About the Final Essay

I have been asked to remind everyone about what I’ll be looking for in the final essay.

It’s pretty straightforward- write 7-10 pages on something you love, and how you think it is or will be affected by the digital world. You may address the thing itself, or the culture that surrounds it. Preferably both, as they are somewhat inextricable in the end.

The easiest way to do this is probably to write down three to five things you are interested in — food trucks, concerts, hiking, literature, learning languages, fitness, religious enlightenment, cartoons — anything. Then sort out which stirs you the most, and seems like the best one to give an informed riff on.

What I’m looking for here is something like what I’m trying to do with the class itself – provide a mixture of context and theory, with real-world experiences of a topic.

Please email me if you want more information, or care to discuss all this, or just want to spitball some ideas.




News and Graphics

The second of the readings for tomorrow’s class talks about how Joseph Pulitzer amped up the common man’s taste for sensational news by great graphics, thanks in part to late 19th C printing technology.

With that in mind, check out this page from a Times story on video games.

“Is There Any Point In Collecting the Pictures

,,,If they will never be seen?”

An interesting column on the problem of too much breaking eyewitness news, from Saturday’s FT here

PS- Some of those “media manipulators” she mentions will be dropping through next week.

One implicit conclusion about that “we need more filters” argument, and the point about U.S. coverage of foreign countries versus European coverage of foreign countries – any filter we design is likely to have its own biases (that would be why it’s called a filter, I suppose.) It’s best to build one acknowledging that.

Interesting too that bloggers in the U.S. tend to be covering the same things as the mass media. Does this mean we’re a culture that wants to comment on the status quo, not make it go away?

Perspective on the Mohammed Video

Here is a thoughtful piece from the Atlantic online about the Mohammed video that has been a catalyst of so much violence.

(Which, by the way, really is unbearably stupid and tacky piece of film – if you don’t believe me, you probably haven’t checked it out. This is a link to the video. It looks like most of the budget went to fake beards and shoe polish on people’s faces. Kind of unbelievable that it should be seen by anyone as other than a pure piece of amateur drivel. One suspects it stands for something else in the Moslem viewers’ minds – resentment of cultural hegemony, or suspicion that this is how the West secretly feels, perhaps.)

The writer makes several excellent points, which I believe play into our themes of people appropriating communications technologies to their particular contexts. For one, the Muslim Brotherhood, and many others besides, seems unable to understand that an independently-made film with broad distribution could not in some way have the approval of the government.

Similarly, it is hard for them and others to see Google’s refusal to take it down as a support of a core Western value, free expression (several in the West dispute this, as well.) That the governance of the Internet should or should not be within the power of any particular state is a related issue.

There is an interesting line of argument at the end that I’m not sure about:
“Companies like Google, Facebook, and (to a lesser extent) Twitter, are political players now. They sponsor political events, take part in policymaking, host White House productions, and more. There are those who see, in all that interaction, the U.S. government and U.S.-based Internet companies forming one big, networked, mutually validating community. The Internet doesn’t quite seem the place apart it once did.”
While this is so, and these companies do influence U.S. policy, they also vex it, by universalizing supposedly “American” ideas about freedom of expression. It might equally be said that the Internet publishers are forcing a change on government, by taking to extremes of both geography and example their somewhat libertarian reading of U.S. values.

Thoughts on the Last Class?

I have mine that I’ll post, but I’d welcome yours.

One notable thing – both of those guys, who are very accomplished, are struggling to match the changes dictated by the technology to create effective stories. Some things turned out to be universal – solving puzzles, triumphing — while others, like building guilds of players, were particular to specific types of technology (like lots of bandwidth and a delivery device where the player could comfortably commit for several hours.)


Much of the newer stuff seemed like entertainment for a world of continuous partial attention, didn’t it?

Essential Reading

A member of Anonymous, barred from the Web, talks about life without the Internet for one year.


It reminds me of attending an AA testimony — he’s healthier, he’s a better person, and you can’t help noticing there’s a part of him that misses it.

Also, I read it online and found that towards the bottom of this whopping 8 paragraphs I was looking forward to clicking something else.


Your Blood Info: A Privacy Violation, or a Service to Humanity?

The other day I wrote something about all the biomedical sensors that will be in us and on us in the coming year or two. The companies making these clearly intend to keep copies of the data they gather as part of their business plan. And why not? If it is anonymous, should you be okay with this? Would you share this kind of information — your electrolytes, your brain functions — like you share pictures from the party, or your workout times?

You can read the story here,

I do not have a position on this one way or another. What strikes me is that we are pursuing this headlong, armed with the social and judicial habits of a time when things like this didn’t exist.

Besides Cheating Death, Tech Makes Brains Bigger

Or so says neuroscientist Christof Koch, in his recently-published “Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist.” There is a good writeup of it here.

Credit to the guy, he’s clear about his biases, writing about “my insistence that the universe has contrails of meaning that can be deciphered in the sky about us and deep within us.” It may, runs the counterargument, but then again it may not. If it does, it certainly raises some interesting questions about why it has meaning, and what force generated that meaning.

But where he takes a really big bite is here: “But complexification does not stop with individual self-awareness. It is ongoing and, indeed, speeding up. In today’s technologically sophisticated and intertwined societies, complexification is taking on a supraindividual, continent-spanning character. With the instant, worldwide communication afforded by cell phones, e-mail, and social networking, I foresee a time when humanity’s teeming billions and their computers will be interconnected in a vast matrix — a planetary Übermind. Provided mankind avoids Nightfall — a thermonuclear Armageddon or a complete environmental meltdown — there is no reason why this web of hypertrophied consciousness cannot spread to the planets and, ultimately, beyond the stellar night to the galaxy at large.”

Care to count the assumptions? Off the top of my head: That we can not just fully know, but meld with, other minds; that this can happen at scale, big scale; that this can be done through email and social networking; that this can be done via computers to create “a planetary Ubermind,” whatever that is; that this thing would be positive; that we should want it; that this should spread to other planets (the nicest of which, Mars, I’m sorry to say but based on the photos makes the most godforsaken patch of Earth look like paradise); and that, tra la la, we take it to the rest of the galaxy.

Just fyi, the Voyager spacecraft is leaving the heliopause, the furthest edge of our solar system. It was launched 35 years ago. I did the calculation — traveling at this rate, it should be as far out as our nearest star (not to say it’s going there, this is how long it will take) in about 620 years. The others are much farther away.

I’m such a killjoy.

The point is, it is impressive how far a new communications technology can spur our imagination to updated versions of mankind’s eternal yearnings for immortality and omniscience.


New Technology and Mystery


One of your class readings concerned Oliver Lodge, a renowned pioneer in radio physics who thought we would be able, with this new magic, to communicate with the dead.

Here’s another example of this that I found today – when Thomas Edison tried to measure spirits with technology.

By the way, this wasn’t limited to radio – some people thought that photography would be a good way to capture pixies.

Things like this make me wonder about the more extreme claims of The Singularity.

Arthur C. Clarke said that a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. So is our response to it.