“The Internet’s Own Boy”: How the government destroyed Aaron Swartz

A film tells the story of the coder-activist who fought corporate power and corruption — and paid a cruel price

"The Internet's Own Boy": How the government destroyed Aaron Swartz
Aaron Swartz (Credit: TakePart/Noah Berger)

Brian Knappenberger’s Kickstarter-funded documentary “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz,” which premiered at Sundance barely a year after the legendary hacker, programmer and information activist took his own life in January 2013, feels like the beginning of a conversation about Swartz and his legacy rather than the final word. This week it will be released in theaters, arriving in the middle of an evolving debate about what the Internet is, whose interests it serves and how best to manage it, now that the techno-utopian dreams that sounded so great in Wired magazine circa 1996 have begun to ring distinctly hollow.

What surprised me when I wrote about “The Internet’s Own Boy” from Sundance was the snarky, dismissive and downright hostile tone struck by at least a few commenters. There was a certain dark symmetry to it, I thought at the time: A tragic story about the downfall, destruction and death of an Internet idealist calls up all of the medium’s most distasteful qualities, including its unique ability to transform all discourse into binary and ill-considered nastiness, and its empowerment of the chorus of belittlers and begrudgers collectively known as trolls. In retrospect, I think the symbolism ran even deeper. Aaron Swartz’s life and career exemplified a central conflict within Internet culture, and one whose ramifications make many denizens of the Web highly uncomfortable.

For many of its pioneers, loyalists and self-professed deep thinkers, the Internet was conceived as a digital demi-paradise, a zone of total freedom and democracy. But when it comes to specifics things get a bit dicey. Paradise for whom, exactly, and what do we mean by democracy? In one enduringly popular version of this fantasy, the Internet is the ultimate libertarian free market, a zone of perfect entrepreneurial capitalism untrammeled by any government, any regulation or any taxation. As a teenage programming prodigy with an unusually deep understanding of the Internet’s underlying architecture, Swartz certainly participated in the private-sector, junior-millionaire version of the Internet. He founded his first software company following his freshman year at Stanford, and became a partner in the development of Reddit in 2006, which was sold to Condé Nast later that year.



That libertarian vision of the Internet – and of society too, for that matter – rests on an unacknowledged contradiction, in that some form of state power or authority is presumably required to enforce private property rights, including copyrights, patents and other forms of intellectual property. Indeed, this is one of the principal contradictions embedded within our current form of capitalism, as the Marxist scholar David Harvey notes: Those who claim to venerate private property above all else actually depend on an increasingly militarized and autocratic state. And from the beginning of Swartz’s career he also partook of the alternate vision of the Internet, the one with a more anarchistic or anarcho-socialist character. When he was 15 years old he participated in the launch of Creative Commons, the immensely important content-sharing nonprofit, and at age 17 he helped design Markdown, an open-source, newbie-friendly markup format that remains in widespread use.

One can certainly construct an argument that these ideas about the character of the Internet are not fundamentally incompatible, and may coexist peaceably enough. In the physical world we have public parks and privately owned supermarkets, and we all understand that different rules (backed of course by militarized state power) govern our conduct in each space. But there is still an ideological contest between the two, and the logic of the private sector has increasingly invaded the public sphere and undermined the ancient notion of the public commons. (Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani once proposed that city parks should charge admission fees.) As an adult Aaron Swartz took sides in this contest, moving away from the libertarian Silicon Valley model of the Internet and toward a more radical and social conception of the meaning of freedom and equality in the digital age. It seems possible and even likely that the “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto” Swartz wrote in 2008, at age 21, led directly to his exaggerated federal prosecution for what was by any standard a minor hacking offense.

Swartz’s manifesto didn’t just call for the widespread illegal downloading and sharing of copyrighted scientific and academic material, which was already a dangerous idea. It explained why. Much of the academic research held under lock and key by large institutional publishers like Reed Elsevier had been largely funded at public expense, but was now being treated as private property – and as Swartz understood, that was just one example of a massive ideological victory for corporate interests that had penetrated almost every aspect of society. The actual data theft for which Swartz was prosecuted, the download of a large volume of journal articles from the academic database called JSTOR, was largely symbolic and arguably almost pointless. (As a Harvard graduate student at the time, Swartz was entitled to read anything on JSTOR.)

But the symbolism was important: Swartz posed a direct challenge to the private-sector creep that has eaten away at any notion of the public commons or the public good, whether in the digital or physical worlds, and he also sought to expose the fact that in our age state power is primarily the proxy or servant of corporate power. He had already embarrassed the government twice previously. In 2006, he downloaded and released the entire bibliographic dataset of the Library of Congress, a public document for which the library had charged an access fee. In 2008, he downloaded and released about 2.7 million federal court documents stored in the government database called PACER, which charged 8 cents a page for public records that by definition had no copyright. In both cases, law enforcement ultimately concluded Swartz had committed no crime: Dispensing public information to the public turns out to be legal, even if the government would rather you didn’t. The JSTOR case was different, and the government saw its chance (one could argue) to punish him at last.

Knappenberger could only have made this film with the cooperation of Swartz’s family, which was dealing with a devastating recent loss. In that context, it’s more than understandable that he does not inquire into the circumstances of Swartz’s suicide in “Inside Edition”-level detail. It’s impossible to know anything about Swartz’s mental condition from the outside – for example, whether he suffered from undiagnosed depressive illness – but it seems clear that he grew increasingly disheartened over the government’s insistence that he serve prison time as part of any potential plea bargain. Such an outcome would have left him a convicted felon and, he believed, would have doomed his political aspirations; one can speculate that was the point. Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney for Boston, along with her deputy Stephen Heymann, did more than throw the book at Swartz. They pretty much had to write it first, concocting an imaginative list of 13 felony indictments that carried a potential total of 50 years in federal prison.

As Knappenberger explained in a Q&A session at Sundance, that’s the correct context in which to understand Robert Swartz’s public remark that the government had killed his son. He didn’t mean that Aaron had actually been assassinated by the CIA, but rather that he was a fragile young man who had been targeted as an enemy of the state, held up as a public whipping boy, and hounded into severe psychological distress. Of course that cannot entirely explain what happened; Ortiz and Heymann, along with whoever above them in the Justice Department signed off on their display of prosecutorial energy, had no reason to expect that Swartz would kill himself. There’s more than enough pain and blame to go around, and purely on a human level it’s difficult to imagine what agony Swartz’s family and friends have put themselves through.

One of the most painful moments in “The Internet’s Own Boy” arrives when Quinn Norton, Swartz’s ex-girlfriend, struggles to explain how and why she wound up accepting immunity from prosecution in exchange for information about her former lover. Norton’s role in the sequence of events that led to Swartz hanging himself in his Brooklyn apartment 18 months ago has been much discussed by those who have followed this tragic story. I think the first thing to say is that Norton has been very forthright in talking about what happened, and clearly feels torn up about it.

Norton was a single mom living on a freelance writer’s income, who had been threatened with an indictment that could have cost her both her child and her livelihood. When prosecutors offered her an immunity deal, her lawyer insisted she should take it. For his part, Swartz’s attorney says he doesn’t think Norton told the feds anything that made Swartz’s legal predicament worse, but she herself does not agree. It was apparently Norton who told the government that Swartz had written the 2008 manifesto, which had spread far and wide in hacktivist circles. Not only did the manifesto explain why Swartz had wanted to download hundreds of thousands of copyrighted journal articles on JSTOR, it suggested what he wanted to do with them and framed it as an act of resistance to the private-property knowledge industry.

Amid her grief and guilt, Norton also expresses an even more appropriate emotion: the rage of wondering how in hell we got here. How did we wind up with a country where an activist is prosecuted like a major criminal for downloading articles from a database for noncommercial purposes, while no one goes to prison for the immense financial fraud of 2008 that bankrupted millions? As a person who has made a living as an Internet “content provider” for almost 20 years, I’m well aware that we can’t simply do away with the concept of copyright or intellectual property. I never download pirated movies, not because I care so much about the bottom line at Sony or Warner Bros., but because it just doesn’t feel right, and because you can never be sure who’s getting hurt. We’re not going to settle the debate about intellectual property rights in the digital age in a movie review, but we can say this: Aaron Swartz had chosen his targets carefully, and so did the government when it fixed its sights on him. (In fact, JSTOR suffered no financial loss, and urged the feds to drop the charges. They refused.)

