Friday, December 02, 2011 3:12 PM
This might be the easiest way to donate money, ever: Like a benevolent Google, the new search engine Charity Search lets you scour the web while effortlessly contributing money to worthy causes. With each search, the engine donates one cent to their charity of the month.
According to the site, Charity Search—which lets you use Google, Yahoo, or Bing as you normally would—is currently donating one cent per search to Invisible Children, a group committed to ending the use of child soldiers in central Africa. Other recipients include charity: water, a nonprofit bringing clean drinking water to developing nations; Genesis School of the Arts, an international program spreading arts education in impoverished areas; and Humane Farm Animal Care, an organization dedicated to upholding animal care standards.
For lazy philanthropists, the beauty of Charity Search is that the only effort needed is changing our homepages, googling as usual, and watching the site’s donation dollar tracker steadily go up.
Our searches can make a difference quickly, too—just think of how many web searches you did today. In the past 24 hours, mine (which included “Rain Taxi,” “BeatBots,” “El Camino,” and “chemical invisibility cloak”) numbered in the dozens. Now, I’m delighted to know these not-so-important searches can add up to charitable cash for some important causes.
Source: Charity Search
Tuesday, December 07, 2010 10:05 AM
The argument goes like this: the Internet came along and started giving everything away for free and those ink-stained wretches grinding away to put out that daily paper that showed up on your doorstep each morning—that product for which you paid good money—just couldn’t be expected to keep up. How, in such an unlevel playing field were the old scribes to play along? Free news vs. paid subscription. The consumers, of course, made the choice that allowed them to spend a little more on Christmas gifts each year or put a little away in savings.
Or so the story goes.
Not so fast, argues Askold Melnyczuk in AGNI:
The death [of conventional journalism] was hardly inevitable and technology may have had less to do with it than most people think. A new medium is only as valuable as its message. Had newspapers continued to report the “news,” we might never have needed to find another way of getting it.
Melnyczuk points to an article by Michael Chossudovsky—“Towards a World War III Scenario?”—from the website GlobalResearch.ca as a particularly striking example of how news from Internet sources, more so than their print counterparts, actually cover stories worth covering and take strong stances on important issues such as war. He also points to WikiLeaks, calling the website’s success “the most important development in journalism in years.”
That newspapers around the world haven’t offered a chorus of thanks to WikiLeaks, and an even louder one to Private Manning, the young man alleged to have leaked the video mentioned above [of American soldiers murdering unarmed civilians in Iraq]—for which he now sits in a military prison—suggests that the decline and eventual disappearance of print journalism may leave us with little to mourn.
So maybe it wasn’t what we’ve all been led to believe—that the Internet killed the print journalism star. The lack of actual reporting on actual important issues may have simply chased readers to places where that coverage was actually happening.
What do you think? Do you get most of your news online these days or do you still subscribe to a daily paper? How about with ol’ Utne Reader here? Is the website your only destination for us, or do you get the magazine in your mailbox every couple of months, too?
Source: AGNI (article not available online)
Image by cookieevans5, licesnsed under Creative Commons.
Monday, August 16, 2010 12:26 PM
Do you only socialize online? Do the words “community building” bring to mind Second Life? Do you update your Facebook status while you shave?
Well, no need to worry, because now there’s a place for you.
As Greg Beato reports in Reason, reSTART, a “five-acre haven in the woods near Seatle [where] clients pay big bucks to detox from pathological computer use,” recently took on its first client. Ben Alexander, a 19-year-old college student, checked himself in because he is obsessed with World of Warcraft.
As Beato points out internet addiction was considered a joke back in 1995 when “in an effort to parody the way the American Psychiatric Association’s hugely influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders medicalizes every excessive behavior, psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg introduced on his website the concept of ‘Internet Addiction Disorder.’”
Well, the time seems to be upon us where it’s no longer a joke. Beato writes about students at the University of Maryland feeling “anxious,” “jittery,” and even “miserable” when they weren’t allowed to use the internet for 24 hours as part of a study. Then there are the stories Beato highlights:
“[A] guy who spent so many sedentary hours at his computer that he developed blood clots in his leg and had to have it amputated…[A]n Ohio teenager shot his parents, killing his mother and wounding his father, after they took away his Xbox…[A] South Korean couple let their real baby starve to death because they were spending so much time caring for their virtual baby in the role-playing game called Prius Online.”
Those scenarios are no joke. That’s why the APA is considering adding internet addiction to its new category of “behavioral addictions.”
