Walden; or, Life Without the Internet

My new morning routine

My p.c. crashed a few weeks ago. Died. Breathed its last. The funeral is Tuesday.

And with that, my old manner of news consumption perished too. Out went the nytimes.com, the Huffington Post, and a bizillion other news-sites; in went the Chicago Tribune, a few-too-many pilfered Wall Street Journals, and a limited selection of quality media.

Naturally, my other online activities virtually disappeared. As you might notice (and celebrate), my postings on this blog became far less frequent. So too did the writing on my other blog over at True/Slant — for which I’m actually paid to do, but still lack the sufficient motivation to drag myself to a freshman-heavy library to post.

But this experience has been far from harrowing. In fact, it’s been revelatory. Perhaps not transcendental, but still, influential.

I now read full newspaper articles, with an eye on comprehension and thoroughness. Instead of an itchy mouse-finger, I now utilize a relaxed full-arm broadsheet page-turn. Although I know less facts, per se, I am much more capable of engaging in a meaningful conversation about politics, sports, and music.

Aside from current events, my experience of literature (scholastic or leisurely) has been greatly enhanced. It’s now much easier to fully immerse myself in the worlds of Joseph Conrad, Norman Maclean, and even A. A. Milne.

Perhaps I’m an outlier — I still lack one of those “facebook” things, and generally distrust anything connected with ‘digital media.’ But I maintain that  even the most plugged-in Gen Y-er would benefit from a week’s unpaid vacation from the Interwebs.

Give it a try.

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Improving Reader Comments

I’m constantly finding myself frustrated by the reader comments below news stories. They too often are ignorant manifestos of misunderstanding, and responses typically devolve into racism, sexism, and other discriminatory slogans NO MATTER THE STORY.

Interestingly, Gawker’s experiment to try to improve readers’ comments is bearing some fruit. According to a survey of Gawker Media, placing inconveniences before posting comments initially dropped the sheer volume of reader feedback (as expected) — but the numbers later bounced back to unprecedented highs.

Crucially, says the author of the post, the average comment is “better”–i.e. better reasoned, less gut-check, more informed.

Might Gawker have found the solution to anonymous wind-baggery?

‘New York Times’ Getting Desperate?

In March, the New York Times–that beacon of print media–introduced the “TimesCast” video feature on its website. The paper has long featured other forms of media (podcasts, ect) on its site, but this particular innovation raises the stakes a bit.

Why? Because “TimesCast” airs footage from editorial meetings, where the pros brainstorm, dispute scoops, and debate the worth of news pieces. In essence, people stop being polite … and started getting REAL.

This ‘insider’s look’ certainly agrees with modern media’s ethos, but not the traditional newsprint method. As TrueSlant’s Jerry Lanson notes:

News was a messy, fast-paced business even before Twitter, 24-7 cable and the blogosphere made it instantaneous. The print media, through their web sites, have learned that once again they can compete for breaking news against everyone else. That’s good, though it, too, detracts to some extent from the contextual wisdom the best print stories bring to the news marketplace. 

How do you navigate the ethical fine-line here? Transparency and reader-dialogue are admirable values, but ought the Times  and other non-digitally grounded publications cater to this new demand? In effect, are digitial medias forcing their tenets (expediency, interactivity) down the throats of older business models? Imperialistic, n’est-ce pas?

Or should we abandon these old values, which may be getting more sentimental nostalgia than they deserve (especially for an, ahem, business)? 

Me? Count me in the “keep the readers out of the newsroom” camp. The Times‘s product–and at a broader level, U.S. democracy–suffers when stories get rushed or bastardized by trigger-happy reporters, half-baked theories, and (sorry) the filthy masses.

Google vs. China

Behold the 21st century’s protection against contemporary Mongolians: the Great Firewall of China.

Err, and by “protection” I mean censorship, and “Mongolians” is just a cute euphemism for freedom of information. But toma-TOE, toma-TA, right?

The back story: Google ditched operations in China last week, refusing the government’s insistence on filtered searches. The Internet giant rerouted Chinese visitors of google.cn to another site based in Hong Kong, free from the tentacles of the Communist Octopi.

But China fired back, continuing its meddling shennanigans with the Hong Kong site and (allegedly) hacking into journalists’ email accounts.

Nasty, nasty stuff, with some major political-economic repercussions. Google co-founder Sergey Brin (a victim of U.S.S.R. oppression growing up) framed the stakes in an interview with the New York Times, naming Google’s exit “objection … to those forces of totalitarianism.”

It’s an interesting ethical dilemma. Should international digital companies remain in China, continue operating under a “half an internet” (Brin’s term) ethos, but work towards expanding freedoms? Or should they follow the lead of Google (and domain registration company/maker of chauvinist TV commercials GoDaddy) and take an ideological stand in hopes of actively effecting change? Cooperation or force? Patience or agitation? Paper or plastic?

Chatroulette Extends Its Domain

Is Chatroulette, the latest and greatest watering hole in cyberspace, now filling the shoes of Atlantic, Capitol, and Sony Music?

Pitchfork Media reports that Holy F@$k (not the band’s actual name, but use your imagination) bypassed the corporate suits to communicate with fans via, uh, a totally randomized medium.

Dorothy … you’re a long way from masturbating 40-year-olds:

The band announced the album’s imminent release yesterday via the deeply sketchy internet chat service Chatroulette. Supposedly first single “Latin America” is streaming on Chatroulette today, if you can find it. When I tried just now, the service randomly paired me up with some dude jerking off. I seriously almost barfed. So be prepared for that to happen if you really need to hear the song.

Call me Andy Rooney, but I also curmudgeonly thought Twitter would be a flash in the pan. But now, aside from knowing what Jay-Z eats for breakfast, journalists “twit” breaking news in 150-word segments. Could Chatroulette be destined for a greater role on the interwebs?

It may not supplant Columbia Records, but Chatroulette sure feels like it’s here to stay. The excitement of random encounters, once the domain of speed dating and tacky bars, has found its niche in the ***FUTURE***.

Online Photography: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

In eager anticipation of Team Mack’s discussion on privacy Tuesday, I was wondering what you ethics gurus have to say regarding these very public photos of Vancouver Olympic protesters.

In view of multiple arrests and possible legal consequences for the wayward idealists, these photos might be used for judicial good. For instance, perhaps Vancouver detectives identify and track down more individuals who took part in the vandalization? Perchance, even better, these overdue punishments lead to further preventive breakthroughs vis-a-vis future anarchic demonstrations.

But maybe (gulp), these photos unfairly implicate innocent bystanders as well. And associate some disassociated folks to these events who desire no such, uh, association.

Continue reading Online Photography: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?