A clean and straightforward work of advocacy cinema, blending archival footage and contemporary talking-head interviews, Knappenberger’s film makes clear that Swartz was always interested in the social and political consequences of technology. By the time he reached adulthood he began to see political power, in effect, as another system of control that could be hacked, subverted and turned to unintended purposes. In the late 2000s, Swartz moved rapidly through a variety of politically minded ventures, including a good-government site and several different progressive advocacy groups. He didn’t live long enough to learn about Edward Snowden or the NSA spy campaigns he exposed, but Swartz frequently spoke out against the hidden and dangerous nature of the security state, and played a key role in the 2011-12 campaign to defeat the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a far-reaching government-oversight bill that began with wide bipartisan support and appeared certain to sail through Congress. That campaign, and the Internet-wide protest of American Censorship Day in November 2011, looks in retrospect like the digital world’s political coming of age.

Earlier that year, Swartz had been arrested by MIT campus police, after they noticed that someone had plugged a laptop into a network switch in a server closet. He was clearly violating some campus rules and likely trespassing, but as the New York Times observed at the time, the arrest and subsequent indictment seemed to defy logic: Could downloading articles that he was legally entitled to read really be considered hacking? Wasn’t this the digital equivalent of ordering 250 pancakes at an all-you-can-eat breakfast? The whole incident seemed like a momentary blip in Swartz’s blossoming career – a terms-of-service violation that might result in academic censure, or at worst a misdemeanor conviction.

Instead, for reasons that have never been clear, Ortiz and Heymann insisted on a plea deal that would have sent Swartz to prison for six months, an unusually onerous sentence for an offense with no definable victim and no financial motive. Was he specifically singled out as a political scapegoat by Eric Holder or someone else in the Justice Department? Or was he simply bulldozed by a prosecutorial bureaucracy eager to justify its own existence? We will almost certainly never know for sure, but as numerous people in “The Internet’s Own Boy” observe, the former scenario cannot be dismissed easily. Young computer geniuses who embrace the logic of private property and corporate power, who launch start-ups and seek to join the 1 percent before they’re 25, are the heroes of our culture. Those who use technology to empower the public commons and to challenge the intertwined forces of corporate greed and state corruption, however, are the enemies of progress and must be crushed.

”The Internet’s Own Boy” opens this week in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Toronto, Washington and Columbus, Ohio. It opens June 30 in Vancouver, Canada; July 4 in Phoenix, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.; and July 11 in Seattle, with other cities to follow. It’s also available on-demand from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo, Vudu and other providers.

http://www.salon.com/2014/06/24/the_internets_own_boy_how_the_government_destroyed_aaron_swartz/?source=newsletter

How the FCC Plans to Save the Internet By Destroying It: An Explainer

http://www.savetheinternet.com/sites/default/files/styles/781wide_nocrop/public/topics/topic_net-neutrality.png?itok=VH-CVpli

 

The FCC wants to make good on President Obama’s pledge to make net neutrality into law. It’s just having a very hard time actually doing it.

Net Neutrality is the simple concept that the company that provides you internet access on your phone and at your house should be a utility — like a phone company. It should deliver you the information you ask for at the speed you are promised without playing favorites or blocking or degrading services.

That sounds like a simple enough goal, and it’s an incredibly important goal.

It’s the principle that has allowed innovation on the net — the creation of YouTube and Google and Instagram and Facebook and Pinterest and Wikipedia and countless personal websites — without those companies and organization having to negotiate contracts with and pay tolls to the ISPs that stand between those services and ordinary internet users.

That era is about to come to an end—if the FCC’s latest attempt to save net neutrality is put into place. This proposal will explicitly allow ISPs to create fast and slow lanes on the internet.

In fact, if the FCC isn’t stopped from its proposal, discrimination on the net will become the default, not the exception.

The FCC will kill the internet in order to save it.

Note: This is a long post so here’s the TL;DR.

1) The FCC has a very simple way to create simple, fair and enforceable rules to protect innovation, free speech and commerce. It lacks the courage and (perhaps) political capital to re-grant itself this power.
2) Lacking this power, the FCC is relying on a small loophole given to it by the courts.
3) That loophole requires the FCC to allow Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to create slow and fast lanes.
4) The loophole also allows ISPs have to strike individual deals with sites and apps. The rates for non-slow service can vary hugely. Those services that don’t pay will get relegated to the slow lane.
5) The FCC wants to call this “net neutrality.” It’s nothing of the sort and the proposal needs to be killed. It’s a bargain that will kill innovation on the net.
6) Even if you are a progressive who loves Obama, the best thing you can do is help kill this proposal and show there is political will for real internet protection.

The legal battles and arguments are very complicated. But the conundrum all boils down to a simple problem.

The Bush Administration decided that internet access was a special beast that should be deregulated.

Previous telecommunications systems — most notably the phone system — are regulated as “common carriers”. This means you can call whoever you like; you can use whatever phone you want; and anyone in a service area can sign up at a fair rate.

This designation recognizes that communication systems are too important to be left to the vagaries of profit-be-damned executives and that the operators are in very powerful positions to do harm and extract tolls.

But the Bush administration’s FCC ruled that internet service providers—the companies you pay to get your computers and phones online—weren’t common carriers.

Instead they were “information services,” (think something like Lexis-Nexis or the Bloomberg terminal) which the government has little power to regulate. It’s a non-sensical designation, but the Supreme Court ruled that even if it was dumb and not the best choice, the FCC has the right to re-classify at will.


You can see the oddness most clearly in a case involving mobile phone roaming.

A smaller mobile phone company wanted Verizon to offer roaming access when its subscribers wandered into Verizon territory. Because phone call carriers are regulated as common carriers, the FCC clearly had the power to order Verizon to offer roaming phone calls at very defined, very fair rates that would be offered at the same fair rate to all companies.

But since the FCC had decided that internet access wasn’t special, Verizon sued over mobile data roaming. It said the FCC had no power to require it to offer data roaming, and even if the FCC did have that power, it couldn’t dictate the terms.

In the court’s plain words: “If a carrier is forced to offer service indiscriminately and on general terms, then that carrier is being relegated to common carrier status.”

Put in other terms, the FCC can’t impose net neutrality rules that protect the internet unless ISPs are common carriers.


But the FCC has spent the last 10 years trying to have net neutrality and deregulation. And it’s still trying to do that.

Even as it deregulated ISPs, the Bush FCC issued some faux “rules” in 2005 that required ISPs to let you use the applications, services and devices that you like. These were known as the “Four Freedoms.”

But when the FCC actually tried to enforce these “rules” against Comcast for secretly blocking users who were using peer-to-peer services, the court said the rules had no grounding in law.

So after a couple years of dithering, the Obama FCC tried again in 2011 to regulate what they’d deregulated, relying on some odd authorities found hither and nither in the federal code.

Verizon fought them and this January, a court said the FCC had no power to prohibit ISPs from discriminating or blocking online services and threw out the rules.


But the court gave the FCC a little wiggle room in that data roaming case I mentioned.

It said the FCC could require a provider to offer data roaming agreements, but it could NOT closely control the terms of those offers and they could vary hugely. Because if the FCC did try to control the terms, that would be a common carrier obligation.

So this is what the FCC is going to do for the entire internet.

It’s going to allow ISPs to charge Netflix and YouTube and whomever for fast access. ISPs won’t be able to block services, but it doesn’t have to provide services on a fair basis.

The FCC is going to try to draw up rules that try to make those agreements sort-of-fair, but the strongest those rules can be is holding ISPs to standard called “commercially reasonable”. If it tries to make the rules actually fair, then the FCC has overstepped its authority.

Here’s how a federal court imagined this scenario (.pdf) might be legal and give the FCC a little authority:

Verizon might […] charge an edge provider like Netflix for high-speed, priority access while limiting all other edge providers to a more standard service. In theory, moreover, not only could Verizon negotiate separate agreements with each individual edge provider regarding the level of service provided, but it could also charge similarly-situated edge providers completely different prices for the same service.

And that’s what the FCC is calling Net Neutrality now.

(Disclosure: I run a startup called Contextly that provides content recommendations to publishers at the end of stories. We serve millions upon millions of images a day and pay substantial money for our bandwidth. I can’t imagine having to sign contracts with ISPs around the country just to make sure these images load quickly. This would kill our business.)

This proposal is a mess.

First of all, it allows each ISP to negotiate individualized and secret contracts with any internet service. That’s awful enough, but even worse, there don’t even have to be any standard terms.

So if you are a startup that streams daily news clips to users, if you want fast service you’ll have to negotiate individually with AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Comcast, TimeWarner, Sprint, etc. And they’ll each try to figure how much they can squeeze out of you.

That’s not hand-wringing. Verizon told the court they’d be doing this if they could. AT&T has floated proposals to create fast and slow lanes for apps. And Comcast is notorious for messing with internet traffic in secret and devious ways.

