Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Friday, May 10, 2013 4:32 PM
The rise of
corporate-owned social media raises many flags about our online security and
the future of the digital commons. The solution, says theorist Michael Albert,
is a different kind of network altogether.
In many ways, social media seem almost designed for
activism. Efficient, user-friendly, and above all, inexpensive, sites like
Facebook and Twitter are invaluable communication tools for any activist.
Planning a rally outside a college president’s office? Create a Facebook group.
Find a nifty guide to protesters’ rights online? Share it on Twitter. Worried
about police brutality at an illegal march? Live-stream from your phone so more
people can see what you see.
No shock that, “Twitter revolutions” aside, social media
have undoubtedly played an important role in activism and social change over
the past decade. In Egypt,
the revolution in some ways began with Facebook groups like the 6 April Youth
Movement and “We Are All Khaled Saaed.” Here in the U.S.,
it was a “We Are the 99 Percent” Tumblr page that gave many future participants
their first glimpse of Occupy Wall Street—more than a full week before the
first encampment in Zuccotti
Park. Achievements like
the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street were of course about so much more than
Facebook or Tumblr, but without social media they would likely have been very
Which, when you think about it, is probably the exact opposite
of what the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world thought social media would do. So
much of what sites like Twitter or Facebook are designed for, how they’re
organized and governed, and how they make money, could not be further from ideals
like social justice or goals like ending student debt. Many sites, like
Facebook, even have a history of giving private data over to government
the U.S. and abroad.
But here’s the good news. It doesn’t have to be like this. There’s
no law of nature that social media need to be run by giant corporations or that
users need to put up with government spying and manipulative advertising. So,
what’s the alternative?
Michael Albert, social theorist and co-editor of Z Magazine, has come up with one solution—and
it’s worth taking a close look at. It’s called FaceLeft, and it embodies the
very best of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but emphatically
without the spying, concision, and commercialization users have long put up
with. Ad-free, substantive, and as open or private as users want to make it,
FaceLeft is the first social network designed by and for activists—or anyone who
feels uncomfortable with corporate-owned social media.
“Can social networking itself better reflect and address needs of people
who are trying to improve the world?” Albert asked in an email exchange. “I
think the answer is of course it can.” It’s just a matter of creating an
alternative space, one that “allows brevity but emphasizes substance, that
rejects ads but enhances mutual aid, that protects privacy and of course also
seeks to subvert spying.”
For a first time user, the site may look and feel a lot like Facebook. Users
can set up profiles, connect with others, join groups, and follow stories
through a news feed. There are also spaces for events and easy ways to share photos,
videos, and links from other sites.
But that’s where the similarities end. In countless ways, FaceLeft
delivers more substance and more genuine interaction than a typical social
network. News feeds include your contacts’ updates, but also RSS feeds from
media outlets like Democracy Now! and
Al Jazeera. Groups are built around actions
and topics like Food Not Bombs and Indigenous Activism, and facilitate informed
discussions that would be unthinkable on a more typical social media platform. Users
are encouraged not only to interact and comment, but to stay informed and ask
Even more importantly, with FaceLeft, there’s no hidden agenda. The
site’s hosts won’t catalogue your private information and sell it to
advertisers, or allow the government to spy on its users. To that end, users
are asked to subscribe to the site for no more than $3 per month. The idea,
says Albert, is to be upfront about how the site tackles operating expenses, as
opposed to a “free” site where users pay with their private data.
At the same time, FaceLeft is by no means meant to compete
with sites like Twitter or Facebook. Rather, it’s about creating more diversity
in an increasingly homogenous internet. When the web started, Albert recalls, users
relied on platforms like America Online to do pretty much everything. But within
a few years more people figured out how to navigate for themselves and the
internet began to blossom. With low costs and few barriers, users created a
uniquely free landscape to interact and share information.
The problem with sites like Facebook and Twitter, Albert
says, is that they’re “trying to get everyone back under one umbrella,” meaning Facebook and
Twitter. And they’re succeeding. Countless organizations, from local restaurants
to immigrant rights groups “now see their most important web presence as their
activity on and within the confines of Facebook.” What this means is that more
and more of the web is being mediated by private, commercial hands. It’s as if the
web itself has been suburbanized: Where once friends and colleagues could meet
in fairly public spaces—chatrooms, message boards, independent sites and blogs—now
the most important online meeting place is the equivalent of a digital shopping
“The issue is, do we want our own ways of doing important things,”
Albert asks, “or do we want to settle for what we can eek out of corporate
offerings?” It’s an idea that’s starting to take off. Already Utne Reader, Z Magazine, and the widely popular Greek party Syriza have created
their own sub-networks on the site (where users can create a profile and join
the larger FaceLeft system)—and Albert hopes there will be many more. For now, it’s
worth considering the potential of a social media alternative, of a more public
For a quick how-to on getting
started with FaceLeft, click
here. To join FaceLeft as part of Utne Reader’s sub-network, called UtneSocial, click here.
Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight
Center, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 16, 2012 10:55 AM
What would happen if the government had access to information you share on Facebook and could access it without you knowing? For now, the Orwellian question remains hypothetical. But if a bill before Congress is approved, it might enable that very thing.
The Cyber Intelligence Sharing Protection Act, or CISPA, boasts bipartisan support and the approval of many high-profile businesses, notably Facebook. Its creators claim it will prevent “catastrophic attack to our nation’s vital networks - networks that power our homes, provide our clean water or maintain the other critical services we use every day.”
But the bill has received harsh criticism from groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), and Anonymous. Now, get ready to put all those acronyms to use. The EFF accuses Congress of using fear of cyber threats to distract the public from the bill’s infringements on free speech. To that, CDT adds encroachment on Americans’ fourth amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. According to CDT, “CISPA has a very broad, almost unlimited definition of the information that can be shared with government agencies […] is likely to lead to expansion of the government’s role in the monitoring of private communications [… and] is likely to shift control of government cybersecurity efforts from civilian agencies to the military.”
It's scary stuff, and groups like Free Press, Demand Progress, and Avaaz.org have jumped to action. Their “Stop CISPA” petitions are currently circulating through social media channels, including Facebook. The response has been extensive enough to warrant a response from Facebook’s Vice President of U.S. Policy, Joel Kaplan. On Friday, Kaplan wrote a letter assuring users that Facebook would not betray their trust. The comments below the letter are overwhelmingly negative, with many using the space to share information about the bill and others threatening to move to Google+.
Facebook isn’t the only one responding. To combat negative press, “House Intel Comm” launched a Twitter account on April 11th. The tweets were composed in glowing Newspeak. “Rogers-Ruppersberger #cyber bill keeps the federal govt’s hands off the Internet, & doesn’t allow the govt to stop access to websites.” Spin this fine would give George Orwell a run for his money. Fortunately, such tweets only show how out-of-touch its authors are with people who actually use the internet. A “best of” collection has been immortalized by the bloggers of Techdirt, where the comment section shows that few have been fooled by the propaganda campaign.
