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Saturday, December 11, 2010

Luddite Department: The Eve of Destruction - Facebook and Google attack

Facebook seems to be the latest target of the forces of reaction against technology. Every advancement produces a backlash induced by fear of radical change.

The Luddites were a movement begun @ 1812 against the advent of mechanical looms, which were seen as a disastrous example of the Industrial Revolution’s destruction of society’s stability. The mechanical loom, an invention which used a precursor of computer technology, eliminated the need for skilled textile workers. Cheaper unskilled labor replaced the more expensive workers.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, experts consistently predict doom as each new invention emerged. Civilization was threatened by the telephone, automobile, radio, motion pictures, television, the computer, cell phones, the internet.

On one hand, it is possible that the Luddites were right all along. After all, many economists predict that high unemployment is likely to be chronic, the old high paying skilled labor jobs permanently disappeared, replaced if at all by low paying service industry jobs.

And scanning the L.A. Times today, I ran across no less than four items that raise the “uh-oh” about Facebook, Google, and the internet:

A man who worked as a chef in Florida is accused of cyber-stalking and (I love this term) “attempted video voyeurism”. Wanting to see pix of naked girls and apparently too cheap to pay for a porn site, this doofus (allegedly) used various fake female names, claiming to be an alum of sororities of several southern universities to contact co-eds and demand that they send naked photos or else he (pretending to be she) would do nasty things to her. Using knowledge of intimate facts acquired through Facebook, the culprit convinced some girls that compliance was necessary.

Item #2. Page A22: NO FACEBOOK: IT’S A LOAD OFF.
Harrisburg (Pa.) University conducted an experiment. Students gave up social networking, including Facebook and Twitter, for one week. Survey said: 25% reported better concentration in class, and that lectures and seminars were “more interesting”. 33% claimed that the hiatus from the impulse toward networking reduced their stress level.

The attorney general of Connecticut has subpoenaed Google’s records. Google has apparently admitted that it “inadvertently” “collected and stored data from unsecured Wi-Fi networks taken by cars that take photos for its Street View mapping service”. The AG demands the “consumer data” that was collected by this mistake for which Google has apologized.

1.5 million users pay to play the Pot Farm game online. Facebook reportedly “made Pot Farm pull a hookah pipe from the game.”

Luddites beware.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Dog's Life

They say that one year of a dog’s life is equal to seven of a human’s. But that is misleading. After one year, the dog is an adult, far superior to the seven year old human. On the far end of the life, the analogy is also inapposite. A dog of ten years is almost certainly better off than a human of seventy.

The reason for this difference demands reference to Darwinian principles. To survive in the nomadic pack, dogs could not afford the lengthy weaning period of apes and humans. Nor could they survive the lengthy decline of health and vigor we associate with aging. If life could be depicted by a line chart, a human’s life would be more like a parabola, while a dog’s would be a long straight line preceded by a steep rise and ending with a precipitous drop.

Of course, now that we have reduced dogs to the status of pets, replacing the cruel truths of the pack with the pampering attentions of loco parentis, old dogs suffer age related ailments and are just as miserable as old people.

Well, almost as miserable.

We don’t know if dogs sense their impending death. We humans do and as we get older it becomes undeniable, rushing inexorably closer each moment. But for most of us death doesn’t come suddenly. It follows a long slow painful and increasingly miserable decline

My son is now thirty and in his recent visit I noticed that he has many grey hairs. Thankfully, his generation’s life expectancy will be far longer than mine. Medical advances will probably also soften the decline of his life’s parabola.

But these innovations can only delay, not eliminate the sadness that comes with awareness that you are on the downside of the parabola, life’s roller coaster ride. When I was a kid in Coney Island, I always knew when the ride was ending, slowing down after the final thrilling turn. As the car stopped, the bar unlocked and I wanted to go round again.