So what happens if a giant ISP demands unfair terms that there’s no way your startup could pay?

Well, you then get to hire a lawyer and some expensive experts and file a complaint with the FCC. Meanwhile your videos hardly load on mobile and your users start abandoning you.

When you do finally win a year or two later, Verizon will then challenge the win, arguing that in this case the FCC was overstepping its bounds and that it was treating Verizon as a common carrier. Regardless if Verizon wins or not, your company is in the deadpool.

As for companies like Netflix, their cost of operations will go up since they will be paying for bandwidth twice. And the cost you pay for Netflix is going to go up, too.

The FCC is calling this “net neutrality”. It’s going to say it will protect innovation from extortion on a case-by-case basis.

Meanwhile, since there’s hardly any competition in broadband, Verizon and Comcast and AT&T will divide up their networks into slow and fast lanes — keeping the slow lanes slow.

Like a mafia protection racket, they are going to extract a nice percentage from internet services like YouTube and Facebook and get a de facto veto over innovative companies like What’s App. “That’s a cool show you made there HBO with Game of Thrones. It’d be a pity if people could only watch it at 320p.”

That’s not net neutrality. It’s the opposite of net neutrality.

Even worse, it creates perverse incentives for ISPs to keep most of their network slow and congested so that every service that wants to thrive will have to pay to get decent service.

We’ve already seen this happen.

Comcast effectively throttled Netflix in the last few months, refusing to open a decent size port into its network — even though its customers were screaming to watch shows online. It wasn’t that Netflix was filling Comcast’s network with unwanted traffic.

Comcast users were requesting videos and Comcast intentionally screwed their own customers by throttling the pipe between them and Netflix in order to make Netflix pony up double for bandwidth.

If there had been any competition for broadband service— where it was really possible for its customers to switch ISPs, Comcast would have been scrambling to help its customers watch videos quickly.

Instead, it gave its customers crappy service for months and let Netflix see what would happen if it didn’t pay the toll. Which Netflix eventually did. And the FCC refused to even say Boo.

That’s what a monopolist looks like. That’s why common carrier rules were invented. And the FCC’s new fake net neutrality rules will only make this worse.

The simplest fix is to simply re-impose common carrier rules. All that takes is 3 out of 5 FCC commissioners to vote to do so and the FCC has those votes today.

Everyone knows their internet service should work like a utility. You pay Comcast or AT&T a certain amount of money per month and you get a level of service and you get to watch Netflix or upload videos and play World of Warcraft or whatever it is you like to do on the internet. At least in theory.

Unfortunately, Comcast and AT&T are powerful and profitable, and they do not want to be utilities. Being a utility is boring. A utility’s profit margins, while solid, don’t compare to that of a Google or a Facebook or a Netflix. And because AT&T and Verizon and Comcast are the necessary pipes between you and those services, they’d like to get paid double.

They can charge Netflix and Google big tariffs to get to “their” customers. Or even better, they can launch their own video services, which will flow to your house through special tubes that are as fast as a slip-and-slide and uncrowded with other traffic. And Netflix? It will crawl and time out and stutter unless Netflix pays alot for faster access. At least, that’s the telecom’s executives’ dream.

And to make that dream possible, these companies donate heavily to politicians — and they’ve managed to convince lots of Republicans that the idea of prohibiting ISPs from slowing down Netflix amounts to “regulating” the internet.

That’s a ridiculous argument, akin to say that the FCC’s requirement that the phone company allow you to call whichever plumber you want is regulating the plumbing industry.

Simply put, the FCC is too scared of the big telecoms to do the simple thing and reclassify your ISP as a common carrier. (The midterms are coming up.)

So instead, the FCC is taking some small slivers of regulatory hope from recent court rulings, trying to create some semblance of control over ISPs and claiming victory.


It’s time for this FCC charade to stop.

There’s only one way to get real rules to protect the most innovative communications platform ever built and it’s simple as hell. It just requires courage on the part of the FCC and outrage on the part of those of us who live on and love the net.

There’s something ironic about opposing the FCC on these rules by raising a ruckus — by flooding them with comments; by expressing your outrage online and to your representatives.

You’ll be their best friend. There’s still hope in policy circles that the FCC wants to do the right thing, but it’s just scared to.

Our job is to make it clear, like the net did with SOPA, that doing the right thing—creating real net neutrality rules—is the only option for the FCC.

We have to make it clear that destroying the internet in order to save it is not an option, and we can’t and won’t let that happen.

View story at Medium.com

How the Internet Is Taking Away America’s Religion

Back in 1990, about 8 percent of the U.S. population had no religious preference. By 2010, this percentage had more than doubled to 18 percent. That’s a difference of about 25 million people, all of whom have somehow lost their religion.

That raises an obvious question: how come? Why are Americans losing their faith?

Today, we get a possible answer thanks to the work of Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, who has analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors but the most controversial of these is the rise of the Internet. He concludes that the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation.

Downey’s data comes from the General Social Survey, a widely respected sociological survey carried out by the University of Chicago, that has regularly measure people’s attitudes and demographics since 1972.

In that time, the General Social Survey has asked people questions such as: “what is your religious preference?” and “in what religion were you raised?” It also collects data on each respondent’s age, level of education, socioeconomic group, and so on. And in the Internet era, it has asked how long each person spends online. The total data set that Downey used consists of responses from almost 9,000 people.

Downey’s approach is to determine how the drop in religious affiliation correlates with other elements of the survey such as religious upbringing, socioeconomic status, education, and so on.

He finds that the biggest influence on religious affiliation is religious upbringing—people who are brought up in a religion are more likely to be affiliated to that religion later.

However, the number of people with a religious upbringing has dropped since 1990. It’s easy to imagine how this inevitably leads to a fall in the number who are religious later in life. In fact, Downey’s analysis shows that this is an important factor. However, it cannot account for all of the fall or anywhere near it. In fact, that data indicates that it only explains about 25 percent of the drop.

He goes on to show that college-level education also correlates with the drop. Once it again, it’s easy to imagine how contact with a wider group of people at college might contribute to a loss of religion.

Since the 1980s, the fraction of people receiving college level education has increased from 17.4 percent to 27.2 percent in the 2000s. So it’s not surprising that this is reflected in the drop in numbers claiming religious affiliation today. But although the correlation is statistically significant, it can only account for about 5 percent of the drop, so some other factor must also be involved.

That’s where the Internet comes in. In the 1980s, Internet use was essentially zero, but in 2010, 53 percent of the population spent two hours per week online and 25 percent surfed for more than 7 hours.

This increase closely matches the decrease in religious affiliation. In fact, Downey calculates that it can account for about 25 percent of the drop.

That’s a fascinating result. It implies that since 1990, the increase in Internet use has had as powerful an influence on religious affiliation as the drop in religious upbringing.

At this point, it’s worth spending a little time talking about the nature of these conclusions. What Downey has found is correlations and any statistician will tell you that correlations do not imply causation. If A is correlated with B, there can be several possible explanations. A might cause B, B might cause A, or some other factor might cause both A and B.

But that does not mean that it is impossible to draw conclusions from correlations, only that they must be properly guarded. “Correlation does provide evidence in favor of causation, especially when we can eliminate alternative explanations or have reason to believe that they are less likely,” says Downey.

For example, it’s easy to imagine that a religious upbringing causes religious affiliation later in life. However, it’s impossible for the correlation to work the other way round. Religious affiliation later in life cannot cause a religious upbringing (although it may color a person’s view of their upbringing).

It’s also straightforward to imagine how spending time on the Internet can lead to religious disaffiliation. “For people living in homogeneous communities, the Internet provides opportunities to find information about people of other religions (and none), and to interact with them personally,” says Downey. “Conversely, it is harder (but not impossible) to imagine plausible reasons why disaffiliation might cause increased Internet use.”

There is another possibility, of course: that a third unidentified factor causes both increased Internet use and religious disaffiliation. But Downey discounts this possibility. “We have controlled for most of the obvious candidates, including income, education, socioeconomic status, and rural/urban environments,” he says.

If this third factor exists, it must have specific characteristics. It would have to be something new that was increasing in prevalence during the 1990s and 2000s, just like the Internet. “It is hard to imagine what that factor might be,” says Downey.

That leaves him in little doubt that his conclusion is reasonable. “Internet use decreases the chance of religious affiliation,” he says.

But there is something else going on here too. Downey has found three factors—the drop in religious upbringing, the increase in college-level education and the increase in Internet use—that together explain about 50 percent of the drop in religious affiliation.

