Frank Bruni on the Cultural Echo Chamber

Frank Bruni considers the cultural echo chamber afforded to us through the Internet when we travel. His op-ed, titled “Traveling Without Seeing,” has some very good paragraphs, including three of my favorites below:

I’m not talking about the chain hotels or chain restaurants that we’ve long had and that somehow manage to be identical from time zone to time zone, language to language: carbon-copy refuges for unadventurous souls and stomachs.

I’m talking about our hard drives, our wired ways, “the cloud” and all of that. I’m talking about our unprecedented ability to tote around and dwell in a snugly tailored reality of our own creation, a monochromatic gallery of our own curation.

This coddling involves more than earphones, touch pads, palm-sized screens and gigabytes of memory. It’s a function of how so many of us use this technology and how we let it use us. We tune out by tucking ourselves into virtual enclaves in which our ingrained tastes are mirrored and our established opinions reflected back at us.

Mr. Bruni: save those Wire episodes for when you get back home.

Shaking the Hand of a Troll

Leo  Traynor recounts a frightening story of how he came face-to-face with a troll:

It started in July 2009. I’d been on Twitter for over 2 years at that point having joined in May 2007, and I’d never had a problem. My account was followed by a fairly innocuous looking one which I followed back and within 10 minutes I had received a Direct Message (DM) calling me a ‘Dirty f*cking Jewish scumbag’. I blocked the account and reported it as spam. The following week it happened again in an identical manner. A new follower, I followed back, received a string of abusive DM’s, blocked and reported for spam. Two or three times a week. Sometimes two or three times a day. An almost daily cycle of blocking and reporting and intense verbal abuse. So I made my account private and the problem went away for a short while. There were no problems on Twitter but my Facebook account was hacked, my blog was spammed and my email address was flooded with foulmouthed and disgusting comments & images. Images of corpses and concentration camps and dismembered bodies.

Again, it eased off for a couple of weeks. I relaxed. Thought they’d finally tired of failing to get a reaction from me. Boy, was I wrong.

I didn’t mention it to my wife. Didn’t see the point of worrying her. But then she joined Twitter to see what it was like and grew to enjoy it. It wouldn’t have been immediately obvious to outsiders that we were man and wife. She made the mistake though of changing her profile to state that she was ‘The long suffering wife of @LeoTraynor’. Not a good idea. She received a DM stating ‘Your husband is scum. A rotten b*stard and you’re a wh*re.’ She laughed it off. Blocked and reported and then the pattern started again. We got to the point of not accepting new followers at all and then one day my wife received a torrent of abuse via DM and on the timeline that was so vile she’s never been on Twitter since – which is a real shame as she has so much to share and is far more interesting than I am.

People kept asking me ‘Why you? Why would these guys want to have a go at you?’ I couldn’t answer them other than it was a couple of random nutters who didn’t appreciate my political views or ethnic origins. Or even someone who couldn’t solve my cryptic crosswords!

The whole thing escalated in June, July and August this year. I received more and more abuse on the timeline and via DMs. A crossword clue account I’d started (@Leo’sClue) was inundated with abuse too.

Then one day something happened that truly frightened me. I don’t scare easily but this was vile.

Click through to read the entire account. The resolution was amicable, but it’s disconcerting to think people like this exist on the Internet.

Who Invented the Internet, Anyway?

Steven Johnson, author of Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age, reminds us that the Internet wasn’t created by the government (and certainly not by Al Gore):

Like many of the bedrock technologies that have come to define the digital age, the Internet was created by — and continues to be shaped by — decentralized groups of scientists and programmers and hobbyists (and more than a few entrepreneurs) freely sharing the fruits of their intellectual labor with the entire world. Yes, government financing supported much of the early research, and private corporations enhanced and commercialized the platforms. But the institutions responsible for the technology itself were neither governments nor private start-ups. They were much closer to the loose, collaborative organizations of academic research. They were networks of peers.

Peer networks break from the conventions of states and corporations in several crucial respects. They lack the traditional economic incentives of the private sector: almost all of the key technology standards are not owned by any one individual or organization, and a vast majority of contributors to open-source projects do not receive direct compensation for their work. (The Harvard legal scholar Yochai Benkler has called this phenomenon “commons-based peer production.”) And yet because peer networks are decentralized, they don’t suffer from the sclerosis of government bureaucracies. Peer networks are great innovators, not because they’re driven by the promise of commercial reward but rather because their open architecture allows others to build more easily on top of existing ideas, just as Berners-Lee built the Web on top of the Internet, and a host of subsequent contributors improved on Berners-Lee’s vision of the Web.

If you like how Steven Johnson writes, I highly recommend his other book published in 2005: Mind Wide Open.