Sips from the Firehose


Feb 24

Gawker’s Nick Denton: “Privacy has never really existed”


Posted: under journalism.
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Thought-provoking take in a Playboy interview of Gawker Media’s Nick Denton, one of the most-hated men on the internet. Also, one of the most successful.

His premise may be a little self-serving, in light of his whole net worth being based on prying into people’s lives and then shaming the shit out of them on his web properties. Then again, you might also legitimately say that his web properties are devoted to outing/shaming/calling B.S. on people because that’s the ethos he lives by.

PLAYBOY: You’re more willing than most people to organize your life according to principle and see how the experiment turns out.

Nick Denton, displaying some of the “let it all hang out” spirit.
Photo credit: Village Voice Blogs

DENTON: You could argue that privacy has never really existed. Usually people’s friends or others in the village had a pretty good idea what was going on. You could look at this as the resurrection of or a return to the essential nature of human existence: We were surrounded by obvious scandal throughout most of human existence, when everybody knew everything. Then there was a brief period when people moved to the cities and social connections were frayed, and there was a brief period of sufficient anonymity to allow for transgressive behavior no one ever found out about. That brief era is now coming to an end.

PLAYBOY: That doesn’t jibe with your other theory about how we’ll judge one another more kindly when we have no privacy. Human history is not a history of tolerance for deviation from the norm.

DENTON: You don’t think there was a kind of peasant realism? You hear these stories about a small town, seemingly conservative, and actually there’s a surprising amount of tolerance. “So-and-so’s a good guy. Who cares if he’s a pig fucker? His wife brought a really lovely pie over when Mama was sick.”

I grew up in Small Town America in the 1970s. Tucked back into a musty corner of the Upper Midwest, rural Wisconsin pretty much ran along the lines that Denton is describing. You can’t live with a family for generations without pretty much knowing all about their business.

You’d know without asking what their opinion was on pretty much any matter of import without having to ask, because their opinions were shaped by their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and their life experiences.

As were yours.

The idea that we are free to become who we say we are, to invent ourselves – that is a curiously American concept, and one that functions only in fairly large urban environments. Even there, if you become suitably prominent, all the locals will pretty much be all up in your bidness, as the Southerners say.

So in that light: does social media represent a phase in human evolution wherein we all voluntarily put ourselves back into that small-town pressure cooker, where everybody knows all they need to know about us all at a glance? And is that a good thing or a bad thing? Can we even stop it at this juncture – and if we did, would we really want to?

Because there is this thing about small towns: after a certain amount of time, it becomes next to impossible to really pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.

It’s like my career with the paparazzi taught me. Somebody talks.

Somebody ALWAYS talks.

In our modern media landscape, so littered with charlatans who take advantage of ignorance and misinformation to skin the rubes, maybe this kind of brutal enforced honesty is not the worst thing after all.

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Sep 24

Apple’s iOS EULA: All Your Content R Belong to Us!!


Posted: under Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Every time I read through one of these EULAs, it just keeps getting worse and worse.

I upgraded the iPad to iOS6, because I wanted to test it out, and I’m not ready yet to turn the Maps feature on my iPhone into a hot, steaming mess. But part of the whole upgrading regimen is, as is depressingly familiar to Apple users, having to agree to a new, dense and even more piracious End User Licensing Agreement (aka those damn “I Agree” screens that 99.9% of the population never actually reads, but just clicks on to make them go away).

apple's abusive privacy agreement for iCloud

I can’t believe the language in these things. The privacy policy has obviously been re-worked to try to put it in words that an actual human being would use – which kinda makes things even more insidious. They make an outrageous statement about how Apple is going to spy on you, and then they offer up a carefully worded explanation that makes you kinda go, “Hm. Well, I guess I can see that … that’s not so bad…”

So here, as a service to any of you who might be interested in just what rights you irrevocably, permanently, idiotically, signed away without ever actually bothering to check, are some choice bits from the EULA that is now part of your iPhone/iPad/iPod:

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Mar 15

…thus confirming everything I always suspected about Aerosmith fans…


Posted: under Amusing Nonsense.
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I find data mash-ups like this absolutely fascinating. Totally anecdotal, useless for anything other than starting an argument or feeling smug/outraged, but impossible to look away from. It was made by comparing the reported list of favorite bands from Facebook with the average SAT scores of the university that those students were attending.

So yeah, it’s a completely made-up signifier, one that purports to reveal some hidden correlations, but which is maddeningly vague.   I mean, are Billy Joel fans really smarter than Foo Fighters fans? Or is it just some combination of Jersey-boy favoritism and Ivy League colleges skewing things?And AC/DC fans smarter than Doors fans? I mean, who really believes that the shop class dirtheads out-IQ the pretentious poets?

A larger point to ponder is the amount of data we all have voluntarily contributed to public places, and the ways that data is available to even casual researchers to aggregate, thin-slice and draw conclusions from. Imagine someone with a slightly more robust databank figuring out how to correlate the playlists on Last.fm and Pandora with the incidence of buying Crocs sandals and voting Democratic in local school board elections.

We all make judgments about each other based on surface impressions – it’s what the book “Blink” was about.  A couple of bearded guys in an aging VW Microbus is such a cliche that I’ll bet you immediately thought “hippie.”  The cops do things like this with bumper stickers, such as when they revealed that 90% of the time they pull over a car in LA with a KROQ bumper sticker, they routinely search it for drugs (when this was reported, two things happened – KROQ screamed bloody murder and thousands of stoners went outside with razor blades and started scraping furiously).  Gang members do it with shoelaces, and screeners at airports do it with twitchy body language.

Graph showing the relationship between favorite band and SAT score.

Graph showing the relationship between favorite band and SAT score.

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