, and thought it was worth pulling together today. You can listen to an excellent version from their concert in the park in the embedded video below, if you’d like some voices in your head as you read.

The first verse is hers, the rest are mine. I shared a lightly edited because I enjoyed the writing exercise & it made me smile. Perhaps reading will do that for you, too.

Hello email, my old friend
Don’t think that you’ll ever end
Because an inbox that is heaping
Keeps on growing while I am sleeping
And the unread that are waiting in the cloud
Are disavowed
To be met with the sound of silence

In restless dreams I browsed alone
Narrow screens of Apple phones
‘Neath the halo of a desk lamp
I moved my fingers as they were cold and cramped
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a laptop light That split the night
And heard the sound of email

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand emails, maybe more
People writing without speaking
People reading without listening
People sending spam that servers never shared
No one dared
Disturb the sound of email

“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Email like a cancer grows
DM me so I might teach you
Text my phone so I might reach you”
But my words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the bowels of email

And the people refreshed and prayed
To the smartphone gods they made
And my inbox flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the screen said, “The words of the spammers
Are written on Facebook walls
And firewalls”
And whispered in the sounds of email.

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Facebook blocks boost of Facebook update about Facebook adopting public interest feature

I shared the piece I wrote for Medium about the need to preserve ephemeral updates by politicians & civil servants on my Page. I decided to experiment with boosting it.

Facebook did not approve the “ad,” classifying it as political.

When I experimented further by seeing what was required of me for “identity confirmation,” it simply…didn’t work for me in the Facebook app. Tap button, nothing happens.

Some irony here: I was at the tip of the spear pushing Facebook to adopt political ad transparency & worked with Congress on a law to mandate it!

And now, as a result of their ham-handed self-regulation, I can’t engage people on Facebook about my piece advocating Facebook creating a public interest file for politicians and civil servants who create ephemeral media (“Stories”) on Instagram and Facebook.

UPDATE: When I shared this on Twitter, Rob Leathern, the director of product at Facebook responsive for ads integrity and transparency, replied to my @mention, stating that “This is not blocked – this is an ad about an issue of national importance and so requires you to go through the authorization process, before it will run.”

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

When I said the feature wasn’t available on mobile, he told me to visit Facebook from a desktop computer to complete the process. When I did so, Facebook prompted me to enter a mailing address and upload images of my passport, driver’s license or state ID.

There’s an interesting wrinkle here, as I noted to Leathern on Twitter: I’ve been “verified” on Facebook for years now, with a big blue checkmark next to my name and a special signifier in comments. What, exactly, does being “Verified” mean if Facebook still needs to identify who I am?

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How to support open government on #GivingTuesday

Today is the seventh “Giving Tuesday,” a “global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration” created by Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.

As the holiday season begins, you can support the change you want to see in the world by subscribing to newspapers that produce accountability journalism that informs the public about our governments and corporations, or donating to trustworthy, transparent nonprofits that hold government accountable. Since many nonprofits are receiving matching funds today from companies or individuals, donating on #GivingTuesday can have double the impact.

Make sure your donations lead to impact

Before you click to give, however, do your homework! Not all nonprofits are well-run.

Before you click donate, take a moment to evaluate the organization using its website, Charity Navigator, GuideStar, and media reports.

Look at the most recent tax return (Form 990) and for evidence of commitments to transparent, good governance.

For instance, are there 5 independent board members? Does the board disclose minutes? are leadership transparent and accountable on social media about their decisions regarding activities, expenses, personnel, or errors?

Does a nonprofit disclose its donors, or is it a “dark money” group? Does a high percentage of spending go to programs? Do they show demonstrable impact in the activities described in the charter?

If the nonprofit produces news, how many standardized “trust indicators do they disclose to provide clarity about their ethical standards, fairness, accuracy? Do they “show the work” behind a news story, explaining their methods, publishing open data, and code?

Nonprofits supporting open government

Recent years have shown how important watchdogs and advocates are to defending civil liberties and democracy itself, online and off.

Following is a list of a worthy organizations, with links to donate.

ProPublica and the Center for Public Integrity report in the public’s interest, informing us of what is being done in our name by governments and holding corporations accountable.

The Center for Responsive Politics adds sunshine to campaign finance, publishing open government data at OpenSecrets.org.

The Project on Government Oversight fights corruption, defends the Freedom of Information Act, and works to improve oversight and government integrity in all three branches of government.

