cyber

Cyber, Cities and COVID-19- why urban leaders need a digital strategy

Photo by Isabella Mori, who provides this context: In traditional Taiwanese night markets, since people and sellers are in close contact, most people / vendors wear masks now, in order to protect themselves and others.

The 1918 Influenza pandemic likely killed between fifty and one hundred million people globally. While the case fatality rate varies with circumstances, the current outbreak of COVID-19 may be as deadly unless vaccines are developed in time. Since the start of this year global cities like New York have faced immense strains. As always during a pandemic, one of the concerns that leaders face is how to prevent panic and discrimination, which can be spread by social media and other digital platforms. At the same time, the internet provides a host of tools that can help during a pandemic, with everything from telemedicine to mass collaboration. While cyber tools -such as digital tracking apps for individuals under quarantine- are powerful, they also come with human rights questions. In adapting these cyber tools for telemedicine, digital health communication, outbreak modeling and other uses (Liu and the HIMSS Greater China Health Team, 2020), city leaders and health authorities must address issues of transparency, privacy and public trust, which will require them to have a strategy for digital issues.

Ethiopia, Innovation and COVID-19

In Taiwan, before entering museums (and many other public institutions, offices, etc.), one needs to enter the Real-Name System (with one’s cellphone, by scanning the QR Code), on top of getting one’s temperature taken / sanitize hands with alcohol. By leaving one’s name and contact information, if a person got infected by COVID-19 and have been to the museum, the government will know who he / she have been in contact with. Photo by Isabella Mori.

One of the realizations that has come with COVID-19 is that the old binary between developed and developing countries is deeply flawed. Some nations that are less wealthy (Vietnam, Thailand) have succeeded very well in limiting the virus’s spread (at least in June 2020), while some wealthier countries (the United States and Great Britain saw their governments fail to control the outbreak, despite not only their relative wealth, but also sophisticated health care systems.

In the United States the CDC and FDA decided not to adopt a test for COVID-19 that was recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). But their effort to create their own test was badly flawed. When that test proved not to work, it set the US testing back perhaps a month or more behind other nations at the most critical moment in the virus’s spread within the United States. In contrast, countries that adopted the WHO’s recommended test were able to test their populations at scale.

In Boston, there was a testing debacle after a number of people were infected at a Biogen conference. Even after people reported symptoms and repeatedly sought testing they were unable to be tested, because they did not meet the overly strict criteria that included travel to China, or contact with someone from China. The result was a disaster, which saw the outbreak flare so that Boston had one of the worst outbreaks in the world. Meanwhile, Vietnam carried out a very thorough testing program that has allowed to control the outbreak to this date.

One of the most interesting points for me has been the relative difference in innovation between some developing countries and the United States, which is the home of Silicon Valley. In the U.S. there is still no national contact tracing app. Instead individual states (such as North and South Dakota) have had develop their own. But at a national level, the rate of innovation has been painfully slow. In contrast, some developing countries have moved with amazing speed. One of the success stories has been Ethiopia. As Simon Marks described in an article on the Voice of America website, Ethiopian developers quickly created seven different apps to help with everything from contact tracing to supporting health care workers. What is clear is that the size of nation’s economy does not necessarily correspond to its ability to innovate and adapt. American exceptionalism aside, wealthy nations must overcome the hubris and sense of exceptionalism, which have hampered their response to the pandemic. When developed nations take an interest in the the innovations in places from Ethiopia to Thailand, their own response will improve.

A few years ago, I was in Hong Kong, Macau and Shenzhen. When I asked at a coffee shop in Hong Kong if I could pay with a credit card, the clerk said that they could do that. Would I mind waiting while they took the machine out from the cupboard? It would take just a minute to find the keys to the cupboard. At this point, I was embarrassed and ask them not to. But they wanted to help me, and insisted on hooking up the credit card machine for the foreigner. But credit cards felt antiquated in a world in people used WeChat to pay for their subway cards, get their groceries, and order deliveries. People never had touch a device to put in a PIN. When I came back, I realized how antiquated our entire payment architecture is. I think about this during the pandemic every time I go to a gas station or department store and have to first swipe a card, and then put in my PIN on a grungy pad. Of course this is the tip of the iceberg. Why do I still need to pay bills with a check in an age of Venmo and Paypal? In Australia checks have nearly disappeared as a payment form, and it has been more than a decade since most people used one. Five years ago I was talking with an Australian. She said that she was stunned when she moved to the U.S. and people still wanted checks. And why do forms in the US still ask for my department’s fax number?

