From Wired.com, March 2013.
Yesterday I landed on the Web page that’s home to tech omnivore Pete Nowak, where I was stunned to read the headline, The downside of Netflix-exclusive series. Impossible, I thought. Must be a typo, mental or otherwise.
As luck would have it, I’ve been posting notes myself on how the boob tube is morphing – including notes for my interminable series of posts on must-carry TV. Moreover, I’m a devoted Netflix subscriber and big fan of Reed Hastings and his disruptive business activities (apart from occasional lapses like his privacy-busting partnership with Facebook). Continue reading
A version of this post was published yesterday at Cartt.ca.
Piracy is a lot like religion and politics. It tends to polarize opinion and get in the way of finding common ground for thoughtful discussion. That’s the pattern we’ve seen in Voltage Pictures’ demand for information from TekSavvy about putative pirating of their movies. Clashes between the studio and the ISP have touched off a rancorous debate that has divided even like-minded members of the pro-Internet community.
The single issue that has most divided the pundits concerns whether or not TekSavvy CEO Marc Gaudrault let down his customers and the public interest by not opposing the Voltage motion from the get-go. Most of the arguments share one principal concern: that opposing the Voltage motion would have been the most effective and maybe only way to protect customer privacy, as well as to ward off future suits of this kind.
A lot of ink has now been spilt on this point, especially in light of the fact that Marc and his lawyers arrived at their decision after considering factors that remain confidential. Nevertheless, some further comment seems to be in order.
Putting privacy in perspective
First of all, I’m no longer convinced that the biggest public interest issue in this case is privacy, a sentiment I know will not win much sympathy. For one thing, I believe Marc did his best to protect his customers’ privacy by giving everyone, especially those on the charge list, advance notice despite it not being a legal requirement. TekSavvy has also spent a great deal of time and money weeding out numeric IPs that didn’t match an account, in an attempt to protect otherwise innocent customers. Continue reading
Your brain on Facebook
One of my favorite blogs is Techdirt, especially the posts written by Mike Masnick. Apart from being breathlessly prolific, he has a sharp eye – and tongue – for the idiotic measures promoted by governments, Hollywood and other would-be cyber-gatekeepers in the name of saving Western civilization from IP piracy and other putative evils.
Sometimes, however, Mike can be irritatingly dismissive. Witness the Friday post entitled “Sharing On Social Networks Triggers The Same Part Of Our Brains As Sex… Sorta,” which he files under the but-other-than-that-is-nothing-like-sex dept. He’s referring to a recent study by two Harvard psychologists that has achieved some notoriety, namely “Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding” – pdf here. (And btw, self-disclosure is a lot like sex, at least the kind practised without a second party.)
Mike trivializes the findings of a series of lab experiments that have something important to tell us about the things people do and say on social network sites – and why they do them, based on lots of MRI brain imaging. Mike claims the authors have done nothing more than point out that sharing information about yourself is “intrinsically rewarding” – as in what else is new? (“I don’t think that’s a particularly surprising finding.”) The handy example is all those relentlessly annoying tweets about what you’re having for lunch – which people obviously indulge in “because it feels good.” We also learn that attention-getting is “the same kind of thing as getting a brief glimpse of attractive members of the opposite sex.” From which we conclude what? That “science has proved that talking about yourself to lots of people and seeing attractive people make your brain happy.”
Mike’s punchline: “Case closed.”
“We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”
Thus begins a provocative article published recently in The New York Times by MIT psychology prof Sherry Turkle, entitled “The Flight From Conversation.” She argues that our growing obsession with technologies like texting and social networking are inflicting profound changes on who we are and how we relate socially – making us increasingly “alone together,” which happens to be the title of Turkle’s last book.
The twin claims that we’re getting lonelier while we throw away the fine art of conversation are controversial to say the least. They suggest we’re seeing the end of some Golden Age when everyone was friendlier, the streets were safer and the music was better. Then there’s the old hobgoblin of causality – the idea that our behavior, especially bad behavior, is determined by popular new technologies like computers, the Internet, and all the clever algorithms that have helped insinuate digital communications so deeply into our lives. None of which has ever slowed down the tech critics.
Yet there’s something different about the technology-bashing in the air these days: it seems to be crossing party lines. We’ve long been accustomed to established interests in business and government foretelling the end of civilization when disruptive technologies threaten to take away some of their marbles. The worldview according to which new technologies are all evil is, of course, especially popular among media fat cats. Here’s how Hollywood lobbyist and consummate drama queen Jack Valenti described the dangers of a once-pervasive consumer technology while testifying to a Congressional committee:
“I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” Continue reading