Social Media and Social Ills

I haven’t written in this blog in a while because I started a new job as a search analyst about a month ago, and as you can imagine, that’s been taking up quite a bit of my time. Recently, however, I had an experience that has inspired me to write this post. I’ll get in to the details of the experience in a moment, but (as is my wont), I want to briefly go over some theory that relates directly to what I’m getting at first.

Continue reading ‘Social Media and Social Ills’



So I haven’t written in this space in about a month, and don’t plan on writing anything substantial for another week or two. Sorry for the inactivity, but I just started a new job and haven’t been able to commit to anything.

My new job is in Search Engine Optimization, and I’ve been learning way too much to digest all at once. Please stay tuned, because all of this is providing a lot of ideas for future posts, notably how the architecture of Google affects how we learn about our world as individuals and as a society.

(Spoiler alert: hypothetical access to limitless information is not the same thing as a ‘marketplace of information’. In other words, I have a much clearer idea of what this whole project has basically been about).

Red Flag Phrases: A List

The following is the first-draft of a list of phrases that I’ve seen used on the internet, tv, and radio that automatically raise a red flag for me. I’m not saying that everyone who uses these phrases isn’t worth listening to, but most of the time that’s the case.
Add your own in the comments.
  • “They’re all crooks…”
  • “Liberals just want…”
  • “Conservatives are…”
  • “It’s just common sense!”
  • “Hello, my name is Richard Dawkins”
  • “South Park is really good satire”
  • “That’s what they want you to believe.”
  • “Do you know the truth about Scientology?”
  • “ACORN!”
  • “Government meddling”
  • “Atlas Shrugged”
  • “The Second Amendment” (without acknowledging “a well-organized militia…”)
  • “States’ rights”
  • “(political opponent) is a LIAR!”
  • Lame, capitalized puns (“BUllSHit”, “TAXachussetts”)

Transitional Post

I’ve been unable to dedicate time to this blog lately, but I want to direct people’s attention to this TED talk. Within his topic, the speaker presents a lot of interesting, relevant points about the internet and society. But his argument about the difference between intended and actual consequences of action is fascinating. In my mind, when combined with the fact that humans simply are not rational, it sets a framework for arguing against unlimited free choice and libertarianism. But that’s a complicated issue that I can’t address right now. So I’m hoping that you guys will add your thoughts in the comments.

Link Drop 9/16

Just saw a link to two articles of note on The Root (one of Slate’s sister sites, apparently targeting a middle to upper-middle class African American audience). Both referenced danah boyd’s address to the Personal Democracy Forum. I’m a big fan of boyd’s work, which has done an excellent job of illuminating how existing class and racial disparities are reflected (and in some cases) magnified online, despite the seeming promise of a classless Web.

Something caught my eye in the latter article, this phrase (italics mine): “presented her controversial work … on June 30 at the Personal Democracy Forum”

“Controversial?”, I naively thought, “surely anybody interested enough in social dynamics online to have heard of danah boyd wouldn’t find the work controversial. That’s a poor choice of words.”

And then I looked into the comments. As is unfortunately to be expected on the internet, they ran the full gamut from actively racist to misinformed to ‘why does this matter?’ Although we always have to be aware of the self-selection bias when extrapolating anything from blog comments, the responses demonstrate some unfortunate truths:

  • Many people are unable to recognize that their own experience says nothing about larger reality. A lot of the posts are in the form of “I have lots of black friends of Facebook”
  • Many respondents failed to understand that the particular sites they use are a function of their social network, stating features of the sites that they ‘prefer’… Despite the fact the boyd points out that such notions are just rationalizations on that very page.
  • In general, people fail to understand that racial and class disparities are problematic even when they are disconnected from a prejudiced, ‘racist’ person. Institutional racism and structural disparity are apparently beyond the understanding of the average person.
  • Very few people understand the difference between access to technology and the complicated set of factors that determine use and proficiency with those technologies.

None of these observations are new to these articles, but the comment sections are a good (if somewhat despiritng) reminder of how bad of a guide personal experience and ‘common sense’ can be.

Information, Knowledge, Intellectual Property and DRM

Discussing Digital Rights Management (DRM) in the comments of a previous post, I started thinking about information, knowledge, and intellectual property. The distinctions between the three are very important in our digital age, and I wanted to define them for myselves. The point of doing so is to begin to develop a framework of thinking about digital media, property, and ownership in the post-iPod age.

While it may be more logical to start from the ground up before explaining my conclusions, I want to come out with full disclosure and say that my purpose in this is to argue in favor of DRM (at least in principle). My views stand in stark opposition to a loosely-defined set of ideas commonly found on various parts of the internet, notably on TechDirt.

Most succinctly, I take the view that information and knowledge are not the same.

Information Isn't Knowledge

Continue reading ‘Information, Knowledge, Intellectual Property and DRM’


I’m afraid that I’ll be updating this blog less regularly for the time being, because I’m about to take up a hobby that has the potential to severely cut into my reading/thinking/writing time. This week, I ordered an Arduino kit, and I’ve been trying to familiarize myself with its capabilities and possibilities.

Essentially, Arduino is a simple standalone computer that you can use to control pretty much any type of electronic device. Of particular interest to me are lighting capabilities offered by LEDs. And while I’m sure that I’m very, very far from being able to do this, I hope to sometime build something like this.

I have never been much of a tinkerer (I was never into Legos or the like as a kid), and I’m hoping that the experience will help open my mind to the physical world. Focusing on the actual creation and implementation of ideas is something that I’ve always struggled to do, so hopefully this will get me going in the right direction.

Most importantly, I want to make a bad-ass Daft Punk costume.

I’ve got a few project ideas lined up already, but I was hoping to get some ideas from anyone who reads this. So if you have an idea, let me know. Here’s what I have in mind so far:

  • Easy, generic ‘learning project’s: controlling LEDs, interfacing with buttons, switches, knobs, etc.
  • Intelligent mood lighting: using my computer to control wall-facing LEDs to change the perceived color of a room
  • Universal remote: using my iPhone/iPod Touch to turn on/off TV, change channels, volume, other basic functions
  • Lethal, ruthless, efficient killing machines: self-explanatory
  • Laser Harp!: This seems extraordinarily complex, but check out how awesome it is

The whole process has already gotten me thinking about things posts for the future, mostly about how modularity and scalability remove barriers between thought and design, but I’m saving these for a later date.

I hope that you noticed that every other paragraph in this post starts with the word “I” (until this paragrpah, this was an unintentional result of poor writing, but symmetry is pretty sweet, right?). Leave some suggestions or comments below.