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 23, 2012 2:58 PM
This post originally appeared on TomDispatch.
I speak Spanish to God,
Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse.
-- Emperor Charles V
But in which language does
one speak to a machine, and what can be expected by way of response? The
questions arise from the accelerating data-streams out of which we’ve learned
to draw the breath of life, posed in consultation with the equipment that scans
the flesh and tracks the spirit, cues the ATM, the GPS, and the EKG, arranges
the assignations on Match.com and the high-frequency trades at Goldman Sachs,
catalogs the pornography and drives the car, tells us how and when and where to
connect the dots and thus recognize ourselves as human beings.
Why then does it come to pass
that the more data we collect -- from Google, YouTube, and Facebook -- the less
likely we are to know what it means?
conundrum is in line with the late Marshall McLuhan’s noticing 50 years ago the
presence of “an acoustic world,” one with “no continuity, no homogeneity, no
connections, no stasis,” a new “information environment of which humanity has
no experience whatever.” He published Understanding Media in 1964,
proceeding from the premise that “we become what we behold,” that “we shape our
tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”
Media were to be understood
as “make-happen agents” rather than as “make-aware agents,” not as art or
philosophy but as systems comparable to roads and waterfalls and sewers.
Content follows form; new means of communication give rise to new structures of
feeling and thought.
To account for the
transference of the idioms of print to those of the electronic media, McLuhan
examined two technological revolutions that overturned the epistemological
status quo. First, in the mid-fifteenth century, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention
of moveable type, which deconstructed the illuminated wisdom preserved on
manuscript in monasteries, encouraged people to organize their perceptions of
the world along the straight lines of the printed page. Second, in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the applications of electricity (telegraph,
telephone, radio, movie camera, television screen, eventually the computer),
favored a sensibility that runs in circles, compressing or eliminating the
dimensions of space and time, narrative dissolving into montage, the word
replaced with the icon and the rebus.
Within a year of its
publication, Understanding Media acquired the standing of Holy
Scripture and made of its author the foremost oracle of the age. The New
York Herald Tribune proclaimed him “the most important thinker since Newton, Darwin,
Freud, Einstein, and Pavlov.” Although never at a loss for Delphic aphorism --
“The electric light is pure information”; “In the electric age, we wear all
mankind as our skin” -- McLuhan assumed that he had done nothing more than look
into the window of the future at what was both obvious and certain.
Floating the Fiction
In 1964 I was slow to take
the point, possibly because I was working at the time in a medium that McLuhan
had listed as endangered -- writing, for The Saturday Evening Post,
inclined to think in sentences, accustomed to associating a cause with an
effect, a beginning with a middle and an end. Television news I construed as an
attempt to tell a story with an alphabet of brightly colored children’s blocks,
and when offered the chance to become a correspondent for NBC, I declined the
referral to what I regarded as a course in remedial reading.
The judgment was poorly
timed. Within five years The Saturday Evening Post had gone the way of
the great auk; news had become entertainment, entertainment news, the
distinctions between a fiction and a fact as irrelevant as they were
increasingly difficult to parse. Another 20 years and I understood what McLuhan
meant by the phrase, “The medium is the message,” when in the writing of a
television history of America’s foreign policy in the twentieth century, I was
allotted roughly 73 seconds in which to account for the origins of World War
II, while at the same time providing a voiceover transition between newsreel
footage of Jesse Owens running the hundred-yard dash at the Berlin Olympics in
the summer of 1936, and Adolf Hitler marching the Wehrmacht into Vienna in the
spring of 1938.
McLuhan regarded the medium
of television as better suited to the sale of a product than to the expression
of a thought. The voice of the first person singular becomes incorporated into
the collective surges of emotion housed within an artificial kingdom of wish
and dream; the viewer’s participation in the insistent and ever-present promise
of paradise regained greatly strengthens what McLuhan identified as “the huge
educational enterprise that we call advertising.” By which he didn’t mean the
education of a competently democratic citizenry -- “Mosaic news is neither
narrative, nor point of view, nor explanation, nor comment” -- but rather as
“the gathering and processing of exploitable social data” by “Madison Avenue
frogmen of the mind” intent on retrieving the sunken subconscious treasure of
human credulity and desire.
McLuhan died on New Year’s
Eve 1979, 15 years before the weaving of the World Wide Web, but his concerns
over the dehumanized extensions of man (a society in which it is the machine
that thinks and the man who is reduced to the state of the thing) are
consistent with those more recently noted by computer scientist Jaron Lanier,
who suggests that the data-mining genius of the computer reduces individual
human expression to “a primitive, retrograde activity.” Among the framers of
the digital constitution, Lanier in the mid-1980s was a California computer engineer engaged in the
early programming of virtual reality.
In the same way that McLuhan
in his more optimistic projections of the electronic future had envisioned
unified networks of communication restoring mankind to a state of freedom not
unlike the one said to have existed in the Garden of Eden, so too Lanier had
entertained the hope of limitless good news. Writing in 2010 in his book You
Are Not a Gadget, he finds that the ideology promoting radical freedom on
the surface of the Web is “more for machines than people” -- machines that
place advertising at the “center of the human universe… the only form of
expression meriting general commercial protection in the new world to come. Any
other form of expression to be remashed, anonymized, and decontextualized to
the point of meaninglessness.”
The reduction of individual
human expression to a “primitive, retrograde activity” accounts for the product
currently being sold under the labels of “election” and “democracy.” The
candidates stand and serve as farm equipment meant to cultivate an opinion
poll, their value measured by the cost of their manufacture; the news media’s
expensive collection of talking heads bundles the derivatives into the
commodity of market share. The steadily higher cost of floating the fiction of
democracy -- the sale of political television advertising up from nearly $200
million in the presidential election of 1996 to $2 billion in the election of
2008 -- reflects the ever-increasing rarity of the demonstrable fact.
Like the music in elevators,
the machine-made news comes and goes on a reassuringly familiar loop, the same
footage, the same spokespeople, the same commentaries, what was said last week
certain to be said this week, next week, and then again six weeks from now, the
sequence returning as surely as the sun, demanding little else from the
would-be citizen except devout observance. French Novelist Albert Camus in the
1950s already had remanded the predicament to an aphorism: “A single sentence
will suffice for modern man: he fornicated and read the papers.”