Protect Democracy monitors, investigates, and litigated against any anti-democratic actions taken by the Executive Branch of the United States.

MuckRock makes it easy to make Freedom of Information Act requests, publishes the responses, reports on the documents and data its users bring into the sunshine, and much more.

Code for America is reimagining how government systems can and should work better through civic technology and user-centered design.

The Institute for Investigative Editors (IRE) is the nation’s largest group of watchdogs, improving the quality of investigative reporting. IRE sustains the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR).

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters without Borders protect and defend press freedom, bringing important freedom of information lawsuits and supporting journalists.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Brennan Center, the Campaign Legal Center, the Electronic Privacy Center, and Privacy International defend civil liberties, privacy, Internet freedom, election integrity, public access to public information, and much more.

Remember: your donations on Giving Tuesday will have twice the impact!

Thank you for reading, and for supporting open government.

 

 

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Trumping Trump on Twitter

[Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2012. It was recovered from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine and republished in 2018.]

This is the most retweeted tweet I’ve tweeted to date:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

It blew up so much it attracted Donald Trump’s notice. He responded:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I dream of the day when I get nearly 1,700+ retweets of a story instead of a sentiment. Apparently, I touched a nerve. My tweet just kept going and going and going.

By the numbers, my tweet was amplified five times as much as Trump’s, with a bit less than 10% of the followers. On particular count, I may have “trumped” the real estate mogul on Twitter, although I think it’s safe to say that this is an imperfect gauge of public opinion. He also shows no signs of shifting his course.

On a more qualitative level, Trump’s @mention of me exposed me to a day’s worth of emotional feedback online. I received many negative @replies on Twitter when the @WhiteHouse retweeted me last July. The angry responses after Donald Trump @mentioned me this week, however, were worse in scale and composition.

As I gain more surface area online and in the media, through television appearances, I’m finding that I’m encountering more hate, fear, ignorance and anger everywhere. Honestly, I have a hard time not responding to people online. I’ve never liked seeing broadcast journalists and celebrities ignore people, even angry viewers or fans. It’s not how I’ve worked over the last decade and I don’t intend to change.

As I gain more of a platform to focus attention on issues that matter, this won’t get easier. The Internet mirrors what is worst in humanity, along with what’s best in us. The Web is what we make of it. It’s a bitter reality, though I think it’s been part of the public sphere as long as we’ve had one.

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White House announced new co-creation workshops for new national open government plan

On May 29, senior officials from the White House Office of Management and Budget and the State Department confirmed that the United States will developed a new National Action Plan for Open Government for the Open Government Partnership this spring and summer, hosting two “co-creation” events in June and re-opening an online forum for public comments on Github. The State Department announced that the U.S. would be restarting the consultation process for building a new plan.

Today, in an email sent to the open government and civil society working group email listserv, GSA analyst Alicia Yozzi shared noted about the remarks delivered by the three officials, who were

  • Matt Lira, special assistant to the president for innovation policy and initiatives in the White House Office of American Innovation
  • Matt Bailey, acting policy unit chief, Office of the U.S. Chief Information Office, White House Office of Management and Budget
  • Chanan Weissman, special advisor in the Department of State

I’ve published the notes in full, below:

From: Alycia (Piazza) Yozzi
Date: Wed, May 30, 2018 at 5:20 PM
Subject: Save the Date & Notes from the 5/29 Inter-Agency Open Government Working Group Meeting
To: US Open Government <us-open-government@googlegroups.com>, OpenGov@listserv.gsa.gov

Hello OpenGov Community,

Yesterday morning, we convened the public U.S. inter-agency Open Government Working Group meeting with civil society in the offices of General Services Administration (GSA) and launched the process to develop and ultimately publish the Fourth Open Government Partnership (OGP) U.S. National Action Plan.

Thank you to those who joined us by phone and in-person. If you could not make it we’ve captured notes and I’m including them below.

