Joho the BlogDecember 2011 - Page 3 of 3 - Joho the Blog

December 10, 2011

[2b2k] Publishers Weekly calls 2b2k a “must read”

Publishers Weekly has posted its review of Too Big to Know. It’s good, not only in the sense of positive, but also as a brief description of what the book is about:

Weinberger…engagingly examines the production, dissemination, and accessibility of knowledge in the Internet era. The fundamental and pertinent question Weinberger pursues is how the new surplus of knowledge afforded by the Internet affects our “basic strategy of knowing.” This strategy evolved from “book-shaped thought,” a form “in which parts depend upon the parts before it.” Unlike books, however, Weinberger contends that long-form argument on the Internet engages a more dynamic dimension than a static book ever could: it is “put into a network where the discussion around it […] will violate its pristine logic.” Despite the slight incompatibility to long-form argument, ideas, and knowledge on the Internet are plentiful, hyperlinked, autonomous, open, and, perhaps most importantly, unsettled, making the Internet a forum within which knowledge is not merely accepted; it is contemplated and questioned. While occasionally tending towards the philosophical, Weinberger’s book is full of relevant and thought-provoking, insights that make it a must-read for anyone concerned with knowledge in the digital age.


Inc. Magazine also ran a review of it, by Leigh Buchanan. It’s a brief and accurate summary of the thrust of the book. Thanks, Leigh!

The book ships on Dec. 13, so I assume it will hit bookstores shortly after that, and will be fulfilled by Amazon very shortly after that.

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European Commission has an Internet advocate

Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda, has become a lonely voice trying to protect the Net’s most basic values. At a cultural ministers’ meeting held in Avignon last month, she had the temerity to suggest that the copyright system is not working to protect the rights of creators or to spread culture. Now she is suggesting that the Net can actually help the forces of freedom and democracy around the world. This new speech not only makes the case, it seems to have paid attention to the debate over previous claims that the Net is overall a positive political force, not merely a neutral technology, and not primarily a tool of oppression.

Neelie gave her full speech in Avignon in a closed door meeting, but she presented a version of it the next day at the Forum d’Avignon, which I was at and live-blogged. At the time, it struck me as certainly better than the copyright totalitarianism espoused by President Sarkozy, the values of which were mirrored by most of the participants in the Forum. But I thought Neelie was proposing nothing more interesting than adjusting copyright law so that more money went into the hands of more artists, rather than addressing the imbalance between the rights of creators and of the public. But I’ve been convinced by European friends, particularly Juan Carlos de Martin that I’m failing to hear her remarks in the right European context.

So, go Commissioner Kroes, go!

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Accidental Scarlatti and culture

Trurl at Metafilter posts about Scarlatti’s piano sonatas, a composer I haven’t spent a lot of time with, probably because of some bad, cheapo LPs I bought randomly when I was in college. But Trurl’s got some recommendations and some links to YouTube performances. The comments to the post have more discussion, more links, discussion back and forth about Bach versus Scarlatti, questions about musical notation, and so forth.

So, I’ve spent far more time this morning learning about Scarlatti, poking around sites, listening to his music, than I had intended or even imagined. Indeed, I had intended to spend zero time doing any of those things. Scarlatti happened to me this morning. Thank you, Internet!

As we contemplate protecting the rights of artists and enriching publishers, we ought to be thinking first: Yes, but how do we let more of that happen?

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December 9, 2011

CBC interview with me about library stuff

The CBC has posted the full, unedited interview with me (15 mins) that Nora Young did last week. We talk about the Harvard Library Lab’s two big projects, ShelfLife and LibraryCloud. (At the end, we talk a little about Too Big To Know.) The edited interview will be on the Spark program.

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December 6, 2011

[berkman] Jeff Jarvis on Publicness

Jeff Jarvis is giving a lunch time talk about his new book, Public Parts. He says he’s interested in preserving the Net as an open space. Privacy and publicness depend on each other. Privacy needs protection, he says, but we are becoming so over-protective that we are in danger of losing the benefits of publicness. (He apologizes for the term “publicness” but did not want to use the marketing term “publicity.”)

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.

He begins with a history of privacy. In 1890, Brandeis wrote an article about privacy, in response to the rise of Kodak cameras. The NYT wrote about “fiendish Kodakers lying in wait.” Teddy Roosevelt banned photo-taking in public parks. Technology seems often to raise privacy concerns. After Gutenberg some authors did not want their name associated with works. Some say that privacy arose in Britain as a result of the creation of the back stairs. As tech advances, we need to find new norms. Instead, we tend to legislate to try to maintain the status quo.

