The Playful Librarian

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Info, Info Everywhere, but No One Stops to Think

For yesterday's online edition of the New York Times, Timothy Egan wrote a blistering condemnation of those who believe and propagate blatant lies about President Obama:

It would be nice to dismiss the stupid things that Americans believe as harmless, the price of having such a large, messy democracy. . . . But false belief in weapons of mass-destruction led the United States to a trillion-dollar war. And trust in rising home value as a truism as reliable as a sunrise was a major contributor to the catastrophic collapse of the economy. At its worst extreme, a culture of misinformation can produce something like Iran, which is run by a Holocaust denier.


On Becoming a Playful Blogger

Darren Rowse over at ProBlogger asks, "How have you played on your blog?" Since I haven't been blogging all that much until recently, I'd have to respond, "I haven't." Though the meat of his video is thin, the sentiment is worthwhile and makes me reconsider why I started doing this in the first place.

He mentions how rants don't work for him in his space, but they do work for me. They are playful. Rants are a way to get worked up over ideas in embryo, to huff and puff without actually having to dodge falling bricks.

I don't have his playful Aussie accent or jaunty geekiness, so you won't find me posting videos of my talking head. But I have learned and developed as a result of this blog, so I'd like to let it live just a little longer. You can expect a few more rants.


Long Live the App-vertising

Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff's Wired feature "The Web is Dead. Long Live the Internet" has created some buzz, so I finally read it. The piece's blurb sums it up the themes nicely:

Two decades after its birth, the World Wide Web is in decline, as simpler, sleeker services — think apps — are less about the searching and more about the getting. Chris Anderson explains how this new paradigm reflects the inevitable course of capitalism. And Michael Wolff explains why the new breed of media titan is forsaking the Web for more promising (and profitable) pastures.
Are they right? Who knows? Time will tell. I have my own guess, but it matters about as much as theirs at this point until someone's prognostication is proven correct.

However, I can't help but think there were some forces of "inevitable capitalism" behind the timing of this piece, given that the two most prominent ads on the article's Web page were for Samsung's new touch-interface smart phone and Wired's tricked-out iPad app.


Friends Don't Let Friends Hate and Facebook

Step 1: Read this piece about a female Israeli soldier who mugged in front of some bound Arabs and posted the photo on Facebook.

Step 2: Imagine an Arab mugging in front of some bound Israelis or Americans.

Step 3: Imagine a man mugging in front of some bound women.

Step 4: Now imagine yourself as a decent human being with morals and feelings and a sense of justice who wouldn't do any of the things, real or imagined, depicted in Steps 1-3.


Children Are an Outmoded Technology

This is one of the takeaways from a recent New York magazine article by Jennifer Senior, who tries to explain "Why Parents Hate Parenting." I have to agree:

Before urbanization, children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological revolutions of modernity. As we gained in prosperity, childhood came increasingly to be viewed as a protected, privileged time, and once college degrees became essential to getting ahead, children became not only a great expense but subjects to be sculpted, stimulated, instructed, groomed. (The Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer describes this transformation of a child’s value in five ruthless words: “Economically worthless but emotionally priceless.”)


Artificial Intelligence Is Still Artificial

A half a lifetime ago, I chided Jaron Lanier for a ridiculous proposal he made in the New York Times' Op-Ed section. I stand by what my younger, wiser self had to say on the matter.

However, Lanier is bang on correct in his latest Op-Ed piece, in which he takes technologists to task for constructing a future of consumer machine-thought that even they wouldn't trust.

As Lanier rightly points out, the risk doesn't reside in the danger that we'll become flabby, unthoughtful consumers. It's in our potential devaluation of the very qualities that make us human:

What bothers me most about this trend, however, is that by allowing artificial intelligence to reshape our concept of personhood, we are leaving ourselves open to the flipside: we think of people more and more as computers, just as we think of computers as people.


Online Content Is Not Worth Very Much

"The Answer Factory: Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell," Wired magazine's recent profile of online content machine Demand Media, dovetails nicely with my last post.

Bob Garfield analyzes online ad valuation from an inventory supply-side economics perspective. Demand pursues their business model from a content supply-side perspective. Both arrive at the same inevitable conclusion: cheap, fast, good enough, and at volume is the only way to earn money from the Internet—and perhaps all digital communication networks.

Demand Media crunches multiple streams of search data through several algorithms that eventually churn out search engine optimized titles that they predict will attract hits—a combination of high traffic but little competition. The result is thousands of mostly how-to articles, listed content, and informational videos that aren't high on style or even valuable content, but fill a voids that their data says the public is increasingly searching for.

Their process is getting so refined that they are ramping up to produce 1 million pieces of content per month, which the article's author Daniel Roth notes is "the equivalent of four English-language Wikipedias a year." Roth later writes:

To appreciate the impact Demand is poised to have on the Web, imagine a classroom where one kid raises his hand after every question and screams out the answer. He may not be smart or even right, but he makes it difficult to hear anybody else.

The result is a factory stamping out moneymaking content.
For the privilege of stamping out the actual content, writers, editors, videographers, and other creatives are paid on a scale to rival minimum wage. The videographer Roth features to begin his article, for example, gets paid $200 total for 10 videos he shoots in one day.

The moral here is that content is, once again, not king. It's barely even a serf. And we see this medium and all it transmits for what it is: cheap and fast. But is it really good enough?