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Blog Topic 6: A World in Which Florida Decides

In Uncategorized on October 26, 2010 at 5:00 pm

 

On particular passage in Garrett’s book stuck with me as I read, and largely informs my feelings as they relate to politics and the power of the internet:

As Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg told the Post, the parties were “so evenly matched at the moment that all the incentives are to be careful.” It wasn’t that there weren’t big ideas out there to debate, but Clinton’s programmatic successes and the recent political fascination with invented electoral subgroups like “soccer moms” and “NASCAR dads” had narrowed the political worldview. “We have tactical elections, we don’t have big elections, because there’s every prospect that you can win by thinking small,” Greenberg said. “There’s a temptation to find one small group that gets you a couple of extra percentage points, rather than thinking grander.

As students of public relations, I think all of us can recognize the inherent truth in these words. For some of us, segmentation is a welcome trend, and an exciting one. It allows us to stop wasting our time and money trying to target a blanket audience in which only 10 percent of listeners are actually receptive to our message. And, as Greenberg points out, it allows politicians to isolate the small groups of people who are most likely to radically alter the outcome of elections – groups that don’t vote but could be motivated to quite easily and with little cost, segments of the populace whose overwhelming interest in knitting pink socks is found to correlate with a strong antipathy towards abortion and therefore indicates an opportunity for conservatives, people who trick-or-treat into their forties that turn out to be an untapped (and cavity-ridden) subgenus of rabid liberal thought.

So what’s the problem? As a self-proclaimed liberal-leaning pragmatist, why should I care what group is discovered to be the key to Democratic success in any given election? Why should I be concerned with campaigns’ new-found ability to locate and maximize the lifeblood of these groups via online tools? I find this new ability to isolate and mobilize untapped, previously loosely-defined support groups and online opinion leaders concerning for one reason: It gives politicians and their campaign leaders reason to ignore broad swaths of the voting populace whose votes are already all-but ensured and instead focus attentions on microcosmic groups whose support may be largely predicated on only a few issues, issues that perhaps should not be of primary focus. I fear that the pendulum is now mid-swing between the former land of ineffectual blanket campaigning that was too broad, emotional, and vague to truly appeal to any one person meaningfully and a new world in which campaign messages are razor-sharp and effectual, but targeted only to those groups deemed to be game-changers, be they pink sock knitters or acrobatic circus performers of Russian heritage. In this new world, politicians and their web teams will spend ever-increasing amounts of time and energy trying to figure out which groups are the Floridas of any given election — that is, which (potentially poorly-motivated or poorly-informed) self-identifying groups will be the key that unlocks the door to an oval room or a plush seat.

Okay, story time!

If you’re from Oklahoma, you can go to Disney World on vacation, but you’re not getting the Florida Residents’ All-Access Discount Pass. Nobody is going to care if your floating log got stuck at the top of Splash Mountain and you suffered tachycardia as a result but can’t afford medical care because you just spent the last cent of your unemployment check on one last family vacation. No one is going to care that you can’t afford to send your kids to Mickey’s Acting School because the tuition is obscene. No one is going to care that you think there should be a stuffed animal in the gift shop that costs less than $40. That is, no one is going to care until you move to Florida, take up pink-sock knitting, and transform yourself into a crucial portion of the anti-abortion demographic Republicans are counting on to lock-in the 2040 election.

The end.

I exaggerate, of course, for effect. The point being, in this new world of targeted online campaign appeals, a lot of groups whose concerns and interests are both legitimate and crucial may end up being ignored by politicians looking only for a golden ticket into the chocolate factory. And Democrats will be no less guilty of this than Republicans (in fact, if Garrett’s citation of their early internet dexterity is any indication, they may indeed be more guilty). And maybe, if it wins an election and your party is back in power, you don’t care how they get there.

This past week, I was struck by something I read in a New York Times article about Democrats distancing themselves from, and even blatantly expressing hostility towards, Nancy Pelosi in order to garner the votes of their heavily anti-Pelosi districts. Pelosi’s response? “I just want them to win. They know their districts.” Epochal humility, isn’t it? And perhaps that’s how I should feel towards targeted campaign marketing. But I don’t.

