Anthony J. Pennings, PhD

WRITINGS ON DIGITAL STRATEGIES, ICT ECONOMICS, AND GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS

Korea in a Post-Covid-19 World, Part 1: The Korean New Deal

Posted on | December 6, 2020 | No Comments

In early November 2020, I attended the World Bank IDA – Korea Workshop on Innovation and Digital Technology in a Post-Covid World. Sponsored by the World Bank’s International Development Agency (IDA) and the Korean Ministry of Economy and Finance, it was held at The World Bank Group Korea office here in Songdo, Korea. I was too busy to go across town to attend in person, but found the virtual proceedings to be quite interesting. (Best to “fast-forward” to 30 minutes).

The conference covered many relevant issues dealing with technology in a post-Covid-19 world. For this series of posts, I am primarily interested in the vision of the future for the Republic of Korea that draws on the American “New Deal” and its intersection with technology and sustainable development. Below, I discuss the New Deal and its rhetorical reincarnation as the “Green New Deal” in the US and Korea in the wake of the financial crises of 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020-21. I am also intrigued by Korea’s merging of the Green New Deal with a “Digital New Deal,“ which I will cover in a future post.

The New Deal was the name given to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) strategies in the 1930s to recover from the Great Depression and its influence that continued well into the latter half of the 20th century. It unabashedly used the power of government to reform the economy for industrialization and World War II mobilization, and later the containment strategies for global finance and Communism after WWII.

The World Bank is not a United Nations agency but instead came out of the New Deal’s Bretton Woods Agreements at the end of World War II that designed the new global finance and international trade regime. The World Bank’s IDA is managed by its 173 shareholder countries that guide its investment portfolio from more than 50 donor countries to promote economic growth and reduce poverty. So, the introduction of Korea’s New Deal at the jointly sponsored conference seemed appropriate.

The New Deal term has circulated extensively in the wake of concerns about climate change and, more recently, in thinking about the COVID-19 epidemic and its repercussions. Its (re)emergence has been traced to “A Green New Deal” report by the New Economics Foundation released in the United Kingdom in July 2008 and intended to initiate a comprehensive national plan to revive the economy and combat climate change. Written by the Green New Deal Group, it outlined a series of policy proposals to tackle the financial crash, global climate change, and the limits of an oil-based economy. But the Tories won in the UK in 2009, and the ideas were largely marginalized.

Likewise, in the US, the Obama administration focused on a general stimulus and healthcare in 2009. The American Clean Energy and Security Act died in the Senate before the Republicans swept the 2010 midterms. The idea of the Green New Deal died as well, except among progressive left politicians such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein and independent Bernie Sanders. Both waged 2016 presidential campaigns that included a GND. It became an issue in the 2018 midterm campaigns and helped propel Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) into a Congressional seat (D-NY).

AOC then joined with Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) in early 2019 to introduce the H.R. 109 resolution on February 7 in the 116th Congress. It recognized climate warnings due to greenhouse gas effects and called on the US to use its technological expertise to reduce harmful emissions. It also recognized that the New Deal and World War II mobilization created the biggest middle class in US history and that the Green New Deal should strive to create economic security, especially for vulnerable groups. Among the remedies for these problems, it suggested meeting “100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” and distributing electricity through “smart grids.” This chart on the Green New Deal by the Data for Progress shows the uptick in interest in the term.

I was particularly struck by presentations on the Korean New Deal by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, introduced first by Deputy Minister for International Affairs Taesik Yoon and in more detail in the Keynote Speech by Dae Joong Lee. In “Linking the Korean New Deal with Innovation and Technology in the Post Covid-19 Era”, the ministry’s Director of Development Finance first reviewed the Republic of Korea’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Korea was hit hard and early but effectively reduced the adverse health effects and by September had restored a good amount of its economic growth. This was due mainly because of its effective “test, trace, and treat” strategy to the virus.

But given the lingering effects of the pandemic around the world, Director Lee laid out the general plan for a Post-Covid Korean New Deal. It stresses a Digital New Deal and a related Green New Deal – within the context of a national “safety net” and an emphasis on employment and concern for the training of human resources.

Now, it’s one thing to put together some fancy PowerPoint slides and another to enact a nation-wide transformation of the political economy. But Korea tended to “walk the walk” recently and not just “talk the talk,” so I think its worth keeping an eye on Korea’s strategy for digital and sustainable development. The Korean digital strategy, as researched by my colleague James Larson, has paid off handsomely so far for the small peninsula nation.

In the next post I continue the discussion of Korea’s New Deal and its inclusion of a Digital New Deal and a Green New Deal.

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Starlink and the Return of Satellite Internet Service

Posted on | December 2, 2020 | No Comments

Arthur C. Clarke’s extraordinary vision and engineering analysis of “rocket stations” circling the Earth and providing global radio service has been challenged and surpassed over the years. It was an extraordinary vision, but technological innovations have continued to offer new designs and solutions. The current Starlink satellite system is a radical departure from Clarke’s original vision to put satellites into geosynchronous orbits along the equator. This post looks at a new satellite system being put into place by Elon Musk and his SpaceX operations and how it can reach remote locations traditionally underserved by traditional Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

CLARKE BELT

Musk’s new company hopes to eventually launch as many as 42,000 satellites providing data services throughout the world from orbits as low as 400 km. In 2018 Space X received approval from the FCC for 7518 Ka-band and V-band (40 to 75 gigahertz-GHz) satellites at 335-kilometer orbits in addition to the 4425 satellites initially approved.

