Joho the BlogJune 2012 - Page 2 of 3 - Joho the Blog

June 22, 2012

12% have borrowed an ebook from their library, but most don’t know they can

A new report from Pew Internet says that most Americans don’t know that they can borrow e-books from their local public libraries, while 12% of e-book readers (16 years and older) have borrowed an e-book from their local public library. (More than 75% of local public libraries in the US do lend out e-books.)

Those who do borrow e-books think the selection is quite good: 16% excellent, 18% very good, and 32% good.

“58% of Americans have a library card, and 69% say that their local library is important to them and their family.”

Lots more of interesting and important data in this report. As always, Pew Internet puts it out for free. Thank you, Pew!

And as a small gesture of thanks, here’s a plug for the new book by Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman Networked: The New Social Operating System. Lee is the head of Pew Internet. I haven’t read it yet, but given its authors, I have a lot of confidence that it’s well worth reading.

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June 20, 2012

Brad Abruzzi on NJ’s Famous Turnpike Witch

I’ve now finished Brad Abruzzi’s New Jersey’s Famous Turnpike Witch. It ends well, although not in the sense of tying up all the loose ends. But, then, it wouldn’t. Here’s my review. Here’s where you can download it. It’s awesome.

I sent Brad some questions. He responded:

Q: How long have you been writing fiction? What have you written before?

This is my second novel. I started the first in the summer after my college graduation. It was an effort to channel my postgraduate “what now?” angst into something constructive and interesting. I’d describe it as an anti-coming of age novel, framed as a typewritten manuscript sent to select media outlets by the notorious (and, as he explains, accidental) Rust Belt revolutionary fugitive title character, John “Cactus” Kelly. Cactus Kelly hopes to explain how he didn’t mean to start the Steeltown riots, that he has not endorsed the radicalized youth movement that has taken up his name, and that he was only trying to parry his father’s attempts, via armed “contractors,” to see him kicked out of the family home and flushed against his will into a productive life. And of course there’s a Gila monster that introduces all sorts of plot complications.

I burned through three literary agents with In Defense of Cactus Kelly, and though I got some very polite and encouraging rejections from editors, I never managed to place it. It probably didn’t help that “Cactus Kelly” was also the name of a prominent “foxy boxer” in Colorado. I had no idea there was such a thing as foxy boxing, or that anyone could be prominent in that trade.

Q: Do you have a particularly strong connection to the NJ Turnpike?

I do now. I actually grew up in Ohio. But I went to school in New Jersey, and I travel that road a heck of lot to visit in-laws in Virginia. As I look back, I’m not sure where all this came from, except that I’ve always thought it was awesome that New Jersey names its Turnpike Service Areas after its prominent native sons and daughters (no foxy boxers, as yet). I’m sure Walt Whitman and Alexander Hamilton would be thrilled to know that their names have been conscripted into service for the peddling of pizza-flavored Combos and Arizona Iced Tea. And for hosting those “drop the hook and win a prize” games that we know we can’t win, but for whatever reason we can’t resist taking a shot at them, when we’re on the road.

Q: Why didn’t you publish with a traditional publishing house?

Um, you’d have to ask them. Or you’d have to ask the agents, because I didn’t even clear that first barrier to publishing. I went the traditional publishing route with IDCK, and though I was ultimately unsuccessful with it, I had lots of interest, including the aforementioned three literary agents — so much so that when I started writing NJFTPW, I was (naively, presumptuously, wrongly, stupidly) thinking of it as a “second book,” such that I’d have more license to run wild with characters and plot. Turns out that was not the case, and it’s been a struggle even to get agents to read the manuscript. My third and last agent for IDCK left the business to study anthropology. He was my best (read, only) advocate with ties to the business, and I was pretty adrift when he told me he was quitting. He was looking at NJFTPW at the time, but he’d just had enough of the business. You’d have to ask him why he left, but it may have had something to do with the uphill battle he was having selling writers he liked.

