Best Practices for Achieving a 4.0 GPA


 

honors-college.previewWhen I started my undergraduate work at Colorado State University, I committed myself to trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA.  At the time, I didn’t understand what it would take to maintain that level of excellence for the duration of the coursework, nor did I find much in the way of best practices to light the way.  Now that I have completed my coursework and graduated with a 4.0, I though it would be worthwhile to document those practices that helped me reach my goal for other students who choose to commit themselves to academic excellence.  I have organized the practices into three categories, a) building a support system, b) organization, and c) intellectual curiosity.

Building a Support System

Every journey in life is worth sharing, and the decision to pursue a college education is no different.  It’s a journey, and as such, requires a support system to help along the way.  A strong support system includes family, friends, employers, and the university.  In addition, it is important to seek out a mentor that can guide you through the journey.

I began by talking with my family, to make sure they understood the value I placed on academic excellence and the sacrifices that we would have to make as a family.  In addition, I used Facebook, Twitter, and a WordPress blog to communicate my progress to extended family and friends, finding the social network tools a great way to keep everyone informed of my progress and share my work.  After each term, I posted the grades for my classes and a credit countdown.  In turn, friends and family gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going when things got tough.

In addition, I talked to my boss and co-workers about what I was doing and learning throughout the journey.  My employer was incredibly supportive and allowed me to use what I learned in the work environment, helping me to synthesize the knowledge.

I also made extensive use of the University support system, including the librarian, professors, the administrative staff, and my academic advisor.  Colorado State’s staff was excellent, insofar as they appeared to care as much about my success as I did.

Finally, I had an excellent mentor.  Tom Tonkin, a friend and colleague of mine was pursuing his doctorate while I was working on my undergraduate degree.  I was able to bounce ideas off of him, run my rough drafts by him, get guidance on research, or simply vent.  His support and guidance was invaluable.

Building a viable support system was likely the most important step I took, and there is little doubt in my mind that they were critical to my success.

Organization

Staying organized is another critically important practice that includes planning for success, time management, understanding expectations, and keeping your research, citations, and academic work managed and accessible for future assignments.  Staying organized assures that you understand what needs to happen, and build the infrastructure and tools that support your academic efforts.

The first step in getting organized is to work with your academic advisors to build a realistic degree plan, that takes into account all of your obligations and responsibilities.  Of course, the plan is simply that, a plan.  As such, you should be comfortable adjusting it to changing life circumstances.

Second, I recommend using calendar tools to build a schedule that includes assignments, writing time, and research time.  Pad the schedule with extra time.

Third, go through the ALL of the course material before starting, paying particular attention to the syllabus, rubrics, and the grading scheme.  The grading scheme will tell you a lot about where to spend your time and energy.

Finally, keep your work organized, including research, citations, and all of your academic work.  I use End Note, a software package made by Thompson Reuters to managing citations and research.  I organize the End Note library by class and then citation.  I also make sure every citation includes a hyperlink to the material where possible.  This way I can always come back to it.  In addition, I post all assignments on my blog.  This is important because it makes it easy to cite myself (which you need to do to avoid plagiarism); thus, I am able to build on my earlier ideas in future work.  Finally, I save all of the original assignment documents in a local folder structure.

Intellectual curiosity and engagement

The most important advice I can give is to engage seriously.  It starts with an intellectual curiosity.  I try to provoke my curiosity by suspending my natural attitude—the ideas we take for granted—to look upon a subject with fresh eyes.  In addition, I always go to original sources rather than simply using the text.  The texts are typically great summaries, but the original material is much richer.  Finally, I try to be provocative—not for provocations sake—to engage in positions that I may not normally take or that nobody would take, to explore other positions in the spirit of intellectual inquiry.  Unpopular positions make for great debate, the soul of interaction.  It isn’t about beliefs, rather the point is to learn and grow.

In summary, I attribute my undergraduate success to more than just hard work.  Hard work is necessary, but not sufficient condition.  Graduating with a 4.0GPA also requires a great support system, great organization, and a genuine curiosity for how people and things work.


2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


Why This Republican Voted For Obama (Again)


Following Obama’s re-election, it is clear that the GOP is doing some soul-searching, trying to figure out what went wrong.  There are several dominant narratives in the mainstream press, including a) Republicans failed to recognize the changing ethnic makeup of the country, b) Governor Romney was out of touch with the working class, or c) President Obama’s campaign had a better ground game, doing a better job of mobilizing Democratic voters.  It appears likely that all three narratives played some part in the election results.

Indeed, this long-time Republican voted for Obama again, continuing a trend that started with a vote for Vice-President Gore.  If you believe the political rhetoric coming from disappointed conservatives on Twitter or Facebook, my vote, along with the votes of more than 61 million other Americans, is going to result into a descent into economic depression, communism, or civil war.  Of course, I didn’t vote for economic failure, communism, civil war, or any other such thing.  Rather, I voted for the Democratic candidate for a variety of reasons I felt were important for America.

  1. The Economy
  2. Tax Policy
  3. Freedom and Liberty
  4. The Environment
  5. Foreign Policy
  6. Character and Leadership

The Economy and Jobs

Of course, the economy dominated the election discourse.  The key differences between the candidates centered on the size of government debt.  Romney appeared to favor decreasing government deficit spending, arguing that economic growth in the private sector is the result of decreased regulation.  In addition, in an either-or argument, Romney suggested that the private sector created jobs rather than government.  On the other hand, President Obama favored deficit spending to spur the economy and create jobs.  As a voter, I rejected the either-or proposition as an overly simplistic argument.  Indeed, I was offended that both parties underestimated the intelligence of the American people.  Of course, the budget deficit and the size of U.S. debt needs to be reduced, because too much government debt crowds out private investment.  However, it is largely a question of timing.  As a proponent of Keynesian economics, I understand how short-run government spending can stabilize the amplitude of economic cycles.  The $700B stimulus package was the right thing to do for the economy.  To argue that the deficit we now must reconcile with was somehow the fault of President Obama when it was the only way to prevent the economy from going into depression is not only divisive, it is stupid.  Had Governor Romney been in a similar position, he would have had to use the same tools of fiscal and monetary policy to prevent the collapse of our economic system.  Moving backwards at this stage in the game is simply an ill-conceived idea.  Moreover, it suggested to this voter that Governor Romney either a) didn’t understand the economy, or b) was simply pandering to the views of the Republican base, knowing his policy response would have had to be the same in a similar situation.

Tax Policy

As noted earlier, government debt crowds out private investment.  We simply must reduce our deficits while growing the economy.  There are two ways to reduce our debt, increase revenue and cut spend.  President Obama focused on raising revenue through higher taxes.  Governor Romney favored cutting taxes and reducing spend on entitlements.  In an ideal scenario, the government will do both, finding opportunities to raise tax revenue and cut spending.  Again, the candidate’s positions forced an either-or mentality when the answer is likely both.  For my part, I believe that U.S. tax policy harms the economy by overwhelmingly favoring those with wealth over income-earners.