If anything, it is the comment areas of these sites that should give us hope. Americans are not the passive, blundering fools we have been made to seem in the past. When given room to voice our opinions, we’re a feisty bunch (no wonder they’d like to keep tabs on us). The major thing missing from discussion in the comments section is that CISPA is not the only option. The CDT supports a bill proposed by Dan Lungren (R-CA) called the PRECISE Act, calling it “a strong alternative to CISPA by balancing cybersecurity, industry and civil liberties concerns.” This is the bill we should be talking about, in Congress and comments sections alike.
Sources: Congressman Mike Roger’s press release, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy & Technology,Techdirt, Facebook, CISPA homepage
Image: "A New Method of Macarony Making, as practised at Boston in North America," satirical illustration depicting two American colonists tar and feathering an English customs agent at Boston, Massachusetts. Mezzotint, 152 mm x 113 mm. Courtesy of the British Museum, London. This work is in the public domain in the United States.
Friday, April 06, 2012 1:28 PM
In July 2010, Pew Research Center released a report
on the online habits of Millennials. The experts involved in the study, who
were mostly academics and leaders at companies like Google and Microsoft,
concluded that social networking will only grow in importance despite privacy
concerns. In particular, many argued that sites like Facebook had created new
social norms around which the barriers
between “public” and “private” information were being recast. The study
echoed a controversial statement by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg made
earlier in 2010—that, among young people, privacy
is no longer a “social norm.”
That argument may be a
little harder to make today. In addition to debates over Facebook privacy
settings, over the past several weeks, controversies have erupted in a number
of states over employers
and schools asking for Facebook passwords from applicants, employees, and
students. And while everyone seems to agree that those employers are
overstepping their bounds, actually doing something about it is tougher than
you might think.
For one thing, legislation is woefully outdated,
says the Electronic
Center, or EPIC. The
closest thing to a law protecting online privacy is the Electronic
Communications Privacy Act, which was passed in 1986—a good 10 years before
widespread Internet use, not to mention smartphones and other new media. So
most of the law’s provisions apply only to landline phones and physically
stored data, rather than the smartphones, social media, and “cloud” storage
that have become such a large part of 21st century life. For
something like email, the rules are complex and cumbersome, reflecting an early
understanding of the technology, says the Center
for Democracy and Technology. If you happen to store your email on a home
computer, it is fully protected and requires a warrant to be searched. But if
you use a cloud computing service (say, Gmail), anything you store online can be
accessed without a warrant. That includes webmail, photo sharing sites like
Flickr, spreadsheets and documents on Google Docs—basically, much of what now makes
up many people’s personal and professional lives.
The rules for social
networking sites are even more complicated. While law enforcement generally needs
a search warrant to access a suspect’s social network account, they can do so without
the knowledge of the suspect, reports GOOD.
Facebook actually seems to be alone on this policy, as Twitter and Google have
their own rules about notifying their users of law enforcement action. In fact,
Twitter had to fight for its notification rule against a federal court ruling
in Virginia. And,
according to EPIC, at the same time, the Department of Homeland Security has an
ongoing program of setting
up fictitious user accounts on Facebook and Twitter to follow suspects’
posts (also without their knowledge).
Whether or not the DHS
program is legal or constitutional is not all that clear. Without more relevant
legislation, no one really knows where to draw the line—high courts being no
exception. In 2010, the Supreme Court heard two cases on email privacy, and both
times, they chose
not to address constitutional privacy issues, reports the National Legal Research Group. Wrote
Anthony Kennedy in the first case’s majority opinion: “The judiciary risks
error by elaborating too fully on the Fourth Amendment implications of emerging
technology before its role in society has become clear.” The implication
apparently being that until innovation stops and lets us take a breather, we
should be careful about fleshing anything out too much.
To be fair, Congress has
(half-heartedly) taken up some of these issues. Late last month, Democratic
Congressman Ed Perlmutter proposed an amendment to the FCC Process Reform Act
called “Mind Your Own Business on Passwords,” says The Atlantic. While the
amendment—which was almost immediately voted down—did not address government
snooping, it would
have prohibited employers from asking for workers’ passwords on sites like
Facebook. The strange reality is that, because of the vote and Facebook’s
own reaction to the controversy, the social networking site now has
stronger privacy rules than the U.S. government—at least when it comes to
That fact should be pretty
alarming. But if we go back to Zuckerburg’s “social norm” argument, it does
make some sense. Because technology moves so quickly, and because it has such a
big influence over our lives, it’s easy to simply accept new customs and rules
without seriously thinking about their impact. The Facebook password cases are
unique because they don’t involve government agencies or third parties breaking
and entering to access private data. Rather, they involve users willingly
giving up their privacy when pressured by people in positions of power.
The real danger here is
that social media are still very new, so if a practice like that became more
accepted, it could be difficult to undo. Laws and court rulings can be
repealed or overturned, but social norms can be much more permanent. Challenging
them might mean rethinking our place in the brave new interconnected
Research Center, The
Guardian, Electronic Privacy
for Democracy and Technology, GOOD,
Legal Research Group, The
Image by rpongsaj,
licensed under Creative
Tuesday, March 27, 2012 10:38 AM
Beautifully captured stop-motion
How social networks make
it tough to see ourselves as part of a larger group, like say, a class.
A NASA project that studies surface-level ocean currents is
Gogh’s Starry Night come to life.
Why thinking green could actually be bad for
What 2050 may really
look like (minus the flying cars).
Backronyms and downright falsehoods: debunking linguistic
The specifics on our brave
new digital world.
What house mice can tell us about where
the Vikings have been.
New research on the other
How the heat wave in the Midwest
NOAA’s climate software.
David Foster Wallace wants you to turn
the music down.
A new app lets Facebook users “enemy”
instead of “friend.” The app, developed by a University of Texas researcher, is called EnemyGraph, and purports to encourage a more accurate reflection of our social lives than the "friending" and "liking" can.
Image by Andreas Bauer, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, March 23, 2012 4:50 PM
The physics of fiction, or literature
as a moral vehicle.
Repress U and the homeland
security campus, updated for the Class of 2012.
Why thousands of Christians are giving
up carbon for Lent.
The Republican Party’s problems
with geography will only get more significant.
Absolute ultimate (Bonsai)
Yet another reason to stress
out about stressing out.
Something we should really start telling our
How to go from the Driver By Truckers to Of Montreal in three moves or less.
The insider story on the Easter Bunny’s checkered (and very
Evolution might be why we
can’t agree on anything—including evolution.
Would you let your school login
to your Facebook account? In an alarming new trend, universities and employers are asking to login to students' and employees' Facebook accounts.
