Check your Privilege!

CBC’s The Current on the topic of Privilege.

The concept of Privilege as a way to make people think about the unequal distribution of power in society was a good idea, and continues to be a good idea when used as a framing device to promote understanding. However, like most things, it‘s been co-opted by those who want to use it to their own advantage.

Now the phrase “check your privilege” is well on its way to being the newest way to call someone a Nazi and end conversations rather than start them. It’s really handy- anytime I want to shout someone down I just scream “Check your privilege!” at them and the conversation is pretty much over. Even I, as a middle-class straight white male (usually the ones being shouted into silence), can get in on the fun with richer people, who clearly have an unconscious social advantage over me and are thus no longer worth listening to because they “just don’t understand”.

“Check your privilege, One Percenter!”

And meanwhile, society divides itself more and more and people actually talk to each other and understand each other less and less. yay.

How Powerful Are Algorithms? | Idea Channel

Information Determinism. Scary stuff! Sadly, it sounds pretty reasonable. Think about it this way- we become like characters in a console RPG like Fable where every choice we make is locking us into a path because the Algorithms that are looking for key data indicators are channeling us this way and that.

Every time we make a choice, or a search, we’re slowly building a giant pile of data that will be used in certain ways to determine what we’ll be shown and where we’ll be sent online. Facebook is using these systems to even determine who our friends are, since our News Feed is being modified to just show us the people it thinks we most want to interact with based on our interactions with people. This will only get worse and worse with time, as the internet we see will become more and more customized to us and our tastes in an effort to keep us using it as much as possible. (To sell us stuff and make money from us.)

Not sure how to counter this, except maybe not using Facebook or other social networks, using Duck Duck Go for searching, and maybe proxies. But, if you want to use the Net at all for shopping, you have to log in somewhere, Ebay, Amazon, it doesn’t matter. And you will leave a trail, and they will use that data to try to sell you stuff, here, or in the future, it will happen unless you’re an ultra secretive and ultra-passive user.

A better route might be to give them too much confusing and conflicting data so they don’t know what boxes to stick you in. Or, since you know they’re watching, give them data which manipulates them to give you what you want. After all, if you show interest in a book with your Amazon account logged in, and then wait a week or two, you’ll get an email offering you the book at a greater discount. With a little knowledge and patience, you can use the system more than its using you.

Rob

Excellent Interview on Cybercrime with Misha Glenny

If you get the chance, absolutely watch/listen to TVO’s interviews with Misha Glenny on cybercrime. They’re really fascinating stuff, even to someone like me who already knows a bit about the topic. Glenny covers not only how it’s done, but who does it, and how they get involved with this shadowy underworld. He also talks about the most vulnerable place for cybercrime in the world- North America. Why? Give them a watch.

 

If Ian Fleming – author of the James Bond spy novels – were alive today, and wanted to write a non-fiction book about the burgeoning cybercrime industry and the ingenious characters involved in it, he’d be too late. British journalist Misha Glenny, former Central Europe correspondent for the BBC World Service, has already written that book. Drawing on over 200 hours of interviews with players on both sides of the law, Glenny, in DarkMarket: How Hackers Became the New Mafia, weaves the shadowy, expansive global network of cyber criminals and the police that track them into a terse crime thriller.

via Misha Glenny: In Detail | The Agenda.

Teens Gone Wild on the Net! Or NOT!

Really interesting study. In fact, they pretty much proved that most of the media’s claims about teens going wild on the internet are total BS!

 

In the current study, just 2% of all teens ages 12-17 say they have sent a “sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video” of themselves to someone else. That represents 3% of all teen cell users and has remained stable since 2009 when 4% of teen cell users answered a similar question.46 A much larger segment of the teen population – 16% of all teens and 18% of cell users – say they have received a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of someone else they know. By comparison, in 2009, 15% cell-owning teens said they had received such images of someone they know.As was the case in 2009, there are no significant gender or age differences among those who say they have sent a sexually suggestive message. However, in a trend that is also consistent over the past two years, older teens are much more likely than younger teens to say that they have received a sexually suggestive nude or nearly nude photo or video of someone they know; 21% of older teen cell users report this, compared with just 6% of those ages 12-13. Boys and girls across all age groups are equally likely to receive a sexually suggestive photo or video

via Introduction | Pew Internet & American Life Project.

