Screens, Screens, Everywhere

The last few months it sure has felt like we are hitting one of those technology lift-off moments.  We’ve seen wild innovation in small mobile devices  -  things we used to call phones – with Droids, Nexus Ones and more fighting to keep up with Apple’s slew of path-breaking and super cool offerings.  We’ve seen the emergence of two whole new categories – slate/readers (Kindles, etc) and smartbooks (between a smart phone and netbook).   Twitter use has exploded, AppStores are an every day fixture and Amazon sold more e-books on Christmas day than regular books.  Just as we were all figuring out the last wave a new and even more powerful one has come along, upending everything.  Again.

As we absorb this whole new layer of innovation and change, I think I see where all this could be headed now.  Driven by a great degree by the iphone’s historic touchscreen, which liberated mobile devices from clunky keyboards, the mid-term future will be a world of screens wired to each other through various networks and ultimately all connected together through whatever we ultimately call the single global communications network.  It won’t be computers or phones per se, but intelligent screens.  

These screens will have many uses and be customized.  The one you have for your recipes and cooking video clips will be splatter proof, large and without a keyboard.  The one you carry with you will be small, maybe even roll or fold up, and a keyboard will be optional.  The screen coaches use on the field to talk to their players, show video replays, draw a new play will be built and marketed by Nike.  The screen you use to read your daily stuff and watch your morning video will as big and as powerful as you want it, as it will come in dozens of different options.  The computer you use to write will of course have a screen and a keyboard. 

it is possible these things will no longer be called phones or computers and be called screens because the value added will increasingly be in the screen size, purpose and design and not in the computing, networked part.  The computing, networked part will be (and already is to some degree) commoditized, meaning that it won’t really be an important part of your device.  The important part will be its narrow, intelligent pairing of form and function, ease of use by messy hands, durability and resilience, size, weight, all that.  

The key will be the screen.  Of course it will be mobile, always on, loaded with computing power.  That’s a given.  But what will make it powerful will be the front-end, the consumer interface, its narrow, targeted utility.

Or will it?

Thanks for watching, attending our event today

Thanks to everyone who participated in our wonderful event today, Twitter, Iran and More: Impressions from the Frontlines of the Global Media Revolution with Nico Pitney, Eric Jaye and Theo Yedinsky.  We had a packed house and more than a 1,000 people watching live online, our most viewed on-line event in the recent history of NDN. 

For those wanting to watch it again, or refer others to it, look back here in the next few days for a full video of the event. 

Thanks all.

Friday New Tools Feature: A Different Kind of "Green Tech Revolution"

It's been a very busy week on the new tools front. On Monday, I wrote about "Social Media and the Iran Protests." On Tuesday, I wrote about how internet users around the world were hacking Iranian government sites, providing mirror proxies for Iranian activists, and even changing their locations to "Tehran" in a move straight out of "Sparticus."

Since then, the new-media blitz in Iran has only continued to accelerate. As foreign reporters leave the country in droves, citizen journalists there are taking matters into their own hands, uploading videos of beatings and shootings to YouTube and giving real-time first-hand accounts and organizing directions on Twitter.

These services, realizing how politically consequential they have now become, responded well to the situation. Twitter, heeding the pleas of many of its users and even the State Department, put off a critical scheduled update that would have interrupted service. YouTube made exceptions to its policy of banning violent material. From the New York Times:

“In general, we do not allow graphic or gratuitous violence on YouTube,” the company said in a statement. “However, we make exceptions for videos that have educational, documentary, or scientific value. The limitations being placed on mainstream media reporting from within Iran make it even more important that citizens in Iran be able to use YouTube to capture their experiences for the world to see.” 

Google, which owns YouTube, also just added Farsi (Persian) to its translator service, stating that they "hope that this tool will improve access to information in Iran and outside." Over half of Google's employees were born in other countries, which may help to explain their particular sensitivity on this issue. Finally, although the Iranian government has blocked Facebook, the social networking service added a Persian version today.

