Tag: Harvard

Teenagers: Facebook is only 13, Twitter just 11

Monday, 13 May, 2019

The Istanbul-born writer and academic Zeynep Tufecki has made a name for herself with her analysis of Big Tech and her understanding of its impacts. Last year she wrote in the New York Times that, “YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.” Now, she’s taken to the pages of Wired to declare, “IT’S THE (DEMOCRACY-POISONING) GOLDEN AGE OF FREE SPEECH.” In her conclusion, she compares the current state of the major social media platforms with the early days of the automobile industry:

“We don’t have to be resigned to the status quo. Facebook is only 13 years old, Twitter 11, and even Google is but 19. At this moment in the evolution of the auto industry, there were still no seat belts, airbags, emission controls, or mandatory crumple zones. The rules and incentive structures underlying how attention and surveillance work on the internet need to change. But in fairness to Facebook and Google and Twitter, while there’s a lot they could do better, the public outcry demanding that they fix all these problems is fundamentally mistaken. There are few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs — and those are not choices for Mark Zuckerberg alone to make. These are deeply political decisions. In the 20th century, the US passed laws that outlawed lead in paint and gasoline, that defined how much privacy a landlord needs to give his tenants, and that determined how much a phone company can surveil its customers. We can decide how we want to handle digital surveillance, attention-channeling, harassment, data collection, and algorithmic decision­making.”

Zeynep Tufecki is a faculty associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and in 2017 Yale University Press published her Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest. The book is available to download as a PDF (1.70MB) for free from Twitterandteargas.org.


The Kavanaugh Judgement

Tuesday, 10 July, 2018

The grandmaster of reality TV, President Donald Trump, choose primetime to announce his nominee for the US Supreme Court seat being vacated by Anthony Kennedy. The prize went to Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

It’s a solid pick, but as comedian Dennis Miller anticipated on Twitter: “Just to keep things in perspective, or not, Trump could nominate either Amy Coney Barrett or Vladimir Putin tomorrow and the headlines would be exactly the same.” This is so true and it reflects perfectly the derangement that now grips the president’s opponents.

Long before President Trump had presented his nominee, Democrats were promising to oppose whoever got the nod because they desperately need a win before the midterm election and they crave revenge after the Senate’s refusal to confirm President Obama’s appointee, Judge Merrick Garland, in 2016. They’ll have a hard time with Kavanaugh, though. He’s gold plated. Consider: He’s a graduate of Yale Law School and a former law clerk to Justice Kennedy, and he was hired to teach at Harvard Law School by the then-Dean, now Justice, Elena Kagan. Done deal.

Judge's robes


Cats have kittens, bats have bittens

Sunday, 19 July, 2015 0 Comments

Ogden Nash was famous for his light verse and he wrote more than 500 waggish pieces during his lifetime. The poet entered Harvard University in 1920, only to drop out a year later. He then worked as a teacher for a year at his alma mater, St. George’s School in Newport County, Rhode Island, before heading to New York to sell bonds, about which he later remarked, “Came to New York to make my fortune as a bond salesman and in two years sold one bond — to my godmother. However, I saw lots of good movies.” In 1934, Nash moved to Baltimore, where he remained until his death in 1971. “I could have loved New York had I not loved Balti-more,” he said, Nashlike.

Note: The guppy (Poecilia reticulata) is one of the world’s most widely distributed tropical fish.

The Guppy

Whales have calves,
Cats have kittens,
Bears have cubs,
Bats have bittens,
Swans have cygnets,
Seals have puppies,
But guppies just have little guppies.

Ogden Nash (1902 – 1971)


Thermonuclear review

Wednesday, 16 April, 2014 1 Comment

In the annals of acidic reviewing, nothing beats Truman Capote’s flip dismissal of Jack Kerouac’s work: “That’s not writing, that’s typing.” Still, the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs magazine does not do too badly when it comes to Thermonuclear Monarchy by Elaine Scarry, Professor of Aesthetics and General Theory of Value at Harvard. Snip:

“This curious book addresses what Scarry describes as the incompatibility of nuclear weapons and democracy. But her knowledge of nuclear matters is superficial, and she says very little about the weapons, other than to draw attention to their awfulness and to the fragile, illegitimate, and dangerous structures that govern their possession and potential use.”

By the way, here’s now Gore Vidal dissed Truman Capote: “He’s a full-fledged housewife from Kansas with all the prejudices.”