Indeed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, household median income in 2011 is roughly $50K annually, the same as it was in 1989 when adjusted for inflation.  Of course, in the same period, the U.S. GDP has grown 60%, from $7.8 trillion to more than $13 trillion in constant dollars.  So where did the money go?  The money overwhelming is going to those with wealth.  In 1989, the bottom 60% of households shared roughly 30% of U.S. income, whereas the top 40% shared 70%.  Today, the ratio is 25% for the bottom 60% and 75% for the top 40%.  Moreover, the top 5%’s share increased from 18% to 22%.  It is clear that our tax policy favors wealth.

Of course, we don’t need economic analysis to tell us what is happening.  We are all feeling the pinch as energy, healthcare, and education costs rise, while median income remains the same.  The question is what to do about it.  There are two schools of thought coming from our political parties.  The Republican plan is to lower tax rates on wealth and businesses, while the Democratic plan is to raise taxes on wealth and businesses.  Concurrently, the Republicans favor cutting government spending, while the Democrats favor continued spending to spur the economy.  This leaves voters with an imperfect choice.  It comes down to this: do we believe in trickle-down economics, where greater wealth results in greater investment, or income equality, where greater income for the middle-class results in higher consumption and the resulting investment from those with wealth?

For my own part, I believe that more income in the hands of the middle class will increase consumption and thus grow the economy.  Let’s face it, our economy is geared towards consumption.  Our mortgage interest deduction favors the purchase of houses.  We use tax credits to spur consumption for everything from energy efficient appliances to new cars.  Indeed, just how many cars will a billionaire buy compared to healthy middle class?  If you’re Jay Leno, perhaps you’ll buy a hundred or so, but otherwise, it is unlikely you will buy much more than you need, whereas the same amount of money in the hands of the middle class would create far more demand. I should note that I do not believe in the redistribution of wealth.  However, that is exactly what is happening when a tax policy favors wealth.  It assures that income earners have difficulty accumulating wealth, while those who make their money from wealth grow wealthier.  Rather, our tax policy should reverse the current trend to create a more level playing field between the wealthy and income-earners.

Freedom and Liberty

I have to be honest.  The Republican agenda against gay marriage is a problem for me.  The Declaration of Independence is quite clear, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.  How then, should we legislate less than equal rights to some of our population, simply because they are different?  Moreover, how much has the party of President Lincoln changed, that they have departed from the basics of our democracy?  The Republicans are simply on the wrong side of history in the argument against gay marriage.

Furthermore, the argument against gay marriage appears to be a moral argument with origins in Christian thought and influence.  Because of the 1st amendment to the Constitution, which protects the rights of the people by preventing Congress from abridging freedom of religious worship, equally so, it prevents Congress of forcing the values of any one religion on the people.  Indeed, as Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State”.  As such, freedom of religion is also freedom from religion.  Accordingly, and consistent with our founders, the idea that Christians should implement their moral agenda on the free people of these United States is abhorrent to me, despite my personal faith.

The Environment

While climate change was not a topic during the Presidential debates, the candidate’s policy positions were relatively clear.  Governor Romney had no policy position on climate change, while President Obama favors investment in clean energy.  Indeed, the general position of Republicans on climate change seems to be evolving from denial, to an argument questioning the relationship between cause and effect.  Is climate change happening?  There is no longer any question, it is simply physics.  Carbon dioxide stores the sun’s energy radiated from the earth’s surface.  Burning fossil fuels increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases the amount of heat stored in the atmosphere.  More heat in the atmosphere increases the melting of the ice caps and glaciers, decreasing the amount of the sun’s energy reflected out to space.  Ipso facto, burning fossil fuels increases the temperature of the atmosphere causing changes to our climate.  How long can we continue to ignore this issue?

Moreover, as Hurricane Sandy showed, the economic impact of climate change is staggering.  Should we continue to protect the energy and automotive industry given such high social costs?  Or should we invest to spur innovation and reverse the current warming trend?  Like President Obama, I believe we have to innovate now.  Of course, there will be failures.  Failure is a part of innovation.  However, the risks of doing nothing far outweigh the risks of doing something.

Foreign Policy

After entitlement spending, the defense budget is the largest line item in the federal budget.  We need to have a strong defense, but when it comes to killing people, it should be defensive, not offensive.  I do not believe President Obama will get us into a frivolous war, like Iraq.  Moreover, Bin Laden is dead and you cannot fight a war against a concept like terrorism.  You can destroy terrorist organizations.  However, that does not require spending more than $1 trillion dollars.  Intelligence, international cooperation, police action, and limited military action are far more efficient means to prevent terrorism and destroy the capabilities of terrorist organizations, than is war.

Character and Leadership

Leader’s share their vision and inspire people to achieve great things.  While some can argue President Obama’s leadership, the President was remarkably consistent in his beliefs and policy positions.  I struggled with Governor Romney’s character.  He appeared to change his policy positions quite often, particularly between the Republican primaries and the Presidential debates.  The Governor initially pandered to the extreme elements in the Republican party in order to get nominated and then attempted to appear as a centrist to be more electable.  If he so willingly abandoned his positions, how do you know what he stands for?  Was Governor Romney a conservative extremist or simply an opportunist?  Moreover, what would happen when he got into office?  I simply had a very difficult time understanding how our country would be governed under Governor Romney.  In addition, President Obama, with all of his faults, appears to behave as an honest man.  Character mattered to me.

After reading this, some might argue that I am not a Republican.  However, I would argue that I am a Republican, but my party left me behind long ago.  By pandering to social conservatives and growing government during the Bush years, the Republicans left a sizable number of fiscal conservatives, like me, behind.  I remain committed to the power of free markets (with some caveats), strong defense, and freedom for all of us.  However, the party has changed.  The free market philosophy appears to be irrevocably attached to policies that deride smart regulation, and favor income inequality and special interests.  Moreover, strong defense has become strong offense.  Finally, liberty and freedom for all have reverted to liberty and freedom only for those that look and act the same as the majority.  When the Republican party comes back, I’ll still be here.  Perhaps I can even vote for one again.

 

 


Freedom and Constraint in Internet Regulation: A Perspective on Balance


In the last two decades, the world has arguably been in the midst of the greatest communications revolution since the development of the telegraph.  Dubbed the ‘Internet revolution’, the new communications medium has fundamentally altered how people produce and consume information, knowledge, and culture.  Like the telegraph before it, the Internet was made possible not only because of the technology, but also because of government intervention and regulatory choices that created and spurred investment in the new network.  Major constitutive choices by the government included the original research and development at DARPA, the National Academy of Sciences investment in building the backbone, the insistence on open standards, and the Clinton administrations decision to privatize (Benkler, 2006).  However, the phenomenal growth of the Internet has increased its salience to the national economy, national security, and trade relations.  Increasingly, in an effort to gain more control over the network, national and international regulatory regimes are seeking to constrain the network, raise the costs of network participation, and control the medium, potentially limiting how information, knowledge, and culture are exchanged in a free society in the process (Benkler, 2006).  Examples include the passage of DCMA, the failed SOPA/PIPA legislation, and the upcoming International Telecommunications Union conference seeking to introduce an international regulatory regime.  This author is concerned that regulatory efforts seeking to introduce government gatekeepers into a decentralized medium may stifle innovation and have negative implications for freedom of expression and participation in the networked public sphere.  The aim of this policy paper is to examine the range of policy approaches to regulation of the Internet.  Section I of the paper will define the issues surrounding Internet regulation by analyzing three different policy perspectives.  Section II will analyze various policy positions as a coherent whole, while section III will recommend a policy position that deals with the legitimate social and economic concerns of Internet regulation, while being supportive of a digital ecology that encourages innovation and freedom of expression in the networked public sphere.