In Shenzhen I saw the sophisticated drones, electronic devices, and pristine infrastructure. Afterwards when I traveled to New York and saw the state of the airport, it felt like traveling twenty years back in time. In the United States, there is a sense of exceptionalism, which equates modernity and power with being American. But from Asia to Africa there are innovations, technologies and approaches that Western nations -particularly the United States and Britain- would benefit from adopting, particularly during this pandemic. It’s not that the developed/developing binary doesn’t isn’t useful in some circumstances. But in some respects it can conceal more than it reveals.

Shawn Smallman

The power of smartphones in online teaching

Before entering restaurants in Taiwan people sanitize their hands and have their temperature taken. Image courtesy of Isabella Mori.

One of the great lessons in life is the power of radical simplification. Everyone who has traveled has had the experience of realizing that even the most basic statements and vocabulary can allow you to exchange key information. Right now, many people are radically simplifying their lives in self-quarantine, whether it be having a family member cut their hair, or using an old sewing machine to make face masks. The number of people rediscovering the value of even a small garden reminds me of England during World War Two. Our grandparents and great-grandparents already did this.

So it’s interesting to learn that the same trend is happening in online education, where people are interested in how to use phones as a learning tool. The idea alone might make some of my senior colleagues’ heads’ spin around much like Linda Blair’s in the 1973 American horror film “the Exorcist.” They believe that phones are responsible for the decline of civilization and culture, much as Plato and Socrates once argued that the invention of writing had destroyed memory skills and damaged learning. Nonetheless, in some developing nations smart phones are playing a key role in permitting online learning during the COVID-19. I recommend this article by Anya Kamenentz in NPR on “How Cellphones Can Keep People Learning Around The World.” It turns out that phones may also be an appropriate technology in many educational contexts. …

Health care and Cyber-attacks

An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5) via Wikimedia Commons.

Sadly, one of the most common cyberattacks is upon health care centers, particularly ransom-ware attacks upon hospitals. While digital records and telemedicine are proving essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals’ reliance upon digital resources also make our health care systems vulnerable to attack. As this article by Jocelinn Kang and Tom Uren says, cyber-defense efforts now need to prioritize our health care systems.

If you are interested in hearing more about global topics, please listen to my podcast, Dispatch 7. You can find it on Spotify here, or by searching whichever podcast platform you prefer.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

Creating Engagement in the Online Classroom

Image of globe on light, McGill University. Photo by Smallman

Two weeks ago I was supposed to be giving this paper in Hawaii. But I pulled out of the conference in early March, and then the International Studies Association conference itself was cancelled shortly thereafter. As I write these words China, the United States, Canada and most of Europe are moving courses online, in perhaps the greatest pedagogical shift in global history. In this climate, I wanted to share the paper’s content quickly. This paper was never intended to become an article. Instead, it is a practitioner’s paper, and is intended to support people who are moving their course work online.

In essence, this paper examines how a Negotiated Syllabus can create engagement in the online classroom. This paper is primarily directed towards asynchronous classes (which don’t have a defined class-time) rather than streaming lectures. As you can see in the acknowledgements at the end, I particularly want to thank the Instructional Designers at the Office of Academic Innovation at PSU, who helped me to reshape my classes over the last several years. To everyone struggling to adapt to remote teaching, thank you for how you are addressing this immense societal challenge in the midst of a pandemic, in order to best serve your students.

The Negotiated Syllabus: how to create community in online International Studies classes

Saturday, March 28th, 4:15pm

Tapa 1, Tapa Tower, Hilton Hawaiian Village

International Studies Association Conference

March 2020, Hawaii

*cancelled due to COVID-19

Shawn Smallman, Portland State University

drss@pdx.edu

         At the same time that institutions with rich online offerings experience rapid growth (Southern New Hampshire University; Oregon State University), many faculty in the United States continue to hold negative attitudes towards online classes. In particular, they are concerned that faculty will not come to know their students, that the classes lack rigor, and that students will lack a sense of engagement both with their peers and with the class material. Critics of online learning, such as Power & Morven-Gould (2011, abstract) suggest that online teaching is associated with student isolation and withdrawal. There is a common theme that runs through these concerns, and that is engagement; that is, faculty who exclusively have experience with face to face classes often believe that the students will lack a learning community, so that they will fail to engage not only with the faculty member, but also with each other, in a way that will allow students to successfully achieve the course learning outcomes.

The reality is that online classes have many advantages for creating student engagement. Because the discussion board is often the core of an online class, faculty get to know all of their students, not only the ones who are comfortable speaking in class. Students who are introverts may be more comfortable sharing ideas in an online format, and they have often engaged deeply with the course material. Students also have the ability to join the discussion at the moment that they are best prepared. Finally, the online class can make it easier to structure peer review and group activities without the limitations posed by a class period. Still, one additional pedagogical tool can build on all of these advantages, and create a rich set of opportunities for faculty to connect their students.

