Being a Journalist, Online and Off

Posted April 1st, 2013 at 3:05 pm (UTC-4)
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When Sharing Your Story Interferes With Telling Others’

Kate Woodsome | Washington DC

[Ed. note: Kate Woodsome is a VOA multi-media journalist covering U.S. immigration and rights movements from Washington. You can connect with her here on Twitter.] 

While the U.S. Supreme Court debated whether or not to support same sex marriage, Facebook turned red. Countless users changed their profile pictures to a red square with a pink equal sign ( = ) in the middle, a symbol of the gay rights movement.

I have an opinion on this issue. Most people do. And for a few hours, I posted it on Facebook, where I’m connected to a relatively small network of 362 “friends.”

In those few hours, I lost something. In the journalism business, we call it objectivity. Read the rest of this entry »

Electing A Pope In The Twitter Age

Posted March 13th, 2013 at 9:34 am (UTC-4)

How Social Media May Shape A Conclave, And A Future Pontiff

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

As you read this, the doors to the Sistine Chapel are likely locked and sealed with wax and a ribbon. The conclave of the Roman Catholic Church is underway, and for the moment, the world’s most-watched communications device is…a stove pipe and a cloud of smoke.

Although the last conclave was just in 2005, this is arguably the first in the era of ascendent social media. Last time around, Facebook was only a year old, with a very limited membership base and primitive communications abilities; Twitter was at least a year away and Google+ still on the drawing boards.

It’s an odd pairing  of technologies; with the world wide web of computers and mobile phones and a billion cameras ready to upload to YouTube on one side, and a relatively rickety tin stove pipe and a handful of chemicals down below designed to color smoke black or white.

However archaic the conclave communication, there is no doubting that the nest Roman Catholic pontiff and his hand-picked leadership will not be able to ignore social media once a new pope is chosen. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Owns The News?

Posted March 1st, 2013 at 3:18 pm (UTC-4)

Journalism’s Digital Disruptions

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

It went bad at the very end, and started with the #7 car.

On the last lap of last Saturday’s NASCAR qualifying heat in Daytona Beach, Florida, the race cars were bunched so tightly together they appeared to be touching. Regan Smith in the #7 “Clean Coal Chevrolet” was  in the lead, but just barely. As the cars thundered into the final turn, Smith lost control. His Camaro nosed to the right, knocking Joey Logano in the #22 Ford Fusion into a spin. In the chain reaction that inevitably followed, many cars were damaged. But only Kyle Larson’s #7 car went airborne, slicing into the guard walls and shearing his Chevy into three pieces. (Larson was uninjured.) Read the rest of this entry »

A Virtual State Of The Union

Posted February 11th, 2013 at 3:28 pm (UTC-4)
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Using The Web To Advance Politics

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Tuesday evening, as President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union, millions of people in the United States and around the world will turn to their TVs and radios to learn what may be in store over the coming year. But a growing number will also increasingly turn to the Internet and social media, not only to listen to the address, but to engage in instant political debate during and after.

President Reagan delivers the 1983 State of the Union address (Wikimedia Commons)

The State of the Union speech is more tradition than constitutional requirement, becoming in the 20th Century a major media event and the closest thing the US has to monarchical pomp and ceremony. As media changed, so did the speech. For most of American history, the speech wasn’t even that, but rather just a written message from the President and delivered to Congress to be read into the record.

1923 brought the first speech broadcast via radio (President Calvin Coolidge’s first) and 1947 the first seen on television (President Harry Truman’s second.) As broadcast coverage increased, so did the speech itself, growing longer and, in 1965, moving to prime time. (George Washington’s first speech was less than 10 minutes long, while President Bill Clinton’s final address clocked in at one hour and 49 minutes.)

The digital revolution continues that evolution. In 2002, President George W. Bush’s first SOTU address, coming just four months after the terror attacks of Sept. 11th, was webcast live for the first time. That was two years before Facebook, four years before Twitter and five years before the first iPhone. Now, in the second decade of the 21st Century, the State of the Union has become a social media event: a portable, borderless political debate. Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook Fasting

Posted February 5th, 2013 at 2:21 pm (UTC-4)

A New Study Suggests How And Why Users Take A Facebook Break

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Think for a moment about how you spend your time online. Researching? Randomly clicking through Wikipedia? Watching cat videos?

Now think about who’s there with you. Not in real flesh-and-blood terms, but who’s hanging around you online…watching what you read and what you say.

(AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, FILE)

Increasingly, spending time on the Internet is a social event, thanks to the pervasive influence of networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+ (in addition to VKontakte, QZone and a handful of others.) We don’t just read anymore; we share. Separating the online you from your “friends” you’ve connected with takes more and more effort.

But what if you need a break? What if you’re just tired of your friends; can you take a vacation from them and come back a few weeks later like nothing happened?

That’s the question researchers at the Pew Internet and American Life project explored in their recent study “Coming and Going on Facebook.” And it turns out that lots of people are taking more short-term breaks from their online networks, but for a wide variety of reasons.

“What we’re seeing is people are just taking a pause,” says Pew director Lee Rainie, also a co-author of the study:

“They’re not thinking they should abandon the site, they just want more time, less drama. A portion of people said they were nervous about privacy concerns. The people who come back apparently think there’s an advantage for them being on, and they’re ready to reengage and feel like it’s worthwhile for them.”

The report begins with a whopping statistic: that 67 percent of American adults who are online are members of Facebook. (That’s probably no surprise to Mark Zuckerberg, but it’s still a huge number of users.) Of those, nearly 61 percent say they have taken at least one voluntary break from the site for at least a week or longer; some many times.

The biggest reason for the Facebook fasts? 21 percent of respondents in the Pew survey say they just didn’t have enough time for it.

“People just feel overwhelmed with the volume of social contact they have on Facebook and they’re taking a break to capture a little more time in their life,” says Rainie:

“There are other people who take a break and see what it does for them; to see whether it gives them extra time they cherish. You could almost hear people doing mental calculations of what are the advantages of staying on and taking a break, and it’s this bigger story of how people weave technology into their life. Sometimes it feels appropriate to immerse yourself, and sometimes it feels appropriate to take a break, gather your wits and spend all of your time online.”

Anyone who’s a member of an online social network knows that there are times when your friends seem to be doing genuinely interesting things, and times when…well, not so much. At moments like that, a network like Facebook can feel like a chore filled with drama or tedium. Rainie says the study suggests that people are becoming more open to the idea of taking a short break to refresh, re-evaluate, or just catch their breath.

And when they come back from their fast? “69 percent, a large majority, say they’re ready to engage with their online friends just about as much as they did before.

It’s an ebbing and flowing; it depends on what’s going on in their life, the season, what their friends are talking about, a whole host of factors,” says Rainie. “People are trying to figure out where social media fits in their life.”

So, the next time you think you want a little break from Facebook, perhaps you should take one.

Cuba Experiments with Internet Speed, Not Freedom

Posted January 25th, 2013 at 5:07 pm (UTC-4)

Kate Woodsome | Washington DC

Cuba, as seen through reflective puddles, windows and windshields. Photo by Zoriah.

Whenever my Internet connection is slow, I try to imagine I’m using a typewriter so that I’m pleasantly surprised, rather than infuriated, by the pace and technology. It’s a mind game I learned years ago when I lived in Cuba, where the Internet is painfully slow.

This week, the Cuban government announced a change that might just pick up the pace. The state-run Granma newspaper acknowledged Thursday the government is conducting tests on an undersea fiber-optic cable connecting Cuba with Venezuela and Jamaica and, through them, the world.

The report said the ALBA-1 cable, in the works since 2007, has been operational since August when Cuba began studying voice traffic related to international telephony. Then, this month, it started testing the quality of Internet traffic on the system.
Read the rest of this entry »

The Year Anonymous Disappeared

Posted January 7th, 2013 at 3:23 pm (UTC-4)

Just What Happened to the Internet’s Great Terror?

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

Just who, or what, is Anonymous these days?

Prediction is a fool’s game. Just ask anyone leaving Las Vegas. Or Nate Silver.

Generally speaking, we don’t play the “Top Ten 2013” list-type entries that populate blogs and other journalism this time of year. There aren’t many things about the future that can be predicted.

But there are a few. Looking back to this same time last year, you might have said we were fools to predict the rapid decline of Anonymous.

“How far will Anonymous go before it goes too far?” we asked back on Feb. 8, 2012. “The answer may come sometime soon.”

It seems that 2012 has given us an answer.

When Things Go Bad

For those unfamiliar, Anonymous calls itself a group with no leaders, no members and no plan, other than what Anonymous decides to do…whatever that means. In point of fact, as we’ve pointed out before, this is simply a lie – but it’s a lie the media have willingly gobbled up and repeated.