I. Defining the Issue

            Government regulation is critical to the protection of the public interest (Shafritz, Russell, & Borick, 2011).   In the case of the Internet, the public interest can broadly be conceived in social, political, and economic terms to include users of the Internet, commercial entities whose businesses are either enabled or threatened by the Internet, and the government itself, that must consider Internet regulation in national security, foreign policy, and international trade terms.  The basic contours that shape the Internet regulation debate can be defined broadly as freedom versus constraint in several important dimensions, including b) freedom of expression versus copyright protection, b) innovation versus oligopoly, and c) borderless Internet versus territorial sovereignty.  Each dimension has particular arguments in the freedom versus constraint debate, and specific legislative and regulatory choices that will shape the future of communication.

Freedom of Expression Versus Copyright Protection

The Internet and computing technologies have dramatically expanded the ability of traditional consumers of mass media content to become content producers, by dramatically lowering the costs of creation and distribution to nearly zero (Shirky, 2009).  As such, a variety of new forms of information, knowledge, and culture have arisen including blogs, mashups, viral videos, animutations, and more serious work such as open-source software development and Internet documentaries, most which rely on individual creative expression in non-market models and often build on or use other works to create something entirely new.  While the Internet has enabled consumers to become producers, government regulation is beginning to place constraints on would be consumer/producers.  In October of 1998, President Clinton signed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act into law, a constitutive choice “to tilt the institutional ecology in favor of industrial production and distribution of cultural packaged goods, at the expense of commons-based relations of sharing information, knowledge, and culture” (Benkler, 2006, p. 418).  Critical elements of the law include the retroactive extension of copyright protection to material already in the public domain for the sake of international copyright harmonization, and anti-circumvention provisions that outlaw technologies that circumvent copyright protection measures put into place by copyright owners (U.S. Copyright Office, 1998).  These measures were put into place based in the idea that strengthening copyright protection in the digital realm would spur the release of content onto the Internet based on the protections afforded by the law to the media and entertainment industry, however the law also attempts to influence the non-commercial conduct of users (Sparks, 2001).

In an analysis of an early DCMA case, Universal City Studios vs. 2600.com, Sparks (2001) questions the implications of the new copyright law on freedom of expression, finding that while the DCMA will limit digital copyright infringement, it also has the ability to interfere with the exchange of content over the Internet and the free expression of computer scientists seeking to advance the state of the art.  The case in question revolves around the release and distribution of DeCSS software on the hacking website 2600.com.  At issue, is whether the reverse engineering, development, and distribution of software to make encrypted DVDs playable on open source Linux software was in violation of the anti-circumvention provisions of DCMA (Sparks, 2001).  The court ruled the DeCSS was “not subject to constitutional protection sufficient to exempt it from regulation under the DCMA” (Sparks, 2001, p. 8), nor was the DCMA consider too broad, rather it was narrow in terms of the harm it sought to prevent.

However, Sparks (2001) argues that the court’s interpretation of DCMA is overly broad, given “that it prohibits programming with substantial non-infringing uses and purely academic exchanges on encryption/decryption that do not actually infringe on protected copyrights”, (p. 18) in absence of damages, and merely on the speculation of potential harm.  In this sense, the law is seeking to prevent the development of technology that would allow infringement, rather than enforcing infringement when it occurs.  Moreover, Sparks (2001) warns that DCMA “may have the unintended effect of limiting the availability of the means of protected free expression” (p. 19).

The implications of Spark’s (2001) analysis suggest serious potential harm to free expression on the Internet.  First, any technology development that deals with encryption or decryption technology on the Internet, by non-market or market actors could be subject to DCMA enforcement depending on interpretation, irrespective of whether actual infringement or harm occurs.  Second, the government is attempting to regulate barriers to technical progress in Luddite fashion, in an industry notable for a rapid rate of change.  Finally, the law favors market actors over non-market actors, the media and entertainment industry over the software industry, and media oligopolies with aging business models over innovation in the media and entertainment business.

Innovation Versus Oligopoly

Despite the intention of DCMA to constrain innovation in order to protect copyright works, the genie was already out of the bottle.  Where DCMA sought to prevent the reverse engineering of DRM encryption to protect the DVD market, the development and rapid growth of peer-to-peer file sharing technology threatened the business model of oligopolistic media firms in an entirely new way.   The basic contention of the media industry is that P2P file sharing is akin to piracy, and is therefore illegal and immoral, despite the legitimate use for file sharing in other contexts (Benkler, 2006).  As such, the industry has mounted fierce legal attacks on early file sharing technologies wherever a central point existed, such as with Napster’s architecture, resulting in Napster’s eventual demise.  However, P2P technologies evolved into architectures that lack any point of centrality, in a completely distributed architecture, resulting in phenomenal growth of consumer/producer usage, estimated as much as 450 million downloads every week (Currah, 2006).

In an effort to understand the forces at work in the brewing battle over P2P technology, Currah (2006) interviewed hundreds of studio executives across the six major oligopolistic Hollywood studios, finding the firms are seeking to protect their business model from decentralized P2P technology, rather than adopting the technology over fears of loss of control.  Instead, Hollywood firms are investing in centralized server-client distribution with greater control and higher cost models in order to preserve control over distribution and protect the linear, time-based distribution model of studios to assure that digital content delivery does not interfere with the profitable DVD market (Currah, 2006).  The prevailing attitude among studio executives is captured by the response of one of the studio presidents interviewed by Currah (2006):

As executives working for large public companies, we have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders to do two things.  First, protect our assets from piracy and offer legal alternatives to piracy. But this is offset by a second and vital factor – we must maximize the value of our products in existing markets and minimize our exposure to risk, like investing in an unproven market such as the Internet, which could easily cannibalize our growth if mismanaged. (p. 459)

Currah (2006) attributes the counterintuitive behavior to the nature of market incumbents versus niche competitors, arguing that niche competitors are attracted to emerging markets given the opportunities for growth in unseating competitors, while incumbents are incented to protect and grow large markets in a risk averse manner.  Tushman and Anderson (2004) describe these behaviors in terms of the processes of exploration and exploitation, where incumbents have little incentive to explore new markets, rather when emerging markets mature, incumbents can simply consolidate the market given their broad industry power and control of assets.