Monday, March 12, 2012 8:34 AM
The whole Kony 2012
debate has gotten me thinking about how activism has changed over the past few
years, especially with the explosion of social media use. Back in 2010, Malcolm
Gladwell wrote a much-read piece in The New
Yorker about the so-called “Twitter
Revolutions” in Moldova and Iran the previous year. Many observers had
jumped to the conclusion that social media had reinvented grassroots activism,
that, of all things, Facebook and Twitter were now powerful tools for populist
change. But as Gladwell argued, activists’ use of Twitter in both countries had
been way overblown, and in fact, it
was hard to see how social media could ever live up to claims like that.
Historically, most social movements, like civil rights in the U.S., had been
based on what sociologists call “strong ties”—activists were more likely to
commit time, energy, and personal safety, if they belonged to a strong,
cohesive group of like minded friends. By contrast, social media are based on “weak
ties” with very low personal commitment required of participants. Facebook
users were more likely to belong to a “Save Darfur” online group than to make
protest signs or risk arrest. If social media were having an impact on young
people, it was not in terms of civic engagement.
A lot of things have happened since then, most importantly
the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement. Both made heavy
use of social media to organize, communicate, and get the word out to a
larger public. Facebook allowed activists in Tunisia to coordinate and plan
the radar of a clueless and very 20th-century regime. A new
smartphone app allowed activists in the U.S. to broadcast episodes of
police brutality as they were happening. And, yes, Twitter let demonstrators
communicate in mass numbers quickly and effectively (some state prosecutors
have even subpoenaed
Occupy protesters’ Twitter feeds in recent months).
But, in spite of those developments, Gladwell’s argument
still has a lot of validity today. The fact is that the basic elements of
grassroots activism have not changed since the invention of Twitter. The role
social media played in Zuccotti Park and Tahrir Square was to facilitate and
streamline on-the-group organizing, not to take its place. The important
flashpoints in those movements were still physical, and involved the same
dynamics as previous grassroots struggles. And as The Atlantic’sNathan
Jurgenson has argued, Occupy
was in many ways explicitly low-tech, from the (entirely print) People’s
Library, to general assembly hand signs, to the iconic human microphone. While
Occupy made use of new media to organize and coordinate with itself, once
organized, it behaved much more traditionally.
And yet there are many activists and groups that still seek
to address very real issues entirely through social media. Over the past decade
or so, Facebook has probably been the most notorious. Especially in the U.S.,
issue-oriented Facebook groups have a history of being very popular, very good
at raising awareness, but
very bad at raising cash and affecting change, says Evgeny Morozov in Foreign Policy’s Net Effect blog. Like Gladwell, Morozov points to a brand of
activism that is low-risk and essentially unconnected with larger groups or
experiences. A powerful illustration is the group a Danish psychologist started
in 2009 to address a problem that didn’t actually exist (the group opposed a
never-planned dismantling of a fountain in Copenhagen). Within a week, the
group had 28,000 members. And interestingly, activists in the Global South seem
to be much better at translating digital participation into physical action. An
Facebook group in Colombia got hundreds of thousands of people to march
against the guerilla force in almost 200 cities in 2008. This may be because while joining a political Facebook
group from Bogota or Cairo can be a brave act of personal conscience, in the
U.S., there is very little danger. And in a network of weak ties, low personal risk means low personal investment.
This brings us to the now-ubiquitous Kony 2012 campaign, a
movement that has generated quite a bit of awareness
and controversy over the past few days. A viral video on the group’s
website has already garnered tens of millions of views, but many observers have
criticized the film’s overly
simplistic portrayal of Ugandans and the larger conflict. Spending only a
few of its thirty minutes on East Africa, the film’s moralistic message seems more
akin to White Man’s Burden than humanitarianism—and many have criticized its
commodification of the conflict, especially in light of Invisible Children’s allegedly
shady finances. The group has certainly accomplished its stated goal of
raising awareness about Kony, the LRA, and child soldiers in Africa, but it is
hard for many to connect the film’s slick simplicity and the group’s
consumerist message with facts on the ground.
But more broadly, Invisible Children’s use of social media
has much more in common with groups like “Save Darfur” than with genuinely
grassroots battles like Occupy. In the film, the campaign’s founder Jason
Russell talks about the need to “make Joseph Kony a household name.” To do
this, they want to get the attention not only of the American public, but also
of “20 culture makers” and “12 policymakers,” including Bill Gates, Lady Gaga,
and Ban Ki-moon. While Russell urges ordinary people to call their
representatives and poster their neighborhoods, it’s these 32 people that he
believes will have the most impact. “We are making Kony world news by
redefining the propaganda we see all day, everyday, that dictates who and what
we pay attention to,” he says.
But it’s hard to see how this redefinition plays out,
especially as the campaign relies almost exclusively on the “weak ties” and
low-risk participation that generally have very little social impact. If it’s
our job to spread the video, buy
the “Action Kit,” get the attention of celebrities, and not much else, what
exactly are we redefining? In the film, Russell laments that “the few with the
money and the power” tend to frame and address issues in their interests, but
that’s exactly what Invisible Children is seeking to do. In encouraging young
people to participate in clearly delineated ways for clearly delineated
reasons, the group ignores the critical thinking and bottom-up organizing that
made other movements so successful—with or without social media.
Of course, all this has to do with what Invisible Children
hopes to accomplish. If their goal is to “make Joseph Kony a household name,”
then they did a fine job. The popularity of the group’s film was unprecedented,
speed with which it spread was astounding. As a result, tens of millions of
people know more about Uganda and East Africa than ever before. However, if the
group wants to work out some of the complicated questions that have surfaced
over the past week about Uganda’s own
poor human rights record, or the U.S.’s equally poor history of
humanitarian intervention, or the neocolonial
dimensions the campaign has assumed, then more bottom-up methods of
organizing may be a good place to start. As Occupy and the Arab Spring have
shown, young people have a lot more to offer than their money and their
Sources: Kony2012.com, Christian
Science Monitor, The
New Yorker, Wired,
Jazeera English, Huffington
Daily Beast, Amnesty
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 1:30 PM
Turns out that the myth of the 8-hour sleep is a recent phenomenon—and that lying awake at night could be good for you.
Get ready for the Bourdain stamp of approval on a new line of foodie books.
Neiman Watchdog asks: Do politicians know anything at all about schools and education?
A perfectly preserved 300 million year old forest discovered under a coal mine in China features trees with branches and leaves intact.
We were totally OK with climate change until it started to affect our Shiraz.
How to ask political candidates questions and get answers.
What does a 55-gallon drum of sex lubricant say about the way we interact with Facebook?
Dexterous robots toil at the bottom of the sea to safeguard the web.
Mandarin, Arabic, or Spanish? Of all the world’s tongues, what is the best language to learn?
One woman’s brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying time inside the online-shipping machine.
Image by Alyssa L. Miller, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 04, 2011 1:49 PM
“Whats 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? my knife.”