But what of the other 50 percent? In the data, the only factor that correlates with this is date of birth—people born later are less likely to have a religious affiliation. But as Downey points out, year of birth cannot be a causal factor. “So about half of the observed change remains unexplained,” he says.

So that leaves us with a mystery. The drop in religious upbringing and the increase in Internet use seem to be causing people to lose their faith. But something else about modern life that is not captured in this data is having an even bigger impact.

What can that be? Answers please in the comments section.

Ref: http://arxiv.org/abs/1403.5534: Religious Affiliation, Education and Internet Use

 

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/526111/how-the-internet-is-taking-away-americas-religion/

The Afterlife of Pia Farrenkopf

March 27, 2014

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Sometime in early 2009, Pia Farrenkopf died in the back seat of her Jeep, which was parked in the garage of her home. Around her, life in the suburban community of Pontiac, Michigan, went on. No one knew that she’d died. By all accounts, her neighbors hadn’t known her very well, though some of them would mow her grass when it got too high, according to a report in USA Today. They kept on doing so for five years, until, last month, her body was finally discovered.

Neighbors told reporters that Farrenkopf travelled abroad for business, which is why, they assumed, they never saw her, and had taken it upon themselves to manicure her lawn. Farrenkopf had left her job as a contractor with Chrysler Financial a few months before her death, according to USA Today, so no one was expecting her at work. Her family lived far away and had lost touch with her, according to Reuters.

Farrenkopf also had a bank account with a very large sum in it, and—this is the postmodern crux of the story—she had set up her mortgage and utility bills to be paid automatically from it. As her body decomposed in her garage, the funds went out regularly. Last year, Farrenkopf’s money finally ran out. Her mortgage payments stopped, and the bank foreclosed on the house. Earlier this month, a contractor employed by the bank was examining the home when he discovered Farrenkopf’s body—which has been called “mummified”—in her car in the garage. Since then, police have been attempting to piece together the details of her life and death, to find some answers to the mystery of who she was and why she is gone.

Between those two moments—when she died and when her body was discovered—she was a kind of Schrödinger’s cat, biologically dead but also, in a way, among the living, paying for her power and phone, the roof over her head. Until her body surfaced, Farrenkopf’s institutional ties were the only things keeping her “alive.”

Farrenkopf had a kind of institutional doppelgänger, as do we all: a presence that forms as we post on social media, shop online, send e-mails, and use the Internet for paying bills, banking, and dozens of other financial and technological transactions. Some of us have more than one. The institutional doppelgänger is hard to see because it shadows our everyday lives so closely. Every so often, though, the curtain twitches, reminding us of its existence. The term “identity theft” is a curious one, describing a scenario in which the doppelgänger—not the most obvious you, with your weird cuticles and inner monologue and assorted love problems, but that other you, who has a Social Security number and neatly profiled buying habits and a checking account at Bank of America—can be hijacked by an utter stranger, compromised, put on the market, sold, and used to buy three MacBook Airs, all while you’re sitting on your couch Netflix-bingeing on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

In Farrenkopf’s case, these odd circumstances seem less like a moral issue—no one would argue that there was maliciousness on the part of the utility companies or the bank, which can hardly be expected to consult their paying customers on a regular basis to make sure that they haven’t shuffled off this mortal coil—and more like a mundane aspect of the digital age.

Karl Marx believed that the product of human labor was separate from and hostile toward its maker. The same might be said of the product of our commercial activities on the Internet. You might not believe that your institutional doppelgänger works against you, but it does not seem like a stretch to argue that the sum of your activity as a consumer—your social-media posts, credit history, the freakishly accurate profile advertisers have of you—is its own creature, and can move about independently of you. You can also assign any number of automated tasks to your doppelgänger, which it will perform tirelessly.

In “Haunted Media: Electronic Presence from Telegraphy to Television,” Jeffrey Sconce writes that the digital world has raised many questions about the dissociation of our minds, bodies, space, and time. Our culture has been obsessed with the idea that consciousness can be transmitted—that it can be separated from a person’s body—since the advent of the telegraph. It’s just gotten more intense in the past few decades. He points out that much of our science-fictional language about the actual transfer of human consciousness via electricity is just that—fictional—but, at the very least, something can be learned about our cultural dependence on ideas of identity existing beyond the body. Our institutional doppelgängers might not be sentient or spiritual—Farrenkopf’s spirit didn’t somehow live on in her online transactions—but they are a part of modern existence, and tell us something about the way we mete out pieces of our lives. Technology gives us the ability to rely on automatic processes, and we are only too happy to do so. It is no surprise that such dependence came together in such a dystopian fashion; perhaps the surprise should be that it didn’t happen sooner.

On a Facebook page dedicated to Farrenkopf’s story, among the posts with information about the investigation, a woman who identifies herself as Farrenkopf’s niece gives us bits of her aunt’s life—letters from old co-workers, details about her extended family, a black-and-white high-school photograph. Our institutional doppelgängers are real—but, as Farrenkopf’s story unfolds, it is a reminder that they are not us.

Photograph by Daniel Mears/Detroit News/AP.

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/currency/2014/03/the-afterlife-of-pia-farrenkopf.html?utm_source=tny&utm_campaign=generalsocial&utm_medium=google+&mbid=social_google+

How iPad and Google Glass makers are secretly scamming America

More evil than genius? 

 

We already knew Google and Facebook were resourceful. But their new scheme to rip off the U.S. Treasury is chilling

 

 

More evil than genius? How iPad and Google Glass makers are secretly scamming America
Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg (Credit: AP/Seth Wenig/Reuters/Stephen Lam/Salon)

 

To really understand the extent of Google and Apple’s innovative zeal, you may want to look past their groundbreaking products – and more at their tax avoidance strategies. In a new scheme that defies belief, some of the nation’s top tech giants are managing to evade taxation on money by parking it overseas – and then somehow taking government payments on it.

Though the rest of the business sector had a head start, tech firms have begun to lobby Washington with more persistence over the past few years; the top 10 spent more than $61 million in 2013. The more hopeful among us might believe this shift could possibly produce more beneficial results for the public. (After all, Google’s motto is “don’t be evil,” right?)

But while it’s true that, in certain discrete areas, tech lobbying has yielded positive results — like when companies aided grass-roots efforts to stop Internet censorship legislation sought by Hollywood — in the vast majority of cases, Silicon Valley wants what the rest of our multinational conglomerates want: low taxes and cheap labor. And they’ve been at the forefront of efforts to ensure that.

Take a look at the recent Bloomberg report on companies stockpiling cash in offshore tax havens to avoid higher U.S. rates, for example. (Though the new FiveThirtyEight.com downplayed the significance of this buildup, in actuality it has increased at a fairly steady 10-15 percent rate since the start of the Great Recession.) The tech sector has led the way on this, moving their patents and other intellectual property to low-tax countries to give the appearance that their profits have been earned offshore.



According to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Apple, Microsoft and IBM accelerated their overseas profit hoarding in 2013 more than their counterparts, adding $37.5 billion to the pile. Over the past three years, Microsoft’s cash stash has more than doubled, and Apple’s has quadrupled. In all, seven tech companies – the three mentioned above, along with Cisco Systems, Oracle, Google and Hewlett-Packard – have $341.3 billion sitting in offshore accounts. At current tax rates, the companies would have to pay $119.45 billion of that to the IRS if they repatriated it. Much of this money is held in segregated U.S. bank accounts, solely for the purpose of avoiding taxes by nominally keeping it offshore.

Sure enough, tech firms are among the companies lobbying for a repatriation tax holiday, which would allow them to return that money home at ultra-low rates. The LIFT Coalition (short for Let’s Invest for Tomorrow), run by former Obama administration communications director Anita Dunn, advocates for the repatriation holiday, and includes Intel, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, the Semiconductor Industry Association, and “TechNet,” a separate lobbying coalition that counts as its members Google and Facebook.

These lobbying coalitions claim that repatriating the money will allow companies to invest and spur economic recovery, although the last repatriation tax holiday, in 2004, did nothing of the sort. The top 15 companies that made use of that holiday to move money home actually cut 20,000 jobs in the aftermath, while increasing their executive compensation and stock buybacks, according to a report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (Hewlett-Packard and IBM were among the 15 companies benefiting the most). Sadly, both the recent Republican tax reform proposal and the Obama administration’s budget call for a repatriation tax holiday along the lines of the lobbying coalition’s wishes, so their efforts could bear fruit.

But it’s actually worse than all this. A report from the Bureau on Investigative Journalism shows that these tech firms are actually taking government payments on the money they have parked overseas to avoid taxation. That’s because that money isn’t sitting under a mattress somewhere in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands; it’s invested, and the No. 1 investment these firms use is the ultra-safe, ultra-liquid instrument of U.S. government debt.