Ritual becomes the form of
applied knowledge that both McLuhan and Lanier define as pattern recognition --
Nike is a sneaker or a cap, Miller beer is wet, Paris Hilton is not a golf
ball. The making of countless connections in the course of a morning’s
googling, an afternoon’s shopping, an evening’s tweeting constitutes the
guarantee of being in the know. Among people who worship the objects of their
own invention -- money, cloud computing, the Super Bowl -- the technology can
be understood, in Swiss playwright Max Frisch’s phrase, as “the knack of so
arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” Better to consume it,
best of all to buy it, and to the degree that information can be commodified
(as corporate logo, designer dress, politician custom-fitted to a super PAC)
the amassment of wealth and the acquisition of power follows from the labeling
of things rather than from the making of them.
The Voice of Money
Talking to Money
Never have so many labels
come so readily to hand, not only on Fox News and MSNBC, but also on the
Goodyear blimp and on the fence behind home plate at Yankee Stadium. The
achievement has been duly celebrated by the promoters of “innovative delivery
strategies” that broaden our horizons and brighten our lives with “quicker
access to valued customers.”
Maybe I miss the “key
performance indicators,” but I don’t know how a language meant to be disposable
enriches anybody’s life. I can understand why words construed as product
placement serve the interest of the corporation or the state, but they don’t “enhance”
or “empower” people who would find in their freedoms of thought and expression
a voice, and therefore a life, that they can somehow recognize as their own.
The regime change implicit in
the ascendant rule of signs funds the art of saying nothing. Meaning
evaporates, the historical perspective loses its depth of field, the vocabulary
contracts. George Orwell made the point in 1946, in his essay “Politics and the
English Language.” “The slovenliness of our language,” he said, “makes it
easier for us to have foolish thoughts. If one gets rid of these habits, one
can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward
Advertising isn’t interested
in political regeneration. The purpose is to nurture foolish thoughts, and the
laziness of mind suckled at the silicone breasts of CBS and Disney counts as a
consumer benefit. The postliterate sensibility is offended by anything that
isn’t television, views with suspicion the compound sentence, the subordinate
clause, words of more than three syllables. The home and studio audiences
become accustomed to hearing voices swept clean of improvised literary devices,
downsized into data points, degraded into industrial-waste product.
Ambiguity doesn’t sell the
shoes. Neither does taking time to think, or allowing too long a pause between
the subject and the predicate. In the synthetic America the Beautiful, everything
good is easy, anything difficult is bad, and the customer is always right. The
body politic divides into constituencies of one, separate states of wishful
thinking receding from one another at the speed of light.
Every loss of language,
whether among the northern Inuit or the natives of the Jersey
Shore, the critic George Steiner
writes down as “an impoverishment in the ecology of the human psyche”
comparable to the depletion of species in California
The abundance of many languages (as many as 68 of them in Mexico), together
with the richness of their lexical and grammatical encoding (the many uses of the
subjunctive among certain tribes in Africa) stores, as do the trees in
Amazonia, a “boundless wealth of possibility” that cannot be replaced by the
machinery of the global market.
“The true catastrophe of Babel,” says Steiner, “is
not the scattering of tongues. It is the reduction of human speech to a handful
of planetary, ‘multinational’ tongues… Anglo-American standardized
vocabularies” and grammar shaped by “military technocratic megalomania” and
“the imperatives of commercial greed.”
Which is the voice of money
talking to money, in the currency that Toni Morrison, accepting the Nobel Prize
in Literature in 1993, denominates as “the language that drinks blood,” happy
to “admire its own paralysis,” possessed of “no desire or purpose other than
maintaining the free range of narcotic narcissism…dumb, predatory, sentimental.
Exciting reverence in schoolchildren, providing a shelter for despots.”
Language designed to “sanction ignorance and preserve privilege,” prioritized
to fit the needs of palsied bureaucracy, retrograde religion, or our own 2012
The vocabulary is limited but
long abiding. The aristocracy of ancient Rome
didn’t engage in dialog with slaves, a segment of the population classified by
the Roman agriculturalist Marcus Terentius Varro as “speaking tools,” animate
but otherwise equivalent to an iPhone app.
The sponsors of the Spanish
Inquisition, among them Charles V, possibly in consultation with his horse, ran
data-mining operations not unlike the ones conducted by Facebook. So did the
content aggregators otherwise known as the NKVD in Soviet Russia, as the
Gestapo in Nazi Germany. In South
Africa during most of the twentieth century
the policy of apartheid was dressed up in propaganda that novelist Breyten
Breytenbach likens to the sound of a “wooden tongue clacking away in the wooden
orifice in order to produce the wooden singsong praises to the big bang-bang
and the fluttering flag.”
The Internet equips the fear
of freedom with even more expansive and far-seeing means of surveillance than
were available to Tomás de Torquemada or Joseph Goebbels, provides our own
national security agencies with databanks that sift the email traffic for words
earmarked as subversive, among them “collective bargaining,” “occupy,” and
The hope and exercise of
freedom relies, in 2012 as in 1939, on what Breytenbach understood as the
keeping of “the word alive, or uncontaminated, or at least to allow it to have
a meaning, to be a conduit of awareness.” The force and power of the words
themselves, not their packaging or purchase price. Which is why when listening
to New York
publishers these days tell sad stories about the death of books in print, I
don’t find myself moved to tears. They confuse the container with the thing
contained, as did the fifteenth-century illuminati who saw in Gutenberg’s
printing press the mark and presence of the Devil. Filippo de Strata, a
Benedictine monk and a copier of manuscripts, deplored the triumph of
Through printing, tender boys
and gentle girls, chaste without foul stain,
take in whatever mars the purity of mind or body…
Writing indeed, which brings in gold for us,
should be respected and held to be nobler
than all goods, unless she has suffered
degradation in the brothel of the printing
presses. She is a maiden with a pen, a
harlot in print.