Of course there are members of Anonymous, even if many come or go depending on the issue. It takes many busy hands to launch a successful attack against the government of Egypt, or the Zeta drug cartel, as two examples. Of course there are part-time leaders choosing targets and coordinating work, even if they don’t like to be called that. And in spite of some of its admittedly “white hat” good-guy attacks it has launched, of course Anonymous has a plan. That plan, in part, has been to get people talking about Anonymous.

For years, the merry band of pranksters that make up Anonymous has brilliantly exploited media appetites with a series of attacks on the computers systems of governments and corporations, accompanied by a taunting, swaggering attitude that reporters ate up. They rallied to the support of accused leaker Bradley Manning and embattled Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, striking back at credit companies that refused to process financial donations to the group. The group Telecomix, an Anonymous related group, has worked ceaselessly to harass or embarrass Syrian government authorities while keeping the rest of the population as connected to the Internet as possible. Famously, when the CEO of computer security firm HBGary thought he had exposed Anonymous members, he merely encouraged the group to strike back by seizing control of the firm’s systems, publicly humiliating the company and ruining the life of its boss. All of this (plus lots more) just in 2011.

If 2011 represented something of a highpoint for Anonymous, it also began what may have lead to its retreat underground. It was in that summer that the Anonymous-offshoot “LulzSec” began grabbing headlines and stirring it upwith a string of rapid, if not entirely sophisticated attacks on a wide series of targets – all, in their words, “for the lulz.” But also that year, U.S. federal authorities trying to break the back of Anonymous began targeting LulzSec, perhaps as a step closer to its ultimate target.

The Lulzsec mascot, in his salad days

That August, LulzSec leader Hector Xavier Monsegur, a.k.a. “AnonymousSabu,” began secretly working with the FBI to finger his computer compatriots. Six months later, in early 2012, the FBI arrested five people (one in the US, two in Britain and two in Ireland) charging them with participating in LulzSec hacks. As quickly as it appeared, LulzSec was over. But the biggest “lulz” – against Anonymous – had yet to come.

It may just be coincidence, but at nearly the same time, some of the first high-profile arrests of Anonymous members began in earnest. In February 2012, 25 people were arrested in Europe and South America. Soon after, self-appointed Anonymous spokesman (and perennial attention seeker) Barrett Brown was taken into custody in the middle of a live web-cast chat he was hosting. [Ed note: this is really worth watching!]

Although less entertaining, more arrests followed.  All while Anonymous slid further and further from public view. Observers began to publicly wonder whether the unthinkable might have occurred: that the multiple heads of the Anonymous hydra may have been chopped off.

Losing The Limelight

To be sure, hack attacks have continued. It wouldn’t be beyond belief to think a small volley might be aimed squarely at yours truly for poking a few holes in Anonymous’ reputation. And it is nearly impossible to ever fully contain a group whose membership and leaders are so fluid and ad hoc. Anonymous won’t die largely because it can’t.

But something changed in 2012. For a group whose oxygen had been the media spotlight, it’s noteworthy that there was less bluster, less posturing, and significantly less activity credited to Anonymous last year.

On December 28, 2012, a report prepared by the security firm McAfee (named for founder John McAfee, who has had his own problems in 2012) concluded:

“Because Anonymous’ level of technical sophistication has stagnated and its tactics are better understood by its potential victims, the group’s level of success will decline. However, we could easily imagine some short-lived spectacular actions due to convergence between hacktivists and antiglobalization supporters, or hacktivists and ecoterrorists.”

Meaning: the days of spectacularly brazen hack attacks by Anonymous may largely be behind us.

That’s only one opinion, and perhaps not all that new. A year ago, in late 2011,Meaghan Kelly, writing at VentureBeat, wondered whether Anonymous would continue to spin off other groups that pick up the hacktivist banner:

“Anonymous isn’t made up of individuals who allwant to “dox,” or reveal personally identifiable information on the Internet. Instead, many of these people prefer disrupting a website’s service or systems to prove a point. These may be the people who branch off, leaving those who wish to publish personal information to fly the Anonymous flag.”

As long as there’s an Internet, there will be pranksters. Just witness last week’s exposure of the “Bicholim Conflict“, a completely fabricated entry on Wikipedia about a non-existent battle between the colonial Portuguese and India’s Maratha empire. The article, all 4,000+ words of it, lived on Wikipedia’s site for more than five years before an editor, ShelfSkewed, discovered the ruse. Pretty good lulz.

