Tuning Out Technology

From today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

For Leda Dederich, there came a point about a year ago when she realized
her life was overly shaped by technology. The manager of an Oakland-based
online consulting firm for nonprofit groups, Dederich was a leader in her
field, but she started feeling that high-tech culture was dramatically out of
balance  —  "like a combination of a hamster wheel and an echo chamber."

Dederich, 36, is one of a growing number of information technology users
and professionals who feel teched out. Gobsmacked by the information tsunami,
overwhelmed by the ever-growing tide of technology must-haves and convinced
that a matrix of communication instruments was insulating her from friends and
family, Dederich took a sabbatical six weeks ago.

"I felt like the only way for me to recalibrate was to stop completely,"
said Dederich, an e-mail user since 1991 and a high-tech professional since
1994. "It’s difficult to think outside the box when you’re always in it, and
the box is getting stronger and stronger."

Link: Tuning Out Technology.

Geoengineering for Fun and Profit

The ETC Group and the International Center for Technology Assessment have requested that the US EPA and the International Maritime Organization urgently investigate the activities of Planktos, a company that has said it will soon dump 100 tons of iron particles into the ocean near the Galapagos Islands as part of a controversial geoengineering scheme to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to offset global warming.  From the ETC/ICTA press release:

Planktos
Inc., a for-profit geoengineering company with offices in the U.S. and
Canada, announced that it will dump 100 tons of iron particles in the
Pacific Ocean west of the Galapagos islands – an act that critics
believe may violate national and international ocean protection laws,
and potentially cause serious damage to the ocean ecosystem.

Planktos
is in the business of selling “carbon credits” to individuals who want
to “offset” their personal climate change impact. The company claims
that iron particles dumped in the ocean will stimulate growth of
phytoplankton and draw carbon dioxide (a climate changing gas) out of
the atmosphere, a scheme that will allow the company to make money from
carbon trading.

Link: Dumping on Gaia.

I had heard of this idea and another like it — that we should pump sulfates into the atmosphere to reflect more of the sun’s rays away from the earth — but who knew that companies could go ahead with risky schemes like this without any sort of oversight?

The ETC press release includes links to other resources, including a recent article in Nature that says the iron/plankton experiment won’t work.

Three Books about the Future of Journalism

Todd Oppenheimer has a great article on this topic in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.  From the intro:

This dilemma  —  the slow death, seemingly by suicide, of a cultural
grandfather and its precarious replacement by an energetic, out-of-control
adolescent  —  is the subject of three timely new books: American Carnival:
Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media by Neil Henry (University of
California Press; 326 pages; $24.95), We’re All Journalists Now: The
Transformation of the Press and Reshaping of the Law in the Internet Age by
Scott Gant (Free Press; 240 pages; $26) and The Cult of the Amateur: How
Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture by Andrew Keen (228 pages; Doubleday;
$22.95).

Together, these books raise vital questions  —  and ignore others that
are just as central. Coincidentally, each book squats on a different corner of
the ideological triangle that has defined the debate over the future of news.
Keen takes one side, angrily lambasting today’s online "citizen journalists";
Gant takes the opposite corner, extolling these amateurs; and Henry takes the
middle corner floating gracefully above the  two others, and not just because
he has staked out the middle ground. In "American Carnival," by far the most
reasoned and well documented of these works, Henry struggles earnestly to
reconcile the fiery viewpoints Gant and Keen represent, along with the many
other impatient forces in today’s media revolution.

Link: Read all about it — but where exactly? Three books consider the current state of journalism and its future in a landscape dominated by the Internet.

Web 2.0 Backlash Frenzy

Scott Rosenberg has a good roundup of the players, including Andrew Keen, Nicholas Carr,  Michael Gorman of the ALA, and the Britannica folks.  Rosenberg also repeats a common argument:

Regardless of how you feel about all these issues, it’s hard to miss one meta-elephant in the room: The
members of this phalanx of Web 2.0 cynics have all chosen to deliver
their critiques via the very form that their rhetoric detests.
Keen promotes his book from his blog. Carr weaves his ideas on his blog. Gorman explains what’s wrong with the “Blog People,” where? On a blog hosted by Britannica.

What’s the thinking here: First join them, then beat them?

Link: The blog-dimmed tide is loosed!

It’s ironic, to be sure, but it doesn’t necessarily detract from their arguments.  (1) Keen and Carr have both published books — they wouldn’t be getting nearly as much attention if they were only blogging.  (2) I don’t think most of these critics are absolutely opposed to all amateurism on the web, but rather to the techno-enthusiast view that amateurism is all we need.  We all start as amateurs, but it only gets you so far.  The web’s low entry price is a great thing and I doubt that most critics of web 2.0 would deny that. 

