Rivers of Thought

Life, Leadership, Business & Technology

When Tech and Politics Collide

When Tech and Politics Collide

When Tech and Politics Collide…and Why YOU Should Care

Let me get this out right now. This is not a political post. If you are an “R”, I am not going to try to move you left. If you are a “D”, I am not going to try to move you right. However, if you are a consumer of technology (and who isn’t these days), specifically the internet, there are some goings-on you should be aware of…and do something about. OK, so maybe this is a political post.

This year has seen technology take the center stage in a lot of ways. Today, I want to talk about three of them: net neutrality, browsing history, and weaponized propaganda. Admittedly, that last one has the potential to stir the hornet’s nest. Let’s look at each of them in-turn.

Net Neutrality

What is it?

In its most basic form “net neutrality” means the internet remains open. Internet Service Providers (or ISPs) cannot prioritize or assess different fees for traffic that flows through it’s network. This is part of the broader Title II repeal currently being proposed by the FCC.

The best way to explain “net neutrality” is to look at cable TV. How many times in the past several years have you seen one of the networks posting an ad that states “Programming on this channel may not be available on December 21, 2017. We are working hard to ensure your continued access.”

What are they really saying? The cable provider charges them a fee to carry their content. The cable provider wants to increase the fee. The network does not want to pay the fee. So, they are negotiating. In the meantime, if the channel goes dark, who misses out. You and me! Once they do negotiate, who pays? You and me!

Why you should care?

Take that to the internet. What if you could no longer view Netflix (or you had to pay a much higher price to view it)? What if your searches on Google were slowed down to an excruciating pace? What if YouTube was blocked? Don’t think it could happen? It can…and it will! Newer, smaller online companies will be shut out. One of the many benefits of an open internet is it levels the playing field. Small, mom and pop business of all kinds can and do compete on a national and international scale because of the internet.

What can you do?

Call Congress TODAY! Here is a great link for making that happen: Battle for the Net. Nervous about contacting Congress? They will even provide a script. Time is running out on this…the FCC is expected to release its proposal today or tomorrow and congress is expected to vote in early December.

Browsing History

What is it?

Earlier this year Congress voted to reverse legislation that forced ISPs to get your permission before selling the information they have gathered on you. What applications you use, what websites you visit, what purchases you make, what YouTube videos you watch, who do you send and receive emails with…all of it…up for sale to the highest bidder.

You are thinking so what, nothing is really private any more, besides Google and Facebook have been using my information for years. In my mind, here is the biggest difference: Google and Facebook are FREE! If you aren’t PAYING for the product, then you ARE the product. Last time I saw my ISP (internet) bill, it certainly isn’t free!

Why should you care?

You may be saying you still don’t care, everybody knows everything. Well, let’s forget for a minute that your data is your data. Nobody needs to know what size underwear you wear, nobody needs to know what illness you may have, nobody needs to know how many cat videos you watch. So, let’s forget privacy for a minute. Your data has VALUE!

Yes, allowing companies to gather and SELL information about you is like throwing dollar bills from your car as you drive down the street. Your data IS your data. If a company is going to make money off of your data, you should have a chance to share in the profits. Orange was one of the first companies I learned that was not only committed to protecting its customer’s data, but providing value to the consumer. By opting-in to allowing them to use your personal data you were given a reduction in your monthly bill.

What can you do?

Since the horse has already left the barn on this one, it’s too late to close the door. However, it is not too late to educate yourself. Read your ISPs privacy statement. Do they address your personal data and what they can do with it? Can they sell your data? Do they require an opt-in to do so? Contact them and share your concerns. Ask if they have considered providing value for the use of your data. And…put your money where your concern is…select your providers based on how they treat your data. Make it known, you know it’s your data and you know it has value.

You can also call your congressperson. Tell THEM, you know it’s your data and you know it has value.

Weaponized Propaganda

What is it?

This is not about who colluded with whom. This is not about which news is fake and which is not. This is not about the politics of this election or that election. This is about the technology and the “dark side” of how it can be used. This is about big data, “dark” posts, and bots.