Beato also points to the very real consequences such a classification could have. “Picture a world,” he writes, “where the health care system goes bankrupt because insurers have to pay for millions of people determined to kick their Twitter addictions…Where employees who view porn at work are legally protected from termination.”
With folks like Arianna Huffington campaigning for less use of all our gadgets and a mad dash by many to close their Facebook accounts, the idea that we’re spending too much time online has become a wide spread one. But, as Beato sees it: “As the Internet weaves itself more and more tightly into our lives, only the Amish are completely safe.”
Image by mandiberg, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010 1:22 PM
Writing for The Awl, Maria Bustillos argues convincingly against recent suggestions that the cognitive habits enforced by web browsing are making people dumb. Taking on Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (recently expanded into a book), Bustillos dismantles one of Carr’s main ideas. As she says:
Hyperlinks, the proliferation of which Mr. Carr largely blames for his mental infirmity, are in no way different from footnotes. Footnotes, too, demand “microseconds of decision-making attention.” Just as a footnote does, a hyperlink beckons you away from the main text in order to examine tangentially-related but relevant material. Exactly like a hyperlink, a footnote often has the effect of sending you down a series of rabbit holes, from which you emerge hours later, armed with a dozen other books—that is, if you want to investigate the subject in fine detail. If you don’t, then by all means, you can skip the footnotes.
So do footnotes also “sap cognitive power from the reading process”?
Heavily annotated works have been useful for centuries to students of every discipline we’ve got, and their distraction-potential, though clear, is completely eclipsed by the invaluable advantage of access to a ton of carefully-signposted material that can greatly ease the conduct of serious study. It’s well worth the extra effort of concentration; if you want the goods, you’ll put up with the cost.
Carr had addressed the comparison of footnotes and hyperlinks, noting that
[u]nlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.
But Bustillos isn’t having it:
The fogginess of this reasoning—what does this mean, ‘propel’?—is evident throughout the original essay. The means by which one navigates through text are consistent within the medium—you page through all the pages of a book, and you click through all the pages of a website. For some reason, “propulsion” is supposed to be bad for you and “pointing” isn’t, but Carr doesn’t even attempt to explain why.
Source: The Awl
Image by Anonymous9000, licensed under Creative Commons.
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
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 2:51 PM
Digital culture pioneer Kevin Kelly is bridging the gap between technology and spirituality. His “techno transcendentalist” philosophy, explained to Orion magazine, acknowledges that all creation and discovery, including the alphabet, the internet, and even the sun, can be seen on a cosmic level as technology. Humans are able to create technology, but our inventions have fundamentally changed the nature of humanity in ways that people cannot control. People are now more distracted, but we’re learning more, too. “You could say that humans are the sexual organs of technology,” according to Kelly, “that we are necessary for its survival. But it has its own inertia, urgency, tendencies, and bias.”
People tend to fear technology, in the same way that people fear all change. Change tends to breed discomfort. But Kelley believes people should not make blanket prohibitions on new inventions, no matter how frightening they may be. “I don’t think technology is neutral,” Kelly told Orion. “But I think the proper response to a bad technology is not to stop it—to stop thinking—but to have a better idea.”
Image by Dominic, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, December 14, 2009 2:36 PM
Even when masked by the anonymity of the internet, a male-sounding name can help turn people into successful bloggers. “Taking a man’s name opened up a new world,” according to a blogger who writes under the name James Chartrand. “It helped me earn double and triple the income of my true name, with the same work and service.” Far from an activist parable, Chartrand writes that she would have been perfectly happy keeping her real identity and gender a secret. Eventually, however, someone talked. And though she feared for her business and her livelihood, Chartrand writes:
Truth be told, if just a name and perception of gender creates such different levels of respect and income for a person, it says a lot more about the world than it does about me.
George Eliot would be proud.
, licensed under
Friday, September 04, 2009 12:15 PM
Iranian bloggers who went online to protest the disputed election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad owe a debt of gratitude to the spiritual dissident group, the Falun Gong, according to Eli Lake in The New Republic.
Falun Gong practitioners working with the Global Internet Freedom Consortium were instrumental in developing an anti-censorship tool called Freegate, which was designed to hide internet activity from the watchful eye of the Chinese government. All mentions of the Falun Gong are heavily censored in China, because, Lake reports, “the Chinese government views the Falun Gong almost the way the United States views Al Qaeda.”
Iranian internet users were able to use the software for a short time to protest the disputed election results, until the tool’s popularity in Iran overwhelmed the group’s servers and they were forced to shut it down.