SEC filings show that Apple, Microsoft, Google and Cisco have $163 billion invested in various forms of interest-bearing U.S. debt. If they were a country (Silicon Valleyistan), that would be the 14th-largest holding of our debt in the world, more than the sovereign wealth funds of Singapore and Norway. Despite the investments in things like Treasury notes and agency debt, the money is still considered offshore, avoiding taxation even as it collects interest from the U.S. government. The annual interest payout to just these four firms is $326 million.

Silicon Valley has mobilized to ensure this gravy train continues into perpetuity. Though the G-20 group of countries has discussed a unified effort to close international tax loopholes, a lobbying coalition made up of tech firms called the Digital Economy Group has fought them almost single-handedly. In a letter to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the DEG argued that any tax avoidance is “purely coincidental,” adding that “enterprises that employ digital communications models do not organize their business operations differently as a legal or tax matter.” This is completely absurd, given the facts, and represents a hidden effort to subvert tax reform while publicly endorsing the concept.

The fight for low taxes almost looks good compared to Silicon Valley’s securing of cheap labor, the nasty details of which have spilled out in a federal lawsuit. Google, Apple, Intel, Adobe and several other tech firms were charged with colluding to artificially keep down labor costs among engineers and other workers. Basically, companies made illicit agreements not to poach each other’s employees, which eliminates labor competition and suppresses wages. This violates federal anti-trust laws, the workers alleged. Emails between the likes of Google’s Eric Schmidt and the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs provided the evidence for the allegations. The companies even shared salary data for their employees to ensure that nobody overpaid. Recruiters who called into other Silicon Valley firms searching for talent were summarily fired.

Some tech giants, like Intuit, settled with workers for an undisclosed sum, but Google and Apple tried to get the class action suit thrown out of court. A district court judge and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed that attempt, however, letting 60,000 workers continue to pursue the case. The trial is slated for this May.

None of this is particularly surprising. Tech firms are in the business of making money, regardless of the shiny products and Web apps and social media diversions that supply their revenue stream. They cut all the corners that the rest of corporate America cuts to maximize their profits, skirting the edges of the law and sometimes going over it. You may not want to believe that the companies that give you the iPad and help you in your search for cat videos operate like a two-bit hustler, stealing the wages of employees and setting up dummy tax shelters. But that’s the sad reality.

 

David Dayen is a contributing writer for Salon. Follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/19/more_evil_than_genius_how_ipad_and_google_glass_makers_are_secretly_scamming_america/?source=newsletter

“Sharing economy” shams: Deception at the core of the Internet’s hottest businesses

 

How companies like Airbnb use the language of “sharing” and “gifts” to conceal ambitions far more libertarian

 

 

(Credit: akindo via iStock)

 

“Sharing is the new buying.”

The title of technology analyst Jeremy Owyang’s survey of the sharing economy was exquisitely designed to grab attention: It was released just before the start of SXSW Interactive, the annual orgy of techie self-congratulation held every March in Austin, Texas. It boasted a clever, cognitively disjunctive twist: Sharing? Buying? Aren’t they opposites? And in an era of unlimited hype, it tabulated real data, reportedly “engaging 90,112 people in the US, Canada and the UK” to discern how and why they were embracing services like Lyft and Airbnb and Yerdle.

The study’s findings make for interesting and useful reading for anyone tracking the rise of what is called “collaborative consumption” — the proliferation of services that allow us to rent out our spare rooms and cars and junk gathering dust in the garage. But as I perused the contents, I found myself repeatedly coming back to a question I’d been obsessing over for months.

What, I wondered, would a Kwakiutl chieftain make of the sharing economy? (Bear with me for a moment.)

It is one of the delightful oddities of Internet anthropology: Dig deep enough into the early days of online communication and you are sure to stumble upon references to the practices of the Kwakiutl, indigenous inhabitants of North America who once reigned over a significant swath of what is now British Columbia. The Kwakiutl were famous for their “gift economy” rituals, festive gatherings in which gifts were exchanged to mark relative social status and create ties of reciprocity.



It was once fashionable for both libertarian programmers and left-wing social critics to characterize the early growth of the Internet as following “gift economy” practices that broke the traditional rules of market capitalism. In the Internet’s gift economy, programmers built tools and wrote code that they contributed freely to the benefit of the common good. They didn’t labor for anything as crass as money. Because they wanted to “scratch their own itch,” or aspired to higher status among their own peers, or for reasons of simple pragmatism, voluntary coordination seemed like a more effective way to solve common problems. The Internet was one giant potluck (a word derived from the Kwakitul “potlatch”) — we brought what we had to give, and got to taste everyone else’s offerings. The theorist Richard Barbrook dubbed it “cybernetic communism.”

The new sharing economy overlaps with its predecessor, the gift economy, in many obvious ways: Before the emergence of globe-spanning digital networks, it was impossible for far-flung programmers to efficiently collaborate on huge projects like the Linux operating system. The infrastructure of the Internet enabled programmers to share, copy and modify code with ease. In other words, it was suddenly much easier to give away the product of your programming labor and coordinate that labor with others. Similarly, there’s no Lyft without networks and smartphones — and no way to find out where the nearest Lyft driver is to the would-be Lyft rider. The fact that the Internet and mobile devices have enabled much more efficient resource allocation is not hype. It’s a fundamental building block of our new world.

But there’s also an overlap of rhetoric. The early advocates of the Internet gift economy saw it as a better way to be. This amazing information-sharing network, built from code that anyone could modify or copy, would benefit all of society! The sharing economy is proselytized with similar language. Sharing apps, we are told, builds trust between consumers and service providers. Sharing our stuff also conserves resources (e.g., ride sharing is good for the planet). Stare long enough at the marketing materials for Yerdle — “a marketplace where everything is free” — and “cybernetic communism” seems alive and well.

But there’s one crucial area where the linkages between the gift economy and the sharing economy break down. Reciprocity. The anthropologists who studied the Kwakiutl and other cultures with similar gift economy practices argued that the act of gift giving was meant to be reciprocated. Gift giving created obligations to respond in kind. These mutual obligations were the ties that bound society together.

The sharing economy doesn’t work quite the same way. The most high-profile sharing economy apps are designed to generate significant profits for a relatively small number of people. It is an open question whether the concentration of wealth that will result will bind our society closer together or continue to exacerbate the growing income inequality that is ripping us apart. This is the defining contradiction of the new economy: apps that enable us to pinch pennies and survive in an era of intense competition — to make do with less — will make them rich. That’s not the Internet “gift economy” as originally conceived, a utopia in which we all benefit from our voluntary contributions. It’s something quite different — the relentless co-optation of the gift economy by market capitalism. The sharing economy, as practiced by Silicon Valley, is a betrayal of the gift economy. The potlatch has been paved over, and replaced with a digital shopping mall.

*  * *

In her introduction to Marcel Mauss’ “The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies,” the British anthropologist Mary Douglas wrote that “a gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction.” Mauss himself writes that potlatch implies “a succession of rights and duties to consume and reciprocate, corresponding to rights and duties to offer and accept.” When we give each other gifts we are not being altruists; we are strengthening our mutual connections. This is how a group of individuals becomes a society.

I won’t deny that you can hear faint echoes of this sense of solidarity in the sharing economy. When I fist-bump with a Lyft driver I feel more of a sense of connection with her than I do with my typical Yellow Cab driver. If your Airbnb experience has you ending up in a spare bedroom of a house that is occupied by its owner at the same time you are there, then you may very well strike up a bond more meaningful than those that you share with the concierge at the nearest Hilton.

But I can’t shake the suspicion that this nascent, fragile solidarity is nothing more than marketing for some of the most agile capitalists on the planet. Consider Lyft. Last week, Lyft announced it was halfway through a new round of financing that aims to add another $150 million of capital on top of the $83 million the company has already raised. The new infusion will value Lyft at around $700 million. If all goes as planned, Lyft will one day enjoy a spectacular public offering or be purchased by another company for billions of dollars — and the investors will happily haul in some significant multiple of their initial payout. It will be a great day for Lyft shareholders.

But what does that mean for solidarity? What will the Lyft shareholders do with their profits? Outside of a few philanthropists, it’s not at all clear they will “give” their bounty back to the larger community or otherwise “share” it. Quite the contrary! As best we can tell, the politics of the venture capital elite boil down to fending off higher taxes, keeping labor costs low and reducing the “burden” of government regulation.

The concentration of great wealth in the hands of a small group that then employs that wealth to protect its own privileges and fortify its own status is the polar opposite of reciprocity. Growing income inequality weakens social ties. Our “sharing” is their windfall. That’s not how the gift economy is supposed to work.

