Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.
That’s a text message that thousands of Ukrainian protesters spontaneously received on their cell phones today, as a new law prohibiting public demonstrations went into effect. It was the regime’s police force, sending protesters the perfectly dystopian text message to accompany the newly minted, perfectly dystopian legislation.
Via The New York Times:
The government’s opponents said three recent actions had been intended to incite the more radical protesters and sow doubt in the minds of moderates: the passing of laws last week circumscribing the right of public assembly, the blocking of a protest march past the Parliament building on Sunday and the sending of cellphone messages on Tuesday to people standing in the vicinity of the fighting that said, “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”…
…The phrasing of the message, about participating in a “mass disturbance,” echoed language in a new law making it a crime to participate in a protest deemed violent. The law took effect on Tuesday. And protesters were concerned that the government seemed to be using cutting-edge technology from the advertising industry to pinpoint people for political profiling.
Point, via The Guardian: The United Nations moved a step closer to calling for an end to excessive surveillance on Tuesday in a resolution that reaffirms the “human right to privacy” and calls for the UN’s human rights commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the impact of mass digital snooping.
Counterpoint, via Foreign Policy: The United States and its key intelligence allies are quietly working behind the scenes to kneecap a mounting movement in the United Nations to promote a universal human right to online privacy, according to diplomatic sources and an internal American government document obtained by The Cable.
Meantime, via Techrunch: Sir Tim Berners-Lee Blasts “Insidious, Chilling Effects” Of Online Surveillance, Says We Should Be Protecting Whistleblowers Like Snowden.
As bleak as the industry sometimes seems, the news media can be profitable—but only if companies better serve their customers, transform their business models, and alter their financial time-horizons. That includes having the kind of patience that Bezos demonstrates at Amazon. Outlets that cuts back on basic services—especially reporting—will improve their near-term quarterly profit, but squander the future…At Amazon, Bezos didn’t just “crack the digital code” in a technological sense; he understood how the Internet changed the economics of serving consumers.
Julius Genachowski and Steven Waldman, New Republic, Newspapers Should Be More like Amazon: What Jeff Bezos can teach the Washington Post.
Here’s a snippet of the e-commerce king’s letter to the Washington Post employees:
So, let me start with something critical. The values of The Post do not need changing. The paper’s duty will remain to its readers and not to the private interests of its owners. We will continue to follow the truth wherever it leads, and we’ll work hard not to make mistakes.
[…] There will, of course, be change at The Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership. The Internet is transforming almost every element of the news business: shortening news cycles, eroding long-reliable revenue sources, and enabling new kinds of competition, some of which bear little or no news-gathering costs. There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment. Our touchstone will be readers, understanding what they care about – government, local leaders, restaurant openings, scout troops, businesses, charities, governors, sports – and working backwards from there. I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunity for invention.
So the next time you see a friend, or a child, spending too much of their day facing a screen, extend a hand and invite him back to the world of real social encounters. You’ll not only build up his health and empathic skills, but yours as well. Friends don’t let friends lose their capacity for humanity.
Barbara L. Fredrickson, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, The New York Times. Your Phone or Your Heart?
Fredrickson poses a horrifying dilemma to the touch-screen generation: your phone or your heart. The more time we spend “bent over a digital screen, thumbing a connection to somewhere else,” Fredrickson argues, the more our biological ability to engage in “the world of real social encounters” withers away. In other words, with every <3 we type, we </3 a little inside.
Fredrickson came to this conclusion after conducting an experiment that tested how learning skills can affect a person’s capacity to connect with other humans.
Via The New York Times:
Half the participants, chosen at random, attended a six-week workshop on an ancient mind-training practice known as metta, or “lovingkindness,” that teaches participants to develop more warmth and tenderness toward themselves and others.
Frederickson concluded that mediators felt more socially connected and that their vagal tone was “altered.”
(Vagal tone background info: Your brain and the vagus nerve are connected. The stronger your vagal tone, the stronger the connection between the vagus nerve and the brain — meaning your body can better regulate itself internally.)
So people who engage in some new-age exercises enjoy some pretty trippy results. What does that have to do with your phone? Nothing, because Fredrickson didn’t enroll anyone in an iPhone-only lovingkindness regimen to compare vagal readings with the IRL set. She just assumes virtual communication is inherently less connected, friendly, and empathetic than the alternative.
Even though Frederickson says technological communication is diminishing our capacity to “<3” each other in real life, she also notes that the human body and its behaviors are “far more plastic or amenable to change than most of us realize.”
If human potential is so plastic or amenable, then can we assume that our vagal tone could evolve to work with tech communication? According to Slate’s Amanda Hess, it already has.
The more we flex our thumbs, the more satisfying the emotional rewards. Just the other day, a wave of good feeling rolled through two brains and bodies at once as [my friend] Nathan and I traded jokes about op-ed writers with a scientifically unsupportable fetish for the IRL. If Fredrickson can’t see the human potential of the online friendship, maybe it’s because she hasn’t been looking hard enough.
So, with such differing opinions and no real evidence that people become less or more empathetic with digital communication, whose side are we to take? Social media theorist, Nathan Jurgenson suggests: neither.
Via Society Pages:
I am proposing an alternative view that states that our reality is both technological and organic, both digital and physical, all at once. We are not crossing in and out of separate digital and physical realities, ala The Matrix, but instead live in one reality, one that is augmented by atoms and bits. And our selves are not separated across these two spheres as some dualistic “first” and “second” self, but is instead an augmented self.
Healthy human communication can occur through digital communication AND face-to-face conversation. Yeah? Cool.
FJP: Some of my longest, deepest conversations have happened through a cell phone or an IM window. I’ve spent more than half of my 23 years communicating digitally rather than face to face. Oh my God — I knew I felt more apathetic and cyborg-ish than I did as a child. Now I know why. Now, step aside and allow me to destroy your humanity, one evil “LOL” at a time. — Krissy