I’ve been advised by professionals that the problems I’ve had selling NJFTPW is that it doesn’t fit easily into any particular fiction bucket. I don’t know if that means it’s just too whacked out, that it’s not susceptible to the genre labels (satire? humor? literary? po-mo?), or that it’s just not about vampires, Templar Knights, and/or the young woman trying to find love in the Big City. But in retrospect, I think I understand why. The truth is, I’d started this book in my first year of law school, and as best I can figure it, I was grappling with the meaning and consequences of having made the first practical decision — concession? — of my life. So I reserved a pocket of my life to be decidedly impractical, and at the same time I was studying Torts and Contracts, I sat down and wrote Chapter 1, about my disillusioned diva performance artist in traffic. And so now I’m paying for that impractical decision. And that’s fine, because I’m happy with this book.

Q: How has the reaction been?

Well, you know. There’s not exactly a marketing machine behind the book right now. And The Witch isn’t positioned at eye level on any bookstore’s New Fiction shelf. As someone who had a go at blogging and was able to use Google Analytics to track and identify the entirety of his readership in real time (“Hey: that’s my high school friend in Texas.” “Wait: who’s reading this in Florida? Oh, right, Mike’s on vacation.”), I didn’t carry into this the highest expectations of “going viral.” And writing and sending “buy my book” spam isn’t something I do well — I can write a query letter or blurb, fer shurr, but it’s not my strong suit. So I’ve tried to have fun with it. The Witch has a Facebook account, a Twitter account, and now and again she’ll surface to say a word or two about national affairs or pick a fight with her Creator. We have a lively back-and-forth, she and I, and it does absolutely nothing to improve my sales figures.

But I’ve got a couple strong reviews on Amazon, and I have your very flattering and thoughtful words, so onward and upward, little by little, I guess.

I do have this from my wife, who recently broke her pledge not to introduce complications in her marriage by reading my books: “You should go back to writing poetry.” I’m finding ways to take that as a compliment.

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June 19, 2012

[sogeti] Andrew Keen

I’m at an event put on by Sogeti, in Bussum, about 30 km outside of Amsterdam. Sogeti is a technology consulting company of about 20,000 people. Last night on the way to a dinner event, Michiel Boreel the CTO, explained that the company markets itself in part by holding events designed to provoke thought and controversy. At today’s event, they have a guy from IBM talking about Big Data, Andrew Keen, Luciano Floridi, me, and others. At tomorrow’s event, they are having a debate about whether Big Data is good or bad for you. (Disclosure: They’re paying me for speaking.)

Andrew Keen is giving the final speech of the morning. He’s going to talk about the themes of his book, Digital Vertigo, especially as they apply to Big Data.

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.

“Real time is yesterday’s news,” he says. We’re into Web 3.0, he says. What does that mean? Paraphrasing Robert Scoble: the bartender knows what you want before you order. “The future arrives before we know it.” (He refers to his recent op-ed at CNN.com.)

He says he calls his book Digital Vertigo because the future is being scripted by Alfred Hitchcock. The premise is that Hitchcock’s Vertigo gives us a preview of what life is like in the age of Big Data. “It’s a movie about watching and being watched.” “Jimmy Stewart is us in the age of Big Data.” “Surveillance and voyeurism…a little preview from Hitchcock of the age of exhibitionism” In the Age of Big Data weve fallen in love with the idea that more we make public, the happier we will become.” People like, um, me (i.e., DW) and the Berkman Center are responsible for fooling us into thinking that the more together we are, the happier we are.

He plays a bit of The Social Network, when Sean Parker says, “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the Internet.” Up through Web 2.0 the distinction between the real and virtual was clear. Now some authors (James Gleick) say that we are made of data. Many companies are in the business of collecting our data and enabling us to distribute ourselves and to define ourselves as data. People (he cites Loic Le Meur) are recording everything about themsevlves — his weight, his exercise runs, etc. “All these apps are designed to record, callibrate, intepret ourselves.” The location apps could have been invented by Orwell. The app Highlight keeps tabs on where we are. It aggregates our data.

He plays a bit of The Truman Show. “We’re all starring in the age of big data as ourselves…There’s no difference between private and public life.” “We have the collapsing of the public and private.” “Privacy is being destroyed. Many people in Silicon Valley say this is a good thing.”