Nowhere is this contradiction more self-serving than in the sharing economy’s stance on regulation. As articulated recently in “Trusting the ‘Sharing Economy’ to Regulate Itself,” a New York Times Op-Ed written by Arun Sundararajan, a business school professor at New York University, we are somehow supposed to believe that the forces of capital mobilizing behind the sharing economy are qualitatively different from any other potentially misbehaving market.

The profit-seeking interests of these private marketplaces aren’t that different from those of a textbook regulator: encouraging productive trade, keeping market participants safe and preventing “market failure.”

This is an extraordinary claim. The profit-seeking interests of private marketplaces are usually considered to be, by definition, at odds with the interests of regulators. The intersection of public safety and profit-seeking is exactly the point at which true friction enters the system. It’s exactly the point at which the general public can’t trust the private sector. It’s hard to understand why Sundrarajan thinks that sharing-economy companies are different from any other consumer-facing company. Don’t they all want to keep participants safe and prevent market failure?

In “Sharing Is the New Buying,” Jeremy Owyang declares that “brands that want to succeed in the sharing economy must tell stories around value and trust.” That strikes me as an odd formulation. Brands that want to succeed need to deliver value. And as for trust? In the earliest gift economy sense, trust was built from reciprocity and mutual obligation. Silicon Valley is going to have to work a lot harder to make that happen. It could start by putting a stop to pretending that the sharing economy is about anything other than making a killing.

 

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

http://www.salon.com/2014/03/14/sharing_economy_shams_deception_at_the_core_of_the_internets_hottest_businesses/?source=newsletter

 

How Facebook and Twitter can change the way you think and make you unhappy

7 telltale signs social media is killing your self-esteem

7 telltale signs social media is killing your self-esteem
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetIn this technological age, social media has become a primary gateway to connect with friends and the world around us as part of our daily ritual. Yet what often begins as a harmless virtual habit for some can fast-track into a damaging, narcissism-fueled addiction which impacts negatively upon our self-worth and the way we perceive others.

Studies show that up to two-thirds of people find it hard to relax or sleep after spending time on social networks. Of 298 users, 50 percent said social media made their lives and their self-esteem worse. So just what exactly is it about social media that allows it to affect our self-worth?

According to psychotherapist Sherrie Campbell, social media can give us a false sense of belonging and connecting that is not built on real-life exchanges. This makes it increasingly easy to lose oneself to cyberspace connections and give them more weight than they deserve.

“When we look to social media, we end up comparing ourselves to what we see which can lower our self-esteem. On social media, everyone’s life looks perfect but you’re only seeing a snapshot of reality. We can be whoever we want to be in social media and if we take what we see literally then it’s possible that we can feel we are falling short in life,” Campbell told AlterNet.

How do you tell if your social network habit is healthy or harmful? If you find yourself feeling stressed, anxious or having negative thoughts after using social media, it may be time for a break. Here are seven telltale signs social media could be negatively impacting your self-esteem…and what you can do about it.

1. Social media disrupts your real-world thoughts and interactions.

If you feel worried or uncomfortable when you’re unable to access social media or your emails, it is likely your social media dependency is compromising your self-esteem. Additionally, if you’re thinking about social media first thing in the morning and just before you go to bed, or you find yourself simultaneously juggling face-to-face encounters with your social media habit like facebooking or tweeting, there’s a good chance social media is disrupting your life in a negative way and may in fact be impinging on your real-life relationships. Time to hit the breaks and take back control of your life.



2. Social media affects your mood.

If this voyeuristic habit is affecting your thoughts and feelings about yourself, it is likely harmful to your self-esteem. A new study released last week found a prominent link between eating disorders and social media. Women who spent longer periods of time on Facebook had a higher incidence of “appearance-focused behavior” (such as anorexia) and were more anxious and body conscience overall. What’s more, 20 minutes on social media was enough to contribute to a user’s weight and shape concerns. It follows that the emptier one’s personal life, the more one will be attracted to the virtual world, with bored or lonely people spending more time on social media than those who are busy or active.

3. Real-life interactions are difficult and being alone is uncomfortable.

If you’re struggling with face-to-face connections or find it difficult to communicate, social media may be to blame. Studies have shown social media is a pathway to shallow relationships and emotionally detached communication. An  Australian study found that Facebook users experienced significantly high levels of “family loneliness.” Campbell explains, “Social media is a very lazy way to be in relationship with somebody and impacts on the inability to be alone. We have a generation of kids growing up not knowing how to just sit in their own space because there is constant social noise. Kids are losing the idea of what it means to wait for information—they get it right now. They don’t know that idea of alone time or patience. Technology allows us to have connections when we want it without having to wait, but we’re never going to be able to snuggle up with the computer at night. Human touch remains a fundamental physiological need,” she said.

4. You find yourself envious about what others are promoting.

When we are depressed or down or just feel bad in general, it is easy to become jealous or envious of what other people are advertising about their life, particularly images of alleged happiness or success. This may make us feel inadequate simply because we don’t have what they have or because our self-worth is low. It is important to remember that what you are viewing is only a small sliver of someone’s life, which for the most part, is heavily embellished and mostly rooted in fantasy. When such images are starting to poison the way you look at your own life it may be time to step away from the screen.

5. You relish in others’ misfortune.

If you find yourself happy when other people are unhappy on social media, it may be time to ask yourself whether social media is a healthy psychological choice for you. You may merely be validating your own misery and unhappiness by comparing yourself to others. But even those advertising their tragedies on social media are doing so because they crave attention, whether positive or negative, in a bid to boost their low self-esteem. Christopher Carpenter, author of a study titled “Narcissism on Facebook,” explains: “If Facebook is to be a place where people go to repair their damaged ego and seek social support, it is vitally important to discover the potentially negative communication one might find on Facebook and the kinds of people likely to engage in them. Ideally, people will engage in pro-social Facebooking rather than anti-social me-booking.” If this is you, it’s time to invest in a social media diet.

6. You measure your success by others.

Reality check: the number of contacts or likes a person may receive on social media doesn’t equate with life success. Sure, social media allows us to assume everyone else is feeling and living a better life than we are but what are we really seeing here? It isn’t a person’s whole life, not even a reflection of reality, but merely a glimpse of the life they choose to present through rose-colored lenses. Campbell explains: “When someone has a lot going on and everything they post seems perfect, we think they are lucky but social media is merely a way to project your story onto somebody else—whether you’re projecting from high self-esteem or low esteem, you’re making up a story.” Campbell says it’s more productive to make real-world changes that will help you feel more successful and secure in your life than to spend time building your social media online persona.

7. You’re addicted to the attention and drama.

It’s easy to get sucked into the drama and juicy gossip encapsulated by social media especially when your own real life is lacking any sort of excitement or fulfillment. But this can be a dangerous game to play and often people get hurt. Studies have shown that Facebook contributes to jealousy in relationships and excessive use can in fact damage relationships by virtue of the fact that information a person would not normally share becomes public knowledge. This leads some to desperate measures like becoming amateur private investigators as they embark on a digging expedition to locate incriminating material. Case in point: your fiancé has just been tagged in a picture with a mysterious, half-naked woman. Uh oh! Expend your energy on more worthwhile real-life pursuits which are likely to benefit, rather than impair, your self-esteem.

Need a Solution? 

For those who think their self-esteem is being influenced negatively by social media, Campbell says the most important thing to do is reconnect with your presence and your personal brand—that means unhooking from computer land.

“I encourage people to turn off social media and eliminate it from your life. Get back into your real life. If you can’t do that, then start monitoring your usage, particularly just before bed or remove or block specific people that make you feel negative about yourself. Self-awareness is such an important step. If you realize why you’re turning to technology in times when connection or learning new information isn’t critical, you’ve made the first step to reconnecting with yourself. Spring-clean and get back to the real world,” she says.

Here are some tips to boost your self-esteem outside the realm of social media:

  • Try something new like volunteering.
  • Change your diet or get active; join a gym.
  • Groom yourself.
  • Sit up straight and practice good posture.
  • Read a book.
  • Get involved in a local meetup group you’re interested in.
  • Focus on person-to-person contact.
  • Commit yourself mentally to positive change.

25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday

It sprang from the brain of one man, Tim Berners-Lee, and is the fastest-growing communication medium of all time. A quarter-century on, we examine how the web has transformed our lives

 

Tim Berners-Lee
Briton Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. Photograph: Wang Lili/xh/Xinhua Press/Corbis

 

1 The importance of “permissionless innovation”

The thing that is most extraordinary about the internet is the way it enables permissionless innovation. This stems from two epoch-making design decisions made by its creators in the early 1970s: that there would be no central ownership or control; and that the network would not be optimised for any particular application: all it would do is take in data-packets from an application at one end, and do its best to deliver those packets to their destination.