The humanist scholars across
Europe discerned the collapse of civilization, the apocalypse apparent to
Niccolò Perotti, teacher of poetry and rhetoric at the University
of Bologna, who was appalled by “a new
kind of writing which was recently brought to us from Germany… Anyone
is free to print whatever they wish… for the sake of entertainment, what would
best be forgotten, or, better still, erased from all books.”
McLuhan in 1964 ridiculed the
same sort of fear and trembling in Grub Street by observing that, in the
twentieth century as in the fifteenth, the literary man preferred “to ‘view
with alarm’ and ‘point with pride,’ while scrupulously ignoring what’s going on.”
He understood that the concerns had to do with the moving of the merchandise as
opposed to the making of it, where the new money was to be found, how to
collect what tolls on which shipments of the grammar and the syntax. Then as
now, the questions are neither visionary nor new. They accompanied the building
of the nation’s railroads and the stringing of its telephone poles, and as is
customary under the American definition of free enterprise, I expect them to be
resolved in favor of monopoly.
The more relevant questions
are political and epistemological. What counts as a claim to knowledge? How do
we know what we think we know? Which inputs prop up even one of the seven
pillars of wisdom? Without a human language holding a common store of human
value, how do we compose a society governed by a human form of politics?
The History of the
Every age is an age of
information, its worth and meaning always subject to change without much
notice. Whether shaped as ideograph or mathematical equation, as gesture,
encrypted code, or flower arrangement, the means of communication are as
restless as the movement of the sea, as numberless as the expressions that
drift across the surface of the human face.
The written word emerges from
the spoken word, the radar screen from signal fires, compositions for full
orchestra and choir from the tapping of a solitary drum. The various currencies
of glyph and sign trade in concert and in competition with one another. Books
will perhaps become more expensive and less often seen, but clearly they are
not soon destined to vanish from the earth. Bowker’s Global Books in Print
accounts for the publication of 316,480 new titles in 2010, up from 247,777 in
1998. In the United States
in 2010, 751,729,000 books were sold, the revenue stream of $11.67 billion
defying the trend of economic downturn and the voyaging into cyberspace. The
book remains, and likely will remain, the primary store of human energy and
The times, like all others,
can be said to be the best of times and the worst of times. The Internet can be
perceived as a cesspool of misinformation, a phrase that frequently bubbles up
to a microphone in Congress or into the pages of the Wall Street Journal;
it also can be construed as a fountain of youth pouring out data streams in
directions heretofore unimaginable and unknown, allowing David Carr, media
columnist and critic for the New York Times, to believe that “someday,
I should be able to walk into a hotel in Kansas, tell the television who I am
and find everything I have bought and paid for, there for the consuming.”
Carr presumably knows whereof
he speaks, and I’m content to regard the Internet as the best and brightest
machine ever made by man, but nonetheless a machine with a tin ear and a wooden
tongue. It is one thing to browse the Internet; it is another thing to write
The author doesn’t speak to a
fellow human being, whether a Spaniard, a Frenchman, or a German. He or she
addresses an algorithm geared to accommodate keywords -- insurance, Steve Jobs,
Muammar Qaddafi, mortgage, Casey Anthony -- but is neither willing nor able to
wonder what the words might mean. It scans everything but hears nothing, as
tone-deaf as the filtering devices maintained by a search engine or the
Pentagon, processing words as lifeless objects, not as living subjects.
The strength of language
doesn’t consist in its capacity to pin things down or sort things out. “Word
work,” Toni Morrison said in Stockholm,
“is sublime because it is generative,” its felicity in its reach toward the
ineffable. “We die,” she said. “That may be the meaning of life. But we do
language. That may be the measure of our lives.” Shakespeare shaped the same
thought as a sonnet, comparing his beloved to a summer’s day, offering his
rhymes as surety on the bond of immortality: “So long as men can breathe or
eyes can see,/So long lives this and this gives life to thee.”
Maybe our digital technology
is still too new. Writing first appears on clay tablets around 3000 BC; it’s
another 3,300 years before mankind invents the codex; from the codex to
moveable type, 1,150 years; from moveable type to the Internet, 532 years.
Forty years haven’t passed since the general introduction of the personal
computer; the World Wide Web has only been in place for 20.
We’re still playing with
toys. The Internet is blessed with undoubtedly miraculous applications, but
language is not yet one of them. Absent the force of the human imagination and
its powers of expression, our machines cannot accelerate the hope of political
and social change, which stems from language that induces a change of heart.
Lewis H. Lapham is editor
. Formerly editor of Harper’s
Magazine, he is the author of numerous books, including Money and
Class in America,
Theater of War, Gag Rule, and, most recently, Pretensions to Empire.
The New York Times has likened him to H.L. Mencken; Vanity Fair
has suggested a strong resemblance to Mark Twain; and Tom Wolfe has compared
him to Montaigne. This essay introduces "Means of Communication," the
Spring 2012 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter
@TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Lewis H. Lapham
This post originally appeared on TomDispatch.
Image by Ragesoss,
licensed under Creative
Tuesday, March 06, 2012 10:48 AM
The practical and moral implications of erecting a paywall are not easy to untangle. So it’s no surprise that even the big important sources like the New York Times have gone back and forth. Back in September 2007, NYT announced that its entire print edition would be available online free of charge. The risky move made a big splash in the world of online news as other less profitable papers weighed the benefits and costs of following suit.
Like a lot of news junkies, I was delighted by the decision. In fact, the idea of paying for information seemed a little absurd to me at the time. As a student at the University of Minnesota, I had complete access to databases like JSTOR and LexisNexis. I relied on the fact that if I needed a book that Wilson Library or Andersen Library didn’t have, I could order it free of charge through Inter-Library Loan. And a surprising number of assigned readings had the familiar Modern History Sourcebook URL—a huge online database of primary history—free to all.
That the New York Timeswas also free to online users made perfect sense. The Internet offered free access to dictionaries and encyclopedias—why not newspapers? Why should information and news be reduced to a buyable, sellable product? What did subscription charges and advertising revenue have to do with reporting the news anyway?