“You know she’s playing hard to get when she trys to break out of your van.”
These sayings exist as fan pages on Facebook, with 60 people liking the former and 921 liking the latter. They’re just two among many rape jokes on the social networking site. When asked to remove the offensive content, reports Ms. Magazine, Mark Zuckerberg maintained that the pages will stay put on Facebook and issued this statement:
It is very important to point out that what one person finds offensive another can find entertaining, just as telling a rude joke won’t get you thrown out of your local pub, it won’t get you thrown off Facebook.
Apparently freedom of speech reigns supreme on Facebook…except that the site has an explicit statement of user responsibilities that dictates: “(3.7) You will not post content that: is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” And “(5.2) We can remove any content or information you post on Facebook if we believe that it violates this Statement.”
If Facebook were an unpoliced free-for-all, I would shrug my shoulders defeatedly at the stupid rape joke and move on. But it’s a policed community. Facebook regularly monitors and removes content it deems inappropriate to a public forum, including anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and even I hate my teacher pages. The site is particularly vigilant in removing any promotion of cutting, eating disorders, or drug use. Facebook even yanks photos of breastfeeding mothers.
Furthermore, on its safety center help page, Facebook says: “If you see something that is inappropriate or makes you uncomfortable, speak up and let us know. We take reports from our community very seriously, and work hard to respond quickly.” Yet more than 180,000 people have signed a Change.org petition demanding Facebook remove pages that promote sexual violence—and Zuckerberg has done nothing.
I’m trying hard to wrap my mind around the inconsistencies here. A photo of a baby feeding from an exposed nipple gets pulled as quasi-pornographic, but a page that lets you “like” an illegal crime against women is okay? Thousands of upset users have spoken up against the rape joke pages, exactly as the site says to in its safety center, but Facebook does nothing? Racist material is regularly removed, but misogynistic material is seen as harmlessly "entertaining," nothing but a "rude joke"? Why is violence against women getting a free pass?
How to put this clearly: The images evoked here—of a woman being raped at knifepoint or struggling to get out of a rapist’s van—are hateful and threatening. They make me—and all the people who signed the petition—uncomfortable, to say the very least. So much more uncomfortable than nursing photos ever could, they aren’t even on the same planet. Please sign the petition to have them removed.
: After 186,000 signatures on the Change.org petition and a furious Twitter campaign, Facebook finally began removing some of its rape joke pages, reports ZDNet, including Whats 10 inches and gets girls to have sex with me? my knife. Kudos to Change.org and Ms. for uncompromisingly pursuing the issue. However, other rape pages remain on the social media site, including, You know she’s playing hard to get when she trys to break out of your van and a whole host of variants on the hard to get theme: when she resists the chloroform (114 likes), when you have run out of rope (134 likes), when you use another roll of tape (339 likes), when she gets a restraining order (81,435 likes). Message to Mark Zuckerberg: It’s time to start self-policing the sexual violence pages just as you do racist or pornographic pages.
Source: Ms., ZDNet
Image by Guillaume Paumier, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 11:01 AM
“The Swiss have mountains, so they climb. Canadians have lakes, so they canoe. The Australians have canyons, so they go canyoneering, a hybrid form of madness halfway between mountaineering and caving in which you go down instead of up, often through wet tunnels and narrow passageways.”
A rival to the Booker Prize has been announced, sending the literary world into an uproar.
A black male feminist speaks out.
Finally, you can carry David Bowie in your wallet.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Ecuador, Antarctica, and more are the latest citizens of Google Maps’ growing empire of crowdsourced maps.
For all you typography junkies (you’re out there, right?), Kerntype offers a strangely addictive kerning game, in which you move the letters in words left or right to achieve even spacing and optimal readability.
One writer’s takeaway from South by Southwest Eco: We should care for the planet not because it makes economic sense, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Big Agriculture mounts a PR campaign to counter the side effects of Food Inc.
Let’s downsize Sprawlopolis by shifting property taxes to land dues.
Gibson Guitar hits a sour note with environmentalists as it cozies up to the Tea Party.
Murder City: The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime offers a world map detailing homicide rates around the world.
An upstart newspaper files dispatched from the edge of capitalism. Introducing, the Occupied Wall Street Journal.
How do you get people to attend a reading? Host a Literary Death Match.
The big business of televised food is bigger than you think. The ice in a beverage, for example, might be made of acrylic and cost $500 a cube.
The decline and fall of America’s decline and fall.
Puff, puff, pour? Leave it to the gourmands to add marijuana to upscale beers and wines.
This new medical device is like a super soaker for the burn unit: It coats a burn victim’s wound with their own skin cells, allegedly healing the injury in days instead of weeks.
Snarky t-shirt or serious chic? A design writer for imprint teases out the difficulties of choosing what to wear to a protest.
What if Facebook developed a web browser to challenge Google?
Image by spacecadet, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, May 12, 2011 1:23 PM
In a project called National Jukebox, the Library of Congress is making thousands of recordings from 1901 to 1925 available online. Here are nine of the best.
The Navy Seals’ codename for Osama Bin Laden was “Geronimo,” and American Indians are understandably upset.
Mother Jones chronicles 33 years of Newt Gingrich’s extreme rhetoric.
National Post has published two excerpts from Jonathan Kay’s Among the Truthers, a book on the paranoid culture of conspiracy theorists. The first excerpt examines the long influence of The Protocols of Zion, and the second shows the internet as an echo chamber effect for crackpots.
Noam Chomsky weighs in on Osama bin Laden’s death.
Facebook’s smear campaign against Google…and apparently they did it because they were worried about privacy issues. Now that’s rich.
It looks like Superman is pro-immigration, saying, “That’s the idea that America was founded on, but it’s not just for the people born here, it’s for everyone.”
Ever wished you could watch a lightning storm in slow motion? Well, here’s your chance.
If you like cliffhangers, check out this vertigo-inducing Al Jazeera report on a perilous mountain trucking route in Pakistan.
In Dallas, an expensive attempt to re-engineer river rapids has gone horribly wrong.
Monday, April 18, 2011 5:00 PM
I miss the days before iPhones. With pocket-sized, portable, 24-hour access to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s entirely possible to fill every free second with other people’s family photos, favorite song lyrics, video links, and ideas without connecting to them—or to ourselves—in a significant way.
In Tricycle magazine, Lori Deschene, founder of the website Tiny Buddha, asks us to take a deep breath and rethink our online lives with ten ways to use social media mindfully.
Deschene advises that we examine our intentions before posting, experience life now and share it later, give ourselves permission to ignore yesterday’s stream, and always represent our authentic selves. She writes:
In the age of personal branding, most of us have a persona we’d like to develop or maintain. Ego-driven tweets focus on an agenda; authenticity communicates from the heart. Talk about the things that really matter to you.