“What’s behind this? Part of it is what I would call Digital Narcissism.” Andrew went to the Parthenon and found that no one was looking at the ruins because they were too busy photographing each other. The Age of Big data is an ideal complement to the Age of Narcissism, just as Jimmy Stewart fell in love with a fake blonde. “All love stories end badly. I’m British, not American.”

“Visibility is a trap,” said Foucault, says Andrew. “I’m not saying we should turn off all our devices, ” but visibility is a trap in three ways: 1. We, the innocent, are in fact the victim. The apps are collecting our data and selling it to advertisers, although they deny that. Eric Schmidt has said that he wants Google in 5 years to know what we want better than we do. 2. Even if we’re living in a post-1984 world, there still are governments whose eyes get big when they see they can know everything about us, telling us they’re fighting “absurd things such as terrorism.” Did social media bring down Mubarek? Yes, but there’s a darker side: 3. We’re watching ourselves. We’ve become little brothers.

History is repeating itself. He cites Bentham’s panopticon. Bentham thought if we all watched one another, it would aid progressive causes.

We need to do what Jimmy Stuart did: He sees the truth. We need to draw a line in the sand. “I’m not against some elements of the transparent network.” We’ve fallen in love with the idea that we become more human the more we distribute ourselves. “The problem with social media is that it’s not making us human. It’s doing away with the complexity of who we are.” Human essence is premised on secrecy, mystery. Individualism requires us to be alone. It does not require us to be in this perpetual social environment. Wozniak invented the personal computer by shutting himself in a room. If you want to bring the most out of your people, you need to put walls up in your office. You need to give people the space to develop their own ideas. You need to take them off the network.

We’ll finally be able to predict our own deaths. We need an alternative ending. We need to rethink the age of big data. We need government action. “I’m not a 20th century Stalinist. I’m not say the govt has to shut these companies down. But we need regulation.” We need apps that are premised on privacy and there are some. We need to rely on tech, e.g., some that’s being developed that allows data to degenerate. We need most of all to teach the Net how to forget. The Net is immature. It needs to learn how to forget. If data could fade away like writing, then the Net would be habitable. But now it is inhabitable. It is not a place fit for humans.

Andrew shows the end of the Truman Show where Truman realizes he’s on a TV set and he escapes. We need to discover that here’s a world beyond the network. Truman disappears into the darkness. That’s what we need to do in the age of big data. We need individually to discover that black space, where we can retire, where we can really work on ourselves as unique individuals. We’re born in that darkness and we die in it. The Net is a deception. We can civilize and humanize it. But we need collectively to work on it. [Collectively? Like on the Net?]

Q&A

Q: Do we have a right to be forgotten? Is it a right?

A: Brandeis wrote we have this as a core right because privacy allows us to build our individuality. I’m not a legal scholar, so I don’t know.But I do think the govt can’t legislate it. We have to be careful that this doesn’t turn into censorship.

Q: What’s worse than no regulation is bad regulation.

A: Clearly someone from Silicon Valley. The Net should be legislated like any other medium. I’m ambivalent about enforcing the right to forget. I’ve failed many times, but the business of America is reinvention. With a medium that doesn’t forget, then you can’t reinvent himself. Even Mark Zuckerberg reinvented himself. Facebook’s Timeline writes a narrative of our lives. I wrote an aggressively negative article about this and got 20,000 FB Likes.

Q: Who in the room sees mainly the positive side of Big Data? The negative side? [Very few hands go up for either side.]

A: The purpose of my work is not to trash the Internet; it’s to have us think more carefully.

Q: What is the positive side of big data?

A: The positive is that it enables people who have mastered themselves to improve that mastery. If you use medical apps to chart your weight and fitness, these platforms to reinvent yourself as a brand , enable us if we’re mature and responsible to improve the quality of our lives. The problem is that most people aren’t using social media that way. The biggest problem with big data is that it turns us into ones and zeroes. Bentham thought we can quantify everything about ourselves. The real way to happiness is not through data. [True. The positive side: Bentham quantified as a way to equalize interests across classes.]