Because I don’t want to live in a nation in which the Floridas of the world become the power brokers. Nor do I want to vote for politicians whose efforts to identify potentially obscure key election constituencies and ignore those whose support they take for granted (and who value big-picture issues) is rewarded with a seat in the House. The beauty of the internet lies in all those things Garrett points out in his book: the new-found power of average citizens to have their voices heard across a country and in the once-impregnable halls of power that they have never seen firsthand, the competition posed to the mainstream (and often soft-shoed) press by more tenacious and inquisitive citizen journalists and bloggers and the resulting improvements to the democratic environment it offers, and the inability of candidates to continue to get away with being one person in front of the cameras and a horse of a different color backstage. There is no more off-camera, and off-the-record will be the next to go. And this is all well and good, or at the very least bearable. But I fear that this new world of democratic dialogue will quickly devolve into a land in which there are so many power brokers and opportunities for Madison Avenue-inspired segmentation that the webroots will become both shallow and crowded-out by mutations of their original species.

***

As for Barack Obama, I exude little passion for what many see as a revolutionary campaign that broke ground by harnessing the potential inherent in internet campaigning and fundraising. Did Obama raise gobs of cash via a proliferation of small online donations? Yes. Is this inspiring? Yes. Is it cause for hope that the smaller voices of average people can be organized online to accomplish something spectacular? Yes. Yes, yes, yes to all of these things. I do not discount any of it. But I also do not fail to recognize that much of this originated not within his campaign, but within the passionate and enterprising minds of those who truly believed in Obama as a candidate on a very human level. Look at the young men who created the Myspace and Facebook pages in support of Obama’s candidacy. David Ploufe didn’t call them and ask them to do so. They did it because they were inspired by a hope and an idea that the country could travel along a different path that the one it has been moored to previously. And one of them was not at all rewarded for his efforts. I wonder if Joe Anthony ended up voting for Hillary.

This bottom-up online phenomenon certainly benefited the Obama campaign, and even if they themselves didn’t originate all of the online efforts that so aided their victory, they were quite savvy in harnessing and embracing them. In all fairness, they did have models (the Dean campaign, McCain’s online fundraising efforts) to look to for inspiration. But to give credit where credit is due, Obama did break more ground on the new era of web campaigning than had been broken previously. The fact that he was the first major-party presidential candidate to turn down public financing since the system was created in 1976 is reflective of his early confidence in his ability to gain significant traction amongst donors online.

So what was Obama’s promise, bargain, and tool? I suspect that every person will come up with radically different answers to this question reflective of their own opinions and passions regarding the 2008 campaign. For instance, I was a Hillary supporter right up to the end of the possibility of Hillary. Therefore it would be easy for me to view Obama’s pledge, bargain, and tool as 1) carrying forward Hillary’s fervor for universal health care and education, 2) voting for him and in return having my own interests as a former Hillary supporter considered with equal seriousness as long-time Obama supporters, and 3) using both Hillary herself and online media as a tool to appeal to my inherent liberal-leaning nature and convince me that just because Hillary was out did not mean that I was.

In a more general sense, however, I view Obama’s promise to have revolved largely around his broadly supported desire to wrench the political mechanism from the entrenched Washington elites who had controlled it for so long, and instead place it in the hands of the ordinary Americans for whom the mechanism was supposed to be working in the first place. Obama’s bargain was two-fold – in order for us, the people, to benefit from such a change in standard Washington practice, we would have to both vote for Obama and contribute personally to efforts towards this change (One of my favorite quotes to have ever left Obama’s lips was, “We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”).  His tools were various – using social media and online expertise to rally young voters and harnessing and organizing the online power of those who had taken it upon themselves to independently create their own disparate pro-Obama sites and groups were both of paramount importance. However, so were his grassroots efforts to reach minority populations, particularly African Americans who had not previously participated in elections due to feelings of disenfranchisement. Furthermore, Obama’s sage maximization of celebrity supporters like Oprah and the Kennedy family were very important tools. And this list is by no means exhaustive.

Did Obama come through on his promise, bargain, and tool? I don’t know. I am not willing to pass judgment one way or another at this point. Yes, it’s been two years (what some Americans apparently consider enough time to completely fix the diseased system and reverse the worst economic plight in over fifty years). In my opinion, unless you wage a war that is obviously based on an unsubstantiated premise or decide to publish a little red book, two years isn’t enough time for me to pass judgment on you.

