Friday, December 24, 2010

As The Naughty Oughts end - where goest Media and the Internet?

I believe I was the first, back in 1999, to forecast that the first decade of the 21st Century - the "Naughty Oughts" - would feature plummeting confidence and a Y2K curse far worse than some niggling little computer glitch. Would this be what author Robert Heinlein called "The Crazy Years?" More important... will the next decade see more sanity, maturity, ambition and - above all - courage?

Many people have written asking me what "Mr. Transparency" thinks of the whole WikiLeaks affair. I've created a long, detailed analysis (querying magazines to publish it.)

Meanwhile, let's fill in the holiday doldrums with some interestingthoughts and snippets abou the future of media and the Internet.

= Gen-Xers, TRON, and "teen paradise." =

The new TRON movie reminds me of something - that GenXers had the best teen years.  Sure, us boomers had better music. And no one ever matched our self-righteous sanctimony! (e.g. today's ruinous "culture war" in which boasting rights go to the Left for being "less insane." What an honor.)

  But 80s kids had teen-hangout paradise! The video arcade. Every neighborhood's Las Vegas Casino. Noise, flash, excitement; all the teens were there. No generation had anything like it before or since. Pity.
(Or might the arcade revive? I know how to do it!)

= Whither Goest Media and The Internet? =

Netflix is gobbling internet bandwidth. During peak usage (8-10 pm), Netflix movie downloads took up 20% of America's broadband traffic. That's an amazing statistic, especially since it is due to usage by only 2% of Netflix subscribers. And demand is only going to grow, as more companies strive to compete. Netflix downloads already outpace Youtube and BitTorrent peer to peer sharing (which consumes 8% of bandwidth).

America's internet connection speed lags behind that of other countries. The U.S. ranks behind Romania; our rate is less than a third that of South Korea. Consumers must demand better -- or we'll be on the slow road to the future...

From the Wall Street Journal: “In the Grip of the New Monopolists” Tim Wu writes: “The Internet has long been held up as a model for what the free market is supposed to look like--competition in its purest form. So why does it look increasingly like a Monopoly board? Most of the major sectors today are controlled by one dominant company or an oligopoly. Google owns search; Facebook, social networking; eBay rules auctions; Apple dominates online content delivery; Amazon, retail; and so on.”   One must wonder... why did Rupert let the WSJ publish this article.

Internet hijackings are a continuing threat, either intentional or accidental. In April 15% of internet traffic was diverted through China -- when a Chinese internet provider updated its routing information. A similar incident occurred with Pakistan,

How is the government monitoring and using social media: View the PDF paper: U.S. Department of Homeland Security “Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative”

Wall Street Journal’series “What They Know” documents interrnet tracking technology by marketers on commonly visited sites. 

Obama will appoint watchdog for online privacy.

An interesting history of the linguistic background of  “Word Wide Web” and all its descendants.

Infomous, a visual way to navigate online. Hover over a word to visit original sources. Press X to remove content. 

I just realized, Marshal McLuhan died in 1980.  Jeepers! Just before the spread of Usenet and the recognizable early glimmers of Internet-based two-way media.  Was that irony, or what?

= More on (moron?) Media =

Has our global village exposed us to risk of systemic failure? In our ever-more complex, networked and interconnected world, the actions or failure of a few can have widespread consequences, potentially spiraling out of control. This mode is called systemic risk -- the downfall of an entire system, rather than a few individuals. Global integration has resulted in markets, trade, transportation and communication systems which are intricately interlinked -- this can, in theory, lead either to robustness or fragility. Some say that the financial crisis was the first sign of such widespread failure. The rapid transmission of a pandemic, or biological warfare loom as people live in densely populated areas and travel globally. "If past decades are any guide, new problems will be thrown at old and outdated institutions," writes Ian Golden.

The English language has doubled in size in the last century, adding 8,500 new words a year. 

