Clive Thompson's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week
from the technology-making-us-smarter dept
Hi folks — Clive Thompson here, and I’m the author of the new book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Wired. I’ve been reading Techdirt avidly for years, so I was happy when Mike asked me for my favorite picks of this week.
This was a big week for NSA news — ranging from the release of the presidential advisory panel to Judge Richard Leon’s ruling that the collection of bulk metadata violates the 4th Amendment. But I’m always a fan of the many other pieces that point out the other freaky ways that dragnet spying is altering the warp and woof of everyday life. There was the post about the superb Foreign Policy story quoting an NSA official who wants reporters cracked down on: “I have some reforms for the First Amendment.” There was the post about how IBM is being sued by a shareholder who argues the PRISM program caused a dropoff in the firm’s business — because Chinese clients, spooked, cancelled some IBM contracts. There was the moment that Vladimir Putin expressed approval of the US’s dragnet spying, and even envied its scope. And I was alarmed to read about Google’s latest “transparency report”, because government requests for takedowns of information are soaring: The first six months of 2013 had 68% more requests than the last six months of 2012. Worse, the requests are increasingly political in nature. As Google noted, “Judges have asked us to remove information that’s critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don’t want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes.”
I was thrilled when I read, earlier this week, about how the Norwegian government is digitizing all of its national literature — not just the old, out-of-copyright stuff, but all of it — and putting it online, accessible to anyone in the country. Now this, I thought, is a cool way for a government to help ensure its literary heritage stays relevant! So I cracked up when I read the Techdirt post pointing out how the UK is created a paranoid, locked-down version of this: The country’s digitized literature will be available only on six terminals at academic universities, with one person allowed to use a terminal at at time.
I was intrigued to read that Facebook stores copies of stuff you type into your Facebook account, but never post: Moments of “self-censorship”, as the Facebook folks call it. We all do this — we start writing something (in a Twitter window, in a Facebook or Instagram thread, in an email) and then stop, erase it, start again, or maybe just abandon things, waiting a while so we can think things over. This is a perfectly healthy behavior; indeed, as I’ve argued in a lot of pieces I’ve written myself, I think this trend towards ruminating in text is one of the most exciting parts of modern life, and it speaks to the intellectual style of modern life that we use these moments of writing-but-deleting to form our thoughts. So while I’m fascinated to read the Facebook paper analyzing these moments of “self-censorship”, it’s depressing to ponder the fact that Facebook wants merely to figure out how to convince us to hit “publish” — i.e. how to take these moments of private meditation and make them public.
Finally, I cracked up to read of the emails that Techdirt has been getting from spam artists — asking Techdirt to remove spam comments the spammers themselves posted. Why do they want the posts gone? Because Google’s ranking algorithms now (accurate) count this SEO crud against the spammers. I remember when comment spam exploded back in the early 2000s, and — before plugins to autodetect it were widely available — I’d spend an hour a day or more manually removing these digital zebra-mussels from my blog. So I have to say, I’m kind of thrilled the spammers are finally living to rue their behavior! Live by the sword, die by the sword.