Posts about norms

I see you: The technopanic over Google Glass

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Google Glass isn’t available yet. Even so, the technopanic it’s inspiring is rising to full swivet. But I say there’s no need to panic. We’ll figure it out, just as we have with many technologies—from camera to cameraphone—that came before.

The greatest compilation of worries to date comes from Mark Hurst, who frets: “The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience— it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.” [His typography]

This is the fear we hear most: That someone wearing Glass will record you—because they can now—and you won’t know it. But isn’t that what we heard when cell phones added cameras? See The New York Times from a decade ago about Chicago Alderman Edward Burke:

But what Mr. Burke saw was the peril.
“If I’m in a locker room changing clothes,” he said, “there shouldn’t be some pervert taking photos of me that could wind up on the Internet.”
Accordingly, as early as Dec. 17, the Chicago City Council is to vote on a proposal by Mr. Burke to ban the use of camera phones in public bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.
His fear didn’t materialize. Why? Because we’re civilized. We’re not as rude and stupid—as perverted—as our representative, Mr. Burke, presumed us to be.

How will we deal with the Glass problem? I’ll bet that people wearing Glass will learn not to shoot those around them without asking or they’ll get in trouble; they’ll be scolded or shunned or sued, which is how we negotiate norms. I’d also bet that Google will end up adding a red light—the universal symbol for “You’re on!”—to Glass. And folks around Glass users will hear them shout instructions to their machines, like dorks, saying: “OK, Glass: Record video.”

That concern raised, Hurst escalates to the next: that pictures and video of you could be uploaded to Google’s servers, where it could be combined with facial recognition and the vastness of data about you. Facebook can’t wait to exploit this, he warns. But this is happening already. Every photo on my phone is automatically uploaded to Google; others do likewise to Facebook, each of which has facial recognition and information about us. Hurst acknowledges that we’re all recorded all day in public—remember: it is public—by security cameras. But the difference here, he argues, is that this data is held by a companies. Big companies + Big Data = Big problems, right? That’s the alarm Siva Vaidhyanathan raises:

But what’s to investigate? Should governments have investigated Kodak cameras when they came out? Well, Teddy Roosevelt did briefly ban cameras in Washington parks. In 2010, Germany’s minister of consumer protection, Ilse Aigner, decreed that tying facial recognition to geolocation would be “taboo”—though one could certainly imagine such a combination being useful in, for example, finding missing children. To ban or limit a technology before it is even implemented and understood is the definition of short-sighted.

Hurst also fears that the fuzz and the Feds could get all this data about us, these days even without warrants. I fear that, too—greatly. But the solution isn’t to limit the power of technology but to limit the power of government. That we can’t is an indication of a much bigger problem than cameras at our eyelids.

I agree with Hurst that this is worth discussing and anticipating problems to solve them. But let us also discuss the benefits alongside the perils, change to welcome balancing change we fear—the ability to get relevant information and alerts constantly, the chance to capture an otherwise-lost moment with a baby, another way to augment our own memories, and other opportunities not yet imagined. Otherwise, if we manage only to our fears, only to the worst case, then we won’t get the best case. And let’s please start here: We are not uncivilized perverts.

Yes, I’m dying to get a Google Glass and get my head around it and vice versa. But rest assured, I will ask you whether it’s OK to take a picture of you in private—just as I ask whether it’s OK to take or share your picture now or to tweet or blog something you say to me. We figured all that out. We will figure this out. We have before. No need to technopanic.

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Clippings from The New York Times

Cross-posted from Medium.

LATER: A good post from Jürgen Geuter that raises the point I also wrote about in Public Parts: let’s concentrate on the use over the gathering of data; if we do the latter, we regulate what we’re allowed to know.

We get the net—and society—we build

The next time you see someone on Twitter point to an argument and gleefully announce, “Fight! Fight!” and you retweet that, think about the net you are encouraging and creating. You’re breeding only more of the same.

Oh, we’ve all done it. At least I’ll confess that I’ve done it. I’ve been in fights online I’m ashamed of. Like kids left alone by the substitute teacher, we — many of us — exercised our sudden freedom by shooting spitballs around the room. Have we gotten that out of our systems yet? Isn’t it time to stop and ask what kind of net and society we’re creating here?

I’ve been the object of potshots from a cadre of young curmudgeons who attack me instead of my ideas. We give it a haughty name — the ad hominem attack — but it’s just a kind of would-be assassination, sniping at the person to shut off the idea. I’ve watched these attacks be retweeted as reward, over and over again. Some might say that’s what I get for being public. Hell, I wrote a book about being public. But I hope personal attack isn’t the price one has to pay for sharing thoughts. What chill does that put on public discussion?