Now for publicness, he begins by referring to Habermas: the public sphere arose in the 18th C in coffee houses and salon as a counterweight to the power of governments. But, Canadian researchers began The Making Publics Project that concluded that people had the tools for making publics before the 18th C. E.g., printed music, art, etc. all enabled the creation of publics. When a portrait of a Dutch gentleman was shown in Venice, if a Dutch man showed up, he looked like “them,” which helped define the Venetians as “us” (for example).

Mass media made us into a mass. It pretended to speak for us. Online, though, we can each make a public. E.g., Occupy Wall Street, and before that Arab Spring. He recounts tweeting angrily, and after a few glasses of wine, “Fuck you Washington! It’s our money.” Someone suggested to him that there were these new things called “hashtags,” and that this one should be #FUwashington. 110,000 tweets later, the hashtag had become a platform. “People viewed in this empty vessel what they wanted to.” Indeed, the first recorded use of #occupywallstreet was in a tweet that consisted of: “#fuwashington #occupywallstreet.” [Note: It might be #OWS.] Now the public is a network.

We’re going through a huge transition, he says. He refers to the Gutenberg Parenthesis. Before Gutenberg, knowledge was passed around, person to person. It was meant to honor and preserve ancient knowledge. After Gutenberg, knowledge became linear. There are beginnings and ends and boxes around things. It’s about product. There’s a clear sense of ownership. It honors current knowledge and its authors. Then you get to the other side of the parenthesis, and there are similarities. More passing it around, more remixing, less sense of ownership. The knowledge we revere starts to become the network itself. Our cognition of the world changes. The CTO of the Veterans Admin calls the Internet the Eighth Continent. “I used to think of the Internet as a medium,” but now he thinks of it more as a place, although there are problems with the place metaphor. (“All metaphors are wrong,” interjects Doc Searls. “That’s why they work.”) It was a hard transition into the parenthesis, and it’ll be hard coming out of it. It took 50 years after Gutenberg for books to come into their own, and 100 years to recognize the impact of books. We’re still looking at the Net using our the past as our analog.

To talk about publicness, Jeff had to go through “the gauntlet of privacy.” He looked for a good definition of privacy. Control is part of it, but “privacy” is an empty vessel itself. “I came to believe that privacy should be seen as an ethic.” It’s about the responsibility for making ethical decisions about sharing it. People and companies have different responsibilities here, of course. “There should be an ethic that people should be able to know who has access to their information. And it should be portable.” He gives a shout out to Doc Searls’ projectVRM.

If privacy is an ethic of knowing, publicness is an ethic of sharing. Not everything should be shared, of course, but there’s a generosity of sharing that should have us thinking about how sharing can benefit us. “I shared info about my prostate cancer on line, which means I was sharing information about my non-functioning penis. Why would I do that?” He has friends who learned of this because he was public, and some who shared with them great information about what he was about to go through. One guy started out under a pseudonym but then started using his real name. A woman told her story about how her husband died needlessly. Jeff refers to Xeni Jardin‘s posting of her mammogram and how this will likely save some lives. [Xeni, we are all thinking about you! And love you!]

“I am not utopian,” Jeff says, “because I’m not predicting a better world.” But we should be imagining the best that can happen, as well as the worst. There are many benefits to publicness. Bringing trust. Improving relationships. It enables collaboration. It disarms the notion of the stranger. It disarms stigmas: coming outside the closet disarms the old stigma (although, Jeff adds, no one should be forced out of a closet). Gov’t is too often secret by default, and that should be switched; the same is not true for individuals where the default should always be a choice. We should make it clear that the Internet is a shitty place to put secrets. Facebook has made mistakes about privacy, but 800M have joined because they want to share. Zuckerberg believes he is not changing but enabling human nature. By nature we want to share.

Jeff got accused by someone of “over-sharing” which he finds an odd phrase. It means “shut up.” The guy does not have to follow Jeff or read his blog. “I wasn’t over-sharing. He was over-listening.”

Companies should share more because it opens up the ability to collaborate. In What Would Google Do? Jeff speculated about a company that might design cars collaboratively. Many scoffed. But Local Motors is now doing it.