Freegate is not the only tool that dissidents use to skirt censorship on the web. Lake also mentions the software Tor, profiled in the September-October issue of Utne Reader, an anti-censorship program that is funded in part by the U.S. government. The Falun Gong has urged the United States to fund Freegate, too, but support has not been forthcoming.
As good as programs like Freegate and Tor are at stymieing government censorship, China, Iran, Russia, and other countries are working feverishly on technology to fight back. Lake writes, “the race to beat the Internet censors is a central battle in the global struggle for democracy—a cat-and-mouse game where the fate of regimes could rest in no small measure on the work of the Falun Gong and others who write programs to circumvent Web censorship.”
Source: The New Republic
, licensed under
Wednesday, September 02, 2009 2:48 PM
Imagine a contact lens that could connect you to the internet, providing information about what you see in a format invisible to other people. Or a contact lens, powered by radio frequencies or solar power, that could monitor cholesterol or glucose levels for diabetics. Babak A. Parviz, writing for IEEE Spectrum, is already working on the technology, and has successfully tested early versions on live rabbits. Parviz envisions the contact lens turning into a platform like an iPhone, where developers create new applications and inventions to improve the human eye.
Source: IEEE Spectrum
Thursday, August 27, 2009 2:40 PM
With nothing more than a first and last name, the Personas web application creates a picture of how the internet sees you. Eerie insights sometimes flash across the page, often followed by absurd non sequiturs. The website, created as part of an MIT art installation Metropath(ologies), is meant as a critique of data mining efforts by Google, Netflix, and the U.S. Government. In a statement on the project, the authors say:
We typically are never given the chance to see the decision making process that ranks some webpage in the fourth slot for a specific Google Query, and most certainly not when money is to be made in a competitive environment. Personas is meant to expose this black box process as controlled voodoo.
The visualizations don’t have any live links in them, and you can’t copy and paste from it, which gives the impression of a data interpretation process that the user is powerless to control.
(Thanks, Apples and Owls.)
Monday, July 20, 2009 4:18 PM
Twitter will not single-handedly save journalism. It’s also not silly and dumb. “The single greatest export on the internet—greater, even, than information—is hyperbole,” Paul Constant writes for the Stranger, and the reactions to Twitter have dolled out hyperbole with gusto. Constant, a former Utne Reader contributor, dissects the Twitter phenomenon, the backlash, and the backlash to the backlash, in messages of fewer than 140 characters. He also includes some great insights into internet culture. Here are some excerpts:
A great deal of time on the internet is spent finding different ways to say, "Oh, you didn't know that already? Huh. I've known for ages."
Here's another truth: Nobody has any clue what's going on. That's why sneering at Twitter is worse than blindly loving Twitter.
Historically, very little has been accomplished by being cynical (maybe some broken hearts have been prevented, but at what cost?).
Source: The Stranger
Tuesday, June 16, 2009 1:26 PM
This Thursday, the German parliament will vote on a plan to censor its internet. Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s Minister for Family Affairs, recently brought the proposal to the German government in an effort to block child pornography, says political blog netzpolitik.org. She has since been dubbed “Zensursula,” (translated-“Censorsula”) by her growing number of opponents. netzpolitik.org writes:
German politicians already seem to be lining up with their wish-list of content to be censored in future – the suggestions ranging from gambling sites, Muslim web pages, “killer games”, and the music industry, cheering up with the thought of finally banning pirate bay and p2p.
Source: netzpolitik, tech President, Boing Boing
, licensed under
Friday, June 05, 2009 12:01 PM
It’s tough to find intelligent and educational videos among the teeming masses of cat movies and puppy cams that clutter the web. Open Culture continually trolls the internet for the internet’s smartest sites and resources. This week, they posted a list of the 40 best cultural and educational video sites around. The list includes a few sites that have been profiled in Utne Reader (Europa Film Treasures and LinkTV) and a bunch I’d never heard of before.
Source: Open Culture
Wednesday, June 03, 2009 1:23 PM
The United States may have invented the internet, but today it lags abysmally far behind countries like South Korea and Japan. As President-Elect, Barack Obama said, “It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption.”
The problem is “a total lack of competition,” Nicolas Thompson writes for the Washington Monthly. Telecom companies have successfully neutered legislative attempts to force competition, giving near-monopolies on home internet service to phone and cable companies. Some hope that the new stimulus package could help, but the money devoted to bringing new broadband to the United States will likely be dwarfed by the $3.4 billion South Korea is putting into Green IT. GigaOM reports that by 2012, South Koreans may enjoy internet speeds that are 200 times faster than the typical DSL line in the United States.
