– data smog

An older book from 2007 worth reading:  Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut by David Shenk, which discusses information overload and the impact of technology on culture. I found the laws of data smog particularly intriguing:

The Laws of Data Smog

  1. Information, once rare and cherished like caviar, is now plentiful and taken for granted like potatoes.
  2. Silicon circuits evolve much more quickly than human genes.
  3. Computers are neither human nor humane.
  4. Putting a computer in every classroom is like putting an electric power plant in every home.
  5. What they sell is not information technology, but information anxiety.
  6. Too many experts spoil the clarity.
  7. All high-stim roads lead to Times Square.
  8. Birds of a feather flock virtually together.
  9. The electronic town hall allows for speedy communication and bad decisionmaking.
  10. Equifax is watching.
  11. Beware stories that dissolve all complexity.
  12. On the information highway, most roads bypass journalists.
  13. Cyberspace is Republican.

Not sure I agree with all of them though. Absolute freedom to me is a given.

But here are his promising remedies:

Antidote 1: Be Your Own Filter

The first remedy is simply to identify the clutter and start sweeping it away. Most of us have excess information in our lives, distracting us, pulling us away from our prioritize and from a much-desired tranquility. If we stop just for a moment to look (and listen) around us, we will begin to notice a series of data streams we’d be better off without, including some distractions we pay handsomely for.

Antidote 2: Be Your Own Editor

After learning how to filter input, one must shift concern to the equally important task of limiting output. Amidst the data smog, a new kind of social responsibility has emerged — an obligation to be succinct. Just as we’ve had to curtail our toxic emissions in the physical world, the information glut demands that we all be more economical about what we say, write, publish, broadcast, and post online. People who recklessly pump redundant or obfuscatory information into society are the information age equivalents of the miscreants who open their car door at a stop light to dump trash onto the street.

Antidote 3: Simplify

Between input and output, there is life itself. How does one live a meaningful life in an ever-more complex and distracting world? One helpful ingredient, I’ve found, is to embrace a new paradigm of simplicity.

It is often said that we are on the cusp of a whole new age when intelligent machines will take over much of the work we do. I suspect that just the opposite may be true — that we are about to comprehend the true limitations of machines. Once we realize that information technology truly cannot replace human experience, that as it increases the available information it also helps devalue the meaning of each piece of information, we will be on the road to reasserting our dominance over technology.

Antidote 4: De-nichify

How to change our electronic Tower of Babel into a modern Agora? The answer is easy, though the solution is not: We need to talk to one another. Recall Bill Bradley’s challenge: “When was the last time you talked about race with someone of a different race? If the answer is never, you’re part of the problem.”

As we reach across cultural boundaries and pursue interdisciplinary studies, we are pursuing the best kind of education — not just learning how to become more efficient at a specialized task, but how to interact with the rest of humanity. These sorts of pursuits enable us to embrace the joys of education as the best possible antidote to data smog. Education is anti-glut. It is the harnessing of information, organizing it into knowledge and memory. Education also breeds a healthy skepticism, and will help consumers fend off manipulative marketing tactics. Education is the one thing we can’t get overloaded with. The more of it, the better.

Antidote 5: Don’t Forsake Government; Help Improve It

Finally, for collective fixes more appropriately enacted on behalf of all society, we must call on that awkward but thoroughly necessary beast, government.

Yes, government. Federal initiatives are badly needed, mostly because technology policy is too important to be surrendered to chance or to the wealthiest corporations. The cyber-libertarian community has made anti-government rhetoric a fashionable part of the information revolution, mostly in response to a lot of very thoughtless federal legislation. After a particularly stupid law was signed by President Clinton in 1996 — the Communications Decency Act, which aimed to excessively curb speech online — leading cyber thinker John Perry Barlow issued a “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” which rashly proclaimed the Net to be its own world, not a functioning part of conventional society.