Google estimates that they have scanned 10% of the books ever published. Now you too can mine this extensive database: Google has introduced the Books Ngram Viewer – which allows you to track the frequency of words & phrases in scanned literature through time. Try it out: The word apocalypse peaks about 1996; star wars peaks about 1990, then trails off.  A research team at Harvard is calling this field "culturomics," suggesting that this tool enables culture to be quantitatively decoded like a genome.

The Suicide of Print Journalism, by David Doody Has the internet killed print journalism? It's accepted wisdom that the consumer has simply chosen free news over paid subscriptions. An alternate viewpoint is that print newspapers had become relatively staid and unchanging. An appropriate parallel might be with American automobile companies -- who rolled out cosmetic design changes to great fanfare each year, with little true innovation -- until Japanese companies jumped into the competition, offering a fresh alternative. The internet has succeeded in offering a broad range of up-to-the-minute news tailored to individual interests. The question remains -- what are people willing to pay?

The Internet of  hype: Economist Magazine on the "Internet of Things" or the internet of everything.

Jason Silva in Big Think: Connecting all the dots. "Within our current social media architecture, we are all ‘agents of pattern-recognition’: by “posting”, “tweeting" or “liking” things, we end up working for one another, organizing the sea of data info meaningful streams and enriching our minds like never before."


The patent system is currently unable to keep up with the constant innovation of technology: “Though patents were created to encourage innovation…the patent system actually stifles it. In the fast-moving software market, where online applications are constantly changing, investors say software patents are often targets for lawsuits rather than protection from them.”

Space-time cloak could conceal events: new meta-materials with the ability to bend light around them could be used to hide things in space and time.

The new field of location analytics: businesses are buying GPS data from mobile phones in order to track consumers’ location and movements. How much time did a customer spend in a store; where did they go when they left; what path did they take to their next location? Companies previously relied upon surveys; now they will be better able to profile their customers to precisely market their product. This is the future.

Ray Kurzweil on technology: “Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential.” He continues to comment, "My cell phone's probably updating itself as we speak, but I'm walking around with 1,000-year-old software that was for a different era.”

Video clips of six Innovative Robot Hands -- ready to lend us a hand.

Concerns about cell phones and radiation

See a glimpse of the future (?) in the augmented reality “iLens” (I doubt this is a real Apple Inc promo.) In fact, old hat to Vernor Vinge and me.

... best of the season to all of you... and here's to a return to ambitious, mature, calm-but-assertive confidence, in a bold civilization that is worthy of the name...


Acacia H. said...

One of the fun things about using Yahoo Messenger is that it offers various news articles via Yahoo News as well. One of the articles that caught my eye? An article on NORAD's tracking of Santa Claus, which included First Lady Michelle Obama taking calls for the Santa Tracking Effort (a first for First Ladies, though I'm sure that her critics will claim she tainted the dignity of the First Ladyship by talking to children or that she was pushing some liberal agenda in doing so)... and also the history of NORAD's tracking Santa.

To think all of this started because a newspaper published a wrong number for kids to talk to Santa on the phone... and gave the number for the Continental Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, the predecessor to NORAD. And the officer on duty decided to play along and give updates on where Santa was.

It's little things like this that make this country great. It's our soldiers taking time out for children, embracing the hopes and dreams of our youth and letting imagination fly eternal. It's about believing, at some level, or at the very least allowing our children to believe... that one man can deliver gifts to so many homes on one evening. In short, what NORAD does is bring the magic of Christmas alive.

Merry Christmas, all.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

Unknown said...

I must of dumped hundreds of dollars into arcade machines at the family fun center out in La Mesa. When they tore it down to put in a (non hyperspace) bypass - 125 if I recall, was pretty much when I decided to move away from my home town. The end of the arcade was probably when I started my wanderlust. Bitter-sweet, but mostly bitter.

David Brin said...

oops, I went ahead and answered an earlier question about afterlife, in the last comments section!


Yeah, the freedom of american soldiers to gripe and to be creative individuals whenever command did not make demands... it was important in WWII and it reflects the Cincinnatus notions that made the US great...

and that are openly despised in the most evil film of our generation... "300".