TSA Joins the YouTube Generation

In response to a customer’s complaint on a blog, the Transportation Security Administration has posted security camera video on the web.  From the AP:

The Transportation Security
Administration is denying allegations that an airport screener seized a
toddler’s sippy cup and mistreated his mother, taking the unusual step
of posting security camera footage on its Web site.

The TSA said in a statement that the incident and the
videotape demonstrate that its "officers display professionalism and
concern for all passengers."

At issue is whether Monica Emmerson, a former Secret Service
officer, was improperly detained June 11 after she spilled water out of
her child’s sippy cup at Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

TSA has banned most fluids at airport security checkpoints
for nearly a year because of concern about possible liquid explosives.

Link: TSA Counters Sippy Cup Allegation (SFGate/AP)

The TSA posted the video on a page called MythBusters.  Here’s the original story at the "crowd powered media" site NowPublic: Nightmare at Reagan National Airport.  Mark Frauenfelder at BoingBoing has a play-by-play of the video.

So is the TSA being run by teenagers now?  Is this really a professional way to respond to a passenger’s concern, by shaming the person in public on the web?  Whether the woman’s story is accurate (and there’s good reason to think it’s not) I still find the TSA’s methods here disturbing and unprofessional, as are some of the comments by the "citizen journalists" at NowPublic.

The fact that TSA will post security videos on a whim doesn’t give much confidence about the privacy of images from those new X-ray backscatter people scanners.  Perhaps soon the TSA will also be posting disputed X-rays on the web to shame passengers who lie or make too much fuss.

Lauren Weinstein Calls For Google Ombudsman

In the wake of Privacy International‘s controversial report that ranked Google lowest on internet privacy (reported lots of places: Google news search), privacy advocate Lauren Weinstein proposes that Google create an ombudsman position to communicate better with the public on this issue.  Excerpt from his blog:

The ombudsman would be a non-lawyer who would be assigned full-time
to act as an easily approachable and highly available front-line
interface between the public and Google operational/R&D teams. This
individual would be the primary initial contact for most queries from
individuals and organizations who have specific problems related to
Google content, privacy, or a range of other related policy matters.
This technically knowledgeable individual would be well-versed
regarding the relevant issues and ideally already possess a high degree
of trust within the larger Internet community.

Such an ombudsman, by fostering open lines of communications, could
immediately interact with members of the public and push relevant
matters quickly up the chain of command inside Google for action as
appropriate.

Link: Urgent call for a Google-at-large public ombudsman.

It’s a great idea.  Google may be correct to feel unfairly singled out by Privacy International (see Matt Cutts), but as the leader in this space they shouldn’t be surprised.  Instead of being defensive they should use the luxury of their position and resources to innovate on the privacy issue and set a higher standard, just as they did with search.

Update: Last night Google’s Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer announced a change to Google’s data retention policy in response to EU concerns: instead of their current plan to "anonymize our server logs after 18 to 24 months" they’ll now do it after 18 months.  Link: Official Google Blog: How Long Should Google Remember Searches?  I don’t know enough about this issue to say whether this really means anything.

How Uses Drive Technology

Historian and sociologist Steven Shapin has an excellent essay review of David Edgerton’s book The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900 in a recent New Yorker.  An excerpt:

The way we think about technology tends to elide the older things, even
though the texture of our lives would be unrecognizable without them.
And when we do consider technology in historical terms we customarily
see it as a driving force of progress: every so often, it seems, an
innovation—the steam engine, electricity, computers—brings a new age
into being. In “The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History
Since 1900” (Oxford; $26), David Edgerton, a well-known British
historian of modern military and industrial technology, offers a
vigorous assault on this narrative. He thinks that traditional ways of
understanding technology, technological change, and the role of
technology in our lives, have been severely distorted by what he calls
“the innovation-centric account” of technology. The book is a
provocative, concise, and elegant exercise in intellectual
Protestantism, enthusiastically nailing its iconoclastic theses on the
door of the Church of Technological Hype: no one is very good at
predicting technological futures; new and old technologies coexist; and
technological significance and technological novelty are rarely the
same—indeed, a given technology’s grip on our awareness is often in
inverse relationship to its significance in our lives. Above all,
Edgerton says that we are wrong to associate technology solely with
invention, and that we should think of it, rather, as evolving through
use. A “history of technology-in-use,” he writes, yields “a radically
different picture of technology, and indeed of invention and
innovation.”

Link: What Else Is New? How uses, not innovations, drive human technology,
via sivacracy.

An earlier post about this book: The Shock of the Old.

Aubrey de Grey at Google

Video of a talk Aubrey de Grey gave at Google this week: Prospects for extending healthy life — a lot.

It’s about an hour long.  I’ve only watched a bit of the intro and conclusions.  He concludes with a bizarre (and probably tasteless) analogy.  He compares his work to what the passengers on Flight 93 did by overtaking the hijackers in order to save people on the ground.  His final two slides are a picture of Todd Beamer and a slide that says "Let’s Roll."

Previous posts about Aubrey de Grey.