 


During the break, Andrew and I had a lively conversation. In brief, we agree that we don’t trust social networks like (and especially) Facebook to handle our data in ways that reflect our interests. And where we fundamentally disagree is in our assessment of how humans flourish. Andrew emphasizes the individual. I can only see individuals as social creatures. That of course over-simplifies the discussion and the idea, but, well, I’m over-simplifying.

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June 18, 2012

The Famous NJ Turnpike Witch

Most fiction is crap. Often the plot is arbitrary or unsurprising. More often, the you can see the author’s plans behind the writing: The author needs a brainy nerd, a wisecracking minor character, a mysterious presence, someone with the key to the jalopy. Whatever. The characters, the plot, the entire mess feels constructed. Which is usually the opposite of art. (This is certainly true of my pathetic stabs at fiction.)

Then, of course, there are the magicians. John Updike could make you feel you were inhabiting a real person within a single paragraph. I’m reading Philip Roth’s Nemesis now, and while I often find Roth’s world unpleasant to live in, I find myself in that world without any sense of Roth standing between it and me.

So, meet Brad Abruzzi. Brad was a Berkman Fellow last year, and we hit it off. Brad was also a lawyer in Harvard’s Office of the General Counsel, and I got to know him in that capacity since he was a silent hero in the effort to negotiate the freedom of 12M+ bibliographic records from Harvard Library. He has since moved to MIT, which is too bad for Harvard. I like Brad a lot.

But I had no idea, none at all, that he is a fiction writer whose work is the opposite of crap. You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but the guy can write. Of course, I don’t know what I would expect a good fiction writer to look like, short of a beret and a thick coat of pretension.

I downloaded Brad’s novel New Jersey’s Famous Turnpike Witch with trepidation, figuring I’d have to say something nice to him about it while technically salvaging my integrity through some clever, noncommital choice of words. But NJFTPW is just wonderful. I’m only 70% through, and I’ll let you know how the whole thing goes, but I’m loving it so far. Brad has created a skewed world in which the NJ Turnpike is its own realm, with its own culture, sociology, and politics. The fulcrum of the story is Alice, a performance artist who — implausibly, until you realize that this is not the NJ Turnpike you’re used to driving — is beloved by the long lines of cars she ties up with her antics. The story is brimming with characters, none stock, most somewhat over-the-top, each richly imagined and each with her or his own unexpected history — funny short stories on their own. Brad, it turns out, is endlessly inventive. You would never ever read back from this book and figure it was probably written by a Harvard-MIT lawyer.

This is a really good book. Once you give into its absurd premises, it follows a logic that makes sense as it unfolds. It’s funny, satiric, frequently hilarious, and full of sentences you’ll re-read because they’re that enjoyable.

Holy cow, Brad! Holy holy cow.

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June 17, 2012

Amsterdam in three museums

I love Amsterdam so much. I know the residents have their complaints — including that tourists love it too much — but it is such a physically beautiful city, and so full of life. So, I’m very happy to have 2 days here between jobs.

Over the past 1.5 days, I have done nothing but walk, so long as you include walking through museums as walking.

My first walk brought me to the Van Gogh museum first, but on a Saturday afternoon the line stretched down the block, so I went to the Rijksmuseum instead. This is, of course, the grand museum of Amsterdam, but it has reduced and concentrated its exhibitions while it undergoes what feels like 30 years of renovation. Your €14 gets you into about a dozen rooms of works by Dutch masters. Despite the intensity of the art, and the fact that I generally get tired after about a dozen rooms in a museum, it felt a bit small.

Still, there are many stunners there. I am a sucker for Rembrandt, so I was happy. In fact, I’ve found that I’m gotten more and more awestruck by painting as I’ve gotten older. I think that’s due in part to my not feeling shallow for being moved by technique. I used to think that admiring a painter’s technique is like admiring a violinist because she plays real fast. Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations awakened me to Bach (re-awakened me, perhaps) which I grew to love both for Bach’s moving outside of the form to express himself and for Gould’s ability to do the same because of his unbelievable virtuosity. These notes, so difficult to conceive together, so impossible to play that way! I’ve come to think that technique is not a trick played on art. (Open Source Goldberg Variations here.)