Clarke’s vision was achieved in the mid-1960s as part of the Apollo Space Program when three Intelsat satellites were put into geosynchronous orbit. It provided a telecommunications footprint over most of the world that could facilitate many telephone calls or a television broadcast. Many satellites followed, and global services such as CNN became available. The Iridium satellite system was designed and rolled out in the 1990s to provide mobile services. Its business model had difficulty competing with wireless companies and went into bankruptcy by 2000. It uses 66 active satellites in LEO (781 kilometers) for service to mobile phones and special antennas and has found its niche with government and international organizations.

Starlink connects its smaller, low earth orbit (LEO) satellites with laser communications. Light moves faster in the vacuum of space than through the glass conduits of fiber optic cables. Undersea cables transmitting light signals have largely replaced satellites for global communications, so connecting these smaller spacecraft provides a significant threat to the status quo.

Speed is very attractive for financial companies and other industries that need to move data with little latency. Transmitting across continents and oceans is much faster by light, and the lower altitudes make radio communications with earth-based antennas quicker. Significant customers are expected to be banks, hedge funds, and other financial operations that engage in high-frequency trading. eSports game competition is one area that I expect will take off globally as the diminished latency will literally create a “level playing field” between gamers around the world.

One of the benefits of satellite communications has been its ability to bypass borders of geography and nationality. It holds new promise for people in rural areas that have trouble accessing internet service providers. The man in this video, Brett Batie in Idaho, installs a Starlink antenna on his home and shows the process of “unboxing” and setting up the satellite connection.

The Starlink antenna is part of the beta testing of the satellite service, and the data is still being collected about the quality of the service. In this case, the service allows him to download data at 40 to nearly 100 Mbps and uplink at 10-25 Mbps. Quite a difference from the 2Mbps that he struggled to get previously from his ISP.

Musk announced the satellite program on Jan 18, 2015, with the launch of SpaceX. He had to file plans and get approval from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the Federal Communications Commission in the USA. The plan was to initially serve Northern US and Canada. Those testing the Starlink service report that their antennas end up pointing north, so I expect that a string of satellites have been placed in in along a northern latitude. Geosynchronous satellites are placed exclusively along the equator.

Musk also announced that the Starlink program is designed to produce cash for SpaceX’s missions to Mars.

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he was on the on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at Hannam University in Korea and Marist College in New York. He started his career at Victoria University in New Zealand. He spent a decade as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii researching ICT4D. Originally from Goshen, New York, he now keeps a home in Austin, Texas.

The International Politics of Domain Name Governance, Part Two: ICANN and the Clinton-Gore Administration

Posted on | November 12, 2020 | No Comments

This post is the second in a series about the global politics of domain name registration and management. Domain names are critical identifiers of web resources that facilitate easy access for users. Part One about Jon Postel discussed the heroic but ad hoc process of managing addresses in the earliest days of the Internet. As the World Wide Web (WWW) emerged with the invention of the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP), management of the domain name system became crucial for e-commerce. It also became a controversial issue for international politics. The Clinton-Gore administration saw the Internet as a major opportunity but also a historically tricky infrastructure to manage, including complications with other countries.

The monopoly for the domain name registry system was turned over to InterNIC (Internet Network Information Center) in 1995. It was a subsidiary of Scientific Applications International Corporation (SIAC), a private company heavily engaged in activities for the Pentagon and the National Security Agency (NSA). Led by a board of ex-NSA, CIA, and DoD officials, the company made money from issuing customized Internet addresses.

These domain names became very valuable as the WWW and its “dot.com” economy started to expand rapidly in the mid-1990s. The commercialization of the NSFNet in 1992 and the introduction of the Mosaic browser in 1994 spread the hope of a “new economy.” The following year, the highly successful Netscape IPO, based on another successful browser, unleashed new investment in high technology and Internet stocks.

The Clinton-Gore administration became particularly aggressive in creating the Internet’s policy framework for domestic and international expansion and commerce. Branded initially in 1993 as the National Information Infrastructure (NII) and later the Global Information Infrastructure (GII) in 1994, the new vernacular by Vice-President Gore allowed for a government interventionist approach. The GII was a conceptual framework to challenge telecommunications companies worldwide to pave the way for data communications and all the related services promised by ISDN.

At home, they pushed an enabling framework for the NII that encouraged private investment; promoted and protected competition; and provided open access to the Internet by consumers and service providers. This approach also emphasized advancing universal service to avoid the digital divide – a society of information “haves” and “have nots.”

Internationally, their work to set up the World Trade Organization (WTO) facilitated the modernization of telecom networks worldwide and broke down the tariff barriers to global IP. In his speeches to the ITU and the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) in 1994, Gore set up the conditions for the World Wide Web we know today. Gore traveled to Marrakesh, Morocco, and at the closing meeting of the Uruguay Round of the GATT negotiations called for creating a World Trade Organization.

The WTO was one of the original objectives of the New Deal’s Bretton Woods agreements at the end of World War II but never received US Congressional approval. However, on November 29, 1994, a bi-partisan vote in Congress allowed the bill to move to the Senate that year and the WTO was approved 76-24 on December 1. The WTO would quickly conclude two historical agreements that liberalized global trade in information technology (1996) and telecommunications trade (1997).

In 1996, Ira Magaziner had set up an interagency group to study domain names as part of his responsibility in the Clinton-Gore administration for international trade. Magaziner’s position paper was released as “A Framework for Global Electronic Commerce” announced by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore at a public event on July 1, 1997 and became the basis for the Administration’s policy of managed liberalization for e-commerce and the management of the domain name system.

The Clinton-Gore administration wanted to hold off efforts by the United Nations and its International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to manage the Internet. They valued the international organizations but felt the Internet required a more dynamic organizational structure to facilitate its complex growth. Other nations, particularly the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China), questioned the efficacy of US management of the World Wide Web. The US stood its ground however, and staked its claim for control over the Internet.

Magaziner reflected on the problems facing a growing Internet at the time. Governments wanted to tax transmission bits, place tariffs on electronic commerce, and censor the Internet. Debates on digital signatures, regulating prices, and intellectual property (IP) issues such as domain name trademarks were also coming to the fore.

“For this potential to be realized fully,” the draft report stated, “governments must adopt a nonregulatory, market-oriented approach to electronic commerce, one that facilitates the emergence of a transparent and predictable legal environment to support global business and commerce. Official decision makers must respect the unique nature of the medium and recognize that widespread competition and increased consumer choice should be the defining features of the new digital marketplace.”

The ITU had been an essential “club” for the world’s telecommunications agencies to coordinate technical standards for telephony and electromagnetic spectrum allocations. But as a one country, one vote organization, the U.S. was vulnerable to ITU decisions. And that meant its businesses were vulnerable too. On May 1, 1997, eighty organizations supported a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) addressing the way generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs) were allocated and managed. An International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) was established to address perceived problems with the current method of registering generic top level domains on the Internet.

In July 1997, President Clinton issued an executive order to privatize domain name management and in September 1997, Network Solutions (NASDAQ: NSOL) had an initial public offering (IPO) and became a public company. In the first five months of 1998, Network Solutions Inc. (NSI) registered more than 340,000 domain names, an increase of 73 percent from the same period in 1997.

But the company was overwhelmed by the extraordinary growth of the Internet. Registration systems and billing lacked the ability to keep up with volume of domain name requests. NSI was losing its near-monopoly over the domain name business and the company began preparing for a new competitive environment. Still at issue was whether Internet oversight was going to eventually move from U.S. control to an international body.

In late 1998, The U.S. Clinton-Gore administration introduced a new domain name system to encourage competition and effectively manage the DNS. The U.S. Department of Commerce took ownership of the process. Ira Magaziner and others helped design a new organization called ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN was created as a not-for-profit company to administer and help set policy from the bottom-up for the Internet name and address system.

ICANN received preliminary approval from the Commerce Department to manage the Internet domain name system (DNS) in November 1998. The two organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that provided for the DNS management’s gradual privatization. This involved deploying a network of computer database/servers worldwide to keep track of IP addresses and facilitate the quick connection of domain names to requested sites. Also, a dispute resolution system to resolve issues regarding the ownership of a domain name was set up.

In the next post, I explore ICANN’s transition to a global multistakeholder community management and the end of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Notes

[1] Drezner, D. (2004). The Global Governance of the Internet: Bringing the State Back In. Political Science Quarterly, 119(3), 477-498. doi:10.2307/20202392
[2] Drezner, Daniel W. All Politics Is Global: Explaining International Regulatory Regimes. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton U, 2008. Print. Chapter on “Global Governance of the Internet.” http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8422.html

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is a Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Russia and the Era of Pan-Capitalism

Posted on | October 9, 2020 | No Comments

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Communist Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) bloc meant the world was no longer significantly divided by Cold War antagonisms. Communist China had already embraced market dynamics and global trade and a pan-capitalist condition of free flows of information and money was spreading globally. This post briefly discusses the breakup of the USSR and the globalization of digital capitalism.[1]

Although a Communist bloc, the USSR had become deeply indebted to the global banking system, exerting additional pressure on a system already addicted to military spending. The term “Eurodollar” reportedly gets its name from a Russian bank in France that was laundering dollars after the Communist Revolution in 1949. The cable address of the bank happened to be “Eurobank.” The Russians also placed their dollars in the Paris-based Russian Banque Commerciale pour l’ Europe du Nord and the Moscow Narodny Bank in London. It was soon traded by other European banks and purportedly took the name “Eurodollar” from the cable address in Paris.

