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?


Liveblogging Your Vasectomy

On a related note… Medical science blogger "Abel Pharmboy" liveblogged his vasectomy last week.  You can relive the adventure here if you have the stomach: Liveblogging the Vasectomy Chronicles.  It’s yet another proud milestone for the web.  I don’t know who is creepier — the blogger who did this or the readers who tuned in live.

(Via io9.)

Daniel Solove’s The Future of Reputation

Daniel Solove’s recent book The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet is now available for free online.  I learned this via Danah Boyd’s blog — she is apparently the one to thank for this, and she offers kudos to Yale University Press.

As someone who has been aware of this book since it appeared, I’m happy that I can now read a chapter or two for free, but I’ll probably still wait to get it from the library.  I’m not likely to buy it in hardcover or to read the whole thing online.  If the publisher had put it out as a $20-or-cheaper paperback in the first place I’d have snapped it up quick.

A Techie Discovers Irony, re: Lee Siegel

Blogger academHacK has discovered that Lee Siegel’s Against the Machine is available in Kindle format, which, you know, is ironic.  Link: Saturday Humor: Fearing Technology, via Smart Mobs.

Here’s more irony: an "academic" who can’t capitalize words properly! ha ha.  Gosh, this is easy.

Seriously, though, I just finished reading Siegel’s book yesterday and my thoughts are mixed.  He makes some good points about participatory culture and internet hype, but the book is much more a piece of cultural criticism (not technology related) than anything else.  He spends more words criticizing American Idol than he does criticizing YouTube.  So I find it puzzling that the book was given such a provocative title, but I guess that’s marketing for you.  I also think his logic is pretty weak, though the book is really more a rant than an argument.

And of course Siegel points out clearly in the book that he’s not blindly anti-Internet, which should ease academHacK’s mind.

Hot New Technology: Diary™

By Derek Catermole at Yankee Pot Roast, The Journal of Literary Satire:

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Link: Gift Idea: Diary™

New Microsoft Product so Good it’ll Make you Cry?

This is a little more Silicon-Valley-gossip style than I would usually post here, but I can’t resist…

Influential tech blogger Robert Scoble wrote today about some new secret Microsoft technology he saw a preview of and that had him in tears of joy:

It’s not often that I see software that really changes my world.
It’s even rarer that I see software that I know will change the world
my sons live in. […]

Yesterday was one of those days. Curtis Wong and Jonathan Fay,
researchers at Microsoft, fired up their machines and showed me
something that I can’t tell you about until February 27th. I’m sure
you’ll read about his work in the New York Times or TechCrunch, among
other places. It’s too inspiring to stay a secret for long.

While watching the demo I realized the way I look at the world was
about to change. While listening to Wong I noticed a tear running down
my face. It’s been a long while since Microsoft did something that had
an emotional impact on me like that.

Why torment you with a post like this? Because it’s my way of making
sure that stuff that really is extraordinary gets paid attention to.
And because I wanted to get down the emotional impact of what I saw
before that feeling totally wears off. I also wanted to get down some
lessons that others at Microsoft might learn from so that they can have
this kind of impact in their own work.

Link: Microsoft researchers make me cry.

This is just so bizarre.  This is the new journalism?  If you’re not supposed to write about it then don’t write about it.  Is this even a product?  If it’s just something Microsoft Research has done then it’s no secret they’ve been doing all sorts of neat stuff for years, and hardly any of it makes it to real products.

For some perspective on what Scoble thinks is world-changing, it includes:

The first time I saw an Apple II in 1977. When Richard Cameron showed
me Apple’s Hypercard. Microsoft’s Excel. Aldus’ Pagemaker. And
something called Photoshop, all in his West Valley Community College
classroom. Later when I saw Marc Andreessen’s Netscape running the WWW.
ICQ and Netmeeting which laid the ground for Skype.

Sure, those are all software milestones, but world-changing?

(Insert obligatory Vista-makes-people-cry joke here.)

Steven Johnson Questions Rumors of Reading’s Decline

In an article in the Guardian, Steven Johnson responds to the recent NEA report and other worries about the decline of reading in the US.  His main point: they ignore all the reading we do on computers.  Not to mention cereal boxes!

Link: Dawn of the digital natives.

I’m working on a more serious response to post later.

Risks of Overexposure with Google’s new Social Graph

Danah Boyd writes on her blog about the Google "Social Graph API" which could make it easier than ever to overexpose yourself on the web.  Excerpt:

I am worried about the tech industry rhetoric around exposing user
data and connections. This is another case of a decision dilemma
concerning capability and responsibility. I said this ages ago wrt Facebook’s News Feed, but it is once again relevant with Google’s Social Graph API announcement.
In both cases, the sentiment is that this is already public data and
the service is only making access easier and more efficient for the end
user. I totally get where Mark and Brad are coming at with this. I
deeply respect both of them, but I also think that they live in a land
of privilege where the consequences that they face when being exposed
are relatively minor. In other words, they can eat meals of only
chocolate because they aren’t diabetic.

Tim O’Reilly argues that social graph visibility is akin to pain reflex.
Like many in the tech industry, he argues that we have a moral
responsibility to eliminate "security by obscurity" so that people
aren’t shocked when they are suddenly exposed. He thinks that forcing
people to be exposed is a step in the right direction. He draws a
parallel to illness, suggesting that people will develop antibodies to
handle the consequences. I respectfully disagree. Or rather, I think
that this is a valid argument to make from the POV of the extremely
healthy (a.k.a. privileged). As someone who is not so "healthy," I’m
not jumping up and down at the idea of being in the camp who dies
because the healthy think that infecting society with viruses to see
who survives is a good idea. I’m also not so stoked to prepare for a
situation where a huge chunk of society are chronically ill because of
these experiments. What really bothers me is that the geeks get to make
the decisions without any perspective from those who will be
marginalized in the process.

Being socially exposed is AOK when you hold a lot of privilege, when
people cannot hold meaningful power over you, or when you can route
around such efforts. Such is the life of most of the tech geeks living
in Silicon Valley. But I spend all of my time with teenagers, one of
the most vulnerable populations because of their lack of agency (let
alone rights). Teens are notorious for self-exposure, but they want to
do so in a controlled fashion. Self-exposure is critical for the coming
of age process – it’s how we get a sense of who we are, how others
perceive us, and how we fit into the world. We exposure during that
time period in order to understand where the edges are. But we don’t
expose to be put at true risk. Forced exposure puts this population at
a much greater risk, if only because their content is always taken out
of context. Failure to expose them is not a matter of security through
obscurity… it’s about only being visible in context.

Link: just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.