At the end of 2011, this blog declared that year to be “The Year of Anonymous.” Now, just one year later, it looks like Anonymous’ moment has come and – for the moment at least – gone.

Fun with Fake Facebook Friends

Posted December 17th, 2012 at 2:16 pm (UTC-4)

Sometimes Facebook Friends Are Not As They Seem

Ross Slutsky | Atlanta GA

The other day I got a friend request from a man claiming to work at VOA in DC as a programmer. His pedigree was impressive, with claims to an Oxford education.  As a one-time VOA intern and current Digital Frontiers contributor, I friended him without any further hesitation, thinking he might be trying to open a dialogue with me about a work-related project. However, upon closer examination, I began to question the validity of his claims. One quick tip off came when he updated his cover photo to this:

Though a lovely photo, this picture of a choir has nothing to do with Voice of America.

Furthermore, when I scrolled down his wall, I found statuses like this:

And like these:

The Trap

I called in to VOA back in Washington DC, and they confirmed that there wasn’t anyone by the name on the profile employed by the agency. At this point, when I was ready to move on, I noticed that this mystery person was available on Facebook Chat.

This wasn’t an opportunity I was going to pass up.  And very quickly, this person confirmed my suspicions:

VOA has only five floors.

We went on like this for a little while, but one of my questions must have scared him off. Nonetheless, due to my innate sense of curiosity and/or utter lack of self-discipline, I wasn’t done trying to figure this guy out.

From the friends tab, I quickly learned that most of his “friends” claim to be from either Indonesia, India, or Pakistan. That said, my favorite one of his “friends” was a Nigerian dude who went by the name of “BlessedBestman” and had the following listed under his employment section, which includes one of my favorite places of employment of all time:

Just when I thought it was over and that things couldn’t possibly become any more bizarre, the person claiming to be a VOA programmer now added two new titles to his employment:

At this point, apart from feeling like an underachiever, I was puzzled. Why would someone pretend to work at VOA in the first place? Furthermore, why would this person pretend to work for two different news entities and add these job titles in such a short period?

The 8.7 Percent

This is far from an isolated occurrence. Back in August, Facebook reported that 8.7% of the profiles on their site were not real. While that doesn’t mean a little less than 10 percent of your Facebook friends are phonies, it is a good reminder that when you meet people only in cyber-space, it can be difficult to really know who you’re meeting.

But the question remains. Why would someone do this?

Is this person a spammer who simply hasn’t started spamming me yet? A bizarre PR professional trying to get in touch with VOA personnel by using me as a mutual friend? A fan trying to be closer to VOA by digital affiliation? Or is there some other cultural difference that’s being expressed here?

What do you think?

Special thanks to Bruna Ladeira for her help in verifying personnel in the VOA system.

UPDATE: US to UN: Hands Off The Internet

Posted December 13th, 2012 at 1:54 pm (UTC-4)


Nations Struggle To Control What Was Designed To Be Uncontrollable

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

UPDATE December 14, 17 hours UTC: Negotiations to create a consensus for new standards for Internet oversight and privacy collapsed in Dubai Friday when several nations, lead by the United States, refused to sign on to any agreement.

The World Conference on International Telecommunications, or WCIT, had been organized to build international concensus on updating the International Telecommunications Regulations – a binding global agreement that sets out the rules of the road for regulating electronic communications. UN officials had said that the ITR haven’t been updated since 1988, long before the explosion of the wireless mobile and the Internet, and were sorely in need of an update.

Some nations, such as Russia and several Arab monarchies, had floated proposals that opponents said would have made it much easier to censor the web and reduce the privacy of mobile data users. While those proposals were all defeated, the final ITR document did include a proposal to reduce unwanted emails, or spam. However, some negotiators said that the language was too vague, and would have opened the door to allow greater censoring of content on the web such as political or religious views.

When it became clear that the spam language would stay, the U.S. representative, Amb. Terry Kramer, announced “It’s with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it’s not able to sign the agreement in the current form,” and walked out.  The US was joined by nearly 80 other nations, including Japan, Canada, Greece, Italy, Poland, Kenya, Egypt and Great Britain.

The general secretary of the two-week conference, Hamadoun Toure, expressed disappointment at the last-minute break down, but emphasized in a statement that he believes the WCIT had achieved something important. “It has succeeded in bringing unprecedented public attention to the different and important perspectives that govern global communications,” said Toure.

