A perfect sea urchin

The Cyberculture Corner

Welcome to where I air my wrong headed views on cyberculture and the internet. I always have a lot to say and no one tells me to shut up. To return to the regular blog page, just click here.

Web Squared Get Scaird

Terrence Hume wrote the following article in the April 2011 issue of Computers in Libraries: "Library 2.0, Meet the 'Web Squared' World." Web Squared is a world in which our constantly connected presence, through smart phones, cookies, and a few other things, creates a wealth of data that adds to the collective intelligence that can be used in productive and happy ways. Where do I begin to stop screaming: "No! No! No!" and start explaining how Mr. Hume's enthusiasm is at best premature and at worst misplaced, and how his approach overlooks reality.

Let's start with the basics. It is great to be known, but there are times when one needs to be hidden. The balance is different for each person. Having a resume with a phone number and address on it (Ever hear of a phone book?) is fine. Having a personal professional page is fine. I am after all a professional. On the other hand the last thing I want is my every movement tracked with a GPS system on a Smartphone. I also sometimes want to turn it all off and walk away. Students and other patrons need to know how to not leave cybertracks and shut off their connection to the network when they feel like it for whatever reason. Just knowing that there is an off switch there is empowering. Yes, this is a privacy issue. It's also an issue of control.

Second, I think we still have a digital divide. Not everyone has a smart phone or a laptop wtih wireless. None of this equipment is cheap. That is why you see working class folks lined up to use the desk top computers at the local public library. Not everyone is going to be part of that glorious cloud that generates real time collective intelligence.

Third, that cloud of data that grows in real time is not just collective intelligence. Sure the right tweets if you know how to find them or that breaking news article in the New York Times if you haven't used up your paywall quota or if you subscribe are wonderful, but the net is still a very dumb pipe. A lot of what passes into the ether is utter swill. I'm not talking about the folks talking about their daily lives. I'm talking about the latest exploits at Zooville or Farmville which look like real life news and often get more prominent placement in a Facebook feed than a real life bereavement. Fortunately, I can hide these applications after they get in their one, unfortunate, first shot.

Then we have the pure drivel, the platitudes, the appeals to the heart, the post this in your status if you want to cure cancer, love your children, appreciate your mother, think special needs children just want to fit in and don't need to be cured etc.... These are appeals to a kind of tribal affirmation, but.... Think of them what you will. My favorite ones are those telling you to avoid a particular user or group due to pedophilia. Has the actual poster been victimized? No, never. He or she is passing them on. Does the actual poster no for sure that this is true. Remind the actual poster that to malign an innocent party is slander, and watch a friend vanish on Facebook.

Of course if this is not enough, email is nearly unusable due to spam. Whoops, I forgot email is Web 1.0. Oh well, now there is malware on Facebook too not to mention scams. How many poor damsels in distress get stranded in Russia or the Ukraine and cry their tale of woe on their MySpace or Facebook pages.

Hume's solution to dealing with Web Squared is of course worse than the disease: Community. Users crave being connected wtih others they trust. There is one problem with community. In its less than ideal state, it is neither democratic nor fair, but hey real life is not any of those things. Think of a bunch of fourth grade girls playing wolves and bunnies up in the pricker bushes behind the monkey bars. They decide who gets to play and who doesn't even rank the unpleasant role of wolf. Pity the poor lone wolf. He could be you.

One of the great things about Web 2.0 is the end of selective groups such as email discussion lists and to a lesser extent web boards. Being able to read good stuff, no longer depends on keeping on the good side of prominent individuals who run the community where such material can be found. One can now visit a reputable news outlet where there are quality blogs and have access to the best and brightest minds without the worst and most petty bullies. I realized it has been seven years since I've had a scrape in dealing with any one on the internet that resulted in an ejection from a group. Thankyou Web 2.0!

Perhaps you are wondering if I have any solutions to these problems. I have a few: First, teach users where to find and how to use the off switch. Don't lecture them about secrecy or how much they should use the off switch. They can figure that out. Also, see to it the off switch offers gradations of privacy. Sharing a white board for a group assignment or a virtual scrap book with a lover is quite different from posting to the whole world. \

Second, work for laws that create some sanity in dealing with the breadcrumb trail most of us are going to still leave behind if we are on the web long enough, a past online scrape, a youthful indiscretion, a strange but legal hobby, one's relgious or political views are not a potential employer's business. A good economy may clear some of this mess up, but times don't always stay good. There are places unreleated to an employee's qualifications that a potential employer should not go.

Third, there are those digital divide issues. Figure out some workarounds so that those who rely on school or public library computers and can't afford fancy cell phones, have full access.

Fourth, distraction and multitasking are issues. The freshman paper about texting while driving, may be the most boring assignment ever invented, but there is a grain of truth in there somewhere. The person constantly blabbing into his/her Blackberry and who can't find his/her way without a GPS is missing something rather than being augmented. The person wtih I-pod buds stuck in her ears is also probably not as safe as the person who can hear the night noises of the neighborhood around him/her. There are also issues of etiquette and consideration that come with intrusive and ubitquitious electronics. Remember that off switch. There are wonderful opportunities to use it.