The implications of Currah’s (2006) study is threefold.  First, oligopolistic firms are incented to exploit existing markets and suppress innovation.  Second, P2P technology used in legal form has the potential to reduce the high costs of media distribution to practically zero, potentially forming the basis for a new business model with lower costs and greater reach.  However, while most studios acknowledge the potential, none appear willing to bear the risk of innovation (Currah, 2006).  Third, the battle between media companies and P2P technologies is merely the first foray into a broader need to insert points of control into the decentralized network medium.   One aspect of control is the DCMA regulation that extended copyright protection and attempts to protect DRM technology, providing ‘unprecedented power’ to oligopolistic firms.  More concerning is that battle lines are drawn firmly with the media oligopoly and the state on one side and consumers/producers on the other, centering “on how we create, fund, use, own and share creative works in a digital and networked economy” (Currah, 2006, p. 463).  Put in simpler terms, it appears that media companies and the state might prefer active consumer/producer participants revert back to passive consumers.

Borderless Internet Versus Territorial Sovereignty

In the early days of the Internet, many considered the Internet a virtual world, wholly separate from the physical world, and as such predicted international regulation might be difficult if not impossible (Benkler, 2006).  The reasoning was twofold.  First, the Internet is essentially borderless, insofar as information can appear simultaneously in multiple jurisdictions (Bauml, 2011).  Second, the Internet is decentralized, lacking jurisdictional choke points, rendering the question of jurisdiction difficult to address (Benkler, 2006).   However, early predictions about national government’s ability to regulate the Internet have proven to be overblown (Goldsmith, 2000).  Instead, national governments are legitimately able to introduce regulation of the Internet in their jurisdictions, however not without challenges.

Goldsmith’s (2000) analysis attempts to put the problem into perspective by analyzing the conflict-of-law problems inherent with unilateral regulation, arguing that unilateral regulation, while not desirable, is equally an effective vehicle for enforcing the norms of sovereign territories.  Goldsmith (2000) argues that regulation is legitimate insofar as “international law permits a nation to regulate the harmful local effects of foreign conduct” (p. 138).  Moreover, Goldsmith (2000) acknowledges that while regulation of the Internet is imperfect, it remains an effective form of control, particularly through efforts to regulate the demand side of Internet participation.

Furthermore, in making the case that the impact of unilateral regulation is overstated, Goldsmith (2000) suggests that because most Internet content providers will necessarily lie outside the enforcement jurisdiction of most national regulation, the ability of many regulatory bodies will be hampered in the enforcement of local laws.  Therefore, “the entities potentially subject to multiple Internet regulations are users, systems operators (especially Internet access providers) and transaction facilitators (such as banks and credit card companies) with a presence in more than one regulating jurisdiction” (Goldsmith, 2000, p. 140).   It follows that national governments have an ability to regulate the activities of most multijurisdictional commercial firms, while perhaps having a minimal effect on content providers without a presence in the local jurisdiction.

However, while Goldsmith (2000) addresses the legality of unilateral regulation, the author fails to address the potential social and political implications.  This author agrees that the basic arguments on legitimacy and efficacy are sound.  However, the author concedes the primary way that a government regulates an activity is “by raising the activity’s costs in a manner that achieves desired ends” (Goldsmith, 2000, p. 138).  Moreover, Goldsmith (2000) argues further, that content providers are responsible for assuring their content does not cause harm in other nations, and should insert geographic coding, another way of raising costs.  Of course, costs are the heart of the matter.  The Internet has dramatically lowered the costs of producing information, knowledge, and culture, lowering barriers to participate in the medium (Benkler, 2006).  Raising the costs of participation is one way that governments and commercial entities can attempt to shape the Internet into a controlled mass medium where only well-funded entities can participate.

Indeed, higher costs, in the form of taxes is at issue in the upcoming International Telecommunication Union meeting in Dubai, where a draft proposal of new international telecommunications rules include a clause that allow national authorities the right to tax all incoming and outgoing Internet traffic (International Telecommunications Union, 2012).  The U.S. government is unanimously opposed to the draft proposal, arguing “the Internet does not need new international regulations… such regulations could be devastating to Internet freedom and economic development” (Essers, 2012, p. 1).  Of course, the U.S. government may not be exclusively concerned with Internet freedom as much as the economic impact of such regulation.  The effect of national government taxation would be to exact revenues from Internet content providers like Google or Facebook for traffic associated with their page requests (Pfanner, 2012).  The Internet’s growth in economic, political, and social importance coupled with the global nature of the Internet will likely make international regulation a fact of life in one form or another.  Furthermore, the costs of such regulation may impact users beyond the borders of the national regulatory regime implementing the regulations, and have a broad impact on the participatory nature of the Internet.

II. Analyzing the Issue

            U.S. and international society face unprecedented constitutive choices regarding the future of arguably, the most important medium in human history, “a new information environment, one in which individuals are free to take a more active role than was possible in the industrial information economy of the twentieth century” (Benkler, 2006, p. 2).  Furthermore, Benkler (2006) describes this moment in history as one of both opportunity and challenge in a period of choices regarding the ‘institutional ecology’ of the digital environment, an ecology made of up the laws and regulations that will define the degree to which individuals are able to participate.  The opportunity, as Benkler (2006) defines it, is to shape the ecology in such a way as to safeguard the individual freedom, use the Internet as a platform for improved democratic participation, and “achieve improvements in human development everywhere” (p. 2).  In the broadest sense, the Internet is a powerful force for the advancement of liberal ideals.  Not liberal in the sense of alignment with a political party, rather liberal as befitting a free person.

Therefore, the constitutive choices faced in Internet regulation policy remain the degree to which constraint is chosen over freedom across the myriad issues at play.  At question is how much constraint is required to deal with legitimate political, economic, and social concerns, while protecting the freedom needed to encourage continued innovation and freedom of expression in the networked public sphere.  Therefore, the lens through which to evaluate policy options is the balance between freedom and constraint.  Of course, a key question is how to evaluate the balance between freedom and constraint?  Given the networked information economy has threatened the control of dominant incumbents of the mass media era (Benkler, 2006), evaluating the degree to which a policy or regulation seeks to introduce controls that support powerful incumbents over rights that protect new market entrants or individuals can illuminate whether the policy options favors freedom or constraint.

Freedom Versus Constraint in Regulatory Examples

As discussed previously, the DCMA extended copyright protection for works already in the public domain in the interest of international harmonization (Sparks, 2001), a protection that extended the rights of media firms and limited the rights of individuals seeking to use those works in the public sphere.  Moreover, DCMA limited the exchange of information deemed as potentially harmful to media companies by making copyright infringement possible, despite potentially legal uses of the information, and the fact that there was no evidence of actual infringement (Sparks, 2001).  Both described elements of DCMA enhanced the protections afforded market incumbents at the expense of individuals.  Some might argue that the public good was achieved through DCMA, by protecting the media industry DVD distribution model and the rights to monetize copyright works; a compelling argument.  However copyright and patent law exists to encourage contributions to the public good by allowing a creator to monetize their investment for a limited period of time to encourage economic growth and innovation.  In this situation, the law was used to allow incumbents to cling to an aging business model, limiting the rights of innovators, like P2P developers, in the networked information economy.

