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New York Times Hits a Digital Grand Slam

In the February 5, 2012 New York Times Sunday Review, the publishing giant (albeit some say a decidedly shrinking one), hit a digital Grand Slam and more with three editorials under the banner, “Life Under Digital Dominance” and three other opinion pieces that round out the team. For anyone who fancies themselves an Internet denizen, they are a must read.

On first base is Evgeny Morozov, the author of “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom”, who laments the loss of the so-called “cyberflâneur”, an anonymous surfer who brings “playfulness, intrigue, and serendipity” to the web. Morozov opines that with the loss of anonymity on the web, the cyberflâneur is an endangered or, perhaps, extinct species. On second base stands Somini Sengupta, a Times technology reporter, questioning in Should Personal Data Be Personal? why the United States can’t pass legislation like the European Community has to protect personal data. Leading off at third, is Lori Andrews, a law professor, who lambasts Facebook for selling consumer information to advertisers without adequate controls by the exploited masses in an editorial entitled, Facebook Is Using You. And at home base with the final hit – a grand slam home run – is Julia Frankenstein, a psychologist in Germany. Dr. Frankenstein reports on how GPS technology is re-wiring our brains and causing us to lose our ability to comprehend spatial dimensions. Ouch!

Lurking in the dugout, however, are two editorialists who paint a different picture – one by Thomas L. Friedman and another by Nicholas D Kristof. In his editorial entitled, Russia: Sort of, but Not Really, Friedman reports on how Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, is carefully navigating the protest movement behind efforts to deny him another term as Russia’s President. Friedman opines that Putin’s refraining from aggressively (and presumably violently) suppressing the protestors to avoid creating martyrs that might incent even greater protests. Rings of the Arab Spring. Kristof, a NYT editorial writer, speaks out in After Recess: Change the World on how a group of fourth graders from Brookline, Massachusetts made Universal Studios change the marketing behind the release of the motion picture, The Lorax, by adding an environmental message following a viral petition on Change.org that gathered more than 57,000 digital signatures.

Six articles. Four fearing that that technology and the Internet are eroding privacy and even damaging our brains. And then there’s Kristof’s and Friedman’s articles on how Kristof’s fourth graders made a studio giant bend to their wishes through an Internet petition that might never have succeeded in the off line world how today’s technology might (if you extend Friedman’s logic) be tempering a despot who in the past has shown no remorse in violently suppressing the citizens he purports to protect.

Behind all the words and opinions in these editorials lurks the Party of We – for good and for bad. Fear not, Mr. Morozov, for it is the Party of We, with anonymity in the billions, who remain today’s cyberflâneurs. Yes, there is a certain loss of the secrecy found on the streets of the Internet. Perhaps they’re even similar to what you lament was lost in the analog streets of Paris. But anonymity remains a vibrant part of the Internet so you needn’t lose too much sleep over your lost heroes. As for the EU’s efforts to save privacy, Ms. Sengupta need a wake up call. The EU has passed one privacy Directive after another and member states have added their own. But what has really been their impact, particularly for aggregators and sellers who don’t reside in Europe? The invasion of privacy rights for all of us – the entire Party of We – goes on virtually unhampered in Europe just as it does in the rest of the world. Makes one wonder if there is any global solution to the growing problems. And, Ms. Andrew’s, your fear of Facebook is real. In fact, understated. Facebook is certainly here to stay. And I agree, they can be a very scary entity. As I’ve written [link to my articles] in the past, Facebook and other sites like it behave more like sovereign nations than they do companies. And after Facebook raises $75 billion or more in its upcoming initial public offering, look out – it will be one of the richest sovereign nations in the world. And last among the concerned is Dr. Frankenstein. Perhaps she’s right that GPS is eroding the spatial capabilities of our brains. But at least we’re not getting lost all the time.

But then we have the thoughts expressed by Friedman and Kristof on how the Internet can move politicians and corporate giants to be temperate and responsive. – the good side of our cyberworld and a wonderful part of the Party of We.

So there you have it. A six pack of articles that put the Party of We in clear perspective. Articles that show the fears the Party of We share, the power it possesses, and the wonderful – and sometimes not so wonderful – things the Party of We can accomplish.

One can only wonder what’s next.

Doug Wood, We Expert

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