SAVE THE DATE(s) – We will be hosting 2 Co-Creation Sessions to develop the 4th U.S. National Action Plan (NAP 4) and would love to have you join us. Space is limited so please register in advance. Passcode: OpenGov2018

You can register for either:

Thursday, June 14 from 9:00 am – 12:00pm

Thursday, June 21, from 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nap-4-working-session-registration-46585789350  Passcode:OpenGov2018

RESOURCES – Here are links to a few of the key resources mentioned at the meeting:

OpenGov Civil Society Meeting Minutes – 5/29/18

  • Matt Lira – Special Assistant in the White House Office of American Innovation

    • This Administration is committed to open government in the United States. Today we are here to renew the process of drafting and publishing the Fourth National Action Plan.
    • Empowering American citizens to hold their government accountable is a core function of any democracy and a priority for this Administration. A core objective is to ensure that our government is efficient, effective, and accountable to the American people.
    • We view this as a whole-of-team effort. The U.S. government will have a number of offices within the State Department, the GSA, and other agencies working on the fourth OGP National Action Plan.
    • We want to hear from you – citizen engagement and public participation is a critical part of this process. To help focus these discussions, the President’s Management Agenda will serve as a guiding document for our commitments. In particular, we will look forward to your input on the following areas of interest:
      • Modernizing Government Technology to Increase Productivity and Security
      • Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset
      • Developing a Workforce for the 21st Century
    • Consistent with OGP’s feedback to all of its participants, we expect the fourth National Action Plan to include fewer – but more impactful – commitments relative to previous years.
  • Matt Bailey – Acting Policy Unit Chief, OFCIO, OMB

    • Highlighted that the OpenGov team really wants to get agencies and civil society together for the co-creation events, especially those that are able to make commitments for the new NAP.
    • We want to be able to have frank, open discussions with the public and the agencies that will be able to implement the recommendations.
    • Save the date for 6/14 and 6/21 for the co creation events. More information coming soon. [Note that 6/14 and 6/21 are now the confirmed dates.]
    • Cross-agency priority goals constitute the President’s Management Agenda (PMA) which, along with previous public input will serve as the starting point for this process
  • Chanan Weissman, Special Advisor, Department of State

    • Chanan provided a very brief overview of the soon-to-be released Independent Reporting Mechanism (IRM) Report on the Third U.S. National Action Plan and the status of the upcoming OGP Global Summit.
    • He thanked open gov representatives throughout the inter-agency for their feedback on the pre-publication version of the Report. Agencies provided 60 plus distinct comments, edits, clarifications, etc. back to OGP IRM researchers.
    • IRM cited three noteworthy highlights:
      • Modernization of access to information
      • Open science
      • Police open data
    • IRM Report’s five main recommendations included:
      • collaboration with the public,
      • fewer and more transformative commitments,
      • ethics reform,
      • service delivery and infrastructure, and
      • legislation branch involvement.
    • IRM Report information can be found online and out for release soon.
    • TheOGP Global Summit in Tbilisi, Georgia on July 17-19. The last one was in Paris, France in December 2016. This year,they are streamlining the number of attendees (1000-1500 versus ~3,000 in years’ past) and limiting the number of panel discussion themes to three: anti-corruption, public service delivery, and civic participation.

Questions/Feedback

o     There is a Google Group to share information and a Github account. Unfortunately, Github is not accessible to everyone. Can the group be sure to use the google group to share?

  • Yes. We will be sure to leverage the Google group to include the majority of people.

o    Can you talk more about the OGP co-creation events?

  • We’d love to hear feedback on how to structure that process most effectively
  • We are still developing the structure but want it to be productive
  • Both events will at GSA, one in the morning and one in the afternoon
  • We are considering ways to include folks who cannot be present in person

Regrettably, I could not attend nor participate in this public meeting due to illness, or I would have asked several questions.  Thanks to the GSA for taking these notes and circulating them online.

Whether the United States government actually follows through engaging the public almost a year later in an open process that involves that “collaboration of citizens, civil society, political and official champions and other stakeholders” is an open question that will be answered over the next month — but there’s ample reasons to be skeptical, given political polarization, partisan rancor and low trust in government.

After historic regressions on open government, the Trump administration committed to continued participation in the partnership last fall, only to delay building a new plan after short, flawed public consultation.

Almost a decade ago, we saw what the Obama administration at least attempted to do with Change.gov and then the Open Government Initiative. Two government-hosted events in DC and a Github forum are not going to be meet the more robust standards for public participation and co-creation that OGP has promulgated after years of weak consultations.

The Open Government Partnership was designed to be a platform that would give civil society an equal seat at the table. That would means not just voting on a pre-existing management agenda or pre-populated commitments from closed workshops, but getting commitments that are responsive to the great challenges that face American democracy into the plan, including ethics reforms.