And before you flood the Internet with every minor rumination, question if your contribution to the online ether is worthwhile. Deschene reminds us:
The greatest lesson we can all learn is that less is enough. In a time when connections can seem like commodities and online interactions can become casually inauthentic, mindfulness is not just a matter of fostering increased awareness. It’s about relating meaningfully to other people and ourselves.
Image by Alan Stokes, licensed under Creative Commons
Thursday, March 03, 2011 9:32 AM
Fences made of cluster-bomb casings, water-buffalo wading in pools made from bomb craters, and canoes built from fuel tanks dropped by bombers. Welcome to Laos, five decades after a U.S. bombing campaign.
Why the uprisings in the Middle East are just the first tremor in an oilquake to come.
Could you quit Sarah Palin cold turkey? One reporter for the Washington Post did...and lived to tell the story.
interview with China Miéville that explores the author’s socially nuanced, politically radical, concept-smashing, gristly urban fantasy.
This week the White House released a new report on the status of women in America. The Atlantic asks, “But then what?”
Can’t afford a trip to Barbados but longing to see the sun? Check out this awesome solar flare, recorded on video by NASA last week. You can practically feel it.
How one man thinks “congressional Republicans are badly mistaken in denouncing public radio as a contemptible source of liberal propaganda and snooty elitism that the nation would be better off without” but is all for eliminating funding for it.
The Obamas make history as the first First Family to pour homebrewed beer in the White House. Will hops be the next crop in the White House garden?
We are the frogs in the pot of boiling water that is Facebook. We never notice until it’s too late.
Monday, February 21, 2011 10:51 AM
No, this post’s title isn’t cheap shot at Mark Zuckerberg, creator of the ubiquitous social networking website. After the protracted, regime-ousting protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, new Egyptian father Jamal Ibrahim has named his firstborn daughter “Facebook”. TechCrunch obtained a translation of the Friday, Feb 18 issue of Al-Ahram (“A New Day”), the popular Egyptian newspaper that first broke the story:
The girl’s family, friends, and neighbors in the Ibrahimya region gathered around the new born to express their continuing support for the revolution that started on Facebook. “Facebook” received many gifts from the youth who were overjoyed by her arrival and the new name.
Every stripe of social media has been wed to revolution and dissent, but Facebook resonated most strongly during Egypt’s tribulation. TechCrunch’s Alexia Tsotsis argues that “while the baby girl could just have easily been called ‘YouTube,’ ‘Twitter’ ‘Google’ or even ‘Cellphone Camera,’ it seems like Facebook has become the umbrella symbol for how social media can spread the message of freedom.”
All in all, Ibrahim’s gesture was personal and endearing. “The idea of someone naming their children after physical objects or other peculiar stuff is usually reserved to quirky Hollywood celebrities,” writes All Facebook’s Jorge Cino. “And yet, all possible jokes aside, the parents’ intention is no doubt a noble one: To thank the medium they believe helped the most in spreading their message of mobilization and freedom.”
All Facebook, TechCrunch
, licensed under
Monday, February 14, 2011 3:59 PM
As reporter Mike Miliard points out in “You are Being Watched,” most recently published by the Sacramento News & Review, those vested in online privacy have been “drawn to a battle between two conflicting notions—and the winner of that battle may determine what kind of Internet we end up with.”
“The voices advocating for increased privacy protections argue that our actions online should remain invisible—unless we give our express consent to be watched and tracked,” Miliard writes. “But some of the most powerful voices on the Web are beginning to suggest that you should be responsible for your online actions: that your anonymity on the Web is dangerous.”
Those in the first camp are most concerned about corporate opportunists and government spies, known collectively as Big Brother. Even if some citizens haven’t yet surrendered their anonymity to Facebook or Twitter, when anyone logs in at work or browses almost anything online their every keyboard stroke and mouse click is being tracked, analyzed, and saved. “Your smart phone—jam packed with apps coded by who knows who and potentially loaded with spyware—is a picket homing beacon, trackable by satellite,” Miliard reports. “There are trucks with cameras on their roofs, trundling past your apartment, duly noting your unsecured Wi-Fi signal.” Walmart is even “putting radio frequency identification tags in your underwear."
There are also, according to a special report Miliard references from the Washington Post, some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies in the U.S. developing programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence.
While Big Brother gets all the ink, though, there’s an equally insidious threat to our privacy that some Internet advocates have come to call Little Brother. “Who is Little Brother?” Miliard asks rhetorically. “He’s all the people you know, sort of know or wish you didn’t know: creepy, barely remembered high-school classmates; Machiavellian co-workers; your angry ex. But mostly you really don’t know who Little Brother is, because Little Brother is anonymous. He or she is part of a sea of nameless faces: the anonymity-emboldened tough guy on a message board, or an auteur posting a sadistic video on YouTube, or an obsessive Twitter stalker, or, sometimes, a malicious suburban mom hiding behind a hoax identity while taunting a teenager to suicide.”
Or, as the Sacramento News & Review points out in the tease for Miliard’s well-reported overview: “Don’t want the government, big industry and some 15-year-old to know your secrets? Guess you’re out of luck.”
Sacramento News & Review
Image by o5com, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010 5:30 PM
MIT chooses Facebook over poetry…and one student is pissed. (Thanks, Harriet.)
If Obama won’t defend big government, Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic will.
Flavorpill takes on The Guardian’s claim that essential books have disappeared from our culture, citing The Road, Infinite Jest, White Teeth, and more.
The mad scientist at The Burger Lab investigates the case of the McDonald’s hamburger that refused to die, and we’ll be damned if that burger doesn’t look as good at twelve as it did the day it was born!
Ever wonder what Elvira, August Kleinzahler, Mos Def, or the dudes from the Black Keys might buy on a trip to the record store? The site’s kind of cheesy, but Amoeba Music’s “What’s in Your Bag?” feature is terrific fun.
Steve McCurry, the legendary travel and war photographer, has a blog, and it’s full of his typically lovely and harrowing images.
Lit nerds represent! An abecedarium of book titles.
Out of Print Clothing: Wear your Favorite Book!
Can you still call it a library if there are no books?
Bet you never heard of Maggot Monets. The Scientist reports that a Southeastern Louisiana University researcher uses art made by maggots to attract students to the field of forensic entomology.
Thursday, October 21, 2010 4:10 PM
Over at Poets.org Ada Limón talks about how easy it is to feel isolated in the world as a poet. One place where she finds solace is through social networking, not necessarily the first thing you’d associate with a poet. “I think the social networking tools for poets have served as a wonderful way to not feel alone as an artist,” Limón says. “And I feel like if that’s all it does, it does its job.”
While you're at Poets.org, don't miss Limón’s reading of “Marketing Life for Those of Us Left,” a poem she wrote for a friend who died of cancer.
