In Praise of Anonymous Internet Advice Columns
August 11, 2011
“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?
The State Department’s Shameful Record on Internet Freedom
August 08, 2011
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
Amazon.com: Terrible Corporate Citizen
July 21, 2011
I’m a longtime customer of Amazon—everything from books, eBooks, and two Kindles to tennis balls and baseball caps—but I’m looking for an alternative. I’m not unhappy with Amazon’s service, but with its politics. Amazon is waging an aggressive campaign to prevent revenue-starved California from collecting sales taxes from the company’s customers. And that’s only its most recent effort to prevent states from levying sales taxes on online purchases. States have always had the right to charge taxes on the purchases its citizens have made, whether at retail stories or by mail order or online.
Don't Be Evil
July 13, 2011
In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives By Steven Levy (Simon & Schuster, 423 pp., $26) The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) By Siva Vaidhyanathan (University of California Press, 265 pp., $26.95) I. For cyber-optimists and cyber-pessimists alike, the advent of Google marks off two very distinct periods in Internet history. The optimists remember the age before Google as chaotic, inefficient, and disorganized.
Why Silicon Valley’s Current Boom Isn’t At All Like 1999
July 09, 2011
There’s a time warp along the stretch of Highway 101 that runs between San Jose and Marin County in Northern California. To many there, it looks like 1999 all over again. While the rest of the country is landscaped with foreclosed homes and empty big-box stores, San Francisco and Silicon Valley have a shortage of office space. Established tech companies like Google are offering seven-figure bonuses to retain talented engineers, while the Sand Hill Road offices of venture capitalists are full of optimistic twentysomethings looking for funding—and many of them are getting more than they need.
Apple’s Form and Function Meets Location Efficiency
June 24, 2011
with Louis Liss When it comes to design, there’s no question that Apple knows how to impress. Apple CEO Steve Jobs recently addressed the Cupertino, CA city council to pitch a new corporate campus to accommodate the company’s burgeoning workforce. The new facility will be a circular architectural wonder. It will triple green space, add needed office area, and produce its own energy. Critics have cited the new campus as a model for better architecture in Silicon Valley as well as a green marvel. But just as important as how the building is built is where it is built.
March 03, 2011
A few weeks ago, with a small footnote by way of introduction, The New York Times Book Review published revamped best-seller lists that, for the first time, separately reflect the sale of e-books. The new lists were inevitable—e-books made up about 10 percent of book sales in 2010, and that number is rapidly rising. You had to read between the lines to find the real news, but there it was: To the growing list of things that will be extinct in our children's world, we can now add bookstores. Does it surprise us?
March 03, 2011
What Technology Wants By Kevin Kelly (Viking, 406 pp., $27.95) Kevin Kelly, the éminence grise of Silicon Valley, holds the odd job title of “senior maverick” at Wired magazine, enjoying a cult following among thousands of geeks around the globe.
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.