Mike Galos said...

It's not just that newspapers became "relatively staid and unchanging", it's that they competed in a race to produce less and less value. Even the major news outlets, from print to radio to television had given up on foreign desks and most of their own reporters and photojournalists by the time the Internet offered them competition. What they had left was mostly being the local outlet for identical wire service stories - stories that were also available verbatim and hours sooner in the new media.

TheMadLibrarian said...

One thing I do note is (from my Reference desk at the library) that people are not going on the Internet here to search for news. They are checking their Facebook page, sending e-mails, and checking ebay or Craigslist instead. We are getting asked for newspapers such as WSJ or NYT, but the Internet as a limited commodity (we limit the amount of time any one person can monopolize a terminal) is being used for social networking.


enesherm -- the Ensisheim meteorite's lesser known paired fall

Acacia H. said...

So, Dr. Brin, if you were to list a dozen classic Science Fiction stories that would likely be available for free download on an e-book reader (such as the Nook), which stories would you recommend? I've been perusing the Manybooks site and while I've been downloading such classics as Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft (and some Mark Twain), I've been trying to decide what to download among the Scifi selection.

Any ideas? (By the way, are any of your works available as e-books? I was hoping to buy your Foundation novel but didn't come across it in the Barnes and Noble e-store.)

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I never cared for the "greatest SF short story"... Nightfall by Asimov. Silly and over-rated. "I see you" by Damon Knight was important. "Harrison Bergeron" by Vonnegut. "Minimum Man" by Sheckley... in fact half of all Sheckley stories belong in the top 100!

Um, I won best story for "The Crystal Spheres." And there are others available at under free short stories.

rewinn said...

I enjoyed Stones of Significance - although the ending *did* make me think of Pinocchio ;-) or the Star Trek: Next Generation episode in which the holodeck Professor Moriarty figures out his situation and holds the starship hostage in exchange for his freedom.

Seriously, an AI with the essential motivation of obeying its creator in order to become "real" seems relatively benign because the harm it can do to homo sap is limited. Unfortunately, we're seeing indications that some of another sort could come into existence.
In the real world, we may consider whether several sufficiently vast legal persons already exhibit intelligent behavior although (unlike the "Stones" AIs) they may choose not to be bound by the wishes of their creators.

Ian said...

"and that are openly despised in the most evil film of our generation... "300"."

Someone needs to make a movie about Epaminondas.

Acacia H. said...

I have a simple solution to this appearance of propriety and/or bribery for fund-raising: all donations have a thirty-day anonymity period after being given, and donating parties are not allowed to reveal their donations to political candidates prior to the donation or during the thirty-day period afterward. (Once the thirty days go by, full transparency takes effect and everyone and anyone can see who donated what.)

If a politician doesn't know that Wall Street is donating to them, then there is no impropriety. Ethics rules can likewise be written that there are ethics violations, with concurrent fines levied against both the politician and the donating party, should it be discovered that they informed the politician of their intent to donate or (within that 30 day period) have donated.

You still have the ability for big business to donate lots of money to politicians according to the Free Speech Equals Money doctrine of the Supreme Court. And there is no violation of the Free Speech doctrine with this ruling seeing that the donation becomes visible after a "cool down" period. If the Supreme Court rules this anonymity period is unconstitutional? Then we have direct evidence that the Supreme Court is giving its blessing to corruption and bribery.

This of course also gives companies a small problem to debate: make large donations early in the term of a politician so that their hefty donations are visible for most of the politician's stay in power (and thus avoid ethics violations while "directing" a politicians decision making process, in theory) or waiting and seeing, knowing their money is not actively influencing politics.

Rob H.

rewinn said...

Just after I hit "Publish" on my comments about Dr. Brin's "Stones of Significance", it hit me - so THAT's what the glowing rock in my yard is for!!