Monday, October 18, 2010 5:00 PM
Conan O'Brien has more than 1.7 million followers on Twitter. Jay Leno has fewer than 100,000. To say that Conan has a younger audience—and therefore an audience more likely to use Twitter—would be an understatement, as well as a path well-beaten. Nonetheless, Conan's use of social media to rev up the hype around his new show on TBS has been impressive. Using the name Team Coco, O’Brien has dived head first, reports Fast Company, and “dominated…the digital age.”
Starting with the website TeamCoco.com—“[t]he source of all things Conan”—O’Brien has used all the tools at his disposal for promotion: Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr, Google Maps (to track his large blimp around the country), and YouTube to promote his new show. By creating web videos for announcements—which are then promoted via Twitter, et al.—like the name of his new show (“Conan” or “Conaw”?) and whether or not Andy Richter would be joining him on TBS, O’Brien has created a place for viewers to get all the information they needed while he was away from their TV screens.
Never mind the self-promotion and all that, though. What makes Conan O’Brien popular in these new venues is what has always made him popular: He’s hilarious. Just read some of these Tweets:
After 9 hours driving from drug store to drug store, it hit me: no one sells Columbus Day decorations.
The Nobel Prize in Science has gone to scientists who created an ultra-thin carbon. Actually it's normal thickness, but wearing stripes.
David Hasselhoff was kicked off of “Dancing With the Stars.” He should stick to singing. I mean acting. I mean…
Of course, those could have been posted by writers or assistants. But there’s no substitute for O’Brien’s delivery, which is on full display in his YouTube videos.
Right now Utne is just shy of 12,000 followers on Twitter. At 1.7 million, Coco’s got us beat…for now.
Source: Fast Company
Friday, May 21, 2010 10:50 AM
The internet used to be called the information superhighway. These days, however, the lumbering and snorting of Facebook represent exactly the kinds of traffic control that characterize our internet age. The future of personal data is trending more public than private, worries Laura McGann at The American Prospect. As she recounts why she decided to abandon Facebook, McGann suggests that information isn’t shared so much as automatically dispersed:
Then I stumbled upon a list of the various third-party groups that have access to my account. In all, there were 32, including the makers of "Which Jane Austen heroine are you?" (I'm Fanny Price), The Awl, a snarky, high-brow commentary site, and Business Insider. The latter two I didn't recall approving. The media sites, I discovered, were installed automatically when I browsed their websites while logged in to Facebook. Jane Austen, I'm afraid, I must take responsibility for. Reports are unclear as to what information applications can pull from your account. Some warn that developers have broad access and do not distinguish between what you mark as public and private, and some quizzes even get access to friends' information.
Considering Facebook's track record of shifting privacy settings, which the Electronic Frontier Foundation wraps up here, and you can get a visual sense of here, it seems pretty much guaranteed that user control over personal information will only get weaker.
The American Prospect
Monday, April 26, 2010 3:20 PM
Every time privacy policies are tweaked at Facebook, you should be worried. The company is looking for new ways to make money, and in this day and age that means selling you things. And all of those personal details you've entered into your Facebook account are the keys to the monetization kingdom. Maybe that works just fine for you. That's not the problem. As users, we ought to have a clear choice and we don't. That's the problem. Since the most recent changes this month, we've been bumping into all sorts of sharp commentary on Facebook privacy and helpful guides to getting your privacy back. Here's the best of what we've found:
Want to get right to it and restore your privacy settings right now? Here's Valleywag's How to Restore Your Privacy on Facebook. And here's Mashable's guide to Disabling "Instant Personalization."
Perhaps the best analysis of the recent changes came via the Twitter account of tech-guru Anil Dash: "Will someone ask [CEO Mark Zuckerberg] why he doesn't use Facebook's default privacy at F8 tomorrow? If it's not good enough for him then why's it OK for us?"
Here's a creepy tool: Want to know what data Facebook published about you? It's a sluggish tool, since it seems the entire internet is there typing in usernames, but here it is: http://zesty.ca/facebook/.
In her CNET column, How Facebook Is Putting its Users Last, Molly Wood has this to say:
Let's be clear: I hold few illusions that Facebook's business strategy has ever been about anything other than building up a huge user base and then selling ads to those users. And obviously, the more targeted the ads, the easier it is to get people interested in them. But as the opportunities for data mining and targeting grow, Facebook faces a growing problem: how to get the data, if the users won't share it.
Facebook has created an unprecedented web (if you will) of connected users, with connections to other users who are more than willing to specify, in great detail, their interests, hobbies, and buying habits. The only problem? Those pesky private profiles.
Users tend to want to protect that data, at least a little bit, and at least some of it has to be "public," if it's to be used for the kind of behavioral targeting and, ultimately, ad targeting that really brings in the big bucks. And that is really the only explanation left for why Facebook has now gotten so shrilly insistent on you publicizing virtually every facet of your life. It's not about the user anymore, people (if it ever was).
It's possible that Facebook will do what it has done in the past when privacy concerns take hold of its users: offer up the non-apology apology. Daniel Sinker wrote a concise history of Facebook's non-apologies during the last time Facebook reminded us how much we value our privacy. He ended on a rather sour note, and it's where I'm going to leave you now: "Really, they've got all your content already—where are you going to go?" Ugh.
Image by Gauido, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, March 25, 2010 4:18 PM
Could over-sharing on Google, Facebook, and blogs mean the end of shame? On his blog Tweetage W@steland, Dave Pell writes:
The firehose that is the social web sprays (often very) personal details about others across your screen, whether you like it or not. The children of the social, realtime web will likely have encountered so many examples of what used to be secretive behavior that almost nothing will seem wildly out of the ordinary. While I have my deep reservations about the wanton nature with which we are throwing privacy to the curb, I do wonder (perhaps over-hopefully) whether the end of privacy might also herald the end of the often useless feeling of alienated embarrassment.
In their seminal work, The Cluetrain Manifesto, the authors wondered “What would privacy be like if it weren’t connected to shame?” Now, more than a decade later I’d ask a slightly different question:
Can shame survive in a world without privacy?
Will shame be able to so easily attack our minds when we are connected to a virtual army of those who share our perceived symptoms and situations?
Source: Tweetage W@steland
Thursday, March 18, 2010 4:19 PM
Depending on your degree of web-savvy, dealing with grief online can feel a bit awkward at times. That’s OK. We’re dealing with a “new, uncharted form of grieving,” Elizabeth Stone writes for The Chronicle Review. In a tender essay about the accidental death of one of her students, Casey, Stone shares what she’s learned about grief and digital culture. It’s a story of choices; a friend of the young woman who died, for example, spent all night on the phone to ensure that no one heard the news on Facebook. It’s also a story with a positive take-away, especially for anyone unsure about grieving in the public space of a social network. As Stone writes:
Traditional mourning is governed by conventions. But in the age of Facebook, with selfhood publicly represented via comments and uploaded photos, was it OK for her friends to display joy or exuberance online? Some weren’t sure.