What’s the First Horror Movie? This is.

The Devil’s Castle, from 1896 is considered to be the first horror movie. At a bit over three minutes long, it’s not a hard watch despite being a silent film. One thing that today’s viewers should keep in mind when watching is that the audiences of the day had no concept of special effects because films were such a new medium. So the transformations you see here, while extremely crude, would have been genuinely shocking to the audiences watching this film.

And when you’re done laughing at that, here’s an early silent horror film that lives up to it’s name. If you haven’t seen the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), you’re in for a twisted piece of German expressionism that you won’t soon forget!

And finally, here’s a movie that haunted my young dreams for years. That staircase scene still gives me chills, 1922’s Nosferatu!

Happy Halloween!
Rob

Looking for Some Weekend Watching?

Looking for something to watch this weekend? This website has a list of 100 classic sci-fi and horror films you can watch online for free! However, be warned that some are on Hulu (so you can only view them from the States) and the more recent ones also seem to be US-only. Still the classics make the list worth a look!

Welcome to the Future of Spin!

This is one of those stories that was obvious from the beginning- if one (since Yahoo barely counts anymore) company controls how people seek information, then they also control people’s access to information. So why not make a profit by selling it for a buck? Or, even if they’re neutral, it creates a system that can be gamed by people who have the money to do so. That’s the sad truth of “One search engine to rule them all”- he who has the gold, makes the rules.

In their most tenacious effort to control the ‘spin’ on the worst oil spill disaster in the history, BP has purchased top internet search engine words so they can re-direct people away from real news on the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

BP spokesman Toby Odone confirmed to ABC News that the oil giant had in fact bought internet search terms. So now when someone searches the words ‘oil spill’,  on the internet, the top link will re-direct  them to BP’s official company website.

Full Article here.

To Free or Not to Free 2- The Revenge

Last night I was chatting with a friend and discussing the audiobooks conundrum mentioned earlier this week- if you give the audiobook away for free, will they pay for the text versions or not?

My friend, commented that from his perspective in fact the reverse approach may have netted more fish- give the text away for free, and then charge for the audiobook version. His logic was that audiobooks are less effort to read, and therefore more and more people are being drawn to them out of the sheer base human quality of laziness. He felt that if people like the text, or even just the beginning of the text, they might in fact pay to have the audio version just to make their lives easier as they consume it.

He also pointed out that if something generates fans, then those fans will want to consume more of that something, and in different ways. People who read books don’t avoid the movie version, they tend to flock to the movie version- hoping for an enhanced experience of what they loved about the book.  How much would people pay for a version of the book read by the author themselves?

Now, this approach won’t solve all the problems- for one, how do you get people to read your work in the first place? Part of the reason for podcasting novels to begin with was to have a fresh medium that wasn’t cluttered with a zillion other people fighting for notice. (And even now, with lots of people doing it, it’s still a drop in the bucket compared with the number of people writing away on Fiction.net or their own personal blogs.) The ability to have your work stand out like that, and be given a chance by a lot of people who might not normally touch it is a pretty big advantage in making a name for yourself.

Another issue that would come up is the question of finding an actual publisher- as in, someone to market your books and pay the initial costs of getting them out there in bookstores. If the text is available online for free- why would they want to touch it? (Answer- they probably wouldn’t, you’d need to write a new book for them once you got their attention.) Of course, things are also changing in the e-book realm, with sites like Smashwords helping to enable people to get their e-books published across the formats and platforms. Also, thanks to Lulu.com and similar sites, if you want to do it yourself, that’s feasible too. (Of course, you could also use Lulu.com to sell the audiobook version for pay as well…)

So, unfortunately, the story is far from simple, and the issue is far from closed on the best way to market your creative writing talents online. Do you do the publisher route, and hope you don’t get lost in the slushpile? (Although this site seems to have semi-solved that problem through crowdsourcing.) Or do you take what is almost the modern independent musician route, where you give away your base product for free, and try to make your money through associated merchandise? Is there a happy medium in between?