Respectfully, I dissent. The Net is not literally a new world vested with its own sovereignty; it is a new and exciting facet of society, created and subsidized by a democratic government that, for all of its well-publicized bungling and wastefulness, actually works pretty well. Barlow is absolutely correct in describing cyberspace as a very different organism from our physical world. Ultimately, though, the former must fall under the jurisdiction of the latter.

Find more excerpts here: http://www.rheingold.com/electricminds/html/tom_rheingold_3128.html

more on HDF and the Sudanese delegation

Sudanese delegation

The Sudanese delegation

Well the Sudanese delegation repeated several times the need to remove the software export restrictions ban that is put on the Sudan. You see, there is software that, if given to someone who lives in the Sudan, is punishable by the law in the US because there is an embargo on some countries that are considered ‘terrorist’ or somehow violators of human rights. It is software that mostly has to do with encryption and security.

In the resolutions at the end of the HDF conference in Cairo, the Sudanese delegration reiterated that we need to put the removal of this ban as part of the conference recommendations of actions to be taken. This final outcome by the way goes to the Arab League.

I was amused and so I raised my hand and said the following: “While I do support a lifting of the ban, it is not something that really prevents the Sudanese from accomplishing what they want in terms of e-education since that software has to do with encryption etc. Nevertheless,” I added, “if we will put that, then perhaps another resolution should be that we need to address Arab countries and tell them they needed to stop censorship and lift the bans on many websites that are filtered and blocked. Why should we ask others to give us things they don’t want to give us, whereas we are oppressing our own people and censoring them? see all the examples of the censorship that we have including among the countries represented here at this conference. ” [and of course I was talking about Saudi Arabia – but there are also others such as Syria, Tunisia etc.].

Silence. It was funny because there was absolute awkward silence.  I don’t think many of the attendees really understood what those two issues were not because they are stupid, but because this whole entire “internet-thing” is new to many and they are not yet well-informed about its politics.

The ‘women side’ of the Saudi delegation:

saudi women

beware, your computer is controlled by external forces

From Tom Dispatch and William Astore: Militarizing your cyberspace

Working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Department of Homeland Security, and other governmental agencies, the Air Force’s stated goal is to gain access to, and control over, any and all networked computers, anywhere on Earth, at a proposed cost to you, the American taxpayer, of $30 billion over the first five years.

…on May 12th of this year, the Air Force Research Laboratory posted an official “request for proposal” seeking contractor bids to begin the push to achieve “dominant cyber offensive engagement.” The desired capabilities constitute a disturbing militarization of cyberspace

…If that’s not enough for you, it’s now proposing a massive $30 billion cyberspace boondoggle, as retired Air Force Lt. Col. William Astore writes below, that will, theoretically, provide the Air Force with the ability to fry any computer on Earth.

Need I say more?

data mining of Second Life and World of Warcarft

Here is what I found on Bill Moyers’ site:

Rick Karr on Internet Surveillance

Congress is still deadlocked over the Bush Administration’s efforts to listen in to phone calls and read emails without search warrants. The sticking point is whether or not to allow private citizens to sue telecom conglomerates, the huge firms that provide most of us with phone and internet service – and helped the Administration spy on us. Now, the Administration wants to try to spy on Americans in another way. My colleague Rick Karr has this to bring you up to speed.
-Bill Moyers

And view the video

The project is called Project Reynard, and the report may be downloaded here in pdf format.

Terrorist avatars bewaaaaaaare of the big bad wolf Reynard [incidentally, he IS a wolf].

on wikileaks

Wikileaks is a place for whistle-blowers of all nationalities and walks of life may go and post their information anonymously. Here is what they say of themselves:

Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis. Our primary interests are in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we expect to be of assistance to peoples of all countries who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations. We aim for maximum political impact..

They are true to their word. They succeeded in raising the ire of Swiss Banks by publishing internal documents that show that they deal with money laundering. The banks filed suite to shut down the website in the US, and a court ruled in the banks’ favour. However, there is an appeal process and it remains to be seen what will transpire.