The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

Hacking It

Will the Maker movement transform the political economy of physical things, much as the Internet has transformed the political economy of intangibles? Perhaps, but expect the same level of blowbacks and contradictions. Tools are just tools; they can be used for good, or for bad. “Our tech imagination is at its zenith. But our institutional imagination has stalled, and with it the democratising potential of radical technologies” (4,000 words)

Snowden Saga Heralds Radical Shift In Capitalism

The Snowden leaks have focused public debate almost entirely on state spying, obscuring a wider truth: We have begun a “transformation in how capitalism works”, with personal data as an “alternative payment regime”, allowing us to sell ourselves without knowing it. The notion that “we just need more laws, more tools, more transparency” to restore the status quo ante is a “simplistic narrative” which serves Google and the NSA equally (860 words)

We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley

We’re so thrilled by new technology that we ignore the corporate and political agenda of its producers. “We understand that the interests of pharmaceutical, food and oil companies naturally diverge from our own, but we rarely approach Silicon Valley with the requisite suspicion. We continue to treat data as if it were a special, magical commodity that could single-handedly defend itself against any evil genius who dares to exploit it” (4,000 words)

The Real Privacy Problem

The privacy and surveillance debate belongs in the domain of politics, not technology. “The balance between privacy and transparency is especially in need of adjustment in times of rapid technological change. That balance itself is a political issue par excellence, to be settled through public debate and always left open for negotiation. It can’t be settled once and for all by some combination of theories, markets, and technologies” (4,800 words)

The Price Of Hypocrisy

Lessons from the Snowden affair. “While Silicon Valley runs, updates and monetizes the digital infrastructure, the NSA can tap it on demand. Everyone specialises and everyone wins. Decentralisation is liberating only if there’s no powerful actor that can rip off the benefits after the network has been put in place. If such an actor exists – like NSA in this case – those in power get more of what they want quicker, and pay less” (4,855 words)

Connecting The Dots, Missing The Story

“There is an immense — but mostly invisible — cost to the embrace of Big Data by the intelligence community (and by just about everyone else in both the public and private sectors). That cost is the devaluation of individual and institutional comprehension, epitomized by our reluctance to investigate the causes of actions, and jump straight to dealing with their consequences” (1,261 words)

Future Shlock

Review of The New Digital Age, by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen. An ill-researched exercise in crude futurology asserting that Google can safely be left in control of technologies, the real-world implications of which it scarcely understands. “One day Google will fall. [But] thanks in part to this superficial and megalomaniacal book, the company’s mammoth intellectual ambitions will be preserved for posterity to study in a cautionary way” (5,180 words)

Machines Of Laughter And Forgetting

Makers of tech products aim for frictionless design: It just works. But convenience comes at a cost. Consumers are deprived of awareness and understanding. “Pick any electrical appliance in your kitchen. The odds are that you have no idea how much electricity it consumes, let alone how it compares to other appliances and households. This ignorance is neither natural nor inevitable; it stems from a conscious decision by the designer. Multiply such ignorance by a few billion, and global warming no longer looks like a mystery” (823 words)

Social Movements Should Ignore Social Media

Infatuated media intellectuals hold the virtues of the internet to be self-evident: “decentralization beats centralization, networks are superior to hierarchies, crowds outperform experts”. Perhaps. But it’s a gross and foolish simplification to start arguing that we should remake the rest of the world’s institutions in the image of Wikipedia

The Naked And The Ted

Babbling pundit Parag Khanna has written a silly book about technology. TED, the conference people, have stooped low enough to publish it, because they’ve got no class either. They are “kingpins of international meme laundering”

What Fearmongers Get Wrong About Cyberwarfare

“Instead of basing cyber policy on outlandish scenarios from second-rate films, we have to remember that those who would deploy cyberweapons have real agendas and interests—and would have to pay real costs if something goes awry”

Why Hillary Clinton Should Join Anonymous

Hackers collective Anonymous and the US State Department don’t have much in common but they do both proclaim their support for Internet freedom. “Ironically, both may end up hurting the very noble cause that they seek to promote”

A Robot Stole My Pulitzer!

“Producing and tweaking stories on the spot, customized to suit the interests and intellectual habits of just one particular reader, is exactly what automated journalism allows—and why it’s worth worrying about”

Form And Fortune

Best review yet of Isaacson’s “Jobs”. Maybe even better than the book. Full of good stuff on Apple’s design and marketing, its debt to the Bauhaus. Makes the case that, for once, “corporate philosophy” is not too strong a term

Occupy The Net!

Facebook’s “stance on pseudonyms is more than a stupid policy. It’s part and parcel of Facebook’s noxious vision for the future of the Internet, where privacy — rather than hard-earned cash — becomes the currency of the day”

Bugger Off

Not our choice of headline. And probably not Evgeny’s either. But still, an interesting review-essay about why the government can’t wiretap online communications the way it can wiretap phones. The traffic just goes somewhere else

Don’t Be Evil

Huge essay on Google and search, pegged to books by Steven Levy and Siva Vaidhyanathan. Has it brought order where once there was chaos? Or has it replaced the joy of serendipitous Web surfing with a “toxic information wasteland”?

Two Decades Of The Web

Interesting brief history of the Internet. Original utopian aims have sadly not been realised. People “may think they enjoy free access to cool services, but in reality, they are paying for that access with their privacy”

The Open Internet Is Worth Saving

Internet scholar’s masterful review of Van Schewick’s Internet Architecture and Innovation and Tim Wu’s The Master Switch. “The outcome of the net neutrality debate has geopolitical ramifications that most commentators ignore”

Smart Dictators Don’t Quash The Internet

The Internet surely hastened the exit of Hosni Mubarak, but a big reason it did so was because the Egyptian government tried to shut down the web rather than attempting to co-opt it like the Russians, Iranians, and Chinese do

Wiki Rehab

Wikileaks hasn’t damaged diplomacy, rather revealed the troubling nature of an Internet where it is easy “to force Internet intermediaries to drop clients that are not on Hillary Clinton’s Christmas card mailing list”

Wikileaks And Internet Freedom

Excellent interview with new-media scholar, on geopolitical fallout from Wikileaks affair. Assange should be handled with care. He’s emerging as hero of powerful global geek movement for Internet freedom

The Impact Of Anonymous

Cyber-attacks on Visa, Mastercard, are playing with fire. Wikileaks narrative should be about freedom of expression, transparency, whistle-blowing. Not about hacker-gangs as threats to national security

The Net Delusion

Excerpt (PDF) from much-awaited book arguing that new technology in general, and social media in particular, is not intrinsically a force for freedom, democracy. The bad guys use it too, and often better

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