As mentioned in my earlier work on digital monetarism, Eurodollars were the prime credit vehicle for recycling OPEC’s petrodollars worldwide during the 1970s. Through syndicated lending, banks lent Eurodollars excessively to many nation-states, including those in the USSR.

The result of petrodollar recycling was the “Third World Debt Crisis,” that created havoc throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s. Debt put pressure on public resources that were often transformed into state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and eventually sold off to investors. Excessive debt led to an era of imposed deregulation, liberalization, and privatization. Although painful, it opened up the telecommunications world to the Internet and its World Wide Web applications.

The “official” start of the world debt crisis can be traced to the March 1981 announcement by Poland that it could not meet its payment commitments. Previously, banks found it easy to reschedule old debt and lend them new Eurodollars. An “umbrella theory” circulated which held that the Soviet Union would guarantee the debts of the countries in its sphere. But the USSR was having economic problems that went unnoticed by the banks. They still retained a high credit rating and the banks continued to pour money into it.

By 1984, the Communist bloc was gathering significant debt and the economy was faltering, largely due to the drop in oil prices. Defecting spies were reporting that the USSR was a mess. Workers were unmotivated because the store shelves were empty. Lines to purchase scarce goods were everywhere. Nearly half the Russian economy was devoted to military spending and the other half producing shoddy and scarce consumer goods, determined and designed by Communist committees.

With Reagan’s “Star Wars,” Premier and Communist Secretary-General Mikhail Gorbachev knew that the USSR could not keep up with the capitalist world’s innovation and spending. He pleaded with Ronald Reagan at a Reykjavík Summit of 1986 to give up the militarization of space and instead work to reduce nuclear weapons. But Reagan refused. So Gorbachev instead began a public relations campaign to encourage more debate about the USSR, and it’s political and economic future.

In June of 1989, Gorbachev made the call to Poland to tell their Communist party leaders to accept the results of their democratic election. The decision started the processes of glasnost and perestroika throughout the Soviet system. The first term meant political openness – media freedom, democratization of power, and the release of political prisoners. The second meant gradually allowing entrepreneurial activities, reforming state-owned industries, and privatizing government assets.

Deng Xiaoping had already started to reform Communism in China during the 1980s with his “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” Deng and other post-Mao Communist leaders argued that “China had mistakenly entered into Communism during its feudal stage instead of waiting until advanced capitalism, as Marx had theorized. Private ownership and a market economy were suddenly embraced as solutions, not problems. This allowed the Chinese Communist Party to legitimize both its turn to market capitalism and the continuance of its political control over the country through Marxist ideology.”[2]

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 began the process of dismantling the Warsaw Pact and, with it, the USSR Communist bloc. Started in 1955, the Warsaw Pact was initially a defense treaty among Albania, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Russia. But after East Germany left, the other countries clamored to leave as well.

Czechoslovakia and the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia) soon declared their independence from the USSR along with the Republic of Belarus and the Ukraine. Some joined Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to create the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

President George H. Bush met with Gorbachev in early December 1989, just a month after Europe’s “9/11” dissolving of the barriers between East and West Germany. Meeting in Malta, they resumed START negotiations on nuclear arms control as well as came to agreement on how conventional forces would dismantled in Europe. Gorbachev’s decision to allow a multi-party system and presidential elections in Russia also began to destabilize Communist control and contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

A coup was engineered by Communist hardliners in August of 1991 and although it failed, Gorbachev resigned by Christmas. But not before dissolving the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and resigning as its Secretary General. Also in 1991, the Soviet military relinquished control over the other militaries. Russia also agreed to take on USSR debt held by the USSR, in excess of US$70 billion.

By promising glasnost and perestroika, Gorbachev changed the political dynamic of a dying system. It was the promise of a political and legal infrastructure for a democratic and market political economy integrated into the world system. The process accelerated in Russia with the election of Boris Yeltsin in 1991 as the first President of the new country. Yegor Gaidar, an economist known for pushing free markets, became the Prime Minister. Yeltsin worked with a group of opportunistic Russians to outmaneuver the Communist directors of the USSR economy to take control of major industries, many going on to become billionaires, the so-called “oligarchs.”

In the first few months of 1992, the new government freed prices and legalized entrepreneurial activity in a process called “shock therapy” – rapid liberalization of the economy. By 1994, Yeltsin worked with Russian banks to raise cash to help privatize major companies. The Russian “loans for shares” program lent the government money in exchange for temporary shares in state-owned companies. When the government defaulted in 1995, they auctioned off major stakes in companies involved in aluminum, oil, nickel, and other important resources as well as food production, telecommunications, and media.

The end of the Warsaw Pact signaled a new liberalization by Moscow and the satellite countries of the USSR. However, it was displaced by economic “shock therapy” – severe austerity and privatization that crippled economic recovery. The resultant chaos led to the return of the Russian “strong man.” Vladimir Putin became the President of Russia in 1999.