Six weeks after Casey’s death, one student who had posted a shot of herself with Casey wondered aloud when it was all right to post a different photo. Was there a right time? There were no conventions to help her. And would she be judged if she removed her mourning photo before most others did?
As it turns out, Facebook has a “memorializing” policy in regard to the pages of those who have died. . . . As [employee Matt] Kelly wrote in a Facebook blog post last October, “When someone leaves us, they don’t leave our memories or our social network. To reflect that reality, we created the idea of ‘memorialized’ profiles as a place where people can save and share their memories of those who’ve passed.”
Casey’s Facebook page is now memorialized. Her own postings and lists of interests have been removed, and the page is visible only to her Facebook friends. . . . Eight months after her death, her friends are still posting on her wall, not to “share their memories” but to write to her, acknowledging her absence but maintaining their ties to her—exactly the stance that contemporary grief theorists recommend.
Source: The Chronicle Review
Wednesday, January 06, 2010 11:56 AM
Was Alex Strum really “trying to get some homework done before going to work” as his Facebook status suggested? In an article for The Smart Set, Strum hired an ombudsman correct some of the inaccurate and misleading information he has spread about his own life through Facebook. The fact checker responded to the status update about homework, writing:
It should be noted that there are discrepancies with what Alex was actually doing. Although his schoolwork was present and in the open, his attention was mostly focused on the television, where Point Break was airing again on the USA network.
Source: The Smart Set
Tuesday, October 27, 2009 2:16 PM
On Sunday, November 8, atheists will launch a coordinated prayer attack against God. Nonbelievers around the world will hurl a bevy of meaningless prayers at God, coordinated by Facebook, in an effort to inundate God’s prayer receptors and force them offline. The offensive is based on the DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks that have been staged against Iran, Georgia, and the Global Atheist Convention website.
In true nonbeliever fashion, athiest blogger PZ Myers responded, “I won't be able to join in, because whatever I have planned for that time, whatever it may be, will be far more interesting and productive than babbling to an invisible man.” A commenter on the Facebook page gave his RSVP as, “i'm probably gonna forget, but if i don't, sure.”
If any prayers go unanswered on November 8, this coordinated attack could be the reason why.
(Thanks, Net Effect.)
Image by gruntzooki, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009 5:12 PM
The deals are a “stunning one-two punch,” according to All Things Digital: Microsoft announced today that it has struck agreements to integrate real-time feeds of status updates from Twitter and Facebook into Bing. The deals are nonexclusive—which means Google could follow suit—but for the time being, Bing has something the search giant has yet to tap, at least in the case of Facebook. And get this: Microsoft is paying for it—exact terms, of course, haven’t been disclosed.
This is nonetheless “a precedent that the ability of search engines to index and link to content is worth some money,” Ryan Chittum writes for Columbia Journalism Review. “Where this goes from here no one knows. . . . Would the AP yank its news off Google if Bing paid and Google didn’t? Would it be worth it in the lost revenue from not showing up in as many search results? That’s too early to tell.”
One thing is clear, as Chittum says: This will be worth watching.
Sources: All Things Digital, Columbia Journalism Review
Friday, August 21, 2009 10:44 AM
On October 26, Yahoo will pull the plug on the online community web hosting site Geocities. Though it is mostly remembered as a hideous, antiquated, pre-internet boom startup, it was one of the most popular websites of the 1990s. The community-policed “cities” allowed users to create individualized web pages, and was, in some ways, a precursor to the more modern corporate-owned online communities like MySpace, Facebook, and Blogger. “The demise of GeoCities is not just the disappearance of a gif-riddled online ghost town,” Phoebe Connelly writes for the American Prospect, “it's the death of a pioneering online community.”
Now that the website is shutting down, groups like the Internet Archive are scrambling to preserve the information that GeoCities once held. The struggle reminds users, according to Connelly, “that just because something is published on the Internet doesn't mean it will last forever.” And when the information is published on a corporate-owned website, the choice isn’t really up to you.
The American Prospect
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 10:30 AM
Reports coming out of Iran from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and various blogs are giving foreigners an unprecedented view into the ongoing political crisis in the country. The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, blogging from “a pier in Cape Cod,” has emerged as one of the major arbiters of information on the Iranian protests. Twitter and Facebook users are turning their profiles green in support of the protesters. The same technologies are giving idealists around the world the chance to engage in the crisis, both symbolically and actively. But just because people can engage, doesn’t mean they always should.
The raw, unedited nature of much of the information coming out of Iran could give every the impression that they know what’s really going on inside the country. The abject failure of cable news networks to cover the events reinforces that idea. Editor and Publisher recently admitted, “Web reports from Iranians, including Twitter feeds, have outflanked much of print and certainly cable TV.” With foreign reporters getting kicked out of the country, the reliance on social media for news will likely continue to grow.
As influential as social networking tools are in publicizing Iran’s conflict, much of that information has been unreliable. It was widely reported that opposition leader Mousavi was placed under house arrest, which was just one of many rumors that circulated and later turned out to be untrue. The best reporting, according to Kevin Drum writing for Mother Jones, may be coming from the BBC and the New York Times, and other mainstream, traditional outlets.
News from Iran has also made people “desperate to do something to show solidarity,” according to tech guru Clay Shirky in an interview with TED. Shirky said, “Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement.” This has led people to help out the protesters, according to Shirky, by offering secure web proxies to help them mask their online identities. That sense of involvement, however, has the potential to lead people astray.
Some foreigners have been moved to launch web-based attacks against the Iranian state-run media, overwhelm the state’s servers with a constant stream of requests. Tech-President advocated this “bit of cyber aggression aimed at the Iranian government” as a way to channel the considerable energies of observers outside Iran. The process is so easy that I accidentally helped launch one of these attacks by clicking on an errant link while researching this blog post.
The motivation behind the web-attacks is understandable, but they may end up doing more harm than good. Evgeny Morozov, writing for Foreign Policy, points out that these attacks from other countries actually strengthen the Iranian government’s argument that “foreign intervention” is the driving force behind the protests. And if the attacks get bad enough, there’s a chance that the government could simply pull the plug on the highly centralized internet throughout the country, cutting off the Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube videos that feed the foreign knowledge of the protests.
Sources: The Atlantic, Editor and Publisher, Mother Jones, TED, Tech-President, Foreign Policy
, licensed under
Wednesday, May 27, 2009 11:40 AM
Marketers from some of the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies have begun hyping their drugs on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Pfizer, the company behind Viagra, already has 1,239 fans on Facebook, and AstraZeneca, makers of Prilosec, has 822 followers on Twitter. Kerry Grens of the Scientist dropped in on a conference designed to help big-pharma marketers understand the benefits and pitfalls of social media.
The pharmaceutical information being spread on the internet has begun to push the bounds of legality. “Currently,” Grens writes, “the FDA has no guidelines explicitly addressing adverse event reports on networking sites like Facebook.” If a commenter complains of an unintended side effect, for example, drug makers might not know whether they’re legally obliged to look into the case. And, if enough people complain of “black tongue” or “anal leakage,” Facebook might not look like such a great marketing tool after all.
