SocioConnectitis: Addicted to #Connected #Media

Mobile devices and technologies have afforded us mere mortals the ability to communicate with each other, answer practically any question, access practically any media or content available on the Internet, and entertain ourselves in ways never thought possible 10 years ago.  Since the advent of data communications over cellular technologies such as GSM/GPRS, EV-DO, and HSPA enable the immediacy of these desires.  The air interface alone, however, is not enough to allow flesh and blood to engage and interact with the digital media in that virtual netherworld.  We need devices.  Blackberries, Droids, Symbian devices, and my favorite, the iPhone, bridge the chemically and electrically induced emotions and needs for digital “connectedness” and the digital itself.

But the ways our brains are being rewired where we grow accustomed to checking emails in the kitchen, updating our Facebook status in the bathroom (yeah, could be gross), following our Twitter community sitting in front of the TV, or posting a new vid to Flickr standing in front of the BBQ while grilling some steaks (hey, the thick ones take a while) is taking the “attractiveness” of mobility to all-new heights.

BTW, I’ve personally done all of the above on my iPhone while at home NOT sitting in front of my Mac.  In fact I’ve caught myself pulling out my iPhone to open up TweetDeck or WordPress WHILE I’ve been sitting in front of my Mac with TweetDeck or WordPress already open.  WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME?!?!

Nothing and everything, depending on your generational or conservative persuasion.  If you’re reading this blog, or especially if you’ve gotten to this post from a bit.ly shortened URL, you are likely also suffering from SocioConnectitis.  Defined as: “the insatiable and irresistible need to engage and interact with our social digital media and content. This is sometimes accompanied by narcissism (how many mentions did I get today?), paranoia (why haven’t those friend requests been accepted yet?) and a false sense of urgency (I really, really need to upload those Flip MinoHD vids to Facebook because I’m sure they’ll be helpful in curing cancer).

Where is all this headed?  For sure this second nature (soon to be first nature) act of interacting digitally won’t even be differentiated from breathing or waking up in the morning someday soon.  This is the case not just for industrialized societies, but even the poorest countries and regions are experiencing this.  Maybe not iPhone-class urges yet, but they get the notion of connectedness and those are the seeds of SocioConnectitis. And the device vendors want to cash in this growing behavior with the QUE, more Droids (someday they’ll be sentient beings), iPhone 4G (whatever that is), iSlate, Kindle DX x 10^8, and so many other windows into this digitally delectable world.

Now what? As Andrea True Connection says, “More, More, More.” Or Britney Spears says, “Gimme More.” I’m loving this disease.

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Too Strong to be Weak

I’ve always been intrigued and fascinated by technology and how technologies are adopted by people. In the past I’ve written about the concepts of strong-specific and weak-general. These concepts are not mine (I wish they were). Instead they were originated by Bill Buxton who is currently a researcher at Microsoft Research. I first learned about Bill while reading a book called The Invisible Future: The Seamless Integration of Technology Into Everyday Life.

The reason for this momentary occurrence of awakedness (don’t know if this is a word) to the strong-specific and weak-general concepts was from an article I recently saw in FastCompany called Tracing the Evolution of Consumer Electronics. What’s Next? The article is really more of a set of family trees showing the apparent origin of certain products back in the days right after the primordial ooze. For example, the Kindle 2 traces back to the original days when, ahem, paper books and book presses were the hot thing…can you imagine that! There are many other interesting lineages for the iPhone, Blackberry, Wii/PS3/Xbox, and other devices.

The core question presented by this article is: will a single device ever unite them all? In my most humble opinion, NO FRIGGING WAY! I could be wrong on this and I’m sure there will be technological innovations that we can’t even conceive of or imagine today.

I have an iPhone (3 in fact), Kindle (2 in fact), iPods, netbooks, media center PCs, PS3, laptops, Macbook Air, Razr’s, PDAs, a drawer full of cellphones and smartphones (the graveyard of those that didn’t pass muster), digital picture frames, cordless telephones, LCD TVs, LCD monitors, other MP3 players that came and went, and I’m sure a few other devices that I’m forgetting.

I believe the primary reason for why we will ALWAYS possess an array of strong-specific devices and NO ONE device will do all of what the FastCompany article devices do is due to how we interact with the devices and applications on those devices. For example, the way we interact (and expect feedback and interaction with us) with a music player is very different than how we interact and expect interaction with our senses with a cellphone. Granted, while the iPhone is supposedly a convergence of these functions and an adaptive screen and UI will present the varying forms of interaction, I’m one of many that will state the iPhone isn’t much of a phone. If I wanted a real phone, I’d use my Razr. The iPhone is more of a weak-general device and we all know its weaknesses.

The size and Mobility Quotient are defining factors as well. If the size is larger than my cellphone (my Kindle for example) then I won’t be taking this everywhere with me so don’t bother putting music functionality (yes, it’s in the Experimental section) or voice calling into it. If the Mobility Quotient is high, then I will generally interact with it on an on-demand, “snacky” basis rather than a more dedicated, in-your-face manner as I am doing right now on my Air. While I can write this blog entry on my iPhone, only large doses of mind altering drugs will compel me to do that.

‘Nuf said. But am I all wrong on this? Can flexible or rollup displays create a truly useful weak-general, one-size-fits-all device? Can voice, gesture, or Vulcan Mindmeld new interaction models solve the “keyboard barrier” that so many devices suffer today? Are we headed towards a Nebulous Future, per the FastCompany article, where it’s not about singularly and vertically designed devices but rather a distribution of functions that collectively create the experience? For example, the compute and connectivity is always in my wristwatch, but depending on what I am intending on creating or consuming the connectivity may be vectored towards a large display or interaction modality that matches my “intention”. Who, what, or how will that “intention” be determined?

