The Telecom Digest for June 22, 2010
Volume 29 : Issue 168 : "text" Format
Messages in this Issue:
One nation, online (Monty Solomon)
Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster (Monty Solomon)
Re: Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster (Garrett Wollman)
Yes, People Still Read, but Now It's Social (Monty Solomon)
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Date: Sun, 20 Jun 2010 21:07:45 -0400
From: Monty Solomon <email@example.com>
Subject: One nation, online
One nation, online
The push to make broadband access a civil right
By Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow | June 20, 2010
If you're one of the millions of Americans who use broadband Internet
at home, you probably take for granted how deeply it's woven into
your life. It has transformed the way we pay our bills, seek romance,
procrastinate, and keep abreast of politics and the lives of friends.
The pre-Google era has become a distant, hazy memory.
If anything, many of us often half-wish we could escape the
Internet's clutches. The constant connectivity can be a shackle as
much as a convenience. Our habits have even triggered a serious
debate about whether all that clicking and toggling is warping our
But as the Internet grows more and more important to modern life,
some are now asking a different kind of question: Should broadband
access be a civil right?
It may seem strange to put the technology that brought us Facebook in
the august category where we place voting, or trial by jury. But
increasingly, activists, analysts, and government officials are
arguing that Internet access has become so essential to participation
in society - to finding jobs and housing, to civic engagement, even
to health - that it should be seen as a right, a basic prerogative of
all citizens. And in cases where people don't have access, whether
because they can't afford it or the infrastructure is not in place,
the government should have the power - and perhaps the duty - to fix
The idea is already gaining traction both overseas and in the United
States. In 2009, Finland passed a law requiring telecom companies, as
of next month, to make broadband available to all citizens, even in
remote areas. UN conferences have featured discussion of an
international "Internet Bill of Rights" that would include the right
to affordable access; a Pew survey of attendees at the 2007 UN
Internet Governance Forum in Rio found that a majority of the
respondents supported the idea of such a bill. And the notion is not
confined to the progressive spheres of Europe and the UN: In
Washington, at least two of the five commissioners at the Federal
Communications Commission, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, have
said that broadband needs to be seen as a civil right.
As Internet use becomes ever more widespread, advocates say, it
becomes an indispensable venue for activities like speech and
political participation. More and more government functions are
gravitating online; a vast and growing segment of social and cultural
life now unfolds on the Web. The Internet, these advocates argue, has
not only created a new world, its prevalence has also made it a
prerequisite for full membership in the old one.
Date: Sun, 20 Jun 2010 21:07:45 -0400
From: Monty Solomon <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster
Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster
These users comment on everything from today's news to hotel rooms.
Many are harmless. But some are ruthless. Who are they exactly, and
why do they do what they do?
By Neil Swidey | June 20, 2010
On Monday, May 17, at 2 p.m., a breaking news article headlined
"Obama's aunt given OK to stay in United States" hits the home page
of Boston.com. In a matter of seconds, the first anonymous online
comment appears. A reader with the handle of Peregrinite writes, "of
course she can . . . can someone appeal."
Certain topics never fail to generate a flood of impassioned
reactions online: immigration, President Obama, federal taxes,
"birthers," and race. This story about Obama's Kenyan aunt, who had
been exposed as an illegal immigrant living in public housing in
Boston and who was now seeking asylum, manages to pull strands from
all five of those contentious subjects.
In the next few minutes, several equally innocuous posts follow,
including a rare comment in favor of the judge's decision. Then the
name-calling begins. At 2:03 p.m., a commenter with the pseudonym of
Craptulous calls the aunt, Zeituni Onyango, a "foreign free-loader."
Seconds later comes the lament from Redzone 300: "Just another reason
to hate are [sic] corrupt government."
News websites from across the country struggle to maintain civility
in their online comments forums. But given their anonymous nature and
anything-goes ethos, these forums can sometimes feel as ungovernable
as the tribal lands of Pakistan.
At Boston.com, the website of The Boston Globe, a team of moderators
- or "mods" - monitor the comments. Actually, with just one or two
mods on per shift, and an average of more than 6,000 comments posted
every day, on every corner of the site, the mods could never hope to
monitor all the simultaneous chatter. Instead, they focus on
evaluating the "abuse reports" that commenters file against one
another. For Steve Morgan, a veteran editor who coordinates the
monitoring, the color of trouble is red. The crimson message at the
top of his computer screen keeps a running total of the abuse reports
that are awaiting action. Some complaints don't ultimately turn up
abuse - coarse language, ad hominem attacks, and the like - but
rather just a political stance that the person doing the complaining
doesn't care for. So a mod needs to evaluate each complaint and
decide either to remove the comment or let it stand.