Notes

[1] I use the term digital capitalism here as many parameters operate to shape types of capitalism.
[2] Pennings, A. (2014, April 22). E-Commerce with Chinese Characteristics. Retrieved from http://apennings.com/global-e-commerce/china-e-commerce-ipo/

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is a Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The International Politics of Domain Name Governance, Part One: The Czar

Posted on | October 1, 2020 | No Comments

An ongoing global concern deals with the control and management of the World Wide Web’s Domain Name System (DNS). The basic issue is whether the address you put into your browser connects to the right computer and retrieves the right information. When you type in apennings.com, for example, how does it get to my blog, and how can you be sure you are getting the right site? What if you typed in google.com, and it was directed to yahoo.com? (just an example) Or if you typed in Amazon.com and it was directed to a site for Barnes and Noble or some other bookseller? These scenarios are possible if the domain name system is not managed correctly.

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a server service that matches website addresses to the right computer. As the Internet has grown exponentially and globally, governance and management issues continue to be complicated and contentious. What is at stake? In this post I look at the beginning of the DNS and the influence of Jon Postel.

It was recognized early on that managing Internet addresses would be a global concern. Internet traffic was increasing domestically and across borders. Decentralization provided the technical and operational strategy to globalize the Internet and its World Wide Web (WWW). It would provide quicker responses and decrease network traffic congestion. Maintenance issues, including redundancy and backing up systems, were easier to manage. Globalization of the Internet, however, raised other issues.

Daniel Drezner identified three reasons to be concerned about the governance of the Internet. The first was that an “actor” such as a government, corporation, or NGO could take over the Internet. Any actor that could benefit from controlling the connections between users and the sites they want to visit should would certainly undergo scrutiny on the matter. Second, it was important for a legal system to be created to ensure that trademarked names were not captured and monopolized by “cybersquatters,” who could withhold or use important trademarked names such as “mcdonalds.com” or “toyota.com.” Also, a lot of money was at stake in the creation of domain names. Little cost is involved in the production of domain names. Providing domain names is like printing money in some respects.[1]

So when you type in the address of the website you want to access, DNS makes sure you make the connection and find the right file. ARPANET, the original Internet that came to life in September 1969, first addressed the issue in the early 1970s. Jon Postel of the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles took up the challenge and was eventually given the nickname “God” because of his power over the early Internet’s addressing system. Postel started with writing addresses on scraps of paper and would continue until a global network was established.

Postel’s influence ranged from its inception to his death in 1998. On March 26, 1972, Postel started collating a catalog of numerical addresses like 123.47.17.49. He asked network administrators to submit information on socket numbers and network service activities at each host computer. He worked with the Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) to develop a simple text file called HOSTS.txt that tracked hostnames and their numerical addresses. Published as RFC 433 in December 1972, it proposed a registry of port number assignments to network services. He also called himself the “czar” of socket numbers as he pledged to keep a list of all addresses. SRI would distribute the list to all Internet hosts.

The Domain Name System (DNS) was primarily designed by Paul Mockapetris of the Information Sciences Institute at the USC. It was adopted by ARPANET in 1984. The ARPA DNS originally consisted of six different Top Level Domain (TLDs) types: .com (commercial), .edu (education), .gov (government), .mil (military), .net (network provider), and .org (organization). The designation of domain names below them, like hawaii.edu or ecommerce.gov, were left to the discretion of the administrators of the various networks. As the Internet expanded globally, a two-letter suffix such as .nl for the Netherlands, or .nz for New Zealand and .kr for South Korea was allowed individual countries. The first domain name was reportedly symbolics.com, registered through the DNS on March 15, 1985.

In 1988, the U.S. gave the DNS contract to USC’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI). This gave Mockapetris and Postel the opportunity to continue to work together and with SRI International. They continued the functions of address management in what became known as The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) that continues to this day. IANA was funded by the U.S. government under a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). At this time, the Internet started to expand rapidly in the U.S., and abroad.

Notes

[1] Drezner, D. (2004). The Global Governance of the Internet: Bringing the State Back In. Political Science Quarterly, 119(3), 477-498. doi:10.2307/20202392

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is a Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Digital Disruption in the Film Industry – Gains and Losses – Part 2: Non-Linear Editing

Posted on | August 26, 2020 | No Comments

In 1999, The Matrix (1999) won 4 Oscars with the Avid, a non-linear video editing computer system, that launched a revolution in the production of audio-visual materials. A new years before, James Cameron edited much of Titanic (1997) himself with an Avid application on a computer at his house.

This post returns to the theme of digital disruption in the film industry. In Part 1, digital cameras were discussed. Below, I examine the transformation of post-production practices with the advent of Non-linear Editing (NLE) and digital-enabled special effects (F/X), paying particular attention to the introduction of the Avid NLE. These technologies came about when computer micro-processing power was sufficiently miniaturized, and software applications became efficient enough for immediate interaction.

To get a quick overview of the digital transformation in the film industry, this quick summary of Keanu Reeves’ documentary Side by Side (2012) is useful:

NLE clearly came about because customers were often under-served by traditional film/video editing technology. While chemically-coated film had been used for over a hundred years, it required a massive industry to operate and thrive. Cameras and their film reels were heavy and difficult to transport. Silver oxide film is dangerous and complicated to develop.

