Joho the BlogDecember 2009 - Page 3 of 5 - Joho the Blog

December 16, 2009

[2b2k] From information overload to knowledge overload

[I’m not sure how much of a commentary I’m going to blog about the course of writing my new book, Too Big to Know. Here’s a first post. It makes me personally uncomfortable to talk about this process, so I may not continue to do so. Also, please note the “2b2k” in the title, providing you with an instant way of recognizing posts you want to skip.]

I’ve spent a couple of days writing an opening that I think doesn’t work, although I can probably use it elsewhere in the book. And now I am stopped by the need to choose a fork.

The opening looks at the history of information overload, going back to the book Future Shock, and pointing to the coining of “sensory overload” in 1950. I look at how pathetically small was the amount of info that seemed threatening to us back then. And I point at research (especially by Ann Blair and Richard Yeo) on information overload in the 16th-18th centuries. (Yes, I have the Seneca quote as well). All this is in service of the point that information overload has changed now that it’s gone exponentially exponential [thanks for the link, Linda Stone] and is so much a part of our ordinary context.

Next, I think I want to gesture at one way of understanding the change: We now face “knowledge overload.” But, the point of the book is that knowledge is no longer what it once was, so I don’t want to point to ordinary cases of knowing things; I fundamentally disagree with the idea that knowledge is to information as information is to data. So, I’m thinking that I might here use an example that will show the reader that this is a real, concrete issue, and it is not exactly the issue that she probably assumes it is from the fact that I’m talking about “knowledge.”

Or maybe I should jump straight into explaining what knowledge has been, since I’m trying to get to a section on the history of facts.

Fortunately, it’s lunch time. I choose the metal fork!

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Salim Ismail on the Singularity

Salim Ismail is the executive director of Singularity University. He explains that the U researches how to understand non-linear phenomena. I ask him whether that understanding has to be emergent.

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December 15, 2009

Al Gore on the Net and politics

Jose Antonio Vargas summarizes and analyzes a three-hour conversation with Al Gore about the Net and politics. Fascinating.

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[berkman] Sahara Byrne on Kids v. Parents

Sahara Byrne, from the Dept. of Communication at Cornell U., is giving a Tuesday Berkman lunch, titled “Parent versus Child: Reports of Internet Behaviors and Support for Strategies to Prevent Negative Effects of Online Exposure.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Sahara looks at strategies to deal with the negative effects of the Net on kids, and how to maximize positive. She’s especially interested in when these strategies go wrong. For example, when do kids resist these strategies?

She begins with the information theory drawing (from Claude Shannon) that depicts a message passing through a channel, interrupted by noise. She’s interested in when we explicitly and deliberately disrupt communication, e.g., by filters, rules, policies.

We adults tend to perceive the Net as raising problems for kids: predators, porn, privacy, peers, and piracy. We have a wide range of strategies. (Last year, the Berkman Center had a conference about the Internet Safety Task Force, convened by attorneys general from 49 states (not Texas). Sahara was there.)

The worst possible strategy: One that the parents love but the kids hate. Whether parents like these strategies depend upon how those strategies match with their values.

Sahara has lots of data, from an Internet survey of 456 parents and matched child pairs (10-17). She asked the parents “How much would you support…” and the kids “How would you feel if your parent…” What individual differences lead people to support different strategies. She also asked what kids were doing on line and what the kids think they’re parents know about what and how much they’re doing on line. “Do the parents have any clue?”

She plots how much parents support a strategy, how much kids do, and the difference. There are few that the kids like more. She looks at various classes of strategies.

Gov’t policy strategies: The site watches what you do; the kids hate that, the parents like it.

There are big gaps in technology strategies as well; e.g., suppose your parents could record everything you do on line. The bigger the difference, the more likely the child will try to get around the strategy.

User/Child Empowerment. Kids and parents like these ideas much better, e.g., ratings, education, peer education about sites. “Kids were not resistant to these because these give them control.”

Parental access. Huge differences. Parents really like having access to all the kids’ passwords, but the kids really really don’t like that.

Co-viewing (i.e., have the computer in a public place in the home). Parents like these. Kids are pretty neutral about this.

Legal ramifications. Kids like the idea of suspending from school other kids who are mean; their parents like it less.

Parenting style predicts agreements and disagreements about how useful they find these strategies. Strict parenting predicts disagreement. Highly communicative styles predicts agreement, except on tech strategies, possibly because those kids are used to being trusted, so having the tech lock them out feels wrong, Sahara says.

The value system also predicts some differences. More conservative parents like gov’t control of the content.

Religion also predicted differences in many of the strategies. The more religious the parents, the less likely the kids were to agree.

So, what might work best? Empowering kids to protect themselves, and (to her surprise) putting more of the onus on gov’t and industry. What’s risk? Kids don’t want to be watched or give away their passwords, especially in authoritarian households.