And Rembrandt’s technique is so stunning. I am one of those guys who peers up close and then steps back and then steps forward again. (Yes, I try to stay out of people’s way.) I like to see how it looked to the artist and how the artist had to imagine how it would look to the viewer. I spent a good amount of time in the Rijksmuseum in front of Rembrandt’s portrait of Maria Trip admiring how he painted the lace and the dozens of pearls. He does pearls so well! But then I’d step back to see that slightly uncomfortable face. Is she someone who struggles with trying to look natural, or does she just not have a lot of naturalness to express? And then: How the hell did he paint that?

I was surprised to find myself spending a long time in front of the Wedding portrait of Isaac Massa and Beatrix von der Laen. It’s by Frans Hals, an artist I usually don’t respond to. But I was pretty much overcome by it. The newlyweds are relaxing in front of some treees and bushes, with the formal building and fountain in the distance. She’s got her arm on his shoulder and he’s leaning back with one hand in his shirt (symbolizing fidelity, the notes say). They are so clearly in love, yet still two distinct people. And of the two, she’s got the clearest view of the situation — and the situation is going to be full of happy mischief.

(Thank you, Rijksmuseum, for posting the paintings online.)

I then went to Rembrandt’s House. I was there with my family 10-15 years ago when it was undergoing renovation, and I was a little disappointed in how it came out. The first time I was there, in the 1970s, I remember having a strong sense of the size of the house. The renovation removes the sense of the house’s original boundaries, although the stairs remain damn narrow. For 10€ you can see the reconstructed kitchen (which is interesting in a diorama sort of way), demonstrations of how he printed etchings and how he mixed paint, lots of contemporary paintings, and a room full of his exquisite, tiny etchings.

This morning I went back to the Van Gogh museum. It opens at 10am on Sundays, and by 10:30am there was already a short line. The entrance fee is 14€. I have to say that I was a little disappointed, although it was still well worth the visit. Most of the iconic Van Gogh’s are in other collections, although you’ll certainly find some here. I’d guess that about half of the pictures are not by Van Gogh; some provide interesting context (the precursors section was helpful) and some are in special exhibits that don’t have too much to do with Van Gogh; the current exhibit is on the Symbolists, which the museum interprets quite broadly.

There are some very early drawings and paintings where you see Van Gogh mastering technique the way a future master would. And I enjoyed as well the Parisian paintings, from before Van Gogh left for Arles. There’s a painting that is composed like a Dutch landscape, except the earth-based portion is of Paris rendered almost like the undergrowth he was painting towards the end of his sanity.

There are fewer in the familiar Starry Night style where you wonder what the hell drug he was on, but that’s ok with me since I tend to prefer the ones where the brushstroke reveal more about the subject than about Van Gogh’s subjective state. And there are some gorgeous ones. As seems especially the case with Van Gogh, the reproductions can utterly suppress the beauty of the originals, so I was startled to see how rich the sky is in The Yellow House. It gives such a sense of a small yellow building sitting in an infinitely deep universe. (My idiosyncratic reaction was: Heidegger was right, at least for this painting: Earth and world, gods and mortals, all at their intersection.) (Thank you. Van Gogh Museum, for not only posting your paintings, but letting us zoom in on them.)

Some of the non-Van Gogh works are also pretty great. I loved a Monet vista of Monaco from a turn in the road, and a hilarious Mondrian sun-over-the-sea painting that the legend says he intended not to be ridiculous but to capture some Theosophical truth.

Anyway, it was well worth going to. But do try to find a time when it isn’t jam-packed; it was often hard to get to see the paintings instead of the backs of the heads of other visitors.

Damn tourists!

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June 15, 2012

Interop: The podcast

My Radio Berkman interview of John Palfrey and Urs Gasser about their suprisingly wide-ranging book Interop is now up, as is the video of their Berkman book talk…

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June 14, 2012

[eim] Ranganathan’s grandson

At the Future Forum conference in Dresden, I had the opportunity to hang out with Ranga Yogeshwar, a well-known television science journalist in Germany. We were deep into conversation at the speakers dinner when I mentioned that I work in a library, and he mentioned that his grandfather had been an earlly library scientist. It turns out that his grandfather was none other than S.R. Ranganathan, the father of library science. Among other things, Ranganathan invented the “Colon Classification System” (worst name ever) that uses facets to enable multiple simultaneous classifications, an idea that really needed computers to be fulfilled. Way ahead of his time.