And last but not least, let's learn from our mistakes with community. Having to network to elite and secret groups is not a good way to get vital information to those who need it. It is also a great way to make more hurt and scarred individuals, and in the worst case, community offers safe cover for cyberbullies.

I should not have to confess that I am not a Luddite. I am after all leaving my off switch in the on position and posting this to a blog. I've had my issues with community, and I do fear for my privacy. I try not to fear my friends on Facebook where I can not take the role of petty tyrant and cut any of them off from their friends by throwing them out of the community, and yes, the digital divide is still there even if talk about it went out of fashion. Let's proceed with caution with Web Squared. There are too many of us who might get cut on the sharp corners.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 4/28/2011

The Daily Me Revisited

Scholars of cyberculture in their infinite wisdom predicted that when people could pick and choose from the internet's equivalent of five thousand channels, they would receive only news that suited them, in other words "The Daily Me." This is half true. People who read political blogs tend to read more than one side of an issue, because they like news. Of course they avoid the entertainment blogs and have probably shielded themselves from the latest going on with entertainment stars and the royal wedding etc... but somehow that is better than living in an ideological cocoon.

Of course the cyberculture scholars forgot Facebook except where it is a "force for democracy." Actually, one look at my Facebook's morning feed is a quick dose of staring at an amalgamation of the worst sort of Daily Mes, and my feed actually contains a bit of real news because I am a fan of The Atlantic, Nicholas Kristof, the New Republic a nd the New York Times. This is true even though I have hidden nearly every game and dreckie religious application from my feed. They get one shot, and they're gone.

Let's have a look at this morning's feed:

There is a bowl of cereal, a cat that needs a home. She is a cute black cat but I have no room and she lives nine hundred miles away from me. None of the cats needing homes on my feed are within a hundred miles of where I live. Still, I am drawn to the Pets on Death Row photos taken in the photo parlor at the Manhattan and Brooklyn Animal Care and Control Shelters. There, the cats get triaged and the healthy and sweet ones get sent to the Adoption Ward. The others don't have a long stay.

There are also a few reports of my friends' comings and goings. Because Facebook is a public space, I hear little about my friends' jobs. I do hear about the errands and family holidays they have. One complained about the price of gas this morning. Others put up videos. There is one of a Peeps contest (Are you sick of Easter yet?), another is a video of a Jimmy Osmond Family Sing. There's a link to Wikipedia about pretzels and another about self-publishing, and an article about a Facebook update.

Even though I have a fair number of friends in the Arab world, there is absolutely no news about the violence in Syria even third hand, the upcoming elections in Egypt, or the rebellions in Yemen or Baharain. The one in Baharain is mostly squashed, but Yemen's President has offered to resign.

I'll admit that some of the blame should fall on me. I seldom spread news on Facebook. I figure if you want news, go get it yourself, but I've heard there are people out there who rely on both Facebook and Twitter for news. Don't ask me how they do it unless they LIKE a lot of news sources, and hide a lot of other things from their feed. Such people must not care about their privacy because marketers watch every move you make on Facebook, especially when you hit that LIKE button, but I have Ad Block Plus so the marketers aren't going to reach me with those creepy targeted ads. They can of course reach me other places. Sorry, my Daily Me is for me alone.

Eileen H. Kramer -- April 26, 2011

A Thing of Beauty

Route 66This as it stands right now, April 7, 2011, is a thing of beauty. There are three fighters with more than self support, and two of them with substantial spirit. The team has a modern design that does not look trendy. That Haldis drew those images on Tish B'av doesn't make me sad. This is the team's last redesign and it is appropriate.

Haldis read in passing about another team short of members. As you can see here, Haldis' team looks full. Some of this is due to a change in the rules that shakes out fighters at the quarter final rounds. Some of this is due to a fighter coming out of retirement. I had to learn what Hebrew leters five and six are, since the form uses Hebrew letters rather than numbers to distinguish fighters. This is the world's only Judeo-African site fighting team. It is a team designed in my own image. It is pretty much the design I dreamed of in 1999.

I also know what keeps site fighting teams alive, though I learned a lot of it from Cari Cota. You have to show a positive attitude, not a punitive one. You have to show concern. You have to show caring. The attitude you model is the attitude your fighters pick up. When you want to engage fighters don't threaten to close the competition. Don't threaten to throw them off the team. Fighters can vote with their feet, and these days fighters are irreplaceable, though we should have learned this lesson before. Instead, tell fighters what they have to do to keep the competition open and congratulate them when they do it. Show positive reinforcement. Make good on your promises. Score them quickly. This shows you care. Acknowledge their contributions. They have to know this is small and personal, that you are not a vending machine or a public utility and that if they treat you that way, well it's wrong. Spirit points and bribes are meaningless. Recognition and gratitude are many times more important. It was always that simple. It was one of the things the Site Fights neglected. That deep down is one of the reasons site fighting died.

Yes, I write in the past tense. I won't be writing about site fighting next year, except for ZOID. I think the Webleagues will make it to Memorial Day, maybe to next Christmas, but twelve months is an eternity, and yes, I hope I am wrong.

Eileen H. Kramer with help from Haldis K. Guerrin -- April 11, 2011