Who knows. For now, I’m just content to speculate about Apple’s tablet device being announced around CES…I MUST HAVE ONE!

Mobility and Productivity…Enemies or Allies?

Enterprises and government agencies are mobilizing at both a brisk and alarming rate. The adoption of mobile devices and applications by end users is far outpacing that of the IT and InfoSec organizations to certify or validate the information assurance and regulatory compliance with respect to the entirety of their respective enterprises. There are devices and services such as from Research In Motion that are more mature in the complexities of enterprise security and intranet application mobility. But at least as far as the press buzz is concerned (I’m sure data will support the buzz), rapid adoption of devices that were not designed with an enterprise security focus (such as Apple’s iPhone) or mobile applications which have nothing to do with enterprise productivity or security (YouTube, Twitter clients, Facebook, and many social networking apps and services) will present ever-increasing risks to security and workplace productivity.

In a recent article in The Economist titled Big Brother Bosses, it is yet another chapter of how companies are concerned about what their employees are up to from an online perspective. Is it helping my company make money? Is it saving my company any money? Is it making the particular employee do his/her job better so there is a benefit to the company and its shareholders? In the case of a YouTube app streaming cool music videos on an employee’s iPhone while they’re taking an impromptu “break”, the answer is no.

There are many perspectives to the mobile impact towards workplace productivity, information security and regulatory compliance.

The CFO: Am I getting the most from my workforce? How do I subsidize and who do I subsidize with implications of corporate liability exposure to whatever these employees do on their mobile devices? Mobility is intuitively a huge productivity enhancement, but only if I ensure that the RIGHT employees are using these types in the RIGHT way.
The CIO: How do I support the mobilization of my enterprise without sacrificing security and productivity AND not turn my infrastructure and management upside down? This includes both the mobile phones and mobile desktops (i.e., laptops and netbooks).
The CSO/CISO: Might be same as for the CIO, but usually with a stronger and deeper focus on security now and moving forwards. (Ed.: BTW, CIO CSO CISO).
The Employee: I want to be able to do my job anytime, anywhere, and on any device. But I also don’t want my privacy intruded upon.
The HR Manager: How do I implement corporate policies that clearly articulate the right and wrong usages of mobile devices, services, and applications? More importantly, if we speculate there are issues, how do I enforce it without exposing the company to lawsuits by employees?
The Regulator: I know how to craft Sarbanes-Oxley et al requirements to the various corporations (public or private) that are bound to comply. But as perimeters break down, the IT network edge morphs, and mobile/wireless adoption continues to increase, how do I audit and verify compliance to the same regulations?

So what is the solution? There is no one-size-fits-all in terms of technology, rules of thumb, architecture or policy definition. It is literally the “it depends” answer. But here is what I recommend:

– Speak to your peers in other organizations about what they are doing about it?
– Get some free consulting from some of the private security consultants who are active in your industry/vertical?
– Ask your vendors for their opinions, but have a big grain of salt on the side.
– Read…a LOT! There are tons of information, white papers, blogs (like this one), trade rags, analyst reports, news/press, etc. Get informed so that you can refute or agree with the opinions you’ll have blasted at you.

– Develop a strategy and solution that are end-to-end viable. What I mean by this is don’t take an overly facility-centric viewpoint. You need to account for mobilization, information security, and regulatory compliance for when employees are BOTH on premise and on the road.
– Don’t get enamored with technology religion and be flexible, but innovative. Take an inventory of what are the devices, services, and applications that are impacting me. Yesterday it was WiFi and hotspots. Tomorrow it’s going to be mobile broadband and the “anywhere office”…in a BIG way!
– Don’t forget common sense! This is self explanatory.

I would love to hear your comments, flames, rhetoric, opinions, and general feedback on these topics.

Mobility Paradise or Cyber-Apocalypse?

A couple of very interesting articles made e-headlines last week. NextGov’s article titled Cell phones, other wireless devices next big cybersecurity targets, and GovInfoSecurity’s article titled (very appropriately, if I do say so) Tsunami of Insecurity: Safeguarding Mobile Devices brought to light what I’ve been saying for several months now…mobile devices will be the next generation of cyberthreats and cyberattack targets in a magnitude never before experienced in the information or Internet ages!!!

According to Seymour Goodman, professor of international affairs and computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, “Concern over the vulnerabilities has increased as more users worldwide shift to mobile devices in favor of desktop and laptop computers. More than 3.5 billion cell phones are now in use, vastly outnumbering traditional Internet users”.

Let’s do the math (these forecasts are per IDS, Gartner, and other analysts):
– About 150,000,000 new laptops and netbooks are forecasted for sale in just 2009.
– About 1,400,000,000 new mobile devices are forecasted for sale in just 2009.
– Approximately 20% of the new mobile devices are smartphone-class devices with powerful processors, operating systems, memory, and ALWAYS CONNECTED.
– So…there are almost twice as many smartphone-class mobile devices flooding the market this year than all the laptops!
– And yet the remaining 1,120,000,000 mobile devices are still quite capable of capturing pictures, storing megabytes and gigabytes of data, and recording audio quite easily.

Alan Paller, director of research at the security SANS Institute, a cybersecurity research and education group in Bethesda, Md., said mobile devices could become a target for hackers, although computer networks remain the subject for traditional cyberattacks. “It’s true that we all carry these devices, and I see a rapidly increasing number of attacks against these devices, particularly to make them zombies to complement the PC bots,” which spam or send viruses to other computers on the Internet, he said.

With the botnet dream-state of billions of mobile devices making themselves available to new, yet-to-be-discovered forms of malware, the scenario whereby no network or data is safe is rapidly becoming a reality. The only question is:

What are we going to do about it?