When Google pulled out of China, they did the right thing, he says. But can we expect companies to protect the Internet? Nah. Google did a devil’s deal with Verizon. Gov’t also can’t protect the Net. Jeff went to the E-G8 where he asked Sarkozy to take a Hippocratic Oath “to first do no harm.” Sarkozy replied that it’s not harm to protect your children. There are unintended consequences, e.g., danah boyd’s study of the consequence of COPPA. More than half of the 12 yr olds had Facebook pages, most of which had been created with the help of parents, violating the terms of use. Thus, COPPA is requiring families to lie. COPPA has resulted in young people being the worst served segment on the Net because it’s too risky to build a kid site. We need to protect our children, but we also have to protect the Net.

So, who has to protect the Net? We do. The people of the Net. Jeff went back to the Sullivan Principles (while noting that he’s not equating YouTube censorship with Apartheid) about corporate responsibility when dealing with South Africa. We need a discussion of such principles for doing business on the Net. The discussion will never end, he says, but it gives us something to point at. His own principles, he says, are wrong, but they are: 1. You have a right to connect. (Not that you have a right to demand a connection, but you can’t be disconnected.) 2. Privacy as an ethic of knowing and publicness as an ethic of sharing. 3. What’s public is a public good. The Germans allow citizens to demand Google pixelate Street View, resulting in a degradation of a useful tool. Google is taking pictures of public places in public views. Illinois and MA do not allow you to audio record police officers. Reducing what’s public reduces the value of the public. What are the principles at work here? 4. Institution’s info should become public by default. 5. Net neutrality. 6. The Net must remain open and distributed. “The fact that no one has sovereignity is what makes the Net the Net.”

“I am not a technodeterminist,” he says. “We are a point of choice. We need to maintain our choices. If we don’t protect them, companies and well-meaning and ill-meaning companies will take away those choices.” He points to Berkman as a leading institute for this. “I don’t blame Sarkozy for holding the event. I blame us for not holding our own event, the WE-G8, because it is our Internet.”

Jeff now does The Oprah.

Q: How about Google Plus requiring real names?
A: Anonymity has its place on line. So do pseudonyms. They protect the vulnerable. But I understand that real names improves he discourse. I get the motivation, but they screwed it up. They were far too literal in what someone’s identity is. I think Google knows this now. They’re struggling with a principle and a system. I do understand trying to avoid having the place overrun by fake identities and spam.

Q: German Street View is really about scale. It’s one thing for someone to take a picture of your house. It’s another for Google to send a car to drive down every street and post the pictures for the world. For some people it crosses the ethics of privacy. Why isn’t that a valid choice?
A: But it’s a public view. If you own the building, do you own the view of it? But you’re right about scale. But we need to protect the principle that what is public is the public good.

Q: We have a vacation rental. Any bad guy can use Street View to see if it’s worth robbing.
A: Riverhead LI used Google Earth to look for pools in backyards that had no permits. People were in an uproar. But it could also save children’s lives.

Q: [me] Norms are not the same as ethics. Can you talk about the difference? To what extent should privacy as an ethic of knowing be a norm? Etc.
A: Privacy as an ethic should inform the norms. I’ve been talking about my desire for a return of the busy signal… [missed a bit of this.]

Q: What about the ethics of having info shared for you? As people post photos of each other, enormous amounts of info will be shared…
A: We’re trying to adjust to this as a society. Currently, FB tells me if I’m tagged in a photo and lets me say no. It’s wrong if someone tricks you out of info, or violates a presumed confidence. Tyler Clemente who committed suicide after a picture of him was posted…the failure was human, not the technology’s.
A: Why don’t we share all of our health? We’d get more support. We’d have more data that might help. But health insurance would misuse it. Job applicants being disqualified? We could regulate against this. The real reason is stigma. “In this day and age, for anyone to be ashamed of sickness is pathetic.” The fact that we can use illness against people says more about our society.
A: Part of your message is that publicness is our best weapon against stigma.

Q: [espen andersen, who also blogged this talk] In Norway the gov’t publishes how much money people make. That arose when you had to go down to City Hall to get the info. Now there are FB mashups. So what about info that’s used for unintended purposes? And how about the Data Storage Directive that in Europe requires the storage of data “just in case.”
A: Helen Nissenbaum says the key to privacy is context. But it’s hard to know what the context is in many cases. Apparently Norway is rethinking its policy. But there was a cultural benefit that it’d be a shame to lose. Google threatened to pull Gmail out of Germany because of the data storage requirements. Why in the US does email have less protection than mail.
Q: I’m a member of the group suing the Norwegian govt on the grounds that that law is unconstitituional. But no one ever sets targets.