While the new document will be signed by those nations that didn’t walk out of the talks, it is not a binding treaty.  More to the point, the fact that more than a third of eligible signatories have refused to sign makes the document largely meaningless.


December 13, 2012

For months, advocates for Internet free speech and open architecture have been warning of this moment: a power-grab by the United Nations that would make the Internet a little less free, and a lot less open.

The cause is this week’s  World Conference on International Telecommunications, an international gathering organized by the United Nations’ International Telecommunications Union to update global laws regulating the web, among other things. The last time the Internet was the subject of such a meeting was 1988 – long before smart phones, the explosion of wireless, and portable computing.

In the lead-up to this year’s meetings in Dubai, several nations, among them Russia, China and others, have been floating proposals to give individual states more control over the web’s architecture and freedom. Some of those proposed regulations would let individual nations block sites or monitor traffic at their choosing, and charge web-companies and service providers for data usage. The U.S., E.U. and many large Internet firms such as Google and Facebook have vigorously opposed any such changes.

Organizers of the WCIT had previously promised that new regulations to change the open structure of the Internet would not be on the agenda. However on Wednesday of this week, little more than a day before the conference close, the conference chair may have turned an informal tally into an on-the-record vote to include new Internet regulations in the WCIT’s final report.

“What was first termed as getting a ‘temperature of the room’ by the Chairman of the conference turned into an apparent ‘vote’ to include an Internet Resolution in the ITRs,” said Lynn St. Amour, President of the Internet Society:

“The Internet Society came to this meeting in the hopes that revisions to the treaty would focus on competition, liberalization, free flow of information and independent regulation – things that have clearly worked in the field of telecommunications.  Instead, these concepts seem to have been largely struck from the treaty text.  Additionally, and contrary to assurances that this treaty is not about the Internet, the conference appears to have adopted, by majority, a resolution on the Internet.   Amendments were apparently made to the text but were not published prior to agreement.

“This is clearly a disappointing development and we hope that tomorrow brings an opportunity for reconsideration of this approach.”
As of this writing, 17 hours UTC Thursday, there are conflicting reports as to what may have, or have not been voted on, and how those potential regulations may change the structure of the Internet.
Friday, December 14, is the last day of the meetings; we will continue to update this post with news as we can confirm it.

Hpy Bday Txtng! (*smiley*)

Posted December 3rd, 2012 at 2:27 pm (UTC-4)
1 comment

20 Years Of Texting, And What The Next 20 May Hold

Doug Bernard | Washington DC

According to the calendar, the 21st Century began exactly at 12:01am on January 1st, 2001. But in practical terms, you could argue it actually began about eight years earlier, on December 3rd, 1992.

That’s because that was the day that Neil Papworth, a British software engineer, sent a friend the world’s first SMS text message. “I typed the message out on a PC,” Jarvis tells the Guardian‘s Tracy McVeigh.  “It read ‘Merry Christmas’ and I sent it to Richard Jarvis of Vodafone, who was enjoying his office Christmas party at the time.”

And the world hasn’t been the same since.

From Texting to TXTNG

Now as common as the billions of smart phones that litter the planet, it’s hard to believe that just 20 years ago, there was no such thing as text messaging. At least, in the modern sense.

Since the 1920’s, with the laying of the first transatlantic cables, engineers began using the twisted copper phone cables to electronically send alphabetic characters and numbers while not in use. It was called “telex” – or more commonly, “texting” – and it was the near-exclusive domain of major industry and government. In the 60’s and 70’s, basic numeric data was being sent via existing radio waves to small receivers, which emitted a “beep” with each new message: thus was born the doctor’s “beeper.”

How did we survive before the text?

Then in 1984 an international group called the “Global System for Mobile Communications” – GSM for short – began working on a standard for using mobile phone networks to transmit short alphanumeric messages in Europe. They called it SMS, or Short Message Service, because at the time, nobody could imagine such messages would be anything other than short, impersonal, and strictly limited to business use. The standard lay largely dormant for years except among a handful of engineers and tech enthusiasts, read geeks, that tinkered with just how it might work.

When Jarvis sent his first message in 1992, mobile phones didn’t offer a function for sending texts, only receiving them. His holiday greeting received no attention save for a small circle of enthusiasts, and a few with an eye to the future.