Somewhat related to the Browsing History above, there is a tremendous amount of information available about you, some of it absolutely free for the taking, some of it with a price tag, but it is available just the same.  What if I told you there was a company who had developed a personality profile of YOU that consists of 5,000 data points and is being updated continuously with every like, share and tweet you make? Kind of reminds you of the lovesick stalker in the Police’s hit “Every Move You Make”, doesn’t it?

What if I told you there was an algorithm (computer programming code) written that could analyze those data points and predict your behavior better than your spouse? What if using that algorithm combined with Facebook “dark” posts and other social media outlets they could not only predict your behavior, but influence it?

What if I told you that new Facebook group you just joined with over 15,000 members had no human members other than you? All the content is generated by a computer aimed at understanding your likes and clicks and playing with your emotions.

Sound like science fiction? It’s not!

Why should you care?

Pavlov’s Dog comes to mind.

Even if you don’t believe you can be manipulated by autonomous bots creating and posting “fake news” in an effort study your clicks, it should concern you that organizations are gathering that much personal information about you and your family. It should concern you in this day and age of automated “everything” consensus data such as likes, shares, and clicks can be manipulated. It should concern you that it could impact everything from who wins America’s Got Talent to the value of the stocks in your 401K…not to mention elections {wink}!

What can you do?

Become educated. Learn and understand what’s possible. Before liking, sharing and retweeting, know and trust the source, and verify the facts. It is harder and it does take more time. Do your homework. Like the old adage of “never send an email you wouldn’t want your mother to read”, understand everything you say and do online is being watched by someone…and if they can use it to their advantage…they will.

When Tech and Politics Collide

Technology is all around us. Like most inventions it can be used for good…or not. Saying “I’m not technical” is like saying you don’t need to know about nutrition because you aren’t a dietitian. Be informed. Understand the pros and cons of the technology you use. Education is the key. And for goodness sake…be careful out there!  

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.
Or Follow Him on Twitter (@jtonindy)

Jeff blogs on a variety of platforms:

family, 60's

Copyright – Playboy

September marked the passing of a cultural icon. Love him, or despise him, Hugh Hefner almost single handedly changed American society…and the lives of many adolescent boys! His passing sparked the memory of my first encounter with his magazine.

I grew up in a small town. It was the 1960’s. Watch a rerun of “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and you get a pretty good idea of life in the 60’s in small town USA. Innocent. Simple.

I don’t think those pre-teen years could have been more stereotypical. My siblings and I walked to school and back every day. At school, I had a close group of friends. We’d been together since Kindergarten. One of the most vivid memories is of my best friend, Jeff and I bent over a transistor radio during recess as the Tigers won the ‘68 World Series, the Tigers themselves could not have been more excited as we celebrated by raising our arms above our heads, and racing across the playground, screaming with joy at the top of our lungs! Most of the memories have faded over the years, but the names and faces have not.

Every day after school, I delivered papers. All the paperboys (and girls) would gather at the newspaper office. We would spend a half hour or so folding our papers before loading them on our bikes and heading out to various parts of town. My route was several blocks south of our house. A lot of my friends lived along my path. I would buzz down the street on my bright yellow Stingray bike tossing papers toward front doors.

Baseball pretty much was IT. Yeah, there was football and basketball, but those were to merely pass the time until baseball. I played Little League baseball. My dad was usually my coach. However, most of our playing was sandlot ball…or water tower ball as we call it now. There was a small grassy area next to one of the town’s water towers. We spent days cleaning it up, hauling away trash (thanks to one of the dads for driving the pickup), and marking base paths. We spent hours and hours playing ball. Not enough kids to have teams?…home run derby was the game of choice.

Other than baseball, we spent the majority of the rest of the time playing some variation of “good guys/bad guys”. This could be Batman and Robin against the evil villains, Green Hornet and Kato, cops and robbers like Adam-12, or Combat. Our neighborhood was our “battlefield”. Our block was mostly residential. It was cut into four sections by two intersecting alleys. In the northwest quadrant was our house and the church where my dad preached. The northeast and southeast were all houses. The southwest quadrant, had an small apartment building, a Citgo gas station, a small, single story office building, and an insurance company. This quadrant was further dissected by a couple of “shortcuts” between the buildings. GREAT hiding places for bad guys and good guys alike! In fact our “Batcave” sat at the intersection of these shortcuts in a small outbuilding that held, of all things, the trash dumpsters for the office building.