Q: Public by default, private by necessity: Yes. Where’s the low-hanging fruit for universities?
A: Lessig reminds us that if we only use govt data to get the bastards, govt will see openness as an enemy. We need also to be showing the positive benefit of open data. Universities will be in the next wave of disruption of the Net. Around the world, how many instructors write a lecture about capillary action, and how many of them are crap? The fact that you have Open Course lets you find the best lectures in the world. You can find and reward the best. Local education becomes more like tutoring. Why should students and teachers be stuck with one another? I’m reading DIY U and it’s wonderful. It’ll change because of the economics of education.

A: [I had trouble hearing this long question. He recommended going back to Irving Goffman, and pointed out that Net publicness is different if you’re famous.]
A: You’re talking about what a public is. We have thought that the public mean everyone. But now we can create limited publics around things. (Jeff points to a problem with circles in G+ : People think they create private spheres, but they don’t.) FB confused a public with the public; when it changed the defaults, people thought they were talking to a public but were in fact talking to the public.

Q: [me] Norms of privacy help define publics. Are you arguing for a single norm? Why not? [this was my question and I actually asked it much worse than this.]
A: I’m arguing for choice.
Q: Are Americans wrong for being modest in saunas?
A: Nope. [I’ve done a terrible job of capturing this.]

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December 5, 2011

Further evidence the Internet is insane

Extendny.com: Find your NYC address wherever you are.

Lady One Question.

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December 4, 2011

[2b2k] Truth, knowledge, and not knowing: A response to “The Internet Ruins Everything”

Quentin Hardy has written up on the NYT Bits blog the talk I gave at UC Berkeley’s School of Information a few days ago, refracting it through his intelligence and interests. It’s a terrific post and I appreciate it. [Later that day: Here’s another perspicacious take on the talk, from Marcus Banks.]

I want to amplify the answer I gave to Quentin’s question at the event. And I want to respond to the comments on his post that take me as bemoaning the fate of knowledge in the age of the Net. The post itself captures my enthusiasm about networked knowledge, but the headline of Quentin’s post is “The Internet ruins everything,” which could easily mislead readers. I am overall thrilled about what’s happening to knowledge.

Quentin at the event noted that the picture of networked knowledge I’d painted maps closely to postmodern skepticism about the assumption that there are stable, eternal, knowable truths. So, he asked, did we invent the Net as a tool based on those ideas, or did the Net just happen to instantiate them? I replied that the question is too hard, but that it doesn’t much matter that we can’t answer it. I don’t think I did a very good job explaining either part of my answer. (You can hear the entire talk and questions here. The bit about truth starts at 46:36. Quentin’s question begins at 1:03:19.)

It’s such a hard question because it requires us to disentangle media from ideas in a way that the hypothesis of entanglement itself doesn’t allow. Further, the play of media and ideas occurs on so many levels of thought and society, and across so many forms of interaction and influence, that the results are emergent.

It doesn’t matter, though, because even if we understood how it works, we still couldn’t stand apart from the entanglement of media and ideas to judge those ideas independent of our media-mediated involvement with them. We can’t ever get a standpoint that isn’t situated within that entanglement. (Yes, I acknowledge that the idea that ideas are always situated is itself a situated idea. Nothing I can do about that.)

Nevertheless, I should add that almost everything I’ve written in the past fifteen years is about how our new medium (if that’s what the Net is (and it’s not)) affects our ideas, so I obviously find some merit in looking at the particulars of how media shape ideas, even if I don’t have a general theory of how that chaotic dance works.

I can see why Quentin may believe that I have “abandoned the idea of Truth,” even though I don’t think I have. I talked at the I School about the Net being phenomenologically more true to avoid giving the impression that I think our media evolve toward truth the way we used to think (i.e., before Thomas Kuhn) science does. Something more complex is happening than one approximation of truth replacing a prior, less accurate approximation.