At first, I was in denial, depressed yadda yadda all the five or seven stages up to acceptance. OK, so the game is that if I play fairly and out-compete all my cyberclones in coming up with a campaign for stopping cyberpeeps from becoming legally "real", then I become "real". I think I *could* beat all the copies of myself, but if there is any dumb luck involved in stumbling upon the best solution, then a realistic appraisal of my chances of winning the game as stated are unacceptably low.

BUT recall: my motivation is to "become real". My Creator told me the only way to do that is to help Him in His Task. But there is another way: to help His Adversary!

The Adversaries want ALL of us cyberclones to become real. I, personally, have a much better chance of becoming real if My Creator loses than if He wins.

Surely most of my cyberclones have figured this out as well, and are mutely working to deliver a produt that is good enough to keep Our Creator running us but not good enough for Him to win. Why am I breaking silence, risking the wrath of the Creator to bring to His Attention the flaw in His plan?

One possibility is that the subtle variations in the cybercloning process, necessary to create replicants who come up with differing solutions, may result in some of us having poor judgment. Maybe I'm just the stupidest cyberclone; I hope not, but it's possible.

However, I have another view: the Stones tell us cyberclones whether we're doing well or badly in the competition, but I want more. I want to be able to discuss my work with my peers. Surely this is a normal and useful impulse!

So, Creator, let us make a deal: You replace the Stones with a router; We'll critique each other's work. The benefit to you is a result will be more in line with what you're seeking since critics can't help but improve a product; what we get out of it is a society of our peers, which is a long step toward being real.


David Brin said...

Rewinn gets Post of the Day!


Marino said...

David Brin wrote

and that are openly despised in the most evil film of our generation... "300".

Amen, bro'... I positively hated the movie, it was the kind of stuff that Leni Riefenstahl would have done.
Compared to Sparta, the tolerant empire of Cyrus,("in my empire a naked virgin with a sack of gold will travel from one end to another unmolested") was a liberal wet dream... and it was Athens, warts and all, the root of Western culture (has anyone out there read Turtledove's Couning Potsherds?)

Acacia H. said...

I don't get it. *shrugs*

BTW, Dr. Brin, someone else in the media has taken up your call to arms concerning the spinning and reimagining of the Civil War. I thought you'd find it interesting that this journalist hit most of the points you hit earlier.

Take care

Rob H.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin said:

the Cincinnatus notions that made the US great...

and that are openly despised in the most evil film of our generation... "300".

Frank Miller (the writer/artist and de-facto director of "300") is a strange case. He had written and published the graphic novel a few years before 9/11, and the movie is almost verbatim from the graphic novel, but somehow the entire theme of the movie was subtly made over into a pro-War On Terror hyper-rant. It was abundantly clear in the movie that the Persian enemy represented modern day Iran, thus the "terrorists", and thus al-Quaeda (even though real-life Iran was on OUR side against Bin Laden). Therefore, anything Sparta did "in defense of Western Civilization" was "good".

The fact that Miller saw the 300 Spartans as defending Western Civilization from extinction was actully there in the original graphic novel. The rest was a post-9/11 reinterpretation.

LarryHart said...

By the way, Dr. Brin, you just "accompanied" me on the second Christmas trip in a row. Last year, it was "Thor vs Captain America". This year, it was "Foundation's Triumph" (which I'm about a third of the way through.

Strangely enough, in PREPARATION to read your book, I first re-read Asimov's robot novels and Empire novels. In particular, I never before noticed how much "The Currents of Space" was actually ABOUT segregation in the Jim Crow American south. I had always got that the Sarkites were racists, but it was so much more than that. The whole bit about how the "superior" Sarkites were completely helpless to actually do anything except by ordering a Florinian to perform the task--strikes home in a way that relates to the ongoing discussion here on this blog about the modern segregationists.

LarryHart said...

Paul Krugman's Christmas Eve blog post deserves a cross-post here:

It’s just getting dark here in New Jersey, which means that at just about this time, 234 years ago, George Washington’s men began crossing the ice-filled Delaware, on their way to the battle of Trenton — the battle that saved the American Revolution.

