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.”
See also this TechCrunch discussion: When Will We Have Our First Valleywag Suicide?
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.
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.
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.
By Derek Catermole at Yankee Pot Roast, The Journal of Literary Satire:
For the blogger in your life, consider getting the gift that every media-savvy web-lettrist wants, the latest new-media tech sensation: Diary™.
Diary™ is the ideal refinement and synthesis of recent developments in open-format, direct-interface, comprehensive text-recognition, and organic document layout. Incorporating Page-Flip™ interactivity, complete wireless operativity, Lock-and-Key™ security, and virtually unbreachable virus protectivity, Diary™ will be the blogger’s staple recording and storage device for years to come.
Link: Gift Idea: Diary™
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.
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.)
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.
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.
I recently started a new blog related to what I work on in my day job: usability aspects of touch interfaces. If you have an interest in touch interface research or usability engineering I invite you to check it out: Touch Usability.
Engineers It's hard to be smarter than everyone else, isn't it? You tech people never ask anything about my job. Instead, you explain it to me.
- You just know that my life as a professional writer must be exactly like your life as a professional software developer or sysadmin. Salespeople must come by my desk and demand I change my articles so they can close a big deal, right?
- You're 100% certain that if you wrote the article instead of me, it would have been better. Lucky for you, your fellow engineers are like string theorists: They'll praise this assertion for its elegance and daring, instead of asking you to prove it with a real-world test.
- You'll explain to me that my ideas for articles start from press releases, and must be reviewed prior to publication by the companies I write about. If I recommend your competition, it must mean they bought an ad. You got this worldview from your company's PR lady. You have a crush on her.
- Do me a favor: 34 percent of the Internet is comments from engineers that begin, "It is unsurprising to me that ..." Look, we get it. Nothing surprises you. So it's unsurprising to us that it's unsurprising to you. So shut up already.
Bloggers There is, in fact, a special circle of hell reserved for you. You're keeping it real! Real long, and real dull. [...]
Link: Why I hate you -- and I do mean you (Valleywag)
From the Official Google Blog today:
In order to give you the best possible information about the privacy settings for our products, we asked the engineers and product managers who actually designed them to explain how they work in a series of new videos we released today on our YouTube Privacy Channel. These videos feature Googlers sharing privacy tips, like how to use Google Chat’s “Off the Record” feature, how to limit the number of people who can view your Picasa photos, how to unlist your phone number from Google search results, and how to make the details of your Google Calendar entries private.
Just as we’re dedicated to innovation when it comes to making better, more useful products, we’re also committed to finding new ways to educate you about how to control what information you share when using our products, and with whom. This series, along with the other videos on our YouTube Privacy Channel, are part of this awareness-raising effort. So watch the videos (including our very own blooper reel) and tell us what you think.
Link: New privacy tips series.
Hey Google, if you need to give instructions on how to opt out then you're making it too hard to opt out. If instructions are needed, then make them findable from the Google front page instead of dumping them on some YouTube page nobody's ever heard of, or will ever remember.
Update: According to Lifehacker there has been a petition kicking around since October 2006 for a Google Data Privacy Manager. So far it has collected a whopping 195 signatures. Yikes. Perhaps hosting an anti-Google petition on a Google service (Google Pages) is a bad idea.
Siva Vaidhyanathan has launched a new blog to go with his "book in progress," The Googlization of Everything: How One Company is Disrupting Culture, Commerce, and Community -- and Why We Should Worry.
From his introductory post:
Hi. Welcome to my new book. Well, it’s not a book yet. In fact, it will not be a real book for a long time.
As you can tell from the title of this blog, the book will be about Google and all they ways that Google is shaking up the world. Google is a transformative and revolutionary company. I hesitate to use terms like that. We live in an era of hyperbole. So I try my best to discount claims of historical transformation or communicative revolutions.
But in the case of Google, I am confident it is both.
Now, I am approaching this book as both a fan and a critic. I am in awe of all that Google has done and all it hopes to do. I am also wary of its ambition and power.
As I use this site to compose the manuscript (an archaic word that I love too much to discard) for the book The Googlization of Everything, I hope to do so with your help.
This is the latest in a series of “open book” experiments hosted and guided by The Institute for the Future of the Book.
Link: Hi. Welcome to my book.
(Via Michael Zimmer.)