Fahrenheit 404

Battle For The Net Video Bumper from FFTF on Vimeo.

This essay is reprinted from Inside Higher Ed.

We have always been at war with the Internet. No, I’m not talking about trolls or flamewars but efforts to keep this globally interconnected digital space a place where freedom can thrive. What that freedom looks like, of course, is endlessly debatable. There’s the problem of the digital divide, the cultural factors that can make the internet friendly or hostile, and the fact that the values underpinning sentiments like John Perry Barlow’s libertarian Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace do not guarantee its citizens will act with wisdom or justice. Throw in mass surveillance and cybercrime and the fact that setting up your home router is just about as defeating as running your VHS system was thirty years ago. It’s complicated, but net neutrality is a foundational feature of the internet that we should preserve – and it’s under threat yet again.

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how not to fight terrorism

it was a pleasure to burn

Reposted from Inside Higher Ed. Photo courtesy of Geoffrey Fairchild

I suppose it’s inevitable, given that information-driven tech-centered global corporations dominate the list of Big Rich Companies, that information systems play a significant role in 21st century terrorism. ISIS has famously made effective use of social media platforms for recruitment purposes. So have white nationalists and neo-Nazis. The responses have been fumbling, partly because the job of moderating messages that globally flow by the billions is difficult and partly because that flow is the current that produces power and money for these companies. Our devices and platforms want to seize and retain our attention and categorize our passions; building in methods to check the flow adds cost and conflicts with their very design. So that’s one thing: our most powerful information channels today are unprecedented in their usefulness for creating global connections among people who seek people who feel the same anger – and in their design-driven capacity for fanning those flames.

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Practicing Freedom for the Post-Truth Era

practicing freedom This is the text of a talk I gave at the University of New Mexico last week sponsored by the Marjorie Whetstone Ashton endowment and the university library instruction team. Thanks, team!

A PDF version can be downloaded from my library’s institutional repository or from Humanities Commons.

Abstract: Why do we encourage students to read widely, think critically, and conduct their own research? We are preparing them for lives in a world filled with ambiguity and complexity, where we don’t actually know the answers to what’s on the test. The surprising outcome of the recent election has prompted us to examine our assumptions about how knowledge is arrived at and shared – and why it matters. Librarians and faculty in the disciplines have long helped students learn how to find and assess scholarly information, but we haven’t always been explicit about why it matters. What we’ve come to call “information literacy” must be more than learning how to evaluate websites and recognize “fake news” as an information consumer. It’s gaining an understanding of the ways information systems shape our world while gaining the confidence and conviction that we ourselves can shape the world for the better. Paulo Freire urged us to think of education as the practice of freedom. We will explore ways to prepare students to enter a world saturated with personalized propaganda and “alternative facts” as free human beings and motivated citizens.

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matter of facts

truthReposted from Inside Higher Ed; image courtesy of Martin Sommer

Remember “truthiness”? Stephen Cobert, in his parodic role of a brash conservative talk show personality, coined it in 2005 and it seemed to nail a fact of political life: politicians often said things that seemed true, that felt true, that appealed to an audience as true while sliding off to one side of demonstrable facts. He was giving a name to the political polarization that made Americans line up behind different sets of known “facts” along with a tendency to prefer assertions that carried an emotional charge.

“Truthiness,” named the 2005 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society, has given way to the Oxford Dictionaries 2016 Word of the Year, “Post-Truth,” which was a bit depressing until it was eclipsed by the furor over “fake news.” That last shape-shifting phrase means all kinds of things, including any news you don’t like. Entire news organizations have been labeled “fake news” by our president. Continue reading “matter of facts”

a Woody Guthrie moment

Woodie Guthrie photo by Al Aumuller, courtesy of Wikimedia and the Library of Congress.

Woody Guthrie famously had a sign on his guitar: THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS. I’ve been thinking about that line a lot in the past week, this strange new world in which a man-child signs orders written by a nihilistic Nazi, throwing the world into chaos gleefully and viciously. It’s encouraging to see mass resistance form spontaneously, though I remind myself that there were mass protests against Hitler, too. There’s work to do. There are values to defend. It won’t be an easy road, and I’m not sure where it will all lead.

I am printing up some stickers for my laptop, which is about as close as I get to a guitar.  I wimped out and used “fights” instead of “kills” because I’m an angry pacifist who likes to think libraries, books, and writers can all oppose this violence with words and ideas. Continue reading “a Woody Guthrie moment”

burning Issues for Operation 451

Welch-McCarthy hearings, 1954
Welch-McCarthy hearings, 1954 via Wikimedia

Reposted from Inside Higher Ed.

A lot of people were disgusted when they heard Simon & Schuster will publish a book by Milo Yiannopoulos, a notorious right-wing troll who makes a career of offending people and hounding his chosen enemies through mass intimidation. He has even been banned from Twitter, which is incredibly difficult to do. He tried to offend his publishers with grotesque jokes as well, to no avail. They really wanted to publish his book.

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make America [fill in the blank]

liberty club neon signReposted from Inside Higher Ed; photo courtesy of Jasperdo

I’ve been giving a lot of my Twitter feed a raised eyebrow lately. No, it’s not at all likely that electors will denounce Trump and vote differently. Huh, that must-read thread seems kind of dumb. No, I don’t think calling for recounts is a great idea just after we kept insisting the vote couldn’t possibly be rigged.

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all the “news” that’s fit to click

keyboardReposted from Inside Higher Ed; photo courtesy of matsuyuki

I’m worried about the news. Not what’s in the news, though that’s troubling enough. No, I’m wondering what will happen to the news for a number of reasons.

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