Cameras would capture the action on film but the film could not be viewed until after the film was processed. The director and his team would gather after the shooting and view the “dailies.” They would make decisions on which film was good and any adjustments on camera lighting or style.

Editing was a manual chore requiring sifting through scores of film reels to find the right clips. It was a laborious activity that often left editors with bloody fingers. The final project required literally cutting the film and taping them together.

Finally, only a few techniques existed to add special effects to the film in post production.

Early NLE technology was cumbersome and weak, but it progressed rapidly. This is in line with Clayton Christensen’s theory of innovative disruption. While early developments in digital video were crude and presented little aesthetic and production efficiencies to challenge film, innovations increased rapidly as the PC integrated the fruits of Moore’s law, the rapid increase of transistors on a microprocessor chip. Eventually, the sophistication of digital technologies presented a major threat to the film industry.[1]

While the digital non-linear editing process was conceptualized in the early 1970s, when CBS and Memorex collaborated on the CMX 600, the technology was not practical enough for commercial use. It used washing machine-size storage disks and cost a quarter of a million dollars to record and edit low resolution black and white images.[2]

The next stage in digital editing stemmed from George Lucas’special effects empire with the invention of EditDroid. This computer used footage stored on LaserDisks. EditDroid was sold by a George Lucas spin-off company, DroidWorks. The technology did not really work very well, and the company shut down in 1987.

The major disruption came with the development of the Avid NLE system. Bill Warner, the founder of AVID Technologies, Inc. had been crippled in an accident that rendered him unable to walk. In 1984, he sought to buy digital editing equipment but was surprised that the technology didn’t really exist on the market.

Warner spent the next few years in production to create a non-linear editing system. In 1987 invented the digital editor and formed the Avid company. At first, the digital editing took place in the Apple Macintosh and then it would render the edits on tape offline by controlling a stack of regular video editing machines.

He started the company in September of 1987, but then in November, the stock market fell apart. Warner said, “I started the company in September of 1987. I got going and then in November of 1987 boom, the stock market fell apart, Black Monday, 500 point fall in the Dow and people said to me, they said, they said oh, now you’ll never raise money. And I said I just need one — I am just one person who needs money. I need $500,000. It’s still out there. I’ll get it.” He took his Avid Technology to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual trade show and found the response overwhelming.

A colleague of mine was at the 1988 NAB conference and was intrigued with the Avid. Patricia Amaral was the head of the Media Lab at the University of Hawaii and worked with Professors Stan Harms and Dan Wedemeyer to get the Avid NLE. In 1989, the University of Hawaii was the first educational institution to purchase the first Avid.

I was intrigued when I first saw the AVID non-linear digital editing system as a PhD student at the University of Hawaii in 1989. It was a clunky system but connected to a new Apple Mac that brought up thumbnails of all the clips that had been digitized. Using a mouse and keyboard, the clips could be edited/assembled and transformations added, but it took a while for video assemblage because the editing technology still required the actual rendering to take place using traditional 3/4 inch tape drives. At the end of the day they would start their laborious task and in the course of a few hours, they would finish their edits.

How does it fit the requirements of Christensen disruptive innovation model? For Christensen, almost all disruptive innovations happen when a new entrant can enter a market, and by starting with simple technology. Eventually, they improve enough to seriously disrupt the market. He distinguishes disruptive innovation from sustaining innovation, when a company continues to improve an established product. While film editing made continuous improvements over the course of its history, NLE made transformative changes over a short period of time. The results were so weak in the beginning, that film advocates quickly dismissed it, only to be surprised when it later became competitive so quickly.[3]

Now, several NLEs compete with each other in the cinema, consumer, and television industries. Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, DaVinci Resolve, and Final Cut Pro X are the current leaders in the NLE technologies. These editors below discuss the current state of the NLE editing.

In an upcoming post, I will discuss digital’s influence on special effects.

Notes

[1] From Clayton M. Christensen, Michael E. RaynorRory McDonald, et al. “What Is Disruptive Innovation?” Harvard Business Review, 19 Dec. 2016, hbr.org/2015/12/what-is-disruptive-innovation.
[2] From First Cut 2: More Conversations with Film Editors
By Gabriella Oldham. p. 4.
[3] Raynor, Michael E.; Christensen, Clayton M. (2003-10-09). The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth. (p. 18). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, where he maintains his US address. From 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University and held his first academic position at Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent ten years at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Oliver Stone’s Platoon: Jesus Christ Superstar vs. the Marlboro Man

Posted on | August 12, 2020 | No Comments

In Oliver Stone’s award-winning film, Platoon (1986), Charlie Sheen plays Chris Taylor, a “coming of age” infantry soldier trying to reconcile his identity between the influences of two sergeants in his US Army platoon. The setting is the Vietnam War circa late 1967. The sergeants, played William Dafoe and Tom Berenger, were directed to represent two mythical poles of ideology and belief that have come to heavily influence American political culture. I refer to these two men and the contrasting themes they represent as “Jesus Christ Superstar” vs. “the Marlboro Man.”