Of course, the answer is quite a lot, especially to an industry in crisis. What’s more, it seems the free content party may be coming to an end. Last week, the Los Angeles Timesannounced that it was erecting a paywall for its online edition, thereby joining the litany of other sources like the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and the dozens of local papers owned by Gannett that have already done so. Similarly, broadcasters plan to stream NCAA March Madness tournaments and analysis behind a paywall of their own.
The NYT window itself lasted just over three years. Last year—amidst critical reporting from the Arab Spring, no less—the paper announced the return of its pesky paywall, and that was the beginning of the end. But if smaller publications breathed a sigh of relief, the respite probably didn’t last.
For a struggling paper or magazine, the less consumers expect to get free content, the better. Newspapers have been hemorrhaging revenue since the late nineties, and it’s difficult to see how a traditional business model can respond to online content. But at the same time, many have become dependent on the very media that so threaten their existence.
Take bloggers. As Kevin Drum argues in Mother Jones, bloggers, like himself, rely on an enormous pool of free online content to glean and contextualize information. It’s a role created by a media landscape that couldn’t possibly be replicated any other way. But it’s also a role that many newspapers and print magazines have embraced, and now may need to preserve.
Even more traditional journalistic tasks are beholden to the Internet. When I was an intern at In These Times back in 2010, we relied on free online content for fact-checking. That academic journals, government databases, and newspapers were digitally at our fingertips made checking accuracy much more efficient and organized. And while In These Times and countless other publications certainly conducted fact-checking before the Internet came around, many of them also had larger staffs then—even whole fact-checking positions. Today, smaller staffs and fewer resources mean efficiency is at a premium, which again makes online all the more essential.
Similarly, the Internet’s rise has enabled and perhaps compelled the explosion in freelance and contract labor in journalism and publishing (not to mention those tricky unpaid internships). And now, proofing, copyediting, and fact-checking are even being outsourced from struggling newsrooms to foreign countries, reports Megan Tady of FAIR Extra.
“A new era of journalism is certainly upon us, where a newspaper simply can’t be successful without an online presence,” she writes. “Many journalists like to think that they’re irreplaceable, while media companies are beginning to think that they’re outsourceable.” In more ways than one, the rise of the Internet is responsible for this crisis, but ironically, the Internet is also necessary for the freelance editing and outsourcing that a lot of papers rely on to stay alive.
And of course, it wasn’t always about survival. The costs of doing business in the new era are wreaking havoc on what used to be essential for good journalism, writes former Inquirer reporter Chris Satullo. “Your real worry should not be whether newspapers survive,” he argues. “What you should worry about is the future of newsrooms, those buzzing, resourceful dens of collaboration that make everyone who works in them better than they could be alone.”
Newspapers and magazines do have choices, but not many. If more of the big names rebuild their paywalls it may take some of the pressure off smaller and more local publications to provide free content. The alternatives—relying on unpaid labor, scattering newsrooms across the country and overseas, dumping foreign correspondents and bureaus—are not pleasant. The trouble is no one wants to be first to take the plunge. When the London Times imposed a paywall in 2010, they lost ninety percent of their online readership in less than three weeks, apparently proving the theory that online users will simply go somewhere else to avoid paying.
But so far, the New York Times’ model has fared much better (even as some readers beat the system), and this is good news for smaller sources. If consumers can get over their abrasion to paying for news, and if news sources can get over their fear of asking for it, the Internet may be a far less threatening place for journalism.
Sources: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Gannett, All Things Digital, Mother Jones, FAIR Extra, Newsworks, PBS, American Journalism Review, The Guardian, Columbia Journalism Review, Wired.
Image by SusanLesch, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 05, 2011 4:28 PM
As more of our lives appear online, it’s only natural that our deaths will soon unfold there, too. Utne Reader wrote about the online afterlife in the March-April issue, and in “Digital Death” Chris Faraone covers the topic for the Colorado Springs Independent. “I don’t care about my body,” he writes. “It’s my virtual soul that I wish to preserve.”
As Faraone notes, the so-called digital death industry is booming with tribute sites, data banks, will-writing pages, and more. In case he should depart the analog world unexpectedly, Faraone decides get his online personal affairs in order with the help of Entrustet, a digital estate planning site whose tagline is: “Decide how you’ll be remembered. Pass on the keys to your digital legacy.” Faraone writes:
The first thing [they advised] me to do is “cloud count,” or take an inventory of every site and service I belong to. Aside from the basics—Twitter, YouTube, Gmail, Tumblr, Facebook, and an interminable MySpace—there are several other accounts that I want closed, or at least maintained, after I pass. There’s the eBay profile that I use to sell old comics for beer money, and the Adult Friend Finder account from my truly degenerate days. I also have a few WordPress blogs, SpringPad for my field notes, and online Bank of America access. After I die, my relatives can contact these companies directly, and follow procedures to get into my accounts.
Most appealing to me is the service If I Die, which allows you to write notes that will be delivered only if you kick the bucket. The website suggests several different kinds of messages:
A letter to a friend - to say something personal.
Simple instructions - whether or not to read your journal, what to do with your cat, where your documents are kept.
Passwords - how to log into your computer, how to access your address book.
An informal will - so your next of kin knows what to do with your stuff.
Sending heartfelt messages to grieving friends and family members after you’re gone—what a sublimely staggering concept. Then again, why wait? Compose your letters on If I Die, but deliver them while you’re still of this world and share the love. I always meant to tell Dr. Wilk what an impactful professor he was and Galactic Pizza how much joy they’ve brought to my life. . . .
Source: Colorado Springs Independent
Image by theaucitron, licensed under Creative Commons.
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.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009 5:01 PM
Amid news of a stepped-up Internet clampdown in China, we’ve learned that artist and blogger Ai Weiwei, whom Utne Reader called “China’s most radical dissident” in our recent international issue, has again provoked the ire of Chinese authorities. The Art Newspaper reports that Ai’s popular blog on Sina.com was yanked off the web last month, and several recent incidents indicate that he’s being closely watched.
