Nerds Really Do Rule

February 23, 2009

For some participants in the course, Media, Politics, and Power, the readings are simply reviews or perhaps even outdated.  But for someone like me, each page is a new insight and new understanding.  Back in the year 2000, I was dragged kicking and screaming from my trusty selectric-typewriter into word processing.   Shortly thereafter I became email literate.  Then over the next couple of years, I began to realize the wealth of knowledge available to me via the “search world.”   Nothing remarkable there except  the realization—through reading  the first chapters of book:  “The Search”—that those user-friendly search tools were actually quite new and evolving to a significant degree about the same time my on-line/internet learning curve was evolving.    In other words:  I had absolutely no idea that these search capabilities were quite new to the general internet user.  I just assumed they’d been around for years and years.

Learning the history of search is obviously necessary to understanding what the future might hold.  The basics of search:  1) “they must crawl 2) “they must index” 3) “they must serve results”  seem quite straight forward and pretty cool.  But the ability to scale to the size and continued growth of the Web seems absolutely overwhelming to me.  I can get my brain around mountains of books in a library and a way to catalog and index them for general use (Dewey Decimal system, etc.).  But the ability to send out little “info robots” to gather up information in literally every corner of the world and “catalog” it and THEN put it in a format that allows me, through keyboarding a few words or a phrase, to bring it onto my computer screen—Wow, that is astounding.  I don’t know what to think of Chapter one’s inference that artificial intelligence could realistically evolve out of this technology.  The possibility of search becoming “self-aware” and capable of “watching you as you interact with it” seems too sci-fi to me.  But what do I know…I just threw away my typewriter a few years ago!

 In addition, the term “database of intentions” does conjure up all sorts of uses of this information—both for good and ill.  One that immediately comes to mind in the “ill” category is the ability of a search engine and its handlers to censor material that they disapprove of.  It appears that it would be quite easy for a Google or a Yahoo to control the dialogue on any given topic.  You don’t like a particular political persuasion or ideology; you just make sure that material doesn’t see the light of day through the programming of rankings, etc.  Clearly I don’t have more than about a 2-year old’s grasp on this technology, but my guess is that censorship could be accomplished.  Then when I consider that market tendency is toward narrowing of the field in any type of business endeavor, having just one entity controlling “search” makes my concern on censorship seem even more valid.

I apologize for not having any new insights or connections that show a deep understanding of the on-line world.  I’m just in the stage of learning about all of this and being incredibly impressed by the brainpower of the developers of these technologies.    Nerds really do rule.


What Do I Have to Fear?

February 14, 2009

Pirating is bad; I get it.  At the time of the Napster dust up, like most everyone else, I was downloading some songs and sharing them with friends by using my brand new CD burner.  I even justified it for awhile with the weak rationale:  Hey, libraries loan copyrighted material to their “friends.”   What’s the difference?  I’m not selling CDs.  My conscience (and fear of being caught) got the better of me and I quit.


After reading through Chapters 10-12 of Dan Gillmore’s “We the Media,” my knees found a new reason to shake.  “You mean I could be SUED for something I write and publish on a blog?”  I thought the only people who paid any attention to words like slander and libel were wayward politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and $500-an-hour attorneys. I haven’t a clue what legally constitutes libel or slander.  Here’s a definition for all of the other naïve and uninformed people in the world:


Defamation is the issuance of a false statement about another person, which causes that person to suffer harm. Slander involves the making of defamatory statements by a transitory (non-fixed) representation, usually an oral (spoken) representation. Libel involves the making of defamatory statements in a printed or fixed medium, such as a magazine or newspaper.” 

When asked:  Can I Be Sued for Something I Put on the Internet?” the Media, Law and Research Center is quick to point out: 

“Yes.  The laws regarding defamation apply to Internet as they do to more traditional media.  However, federal law protects Internet service providers (ISPs) and other interactive computer services from many lawsuits.” 

I haven’t had time to digest all of the implications of this and evaluate my internet behavior accordingly, but it appears that our mothers were right:   we really do have to watch our mouths.  I plan to do some more homework on this to identify where First Amendment rights and laws regarding slander, libel and defamation intersect.      


