The Internet Intellectual (Morozov on Jarvis)

A fairly devastating takedown of Jeff Jarvis's new book Public Parts by Evgeny Morozov (author of The Net Delusion): (print version – should not require sign-in).

I almost feel bad for Jarvis. It seems like a solid critique, and tackles not only Jarvis but other Internet utopians (e.g. Clay Shirky), but it's perhaps a little mean-spirited.

Relying on Google a little too much

Michael Zimmer has an amusing/scary story about a student's unquestioning use of Google: it's reported at Crooked Timber and Michael's blog (which appears to be down).

Speaking of Google, I just learned of Google's holiday card offer. If you can't be bothered to send a snail mail card to your pathetic relatives who are "stuck in the pre-digital age" then Google will do it for you (except that they've run out already). And, yes, that's just the way they describe it.

In privacy news, Eric Schmidt apparently forgot his talking points and said this in an interview: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." (quoted at Gawker; here's a response from security expert Bruce Schneier.)

New Books

Some recent books I've bought or spotted:

Peepdiaries Hal Niedzviecki's The Peep Diaries: How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors
looks at oversharing in the digital age. Naturally he has a blog, a twitter account, a webcam, a forthcoming documentary, and much more at the book's site.

From the book description:

We have entered the age of "peep culture": a tell-all, show-all,
know-all digital phenomenon that is dramatically altering notions of
privacy, individuality, security, and even humanity. Peep culture is
reality TV, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, over-the-counter spy
gear, blogs, chat rooms, amateur porn, surveillance technology, Dr. Phil, Borat,
cell phone photos of your drunk friend making out with her
ex-boyfriend, and more. In the age of peep, core values and rights we
once took for granted are rapidly being renegotiated, often without our
even noticing.

[…] Part travelogue, part diary, part
meditation and social history, The Peep Diaries explores a
rapidly emerging digital phenomenon that is radically changing not just
the entertainment landscape, but also the firmaments of our culture and

Richard SennettCraftsman's The Craftsman, just out in paperback, seems like a broad hybrid of sociology, psychology, history, cultural studies and philosophy. I've only read a couple chapters, and while it's not the quickest read, I'm finding it compelling as it combines a lot of things I'm interested in. In the book's prologue (about half of which you can read in the Amazon preview) he says that the book is the first of a planned "Pandora" trilogy. It sounds ambitious, though he seems mightily prolific. He writes:

This is the first of three books on material culture, all related to the dangers in Pandora's casket, though each is intended to stand on its own. This book is about craftsmanship, the skill of making things well. The second volume addresses the crafting of rituals that manage aggression and zeal; the third explores the skills required in making and inhabiting sustainable environments. All three books address the issue of technique–but technique considered as a cultural issue rather than as a mindless procedure; each book is about a technique for conducting a particular way of life. The large project contains a personal paradox that I have tried to put to productive use. I am a philosophically minded writer asking questions about such matters as woodworking, military drills, or solar panels.

AndThenTheresThis Bill Wasik, an editor at Harper's and apparently the inventor of the flash mob, has a new book called And Then There's This: How Stories Live and Die in Viral Culture. From the description:

And Then There’s This is Bill Wasik’s
journey along the unexplored frontier of the twenty-first century’s
rambunctious new-media culture. He covers this world in part as a
journalist, following “buzz bands” as they rise and fall in the online
music scene, visiting with viral marketers and political trendsetters
and online provocateurs. But he also wades in as a participant,
conducting his own hilarious experiments: an e-mail fad (which turned
into the worldwide “flash mob” sensation), a viral website in a
monthlong competition, a fake blog that attempts to create “antibuzz,”
and more. He doesn’t always get the results he expected, but he tries
to make sense of his data by surveying what real social science
experiments have taught us about the effects of distraction,
stimulation, and crowd behavior on the human mind. Part report, part
memoir, part manifesto, part deconstruction of a decade, And Then There’s This captures better than any other book the way technology is transforming our culture.

AtLeastInTheCity Wade Rouse's (third) memoir At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream: Misadventures in Search of the Simple Life tells the story of his trying to become a self-described “modern-day Thoreau.” Sounds fairly amusing, and I like the cover.

In a slightly similar vein is One Square Inch of Silence: One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World by Gordon Hempton. Hempton is an "acoustic ecologist" and writes about his experiences recording the quietest places in the country. The book comes with a CD and is an outgrowth of the One Square Inch project, which seeks to preserve a quiet space in Olympic National Park.