It’s no secret that Ai is a thorn in the side of the regime, but the Art Newspaper implies that his most recent critique of the government may have hit an especially sensitive nerve:
Ai Weiwei has been running a campaign documenting the death of schoolchildren in the Sichuan earthquake of May 2008, alleging that the number of fatalities was due to local officials siphoning money from school building costs.
Ai has launched another blog at blog.aiweiwei.com, where he has promised to republish his investigations into the Sichuan disaster. Visit China Digital Times and China Geeks to find occasional translations of, and reports about, his blog entries.
Source: The Art Newspaper, China Digital Times, China Geeks
Image by Hafenbar, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, June 18, 2009 3:17 PM
is a digest of spoon-fed inspiration curated by our favorite editors, journalists, artists, and visionaries. Today's guest is Believer editor Andrew Leland.
I first used an internet search engine around 1994, when as a 13-year-old I had a dial-up Internet connection and my own home page, "Uncle Andy's Giggle Shack," which featured SNL- and Simpsons-derived jokes, done up in rudimentary HTML. This was pre-Google, of course, but once I'd gotten the hang of using Webcrawler or Lycos or whatever engine I was using, I began performing what I immediately recognized were impressionistic internet searches. This is to say: rather than searching for relatively utilitarian subjects such as "Tutankhamun," or "Matt Groening biography," I'd feed the Internet strings like "feast of sadness, whispered pumice vampire, jiggles milk" or whatever shards of language I happened to be "feeling" at the time (and as a 13-year-old, as now, these emotional, surrealistic phrases regularly surf into my consciousness—usually on a board carved from hormones).
And then I'd delight in seeing what the rowdy, teeming, brand-new World Wide Web could spit back. (In this sense, the experience resembled a psychedelic, doors-blown-off version of chatting with Eliza, the early "interactive" Freudian psychoanalysis bot.) Most of the hits my impressionistic searches returned would be pages, usually hosted by computer science departments at large research universities, that simply listed (for some arcane database-related reason) every word in Webster's. These pages were interesting enough (at least knowing they existed, and wondering why), but if I refined my search a little, down to just, say, "feast of sadness, whispered pumice," then real strange treasures would wash ashore. These usually came in the form of fan fiction (I recently discovered, for example, the wealth of online erotic fan fiction devoted to Xena: Warrior Princess), full texts of inscrutable books, and heated discussion boards for topics I'd never otherwise have the pleasure of running across—places where text accumulates in eccentric formations.
Bio: Andrew Leland is the managing editor of The Believer and founding editor of Uncle Andy's Giggle Shack, which we would link to if we could.
Monday, March 30, 2009 4:46 PM
It turns out there’s still a couple things humans can do that computers can’t—like decipher those online security checks: “squiggly, distorted letters that look like a cross between a Rorschach test and a four-year-old’s signature—a CAPTCHA, as computer scientists call them.” Computers also can’t decode scanned pages of antiquated texts with blurry, misaligned fonts, or outdated words. So a computer scientist from Guatemala, Luis von Ahn, transformed many of those seemingly useless CAPTCHAs into a fruitful endeavor.
The Walrus explains: “Now a growing number of websites, from e-commerce (Ticketmaster) to social networking (Facebook) to blogging (Wordpress), have implemented the precocious professor’s new tool, dubbed reCAPTCHA. If you’ve visited those sites, your squiggly-letter-reading ability has been harnessed for a massive project that aims to scan and make freely available every out-of-copyright book in the world, by deciphering words from old texts that have stumped scanning software.”
“The service is supplied free to any website that wants it, and in addition to helping decipher books scanned for the Internet Archive, reCAPTCHA has been recruited to assist in the digitization of the entire archive of the New York Times back to 1851…The pursuit of such public goods, von Ahn hopes, will deflect any resentment from his human scanners. ‘We could do other things, like digitizing cheques,’ he notes. ‘But banks already make enough money.’”
Source: The Walrus
Image by vlima.com licensed under Creative Commons
Sunday, December 28, 2008 11:43 AM
Further solidifying Google move towards total world dominance, Australia's newspaper the Age reports that scientists recently discovered hundreds of new species, including new birds, insects, and monkeys, using Google Earth.
The location of the find on Mount Mabu, Mozambique, was originally singled out for a possible conservation project, but researchers decided to take a closer look when they saw previously unexplored patches of vegetation. You can see the gorgeous photos on the Guardian website.
Image courtesy of
, licensed under
Monday, November 10, 2008 1:03 PM
When television broadcasting goes all-digital in February, a range of old TV frequencies known as “white space” will be up for grabs, and technology pioneers like Google’s Larry Page have been lobbying the FCC to dedicate that spectrum to free internet and other public communication.
But the National Association of Broadcasters, mobile phone companies, and other entities who stand to profit from private, pay-based communication have been fighting white space liberation.
Until last week, that is, when the FCC ruled to open white space to unlicensed use (pdf), scoring a huge victory for Page’s camp. This essentially means that online communication will be faster and available to more people, especially rural and low-income users. It will also likely result in cheaper offerings from internet, cable, and cell phone service providers as competition in those markets intensifies.
Jeff Jarvis outlines these and other benefits of public white space at his blog BuzzMachine. (“Note this historic moment,” he writes. “I’m praising the FCC.”) He argues that the internet is no longer a merely a privilege, but a right: “Access to the internet—and open, broadband internet that is neither censored nor filtered by government or business—should be seen, similarly, as a necessity and thus a right. Just as we judge nations by their literacy, we should now judge them by their connectedness.”
Jarvis also does a good job of explaining white space and its benefits in non-wonky terms, focusing on the ways it will benefit education, government, and society at large.
Image courtesy of rvaphotodude, licensed by Creative Commons.
Friday, November 07, 2008 3:37 PM
Want some help with your math homework, free of charge? Or maybe you need a refresher course without reenrolling in school. Open Culture points to a series of online video lectures on calculus by Princeton lecturer Adrian Banner, author of The Calculus Lifesaver: All the Tools You Need to Excel at Calculus.
