Lee Siegel’s Against the Machine

Critic Lee Siegel has a new book out later in January called Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob.  From the publisher’s description:

[…] a
ruthless challenge to the conventional wisdom about the most
consequential cultural development of our time: the Internet.

course the Internet is not one thing or another; if anything, its
boosters claim, the Web is everything at once. It’s become not only our
primary medium for communication and information but also the place we
go to shop, to play, to debate, to find love. Lee Siegel argues that
our ever-deepening immersion in life online doesn’t just reshape
the ordinary rhythms of our days; it also reshapes our minds and
culture, in ways with which we haven’t yet reckoned. The web and its
cultural correlatives and by-products—such as the dominance of reality
television and the rise of the “bourgeois bohemian”—have turned privacy
into performance, play into commerce, and confused “self-expression”
with art. And even as technology gurus ply their trade using the
language of freedom and democracy, we cede more and more control of our
freedom and individuality to the needs of the machine—that confluence
of business and technology whose boundaries now stretch to encompass
almost all human activity.

Siegel’s argument isn’t a Luddite intervention against the Internet
itself but rather a bracing appeal for us to contend with how it is transforming us all. Dazzlingly erudite, full of startlingly original insights, and buoyed by sharp wit, Against the Machine will force you to see our culture—for better and worse—in an entirely new way.

Amy Borkowsky’s “Cellibacy” Project

Comedian Amy Borkowsky is giving up her cell phone for 60 days, starting January first, and writing about it at her web site.  From the intro:

On January 1st, Borkowsky will attempt to ring in 2008 with a lot
less ringing, as she officially turns off her cell phone service for
sixty days, becoming America’s first advocate for moderation in cell
phone use. […]

“I’m doing this because I really question how being so dependent on my cell phone is affecting my quality of life.”

a lot of people, she wonders how it evolved from a smart thing to have
in an emergency to something convenient for outgoing calls but not
essential, to such a constant attachment to her ear that “my face
practically has a tan line in the shape of the VX8300.”

Link: Cellibacy, via textually.org.

New Money behind Immortality Enthusiasts

Conde Nast Portfolio has an article profiling Ray Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and some other rich people who — surprise! — want to live forever.  From the blurb:

The search for immortality—or at least the exponential extension of
human life—is hardly new. But now the hedge fund set has joined the
quest, and some big money and names are betting on a "cure" for aging.

Link: Never Say Die,

via Singularity Institute Blog.

Texting while driving kills

From the Boston Globe:

The man accused of killing a 13-year-old boy
in a hit-and-run in Taunton told police he was behind the wheel typing
a text message on his cellphone when he lost control of the sport
utility vehicle and hit what he thought was a mailbox, a prosecutor
said today in court.

Craig P. Bigos, 31, told investigators that he did not realize the
SUV had struck the boy on the bicycle until he drove back down Poole
Street hours later on his way to work at a restaurant, said Bristol
County prosecutor Aaron T. Strojny.

Link: Man texting while driving when he hit Taunton teen with SUV, prosecutor says

via Engadget.

Forstalling the New Eugenics

Richard Hayes of the Center for Genetics and Society reviews two new pro-human-enhancement books, Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice by Ronald Green and
Enhancing Evolution: The Ethical Case for Making Better People by John Harris.  It’s worth reading the article in full.  From his conclusion:

If we are to forestall a descent into a techno-eugenic human future of
the sort that so captivates Green, Harris and their colleagues, we need
to declare and build support for a compelling, majoritarian position on
the new human biotechnologies. We will need a bipartisan initiative
bringing together influential social and political leaders, enlightened
secular and religious conservatives, the morally serious communitarian
Left, religious leaders from many faiths rooted in the great traditions
of moral inquiry, scientists who appreciate the wider societal context
of their work, and biotech industry leaders who understand where
markets have their place and where they don’t. We will need
regulations, laws and treaties at domestic and international levels
that preclude dangerous applications of the new human biotechnologies
in order that the many benign and beneficent applications can be
developed in good faith and full confidence. It is difficult to imagine
a greater or more urgent challenge.

Link: Self-Made Man (The American Interest)

How to Discard Old Electronics

So you got a new iPod, TV, DVD player, stereo, etc. for Christmas.  We all know you can’t just dump the old ones in the trash — you need to take them to an e-waste recycling service instead.  But not all electronics recyclers are equal.  Some simply export your waste to developing countries where it is disassembled or burned in unsafe conditions.

Some things you can do:

Photo: Electronics waste in Lagos, Nigeria © Basel Action Network 2006.

Sickened Residents Force Closing of Mobile Operator’s Antenna

From HDR Japan:

NTT DoCoMo Kansai, Inc. has decided to remove an antenna base
station for mobile phones after local residents complained of health
problems that they claim are attributable to the electromagnetic waves
emitted from the station.

[…] residents near the area started to suffer from health
problems such as headaches, ear ringing and a rise in blood pressure
and blood sugar levels after the antenna base station came into

Link: Pressure from sickened residents forces mobile operator to tear down base antenna,

Via textually.org.

Union of Concerned Scientists on Nuclear Power

The Union of Concerned Scientists recently released a report on the risks from new nuclear power plants.  From the press release:

An expansion of nuclear power capacity in the United States could
help reduce global warming pollution, but could also increase threats
to public safety and national security, according to a report released
today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Those risks include a
massive radiation release from a power plant meltdown or terrorist
attack, and the death of hundreds of thousands from the detonation of a
nuclear weapon made with materials obtained from civilian nuclear
facilities. (The report is available at www.ucsusa.org/nuclearandclimate.)

"Unless the industry, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the
federal government adopt the common-sense recommendations in our
report, building a new fleet of nuclear power plants will create
serious safety and security risks," said Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund,
co-director of UCS’s Global Security Program and a report co-author.

Link: Serious safety and security risks undercut nuclear power’s role in minimizing global warming, new report finds (December 11, 2007).