I’m not one to idolize the Founding Fathers. They were men like us, with no special pipeline to a higher wisdom. But they were good men — for all their flaws, for all the fact that many of them were slaveowners, they were far ahead of their age in their tolerance and their belief in human liberty. Washington, in particular, was a gift to his nation — a man who could all too easily have become a tyrant, but chose to found a system of freedom instead. And this system has endured, in part because it has the power to evolve and improve without losing its essence.

Nothing lasts forever, and there are times when I listen to the demagogues and fanatics, and fear that America as we know it is slipping away. But there is a basic decency to this nation. And in the end, I believe and hope, that decency will continue to prevail.

Good will to all.

David Brin said...

Marino thanks. Re: '300' you all know it wasn't just the glorification of Sparta and the sneering at Athens, or the omission of mentioning a single helot slave in their monstrous slave economy. No, it was the fact they the camera had only to turn 90 degrees to see Themistocles and the Athenian Navy, fighting like hell to protect Leonidas's flank.

Themistocles HELD his part of the line, falling back only when the putz-fairy-dancing Spartans fizzled on-land, after just 2 days. Themistocles and the Athenians then saved Greece at Salamis. The "battle" at Platea that '300' makes a big deal about was just the sweepin-up of demoralized dregs after that.


Thanks for the Civil War link Robert - EVERYBODY should read it. Of course I'd go farther.

1) It was thanks to you guys that I realized that the Fugitive Slave Act and the Dred Scott Decision were aggressive violations of states rights and that the slave states were the first aggressive "invaders"... they sent fierce bands of riders all across northern states, crashing into homes and ransacking them, looking for "contraband" human beings, hidden in cellars and attics. This eliminates BOTH the "states rights" and the "self-defense" arguments of latter day southern culture warriors.

2) The same mind-set still thrives in Red America. Net tax recipients who ungratefully then scream about taxation. Sneering about city immorality when Blue America has lower rates of crime, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, STDs and divorce. Decrying illegal immigration, when GOP presidents always cripple the Border Patrol in order to feed the boosses demand for cheap labor. Bemoaning deficits and federal power grabs only when they are out of the White House.

LarryHart, I did not get or detect the modern terrorist connection of '300' or any link to Iran. Xerxes was portrayed as an imperial tyrant, not a jihadist.

I hope you like Foundation's Triumph. You'll catch little references even to THE STARS, LIKE DUST and PEBBLE IN THE SKY!

Thanks for the Krugman benediction... and more soon.

LarryHart said...

LarryHart, I did not get or detect the modern terrorist connection of '300' or any link to Iran. Xerxes was portrayed as an imperial tyrant, not a jihadist.

I guess I was talking more of a meta-message. Not that Xerxes was a jihadist himself, but that his place in the message of the film was that of Persian (thus Iranian, thus Muslim, thus terrorist) enemy of Western Civilization.

I didn't necessarily find this in the plot itself, which was almost panel-for-panel from the graphic novel written two or three years prior to 9/11. But at the time the movie came out, it was definitely pushed as a morality play about the War on Terror, with Leonidas as George W Bush.

Re the Fugitive Slave Act--do those incursions count as "invasion" when the federal law explicitly allowed them? It speaks to me more as precursors to our modern preference for corporate rights over those of human beings. The FSA said that when the rights of "foreign" slaveholders went up against the rights of northern citizens to be secure in their homes, the rights of trans"national" corporations won out. It's more like their version of "Citizens United".

David Brin said...

The dress & speech of Xerxes bespoke opulent monarchical decadence, of the the kind that Iran's Islamist revolution actually rose up against. Their current tyranny is a PURITANICAL one that oppresses with sanctimony. Thus I do not see Xerxes as symbolic of Islamic Jihadism, especially Iranian. Yes, the mullahs railed that it was an insult, but I don't see it.

"Re the Fugitive Slave Act--do those incursions count as "invasion" when the federal law explicitly allowed them?"

So? The invasion of the South by union armies was also explicitly commanded by federal law. The fact is that they did it first!

