How satellites are changing everything

A new kind of accountability
For a world in which people are constantly connected to one another through the Internet and mobile devices, our ability to look at the Earth from space is surprisingly limited. Google Earth allows us to see almost any point on the planet, to be sure. But the image that Google provides is static – usually, between one and three years old. Most people have no way of seeing the Earth in real time.

“How many trees were cut down yesterday around the planet? How much coal was mined yesterday or last week or last month? The basic infrastructure doesn’t exist to answer those questions at all,” says Andrews of BlackSky Global.

[However,] cheaper, more readily available satellite imagery promises to change the way that many organizations operate. [When the planned networks of small satellites come online, we will be able to monitor the global economy in real time.] Companies will be able to closely monitor their competitors, and investors will have a better idea of how their investment targets operate.

Andrews points out that satellite imagery will help many companies streamline their processes – for example, oil and gas companies that have to monitor their pipelines for leaks. Instead of sending workers out in trucks to check out pipelines, in the future these companies can sit back and watch from space.
Faster satellite imagery will also have big consequences for people working in security and defense, for example helping monitor troop movements and drug trafficking. It will be helpful to international groups that monitor climate change, illegal logging and certain human rights abuses.

The broader availability of satellite imagery could also raise privacy concerns. The United States and other countries are now competing to let their domestic companies offer the highest-resolution images. Images that are sharp enough to identify people -- technology that was previously only available to governments -- is increasingly available to anyone willing to pay for it.

But this democratization of data about the planet could also change the way that society functions for the better. “People do illegal logging, fishing and dumping because no one is looking," says Andrews of BlackSky Global. "If you can look from space, suddenly it forces accountability, on people, corporations and governments.”

Designing for Social Norms?

Okay, so the reason this article is interesting to me is because even though it’s describing how people behave in social media…arenas? corrals? fishtanks? (what actually is the group word for this? ‘Platforms’ doesn’t really describe how people are all thrown in together) …the article is actually describing how any community comes together, and I think it’s particularly interesting to get into this after our democracy discussion of two weeks ago.

How do social norms develop?
Good UX (=user interface) designers know that they have the power to shape certain kinds of social practices by how they design systems. And engineers often fail to give UX folks credit for the important work that they do. But designing the system itself is only a fraction of the design challenge when thinking about what unfolds. Social norms aren’t designed into the system. They don’t emerge by telling people how they should behave. And they don’t necessarily follow market logic. Social norms emerge as people – dare we say “users” – work out how a technology makes sense and fits into their lives. Social norms take hold as people bring their own personal values and beliefs to a system and help frame how future users can understand the system. And just as “first impressions matter” for social interactions, I cannot underestimate the importance of early adopters. Early adopters configure the technology in critical ways and they play a central role in shaping the social norms that surround a particular system.