There are a few possible solutions. Thompson suggests that the US government should create a public entity like the post office to provide internet to Americans. “Private companies would compete,” Thompson writes, “just as UPS and FedEx compete with the postal service.” The competition could force telecom companies to clean up their acts and give globally competitive service to customers.
“America built the world’s first computers, and then along came Microsoft. America pioneered the Internet, and along came Google,” Thompson writes. Without drastic changes to the United States broadband infrastructure, “It’s hard, however, to imagine that the technologies of the future will be hatched here.”
Image by Jay Cuthrell, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 01, 2009 5:10 PM
No matter how great a book, film, or album is, there’s always someone on Amazon.com who’s willing to give it a bad review. The Cynical-C Blog has compiled some of the best one-star reviews into a section they call “You Can’t Please Everyone.”
Here are a few highlights:
I saw this movie and just about puked in my lap because it was so terrible! Go see the Da Vinci Code instead. Tom Hanks is ten times the actor Orson “Fatty McFat” Welles ever was!
Wizard of Oz:
the wort movie ive ever seen .I mean they clorized once color tv came out and there special effects are lame ,the costumes are ugly the props are ugly so never buy this film!!!!
first of all its NOTHING like the future is probly going to turn out. second of all every one says the aurthor george orwell is so trippy and wierd but i think he’s just trying to cover up for the fact that HE CAN’T WRITE. please george do us all a faver and stop writing books.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl:
It was really really boring. Its about some girl and her life- who cares!?! It is a total girly-girl book. Too dull to even care. I couldnt even pay attention to what happened to her, why it was so awful. Oh Well, NEXT…
This book sucks. I dont care if Homer was blind or not this book is like 900 pages too long. I could tell this story in about 10 pages. Homer taking all long to say stupid stuff.
People, whatever you do, don’t buy this trash! Just wait until Limp Bizkit (the greatest band ever!) makes a documentary on their wild and crazy and cool antics! It’s sure to put this to shame!
This is more music for druggies. The Beatles should be ashamed to put out this album. I saw Paul Mcartney live last year and he was better than this album, and the other Beatles weren’t even there. But the stage show was boring, there where no pyrotecnics or girls. When I saw Motley Crew during there Dr. Feelgood tour they at least had Fireballs and dancing girls. Plus Mick Mars destroys George Harryson on guitar!
Source: Cynical-C Blog
Thursday, April 23, 2009 10:12 AM
1. Write a letter: Writer Jonathan Hiskes wrote one letter a day for each of the 40 days of Lent. “I sent letters in the real mail,” he writes in the Spring 2009 issue of Geez (article not available online), “because there’s just nothing exceptional about email.” He wrote old roommates, old teachers, and an ex-girlfriend. He wrote to his family too. “I tried to find a nugget worth sharing with someone every day,” he writes. His hope was that the letters “would both solicit responses and prod me to pay more attention to the world around me.” He was successful on both fronts.
2. One month off: “I turn my computer on too often. For work, for pleasure, just because,” writes Geez editor Will Braun, also in the Spring 2009 issue. “I check my email too often. Even though I am generally disappointed both if there is new mail (more shit to do) or not (need to go back to what I was trying to distract myself from).” Braun hatched a plan: he'd go one month without using the computer at all on Sundays and Tuesdays; he wouldn’t use the internet when he wasn’t at work; he would not visit any news sites; and he would not use Google: “that almighty gateway to info-overload.” He fell off the wagon straight away, but he hopped right back on. Ultimately, the experiment was a success. “It was a good month,” he writes. “I was more present to my son, my wife, my work and the world … I spent a bit more time in the lovely, conflicted, eternal present.”
3. Forced deprivation: “I bet I am not alone in my near frantic desire to be released—for very brief periods, always with an escape hatch—from the tyranny of my own wandering attention,” writes Rebecca Traister in Salon. “I may not have known it, but for some time, I have wanted something forceful, computerized and beyond the realms of my own self-determination to come and muffle the beeping, buzzing, ringing, flashing distractions of our technological age so I can get some goddamn work done.” Her solution? She downloaded Freedom. This is not some abstract notion, it’s a program. “Freedom will disable the networking, only on a Mac computer, for periods of anywhere from one minute to eight hours. No Web sites, no e-mail, no instant messaging, no online shopping, no Facebook, no Twitter, no iTunes store, no streaming anything. Once it is turned on, as it hilariously claims, ‘Freedom enforces freedom.’”
Sources: Geez, Salon
Thursday, April 02, 2009 3:31 PM
The American educational system is experiencing a crisis in literacy. Too many students are falling behind in the critical reading skills that provide the fundamentals of a successful education. At the same time, teachers lament the excessive time students spend on digital media like video games and television.