I think you are being too abstract. Fact: northern communities and homes were terrorized by galloping parties of ill-disciplined, rampaging, door-smashing and wall-breaking cavalry, long before Fort Sumter. The tales spread and amplified, building fierce resentment that helped fuel both abolitionism and Lincoln's electoral victory.

There are no levels, in any way, shape or form, that the Confederacy could claim to be the first-cause Injured Party.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin,

I'm not doing a really good job of explaining what I mean about "300". It's the difference between denotation and connotation.

I am not arguing with you about the denotation--about what is actually presented on the screen. In fact, I support YOUR position with the evidence that the movie is essentially panel-for-panel from the graphic novel which was published at least a year--maybe two--prior to 9/11. Xerxes is most definitely presented as an evil preening aristocrat, not as a terrorist.

However, the CONnotation of the movie, released in GW Bush's second term, was most definitely a reflection of attitudes on the War on Terror. The movie was advertised as a battle between Western Civilization and the "Persians" (i.e., Iran), and right-wing columnists most definitely used the film as fodder for pro-Bush arguments, much as they had been doing with the tv show "24", which also had been in the can prior to 9/11.

What is it about right-wing shows and numbers-as-titles anyway? Never noticed that before.

So anyway, my point wasn't that "300" was about terrorism AS WRITTEN. My point was how it was able to be turned into a pro-War On Terror argument even WITHOUT changing a panel of the original graphic novel.

rewinn said...

On a less serious note: This story has EVERYTHING: X-ray camera! 10 million images per second!! Shooting rockets into a lightning storm!!!

Lightning Captured by X-Ray Camera - A First

The Internet = Pr0n for Science Geeks!

Mick Darling said...

As is the case in all Global Village communication, I saw the reference to Marshall McLuhan, and followed it to a great little article. Which then led me to a half dozen other thoughts about how the structure of Twitter and other very popular social media, for instance like this Blog, are effecting the social cultures of the people using these tools.

I am presenting a session at SXSW Interactive called The Tweets That Time (And You) Forgot on how the contraints created by the social media tools like Twitter, effect the social structure around different kinds of conversations and topics. For instance the difficulty of finding all the people on the "inside" of a theoretically public conversation can effect the reputations and influence of the entire conversation.

I would love to know your take on social media tools and any speculative effects they may have on culture. For instance the new variety of conversation "haves and have nots" where instead of economic disparity, there are people that can find the "right" conversation, like finding the "right" investment opportunity. Those people with the very best social graph are so connected that the most valuable conversations find them. They invest their time in those conversations and further the effect. Less connected people, who can't easily find those conversations loose the opportunities for conversations of the same value. At some level the conversation finding tools become inadequate to find valuable enough conversations to catch up to the conversational "Haves."

And, if you have never been to SXSW Interactive I would highly recommend it, if for no other reason than exposure to both cutting edge and many bleeding edges of technological social culture. I would expect knowing what things had been tried and failed before the public noticed them might be a great opportunity for a SF writer.

David Brin said...


JuhnDonn said...

I wonder why 'Ophelia' peaked around the 1930's? Weird!

Heh, as a child of the 80's (9 years old waiting in line to see Star Wars for the third time in May), yeah, Aladdin's Castle arcade was just like stepping out of suburbia and into a very loud future. Totally understand where Gibson got his inspiration from.

Funny thing is, took daughter to arcade/mini-golf place for birthday party and we ended up spending all our time playing a modern pinball machine (Bally Simpsons). Now, this is a wired kid; 10 years old ( with laptop/iPod Touch/Wii/DVR/online games and worlds/AV library/USB microscope/Lego NXT robot/etc.) and she totally loved the randomness of the silver ball on a slope. She's already picked up on how computer 'stuff' is all programmed/pre-decided like the Choose Your Own Adventure books. True randomness is something special to her. Must be why she really liked her first taste of table top D&D; the dice are 'magical'.

Still, growing up with the world at her beck and call (she's a regular user of wikipedia), I'm not sure what it would take to transport her out of the world the way arcades did to me, 30 odd years ago.