Banner’s videos join the growing ranks of educational multimedia resources on the web, like the free audiobook site LibriVox and the online lectures via iTunes U. Once you've graduated beyond those, the Boston Globe suggests Fora.tv, Bigthink.com, Edge.org, and any one of the lectures from the Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conference.
Monday, November 03, 2008 11:50 AM
The new website Intent.com is like the Huffington Post of the metaphysical realm, offering an online repository of mindful living writing. Started by Mallika Chopra, an entrepreneur and Deepak Chopra’s daughter, the site’s brand represents an amorphous mélange of business motivation, self-help, and Eastern spirituality. The site breaks down into the squishy categories of Health, Relationships, Success, Balance, Causes, Planet, and Spirit.
As the cornerstone of Intent.com, bloggers state their intent (“To laugh out loud every day!”, “Not to over indulge in candy or booze tonight!”, “To recognize and share the presence of life’s magic”) and users can register to add their own intents or to affirm others.
The site isn’t simply an unmitigated orgy of loving-kindness, however. Yesterday, Deepak Chopar posted an overtly political video blog about John McCain entitled, “War Hero or War Criminal, Who Decides?” In fact, there’s a generous dose of political content, most of it pro-Obama and against California’s Prop-8. There are also the sorts of diverting anecdotal pieces that wouldn’t be out of place at Slate, Salon, or, well, HuffPo.
Thursday, October 16, 2008 12:15 PM
Every new communication method is marked by the technology's first message sent. Colin Barras at the New Scientist rounded up the first messages broadcast with various devices, including the 8,500-year-old Chinese tortoise shells (“woman … eye … window”), Samuel Morse’s “a patient waiter is no loser” telegram in 1838, and “Merry Christmas,” the first text message in 1992.
New Scientist invites readers to submit their predictions for the next communications revolution: “What will be the next communication medium to change the world? And what would your first, historic message be?” One submission will be chosen to win a six-month subscription to the magazine.
I’ll get the ball rolling with my submissions:
1) A banner towed by an airplane bearing a message in LOL speak: “Oh hai! Im up in ur airspace, decorating ur sky!”
2) Subliminal messages embedded in presidential debates: “Attention Joe the Plumber: You are being exploited as a talking point.”
3) Hundred-mile-high lettering etched into the moon’s surface with dynamite: “I Am Writing On the Moon with Dynamite.”
Image by Bill Bradford, licensed by Creative Commons.
Monday, September 08, 2008 11:41 AM
Information overload, data-security anxiety, and a feeling of queasiness about our culture’s proliferation of nonsense are inextricable parts of the human condition in the Google Age, according to Geert Lovink writing for Eurozine.
The impact of the modern “society of the query,” according to Lovnik, has caused people to forget the “art of asking the right question.” If we don’t know what information we’re looking for, we’ll never find it. No search engine (now matter how advanced) is going to help us find the right questions.
The Google society has also created an overwhelming accumulation of “data trash.” The problem is that if we’re too overwhelmed by data, we’ll have no time for serendipity—the equally lost art of stumbling upon good ideas. Lovnik summarizes his points, writing:
For the time being we will remain obsessed with the diminishing quality of the answers to our queries – and not with the underlying problem, namely the poor quality of our education and the diminishing ability to think in a critical way…What is necessary is a reappropriation of time. At the moment there is simply not enough of it to stroll around like a flaneur. … Stop searching. Start questioning. Rather than trying to defend ourselves against ‘information glut,’ we can approach this situation creatively as the opportunity to invent new forms appropriate for our information-rich world.
(Thanks, 3 Quarks Daily.)
Image by Juancho, licensed by Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 12:51 PM
Twitter isn't the only new website that's changing the party conventions. This week’s gala also has the distinction of being the first Demcoratic National Convention of the YouTube era. Throngs of delegates, protestors, and journalists (professional or otherwise), armed with video cameras, are descending on Denver and swarming the Pepsi Center in hopes of capturing a politician’s gaffe, a protestor’s stunt, or a police officer’s unwarranted action.
The footage is already piling up: There's a Fox News crew accosted by angry protestors, a clash between anti- and pro-abortion rights advocates, and disgruntled protestors being corralled by police (though the inclusion of the word “RIOT” in the clip’s title might be overselling the scuffle). There’s also an interview with Hillary Clinton supporters—not quite as formidable as the media would have us believe—reasoning that their candidate still has a chance of clinching the nomination.
Inside the convention itself, small gatherings and speeches that might get passed over by national networks are being captured by the video sharing site. These include a standout speech by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) at a breakfast meeting. Also inside the walls of the convention center, a video meme is growing in strength as conventioneers shoot “I Nominate Barack Obama Because…” clips at the YouTube booth in the lobby.
For busy people who missed the live television broadcasts, YouTube is also a good place to find clips from network coverage of the convention, such as Ted Kennedy’s opening-night speech. Though interested viewers should watch these clips now, since they clearly violate copyright laws.
Image courtesy of jonsson, licensed by Creative Commons.
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Democratic National Convention, click here.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008 12:54 PM
Because the Internet inspires encyclopedic research and archiving, it’s no surprise that online repositories like Wikipedia and Usenet have rendered no nugget of knowledge too arcane to be exhaustively catalogued by geeks in every field. This is especially true of music, where mp3s and file-sharing networks have allowed songs and albums to be stored and traded by collectors and connoisseurs.
Now some enterprising music archivists have created the Whitburn Project, an astoundingly ambitious endeavor 10 years in the making whose aim is nothing less than the total documentation of every popular song since the 1890s. It’s more than just a listing of pop charts—release date, label, chart position, duration, etc.—all arrayed in a huge 22-megabyte Excel spreadsheet. It’s also a Usenet-based audio archive collecting audio files of every song. That’s several illegal terabytes of more than 37,000 mp3s.
The value of this information to music critics and scholars is limited only by their imaginations. Andy Baio, who wrote about the Whitburn Project on his blog, published a fun analysis of one-hit wonders and chart longevity based on the data, and made a graph showing how the average length of a pop song has fluctuated over the decades. Meanwhile, the video blog Grabb.it has performed the valuable service of reminding those of us in the MTV Generation what videos we were watching instead of the news when, for example, the Challenger exploded.