On Twitter, people around the world continue their outpouring of support - #iranelection is still the top topic, and a great deal of Twitter users (myself included) have made their icons green in a show of solidarity. For those that are not photoshop-inclined, you can even change it automatically by visiting, which turns your existing icon green (the "friendly web-geek" creator of this app is running this off of his own server at his own expense).

We will see where all of this leads. As I said myself, I don't think that the use of these new tools in and of itself constitutes a "revolution," as some have asserted. But it is very clear that, as the techniques and technologies of power multiply and evolve, so too do the methods of resistance. This organic, horizontal, distributed, and deeply democratic process stands in stark contrast to the autocratic theocracy that is the Iranian government.

Kristof: "Tear Down This Cyberwall!"

From Nick Kristof's NYTimes column today:

The unrest unfolding in Iran is the quintessential 21st-century conflict. On one side are government thugs firing bullets. On the other side are young protesters firing “tweets.”

The protesters’ arsenal, such as those tweets on, depends on the Internet or other communications channels. So the Iranian government is blocking certain Web sites and evicting foreign reporters or keeping them away from the action.

The push to remove witnesses may be the prelude to a Tehran Tiananmen. Yet a secret Internet lifeline remains, and it’s a tribute to the crazy, globalized world we live in. The lifeline was designed by Chinese computer engineers in America to evade Communist Party censorship of a repressed Chinese spiritual group, the Falun Gong.

Today, it is these Chinese supporters of Falun Gong who are the best hope for Iranians trying to reach blocked sites.

“We don’t have the heart to cut off the Iranians,” said Shiyu Zhou, a computer scientist and leader in the Chinese effort, called the Global Internet Freedom Consortium. “But if our servers overload too much, we may have to cut down the traffic.”

Mr. Zhou said that usage of the consortium’s software has tripled in the last week. It set a record on Wednesday of more than 200 million hits from Iran, representing more than 400,000 people.

If President Obama wants to support democratic movements on a shoestring, he should support an “Internet freedom initiative” pending in Congress. This would include $50 million in the appropriations bill for these censorship-evasion technologies. The 21st-century equivalent of the Berlin wall is a cyberbarrier, and we can help puncture it.

I had more on this yesterday.


n/a Now Moving on Five 21st Century Challenges

At the end of last week, the leaders of, the philanthropic arm of Google, finally announced the five areas that they will focus their money and attention in the coming years. In the language that we use around NDN and the New Politics Institute, the areas are five 21st century challenges that the old politics of the 20th century has ignored but that the new politics of this century needs to address.

I sat in on the conference call they held with Larry Brilliant, the head of, and he outlined the plan to take an initial $25 million and support organizations or invest in companies in each of these five spaces. They are:

  • “Developing renewable energy cheaper than coal.” This is the holy grail of the green tech world, and Google is going to help make this happen as fast as possible.
  • “Accelerate the commercialization of plug-in electric vehicles.” Which ties into the first one, because once the electric grid is running off clean energy, then the plug-ins leverage that same clean energy source.
  • “Fuel the Growth of Small and Medium-sized enterprises in the developing world.” This fills the gap between the World-Bank level infrastructure projects, and the Grameen Bank micro-loan space. In between, there are the bulk of job-producing small business which need capital and resources too.
  • “Inform and Empower to Improve Public Services.” This leverages one of Google’s core competencies of aggregating good information and getting it into the hands of those who can make for change. It can involve simple things like getting the information of results about kid’s schools in rural areas to the authorities and international agencies who might be able to help.
  • Predict and Prevent.” This is all about getting early warning system in place to detect the outbreaks of any pandemics that might arise, like Bird Flu. This stems from Brilliant’s personal interest in this area.

I know Brilliant from pre-Google days, and his personal story is a fascinating one, one that I laid out in a lengthy magazine-length interview earlier this decade. In short, Brilliant was part of the team the helped eradicate smallpox in the 1970s, a daunting 20th century challenge that we definitively solved.

Onto this century’s challenges….

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute

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