Another example worthy of examination was the recent attempt to pass the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and its companion bill in the U.S. Senate, the Protect IP Act.  Both sought to prevent infringing activity perceived to harm U.S. economic interests by enabling broad enforcement measures (Band, 2012).  The legislation was intended to stop “three kinds of infringing activity: copyright infringement, counterfeiting, and circumvention of technological protection measures” (Band, 2012, p. 3).  The main controversies surrounding SOPA and PIPA had to do with the enforcement measures that may have been overly broad.  The law would require intermediaries such as Internet service providers, payment systems, search engines, and advertising networks to block access to alleged infringing websites within five days of receiving notification of infringing activity (Band, 2012).  The problems raised by the law include issues of due process, the use of controversial IP blocking techniques linked with censorship in authoritarian regimes, the potential of the law to negatively impact legitimate websites, and the concern that the law would create an incentive for commercial Internet business to monitor usage, perhaps invading privacy in the process (Band, 2012).

The controversial law was supported most notably by the pharmaceuticals industry, and the entertainment industry (Band, 2012), industries with a high degree of market concentration concerned over protecting their dominant position and business models.   Certainly, infringing activity is an important economic concern of the U.S. government, however the legislation as designed did not seek to achieve an appropriate balance between copyright protection and freedom of expression and provided overly broad power to copyright owners.  Balance, of course, has always been the intent of copyright law, a “balance between the respective values of supporting creative pursuits through copyright protection and promoting innovation in new communication technologies by limiting the incidence of liability for copyright infringement” (“Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd,” 2005).  SOPA and PIPA appeared to favor enhancing the protections of a few industries at the expense of freedom of expression and innovation.

A final example is the proposed ITU clauses concerning the right of national governments to tax inbound and outbound network traffic.  As previously discussed, taxation raises the costs of Internet use and can lead to harmful effects for Internet users by raising the barriers to participation on the Internet.  However, the relationships between freedom and constraint are less clear as the context shifts to national actors on the international stage.  Some consider the Internet to be a U.S. dominated medium that is used to further U.S. foreign policy interests in the Middle East and elsewhere.  For example, the U.S. State Departments Internet Freedom project provides circumvention and anti-censorship technology to activists inside repressive regimes (U.S. Department of State, 2012).  Moreover, the concentrated U.S. power over the medium allows the U.S. to dominate Internet governance and associated trade policies (Revie, 2012).  It is little wonder that foreign governments are seeking to attenuate U.S. Internet power through the use of the ITU.  In one sense, the U.S. government is seeking to strengthen freedom in authoritarian regimes, while foreign governments are seeking to constrain U.S. Internet hegemony.  In another sense, the U.S. could be thought of as attempting to constrain foreign governments freedom of self-determination through the promotion of liberal ideals.  In any event, the ITU example differs significantly from DCMA and SOPA insofar as the U.S. can be considered a largely unchallenged incumbent, and therefore is not seeking to introduce legislation in either the dimension of freedom or constraint, rather is seeking to avoid international constraints.

Summary

The predominant character of the Internet regulation reviewed in this analysis is oriented towards constraining the interests of individual Internet users or innovators to protect powerful incumbents.  There are other policy options that are oriented towards enabling the rights of society to participate in the networked information economy, such as the right to Internet access, network neutrality rules, or the right to develop municipal wireless networks.  However, the U.S. has legislated none of these rights, although the FCC has implemented some network neutrality rules.  However, those rulings are being challenged in court.

To evaluate the argument of policies that favor constitutive choices that support Internet freedom or regulatory constraints, this author placed the respective policy positions in a SWOT chart to contrast the social benefits of both.  Figure 1 highlights the analysis for regulatory constraints oriented policy options:

Figure 1.  SWOT analysis of regulatory constraints oriented policy options.

Whereas, Figure 2 highlights the analysis for policies that enhance legal freedoms:

Figure 2.  Policy options oriented to additional legal freedoms.

These options are not meant to suggest either-or solutions, rather to contrast the differences in the range of options.  Legislation like DCMA or SOPA do little to encourage innovation, rather they protect the status quo in industries that could benefit from competition and change. Although, regulatory constraints on market and non-market activities could significantly reduce infringing activity and encourage market actors to invest more in creative endeavors.  Moreover, regulatory constraints could improve the economic growth of industries that rely on copyright protection.  Finally, regulatory constraints that limit freedom of expression could place the U.S. on the same moral low ground as more repressive regimes.

In contrast, policies that enhance Internet freedom encourage innovation and advance the cause of technical progress.  While some industries may suffer from ‘creative destruction’, other industries will benefit from increased participation on the Internet.  Moreover, limited regulatory protections could create a more level playing field consistent with free market principles. Most importantly, enhanced freedoms could create a more participatory public sphere enhancing the U.S. democratic experience and commensurately increasing the stature of liberal ideals on the global stage.

III. Policy Position and Recommendation

            The overriding policy goal of Internet regulation and legislation should be to shape the institutional ecology to stimulate economic growth at a macro-level rather than protect any particular industry, while improving access, encouraging participation, and safeguarding individual freedom.

With the basis for a policy position set, this author will define the specific policy proposals, provide support for each, and outline both the benefits and the drawbacks.

Policy Position 1: Revise DCMA

DCMA has many positive elements, including safe harbor provisions for Internet service providers and Internet content providers.  However, the anti-circumvention measure goes too far in attempting to limit technical innovation, suppress legitimate free speech, and provides protection for incumbent industry, that allows them to cling to a business model with decreasing consumer relevance.  For this reason, this author recommends revising DCMA to strike the anti-circumvention measure.

The consequences of such action would be to force the media and entertainment industry to innovate, either by keeping ahead of technology, or developing new business models that reflect changing consumer preferences for content delivery.  Moreover, would-be innovators could advance the state of the art without the fear of criminal penalties because of how their innovation might be used by others.  The drawback of striking the anti-circumvention could be that DeCSS technology could be made available to the public and actual infringement may occur.  However, the media and entertainment industry could adopt the RIAA’s legal tactics and bring suit against those that infringe the most.

Policy Position 2: FCC Ruling to Prevent Intermedia Concentration of Content Providers and Network Providers on the Internet

Media concentration can sometimes be cause for concern, both in the general sense, as well as in the specific instances where Internet service providers acquire content.  In such cases, like with the Comcast acquisition on NBC Universal, there is evidence that the network provider may choose to throttle traffic or guide traffic to their own content, reducing choice and diversity for consumers (Benkler, 2006; Lessig, 2001).  The FCC should largely prevent the media concentration of these types of firms or provide extensive oversight to assure that network providers to no hamper diversity and choice through network management techniques or pricing bundles.  Moreover, prevention is favored over oversight due to high costs and the low efficacy of independent regulatory bodies.  The drawbacks are likely few, given most mergers of this type have typically failed over the long term, AOL/Time Warner being the most notable example.