It was entirely agnostic about the contents of those packets. If you had an idea for an application that could be realised using data-packets (and were smart enough to write the necessary software) then the network would do it for you with no questions asked. This had the effect of dramatically lowering the bar for innovation, and it resulted in an explosion of creativity.

What the designers of the internet created, in effect, was a global machine for springing surprises. The web was the first really big surprise and it came from an individual – Tim Berners-Lee – who, with a small group of helpers, wrote the necessary software and designed the protocols needed to implement the idea. And then he launched it on the world by putting it on the Cern internet server in 1991, without having to ask anybody’s permission.

2 The web is not the internet

Although many people (including some who should know better) often confuse the two. Neither is Google the internet, nor Facebook the internet. Think of the net as analogous to the tracks and signalling of a railway system, and applications – such as the web, Skype, file-sharing and streaming media – as kinds of traffic which run on that infrastructure. The web is important, but it’s only one of the things that runs on the net.

3 The importance of having a network that is free and open

The internet was created by government and runs on open source software. Nobody “owns” it. Yet on this “free” foundation, colossal enterprises and fortunes have been built – a fact that the neoliberal fanatics who run internet companies often seem to forget. Berners-Lee could have been as rich as Croesus if he had viewed the web as a commercial opportunity. But he didn’t – he persuaded Cern that it should be given to the world as a free resource. So the web in its turn became, like the internet, a platform for permissionless innovation. That’s why a Harvard undergraduate was able to launch Facebook on the back of the web.

4 Many of the things that are built on the web are neither free nor open

Mark Zuckerberg was able to build Facebook because the web was free and open. But he hasn’t returned the compliment: his creation is not a platform from which young innovators can freely spring the next set of surprises. The same holds for most of the others who have built fortunes from exploiting the facilities offered by the web. The only real exception is Wikipedia.

5 Tim Berners-Lee is Gutenberg’s true heir

In 1455, with his revolution in printing, Johannes Gutenberg single-handedly launched a transformation in mankind’s communications environment – a transformation that has shaped human society ever since. Berners-Lee is the first individual since then to have done anything comparable.

6 The web is not a static thing

The web we use today is quite different from the one that appeared 25 years ago. In fact it has been evolving at a furious pace. You can think of this evolution in geological “eras”. Web 1.0 was the read-only, static web that existed until the late 1990s. Web 2.0 is the web of blogging, Web services, mapping, mashups and so on – the web that American commentator David Weinberger describes as “small pieces, loosely joined”. The outlines of web 3.0 are only just beginning to appear as web applications that can “understand” the content of web pages (the so-called “semantic web”), the web of data (applications that can read, analyse and mine the torrent of data that’s now routinely published on websites), and so on. And after that there will be web 4.0 and so on ad infinitum.

7 Power laws rule OK

In many areas of life, the law of averages applies – most things are statistically distributed in a pattern that looks like a bell. This pattern is called the “normal distribution”. Take human height. Most people are of average height and there are relatively small number of very tall and very short people. But very few – if any – online phenomena follow a normal distribution. Instead they follow what statisticians call a power law distribution, which is why a very small number of the billions of websites in the world attract the overwhelming bulk of the traffic while the long tail of other websites has very little.

8 The web is now dominated by corporations

Despite the fact that anybody can launch a website, the vast majority of the top 100 websites are run by corporations. The only real exception is Wikipedia.

9 Web dominance gives companies awesome (and unregulated) powers

Take Google, the dominant search engine. If a Google search doesn’t find your site, then in effect you don’t exist. And this will get worse as more of the world’s business moves online. Every so often, Google tweaks its search algorithms in order to thwart those who are trying to “game” them in what’s called search engine optimisation. Every time Google rolls out the new tweaks, however, entrepreneurs and organisations find that their online business or service suffers or disappears altogether. And there’s no real comeback for them.

10 The web has become a memory prosthesis for the world

Have you noticed how you no longer try to remember some things because you know that if you need to retrieve them you can do so just by Googling?

11 The web shows the power of networking

The web is based on the idea of “hypertext” – documents in which some terms are dynamically linked to other documents. But Berners-Lee didn’t invent hypertext – Ted Nelson did in 1963 and there were lots of hypertext systems in existence long before Berners-Lee started thinking about the web. But the existing systems all worked by interlinking documents on the same computer. The twist that Berners-Lee added was to use the internet to link documents that could be stored anywhere. And that was what made the difference.

12 The web has unleashed a wave of human creativity

Before the web, “ordinary” people could publish their ideas and creations only if they could persuade media gatekeepers (editors, publishers, broadcasters) to give them prominence. But the web has given people a global publishing platform for their writing (Blogger, WordPress, Typepad, Tumblr), photographs (Flickr, Picasa, Facebook), audio and video (YouTube, Vimeo); and people have leapt at the opportunity.

13 The web should have been a read-write medium from the beginning

Berners-Lee’s original desire was for a web that would enable people not only to publish, but also to modify, web pages, but in the end practical considerations led to the compromise of a read-only web. Anybody could publish, but only the authors or owners of web pages could modify them. This led to the evolution of the web in a particular direction and it was probably the factor that guaranteed that corporations would in the end become dominant.

14 The web would be much more useful if web pages were machine-understandable

Web pages are, by definition, machine-readable. But machines can’t understand what they “read” because they can’t do semantics. So they can’t easily determine whether the word “Casablanca” refers to a city or to a movie. Berners-Lee’s proposal for the “semantic web” – ie a way of restructuring web pages to make it easier for computers to distinguish between, say, Casablanca the city and Casablanca the movie – is one approach, but it would require a lot of work upfront and is unlikely to happen on a large scale. What may be more useful are increasingly powerful machine-learning techniques that will make computers better at understanding context.

15 The importance of killer apps

A killer application is one that makes the adoption of a technology a no-brainer. The spreadsheet was the killer app for the first Apple computer. Email was the first killer app for the Arpanet – the internet’s precursor. The web was the internet’s first killer app. Before the web – and especially before the first graphical browser, Mosaic, appeared in 1993 – almost nobody knew or cared about the internet (which had been running since 1983). But after the web appeared, suddenly people “got” it, and the rest is history.

16 WWW is linguistically unique

Well, perhaps not, but Douglas Adams claimed that it was the only set of initials that took longer to say than the thing it was supposed to represent.

17 The web is a startling illustration of the power of software

Software is pure “thought stuff”. You have an idea; you write some instructions in a special language (a computer program); and then you feed it to a machine that obeys your instructions to the letter. It’s a kind of secular magic. Berners-Lee had an idea; he wrote the code; he put it on the net, and the network did the rest. And in the process he changed the world.

18 The web needs a micro-payment system

In addition to being just a read-only system, the other initial drawback of the web was that it did not have a mechanism for rewarding people who published on it. That was because no efficient online payment system existed for securely processing very small transactions at large volumes. (Credit-card systems are too expensive and clumsy for small transactions.) But the absence of a micro-payment system led to the evolution of the web in a dysfunctional way: companies offered “free” services that had a hidden and undeclared cost, namely the exploitation of the personal data of users. This led to the grossly tilted playing field that we have today, in which online companies get users to do most of the work while only the companies reap the financial rewards.

19 We thought that the HTTPS protocol would make the web secure. We were wrong

HTTP is the protocol (agreed set of conventions) that normally regulates conversations between your web browser and a web server. But it’s insecure because anybody monitoring the interaction can read it. HTTPS (stands for HTTP Secure) was developed to encrypt in-transit interactions containing sensitive data (eg your credit card details). The Snowden revelations about US National Security Agency surveillance suggest that the agency may have deliberately weakened this and other key internet protocols.

20 The web has an impact on the environment. We just don’t know how big it is

The web is largely powered by huge server farms located all over the world that need large quantities of electricity for computers and cooling. (Not to mention the carbon footprint and natural resource costs of the construction of these installations.) Nobody really knows what the overall environmental impact of the web is, but it’s definitely non-trivial. A couple of years ago, Google claimed that its carbon footprint was on a par with that of Laos or the United Nations. The company now claims that each of its users is responsible for about eight grams of carbon dioxide emissions every day. Facebook claims that, despite its users’ more intensive engagement with the service, it has a significantly lower carbon footprint than Google.