So, the next day I took the opportunity to stick my phone in Ranga’s face and ask him some intrusive, personal questions about his grandfather:

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June 13, 2012

[2b2k] PDF 2012 – In Defense of Echo Chambers

Here is the text of a short talk I gave at PDF yesterday. I did not use slides, and I actually read from pieces of paper because I wanted to make sure that I stayed on time (it took about 8 minutes, I think) and did not stray too far from what I wanted to say. So, yes, I read a freaking paper at PDF. And yes, I am ashamed. On the other hand, I’m humbled and amazed to have been in the line-up of speakers that morning.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is reputed to have said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, not to his own facts.” We like this saying in large part because it brings us the comfort of believing that facts provide a way of bringing us together. But perhaps the single incontestable conclusion to be drawn after any even quick involvement with the Internet is that we don’t agree about anything. Everything is contested on the Net, even things that really should not be. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that the facts are not going to bring us together. The old Enlightenment ideal of two people with deeply different ideas sitting together over a cup of coffee and working themselves down to their fundamental differences, until the issue is resolved, the Internet has shown that that ideal just isn’t going to happen. We don’t agree, and now we can’t deny it.

I am not saying that we should give up on facts, or on fact-based argument. To the contrary. It remains our obligation to try to base our policies on facts, because facts are the parts of reality against which we bark our shins. Reality counts.

But I do want to argue against one version of despair that comes from looking at the seeming powerlessness of facts on the Internet: The echo chamber argument.

Cass Sunstein’s idea of echo chambers, and Eli Pariser’s excellent Filter Bubble variation, are well known to you. It’s the idea that when people are given lots of choices of voices to listen to, they — we — tend to listen to people with whom we already agree, and that this results in a confirming of what we believe, and can move us to move extreme versions of it, resulting in even greater polarization. If the Net is having this effect, the Net is not the great hope for a more open society, but a tragedy. Echo chambers are a real problem. We need to be vigilant, and educate ourselves and our children how to avoid their pernicious effects.

Please keep that in mind as I head toward what is actually my point today: Echo chambers are dangerous, but they are also a condition of thought and understanding.

So, I want to look at an example of an echo chamber. But not the usual ones. Instead, Reddit.com. Reddit has all the earmarks of an echo chamber. The Reddit community, although it is far from uniform, nevertheless generally shares some values. It is pro science, atheist, pro legalization of marijuana, pro cute cat, generally progressive. It has shared heroes like Neil DeGrasse Tyson. It has a set of in-jokes — memes that often you have to understand a hidden context to get; you have to know that a photo of a particular woman flags the text as an example of a “first world problem.” Then it’s hilarious. Reddit has its own vocabulary: FTFY is fixed that for you, and AMA is ask me anything. And it has its own norms and ethos. Reddit is an echo chamber.

Yet, it’s also one of the best examples of how a community can successfully engage outside of its own bubble. IAMA at Reddit stands for I am a …someone putting her or himself forward as interesting, willing to answer questions. I am a Mariachi. I am Louis CK. I am Daryl Issa. I am a janitor at WalMart. I am a Rick Santorum supporter. I am a Muslim religious student — remember Reddit is strongly atheistic and even anti-religion.AMA. Ask me anything. At its best, which is frequent, what follows is a group interview in which answers are treated with respect so long as they are frank and honest. The community feels empowered to ask the questions that people really want answered, without a foolish regard for political correctness. (Of course not all political correctness is foolish.) IAMA’s are a new form of journalism, and can result in the best interviews I’ve read – the recent IAMA with Paul Krugman for example. More important at the moment, they are a way in which an echo chamber throws a window open.