Policy Position 3: Legalize and Create Tax Incentives for Municipal Broadband

Many municipalities, particularly in rural areas, are seeking to deploy municipality wide broadband wireless networks to stimulate economic growth and attract residents.  These efforts have to date been interpreted as illegal in suits brought by traditional media companies or their proxies (Benkler, 2006).  Municipal broadband efforts can go a long way towards helping to solve the last mile problem, where 10% of the country still does not have access to broadband.  Moreover, broadband can help stimulate economic growth by connecting a community to the larger world, allowing them to take advantage of the strength of weak ties (Granovetter, 1973).  Properly channeled, a broadband network coupled with community investment can reinvigorate communities and stimulate economic growth (Intelligent Community Forum, 2012).  There is little need to protect the domain of telecommunications providers, particularly when there appears to be little interest or profitability on their part to in build the last mile.

Policy Position 4: Prevent International Efforts to Tax National Incoming and Outgoing Traffic    

The U.S. should exert all of its political and economic force to prevent the ratification of draft ITU clauses that allow national governments to tax incoming and outgoing traffic and raise the Internet participation costs for everyone.  First, the idea that Internet content providers should pay national taxes for requests for information from citizens of foreign governments is beyond pale.  The idea would raise the costs incurred by Internet content providers, which would have to be passed along to consumers, irrespective of the jurisdiction where they reside.  Moreover, low barriers to participation is the reason that so many users of the Internet are able to participate and exercise the right of self-determination, despite the lack of economic power.  The Arab Spring is a great example of such phenomenon.  Repressive regimes can use taxation as a tool to assure that few of their citizens can participate in the Internet, eroding international freedom and limiting the power of the Internet to improve human development globally.

These policies will help to restore the balance between freedom and constraint and level the playing field to assure that Internet freedom remains the right of a free society and free peoples the world over.  Moreover, adequate copyright protections remain in place, without stifling innovation.  However, traditional industries will be forced to evolve the Internet, rather than attempt to impede technical and social progress by virtue of their market power.  In addition, these policies can help prevent the potential negative implications of greater media concentration by keeping production and distribution separate and distinct.  Ultimately, these policies may help to keep the costs of participating in the creation and exchange of information, knowledge, and culture low, enabling a more participatory democratic society.  While not comprehensive, these policies can help level the playing field between freedom and constraint by creating the ecological conditions for continued innovation and economic growth from the Internet platform.

References

Band, J. (2012). The SOPA-TPP Nexus PIJIP Research Paper no. 2012-06. Washington D.C.: American University Washington College of Law.

Bauml, J. E. (2011). It’s a mad, mad Internet: Globalization and the challenges presented by Internet censorship. Federal Communications Law Journal, 63(3), 697-732.

Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks : how social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven Conn.: Yale University Press.

Currah, A. (2006). Hollywood versus the Internet: the media and entertainment industries in a digital and networked economy. Journall of Economic Geography, 439-486. doi: doi:10.1093/jeg/lbl006

Essers, L. (2012, August 16, 2012). ITU Opens Public Consultation on the Future of Internet Regulation  Retrieved August 31,, 2012, from http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/260949/itu_opens_public_consultation_on_the_future_of_internet_regulation.html

Goldsmith, J. (2000). Unilaterla regulation of the Internet: A modest defence. European Journal of International Law, 11(1), 135-148.

Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American Journal of Sociology, 78, 1360-1380.

Intelligent Community Forum. (2012, February 26, 2012). Riverside, California USA (2012). Top Seven by Year  Retrieved March 4, 2012, from http://www.intelligentcommunity.org/index.php?src=news&refno=688&category=Community&prid=688

International Telecommunications Union. (2012). World Conference on International Telecommunications: Draft of the Future ITRS. International Telecommunications Union Retrieved from http://www.itu.int/en/wcit-12/Documents/draft-future-itrs-public.pdf.

Lessig, L. (2001). The future of ideas : the fate of the commons in a connected world (1st ed.). New York: Random House.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd, No. 545 U.S. 913, 928  (2005).

Pfanner, E. (2012, June 11, 2012). Debunking Rumors of an Internet Takeover  Retrieved August 31, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/11/technology/debunking-rumors-of-an-internet-takeover.html?pagewanted=all

Revie, R. (2012, July 11, 2012). The Tangled Web of ‘Internet Freedom’  Retrieved August 31,, 2012, from http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2012/07/11/tangled-web-internet-freedom

Shafritz, J. M., Russell, E. W., & Borick, C. P. (2011). Introducing public administration (7th ed.). Boston: Longman.

Shirky, C. (Producer). (2009, July 23, 2011). How Social Media Can Make History. Talks. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html

Sparks, S. (2001). Busting the code: The anti-trafficking provision of the digital millenium copyright act and free expression in digital media. International Journal of Communication Law and Policy(6), 1-20.

Tushman, M. L., & Anderson, P. (2004). Managing Strategic Innovation and Change: A Collection of Selected Readings. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

U.S. Copyright Office. (1998). The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998: U.S. Copyright Office Summary.  Washington DC.

U.S. Department of State. (2012, March 15, 2012). Internet Freedom Programs in the Middle East  Retrieved August 31, 2012, from http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/03/185904.htm


Mission Accomplished: A Lesson in Public Relations


Defining moments are ridiculously difficult to predict.  For example, President Bush attempted to use ‘defining moment’ rhetoric to pressure the U.N. Security Council to pass resolution 1441, calling for Iraq to disarm what later was found to be a non-existent weapons program (CNN, 2003).  Later, President Bush attempted to define a ‘defining moment’ for the Iraqi government in their push to rid Basra of militants (Myers, 2008).  Of course, the attempts to define the defining moments of a presidency occur on both sides of the aisle.  After the killing of Bin Laden, Democrats rushed to a ‘defining moment’ narrative for Obama’s presidency (Warren, 2011).  Despite the efforts of political public relations machines, defining moments remain elusive, precisely because they require the passage of time and the resulting perspective that goes with it, and because they must hold symbolic meaning for larger historical narratives.  However, most public relations functions continue to use their skills in an attempt to define moments for those they represent, based on the antiquated idea that media has powerful effects on a mass audience, but many do not consider the meaning-making capability of individual audience members.

On May 1, 2003, the American public was greeted with the sight of President Bush, heroically landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, fully bedecked in a flight suit, where hours later, under a banner reading ‘Mission Accomplished’, President Bush would announce the end of major combat operations in Iraq (Bash, 2003).  While President Bush choose his words very carefully, the banner betrayed the government’s interest in staging a ‘defining moment’ in the U.S. public sphere.  Of course, the pseudo-event did become a defining moment, just not in the way it was intended.  Rather than ‘mission-accomplished’ becoming a symbol of American military dominance and a capable administration, it became a symbol of an administration out of touch with the reality on the ground in Iraq, and as such, cast doubts on the administration’s ability to win the peace.

Bush staffer’s would later argue that message was mangled, that the press got the meaning wrong, and that the banner was not intended to convey the end of the war, rather the end of a successful deployment of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln (Bradley, 2011).  However, their objections ring hollow, and the event serves to illustrate a public relations function that continues to operate using the notion of the media as “a great keyboard on which the government can play” (Time, 1933).  Shafritz, Russell, and Borick (2011) support the idea that governments continue to use the mass media as a device to influence the public sphere.  However, the notion of a mass society easily influenced by a powerful mass media, has largely been refuted in research on media effects (McQuail, 2010).  An alternative view of the communication process, is the reception model, which has focused communication research on the role of the individual in the social construction of meaning (McQuail, 2010).

