Twitter, Books and Reading

A few interesting items I spotted in the cyberstreams today related to twitter, books, and reading:

Seth Finkelstein has a nice post summing up what Twitter is all about (in short, ego): Twitter — I'm not getting suckered again.

Nicholas Carr wrote a very funny piece (Tim Writes a Book) about Tim O'Reilly's new simplified book for the twitter set called The Twitter Book. O'Reilly has said it "reinvents the book in the age of the web" by omitting such troubling things as "a sustained narrative." This book does sound silly and a bit pointless, but to his credit, O'Reilly has also published Steve Talbott's thoughtful critiques of technology (and they're nothing if not sustained narratives), so maybe it balances out.

Meanwhile, in that alternate reality where people still read complicated works of fiction, Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas puts out a call not just for more readers but for new, active "readers of talent":

"In the flames of this dream of mortgages and the golden calf of the
gothic novel, the stupid legend of the passive reader was forged. This
monster’s fall is giving way to the reappearance of the reader of
talent, and the terms of the moral contract between author and the
public are being reframed. Those writers breathe once more who are
desperate for an active reader, for a reader open enough to permit into
her mind the figure of a conscience radically different from her own."

Link: Vila-Matas Calls for Readers of Talent (Conversational Reading)

If you read Spanish (I don't) you can follow that link to the whole column. Two of Vila-Matas's books are available in English and I highly recommend them. I liked Bartleby & Co. so much I accidentally bought it twice.

Book Notes

UnpluggingPhilco Jim Knipfel's Unplugging Philco
is a great little Vonnegut-esque scifi novel set in an America where surveillance technology and terrorism paranoia have reached extremes following an event referred to as "The Horribleness." The protagonist is Wally Philco who starts to rebel against the technology of the system and ends up working with a gang of "Unpluggers" who quote Ned Ludd and plan a revolution. The humor is a bit cheesy so don't expect high art, but it's still worth your time.

Novelist Mark Helprin wrote a provocative op-ed two years ago in the New York Times called A Great Idea Lives Forever, Shouldn't Its Copyright? (An inaccurate title, for which he blames the Times editors, as he says he never endorsed the idea of perpetual copyright.) That article provoked "three quarters of a million nasty comments" and he has now published a book called Digital Barbarism: A Writer's Manifesto that is sure to provoke plenty more. NPR featured a short interview with him today as well as a response by Lawrence Lessig: 'Digital Barbarism' wages Online Copyright Battle. I just picked the book up so I don't yet have an opinion on it… I'm sympathetic to the basic argument, I think (that copyright is important but it shouldn't be forever, and that "free culture" is problematic).


Lost in Cyburbia

Cyburbia-ca This new book by James Harkin sounds interesting. From the cover blurb:

The early twentieth century saw the slow but steady exodus of the
population from inner cities to the suburbs. We are currently
witnessing a similar transformation as our new century establishes
itself, but in an entirely different realm. As new technologies
proliferate — personal computers, the communication gadgetry of mobile
devices and access to the internet — our culture is participating in a
mass electronic migration. James Harkin christens this destination to
“Cyburbia” — the ether of “online,” where we spend so much of our

Once upon a time there were no text messaging, no
e-mail and no social networking sites like Facebook, Bebo, Twitter and
MySpace. The introduction of these new forums for communication has
radically transformed the way that we live — and we can only guess what
will come next. Innovative and extremely timely, Lost in Cyburbia
describes the architecture of our digital life, how it has developed
over the past seventy years and how it will evolve in the future. The
narrative recounts how the theories of Norbert Weiner (the inventor of
cybernetics) and Marshall McLuhan inspired the counterculture radicals
in the sixties and seventies, and traces how their pioneering
idealistic and theoretical work laid the groundwork for a system whose
central idea is bringing about direct communication between peers,
outside the reach of authority.

Harkin explores what it means
to be in the loop — and our obsession with instant access to
information and how it is shared over networks — and considers what has
been lost and what has been gained. Are we more connected than ever
before or more isolated? Have our thinking processes been forever
altered? Is the democratic nature of the net slowly being eroded by
corporate interests? Or, as once hoped, will the net enable the
awakening of a new kind of global consciousness?


(via Core77)

The Expanding Invasion of the Naked Body Scanners (TSA)

William Saletan at Slate has an update on those full-body imaging scanners the TSA assured us would just be used here and there (surprise — now they'll be everywhere) and which had a special "privacy algorithm" to blur your privates (surprise — not any more, apparently). Excerpt:

When we first checked in on them two years ago, the scanners, which see through clothing, were being deployed at a single airport. A few months later, they were upgraded to millimeter-wave technology, which delivered similar images with even less radiation—"10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission," according to the Transportation Security Administration. At the time, TSA assured
us that the scanners would be used only as a "voluntary alternative" to
"a more invasive physical pat-down during secondary screening." Only a
few passengers, the ones selected for extra scrutiny, would face the
scanners. The rest of us could walk through the metal detectors and
board our planes.

Surprise! Two months ago, TSA revised its position.
It began testing millimeter-wave scans "in the place of the
walk-through metal detector at six airports." At these airports,
everyone—not just people selected for secondary screening—would face
the see-through machines. Anyone who objected would "undergo metal
detector screening and a pat-down." You might even get the "enhanced pat-down,"
which includes "sensitive areas of the body that are often used by
professional testers and terrorists," such as "the breast and groin
areas of females and the groin area of males." Show us your body, or
we'll feel you up.

Now the plan is going nationwide. Joe Sharkey of the New York Times reports
that TSA "plans to replace the walk-through metal detectors at airport
checkpoints with whole-body imaging machines—the kind that provide an
image of the naked body." All passengers will "go through the
whole-body imager instead of the walk-through metal detector,"
according to TSA's chief technology officer, and the machines will
begin operating soon after orders are placed this summer.


Why should I care what the government says or depicts about its latest
scanner image or blurring technology, when the technology and the
depictions keep changing? The lesson of the escalating body scans, like
the escalating pat-downs, is that TSA will do whatever it thinks it
needs to do.

Link: The expanding invasion of the naked body scanners.

Previously: Invasion of the Naked Body Scanners.

Welcome to the Future of Books (Great moments in OCR)

I was checking out Google's updated mobile site on my iPod Touch and noticed that it includes Google Books. The interface is actually not bad, but the OCR could use some work. Below is Mark Twain's The Gilded Age, looking a little like a ransom note or Riddley Walker. To be fair, the regular text is not as messed up as the TOC and list of "illustbations". I fear for a future, though, when all we might have left is crappy OCR'ed e-books of classics. Arga warga.


(Yeah, I know they save the full scans too and you can view the books as images in the non-mobile version.)