In the Margins
February 23, 2011
In the latest installment of its occasional series on how technology is ruining our lives, The New York Times reports on a conference about to be held by the Caxton Club, a group of Chicago bibliophiles, on how annotating books “enhance[s] the reading experience.” Alongside some entertaining literary tidbits (Nelson Mandela wrote his own name in the margin of Julius Caesar next to the line “Cowards die many times before their deaths”), we find in the article the usual doomsday musings on the fate of marginalia in the digital age. The Caxtonites, needless to say, are not into the Kindle.
January 27, 2011
When Dmitri Medvedev became Russia’s president in 2008, he projected a very different image from that of his predecessor. Vladimir Putin is a buff former KGB agent who is fond of rugged pursuits, such as hunting and fishing, and is frequently photographed engaged in them without his shirt on. Medvedev is an elfin St. Petersburg-trained lawyer who enjoys chess and photography, practices yoga daily, and is the proud owner of the complete recordings of Deep Purple on vinyl.
January 26, 2011
The night I lost my digital virginity, I was sixteen, visiting family in Paris. One evening, my cousin and I decided to go to a movie. Before I could reach for the newspaper listings, he switched on a box the size of a small television that sat on a living room shelf, unnoticed by me until that moment. The screen glowed blue as he typed in a sequence of numbers. Voilà! The desired information appeared in a flash of light that seemed nothing less than magical.
January 24, 2011
This past December, when the host of the Wikileaks domain shut down the organization’s online presence, the Pirate Party came to the rescue. No, the saviors were not renegade Somalis or Internet bootleggers, but, rather, a small but growing five-year-old political party focused on copyright and intellectual property laws. There are between 30 and 40 Pirate Parties globally, and two Pirate Party members sit in the European Parliament. By reopening the shuttered Wikileaks on the Swiss Pirate Party’s site, the party linked up with one of the biggest stories of 2010.
January 07, 2011
American diplomacy seems to have survived Wikileaks’s “attack on the international community,” as Hillary Clinton so dramatically characterized it, unscathed. Save for a few diplomatic reshuffles, Foggy Bottom doesn’t seem to be deeply affected by what happened. Certainly, the U.S. government at large has not been paralyzed by the leaks—contrary to what Julian Assange had envisioned in one of his cryptic-cum-visionary essays, penned in 2006.
January 05, 2011
In his 61 years, my father has never sent me an e-mail, never purchased a personal computer, never thought to acquire a home Internet connection. A welder, he has little use for the latest software at work; at home, he prefers handwritten letters, and he still obtains his news in print-only form. Recently, when I asked him why he never thought to get wired, he looked perplexed. He shrugged and said, “Never saw the need.” No, he is not nostalgic for a past era or hopelessly impoverished.
December 04, 2010
Most Internet-policy issues are mind-numbingly complex and, let's face it, a little too dull for the broader public to sift through. So, if you're a small company caught up in an arcane battle with a massive service provider like Comcast, it can be hard to get anyone aside from specialized trade publications to care. Unless, of course, you say those two magic words: net neutrality. Just claim that the future of the open Internet is at stake, and your tiff is guaranteed to splash across headlines everywhere. Want an example?
The READ: In Defense of Amazon
July 28, 2010
I wrote that headline initially as a joke. In the decade and a half since it first started delivering to our doorsteps everything from bestsellers to diapers, Amazon.com has become so entrenched as an icon of evil business policies that any person who loves books can no longer look upon it with an unskeptical eye.
Remember the Age
July 09, 2010
[Guest post by James Downie] David Brooks's latest science column takes on the great "Internet vs. Books" debate: The Internet-versus-books debate is conducted on the supposition that the medium is the message. But sometimes the medium is just the medium. What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe.
My colleague on ‘Entanglements,’ Adam Kirsch, posted a perceptive column a few days ago that asked both why we are—as we seem to have been since at least the advent of the middle-class newspaper-reading public in eighteenth-century London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam—so passionately interested in the affairs of “leaders and nations we don’t know, never will see, and certainly have no power over,” and whether this avidity for consuming news actually brings us closer to reality or instead makes it harder to “see things as they actually are?” It’s an excellent question, whether or not one agrees (I