Since it is paranoia day, here’s another topic that caught my eye.  The issue of the spectrum being “limitless” and the FCC being an unnecessary regulatory agency who appears to be focused on the wrong thing.  It brought to my mind the “Fairness Doctrine” and I wondered what that meant in terms of the internet.  Home work time.


There is a “fairness doctrine” mindset buried within the term “net neutrality.”  There have been a few voices raising the warning:


Former FCC Commissioner, Robert McDowell, had this to say last summer: 

The Fairness Doctrine has not been raised at the FCC, but the importance of this election is in part – has something to do with that…  So you know, this election, if it goes one way, we could see a re-imposition of the Fairness Doctrine. There is a discussion of it in Congress. I think it won’t be called the Fairness Doctrine by folks who are promoting it. I think it will be called something else and I think it’ll be intertwined into the net neutrality debate.”


Although I might savor the prospect of being required to post an equal amount of conservative material on their website and blog, but I’m smart enough to know that the flip side is that would have to post liberal material on their sites as well. 


Although both sides relish the prospect of their opposition being forced to put forth contrary ideas on their sites (or on the radio, or on the TV), it would come down to the party (or ideology) in control of the government making the determination as to what is “fair” or “neutral.”   I’m dismayed that seemingly intelligent people would actually believe that there could be a way to accomplish the goal of “fairness” or “net neutrality.”  By the way, who is going to police this thing?  Only someone currently in power, spurred by an agenda, would propose such a policy.  Want to talk about the death of Free Speech.  My knees are shaking again.



Crash Course in New Media

February 9, 2009

Yikes!  Reading this material was truly like “trying to drink from a fire hose” (sorry for the miserable Harvard cliché’).  For someone as uneducated and uninitiated in New Media and the digital world as I am, these chapters have given me a lot to think about.

Gillmor speaks of the myriad of ways that the former “audience” is being brought into the loop and what their contribution is going to mean.  I marvel at the chance to draw on the collective intellectual resources of the world, to transform political systems (or at the very least, the way politics are done), to transform journalism and traditional media, to transform civic involvement and provide ways for citizens to more effectively augment and aid government—for example, helping during times of crisis and maybe even helping to avoid crisis.   

As a promoter of citizen activism this quote provides some of the most encouraging thoughts:   “An audience that participates in the journalistic process is more demanding than passive consumers of news. But they may also feel empowered to make a difference. As a result, they feel as though they have a shared stake in the end result.”   As society has become more diffused, more cynical, and more disengaged, the digital world gives the opportunity to possibly reconnect and reverse the cycle.  Exciting stuff!

I note the urgency and the almost race-like quality of the efforts on the part of business, government, politics, journalists, etc.  all trying to stay ahead and utilize the tools that are evolving.  I might also mention my own personal sort of “panic” as I realize I’m so far behind in understanding what the tools are and how to use them.  There can never be a return to the traditional ways of doing business, politics, journalism, or even social networking.  I realize that is not a new thought for Nicco Mele, but the rest of us have been slow to get it. 

Gillmor also mentions the voyeuristic nature of social networking and blogging.   “It’s not a new world. We all have been able to create our own websites for years. This is just a content management system, verticalized for diary entries. That diary-like format has caught the attention of the voyeur in all of us.”   Hmmmm…  Is it voyeurism or a return to the conversations across the backyard fence?   Is it born of a desire to connect, understand and have some kind of meaningful interaction with others?  Or is it a desire to search for something scintillating or useful for self-serving purposes?    I do laugh when I read some people’s blogs; they often remind me of a perpetual family Christmas card newsletter—sometimes spiced up with political opinion.

Finally, Gillmor gives lots of examples of good weblogs.  He mentions Sheila Lennon’s Subterranean Homepage with lots of media-related topics and Earth911 for the greenie in all of us.  Not without mention is the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page blog which Gillmor calls a “classic.”  He goes on to say:  I don’t agree with much of the conservative doctrine he highlights, but he does it with great style.”   I have them all bookmarked. 

So here’s to voyeurism and blogging with great style!

Hello world!

February 4, 2009

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