For some of us at TNR, the most surprising aspect of yesterday’s Great Internet Blackout wasn’t the crushing recognition of just how often we head to Wikipedia—it was noticing the strange political bedfellows forged by SOPA, the House's Stop Internet Piracy Act, and its Senate analogue PIPA. In this hyper-partisan political climate, seeing Michele Bachmann on the same page as Nancy Pelosi, and Rupert Murdoch agree with avowed-liberal Patrick Leahy was unusual (and somewhat refreshing).
Silicon Valley generally leans left of center in its politics, and Facebook, the web’s leading social utility valued at an estimated $85 billion, hasn't often seemed inclined to be an exception. After all, Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s CEO, has himself gone out of his way to make supportive appearances with President Obama.
Peeking into the Amazon Publishing booth at Book Expo last spring, I felt like a member of the Rebel Alliance in the Death Star. While the main floor of the hall was crowded with readers lining up for giveaways and editors huddled around tables, the corner Amazon had staked out—right up front by the entrance—exuded a suspicious calm. Though it had the plushest carpeting anywhere in the hall (always the most reliable Book Expo status indicator) and the comfiest looking chairs, few books were to be found.
Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live By Jeff Jarvis (Simon & Schuster, 263 pp., $26.99) In 1975, Malcolm Bradbury published The History Man, a piercing satire of the narcissistic pseudo-intellectualism of modern academia. The novel recounts a year in the life of the young radical sociologist Howard Kirk—“a theoretician of sociability”—who is working on a book called The Defeat of Privacy.
Even the “Genius” at your local Apple store admits that your dollar buys significantly more computing power in a PC. iTunes can be infuriatingly glitchy and difficult to navigate. The iPod is so delicate a flower that it breaks, seemingly, if you exhale in its vicinity. What, then, explains a world awash in longing, admiration, and loss in the wake of Steve Jobs’ death last week at the age of 56?
Steve Jobs was the greatest manufacturer of consumer products of his age. His marketing vision put him on par with Henry Ford, and his grasp of the aesthetic component to industrial design far surpassed Ford’s. But Jobs differed from Ford in one significant way. His surname to the contrary, he did not create a lot of American jobs.I raise this point not to single out Jobs, whose tendency to “offshore” manufacturing jobs followed economic imperatives not of his making. He did what his contemporaries in America’s younger and more flexible manufacturing companies did. Rather, my purpose is to illustrate the perplexing failure even of one of America’s most stunningly successful companies to provide domestic employment on anything like the scale that America was once able to take for granted.
While he may have paled in comparison to Steve Jobs in a black turtleneck, Apple’s new CEO Tim Cook still impressed audiences today when he unveiled the new iPhone 4S. Apple fans and the technology media predictably freaked out. (The hot new iPhone feature, if you haven’t yet heard, is integrated voice command, which can pull up the weather, define a word, or play a song.) All in all, the debut seems to have been a solid one for Cook, whose predecessor, Jobs, was a master of PR. Jobs consistently garnered extensive (and fawning) media coverage for his product rollouts.
Richard North Patterson remembers the moment he learned that Osama bin Laden was dead. He was watching television on a Sunday evening two days before the publication of his latest novel, The Devil’s Light, in which Al Qaeda plans a nuclear attack on America for the decade anniversary of 9/11. Wolf Blitzer, grave-faced, said something about a major national security announcement. And immediately, Patterson knew. “I sat there like a man in a catatonic state,” he recalled.
“Can’t you ask the computer?” my seven-year-old son regularly demands when I fail to supply the answer to one of his seemingly random questions. His generation knows implicitly what mine has gradually learned: That the Internet is essentially a garbage dump for information, albeit one that requires increasingly sensitive tools to pick out objects of value. “Crowdsourcing,” a term that Wikipedia (appropriately) tells me was coined only five years ago, has become the preferred way to answer any and all questions. Need a dentist in Missoula or a brunch spot in New Orleans?
At the annual meeting of the Community of Democracies last month in Lithuania, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton struck a characteristic note of cautious idealism in support of Internet users living under repressive governments: “Because technology both empowers and endangers your work, we are giving activists new tools to try to circumvent the many obstacles that governments are putting in your way.” In a February speech Clinton gave at George Washington University, she said roughly the same thing: “There is a debate currently underway in some circles about whether the Internet is a force