My friend thinks it’s all about human nature, and finding the best way to navigate the base human needs and desires to get what you want. It would be interesting to know if anyone is doing it his way, and if they’ve had any success doing it as a result.

To Free or not to Free, that is the Question.

One of the writers that a great many in the podcast novel world look up to is J.C. Hutchins, both because of the quality of his work and because he made the dream of many into a reality- he got a book deal from his podcasted novel. He was one of the guys who literally set up the holy grail of new media novelists, and used the new media to get his work and his name out there into the general public. As a result of what was partially his work, there are now hundreds of novels being podcast out there, and a few more since have also gained book deals as he did.

However, J.C. recently hung up the microphone on the podcast novel gig when he more or less came to the conclusion that while the legions of fans would happily follow him everywhere, they would for the most part only do so while he was offering free content. When his book went to the publisher and hit the shelves, record numbers of online fans didn’t translate into record sales, and the publisher decided not to continue because of the simple reality that his previously podcast novel wasn’t selling.

Now J.C. seems to be turning slowly from the prophet of Podcast Novels into someone who is bitter and resentful about the whole experience. Not that I blame him, he put his soul into it, and was cheered on by the crowds, only to have those same crowds abandon him when he actually asked them to support him in a meaningful way. Not even to give donations, but just buy the book they’d loved and own a copy of it instead of listening for free online. That must have been really painful for him, probably akin to hitting a brick wall at 200kph, and I imagine he’s going to take a long time to recover. Not that his “fandom” is helping, for some of them are even attacking the poor guy for turning off the tap! He can’t win!

In a lot of ways, I think he’s a victim of the Tragedy of the Commons– it’s not that the people didn’t want to support him, but the motivation wasn’t strong for them to buy the end product (they had it already for free) and each of them thought the others would buy it, so they saved their money. And, I think he’s also right in blaming both the sense of entitlement for free content that many internet users seem to have these days and the fickle nature of online consumers who will happily support content creators as long as they don’t have to pay for it.

However, I do think there’s also the issue of what a creator wants to get out of these “free” productions.

Like most things, it’s all about what your goals are. If your goal is to simply entertain people and maybe gain fun and experience, then producing content for free online is fine. If, however, you’re doing it to gain an audience or reputation that will carry you into something that will make money down the line, then I think you require a very different strategy. Putting it all out there, and then expecting people to continue to turn around and pay for it is a recipe for disappointment, even in the internet age. The better strategy is to do what any good drug dealer does- give the audience a hit, get them addicted, and then make them pay if they want more. (Of course, that strategy does have it’s problems, because if your drug isn’t addictive enough, then it will likely fail.)

In J.C.’s case, he might have been better served by releasing the first third of the story, and then putting the rest up for sale on Amazon in book form. The problem is, there wasn’t a Lulu.com when he started doing this, and he was a pioneer at finding out what worked and what didn’t. The canary in the coal mine, as it were. He didn’t have that kind of choice, and was hoping to use the podcast to attract buzz from a mainstream media publisher.

Of course, something to consider is- it worked. Despite 7th Son not selling, and despite his legions of fans having failed him in his darkest hour, J.C. podcasting his book did get it published, and not only that, it made him a name. Even if all his future books will be published and sold normally, the key point is, they will be published because he’s no longer a faceless manuscript sitting in the slush pile. J.C. is now lightyears ahead of tens of thousands of other authors in a highly competitive market, and has a very good chance of being a successful (paid) author in the future.

So, while J.C. might be somewhat bitter about the whole experience, I hope he considers that despite all the hard work, there really was a payoff- a big one. One I bet a lot of other struggling writers wish they had.

Digital Nation

PBS in the US aired a fascinating documentary called Digital Nation this week which everyone should watch, but especially teachers since a lot of it deals with the issues of how social media and the net are affecting the classroom and student behaviors.

I myself have long felt there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way we teach kids today, as the old system is becoming less and less effective. That said, as this excellent documentary shows the over-stimulation provided by constantly being in touch with the world is actually harming students and their performance in some ways as well, so we need to be careful about how we go about this.

For example, today’s kids tend to be chronic multitaskers, something that isn’t helping them or their ability to focus or get their work done. They think they can handle it, but as this documentary proves, they clearly can’t. So give it a watch: