Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Last week a very timely case shook British academia when a noted British historian was accused of posting nasty reviews of his colleagues' books anonymously on Amazon.com:
Oddly enough, he signed the posts with his first name and the name of his college where he works, which one tends to believe would impede his anonymity. Also, his negative reviews were relatively mild (in my personal opinion), such as asking why someone had written the book. However, one of his colleges hired a forensic investigator and traced years of negative Amazon.com reviews back to historian Orlando Figes. Figes first claimed that his wife had written the reviews, then admitted that he had done so.
This incident ties in beautifully with Lanier's contention that the anonymity of the web encourages the darker side of humans to emerge. Figes, a historian, could be expected to do his best to attribute his ideas to the proper sources. He would also be well aware of the dangers of anonymous accusations (look at the fates of people anonymously accused in Venice, Europe during the Inquisition, pre-WW II Europe). However, when faced with the ability to post anonymously on (arguably) the world's biggest online bookstore, he decided to savage his fellow historians.
When I mentioned this incident to a fellow librarian, she told me that authors can actually delete negative reviews from Amazon. In fact, she had written a negative review of a book and had it deleted. As a result, she was very suspicious of books that had only positive reviews on Amazon. While I do look at Amazon reviews, I generally also try to look at a book, either by looking through a physical copy or by the virtual look ability to look inside a book. I take all reviews with a grain of salt, even by reviewers in respected journals.
My questions are these:
Reviews on moderated sites can be as biased as those on unmoderated sites. Should we really allow reviews to determine what we read or watch?
Are internet reviews by anonymous posters really any worse or less legit than those in print publications? Do reviewers in print publications has less of an agenda when they write reviews? Or do they just have better editors and legal departments?
If the internet did not exist, would Figes have written negative (and signed) reviews for academic journals? Did the internet indeed encourage his negative behavior?
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Lanier is not a big believer in free information/media/services of the internet. On one hand, he does have a point - people do need to be paid so that they can fulfill their basic needs for living. Also, it is not fair to have one's ideas stolen and to not be given credit. However, as a a poster on this blog noted, not everyone is after fame. Many people believe that putting their ideas out in the open will benefit others and help make a better, more creative world. As such, they view any licensing as restrictive of personal freedoms:
Questions to consider include:
Is it possible for people to support themselves as artists and/or creators by supplying their work for free on the internet?
Is this supplying merely a way to lure people into supporting the artist in a traditional way (such as buying their book or music)
Will software that restricts users to conforming to copyright be viewed as violating users' rights?
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Lanier comments that the internet is destroying creativity because it does not ackowledge individual creativity. He discussed the theory that all books, for example, will be mashed up into one uber-book. This uber-book will become, like the Bible, the only official book allowed (or at least on the web). At the same time, the individuals whose creativity is mashed up will be unable to support themselves by their creative endeavors.
I disagree with this statement bacause the internet has actually started the careers of some creative people. The woman whose blog became the book and movie Julie & Julia started as a blog writer before she was signed by a traditional book publisher. Without the blog, the author would have spent her life as a miserable woman in LIC with an inexplicable Julia Child obsession. The creators of the blogs Orangette and Chocolate & Zucchini both began as bloggers before they signed books deals. While Lanier doubts that people will be able to support themselves by blogging, historically very few artists were able to support themselves by their heart.
Will the internet destroy personal creativity?
Will mashups replace individual creativity?
Saturday, April 3, 2010
Lanier discussed how artificially reproducing music through electronic midi has forced musical notes to fit into a static, unchanging pitch as opposed to the warm, irregular, organic sound of live instruments. He believes that the Web 2.0 formats such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, are forcing people to change their thoughts to fit these artificial formats. On one hand, I tend to agree with him about Facebook. I (possibly erroneously) think that my daily experiences and thoughts cannot be fit into a brief Facebook post, especially one that could be used against me in the future. In fact, I now try to post as boringly as possible with the exception of the odd interesting link.
However, most art forms form creative people to fit into artificial constructs. Poets are constrained by the sonnet or the haiku. Musicians are constrained by the symphony. Writers of Broadway musicials are constrained by the need to write snappy songs that will be hummed once the show is over. Is the haiku any different from the Tweet?
Thursday, April 1, 2010
One of Lanier's criticism's about the web is that it encourages irresponsible behavior. It is possible to post your comments anonymously and not have to take any responsibility for them. He views this anonymity as creating a hive mind, where people gang up on posters or even individuals who don't post whose ideas they don't agree with until they drive the poster out of the forum or make the individuals life miserable. He gives the example of a Korean TV star who committed suicide after being trashed online. He also mentions a case in the US where a teenage girl committed suicide after she was cruelly dumped by what she thought was an online boyfriend but was in actuality the mother an a teen enemy. Oddly enough Lanier comments that the mother was hounded online but does not comment on the mother's actions, which caused the initial tragedy.
Lanier advocates thinking before you post on a blog, and signing your name to the post in order to take responsibility for your actions. I have mixed feelings about this idea. I am a relatively outspoken person in "real life" and take responsibility for my actions and speech. However, I read librarian blogs, newspaper blogs, and book discussion blogs where people post anonymously. I can tell that for many of my fellow librarians, their anonymous posting is a way of venting to a sympathetic audience about their job. It is in the online equivalent of grumbling in a bar with colleagues but safer since the physical colleague may tip off your bosses about your conversation.
My questions are:
Does anonymity encourage hostile posts and trollish behavior?
Do people think that online posting is a relatively harmless way of getting out their anger and hostility without destroying their possible relationship with their target?
Do they deliberately post to destroy the reputations and possibly the lives of others?
Do these people behave in this hostile and destructive fashion in face-to-face, non-internet life?
Do you prefer to post anonymously, sign your name, or do a mixture of both. If so, why?
Lanier's FAQ about his book and additional links can be found at :