Professor Says Bloggers Are Losers

He won’t make many MySpace friends with talk like this!

Bloggers are living in a world where emotions may be real but everything else is make-believe, says a University of Calgary professor in a new book.

[…] Michael Keren, who has written "Blogosphere: The New Political Arena," suggests individuals who bare their souls in blogs are isolated and lonely, living in a virtual reality instead of forming real relationships or helping to change the world.

"Bloggers think of themselves as rebels against mainstream society,
but that rebellion is mostly confined to cyberspace, which makes
blogging as melancholic and illusionary as Don Quixote tilting at
windmills," the author says. […]

"In this world of blogging, which the whole world can read, you have
a personal expectation about a readership that’s just not there for the
millions of bloggers who are writing their personal feelings." […]

"Many of us end up like Father McKenzie in the ‘Eleanor Rigby’ Beatles
song, who is writing a sermon that no one is going to hear," he
suggests. "Some of us are going to be embraced by the mainstream media,
but the majority of us remain in the dark, remain in the loneliness."

Link: Author laments lonely life of bloggers.

As a critic of technology and self-loathing blogger, I’m inclined to agree.  But it sounds like he’s painting with too broad a stroke, judging by this article anyway.  I absolutely love the creepy book cover, though.

Latest in Future Schlock: Discovery’s 2057

I caught a few minutes of the Discovery Channel’s new techno docu-drama "2057" the other day.  It’s quite an achievement in the future schlock genre.  Flying cars!  Wired clothing! ("the doctor is in your shirt!")  Urine-analyzing toilets!

A memorable moment was when the flying ambulance arrived to treat the guy who had just tripped over a Roomba and fallen out a three story window (to prove a point that such a fall would kill you today, but not in our glorious future).  Before treating him, a paramedic consults her screen which chirps "Platinum Class verified!"  Presumably they’d just fly off if he wasn’t properly insured.  Thank the gods!  Flying cars is one thing, but universal health insurance in fifty years?  That’s just not believable.

The show’s main web page locks up my browser (I guess I need to update to Firefox 2057), but I could get to the about page, 2057: About the Show: Discovery Channel, and here’s an excerpt of their description of the show:

What would you see and experience if the clocks rolled forward 50 years? In a unique blend of drama and science, this three-part series shows you the world of tomorrow. Will we have flying cars? Will advances in medicine help us stay young forever? What about "printing" custom-made vital organs? What will our cities look like? What will tomorrow’s wars be about? Will we have robots helping around the house? Will solar power be the new oil?

Supported by the world’s leading scientists and research institutes, we embark on a quest to answer some of society’s most fundamental questions and reveal the dramas of tomorrow’s world along the way. State-of-the-art computer graphics in combination with a dynamic story line will create a world usually only seen in feature films, but with the accuracy and relevance of a documentary. This series is all about opening the window of our future based on science fact, not science fiction.

Glasses To Prevent You From Sleeping

You’ve probably seen these on other blogs already: new eyeglasses that alert you if you’re falling asleep.  Study aid or new torture device?

Designed to assist those cramming for exams or going on a long drive, they work by detecting what angle the bespectacled user’s head is at. If the head drops below a certain level, a little motor kicks-off to vibrate the earpiece and no doubt scare the crap out of whoever is wearing them. The glasses can be set to go off at one of four levels of head-droop.

Link: Plastic Bamboo : Vision Optic MyDo Bururu sleep warning glasses.

Note that one of the suggested uses is while driving… yikes.

Walter Kirn’s The Unbinding

I picked up a copy of Walter Kirn’s new short novel
The Unbinding
yesterday.  The premise is interesting:

Kent Selkirk is an operator at AidSat, an omni-present subscriber
service ready to answer, solve, and assist with the client’s every
problem. Through the AidSat network Kent has a wealth of information at
his fingertips–information he can use to monitor subscribers’ vital
signs, information he can use to track their locations, information he
can use to insinuate himself into their very lives.

The form is interesting as well.  Kirn wrote and published the book in installments for Slate last year (still available here).  There are links throughout the text to images, videos, and sites on the web.  For the print version, the link words are printed in boldface and the reader is asked to go to Kirn’s website to follow them.

I doubt I’ll actually stop reading to look up the links.  I usually don’t like footnotes in fiction either (unless they’re done well and contribute a lot — Nicholson Baker yes, David Foster Wallace not so much).