It was during one of these neighborhood adventures that Roddy, one of the younger kids from down the street, and I found ourselves in need of a hideout. Not being incredibly creative, we chose the outbuilding. Inside, were two large cardboard boxes about the size of an oven. After checking to be sure they weren’t filled with trash that was “too disgusting”, we jumped in to hide. Within seconds, Roddy exclaimed, “Jeff, look at this!” In his hands was pristine issue of…PLAYBOY! Me, being older and wiser, after all, I was 10 and Roddy was just 7, I snagged the magazine from his hands. Within moments, we were staring at the Centerfold of Miss July 1968!

“Roddy,” I asked incredulously, “where did you find this?”

“Right here! Look, here is another one!”

Sure enough. We had discovered the motherload! The oven box was filled about a third full of dozens and dozens of the magazine! For a young kid who had just seen his first Playbook only seconds ago, this was a discovery of a lifetime! Holy Airbrush, Batman, this was an incredible find!

About that time my younger brother, Joel and his friend, Dale (also from down the street), showed up. For about the next 20 minutes, we dug through the magazines, each one of us in turn holding up another beauty! “Hey, look at her, she’s tough!” (For some reason “tough” was slang for “hot”) Trust me, we were not reading the articles!

Soon it dawned on us that we could not leave our goldmine where it was…we had to move it…but to where. Leaving Roddy to stand guard, the three of us began to scour the neighborhood for a good hiding place. Down the alley just past our house was a row of garages. A friend of my parents owned them and he used them to store antiques for his business. Mr. Carson rarely ventured into those garages. We tried the first door, locked. We tried the second door, locked. We got to the fifth door and the door opened. We lifted the door about two feet and peered inside. It was dark and musty…a perfect place! Our treasure would be safe here until we found a more permanent location.

We spent the next hour carefully moving armload after armload. We had to use all our skill and cunning to avoid discovery. We are on a mission! All those years of playing Good Guys/Bad Guys was really paying off. We took our last load, but before we closed the door, I snagged one of the magazines to hide in a hollow branch of the tree in the back yard. One can never be too careful.

As dinner time approached and we all needed to head home, we took the most solemn oath of all…the pinky swear…we would not breathe a word about our historic discovery. We planned to meet the next day to find a more suitable hiding place.

The next day we met behind our garage as planned. Before we discussed suitable hiding places, we went to gaze at our glorious find. We raised the door on the fifth garage…no magazines. Zippo…zero…zilch…thinking we miscounted the doors, we tried to open the other garages. All of the were locked except the fifth and seventh. No magazines. We were stunned. We’d been robbed! Who were we going to tell? I remembered the lone magazine stuffed in the tree branch. Quickly we ran to the yard and scaled the tree. I reached into the hollow branch…NOTHING. That one was gone as well!

How could this have happened? It didn’t seem possible that Mr. Carson had discovered them, especially since the one in the tree was missing as well. I smelled a rat! Someone had broken our sacred vow! Roddy had no siblings and his mom was a single mom (and honestly, we all thought she should be a centerfold!). I couldn’t imagine even if Roddy had told her that she would have pilfered our contraband, no, she would have called my parents.

I began to interrogate my brother. Had he told our older siblings? He swore not. Besides, I’d been with him all night after all, we did share a room. That left Dale. Dale, who had two older brothers. Dale, who had remained suspiciously quiet after the robbery had been discovered. Dale, who had three sets of eyes now trained on him. Of course, he vehemently denied any wrongdoing. After intense interrogation, he finally caved. He had told one of his brothers, but the brother had promised not to tell, he pleaded.

About that time my older brother came walking out of the house. “What’s the matter? Missing something?” The plot thickened! It seems Dale’s older brother had told my brother and sister. They had all had a good laugh as Dale’s brother told his story of stealing our cache of magazines. Not much we could do about it. We couldn’t tell on him. We certainly couldn’t retake our treasure using force, he could whip us all! We could do nothing but accept the fate!