21 The web that we see is just the tip of an iceberg

The web is huge – nobody knows how big it is, but what we do know is that the part of it that is reached and indexed by search engines is just the surface. Most of the web is buried deep down – in dynamically generated web pages, pages that are not linked to by other pages and sites that require logins – which are not reached by these engines. Most experts think that this deep (hidden) web is several orders of magnitude larger than the 2.3 billion pages that we can see.

22 Tim Berners-Lee’s boss was the first of many people who didn’t get it initially

Berners-Lee’s manager at Cern scribbled “vague but interesting” on the first proposal Berners-Lee submitted to him. Most people confronted with something that is totally new probably react the same way.

23 The web has been the fastest-growing communication medium of all time

One measure is how long a medium takes to reach the first 50 million users. It took broadcast radio 38 years and television 13 years. The web got there in four.

24 Web users are ruthless readers

The average page visit lasts less than a minute. The first 10 seconds are critical for users’ decision to stay or leave. The probability of their leaving is very high during these seconds. They’re still highly likely to leave during the next 20 seconds. It’s only after they have stayed on a page for about 30 seconds that the chances improve that they will finish it.

25 Is the web making us stupid?

Writers like Nick Carr are convinced that it is. He thinks that fewer people engage in contemplative activities because the web distracts them so much. “With the exception of alphabets and number systems,” he writes, “the net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use.” But technology giveth and technology taketh away. For every techno-pessimist like Carr, there are thinkers like Clay Shirky, Jeff Jarvis, Yochai Benkler, Don Tapscott and many others (including me) who think that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

John Naughton’s From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg is published by Quercus

 

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/mar/09/25-years-web-tim-berners-lee

Lets build our own internet, with blackjack and hookers.

 

The Pirate Bay, delving further into the anti-censorship battle, may have just invented a new type of internet, hosted peer-to-peer, and maintained using the Bitcoin protocol.

Love them or hate them, The Pirate Bay are always ahead of the curve when it comes to digital rights, especially when it comes to copyright, DRM and censorship. Now I’m not one to say ‘they give me free shit, awesome hur dur’. Artist remuneration is important to me and in many senses TPB circumvents this. But the current copyright system is broken. Fractions of the dollar go to the artists, and the archaic content distribution models mean lots of content can’t be seen legally without a 100 channels of cable or a $40 DVD.
Media pirates

People consume media differently and the market largely hasn’t caught up. Progressive media groups, like Netflix, actually use TPB stats to work out what programs to book. It’s acknowledged that freely distributing your content is a great way to get exposed. Most bands will seed a torrent in the hopes it goes viral. So clearly there’s merit to the model.

 

“Thanks Pirate Bay”

Now if all TPB did was make it easier for people to OD on Game Of Thrones I’d still be impressed. Their fractured cloud hosted solutions and domain hopping have been a beacon of hope to everyone that feels uncomfortable with bolder and bolder attempts to centralise and regulate an internet built by and for free thinkers.

But what matters now is what they’re doing to bypass censorship.

Thought police

You see the internet, and its contents, is a bit like an ocean. It’s huge, it’s untamed, it has dangerous disgusting depths and beautiful vistas. More and more however you, the user, are shunted onto the tourist beaches for your own good. You don’t even see “no access” signs for the areas that aren’t safe.  Through the wizardry of IP blocking they make it so you can’t even see they where there. So instead you paddle in the shallows, reading 9gag and sharing snapchats of your cats hat.

TPB’s first step was the pirate bay browser, very similar to the tor browser, however without IP masking (so you aren’t anonymous). This browser means users aren’t limited in their access because of their location.

It’s not just China that limits it’s internet access, most countries live in a media bubble, from blocking access to movies and shows because licensing doesn’t allow it, to restricting the news that is readily available. The people in office aren’t even being subtle anymore.  Consider the porn filter in the UK: they are restricting content based on the views of a moral minority who happen to hold political (and one would assume economic) power. If you think this is going to be anything other than more prevalent in the near future, or at this doesn’t effect you, then you need a better understanding of the role of free speech in government accountability.

 

The buccaneers behind pirate bay.

Fighting back

However even with IP masking, governments can still get right to the source, and block an IP address, confiscate servers, basically killing a website. All well and good to stop child porn and nuclear warhead plans from being distributed, however this is also more than likely to be used to silence boat rockers, dissidents and anyone that challenges the current politico-economic paradigm that keeps the suits in limos. Consider Wikkileaks, who have been under attack merely for holding the governments own actions up to the light for scrutiny.

The way TPB are addressing this will be a decentralised, peer to peer internet.

You heard me right.

This means domain blocking is impossible, server seizure can’t be achieved and the powers that be can’t do everything in their power to limit free speech that challenges the political or economic status quo.

Decentralise everything

The way it works is that it stores a sites indexable data when on your computer, so you host little chunks of the sites you visit, in much the same way as people host chunks of data when maintaining a seed for a torrent file.

Users will be able to register their ‘domain’ using bitcoin, on a first come first serve basis, renewing every year. This means that even the registration system is decentralised, in fact relying on a completely different decentralised network. That is one hell of a built in redundancy

It will be using a fake DNS system but there is no real IP address to take down, as the database will be scattered across a global decentralised network of users. No points of failure and no centralised control mechanisms means it could become a very robust platform to maintain free speech.

There are issues, for example what happens if you host illegal content unwittingly, or what happens if the bulk of sites you use are very data hungry? The system has just been announced so further news may quash or exacerbate these concerns.

Do we need it?

In a world where the original ideals of a free internet are being consumed by data discrimination, PRISM, the NSA and the TPP, this pirate web may be one of the few places where true subversive discussion can occur. It may just halt part of a concerted effort to turn the net into a homogenised tracking device, used to buy iPads and photograph food, whilst being spied on and lied to.

While people may ask why it is needed, it must be remembered that a benign government only stays so under constant scrutiny and absolute accountability to the governed. This can only occur where there is a completely unfettered platform for free speech and sharing to occur.

Love them or hate them, but what The Pirate Bay have done, are doing and will do with the peer to peer protocol may be key to your political freedoms and human rights in the future.

X

Facebook won’t pay taxes again, will get refund instead

Published time: December 19, 2013 16:25
Edited time: December 22, 2013 06:00

AFP Photo / Jonathan Nackstrand

AFP Photo / Jonathan Nackstrand

It’s shaping up to be another multi-billion dollar year for Facebook, but don’t expect the social networking site to pay it forward: according to a new analysis, the website will pay no taxes this year and will instead likely receive a federal refund.

That’s according to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma), who on Tuesday this week released the 2013 edition of his annual “Wastebook” report detailing instances of what he considers unnecessary government spending.

When it comes to spending your money, those in Washington tend to see no waste, speak no waste and cut no waste,” Coburn writes in the introduction to this year’s 177-page report.

In 2013, Coburn recalls, millions of dollars in funds were wasted on frivolous projects, while at the same time members of Congress were saying “yes” to a sequestration plan that some insist is drastically weakening the national security of the United States by slashing funds for the Department of Defense.
There’s a $124,955 3D printer that NASA will use to make pizzas, Coburn notes, and millions spent on hyping government endeavors by way of expensive contracts cut with Hollywood studios. But instead of collecting taxes from one of the country’s top businesses — and one enjoyed by almost everyone — the government will likely give money back to Facebook in 2013, Coburn claims.
Last year, the senator says, “one of America’s largest companies avoided paying federal or state income taxes, and is poised to do so again this year. In fact, they will likely receive a check from the federal government in the form of a tax refund.”
“Despite bringing in more than $1 billion in US pretax profits last year, the social-media giant Facebook reported a combined $429 million refund from their federal and state tax filings,” he continues, including roughly $295 million from Uncle Sam.
According to Coburn’s report, last year Facebook relied on an employee stock option tax deduction to lower the amount of owed income taxes by around $1.03 billion.
“By providing stock options as a major form of their compensation, to date Facebook has claimed $3.2 billion in federal and state stock option deductions, $1.03 billion of which was used to offset their total US pretax profit of $1.1 billion in 2012 and $429 million was refunded from its 2010 and 2011 tax bills,” he says.
“The remaining $2.17 billion in stock option tax deductions can now be carried forward by the company and used to offset future tax liabilities,” he says. “This rollover, in addition to currently outstanding employee stock options, may once again make this year’s tax bill disappear.”
Coburn writes there is reason to believe Facebook will have the same success this year as they did in 2012, when they were refunded almost $300 million. Meanwhile, he writes elsewhere in the report, Uncle Sam has been issuing other arguably unnecessary paychecks, including the one that will ideally help a contractor create a 3D-printed pizza pie. That endeavor, Coburn notes, is earmarked separately from the $1 million already put aside to be used for the nation’s Martian food development budget.

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