I was waiting for another example of a “Fight! Fight!” tweet to write about this choice we have. But then today I read about something far, far worse in singer Amanda Palmer’s blog. She, too, was getting ready to write about being the object of hate online — something we briefly talked about in a conversation regarding social media a few weeks ago. But then Amanda searched and found the tragic, wasteful story of a girl who couldn’t take the abuse she’d received online and off and finally killed herself. That’s only partly a story about the internet. But it’s very much a story about damaged humanity. Go read Amanda’s post now and watch the video there if you can bear to. Especially read the comments: heartfelt stories from more victims of attacks who, thank God, are here to tell their tales and share their lessons.

In the U.K., people are being arrested for posting hate online — “malicious telecommunications,” it’s called, as if the “tele” makes it worse. In France, a government minister is demanding that Twitter help censor, outlaw, and arrest the creators of hate online. I side with Glenn Greenwald on this: Nothing could be more dangerous. “Criminalizing ideas doesn’t make them go away any more than sticking your head in the sand makes unpleasant things disappear,” says Greenwald.

Yes, this is not a trend that can be delegated to government and wished away with legislation or prosecution. Or to put it another way: This is not government’s problem.

This is our problem. Your problem. My problem. Every time we link to, laugh at, and retweet — and retweet and retweet and retweet — personal attacks on people, we only invite more of the same. And every time we do *not* call out someone and scold them for their uncivil behavior, we condone that behavior and invite more of it. Thus we build the net — and the society — we deserve.

Again, I’ll not claim purity myself. I’ve ridiculed people rather than ideas and I’m ashamed for my part in that.

And mind you, I won’t suggest for a moment that we should not attack ideas and argue about them and fight over them with passion and concern. We must argue strenuously about difficult topics like guns and taxes and war. That is deliberative democracy. That process and freedom we must protect.

But when argument over an idea turns to attack against a person, then it crosses the line. When disliking a person becomes public ridicule of that person, it is hate. Dealing with that isn’t the responsibility of government. It is our responsibility.

The next time you see a tweet ridiculing a person or linking to someone who does, please respond with a challenge: “Is this the world you want to encourage? What does this accomplish? What does this create?” A week or so ago, I finally did that myself — “Really?” I asked a Twitter fight announcer. “Is this what you want to encourage? Aren’t you ashamed?” — and I was only sorry I had not done it before.

It would be self-serving and trivial to point to personal examples of attacks that spread. Indeed, it is self-serving — and ultimately only food to the trolls — to respond yourself to attacks on you; that gives the attackers just what they want. But that should not stop me from giving support to others who are attacked by those who think that scoring snark shots will only get them attention (because to date, it does). The next time I see an attack on a person, I need to call it out. I’d ask you to do the same.

We are building the norms of our new net society. It can go either way; there’s nothing, absolutely nothing to say that technology will lead to a better or worse world. It only provides us choices and the opportunity to show our own nature in what we choose. Will you support the fights, the attacks, the hate? Or will you stand up for the victims and against the bullies and trolls and their cheering mobs who gleefully tweet, “Fight! Fight!”?

Please read Amanda’s post and the comments from her supporters — Gaga would call them her little monsters — and take their stories to heart. Whose side are you on? Which net and society will you build?

Consumer Reports’ moral panic

I’m very disappointed in Consumer Reports for falling into the moral panic about privacy and social services. Today it issues a survey and a Reefer Madness report that covers no new ground, only stirs it up, over privacy and Facebook. Let me address instead the survey. In its press release, Consumer Reports says — as if we should be shocked at these numbers — that:

* 39.3 million identified a family member in a profile. Do we really live in a world where it should be frightening to talk about our family?

* 20.4 million included their birth date and year in their profile. And so? People can wish you a happy birthday. I think that’s nice. I don’t see the harm.

* 7.7 million “liked” a Facebook page pertaining to a religious affiliation. Oh, ferchrissakes. This is a country where people wear their religious affiliations on their sleeves and T-shirts and bumpers and shout about it in their political arguments. This is a country that is founded on freedom of religion. Why the hell wouldn’t we talk about it?

* 4.6 million discussed their love life on their wall. What CR doesn’t say is how often that discussion is restricted to friends and how often it is public. And if it is public, so what. I’ll tell you I love my wife.