President Bush and the communications staff of the Bush administration sought to shape public perception of the war effort by suggesting that combat operations were successful and complete.  The staff chose powerful symbols of American military might, an aircraft carrier, fighter jets, and U.S sailors.  In addition, the staff sought to portray President Bush as an accomplished military leader, having the President fly onto the aircraft carrier on a Navy jet, despite the aircraft carrier being within helicopter range.  While it remains unclear whether the ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign was intentionally placed behind President Bush, it is difficult to believe the sign escaped the attention of the White House communications staff.  However, history demonstrates that the clearly orchestrated pseudo-event did not shape public perception in the way in which it was intended.

Rather, the American public created an altogether different meaning resulting from the public relations disaster.  ‘Mission Accomplished’ was not only widely criticized in the press as premature (Andersen, 2007; Bash, 2003; Bradley, 2011), but also widely parodied (Ferell, 2010; The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 2003).  In addition, the phrase became an Internet meme symbolizing incompetence, failure, or disingenuousness (quickmeme, 2012; Urban Dictionary, 2012).   The picture that emerges from the widespread use of ‘Mission Accomplished’ demonstrates an altogether different ‘defining moment’ than the one envisioned by the Bush administration.

Therefore, public administrators should consider carefully whether to attempt to stage ‘defining moments’ of their own, for public perception is not so easily shaped.  Rather, when framing debates in the public sphere, consideration should be made how pseudo-events will play in the larger context of the public debate.  While the mass media is an important tool for public relations, the idea that the mass media exerts a powerful influence over public perception has been refuted in studies of media effects.  Instead, public relations staff should consider the meaning-making capability of individual audience members and how the symbols that are used support existing narratives in the public sphere.

References

Andersen, R. (2007, May 1, 2007). “Mission Accomplished,” Four Years Later  Retrieved August, 15, 2012, from http://www.prwatch.org/node/6005

Bash, D. (2003, October 29, 2012). White House pressed on ‘mission accomplished’ sign  Retrieved August 15, 2012, 2012, from http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/10/28/mission.accomplished/

Bradley, T. (2011, September 18, 2011). Press Missed ‘Mission Accomplished’ Meaning, Says Bush Staffer  Retrieved August 15,, 2012, from http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/09/press-missed-mission-accomplished-meaning-says-bush-staffer/

CNN. (2003, Fenruary 7, 2003). Bush: ‘Defining moment’ for Security Council  Retrieved August 15,, 2012, from http://articles.cnn.com/2003-02-07/us/sprj.irq.wrap_1_security-council-al-saadi-weapons?_s=PM:US

Ferell, W. (Producer). (2010, August 16, 2012). You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O0WUzU-Kxc

McQuail, D. (2010). Mcquail’s mass communication theory (6th ed.). London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Myers, S. L. (2008, March 29, 2008). Bush Says Iraq Has Reach ‘Defining Moment’  Retrieved August 15,, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/29/washington/29cnd-prexy.html

quickmeme. (2012). Bush Mission Accomplished  Retrieved August 15, 2012, 2012, from http://www.quickmeme.com/Bush-MISSION-ACCOMPLISHED/?upcoming

Shafritz, J. M., Russell, E. W., & Borick, C. P. (2011). Introducing public administration (7th ed.). Boston: Longman.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Producer). (2003, August 15, 2012). The “Sign” Controversy. Retrieved from http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-october-29-2003/the–sign–controversy

Time. (1933). Foreign News: Consecrated Press. Time.

Urban Dictionary. (2012). mission accomplished  Retrieved August 16, 2012, 2012, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=mission+accomplished

Warren, J. (2011, May 5, 2011). Obama, Osama, and the Problem With Defining Moments  Retrieved August 15,, 2012, from http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/05/obama-osama-and-the-problem-with-defining-moments/238394/

 

 


Springdale Shopping Survey: Shopper Insights to Improve Mall Performance


The U.S. retail and food services market was estimated to generate more than $4 trillion dollars in sales in calendar year 2009 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).  As retailers seek to find ways to gain share of the growing pie, knowledge of shopper perceptions and behaviors are used to build competitive advantage.  Increasingly, shopper insights “necessary to understand the shopping experience including shopper need states, shopping occasions, and shopper behavior in-store” (Weber, 2009, p. 1), play a larger role in business planning in the retail and consumer product goods markets.  Shopper surveys are an important tool to provide useful insights into the shopper experience that can drive retailer improvements, particularly when supported by statistical analysis.  The Springdale Shopping Survey, a telephone survey of 150 shoppers of three community malls, offers key insights into shopper perception that can inform mall marketing, design, and business improvement strategies.

Background

The Springdale community has three local shopping areas, “the Springdale Mall, the West Mall, and the downtown area on Main Street” (R. M. Weiers, J. B. Gray, & L. H. Peters, 2011b, p. 54).  The Springdale shopping survey was conducted to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each, and the shopping attitudes and perceptions of local resident (R. M. Weiers, B. J. Gray, & L. H. Peters, 2011a).   The survey data (Weiers, et al., 2011a) was analyzed using frequency distributions and cross-tabulation techniques to determine:

  1. How the three areas compare in terms of residents’ general attitudes towards each.
  2. Whether residents spend differently at the three areas.
  3. The strengths and weaknesses of each area.
  4. The demographic makeup of survey respondent’s based on gender, marital status, and average age. (Weiers, et al., 2011b, p. 56)

Results

1. How the three areas compare in terms of residents’ general attitudes towards each.

The survey used a five-point Likert (1932) scale to measure resident’s general attitudes towards each shopping area, asking residents whether they 1) dislike very much, 2) dislike, 3) neutral, 4) like, or 5) like very much.  Three separate frequency distributions were completed, one for each shopping area, represented in Table 1:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 1. Frequency distributions for variable 7, 8, and 9 of the Springdale Shopping Survey, measuring resident’s general attitudes towards each area.

To compare resident’s attitudes towards each shopping area, the cumulative percentage of the number of residents that either like or like very much, each shopping area, are placed in the bar chart in Figure 1:

 

 

 

 

Figure 1.  Percentage of Surveyed Shoppers that selected Like or Like Very Much by shopping area.

More than 81% of residents surveyed like Springdale Mall, while only 52% and 42% of residents like the Downtown area and West Mall, respectively.  Further analysis of the differences between the strengths and weaknesses of each shopping area may illuminate the factors that contribute to resident’s attitudes.

2. Whether residents spend differently at the three areas.

The survey asked residents to select their per shopping trip spend from an interval scale, selecting a range from less than $15 dollars to more than $200 dollars for each shopping area.  Three separate frequency distributions were completed, one for each shopping area, represented in Table 2:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 2.  Frequency distributions for variables 4, 5, and 6 of the Springdale Shopping Survey, measuring resident’s spend per trip to each shopping area.