Platoon (1986) won Best Picture at the 1987 Academy Awards received additional awards for Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and a nomination for Best Cinematography. Oliver Stone won an “Oscar” for Directing and was nominated for Writing. Both sergeants were nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, which brings me back to the two conflicting myths.

With Sgt. Elias (William Dafoe) representing “Jesus Christ Superstar” and Sgt Barnes (Tom Berenger) “the Marlboro Man,” the movie condenses a series of meanings into the two contending perspectives. These viewpoints divided America and haunt to this day its view of the war. Barnes characterizes the tension succinctly at one point, “there’s the way it ought to be, and there’s the way it is.” Barnes, who was shot seven times, including in the face, has the physical scars to represent “the way it is.”

Jesus Christ Superstar was a rock opera album that was released in 1970 on Broadway and as a movie in 1973. The film was shot in Israel and other Middle Eastern locations and was the eighth highest-grossing film of that year. It reconciled different gospels of the Bible and focused on the relationship between Jesus, Judas, and Mary Magdalene, emphasizing betrayal and picking one’s battles. It was in some ways an anthem of the time as its roll and roll music and energy resonated with the “hippie” counterculture that emerged during the height of the Vietnam War. Jesus of Nazareth, with his long hair, certainly looked the part. Stone “paints” Elias and several other soldiers with iconography from the era. Peace symbols, headbands, drugs, and Sixties music like Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” are used to represent this counter-culture.

It’s hard to portray Elias as a Jesus-like pacifist when he volunteered for three tours in the “Nam” and was a skilled and experienced soldier. But from the first scene, we see him carrying a machine gun on his shoulders like a cross and climbing up a mountainside like Jesus ascending Calvary. As Sergeant O’Neil from a third squad says about Elias after an argument, “Guy’s is in three years and he thinks he is Jesus fuckin’ Christ or something.”

Elias is portrayed as the more sensitive leader. We next encounter him helping Chris and offering to carry much of the load from his amateurishly stuffed backpack. Most importantly, he is the voice of restraint when the platoon is searching a Vietnamese village for guns and ammunition. When Sgt. Barnes shoots a Vietnamese village woman during an interrogation, Elias confronts him and initiates a fistfight.

This scene creates a tension between the two as Barnes faces a potential court marital for the murder. The conflict eventually ends up with Barnes shooting Elias during a battle with the Viet Cong. The shots don’t kill him though and as the platoon is being evacuated by helicopters he is sighted from the air being chased by Vietnamese troops. He is shot several times in the back but struggles to continue. Finally, as he falls to his knees, writhing in pain, a medium shot shows him with his arms outstretched and gaze towards the heavens, as if he was being crucified.

The Marlboro Man was another iconic figure of the Vietnam era. It became the masculine symbol of the famous cigarette brand. Invented to subvert the early impression that Marlboro cigarettes were for women, it successfully became the icon of rugged individualism and aggressive patriarchy. The first scene of Barnes shows him in the jungle with a pack of Marlboro cigarettes strapped to his helmet.

Barnes was clearly the leader of the platoon, as even the lieutenant deferred to his judgment. His first words in the movie were “Get a move on, boy” to Chris, in his Southern accent. He is regularly portrayed as the tough but competent, no-nonsense leader. At one point, while criticizing the pot smokers for what he calls their attempt to “escape reality,” he says, “I am reality.”

Oliver Stone served in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star medal. The story was based roughly on his experience there. In Stone’s interview with Joe Rogan, he speaks to his respect for both sergeants. While Stone clearly favors Elias, his portrayal of Barnes is surprisingly sympathetic, and we see how both men influence Chris.

Chris arrives in Vietnam as a “cherry,” a virgin to the war experience. But after he recovers from being shot during their first ambush, he befriends a black man named King and a “surfer dude” from California named Crawford. They are all assigned to cleaning the latrines and the scene allows Chris to tell his story of why he quit college and enlisted in the Army. “I wasn’t learning anything. I figured why should just the poor kids go off to war and the rich kids always get away with it?” The others laugh off his naivety but invite him to the Feel Good Cave, a bunker where they “party” by playing music and smoking pot.

King introduces Taylor as the resurrected “Chris” to the “heads,” including those soldiers played by Johnny Depp and Forrest Whitaker. Elias is there smoking pot as well and welcomes Chris with a “hit” of marijuana blown through the barrel of a rifle. You can hear Grace Slick singing “feed your head” as Chris says he feels good and can’t feel the pain from his injury. Elias responds, “feeling good is good enough.”

Tom Berenger is masterful in his performance as Sgt. Barnes. While Elias is “partying” with the “stoners,” Barnes is listening to country music and playing cards while drinking whiskey and beer with his group. Later, after Elias is dead, Barnes goes to the Feel Good bunker to confront Elias’ friends in the platoon. With a Jack Daniels Tennessee whiskey bottle in hand, he goes on to criticize the recently departed Elias.

    Elias was full of shit. Elias was a Crusader. Now, I got no fight with any man who does what he’s told, but when he don’t, the machine breaks down. And when the machine breaks down, we break down. And I ain’t gonna allow that in any of you. Not one.