* 2.6 million discussed their recreational use of alcohol on their wall. IT’S LEGAL.

* 2.3 million “liked” a page regarding sexual orientation. And thank God for the progress against bigotry that indicates.

* The survey also said that 4.7 million people liked a Facebook page about a health condition. Well, I say that is a wonderful thing, finally taking illness out of the Dark Ages social stigma of secrecy and shame. It’s about time. This week, Facebook allowed us all to donate our organs — publicly or privately; our choice. In the first day, 100,000 new people signed up to do so. You know that I found benefit writing about my prostate and penis there. Who is Consumer Reports to imply that this publicness is a bad thing.

My fear is that such fear-mongering will lead to more regulation and a less open and free net.

Last night, a good friend of mine complained on Twitter that Google had knocked his 10-year-old son off when he revealed his age. My friend got mad at Google. Oh, no, I said, get mad at the FTC and COPPA (the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act) and its unintended consequences. It makes children lie about their ages and puts us in a position to teach them to lie. It had mnade children the worst-served sector of society online. The intentions are good. The consequences may not be.

That is the case with regulation of the net being proposed under the guises of privacy, piracy, pedophilia, decency, security, and civility. That is why we must defend an open net and its ability to foster a more open society. That is why I find the kind of mindless fear-mongering engaged in by Consumer Reports dangerous.

Consumer Reports is not fulfilling its mission to protect us with this campaign. It will hurt us.

Social (network) pressure

By adding an organ-donation tool to Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg is setting up a dynamic of social pressure for virtue. Is that always good?

Now getting us to sign our drivers’ licenses so our vital bits can be harvested to save others’ lives is a moderately low-impact decision. But what about the occasional calls for folks to sign up to be tested for a marrow transplant — as in the drive for Super Amit? That’s no easy decision.

Imagine tomorrow, God forbid, one of your Facebook friends needs a kidney. There’s a tool staring you in the face asking you to get tested for a match. Do you join that lottery, getting tested and hoping to fail (or win)? Do you risk being shunned by your community if you don’t? Do you join in shunning others if they don’t?

I’m not proposing answers to those questions. Technology is pushing at our norms, forcing us to adapt, in so many ways, from how we communicate and converse to how we define what’s polite and what’s rude. This is a mighty poke. It will be fascinating to watch.

Bring back the busy signal

Email and communication are badly broken and the solution isn’t so much new technology as new norms. We need to redefine “rude.”

The problem is clear: If you’re like me, you get so much email that you can’t possibly answer it promptly if it all, and messages that do matter get lost under mountains of rubbish. Under old norms — from the era of letters and phone calls and knocks on doors — ignoring a message would be considered rude.

Perhaps what should be considered rude today is expecting you to immediately answer a message you didn’t ask for. And shouldn’t it be presumptuous for people to say they want “only 20 minutes” of your time, with no knowledge of how busy you are and how those many 20 minutes add up? Don’t we need new signals to let people know that we won’t answer every message, that some just aren’t important enough? Shouldn’t the person asking for our attention feel obliged to explain how the contact is relevant to our needs and desires? And shouldn’t we have a right to tell people that we can’t or don’t want to talk right now? Bring back the busy signal!

We are in a process of negotiating new norms for new circumstances. That is what we are also doing in the realm of privacy as we parry for a consensus about what’s OK to share with and about friends and what’s OK for a company to know about us. In public, we’re trying to settle on proper behaviors relating to talking on a mobile phone on the street or a train. Many of us are testing the line of old rudeness when we pull out a smart phone to read it when in the company of another person (e.g., if the other person answers a phone call, it’s fair game for me to check my email, right?) or when someone in person interrupts the conversation we’re having on our smartphone. And most of us wish for norms that would manage the problem of trolls and assholes and their bad behavior online.

Norms. Technology is causing change and our behaviors lag that until we settle on new norms. We start by trying to enforce old rules until we figure out that they are irrelevant. Then we operate without rules.

Then we lie. In the early digital days, when we missed an email, we’d say, “My email must be broken.” We’d throw AOL under the bus. But then Outlook and Google came along and email got better. So next came, “You must have been caught in my spam filter.” Then spam filters got better. Now, we can shrug and say, “Oh, sorry, Gmail must not have thought you were a priority.” VC Fred Wilson told his readers that if Gmail sends a missive to his “everything else” list then “I most likely won’t see it.” Same for me. We’re just blaming technology and technology can improve, robbing us of excuses.

danah boyd takes the occasional email sabbatical, letting would-be correspondents know that she simply will not see, open, or respond to any email sent between two dates and challenging them to find her if really necessary. I needed to reach her recently and succeeded (but I’ll do her the favor of keeping my path secret). Though danah’s method is tempting, it’s no solution, for we would miss communication we do, in fact, need.