Over the next two hours, the comments about Obama's aunt keep flying,
the abuse reports continue to climb, and the mods scramble to remove
the many posts - both conservative and liberal - that they determine
have crossed the line. Some comments are enlightening, on both sides
of the issue. (Madriver1 offers statistics showing that, of nearly
40,000 asylum requests filed last year, more than one-quarter were
granted.) Some are unintentionally funny. (GLOBEREADER83 chastises
another commenter for having written "good grammar" instead of
"proper grammar," but in both cases misspells it as grammer.) And
many are not just mean, but make-you-want-to-shower nasty. There are
references to Muslim bombers, Somalian pirates, "teabaggers and
xenophobes," America becoming "a 3rd world socialist hellhole," and
crude comparisons between Aunt Zeituni and James Brown, and between
the first family and farm animals.
At 3:41 p.m., when the commentary has degenerated into all-out
combat, hummlarry writes, "Obama is Kenyan and he is illegal and
president. We have been invaded by non-americans and the liberals are
to blame. I hope that one of the liberals feels the pain by being
broken into by a needy illegal and then maybe they will get it.
Deport them all."
Not long after that, Boston.com staffers take the drastic and
relatively rare step of turning off the comments function on that
particular article. (For certain types of stories, such as those
involving personal tragedies, the comments section is turned off from
the start.) Poof - hundreds of comments about Obama's aunt disappear.
Too many abuse reports had been pouring in; by day's end, the total
number would be 1,330 - twice the daily average for the previous
month. More than that, the commentary had reached its tipping point.
The pros of hosting a robust, freewheeling conversation had become
outweighed by the cons of all the venom and nastiness, by people who
are allowed to name-call without any obligation to reveal their own
Date: Mon, 21 Jun 2010 16:11:05 +0000 (UTC)
From: email@example.com (Garrett Wollman)
Subject: Re: Inside the mind of the anonymous online poster
In article <firstname.lastname@example.org>,
Monty Solomon <email@example.com> cut-and-pasted a Boston Globe
article which said in part:
>Not long after that, Boston.com staffers take the drastic and
>relatively rare step of turning off the comments function on that
>particular article. (For certain types of stories, such as those
>involving personal tragedies, the comments section is turned off from
>the start.) Poof - hundreds of comments about Obama's aunt disappear.
I don't understand why any serious news organization would allow
anonymous comments on its Web site (with the exception, perhaps, of
Garrett A. Wollman | What intellectual phenomenon can be older, or more oft
firstname.lastname@example.org| repeated, than the story of a large research program
Opinions not shared by| that impaled itself upon a false central assumption
my employers. | accepted by all practitioners? - S.J. Gould, 1993
Date: Sun, 20 Jun 2010 21:40:41 -0400
From: Monty Solomon <email@example.com>
Subject: Yes, People Still Read, but Now It's Social
Yes, People Still Read, but Now It's Social
By STEVEN JOHNSON
June 18, 2010
"THE point of books is to combat loneliness," David Foster Wallace
observes near the beginning of "Although of Course You End Up
Becoming Yourself," David Lipsky's recently published, book-length
interview with him.
If you happen to be reading the book on the Kindle from Amazon, Mr.
Wallace's observation has an extra emphasis: a dotted underline
running below the phrase. Not because Mr. Wallace or Mr. Lipsky felt
that the point was worth stressing, but because a dozen or so other
readers have highlighted the passage on their Kindles, making it one
of the more "popular" passages in the book.
Amazon calls this new feature "popular highlights." It may sound
innocuous enough, but it augurs even bigger changes to come.
Though the feature can be disabled by the user, "popular highlights"
will no doubt alarm Nicholas Carr, whose new book, "The Shallows,"
argues that the compulsive skimming, linking and multitasking of our
screen reading is undermining the deep, immersive focus that has
defined book culture for centuries.
With "popular highlights," even when we manage to turn off Twitter
and the television and sit down to read a good book, there will a
chorus of readers turning the pages along with us, pointing out the
good bits. Before long, we'll probably be able to meet those fellow
readers, share stories with them. Combating loneliness? David Foster
Wallace saw only the half of it.
Mr. Carr's argument is that these distractions come with a heavy
cost, and his book's publication coincides with articles in various
publications - including The New York Times - that report on
scientific studies showing how multitasking harms our concentration.
Thus far, the neuroscience of multitasking has tended to follow a
predictable pattern. Scientists take a handful of test subjects out
of their offices and make them watch colored squares dance on a
screen in a lab somewhere. Then they determine that multitasking
makes you slightly less able to focus. A study reported on early this
month found that heavy multitaskers performed about 10 to 20 percent
worse on most tests than light multitaskers.
These studies are undoubtedly onto something - no one honestly
believes he is better at focusing when he switches back and forth
between multiple activities - but they are meaningless as a cultural
indicator without measuring what we gain from multitasking.
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