Goodbye Gutenberg: Journalism in the Digital Era

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard has published a special issue of their journal, Nieman Reports, called "Goodbye Gutenberg".  The issue has articles about newspapers and journalism in the digital era and is available online.  From the introduction:

Journalism is on a fast-paced, transformative
journey, its destination still unknown. That the Web and other media
technologies are affecting mightily the practice of journalism is
beyond dispute. Less clear is any shared vision of what the future
holds. Newsrooms are being hollowed out, and editors who resist such
cutbacks are losing their jobs. Digital video cameras and tape
recorders replace reporters’ notebooks as newspapers—and other news
organizations—train staff in multimedia storytelling.
In this issue, words about journalists’ experiences in the digital era transport our vision forward,
while our eye takes us on a visual voyage back to a time when
newspapers wove communities together.

Link: Nieman Reports – Winter 2006.

(via Guardian tech blog.)

Today is Family Literacy Day

In Canada, anyway:

Created by ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation in 1999, ABC CANADA Family Literacy Day (FLD) is a national initiative that promotes the importance of reading and learning together as a family. Every year, on January 27, families and communities across Canada celebrate this special day at literacy-themed events coordinated by literacy organizations, schools and libraries.

Link: ABC CANADA Family Literacy Day.

We don’t have kids, but I’m encouraging the cats to put away their video iPods for a few minutes and come read with us.

iPhone to come with free iCancer

Okay, maybe that title is a bit alarmist, but earlier this week there was more news of a possible link between long-term cellphone use and brain cancer:

A large-scale study found that those who had regularly used mobiles for longer than 10 years were almost 40 per cent more likely to develop nervous system tumours called gliomas near to where they hold their phones.

The new research, to be published later this year in the International Journal of Cancer, is the second study to suggest increased risks of specific types of brain tumours in regions close to where mobile phone emissions enter the head.

However, a number of other studies have found no increased health risks associated with mobile phone use.

Prof Lawrie Challis, the chairman of the government-funded Mobile Telecommunications Health Research (MTHR) programme, said last week that most research had shown that mobiles were safe in the short term but that there was a "hint of something" for longer-term users.

Link: Telegraph | News | Mobile phone use ‘linked to tumour’.

Of course, just recently there was another study in the news and this one claimed to show that there was no link.  More studies need to be done, and the fact remains that cellphones haven’t been around long enough for anyone to be able to say for sure how dangerous they are.

Bush’s Baby Einstein Gaffe (Slate)

Timothy Noah takes issue with Bush’s state of the union shout-out to the creator of the Baby Einstein videos.  Excerpt:

What is Aigner-Clark’s achievement? She got rich marketing videos to infants. No one told the president, I presume, that this profit-making scheme ignores advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under 2 years of age shouldn’t watch TV. One recent study went so far as to suggest, plausibly, that too much TV at so early an age can be a risk factor for autism. […]

Baby Einstein is part of what Alissa Quart, in an August 2006 piece in the Atlantic ("Extreme Parenting"), called the Baby Genius Edutainment Complex, an industry that preys on the status anxiety of neurotic parents who, until Aigner-Clark and others told them otherwise, didn’t sweat the meritocratic rat race until it was time to place their pint-sized strivers in preschool. That changed in the mid-1990s, when Don Campbell, extrapolating wildly from earlier research involving college students that, Quart writes, has never been duplicated, trademarked the slogan "Mozart effect" and used it to market classical-music CDs for infants. Aigner-Clark followed suit with her Baby Einstein videos in 1997.

"Essentially," Harvard Medical School psychologist Susan Lynn told the Chicago Tribune "Media Mom" (and occasional Slate contributor) Nell Minow in December 2005,

"the baby video industry is a scam. There’s no evidence that the videos are educational for babies, and a review of the research on babies and videos concludes that while older babies can imitate simple actions from a video they’ve seen several times, they learn much more rapidly from real life."

Link: Bush’s Baby Einstein gaffe. – By Timothy Noah – Slate Magazine.

Bush’s Nuclear Power Propaganda

George Bush said in the state of the union address Tuesday:

It’s in our vital interest to diversify America’s energy supply — the way forward is through technology. We must continue changing the way America generates electric power, by even greater use of clean coal technology, solar and wind energy, and clean, safe nuclear power.

The White House energy policy web page calls it "clean, safe, climate-friendly nuclear energy."

A contrary view from Helen Caldicott in her book Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (p. xi):

When nuclear proponents say that nuclear power can be used to reduce the United States’s insatiable reliance on foreign oil, they are simply wrong.  Oil and its by-product gasoline are used to fuel the internal combustion engines in automobiles and trucks.  Oil is also used to head buildings.  But oil does not power the electric grid.  The grid, which is used to power electric lights, computers, VCRs, fans, hair dryers, stoves, refrigerators, air conditioners, and for industrial needs, is powered primarily through the burning of coal, other fossil fuels, and currently, through nuclear power.  (Oil does generate an infinitesimal amount of electricity — 2% in the United States.)