This isn’t the first project of its kind (though it's far and away the most audacious). There’s the fun little site that tells you what song was No. 1 on the day you were born. (I’m not sure what cosmic significance there is to mine, which happens to be “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band.) Incomplete release data is available on Wikipedia’s Year in Music pages. And Billboard, which owns the rights to chart data, makes it available to the public on a very limited basis, with full charts accessible for a fee.
Which raises the question of legality: The Whitburn Project is breaking copyright laws by making proprietary Billboard chart data available without permission. (This is why the aforementioned blogs, and now this one, won’t post actual links to the project.) But it’s all easily available via Usenet (the pertinent newsgroups are listed in WFMU’s blog entry), so music geeks—and I mean that in the most flattering sense possible, being one myself—should check out this staggering mass of data while it’s still available.
Image by stevecadman, licensed by Creative Commons.
Friday, June 20, 2008 3:16 PM
In light of US Cellular’s new policy of email-free Fridays, reported by NPR, the tech/productivity blog Lifehacker asked its readers if they could forego email for one day each week. Since the site’s readers are undoubtedly among the most connected people on the planet, most of the answers in the comments section fall somewhere between “Only with great difficulty,” to “No. I am addicted.” These individual accounts square nicely with societal trends: the past decade has seen Internet addiction emerge as an acknowledged problem, with the establishment of recovery programs and treatment centers.
I’m pretty sure I’m not an addict (then again, denial is one symptom of addiction … ) but I do know that going email-free for a whole day would be a struggle. Email and other online communication has a way of flooding my waking hours until I’m unable to sit still with a book or magazine—or even another live human being—for more than a few minutes before wondering if I have any new messages.
Testimonials from self-described email addicts are available on the tech website ClickZ, including some suggestions for breaking the habit. Not surprisingly, the first step is getting the hell away from your computer and, if you have an email-enabled cellphone or PDA, leaving it behind while you go somewhere else—ideally, into the great outdoors. That's easier said than done, and only the half the battle: the other half is managing to enjoy this email-free time without obsessing over the news, assignments, requests, and social communication piling up in your absence.
, licensed by
Tuesday, April 15, 2008 2:20 PM
The Dog Poop Girl got famous when her dog pooped on the subway and she neglected to clean it up. The Star Wars Kid made it big after he filmed himself reenacting a light saber fight from the movie Star Wars. These normally mundane activities would have been quickly forgotten, were it not for the promotional power of the internet. After a cell phone photo of the Dog Poop Girl and a video of the Star Wars Kid were found on the web, these two people’s places in pop culture lore were enshrined forever.
Using examples like these, Daniel Solove, an associate professor at the George Washington University Law School, explores the balance between the right to privacy and the freedom of speech in his new book The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet. After reviewing his book for the January-February issue of Utne Reader had a few questions I wanted to ask him. To read the entire book for free, click here, and listen to the podcast by clicking on the "Listen Here" link below.
The Future of Privacy: Listen Here
Monday, April 14, 2008 9:38 AM
The internet has a problem. In fact, it has many problems. Media reformers fear an encroaching corporate takeover, temperance advocates lament the abundance of pornography, and my computer has spyware. In the latest issue of the Boston Review, Jonathan Zittrain writes that spam, spyware, and other kinds of computer malware could get so bad that consumers will give up the “generative” qualities that made the internet great. Instead of adaptable and corruptible personal computers—able to generate new applications, both good and bad—Zittrain writes that the future of the internet could be more closed, less adaptable, and more like a kitchen appliance than a tool for creation.
As evidence of this locked-down future, Zittrain, the author of the newly released book The Future of the Internet, cites a very cool but very inadaptable gadget: the iPhone. Users can’t download new applications to the iPhone without Apple’s approval. In fact, if people try to change the iPhone too much, Apple has threatened to turn their phones into $400 paperweights dubbed the “iBrick.” The wild popularity of the iPhone, according to Zittrain, proves that consumers want more locked-down products to avoid the scary world of spammers and bad code.
The problem with this argument is that it’s wrong. Zittrain uses hyperbole and bad psychology to exaggerate the threat posed by spam. In a response to Zittrain’s essay, also in the Boston Review, Richard Stallman cites the fact that 25 percent of iPhones have been altered and unlocked. That means at least one fourth of iPhone users have bought the product in spite of how locked down it is, not because of it.
Hidden inside Zittrain’s essay lies one idea that’s nothing short of dangerous: He suggests turning over greater control to AT&T, Verizon, and other telecommunications companies. He writes, “Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can also reasonably be asked or required to help” in the fight against spam. That would mean turning over more control to the telecom companies, and allowing them to discriminate between good users and bad users. If history is any guide, ISPs don’t always use their power and control for the good of the internet.
The argument for turning over control to the ISPs sounds a lot like the Bush Administration’s argument for the “War on Terror”: There are bad people out to get you, so you should trust the people in charge. Zittrain uses the word “generative” like many use “freedom”: the freedom to create new programs and new code. The spammers want to take away your freedom, so let the ISPs protect you.
Zittrain even advocates a nightmare scenario for media reform advocates. He writes, “code might be divided into first- and second-class status, with second-class, unapproved software allowed to perform only certain minimal tasks on the machine.” This sounds suspiciously like the “tiered internet” many fear is the end of net neutrality.
“Bad code is an inevitable side effect of generativity,” Zittrain writes. And on this note, he’s right. Spam and malware will always be with us, just as bad people will always want to do bad things. The solution, however, shouldn’t involve turning over control to Verizon and AT&T. Spyware, spam, and malware need to be dealt with. Just leave the telecoms out.
Image adapted from photos by Dylan Oliphant and David Monniaux, licensed under Creative Commons.
Do you agree? Disagree? Discuss this story in the Utne Salons.