Sahara now reports on data on what kids actually do online, and what their parents think they do. Kids do their homework, as parents expect. But kids seek personal health info much less than the parents think. And parents overestimate by 100% how much time kids spend on line doing “identity development.” (The question for the kids is “How often do you use the Internet to figure out who you really are?”) Parents unerestimate their kids have been cyberbullied (“been mean to”). They do understand how often they’re upset by an IM. About 50% of kids say that they’ve accidentally come across sexual text or images, while parents think that happens to about 30%. 20% say they’ve looked for sex. 17% of kids say they’ve been approached by a “weird stranger”; parents say 8% of kids have.

Next: predicting “clueless parents” and parenting parental support (in a study of 1,800 parents).

[I’m having trouble hearing some of the questions over the projectors’ fans. Sorry.]

A: Income doesn’t predict differences except in gov’t/industry variables.

Q: What does “weird strangers” mean to the kids? Does it include non-threatening spammers, etc.?
A: [danahboyd] A huge number have encountered strategies, but the fear factor is extremely low. E.g., a sketchy profile in a friend request from a scammer; kids put in the “weird stranger” bucket but they don’t see it as dangerous. The ones kids worry about tend to be weird strangers who repeat.

Q: It looks like on average kids don’t want much protecting.

Q: Of course, to apply this data for deciding on policies, you’d also have to decide how circumventable these strategies are.
A: Yes. I’m interested in the factors that predict support for these strategies.

A: Kids who report it’s easy to talk with their parents are less likely to disagree with their parents about the strategies. It may be that the conversation makes them more similar to their parents.

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What matters now

Seth Godin has compiled a whole bunch of 200-word mini-essays from a whole bunch of people. We had to pick a topic that matters now, in part because the anthology is called What Matters Now [pdf]. It’s free. (Thanks, Seth!)

I wrote about “difference,” a theme that joins the book I’m writing with the book I eventually want to write that tries to understand the Information Age that we are now exiting.

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December 14, 2009

Media notes: Medical insurance and Monk’s widwife

I just listened to a report on the BBC news about a woman in Chicago who had to wait three months to go to a doctor after discovering lumps in a breast and an armpit. She had just started a new job and her medical insurance didn’t kick in until she was off her probationary period. Then, once she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she went bankrupt trying to pay her portion of the 80:20 coverage. Worse, her doctors had to keep asking the insurance company for permission to do a test or a procedure.

Frankly, I was embarrassed for my country.


[NO SPOILERS AHEAD] The penultimate episode of Monk begins with a murder at the PalgroveBirthing Center. The setting is tangential to the plot (that doesn’t count as a spoiler, does it?), but the show nevertheless included a bit of dialogue in which the center’s head (Ed Begley, Jr.) carefully explains that midwives are not nurses, and help ensure healthy home births. It’s all put very positively — a defense of Certified Professional Midwives — and is so obviously extraneous that it makes you wonder why it was inserted. I wonder if Ed Begley agreed to take the tiny role on condition that the show insert the midwifery product placement. (This is the guess also of our midwife daughter, whose site, btw, is under construction.)

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New book starting … Now!

I’m uncomfortable blogging this, but, what the heck.

I officially started writing a book today. It’s called “Too Big to Know” (with a subtitle to be determined). It’ll be published by Basic Books. My manuscript is due on Sept. 30, 2010.

“Officially started” means that I rolled a new piece of paper into my word processor — with the subsidiary decision to use Pages as my word processor — and created a folder called “Chapt 1.” Quite a ceremony.

I’m not yet sure how much of the writing I’m willing to do in public. I wrote Small Pieces Loosely Joined that way, but I enjoyed writing Everything Is Miscellaneous with the door closed, so to speak.

Anyway, I don’t want to talk about the book. In part, it’s embarrassment at the audacity of thinking I can write a book on some topic, as if I knew something. (Hint: I don’t.) In part, it’s superstition — talk about what you’re going to write, and the magic writing beans won’t sprout. In part, it’s because for me writing, at the most basic level of sawing planks and planing edges, goes best with nothing distracting me from the day’s stretch of emptiness.

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December 12, 2009

Linda Stone on “Inspiration Replication”

From the set of video interviews I did at Supernova

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December 11, 2009

Downloading large files: The elusive eternal dream

Christian Sandvig tried downloading a file of a mere 1.7 gigabytes — as he points out, the Blu-Ray version of “Ice Age 2” is 22gb, and that’s just an animated movie about frozen squirrels or something, so imagine how big a movie with complex ideas might be!* — and found that IE, Chrome, Firefox and DownloadThemAll FAILed, in their own ways.

That accords with my own experience. Even if the browser-based download completes, it’s likely to result in a corrupt file. Sigh.


*That was a joke

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Obama’s peace

I was at a meeting all day and thus did not hear President Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Instead, I just read the transcript.

It’s fair and inevitable to read it as aimed at advancing the president’s political agenda. But I didn’t read it that way. It struck me as an exceptionally honest discussion of the contest between our deep desire for peace and a world that is not ready for it.

This is not the speech I was expecting. It was better than that.

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