One of those was Brennan Heydan, an engineer working in Ireland. “They said people would never use it, they wouldn’t be bothered to type messages on a phone,” he told the New York Times. But Hayden believed otherwise, and in 1993 sent the world’s first commercial text message via SMS, this time from Los Angeles. His message: “burp.”

A New Medium Finds Its Voice

In the mid-to-late 1990’s, as mobile phone competition began to seriously heat up around the world, manufacturers and service providers began offering SMS texting as a standard option. And on the surface, it had several advantages.

First, a message can be sent relatively quickly using just the recipient’s phone number, meaning users no longer had to use clunky email programs to send messages. Second, SMS is robust: because of the limited bandwidth it takes up, text messages are often more reliable to reach the recipient than email or even phone calls, especially in times of heavy network use. And finally, texting is fast. Users soon discovered they could send several messages in the time it took to dial a phone and wait for someone to answer.

That said, SMS texting – or just ‘texting’ by now – wasn’t perfect. As its use exploded, service providers experimented with different ways to charge for its use, sometimes charging the recipient or the sender, sometimes for a flat fee or per character, leading to confusion between networks and across nations. Mobile manufacturers had to re-tool their product lines to make texting easier at the same time they struggled to add new features and shrink phone size.

And, like any new medium, its users didn’t really have any rules for how to text, using as few characters as possible but still making your intent clear. Like email before it, a new etiquette took time to develop around when and how to send messages, how often, to whom and what they should – and most definitely should not – be about. (Example: is it OK to break up with someone via text? My answer: not if you’re the one being broken up with.)

Soon users were developing not just their own rules of the digital road but a new language as well. “ROFL”, “OMG”, “LOL” and “IMHO” soon populated not just the textverse, but began seeping into people’s actual real-life conversations. Emoticons went from punctuation marks you had to view sideways to elaborate graphic images encompassing just about every feeling imaginable. Phones grew so text friendly that some began to wonder if they were even phones any more.

And by some, I mean specifically old-timers, like myself. A growing raft of studies all point to the same trends: young people are emailing less, texting more, and increasingly not bothering with the actual telephone unless they absolutely have to. No less a figure than AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson now says it’s “inevitable” that service providers will begin offering data-only mobile plans, and eschew the telephone completely.

While this is purely anecdotal, it’s been my experience (and that of just about everyone I know) that how you prefer to communicate says a lot about your age. For friends and colleagues generally under 35, I text them. 35 to maybe around 60, email is where it’s at. And those over 60 would really just prefer you picked up the darn telephone and called them. I’m curious if others find similar trends.

“Relationships…right in front of us.”

In 2011 it was estimated that, on average, over 4 billion text messages were sent every day around the world. That number is assured to grow even higher for 2012. Heck, these days even Pope Benedict XVI has a Twitter account so he can update his followers via mobile phone.

So with all this texting, humans must feel more connected with each other than every before, right? Not necessarily.

MIT researcher Sherry Turkle has made a career of examining how new tools like texting are transforming our real-world social relationships – as she explained to VOA, often in unhealthy ways:

“If I had done this research and found a nation of people who checked their email and went on social networking but were maintaining close and loving relationships with friends and family, I wouldn’t have written the book.  But what I found instead were parents who text at the dinner table, leaving their children feeling bereft.  Parents who were texting on the playground while they pushed their kids with one hand and do their email with another.  Mothers who are not happy because they’re reading Harry Potter and having their BlackBerrys under the blankets so they can check their mail while they’re reading, feeling that they’re sort of missing out on the experience with their kids but they can’t stop themselves.”

Just this week, following the shocking suicide of Kansas City Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher, Chief’s quarterback Brady Quinn spoke of the importance of human contact and connections in the real world, and how difficult that can be in the text age. “We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook,” a somber Quinn told the press:

“That’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”

Like every other tool or device that helps keep us digitally distracted, texting will likely continue to grow in use until the next big something we can’t yet see replaces it. And that, again, will be followed by tech-enthusiasts embracing it as the tool of the century and stern warnings from cyber-dystopians about the dangers to human culture. Whether the text message becomes for the 21st Century what the automobile was for the 20th is too early to know. What’s certain is that it will be around for some time to come.



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What’s Digital Frontiers?

The Internet, mobile phones, tablet computers and other digital devices are transforming our lives in fundamental and often unpredictable ways. “Digital Frontiers” investigates how real world concepts like privacy, identity, security and freedom are evolving in the virtual world.

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