The real problem is that we don’t have control. Bob Wyman, a brilliant technologist at Google (founder of PubSub and other startups), sat me down recently and explained the original sin of email: that the sender controls when the recipient should. It took me a while to understand that. Sender-control opens the door for people you know to make demands on you without you wanting them to. It opens the door for people you don’t know to bother you. And, of course, it opens the door to spam.

Google+, on the other hand, gives the recipient control: I decide whom to circle or follow and whom I wish to read. Soon after it started, Google+ had a spam problem: anyone could send you notifications. So G+ gave you control over that, limiting notifications to people you follow. Sadly, that cuts off the serendipitous ability of anyone out there to reach you. But it was a necessary change, else G+ would have become spammed to death. The other area that can be spammed is comments and G+ is having to add more and more controls. Bottom line: Recipient must control. Bob’s right.

None of that solves the social problem, though. We still need to be able to tell some people that we are too busy for them, that they don’t matter to us, that we don’t want to do what they are asking us to do, that we are not interested in what they have to say, that they are bothering us, that we aren’t friends, that we aren’t going to read what they send us, unbidden … without being considered rude. One way or another, we need to make such unpleasant communication part of our new norm. We need to learn how to say “no.”

We see the beginnings of that negotiation in Twitter: Anyone can follow me (unless I block them) but no one can send me a direct message until I follow them. So people ask: If you follow me I can send you a message. Is it rude not to? We’re figuring that out. If I do follow this person and he abuses the privilege, spamming my feed or sending me too many DMs, then I’ll unfollow him. Is that rude?

I needed to reach Fred Wilson, whom I know, not long ago. I know Fred is a very busy man with no end of people begging for attention (and money). So I don’t bug him unless I need to. But when I needed to, he didn’t answer me and I figured my message was likely being relegated to “everything else” by Gmail because I’m not a regular correspondent with Fred. I pinged Fred on Twitter; he responded immediately. Bugs in the system.

Leo Laporte has confessed that for some communication, he waits until the person sending a message sends it a few times. If it’s that important, goes the thinking, then they’ll try again and that will make it bubble up. I’ll confess to having done that, too. Rude? Perhaps. But it’s one way to get others to prioritize your mail.

Leave it to Europeans to try to regulate email behavior: VW is deactivating mobile messages to employees in off hours. But that’s not very satisfying: What if there is an emergency? What if you want to meet a colleague for a drink on a trip? What defines regular off hours in an international corporation?

We keep looking for solutions for recipients, coping with the increasing tide of irrelevance overtaking us. But that only makes it worse for legitimate senders and increases the risk that someone you want to get through can’t. What if you need to reach someone you don’t know? There needs to be an airlock someone can enter and knock, asking you to open the door and telling you why it would be worth your while. LinkedIn is rather like that, trying to use social connections to reach others through degrees of separation. Problem is: it creates one more way to send beseeching requests to people along the way: “Will you introduce me to so-and-so? Will you use your social capital with her on my behalf?” What if I don’t want to? Is that rude?

I face this problem with students in schools other than my own who come asking for interviews. I feel awful saying no — especially because I work at a journalism school that sends students out to interview others. But I get so many of these requests — “I just need 20 minutes” — that if I tried to be a nice guy and responded to them all, I’d have no time for my own students and my own work. The rare student who asks a cogent, well-thought-out, well-researched, and brief question will get a response so long as I have time. Too many of these requests are wildly broad: “What is the future of journalism?” Honest to God, I get that one often. I don’t bother; they seem to be thoughtless shotgun queries. If the student asks a question I’ve written about and I have time, I’ll send instructions about how to use Google’s “site:” search and find it on my blog. But most times, I have to say no and I feel like a shmuck being put in the position where I feel guilty doing so. I don’t like circumstances to make me feel rude.

I have no solutions. The technology will improve. Maybe Google+ and Facebook with their recipient controls become primary means of communication with people we know and email becomes an everybody-else channel with smarter and smarter Gmail filters to bubble up the ever-rarer relevant message. But that won’t solve the social problem. We need to settle on new norms that redefine what’s polite and appropriate and what’s not: what’s rude.