This paper will argue that classes can achieve a high level of engagement -including a sense that the class constitutes a learning community- through the Negotiated Syllabus and Universal Design, which will include such elements as co-constructed curriculum, a capstone project that is shared with the entire class, peer-review as a community building tool, and a carefully constructed discussion board. This will be a practitioner-focused paper, which will be based on student discussion comments, teaching evaluations, student reflections, grade data and faculty journaling from seven online courses that have been repeatedly offered over the last six years. The goal is to give other faculty the tools necessary to foster student engagement in their own online International and Global Studies classes. …

Facebook, Twitter and Security

Image of globe on light, Arts Building, McGill University. Photo by Smallman

Last quarter I was  teaching a fully online course Digital Globalization, while this quarter I am teaching an online class on Cyber-warfare and espionage. In these courses we cover topics such as  Snowden, Wikileaks, Anonymous, white and black hat hackers, NSA, zero day exploits, the Panama Papers and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. What’s interesting is the division within my students regarding privacy. There are a minority of students who are unconcerned about the issue because they feel that if they haven’t done anything wrong, why should they worry? But there is a much larger group of students who feel that this is a significant anxiety in their lives. Although they worry about the government tracking their activities, they are even more concerned about how their lives are tracked by businesses. Every time they go on social media, have a sensitive conversation near Google Home or Alexa, or text message a friend, they wonder a little about how their digital lives make them vulnerable.

Whats amazing is how little security is built into many online platforms. But few platforms have faced as much criticism as Facebook. To help understand why, you might read this post by Krebs on Security: Facebook Stored Hundreds of Millions of User Passwords in Plain Text for Years. As the article explains, this meant that Facebook’s employees could have accessed peoples’ accounts over a very long period, although Facebook says there is no evidence that they did. Since people often reuse passwords, this was a terrible security breach. Facebook is key to many peoples’ social lives. But given its flaws, it’s worth remembering never to reuse passwords, especially with Facebook. It also wouldn’t hurt, to enable two-factor authentication on key accounts (such as your bank), and always use a VPN on public wifi.

Of course Facebook isn’t the only social media tool that has security vulnerability. One of the best ways to keep in touch with digital issues is through Wired magazine, which had a recent article
Twitter Insiders Allegedly Spied for Saudi Arabia. In this case, what happened was that two employees were able to access accounts, and to pass on this information to Saudi Arabia. Social media is a wonderful tool. But one of the key concepts in my digitally focused classes is that there is no absolute privacy online, only relative privacy. This fact cannot be escaped by using the Dark Web, as the Egotistical Giraffe exploit with TOR showed. Remember what happened on the Silk Road with the Dread Pirate Roberts (yes, named after a character in the movie, the Princess Bride). Even the most savvy digital user leaves breadcrumbs. No software tool, VPN, or hardware can elide this fact. And in the age of the Internet Archive, nothing online truly disappears. This doesn’t mean that social media can’t be a wonderful tool. But its worth remembering when you use social media to convey sensitive information, or politically loaded content. And we collectively need to hold the giant social media companies (as well as as other corporations with data, including health records)  to account for lax security. And if you can bear it, just delete Facebook.

Shawn Smallman, 2020

How to become a Digital Nomad?

I was talking with a student recently who said that they wanted to create a life where they could live in different locations or even nations. When I asked the student if they had ever heard the term Digital Nomad they said no. But when I began to explain the term for this movement, they said that they felt a chill. I’ve talked about digital nomads before, because every year I come to know several of them through my online classes and advising for my department’s online track.

In week ten of my Introduction to International Studies course we focus on careers, using the “Where to Go Next Chapter” in our textbook. But I’ve also added some other content now addressing Digital Nomads; I’ve also created a discussion prompt (its an online class) around this topic. You can see both the week’s content and the discussion prompt below:

Week 10, Careers and International Travel

Watch: No videos this week.

Listen:  Podcast on International Careers

View: the PSU Career Center website.

Read:

Chapters Twelve and Thirteen: Where to go from here and Conclusion.

Smallman (2017), “Digital Wanderers.” Blog post, Introduction to International and Global Studies.

Nomad List, website.

Beverly Yuen Thompson. (2018). Digital Nomads: Employment in the Online Gig Economy. Glocalism: Journal of Culture, Politics and Innovation, 2018(1), Glocalism: Journal of Culture, Politics and Innovation, 01 June 2018, Vol.2018(1).