Thursday, May 21, 2009 3:02 PM
Do Facebook users get lower grades than non-Facebook users? The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that Ohio State University doctoral student Aryn C. Karpinski surveyed 102 undergraduates and 117 graduates and found that the GPA’s of non-Facebook users were higher than their Facebook-loving peers.
Karpinski’s findings immediately generated controversy from fellow academics, who questioned her methods and Karpinski readily acknowledges that she cannot prove a direct correlation between Facebook use and poor academic performance. Instead, she argues that her study proves the need for further research on this issue.
“I completely acknowledge the limitations of my research,” she says. “What I found is so exploratory—people need to chill out.”
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education (article not available online)
Image by avlxyz, licensed under Creative Commons
Wednesday, January 28, 2009 2:37 PM
Technology is currently crying out for your attention. Twitter wants to know, “What are you doing?” Facebook is asking, “What are you doing right now?” There’s a good chance that your personal, work, and spam email accounts all have new messages waiting for you, friends or acquaintances may be inviting you to LinkedIn or Friendfeed, or maybe your cell phone is ringing. “Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely,” William Deresiewicz writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, “now it’s impossible to be alone.”
The technology demands constant attention, because that’s what people want. The “contemporary self,” according to Deresiewicz, “wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible.” The websites offer visibility at no monetary cost, but users end up sacrificing their solitude, privacy, and, in some ways, the ability to be alone.
The technology has a spiritual cost, too. “Religious solitude is a kind of self-correcting social mechanism,” Deresiewicz writes, “a way of burning out the underbrush of moral habit and spiritual custom.” This kind of self-reflection is nearly impossible if people don’t quit tweeting, texting, and calling every once in a while.
The costs of constant contact become more extreme as technology improves. New applications for the iPhone and Google’s new G1 (which I bought 3 weeks ago), allow people to connect with Twitter, Facebook, and a host of location-aware applications at all times. Programs like WhosHere, Whrrl, and the dubiously named LifeAware give near-constant GPS-based updates to friends or strangers of where people are and how to connect.
Some of these location-aware applications go too far, even for tech enthusiasts. Mathew Honan, the man behind BarackObamaIsYourNewBicycle, explored the labyrinthine world of the GPS-based applications for Wired and found paradoxically, “I had gained better location awareness but was losing my sense of place.”
The flood of tweets, updates, and friend request can quickly become indistinguishable from real life (aka RL). The din can easily stand in the way of deeper thoughts and self-reflection. “In effect,” according to the Winter 2007 issue of n+1, “this mode of constant self-report can be summed up in a single phrase: “I am on the phone. I am on the phone. I am on the phone.’”
Image by Juhan Sonin, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, January 12, 2009 4:05 PM
Burger King has inadvertently set a price on Facebook through their new “Whopper Sacrifice” application, according to Jason Kottke. Facebook users now can cash in on their virtual friendships by deleting 10 friends in exchange for a free Whopper. If the burger costs $2.40, that means each friendship is effectively worth $0.24.
That simple equation puts a number on a question that has plagued tech experts: How much is Facebook worth? There are 150 million users on Facebook, with an average of 100 friends. According to Kottke’s math, this places the overall value of Facebook at $1.8 billion, far lower than the $15 billon assumed when Microsoft invested in the company, but still a fair chunk of change. (For all the work, visit Kottke's blog post.)
The question of how much a Facebook friendship is worth, and who owns those friendships, could define the future of the social networking industry. The July-August issue of Technology Review profiled some of the innovative efforts to place value on social networking sites, and how some of those sites are leveraging social connections to actually make money. Though many assume Facebook to be one of the most successful companies on the internet, according to writer Bryant Urstadt, the company still hasn’t figured out how to use all their attention and social connections to create a real business.
Friday, November 21, 2008 4:54 PM
Status updates and photos comments posted on Facebook provided the narration of one turbulent relationship, posted on the 26th Story blog. The author captured the saga of one anonymous couple’s love story, which would be well-known to any of the “friends” who are privy to their stories. The uncredited Bob Dylan quotes that pepper the story provide a kind of soundtrack, including this one:
Her is a bit nervous about Wednesday.....
Her feels so serene
Him: you rock my world.
Her has known it from the moment that we met....
Her can't even remember what his lips felt like on mine....Most of the time.....
(Thanks, Newmark's Door.)
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 9:27 AM
The Mars Phoenix Lander has accrued thousands of friends and fans on Facebook and Twitter since “dying” last week, when the red planet’s freezing temperatures ended the machine's functionality, Scientific American reports.
NASA spokeswoman Virginia McGregor became a pseudo-celebrity when she began transmitting Twitter tweets and Facebook messages on the lander’s behalf. This proves that 1) social networking is inescapable, even in space; and 2) humans can mourn inanimate objects in record numbers.
For a space program with a history of public relations problems, harnessing the power of social networking to eulogize the Phoenix was a brilliant bit of marketing, and a great way to exploit the sentimentality of space geeks like [sniff] yours truly.
Monday, January 14, 2008 12:10 PM
Intimate details of peoples’ lives are freely available through the magic of Google. Many people post their names, email and street addresses, phone numbers, and photos to the internet, without much thought about it. According to a survey released last month by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 60 percent of internet users aren’t worried about how much of their personal information is available online.
Teenagers and children are often accused of being too cavalier with the details of their lives, but the survey suggests that adults are even more open with their personal information. Among people with visible profiles on social networking sites, such as MySpace or Facebook, the study reports that teens “make more conservative choices with respect to visibility” than their adult counterparts. A full 61 percent of adults don’t try to limit how much information is available about them online, and only 38 percent said that they have taken action to limit that information.
“Of course, what amuses me is that adults are saying one thing and doing another,” writes social networking guru Danah Boyd on her blog. Adults are telling children to protect themselves online, and then not protecting their own information. That kind of “do as I say, not as I do” attitude could hinder a meaningful and nuanced view of privacy in both children and adults.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007 3:43 PM
The web’s capacity as a melting pot has, perhaps, been overstated. A recent study by Northwestern University suggests that college students’ race and ethnicity, as well as their parents’ level of education, are related to which social networking sites they choose. Though conventional wisdom paints the Internet as a democratic utopia, and online communities as places where users go to recreate their identities, the Northwestern study shows that users gravitate toward people with similar backgrounds and interests—in much the same way kids pick a table in their high school cafeteria. Facebook, for example, is favored by white students, and Hispanic students are more likely to use MySpace. This demographic splintering is most evident on social networking sites that actively court users from specific groups: NiggaSpace.com (young African Americans), Eons.com (people older than 50), and Xianz.com (Christians), among many others.
(Thanks, Mother Jones!)
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