The scene ends with Chris attacking Barnes, who quickly subdues the young soldier. He is convinced not to kill Chris as he would face ten years in military prison for killing an enlisted man.

In a later battle, the platoon is overrun with Viet Cong, and an airstrike is called in to bomb the US camp. Barnes takes advantage of the chaos to try to kill Chris, but the sergeant is knocked out by the bombing concussion. Chris and Barnes barely survive. When Barnes asks Chris to get a medic, Chris shoots him in retaliation for Elias’ death.

As Chris is airlifted from the battleground, his voice-over narrates an inner conflict:

    I think now, looking back, we did not fight the enemy; we fought ourselves. And the enemy was in us. The war is over for me now, but it will always be there, the rest of my days as I’m sure Elias will be, fighting with Barnes for what Rhah called possession of my soul. There are times since, I’ve felt like the child born of those two fathers. But, be that as it may, those of us who did make it have an obligation to build again, to teach to others what we know, and to try with what’s left of our lives to find a goodness and a meaning to this life.

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, Ph.D. is Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. He has also taught at Hannam University in South Korea, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He keeps his American home in Austin, Texas and has taught there in the Digital Media MBA program at St. Edwards University He joyfully spent 9 years at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Memes, Propaganda, and Virality

Posted on | July 31, 2020 | No Comments

Today we are faced with a new and potentially ominous form of manipulation, an insidious form of propaganda dissemination. I’m talking about the viral spread of memes. The “meme” has emerged as a powerful communication device in the modern world of social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. A meme here refers to a digital image, usually a jpeg or PNG, with a short text caption that is easily posted and shared. Usually, they imply a joke or political message that can be diffused quickly and widely to a broad audience.

In this post, I examine the proliferation of memes and their potentially damaging effect on political culture. I discuss the rhetoric of memes and particularly the viral spread of memes as a new form of propaganda. Propaganda utilizes elements of powerful media techniques to have specific effects on the political and social consciousness of individuals.

What is propaganda? One of my colleagues at New York University, had an apt description. Media ecologist Neil Postman called propaganda an “intentionally designed communication that invites us to respond emotionally, immediately and in an either-or manner.” Propaganda is the use of powerful rhetorical forms that work on the individual to energize, promote, stimulate, and determine ideologies. Propaganda can mobilize support for political action as well as pressure for the legislation and implementation of specific policies.

    Meme wars are a consistent feature of our politics, and they’re not just being used by internet trolls or some bored kids in the basement, but by governments, political candidates, and activists across the globe. Russia used memes and other social-media tricks to influence the US election in 2016, using a troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency to seed pro-Trump and anti-Clinton content across various online platforms. Both sides in territorial conflicts like those between Hong Kong and China, Gaza and Israel, and India and Pakistan are using memes and viral propaganda to sway both local and international sentiment. – Joan Donovan

What makes memes more insidious is that the propaganda is administered by some of a person’s most trusted friends. The goal of a meme is to to spread rapidly through a population, to go viral. This is a diffusion process where a meme is shared from person-to-person or person-to-group, despite the existence of weak links. The goal is to reach a point of exponential growth for the meme’s exposure and influence.

The success of the virality depends on a high “pass-along rate” where individuals are motivated to share their meme to others. A common communication network facilitates virality as a meme may be “retweeted” in the Twitter environment or “shared” on Facebook. It helps if the process is easy – clicking a button rather than cutting and pasting. This is setting the bar low, but decisions are made very quickly and dependent on relatively weak motivations.

An important measure is the virality rate, the number of people who went on to share your meme compared to the number of unique views or impressions it had during a certain period. You can get this metric by dividing the number of total shares of the meme by the number of impressions. Multiply that figure by 100 to get your virality rate percentage. The higher the percentage, the better the meme.

Memes can be created with a program like Adobe’s Photoshop or Adobe Spark. You can also use a specialized meme generator application on the Internet or your mobile phone, such as Word Swag.

Memes are designed to crystallize or fix sets of meanings that Postman argued causes us react quickly and emotionally. They draw on bits of culture, such as slogans, cartoon images, and brand items that are small and easily remembered. They are packaged semiotically with images and text juxtaposed in ways that invite us to construct more complex associations. They are usually structured enough to draw us into some preferred meanings, yet evocative yet enough to draw on the reader’s string of cultural, economic or political associations. Memes are usually vague enough to leave much for our imaginations to interject.

Memes are much like posters in that they remove authorship. The effect can be ominous, creating an anonymous yet authoritative “voice of God.” No one “has to answer for transgressive or hateful ideas.” Memes can weaponize half-truths, lies, and inappropriate material easily and diffuse them quickly through society.

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, Ph.D. is Professor at the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. From 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. He has also taught at Hannam University in South Korea, Marist College in New York, Victoria University in New Zealand. He keeps his American home in Austin, Texas and has taught there in the Digital Media MBA program at St. Edwards University He joyfully spent 9 years at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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  • About Me

    Professor at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea since 2016. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, digital economics, and strategic communications.

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