Do: Complete your first discussion post by Wednesday at 11:59, and respond to another student by Friday at 11:59.

Week 10 Discussion Prompt:

This week you read Smallman’s blog post about Digital Wanderers. Could you see yourself as a Digital Wanderer/Nomad? Why or Why not? If you were one, where would you wish to live? Why? Do you know any Digital Wanderers? Or if you are one, do you have any tips?

I’ve also asked my students for the career advice that they’d like to share with their peers. This is what they said:

Don’t let your education get in the way of your learning

Show up when others won’t

Take any experience that you can get

Your major does not determine your career

Be patient. You will find your career.

Stay open to opportunities because the unexpected can happen.

Shawn Smallman, 2019

China, Hong Kong and cyber espionage

Poster at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.

In 2017 I spent some time in Hong Kong and Macau, and had the opportunity to speak to a number of academics. One of the most frequent questions that they asked me was whether people in the United States were following events in Hong Kong. I had to tell them no. There were so many major political debates taking place within the United States itself that events in Hong Kong hadn’t drawn much attention. That has changed now.

Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1999, under a “one country, two systems” approach. In recent years, however, people have become increasingly concerned about their independence. For example, in 2015 five booksellers in Hong Kong went missing. At least one of the men later claimed that he had been kidnapped for selling books critical of China’s leadership. This context shaped how people in Hong Kong viewed a proposed law to allow the extradition of Hong Kong’s residents to mainland China. The bill was presented in April, and provoked massive protests by June. Even after Hong Kong’s governor withdrew the bill in September the protests continued to escalate. This issue has come to embody the fears of most people in Hong Kong that they will lose autonomy. For this reason, one of the protesters’ demand is for complete suffrage in the selection of their leaders, along with amnesty for those who have taken part in the protests, and an independent investigation of what they view as police brutality. …

Shane Harris, @ War

An Opte Project visualization of routing paths through a portion of the Internet. (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5) via Wikimedia Commons.

With the constant media attention to the alleged Russian involvement in the last American election, there is perhaps more media attention to the issue of cyber-warfare than ever before. In this context, Shane Harris’ book, @ War: the Rise of the Military-Internet Complex is provides a sweeping overview of how the U.S. government and its corporate allies have sought to respond and use cyber tools for espionage and war.

Harris has a background as a journalist, and he has extensively interviewed people in both the U.S. federal government and industry. His work provides a deep understanding of how these actors view cyber-conflict. The book is particularly good at showing how corporations are intricately connected the armed forces in cyber-warfare: “Without the cooperation of the companies, the United States couldn’t fight cyber wars. In that respect, the new military-Internet complex is the same as the industrial one before it” (Harris, p. xxiii).

At the same time, this book views this issue through an American lens, and at times has an unreflective view of technology’s role in war. Ever since the Vietnam War, the United States has relied on technology to win wars, while not similarly prioritizing cultural, strategic and historical awareness. One can see this issue in the opening section of the book, which examines U.S. efforts to use cyber-espionage to target ISIS in Iraq, in what he describes as a triumph: “Indeed, cyber warfare -the combination of spying and attack- was instrumental to the American victory in Iraq in 2007, in ways that have never been fully explained or appreciated” (Harris, p. xxii). Even though his description of U.S. operations in Iraq is fascinating, this part of the work has not aged well, and confronts the reader with technology’s limitations more than its capabilities. …

Lines of Light: a book review

Dan Nott’s brilliant graphic novel

Lines of Light is a graphic novel by Dan Nott, which examines the “history and geography of the internet.” I was fortunate enough to meet the author at the Massachusetts Independent Comic Expo, which was held at Lesley University. This quarter I am teaching two courses on related topics (Digital Globalization as well as CyberWar and Espionage), so I was curious to view this work. This graphic novel is exceptional not only because it is visually engaging, but also because it takes a completely unexpected view of something that we all assume we understand. With his clear, concise prose to describe a physical world that we all rely upon, this book is filled with unexpected facts and insights.

One of the approaches that Nott takes is too look at how we use metaphors to talk about the internet, which can sometimes be misleading. The book starts with Senator Ted Stephens at the net neutrality hearing of 2006, where he tried too use a failed metaphor to describe the internet. From this moment, the work moves to consider more broadly how we all talk about the internet, and how accurate that language may be. While it might be easy to mock Senator Stephens, most of us also wrestle to describe something so abstract. Nott’s brilliance is being able to take these metaphors and place them into both a historical and a physical context, which is grounded by the detailed maps and imagery of the infrastructure that supports the internet. …

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