Though teachers may be loath to admit it, digital media provide an opportunity to revive the American educational system, James Paul Gee and Michael Levine write for Democracy Journal. Educators should use students’ enthusiasm for video games, television, and mobile devices to teach the skills needed to succeed in the modern marketplace.
“The current approach to the literacy crisis is locked in a time warp,” according to Gee and Levine, “almost totally removed from the ubiquitous digital media consumption that currently drives children’s lives.”
The solution to America’s literacy crisis, and the increasingly problematic digital divide, lies beyond simple access to technology. Gee and Levine suggest in a creating a “digital teaching corps,” modeled on programs like Teach for America, which would send bright young teachers into low-performing schools to mentor children on technology and communication. The writers also propose the creation of digital community centers, staffed by the digital teaching corps, to increase access to the technology as well. On a federal level, the government should modernize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and take educational programs like Sesame Street and The Electric Company into the digital age.
Teachers need to move beyond the “book-centered” learning, which too often devolves into standardized test prep, and explore “experience-centered” learning that digital media provides. This way, schools can modernize their overhead projectors and filmstrips to give students the skills they need in an increasingly digitized world.
, licensed under
Sources: Democracy Journal (excerpt available online)
Monday, March 02, 2009 6:11 PM
Among the mantras by artist Kevin Bewersdorf on Maximumsorrow.com lies this gem:
Everything in the marketplace is a product!
I am in the marketplace!
I am a product!
Everything is in the product!
I am a product and everything is in me!
Bewersdorf’s art is “on the Internet and about the Internet,” he told the Rumpus, and straddles a line between religious incantation and corporate jargon, illuminating aspects of both worlds. The website offers a unique view of the mediocrity and information overload endemic in the internet. One of many Mediocrity Awareness Experiments offered on the site asks participants to stare at a chaotic image of bands while repeating the phrase “how many bands are there” over and over again. Another repeats the phrase “time to buy more shampoo.” The website is strange, and often confusing, but worth the time to visit.
Sources: MaximumSorrow.com, The Rumpus
Monday, February 02, 2009 11:48 AM
Before the media imploded, journalists were allowed to spend months researching in-depth stories and exposés. Today, that style of journalism is “seen as taking too long and costing too much,” former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune James Warren writes for the Atlantic. The parasitic internet is to blame, according to Warren, where “attitude and attack are often valued more than precision and truth” and content is given away for free.
The problem that Warren doesn’t focus on is that newspapers, which still “serve as daily tip sheets for other media outlets,” were caught unprepared for the rise of the internet. It’s not as though they didn’t have time to adjust, back when they were still flush with cash. Here’s a video from 1981, when downloading a paper took more than 2 hours, and cost $5.00 per hour.
Wednesday, December 31, 2008 12:59 PM
In the not so distant past, it seemed that hobby science had gone the way of the dodo bird. Surveying back issues of Popular Science, Mark Frauenfelder, the editor-in-chief of MAKE magazine and co-founder of Boing Boing, noticed that stories about basement adventures with test tubes and hot plates disappeared sometime in the 1960s, replaced by tales of big money experimentation—"the kind that costs billions of dollars and requires an army of PhDs to oversee."
Then along came the internet, that fertile ground the next generation of amateur scientists are springing from, according to Frauenfelder. In a post for Good magazine's blog, he writes:
The Internet inspires and speeds along amateur scientific research by making it possible to share reports, videos, blueprints, data, and discussions. Interestingly, amateur scientists are using the Internet exactly as the architects of the Internet years ago envisioned it 40 years ago—as a scientific research facilitator, replacing snail mail, print versions of peer review papers, and conferences. It's brought far flung researchers together in a shared space where communication is instant and ideas flow fast.
The proof for Frauenfelder lies in the surging popularity of MAKE's annual DIY fair, which he attributes to "the resurgence of experimentation spurred on by Internet communication."
Tuesday, November 18, 2008 12:04 PM
“Overload!”, the Columbia Journalism Review’s current cover story, is every bit as overwhelming as its subject.
In a lengthy, thorough explication, Bree Nordenson lays out the results of a study commissioned by the Associated Press to track the news consumption of young adults around the world. The gist of the findings is grim, but hardly surprising: There’s more information out there than ever before, and this is not a good thing. “The American public is no better informed now than it has been during less information-rich times,” Nordenson writes.
