else 8.26: Getting a Little Too Comfortable with Technology

This week in the else round up we explore the responsibilities of technology builders and designers, what it will take for 3D printers and autonomous vehicles to go mainstream, and how humans will always find ways to misuse technology. If you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS.

Addicted to Apps – The New York Times
“We cannot rely on the makers of new technology to think about the moral and privacy implications.” This article walks us through the arc of seduction of new technologies, from distrust of the creepy to dependence on the critical. Outlines many of the reasons we’re tackling the societal implications of data in the book.

Addicted to Apps, The New York Times

The Machine Zone: This Is Where You Go When You Just Can’t Stop Looking at Pictures on Facebook – The Atlantic
Natasha Dow Schüll’s work on slot machine “Addiction by Design” might explain the pleasures of infinite scrolls and click throughs on Facebook photo albums. Incidentally, the 99% Invisible podcast mentioned is also great.

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Is US Culture Veering Toward The Dark and Deadpan?

NSA_Logo_Prism_Floor_640_1_s640x427(image) According to Wikipedia, “deadpan” is a uniquely American neologism less than a century old. The term arose from the slang term “pan,” for face: “Keep a dead pan,” a gangster told an associate in 1934’s The Gay Bride. In other words, don’t show your cards.

“Deadpan humor,” of course, is playing a joke straight, pretending you’re unaware of the punchline. It’s often related to “dark” or “black” humor, which makes light of otherwise serious situations, often with a cynical or satirical tone.

Why am I on about this now? Because I think as a society we’re rapidly shifting into a dark, deadpan culture, driven almost entirely by revelations around the NSA’s PRISM and related programs. We know we can’t pretend we’re not being monitored – so we resort to deadpan humor to handle that new reality.

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The PRISMner’s Dilemma

prismSometimes when you aren’t sure what you have to say about something, you should just start talking about it. That’s how I feel about the evolving PRISM story – it’s so damn big, I don’t feel like I’ve quite gotten my head around it. Then again, I realize I’ve been thinking about this stuff for more than two decades – I assigned and edited a story about massive government data overreach in the first issue of Wired, for God’s sake, and we’re having our 20th anniversary party this Saturday. Shit howdy, back then I felt like I was pissing into the wind –  was I just a 27-year-old conspiracy theorist?

Um, no. We were just a bit ahead of ourselves at Wired back in the day.  Now, it feels like we’re in the middle of a hurricane. Just today I spoke to a senior executive at a Very Large Internet Company who complained about spending way too much time dealing with PRISM. Microsoft just posted a missive which said, in essence, “We think this sucks and we sure wish the US government would get its shit together.” I can only imagine the war rooms at Facebook, Amazon, Google, Twitter, and other major Internet companies – PRISM is putting them directly at odds with the very currency of their business: Consumer trust.

And I’m fucking thrilled about this all. Because finally, the core issue of data rights is coming to the fore of societal conversation. Here’s what I wrote about the issue back in 2005, in The Search:

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