In the Trump era, until we start seeing seeing federal agencies, Cabinet members, and the White House itself using social media, mobile devices, radio, and TV appearances to not only inform and engage the public but to incorporate public feedback into meaningful government reform proposals, unfortunately there’s little reason to trust that this newfound commitment to open government is serious.

 

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Use apps. Not too much. Mostly productivity.

Fascinating new research from the World Economic Forum offers more insight about how using mobile apps leaves people feeling — and how moderation can reduce regret:

Here’s the key contention: for many of the apps that people uses the most, there is a time when the law of diminishing returns kicks in, after which time more use begins to leave us with increased regret.

That’s about 20 minutes a day, for Facebook. I do wonder if Facebook’s internal data would show about how happiness changes over time, across different interactions. I suspect more time interacting with friends and less time passively consuming pictures and video is correlated with more positive feeling.

My takeaways:

1) intentional use & discipline can have a real impact on someone’s sense of well-being and reported happiness. (That sounds a lot like a doctor recommending a healthy diet and daily exercise, to me. Common sense but not always easy to do.)

2) lots of time spent on some apps are strongly enough associated unhappiness that people struggling with depression should probably delete them if they cannot moderate use.

3) In aggregate, this likely adds up to unprecedented combination of cognitive loads for people who spend a lot off time every day staring at their smartphones (ahem!) which may explain our complex relationship we have constant connectivity.

I think I’ll try to adapt Michael Pollan’s mantra for eating to a healthier “digital diet” this year:

Use apps.

Not too much.

Mostly productivity.

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Transitions

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My last day at the Sunlight Foundation was this past Monday, April 30, just over two years since I joined. My final day in the office, in fact, was 12 years to the day after the nonpartisan nonprofit was founded, an Internet era ago in 2006.

I’m glad that the last interview that I sat down for was Episode 304 of Michael O’Connell’s excellent “It’s All Journalism” podcast, taped over at Federal News Radio, almost six years after I first joined his series to talk about open government.  I’ve learned a lot about fighting for truth and transparency in the interim, and plan to share more in the year ahead.

I have been incredibly proud to wear Sunlight’s pin on my jacket lapel and speak up for public access to public information around the world, from Congress and the White House to foreign capitols in Europe and South America.

I’m also incredibly grateful for the extraordinary opportunity to not only work on some of the most important democratic issues that we face as a nation and a worldwide community, from access to information and freedom of expression to human rights, but also to advocate for meaningful reforms that create the changes in the world we wish to see.

I’ve seen the projects that I created and nurtured at Sunlight drive national conversations and catalyze oversight, from acting as a transparency watchdog to  tracking Trump’s conflicts of interest and reporting on the corruption of this presidency, to the helping to nurture the development and launch of the Web Integrity Project after we started tracking open data takedowns. I talked with hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists about open government and civic technology. And I was proud to convene conversations during Sunshine Week , moderate debates and deliver keynote talks abroad.

I learned a lot about working with Congress as well, from Freedom of Information Act reform to the Open Government Data Act. I’m particularly proud that in 2017, after we called for political ad transparency online in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, U.S. Senators came to us and drafted the Honest Ads Act with us and Sunlight’s allies. In 2018, Facebook, Twitter and Google are all working on implementing versions of the disclosures and disclaimers that we called for, the bill remains in play in Congress, and states are drafting laws based on it. As a native of upstate New York, I couldn’t be more pleased that New York State passed the Democracy Protection Act, on which I worked with Cuomo’s legislative staff.

Government openness, transparency, and accountability matter now more than ever. I will continue to be an advocate in this space for these ideals and the maintenance of the laws that ensure public access, consent and participation aren’t an afterthought in governance. This isn’t just about the United States, but all of us. One of my favorite duties Sunlight was to host and moderate discussions about open government around DC with delegations of foreign government officials, journalists and transparency advocates. I always learned more than I shared.

I hope that Sunlight will endure as a beacon for the public, press and open government movement around the world in the year ahead.

I’m going to continue to live and work on Capitol Hill as an independent writer, open government advocate, parent, neighbor, and engaged citizen. If you’re DC, I may run into you at New America, for a discussion about online comments and good governance.

While I won’t be stepping offline or disengaging just yet, I also haven’t taken a proper vacation since August 2016, staying connected through the holidays and weekends of this unprecedented presidency — so that’s on the docket. I’ll share more about what’s next in the weeks to come.

Thank you to everyone who helped me to find my feet in April 2016 and has collaborated with me over the past two years.  I hope to see you soon.

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