Or, in numerical terms: “Two hundred and ten billion e-mails are sent each day. Say goodbye to the gigabyte and hello to the exabyte, five of which are worth 37,000 Libraries of Congress. In 2006 alone, the world produced 161 exabytes of digital data, the equivalent of three million times the information contained in all the books ever written.”
The way information, particularly news, is disseminated has been revolutionized, for better and worse, by the internet. Context has disappeared; data usually travels in a chaotic tsunami and arrives “unbundled” and often indecipherable. “These days, news comes at us in a flood of unrelated snippets,” Nordenson writes.
The rest of the article examines a number of different trends affecting the current state of news consumption: the limits of human attention, the role of media in democracy, and the new role of journalism. The piece does end on a relatively optimistic note, however; the final section, titled “Why Journalism Won’t Disappear,” contains this easier-said-than-done prescription: "If news organizations decide to rethink their role and give consumers the context and coherence they want and need in an age of overload, they may just achieve the financial stability they’ve been scrambling for, even as they recapture their public-service mission before it slips away."
Monday, September 22, 2008 10:18 AM
Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s now-public emails could fundamentally change internet and free speech laws in the United States. Last week, Palin’s Yahoo email account was broken into and many of the emails were posted on Wikileaks, a website designed to publicize leaked government documents, the media gossip blog Gawker, and other websites. The McCain campaign has called the incident a “shocking invasion of the governor's privacy and a violation of the law.” Writing for the conservative blog Powerline, John Hinderacher cited the crime as, “Just another reminder that there is no sense of decency on the Left.” The issue has been widely covered in the mainstream media, but the real implications of the event may not be felt for years to come.
“I predict that some day we will look back on this breach as a watershed event in the history of statutory Internet privacy,” Paul Ohm writes for the law blog Concurring Opinions. The leak of Palin’s emails could motivate Congress to pass strict privacy laws, but also to punish websites like Gawker and Wikileaks, possibly igniting, “a fierce First Amendment debate.”
Under current laws, Gawker and Wikileaks are likely protected from prosecution, but that hasn’t stopped readers from sending various threatening emails. One of the few inoffensive messages read, “Get a good lawyer, in fact get at least a dozen… you are going to need them when the Secret Service and the FBI come to visit. Jerks!” Orin Kerr, a professor at the George Washington University Law School, disagrees. Kerr writes for the Volokh Conspiracy: “While it's unseemly and perhaps rather nasty to post it, it's normally not a crime to post evidence that was obtained as a fruit of crime”
That didn’t prevent justice officials from trying to intimidate journalistic organizations. The Associated Press, one of the many organizations that has reported on the incident, reports that “Secret Service contacted the Associated Press on Wednesday and asked for copies of the leaked emails, which circulated widely on the Internet. The AP did not comply.” Kurt Opsahl writes on the Electronic Frontier Foundation blog Deeplinks that the Associated Press and Gawker are likely not in any legal trouble, for now: “While the individuals who broke into Gov. Palin's personal email account have likely broken the law, news media… are entitled under the First Amendment to republish any newsworthy email messages.”
The incident has dredged up a fair amount of animosity toward the press, in spite of the legality of posting the emails. Andrew Grossman writes for the conservative Heritage Foundation, “just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s right.” On his show for Fox News, Bill O’Reilly said, “I’d like to see the website [Gawker] prosecuted.”
“Congress often enacts privacy protecting legislation only in the wake of salient, sensationalized, harmful privacy breaches.” Ohm write for Concurring Opinions. This could be one such incident. Should Congress decide to attack websites that post leaked documents, it runs the risk of infringing on the right to free speech and fundamentally changing the internet for the worse. The chances of this happening are even higher should the McCain-Palin campaign win the 2008 election. If that is the case, the true victims of this crime are still unknown.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008 8:45 AM
Hosted by Sarah Haskins with sardonic, faux-naïve enthusiasm, “Target: Women” is the standout segment of Current TV’s online news show infoMania.
In each episode, Haskins sets her sights on an especially ridiculous media trend targeting the young female demographic, satirizing the insipid pop-culture trends that nevertheless remain infuriatingly popular, such as reality shows about weddings (“They put the ‘we’ in ‘wedding’ and the ‘end’ in ‘feminism’”), birth control ads (“It’s Yaz, the pill that stops all those symptoms, so you can do the women things you love, like run, wear big earrings, hug friends, and have a cool, non-specific media job”), and chick flicks (“She’s in for a surprise, when: unlikely suitor / high-concept hijinks / unnecessary obstacle / true love / happy ending!”).
