A 1998 Carnegie Foundation report suggested that large research universities should improve undergraduate education through large-scale participation of undergraduates in the universities' research mission. This book is an example of putting the Carnegie suggestion into practice, and it was borne out of the belief that research universities can add unique elements to student education. As a highly ranked research university, the University of Colorado at Boulder has top-notch students with research abilities that should be tapped more often. By learning how to conduct research and by carrying it out, students improve their critical thinking abilities and develop other skills that carry over to all other aspects of their future professional life.
Three years ago, when the book Technology and Privacy in the New Millennium was published, it seemed unlikely that an equally pensive and interesting book on the topic of privacy would see the light of day. With the 2007 release of Convenient or Invasive: The Information Age, Leeds School students have once again demonstrated their ability to write and edit a major work of research in less than a semester. The writing level and the quality of the editing of this year’s authors are superb, showcasing the quality of Leeds School graduating undergraduates. Some of these undergraduate students are already on par with graduating Ph.D. students. Most importantly, the students have improved greatly in both areas over the course of the semester.
After considering the content of the book, the students decided to focus the title on privacy invasion and convenience, two factors at the core of many of today’s technologies. In this book, we define privacy as an individual or entity’s ability to control personal information. Convenience is defined as any method, opportunity, or object that simplifies a process; something that makes life easier.
Perhaps more than anything, as the facilitator for this book, I have learned much from working with these dedicated and intelligent students. Throughout this process of helping students find the inspiration to write their own textbook, several goals have been at the forefront:
- Expose students to cutting-edge materials
- Challenge students intellectually
- Involve students in actual research
- Instill enthusiasm for scholarship
While goals 1-3 were clearly reached; only time will tell whether goal number four was reached. It is hoped that the combination of knowledge gained from researching and writing this book will combine with the increased focus on privacy in the media to develop further interest in scholarship.
In fact, just days before the chapters for this book were due in their final version, The Wall Street Journal broke a major story about the privacy of Wal-Mart employees and partners. In what can best be described as a truly Orwellian setup, Wal-Mart security staff routinely read employee emails on the Wal-Mart email system as well as their private email on such systems as Hotmail and GMail, monitored employee telephone and computer use as well as computer use of employees of partner organizations, while banning use of alternative modes of communication, such as personal cell-phones. Nothing in the story came as a surprise to the chapter authors of this book, as each individual chapter detailed a piece of the societal trend of giving up privacy for convenience. However, as the Wal-Mart example aptly demonstrated, often citizens and employees have no choice in whether to give up their privacy.
For anyone reading Orwell’s 1984, perhaps the biggest surprise is the technological simplicity of the government surveillance techniques. Only a few citizens could be monitored through their TVs at the same time, and behavior was modified through the fear of being monitored. Today, almost anything we do can be and is being monitored, including our online hobbies and real-life friends, the places we visit and when we visit that location (through our cell phones and GPS technology), what we talk about in the privacy of our own homes and vehicles (through the microphones on computers and onboard navigation systems), and even what we think (through monitoring of the brain’s p300 responses). In the year of 1984, the general consensus was that Orwell had incorrectly predicted the technological sophistication that 36 years could bring. Today, close to 60 years after Orwell wrote his book, we are far beyond any technology Orwell imagined, and we are living with today’s technology permeating our lives.
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