The frequency distributions in Table 2 highlight that Springdale shoppers spend the most per visit, with nearly 35% of Springdale shoppers spending more than $25 dollars per visit, compared with only 19% for West Mall and 18% for Downtown.  Further areas of analysis should seek to determine which variables, if any, show a strong relationship to shopper spend.

3.  The strengths and weaknesses of each area.

The survey asked residents to describe which shopping area best fit their description across eight different variables.  Frequency distributions were completed for each variable to determine the percentage of residents that perceived a shopping area best fit the description of the variable.  The frequency distributions are provided in Appendix 1.  For brevity’s sake the results are summarized in bar chart form in Figure 2:

Figure 2.  Bar chart summarizing frequency distribution data for variables 10 through 17 of the Springdale Shopping Survey, measuring resident perception of which shopping area best fit the description of each variable.

West Mall is likely perceived as the “bargain mall” based on the high percentage of residents that perceive West Mall has low prices and a lot of bargain sales.  Although, it is worthy to note that despite the fact that few residents perceive Springdale Mall to have low prices, many still perceived Springdale Mall to have a lot of bargain sales.  While not the subject of this analysis, this author’s hypothesis is that resident’s perception of bargains may have a relationship with both price and quality.

While Springdale Mall was not perceived to be a best fit for a “bargain mall”, the mall was perceived to be the best fit for many other variables, including clean stores and surrounding area, convenient shopping hours, friendliness and helpfulness of sales staff, good variety of sizes/styles, quality of goods, and ease of returns and exchanges, suggesting that both the Downtown area and West Mall could learn much from the Springdale Mall operation.  Further analysis should include the importance of each variable to residents to narrow to specific improvement opportunities.

4. The demographic makeup of survey respondent’s based on gender, marital status, and average age.

The Springdale Shopping Survey also gathered qualitative data about each respondent, including gender, number of years of school completed, marital status, number of people in the household, and age (Weiers, et al., 2011a).  The attributes of Springdale area shoppers may be important to their attitudes, perceptions, and spend.  While this initial analysis does not seek to draw correlations between shopper attributes and the survey data, it remains useful to understand the demographic makeup of survey respondents.  A cross-tabulation table was completed showing the average age of each respondent across gender and marital status categories.  The results are highlighted in Table 3:

Average Age of Respondent

Gender

Marital Status

Male

Female

Married

45

35

Single or other

28

26

Table 3.  Average age of respondents based on marital status and gender, based on variables 26, 28, and 30 of the Springdale Shopping Survey.

Table 3 shows that married respondents tend to be older than single respondents and male respondents tend to be older than female respondents.  Future analysis should seek to correlate resident attitudes, perceptions, and spend with resident demographic information to determine the extent to which demographic information is related.

Discussion

            Of the three shopping areas in the Springdale community, the Springdale Mall appears to have the mindshare and wallet share of area residents.  More area residents like the Springdale Mall over both the Downtown area and the West Mall.  Moreover, residents appear to spend more money at the Springdale Mall.  In addition, many area residents may consider West Mall a bargain mall, suggesting an opportunity for West Mall operators to target bargain conscious shoppers in future marketing efforts.  There are additional opportunities to conduct further analysis to understand which variables are positively and negatively correlated with resident spend, and to determine the degree to which respondent attributes impact attitudes, perceptions, and spend.

Conclusion

            As retailers devise strategies and business plans to gain a greater share of consumer’s wallets, surveys are increasingly used as a tool to create shopper insights that identify opportunities to improve retailer performance.  Analysis of the Springdale Shopping Survey highlights how statistical analysis of survey data can provide shopper insights to inform mall operators in the Springdale area of opportunities to improve mall revenue performance and gain competitive advantage.

References

Likert, R. (1932). A technique for the measurement of attitudes. New York,.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2012). Estimated Annual Sales of U.S. Retail and Food Services Forms by Kind of Business: 1998 Through 2009.  Washington DC: U.S. Census Bureau Retrieved from http://www2.census.gov/retail/releases/current/arts/sales.pdf.

Weber, W. (2009). Shopper insights and shopper marketing: “Getting it right” (pp. 1-4). Memphis, TN: Winston, Weber & Associates.

Weiers, R. M., Gray, B. J., & Peters, L. H. (2011a). Springdale Shopping Survey. Australia ; Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

Weiers, R. M., Gray, J. B., & Peters, L. H. (2011b). Introduction to business statistics (7th ed.). Australia ; Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.

 


The United States Postal Service: Subsidized by Junk


The United States Postal Service is facing serious financial problems because of the arrival of the electronic age and fierce competition from commercial rivals, FedEx and UPS.  As the USPS struggles to remain quasi-competitive, even as a subsidized institution, many wonder, whether the USPS is even relevant in this day and age (Rosenthal, 2011).  In order to stay afloat amid reduced usage by consumers and business as more communications goes online, the USPS has primarily catered to advertisers with it’s only remaining currency, the addresses of every person in the United States and a captive channel to reach them, in effective becoming a direct mail company (Rosenthal, 2011).  Of course, as consumers, most of us receive hundreds or thousands of pieces of junk mail annually, offering new credit cards, value-paks of coupons, and ten-dollar pizza offers, which we throw away or at best, recycle.  Miller and Spoolman (2010) suggest waste reduction is a key strategy for dealing with the problems of solid waste and I can think of no greater candidate than junk mail.

The Native Forest Network (2003) estimates that 100 million trees are cut down to produce 4.5 million tons of junk mail in the U.S. every year, where as much as 40% of it is thrown away unopened.  Rosenthal (2011) cited nearly 5 million tons of waste that “costing cities an estimated $1 billion to dispose of it” (p. 1).

Instead of continuing to fund an outdated and irrelevant institution, the USPS should be phased out over the next decade, as the country moves the remaining first-class mail online.  For the few transactions that cannot be done online, let FedEx or UPS do the job.  In the meantime, it is time to stop the useless, wasteful, junk mail industry in its tracks.  Some might argue, that businesses could be harmed with the dissolution of the USPS direct mail practice, given that prices for shipping and 1st class mail would likely go up (Orsini, 2011).  However, many business are already pushing consumer interactions online to save money on printing and mailing costs, in a bid to be more efficient (Orsini, 2011). We should no longer allow the federal government to monetize its monopoly on the mail service by subsidizing harmful environmental practices that offer little if any benefit to U.S. citizens.

And while we are waiting for that to happen, the Native Forest Network (2003) offers several useful tips for reducing the amount of junk mail received.  Although, perhaps I’ll just chop down my mailbox.

References

Miller, G. T., & Spoolman, S. (2010). Environmental science (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Native Forest Network. (2003). Native Forest Network’s Guide to Stopping Junk Mail  Retrieved December 23, 2011, from http://www.nativeforest.org/stop_junk_mail/nfn_junk_mail_guide.htm

Orsini, P. (2011). Finding Alternatives as Business Postage Costs Increase. CNBC, 1. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/id/45556976?__source=google%7Ceditorspicks%7C&par=google

Rosenthal, E. (2011). The Junking of the Postal Service. The New York Times, (Sunday Review), 1. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/sunday-review/the-junking-of-the-postal-service.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2