Haskins got an easy target when Sarah Palin became John McCain’s VP pick. In her Palin segment, Haskins slyly celebrates that mythical demographic of Hillary supporters who the McCain campaign cynically believes will vote for Palin simply because she’s a woman. Haskins calls them P.A.N.T.H.E.R.s—joining other jungle-cat demographics like PUMAs and Cougars—whose acronym stands for “Proud American Needing Token Hillary Estrogen Replacement.”
Like the Daily Show or the Onion, “Target: Women” is smart satire disguised as hilarious pop-culture commentary. I hope that Sarah Haskins keeps it up for as long as the media cynically exploits her demographic—which is to say, forever.
Friday, August 08, 2008 10:42 AM
Is anyone else going meme crazy these days? Maybe it’s just some strange conflation of meme-talk here at the Utne Reader office, but if I hear (or read or sniff) one more reference to a meme, I’m going to drink everyone’s milkshakes, and then make all the straws into my new bicycle.
I know: I should pity the meme. These are heady times for a term coined in 1976. Back when evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins gave memes a name in his book The Selfish Gene, there was no world wide web to speed along cultural transmission. Memes, as Dawkins defined them, are self-propagating cultural phenomena such as “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.” He likened them to genes. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain.” Dawkins explains how Darwinian principles, like natural selection, govern that evolution.
These days, all your memes are belong to us, and by us I mean the Internets, by which I mean the web. Linguistic and media-driven memes in particular spread swiftly online. If you don’t pay attention (see: if you have anything else to do during the day except troll online), you can miss a whole meme-elution. Not being up to meme-speed = awkward social encounters. Picture yourself standing in a room, tepidly smiling as everyone riffs about some walrus that lost its bucket. Getting the jokes in the late-night monologue? Forget it.
“One week: That’s how much time an Internet meme needs to propagate, become its own opposite, and then finally collapse back in on itself,” Christopher Beam writes on Slate. Beam based his observation on the lifecycle of the wildly popular “Barack Obama is your new bicycle” meme.
That well-known meme all started with a website of the same name, and on August 5 (drum roll, please) Gotham published a Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle book. Website creator and Wired contributing editor Matthew Honan isn’t the only meme-generator to get a book deal lately. This March, Gawker reported that Random House paid at least $350,000 for the right to publish Stuff White People Like, based on (you guessed it!) the website of the same name.
All this makes me wish Chuck Norris would step in and deliver some round-house regulation. Memes, old-fashioned memes, naturally-occurring memes, have a lot to tell us about how culture stalls and grows. Rewarding senseless Internet memes, however, with two things our society likes very much—cash and publicity—will only motivate imitators. If Internet memes become a popularity contest with a cash reward (exploiting a lowest-common-denominator urge to be in on the joke)—are they still memes? Out in the blogosphere, you already can spot people discussing how to propagate preferred memes. In the inevitable march of the Internet memes, I just hope the best viral marketer wins.
Images by Rachel Pumroy, Women, Fire & Dangerous Things, and Peter Mandik, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, July 21, 2008 5:51 PM
“Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today embarked on an historic first-ever visit to the Internet,” satirist Andy Borowitz joked on his website. In an effort to pull the headlines away from Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East, Borowitz wrote that McCain, surrounded by reporters, visited “Weather.com and Yahoo! Answers, where he inquired as to the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.” Borowitz did not mention any plans of visiting, as Sen. McCain once said, “a Google.”
Wednesday, July 02, 2008 12:36 PM
As online technology becomes increasingly prevalent and sophisticated, a common meme has emerged that the Internet is a democratizing force, spreading knowledge to previously under-informed segments of the global population, and giving a voice to the disenfranchised. Meanwhile, hysterical television personalities warn us that the Internet is a debauched hellscape rife with sex offenders and invasions of privacy.
Writing for AlterNet, Annalee Newitz says, nuts to all that.
Three Internet falsehoods that refuse to die, according to Newitz, are 1) it’s free; 2) it knows no boundaries; and 3) it’s dangerous. Her refutations of the first two myths are particularly important because they address problems of limited online access by low-income populations and those living under censorship.
Read the piece to learn why these myths are untrue but so very persistent. Then, perhaps Newitz can determine once and for all whether the Internet is actually rotting our brains.
Tuesday, July 01, 2008 10:52 AM
“Are you concerned about internet addiction?” a woman asked a panel of internet entrepreneurs, including Craig from Craigslist, at the National Conference for Media Reform.
“No,” the panel answered resounding. Of course they weren’t concerned. The business models for companies like Craigslist depend on people with internet addictions.