It would be a long time before I found myself in possession of another one of Mr. Hefner’s magazines. Ten-year old preacher’s kids just don’t have many opportunities like the one that was ripped from our grasp! The sixties were drawing to a close. The innocence of those days is long past. I can’t help but wonder, if Hugh Hefner was launching a business today, what societal norm would he help to change?

Mark X. Hatfield - The day the music died...

July 19, 2017: The day the music died.

July 19th the world lost Mark X. Hatfield, and, yes, on July 19th…the music died.

Mark X. Hatfield - The day the music died...

Mark X. Hatfield (Photo from Mark’s Facebook page)

Mark as an organist. A church organist. He brought his gift to thousands around the world. Words cannot describe the majesty of his music. I urge you to listen to some of his performances on YouTube.

If Mark had played rock ‘n roll, he would have been known as a “keyboardist”. With no disrespect to Elton John, Billy Joel or the late Keith Emerson, that label diminishes the enormous talent God had given Mark. Whenever Mark played the organ, the congregation would come early to hear the prelude. After the service, they would sit in the pews until the last notes of the postlude echoed throughout the sanctuary.

Mark was an organist. A church organist…and so much more. Mark came to our church in the early 70’s to be the organist. When the Minister of Music left, Mark took over those duties as well and truly began his ministry. The music became an integral part of the service. He would work with my dad (the minister) to really understand the message he wanted to convey on Sunday and deeply tie the music to that message.

Mark brought a bright sense of humor with him as well. Member of the choir having a birthday? Aren’t those notes of “Happy Birthday” subtly being played underneath the melody of the offertory? “The Bringing of the Tithes” Sunday in November? I swear I hear the tones of “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof!

As Mark expanded his ministry, he resurrected the youth choir and started a youth handbell choir. The bell choir became known across the state. We were a ROCKING bell choir. I don’t mean we played rock music (other than Tubular Bells, I can’t imagine bells in rock music), I mean we ROCKED it! He was able to take us all as a group further than we ever imagined. The complexities of some of the pieces we played required some of us to play four, five, six and more bells in a given song. We were GOOD…because Mark taught us to accept nothing less than perfection.

The world will forever remember Mark for the music he made through his own fingers and feet and through the voices, hands, and instruments of those he led. Me? I will always remember Mark for what he did for me. As a young pimple-faced teenager of 17 or 18 he took me seriously. He took my dream of music seriously when few others did. All I ever wanted to do when I grew up was be a rock star.

During the 70’s I was deeply moved by the Broadway Rock Opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”. So moved, I wrote the sequel. After writing the lyrics to 20 or so songs and plinking out the melodies on guitar, I nervously shared it with Mark. To my amazement, he did not laugh. He did not make fun of me. What he did do, was spend hours and hours meeting me before Bell Choir practice and helping me write the music. When Mark took my melodies and played them, it was magical. He made those silly little songs sound REAL!

As I prepared to graduate high school, I turned my attention to college. I enrolled at Indiana State to major in Music Theory & Composition. I submitted my rock opera as part of my portfolio of work. About six weeks before school was to start I learned that even in Music Theory & Composition one must declare an instrument…oh, and rock guitar did not count (uh, nor did classical guitar). I was crushed! But, there was Mark.

Mark found an accelerated piano curriculum for adults and for the next six weeks we met several evenings a week. Mark taught me to play. He taught me to play well enough to actually audition…and to pass. I was given provisional acceptance into the school of Music.

For a variety of reasons (mostly because I had no talent) my career in rock and roll never materialized. What was born in me through Mark was a lifelong love of music, a dedication to lifelong learning and the dare to dream. Last summer, Carmen and I, along with our friends Hal and Beth Bloss, had a chance to reconnect with Mark for lunch. With tears swelling in my eyes, I was able to tell him what he meant to that pimple-faced teenager and what he means to a somewhat older and grayer grandfather today.

Mark, you will be missed deeply.  Your music will live on in the ears of all who heard it, your love will live on in the hearts of all of us who felt it!

Connect with Jeff on LinkedIn.
Or Follow Him on Twitter (@jtonindy)

Jeff blogs on a variety of platforms:

Follow me

Blog Archives

Blog Categories