And I have to say that this entire topic makes me antsy. I have an awkward, uncertain, unresolved attitude about the nature of truth. The same as many of us. I claim no special insight into this at all. Nevertheless, here goes…

My sense that truth and knowledge are situated in one’s culture, history, language, and personal history comes from Heidegger. I also take from Heidegger my sense of “phenomenological truth,” which takes truth as being the ways the world shows itself to us, rather than as an inner mental representation that accords with an outer reality. This is core to Heidegger and phenomenology. There are many ways in which we enable the world to show itself to us, including science, religion and art. Those ways have their own forms and rules (as per Wittgenstein). They are genuinely ways of knowing the world, not mere “games.” Nor are the truths these engagements reveal “pictures of reality” (to use Quentin’s phrase). They are — and I’m sorry to get all Heideggerian on you again — ways of being in the world. We live them. They are engaged, embodied truths, not mere representations or cognitions.

So, yes, I am among the many who have abandoned the idea of Truth as an inner representation of an outer reality from which we are so essentially detached that some of the greatest philosophers in the West have had to come up with psychotic theories to explain how we can know our world at all. (Leibniz, Spinoza, and Descartes, you know who I’m talking about.) But I have not abandoned the idea that the world is one way and not another. I have not abandoned the idea that beliefs can seem right but be wrong. I have not abandoned the importance of facts and evidence within many crucial discourses. Nor have I abandoned the idea that it is supremely important to learn how the world is. In fact, I may have said in the talk, and do say (I think) in the book that networked knowledge is becoming more like how scientists have understood knowledge for generations now.

So, for me the choice isn’t between eternal verities that are independent of all lived historial situations and the chaos of no truth at all. We can’t get outside of our situation, but that’s ok because truth and knowledge are only possible within a situation. If the Net’s properties are closer to the truth of our human condition than, say, broadcast’s properties were, that truth of our human condition itself is situated in a particular historical-cultural moment. That does not lift the obligation on us poor humans beings to try to understand, cherish, and engage with our world as truthfully as we possibly can.

But the main thing is, no, I don’t think the Net is ruining everything, and I am (overall) thrilled to see how the Net is transforming knowledge.

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December 3, 2011

Berkman Buzz

This week’s Berkman Buzz:

  • John Palfrey and Jonathan Zittrain advocate in Science for better data for a better Internet:
    link

  • Mayo Fuster Morell discusses the Spanish Revolution and the Internet: link

  • Jonathan Zittrain warns that the personal computer is dead: link

  • Zeynep Tufekci explores the pack mentality in journalism: link

  • The Citizen Media Law Project writes about undercover police monitoring of the Occupy protests in Nashville: link

  • Weekly Global Voices: “Global Voices Podcast: Technology that Empowers!”
    link

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December 2, 2011

The Net is a place

The latest Pew Internet study confirms what most of suspected was the case: “Americans are increasingly going online just for fun and to pass the time, particularly young adults under 30. On any given day, 53% of all the young adults ages 18-29 go online for no particular reason except to have fun or to pass the time. ”

And this also confirms an idea many of us have been proposing for a decade and a half or so: The Internet is a place. It is a weird place in which proximity is determined by interest, rather than a space in which interests are kept apart by distances. It is a place in which nearness defeats distance. It is a place, not just a space, because spaces are empty but places are saturated with meaning: Place is space that has been made to matter to us. The Internet is a place.

And now we have the polling numbers to prove it :)

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December 1, 2011

[2b2k] Are mailing lists for the old?

A large French company, Atos, has announced (apparently for the second time) that its employees are forbidden from using email for communicating internally. Apparently email is too full of noise, so employees are required to use social media instead of email. This is such an odd idea that it makes you think it’s been misreported.

It does make me wonder, though, how much of the online world relies upon mailing lists as heavily as I do, and whether this is a generational difference.

I’m on about a dozen active mailing lists, I think, although it’s possible the number is much higher. I’d say about half of those are primary sources for my “professional” interests. There are fields in which most of what I’ve learned has come from mailing lists, some of which I’ve been on for well over ten years. They are how I keep up with news in the field and they are where I hear news interpreted and discussed. The knowledge they provide is far more current, in depth, and interestingly intersected with strong personal interests than any broadcast medium could provide.

But it’s my impression, based on nothing but some random data points, that the kids today don’t much care for mailing lists, just as email itself has become an old-fashioned medium for them. There are plenty of other ways of keeping up with developments in a field one cares about, but do any provide the peculiar mix of thematic consistency, a persistent cast of characters, characters one otherwise would not know, and the ability to thread a discussion over the course of multiple days?

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