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).


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.

Google Privacy Math


Marissa Meyer at the official Google blog:

So, today we’re making a homepage change by adding a link to our
privacy overview and policies. […] 

Larry and Sergey told me we could only
add this to the homepage if we took a word away – keeping the “weight”
of the homepage unchanged at 28. […]

We think the easy access to our privacy information without any added
homepage heft is a clear win for our users and an enhancement to your

Link: What comes next in this series? 13, 33, 53, 61, 37, 28…

Bravo Google!  But you missed something: you also added a hyphen!  The hyphen weight is now a rather beefy three.  My gosh, that’s quite a lot of hyphens.  I think you ought to go crunch the numbers again.  Stay focused, people!

The net has no time for respect

The Internet got and spread the news of Tim Russert's death a whole 30 minutes early, subverting NBC's wishes to keep the news private until Russert's family could be informed.  The person who "broke" the news, on Wikipedia, has been fired from his job at an NBC-affiliated company.  Peter Kafka at Silicon Alley Insider writes "Well, Internets, time to rally around your Woodstein."  (Wikipedia/Tim Russert Deep Throat: Fired)

Oh please.  Without knowing the details of the employee's contract, it's hard to judge whether firing was warranted, but still — the comparison is just silly.

From the New York Times: Delaying News in the Era of the Internet.

Online Insults and Suicide

The debate is growing.  From today’s NYT:

Gregory K. Brown,  a specialist on suicide at the University of Pennsylvania,
said that public humiliation could play a role in suicide because
“hopelessness is often a major risk factor, and if you’ve been publicly
humiliated and your reputation has been tarnished forever, you could
see how someone could become hopeless.” Such situations, he added,
could contribute to feeling that life is unbearable.

And unlike
some other forms of public humiliation, online insults can live in
perpetuity. Whether that increases suicide risk, Mr. Brown said, is an
open question, adding, “Although it’s plausible that’s the case, we
know very little about the role of the Internet.”

Link: After Suicide, Blog Insults are Debated

See also this TechCrunch discussion: When Will We Have Our First Valleywag Suicide?


Podcast: Brave New Family

The CBC Radio show Ideas posts some of its shows as (limited-time) free podcasts.  I’ve been listening to a new two-part series called Brave New Family that’s an excellent exploration of the consequences of sperm donation.  The summary:

Sperm donation has proven to be a Pandora’s Box. The vast majority of
donor dads do not want to be found. In rare cases some children are
seeking and finding dad and half-siblings in the process. Science
journalist Alison Motluk explores the complex portrait of the brave new family.

Links: Brave New Family (a short article and list of references), Podcasts.

Note that these podcasts are only available for a few weeks.

Ideas is the show that broadcasts the Massey Lectures.  I just noticed they’ve got a new series called How to Think About Science that looks very interesting too.

Google Health: Privacy Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Those aren’t my words.  That’s from the title to a post by John Paczkowski on the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital blog.  In regard to Google’s new pilot program with the Cleveland Clinic to store patients’ health records, he writes:

Of course, by making such records easier to share with medical providers,
Google may be making them easier to “share” with less well-intentioned
entities. Health insurance carriers. Potential employers. Online
marketers. The government.

Google, too.

As the World Privacy Forum pointed out yesterday, companies like
Google are not governed by the Health Insurance Portability and
Accountability Act or HIPAA. “Don’t assume your medical records are
protected no matter where they are: HIPAA privacy protections generally
do not follow the health-care files,” the WPF warned.
“HIPAA’s protections generally do not ‘travel’ with or follow a medical
record that is disclosed to a third party outside the health-care
treatment and payment system. … After you have disclosed your health
care information to a PHR (Personal Health Records) outside the privacy
protections of the health care system (HIPAA), your information can be
used or redisclosed by the PHR in ways that would not be permitted for
the same information if held by your doctor or health plan. Depending
on the applicable privacy policy, health records outside of HIPAA can
potentially be bought and sold, shared with merchants, and even
disclosed to employers.”

Link: New from Google: "Google Privacy Disaster Waiting to Happen"

Update: Lots of interesting discussion on this: see Michael Zimmer, Fred Stutzman.  Michael Zimmer has also been discussing privacy concerns with Microsoft about their similar efforts: More designing for privacy: Microsoft HealthVault.