The key point is that it’s because Reddit is an echo chamber that it can engage in something close to the Enlightenment ideal of open, honest, frank discussion among people with deep deep differences. This is totally not accidental, and points to the baby that we should be careful not to throw out with the echo chamber bathwater. The Reddit community can engage in IAMAs so frankly and well because it has a strong sense of who it is as a community. Communities are echo chambers – a set of people that share basic values and beliefs that are assumed and reinforced. This is not an accident or something we can avoid. It is baked into the very nature of the conversations that create community: To have a conversation of any sort, you have to have 99% agreement. (I made that number up.) You have to be speaking the same language, have the same basic norms of conversation — who gets to speak for how long, how interruptive you can be, and so forth — and you have to be interested in the same topic. Then you can find some small differences to talk about — you both like Johnny Depp but differ about if he’s sold out, or you both want the poor to have access to health care but differ over how — and then you iterate on that 1% of difference. This need for a vast similarity is not a failing of conversation, but is its condition. And that’s because human understanding itself works this way. We understand the new by assimilating it to our existing context- our densely interrelated web of concepts, ideas and feeelings. That’s why when some piece of news comes along, it makes sense to go to a site where people with whom you basically agree — your echo chamber — is discussing it. What did the Wisconsin recall results mean for Pres. Obama’s reelection? I’m going to go first to, say, DailyKos, because they’re going to help me understand it within my personal political context. I might then visit a Republican site to help me see how they’re taking it, but that’s at least in part a type of anthropological research. Communities are echo chambers. Conversation is an echo chamber. Understanding is an echo chamber. The political solidarity that leads to action requires an echo chamber.

And as Reddit shows, our way out of an echo chamber is through an echo chamber.

The problem is that Reddit is an all too rare example of an echo chamber that willingly throws open its windows. It takes rare delight in doing so. What distinguishes Reddit? It is an echo chamber with a commitment to the value of curiosity, and strong norms of empathy, acceptance and love. It can engage with other points of view without giving up its own values or its snarky silliness. And from this, as the SOPA protest showed, can come political action.

We cannot escape all our echo chambers. Our challenge is to bring to each of the echo chambers we inhabit the values that will turn them into arenas of engaged understanding rather than into dark chambers of willful stupidity.

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My inner voice

As I have mentioned before, I have what I think is particularly strong inner narrator, especially when I’m alone. I’ve always attributed this to my proclivities towards writing, since my narrator drafts and often redrafts descriptions of what I’m experiencing. It’s either that or I’m a little schizo. Or both.

I am today at the beginning of a three week trip, during which I will be spending a fair bit of time alone. My inner narrator has already kicked in, and here’s the thing: It’s now Mike and Tom Eat Snacks.

I have to say it’s a little disconcerting having two of them. Not for me it isn’t. But it is for me. I’ll tell you exactly why: It’s because your inner Mike and Tom include an internalized Mike and Tom, so you have a little fractal regression thing going on that’s got to be a little upsetting. Yes, that’s true; it’s because I’m a people person. Whereas I’m just a person person. Exactly right.

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June 11, 2012

DPLA West meeting online

The sessions from the DPLA Plenary meeting on April 27 in SF are now online. Here’s the official announcement:

…all media and work outputs from the two day-long events that made up DPLA West–the DPLA workstream meetings held on April 26, 2012 at the San Francisco Public Library, and the public plenary held on April 27, 2012 at the Internet Archive in San Francisco, CA–are now available online on the “DPLA West: Media and Outputs” page:http://dp.la/get-involved/events/dplawest/dpla-west-media-and-outputs/.

There you will find:

  • Key takeaways from the April 26, 2012 workstream meetings;

  • Notes from the April 27, 2012 Steering Committee meeting;

  • Complete video of the April 27, 2012 public plenary;

  • Photographs and graphic notes from the public plenary;

  • Video interviews with DPLA West participants;

  • And audio interviews with DPLA West scholarship recipients.

More information about DPLA West can be found online at http://dp.la/get-involved/events/dplawest/.

Folks from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and the Berkman Center worked long and hard to create a prototype software platform for the DPLA in time for this event. The platform is up and gives live access to about 20M books and thousands of images and other items from various online collections. The session at which we introduced, explained, and demo’ed it is now available for your viewing pleasure. (I was interim head of the project.)

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