Friday, February 29, 2008 5:02 PM
At one point in the adult entertainment industry’s sordid history, the Internet was considered the greatest thing since the videocassette. The first time some enterprising entrepreneur uploaded a risqué photo must have been like the moment when two lovers with equally shady pasts finally met and, well, fell in love. Now, some ick-flick traders are saying the Internet and DIY porn are killing the industry, according to an article in Halifax, Nova Scotia alternative weekly the Coast. And some of their claims sound eerily similar to those coming out of the print media sector. Amateur porn may be the adult biz’s version of blogging and citizen journalism, and studio-produced porn may go the way of the newspaper, some old-school porn producers fear. The fact that the newspaper hasn’t yet gone the way of the newspaper shouldn’t affect these doomsday predictions. Not in an industry where Paris Hilton can “accidentally” become one of its most successful practitioners.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 10:09 AM
Bloggers and Internet news-digesters write so extensively about the success of online media—and potential for more success, and capability to accomplish blistering successification—that it’s more than I can reasonably be expected to appreciate. Occasionally, I proclaim that I’ll stop reading anything online altogether and declare, with fist-swirling certainty: “If I see one more blog, I’m going to blog all over my blog.” This probably just reinforces the notion that I’ve read too much online media analysis. (Also, I’m totally blogging about blogging on this blog right now, man. I must be approaching that point of cessation.)
And then I exhale. Writing for the Times Online, Jonathan Weber breaks down the still-vibrant profitability of print media vis-à-vis Internet media. As he reports, local magazines and newspapers—i.e., those in “Anytown, USA”—still generate more ad revenue than their online homes because local print sources remain more visible and desirable to their constituent markets. Simply put, ad revenue is still persistently print-oriented.
Weber also notes that newspapers have not, in general, become unprofitable. Rather, they are no longer “extremely profitable,” as they were following fifty years’ worth of media consolidation that left U.S. metropolitan areas large and small with one newspaper instead of three or four. Weber’s own online magazine, NewWest.Net, is set to launch as a print venture in “a few weeks,” and he anticipates that it will out-earn the website for at least the next two or three years.
By the time online-media revenue catches up to print, things will have changed considerably: I'm thinking we’ll all be curled up in homes constructed with recycled newspaper in updated Hoovervilles, synchronizing our cerebral implants as our bodies absorb the all-encompassing contents of the Internet.
Image by Richard Saunders, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, January 21, 2008 9:31 AM
Before the Internet, millions of office workers missed out on the luxury of playing the game Dolphin Olympics 2 on a quiet Thursday afternoon, instead coasting to the day's end in a fog of boredom. Before the Internet, conversations would fall into a confused silence when people should have been quoting interesting facts they’d gleaned from Neatorama, yet could not. But now that the Internet hovers over our every waking hour like a mildly benevolent elf, office employees can amuse themselves while pretending to work, friends can compete over who has memorized the more perfect morsel of knowledge, and our lives—if we can navigate the rich riches of the web well enough—are wholly satisfied. But the Internet is a sprawling place. You need some sort of a guide to all the weird stuff out there. Where could you find one of those?
At the Internet technology blog ReadWriteWeb, Marshall Kirkpatrick has posted a handy, customizable guide to finding weird stuff on the web. What you get at the end of the process—hopefully—is a single RSS feed of blogs that you’ll think are neat (in Kirkpatrick’s case, a collection of weird hunting blogs). And then you can compete with your friends over who knows the most facts about your favorite cat meme, just like the cool kids.
Photo by allspice1, licensed under Creative Commons.
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, January 08, 2008 10:03 AM
When future archeologists maneuver their space-chariots over the smoldering ruins of our long-dead cities, they will discover—like broken shards of pottery suggesting our fallen civilization—the Internet. What cultural icon will stand as testament to our generation’s lives? I think it will be something to do with cats.
Cats. The Internet really likes cats (or “kittehs,” as they’ve come to be known).
Internet denizens have come up with thousands of creative riffs on the primate’s simple appreciation for the feline: there’s the near-protean permutations of the humble lolcat, chatty cats and ceiling fan cats, and even cats in sinks. To honor the year in which the cat finally took over the world wide web, Neatorama has posted a roundup: The Year In Cats. The basic joke behind these “cat memes” is at first nearly impenetrable. But once you get it, you’ll be giggling to yourself for minutes, and your friends—whose inboxes you will soon flood with cute kitty pictures—will stop being your friends.
Photo by Rachel Pumroy.
Sunday, January 06, 2008 12:33 PM
With so much information available on the internet, many people stick to websites they agree with. Liberals tend to read liberal blogs, and conservatives read conservative ones. Techies interact with other techies, and artists with other artists. If you want to see the new Michael Moore movie, Amazon.com or Netflix can suggest dozens of other anti-war, anti-corporate films. People can spend a lifetime surfing the web, and never have to confront a dissenting point of view.
This kind of filtering and self-selecting isn’t new, but it’s getting more extreme. “As a result of the Internet,” University of Chicago professor Cass R. Sunstein writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education, “we live increasingly in an era of enclaves and niches — much of it voluntary, much of it produced by those who think they know, and often do know, what we're likely to like.” These niches reinforce similar points of view, creating what Sunstein calls “enclave extremism.”
Extremism isn’t always a bad thing, according to Sunstein. Abolitionists and civil-rights activists were extremists in their time. Problems arise when the reinforced point of view is wrong. Global-warming deniers can find plenty of “evidence” on the internet that environmentalism is a fraud. Sunstein writes that a lack of dissent can also lead to “mutual suspicion, unjustified rage, and social fragmentation” if left unchecked.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007 4:37 PM
Internet pornography featuring minors, a business reporter making secret payments, and... the New York Times? In 2005 the Times ran a front-page story exposing the hidden world of webcam porn artists. It followed one boy who, with a webcam in his bedroom, became an underage internet porn star before spiraling into a morass of drug abuse and depravity. In New York Magazine, David France uncovers the sordid story behind this story. Controversy buzzes over the question of why Kurt Eichenwald, the Times reporter who broke the story, paid Berry up to $2,000 while posing as a fan—without telling his editors. Eichenwald has since left the Times, and feels hounded both by marauding journalists and a secret, shadowy gang of electronically-connected pedophiles. Check out the whole story and its tawdry details.
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