Many in the media, however, fret that the internet is rotting people’s brains. In the cover story for the latest issue of the Atlantic, Nicholas Carr argues that Google is making human knowledge more superficial. Once upon a time, people spent hours poring over enormous novels, but today people just skim headlines. “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words,” Carr writes. “Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
In spite of the neo-luddite undertones of his argument, Carr makes some interesting points about how the medium of information changes the wiring in people’s brains. Socrates once believed that the written word would lead people to forget more information, since people tend to forget what they aren’t forced to remember. Carr writes, “Socrates wasn’t wrong—the new technology did often have the effects he feared—but he was shortsighted.”
Other writers have taken a more hysterical tone, lamenting the effect of the internet on culture. In the book The Cult of the Amateur, Andrew Keen called the digital revolution, “ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule… on steroids.” In a point-counterpoint for the Guardian, Keen wrote that the internet produces the “dumbing-down of culture.” Since publishing his 2007 polemic, Keen admitted to the Futurist that he’s “more optimistic now,” but still sticks by his argument that the Web 2.0 is bad for society.
Railing against technology’s interminable advance seems like tilting at windmills, but now is a good time to consider the internet’s effect on human knowledge. Writing for the Boston Globe, Drake Bennett calls attention to the enormous influence that Google has over people’s intellectual lives. Since Google has emerged as the dominant search engine, the website has become the primary way in which people organize the internet. Bennett quotes Greg Lastowka, an associate professor of law at Rutgers, who wrote, “Google's control over 'results' constitutes an awesome ability to set the course of human knowledge.” Even if that knowledge is making people smarter, and not more stupid, handing control over that information to a single company—albeit one with a mantra of “don’t be evil”—can be dangerous.
Image by Jason Cumberland, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 2:29 PM
When inspiration strikes, there’s not always a computer around to record the ideas. Like cocktail napkin sketches, or ideas written on the back of a person’s hand, the website Deeplinking has compiled a few pen-on-paper prototypes of ideas that became websites.
The photo at left, for example, was the original design for the micro-blogging site Twitter, then called Stat.us. The current design of Utne.com, in fact, was once little more than chicken scratches on a torn piece of paper. For a more in-depth and active example, Deeplinking also provides an impressive, moving paper prototype in the YouTube link below.
Image by jack dorsey, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008 11:41 AM
How revolutionary are the iPhone and the Amazon Kindle? Not very, according to Annalee Newitz at the San Francisco Bay Guardian. She cites an engineering principle called the singularity, “the moment when the technology and culture of the present evolve to the point that they would be incomprehensible to people from the past.” The concept could encompass what the late, great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke called the moment when a “sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The test for singularity is to imagine explaining a technology to someone 100 years ago—a feat that would be fairly easy, Newitz argues, with the iPhone, the Kindle, or even the Phoenix Mars Lander. All are impressive innovations, but hardly incomprehensible to a citizen of the world in 1908.
So what would blow an early-20th-century mind, in much the same way that a man in the 1700s would be boggled by airplanes? Most likely, internet-based technologies like social-networking sites and viral video, which have fundamentally changed the ways we interact with others, would do the trick. This makes sense, since I often find it difficult to explain the relevance of Facebook or Obama Girl even to myself, much less a hypothetical person 100 years in the past.
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Friday, February 22, 2008 3:20 PM
In the latest incarnation of the highly offensive Facebook/MySpace-divide hypothesis, an article in TechCrunch reports on data suggesting that wealthy people tend to use Google for their Internet search engine while poor people tend to use Yahoo.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007 2:50 PM
Once upon a time there was a website that randomly generated fairy tales. It was called the Proppian Fairy Tale Generator, and it was based on the theories of Russian structuralist Vladimir Propp, a literary thinker who believed that the narrative structure of every fairy tale on earth could be broken down into basic elements arranged in uniform sequence. Website users select fairy-tale elements off a predetermined list and the website, created by students at Brown University, spits out weird, post-modern yarns that boggle the mind and amuse the imagination.
Reading the stories is disconcerting. Since they’re arranged by computer, the narratives don’t make much sense: Characters appear and disappear without reason, and the plot is often impossible to follow. One moment the protagonist is standing over his father’s corpse in the woods, the next moment he is speaking with his mother, and four paragraphs later, the father returns, amazingly. But despite their insensibility, the stories are mystifyingly compelling.
That’s the secret: The fairy tales only have form and no content, but they’re still engaging, suggesting just how important structure is to good storytelling. When you watch an action movie—a tight narrative form ornamented with explosions and violence—the familiar pattern is satisfying. These stories show that form can be captivating, even if the story itself doesn’t make sense. Which is the entire premise behind the Mission Impossible series, I think.
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