In many ways, particularly regarding his desire to change the way Washington works, the President has had the best of intentions. I really do believe he is as frustrated with the political machine as most of us are. But I also think he was either incredibly naïve in his campaign promises or exaggerating for the sake of garnering votes. And after reading Game Change, I think the latter of the two is the more likely scenario. Obama’s years spent in the Senate prior to his presidential bid were more than enough time for him to realize that no one man could overhaul the functionality of the clogged U.S. government.

But the thing that most disappoints me is his lack of tenacity. He spent his first year in office letting both the Republicans and a few impractical staffers set the rules of the game, squandering a period in which he had the best chances to push through strong legislation. He was in charge, he had a majority in both houses, and what did he do? Acted like he didn’t. Easier said than done, I know, but I am disappointed nonetheless. I have always been a fan of Obama’s eloquent and somewhat level-headed presentation style. But he should have known – if you’re going to continue to speak softly, you’re going to need a bigger stick. Or a fire iron.

I do feel that he used the tools of his campaign well and really harnessed an inspiring, collective populist voice to tell the story of his bid for the White House. But somehow, unfortunately, Republicans have hijacked this innocuous populism and have turned it into something that I view as both dangerous and disturbing (and I feel really badly for someone I actually admire greatly — Olympia Snowe). As Paul Krugman pointed out today, “The tragedy here is that if voters do turn on Democrats, they will in effect be voting to make things even worse. The resurgent Republicans have learned nothing from the economic crisis, except that doing everything they can to undermine Mr. Obama is a winning political strategy. Tax cuts and deregulation are still the alpha and omega of their economic vision. And if they take one or both houses of Congress, complete policy paralysis — which will mean, among other things, a cutoff of desperately needed aid to the unemployed and a freeze on further help for state and local government — is a given.”

Obama has done his best to uphold the tenet of “campaigns are conversations” throughout his tenure. He continues to give online addresses, continues to speak to the American people over the airwaves even when it’s not yet time for the State of the Union. But the very revealing quandary of this is that it doesn’t seem to equate to our voices really being heard. People are desperate for jobs. And even with an open-access email address, even with Youtube appearances, the administration doesn’t seem to have felt the direness of this need. Obama’s stimulus, though far better than no action at all, fell short of the level of support truly needed. And while I recognize the truth of the “do what you can with what you have” philosophy (there’s only so much you can do with such an ineffectual government, after all), I am beginning to question how much power this online revolution of millions of voices really has when there seems to be a ceiling to the level of action it can prompt. We may be able to get a candidate into office, but after that, we may find that there isn’t even any room for us to be a mere cog in the machine. The walls of ivory towers are thick indeed, and even if we are occasionally allowed inside, our access and influence is limited by who we know (or don’t know) and what we bring to the table (or the gifts we don’t come bearing).

Maybe Shirky’s philosophy applies here – he said we don’t really care that everybody is coming; we only care that the people we care about are coming. Perhaps government is no different. Campaigns like the internet. Candidates feel its power and figure out how to make it work for them if they are smart. But perhaps they are viewing it from a Madison Avenue window seat. They don’t care that we’re all coming. They only care that they can access an entire contagion of anti-abortion pink sock knitters with two clicks of a mouse and BADA-BING – half a million votes! Cynical? Yes. Unfounded? I don’t think so.

A campaign is not a presidency. And as I think we are finding out, a promise, a bargain, and a tool, even when effective, aren’t enough to save us from the threats to democracy that proliferate at a faster rate than students can graduate from college. Because the bottom line is this: you may like your promise/bargain/tool. It may be brilliant. It may have a base that is one million strong. But someone else has a very different promise/bargain/tool. And theirs may just have hit a million and one.

Blog Topic 5: Google, scary?

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2010 at 11:46 pm

 

When I moved back to New York after college, I suddenly found that I had far more friends than I realized. People with whom I hadn’t had conversations with since freshman year suddenly decided to contact me a month before making a trip to the city, casually inquiring as to whether or not I had a couch or, at the very least, an air mattress that they might “borrow” (in much the same way as someone borrows a sheet of paper — you know that train isn’t coming back to the station).

Except in cases in which I literally didn’t know the people, I was pretty amenable to having houseguests, even those of a fair-weathered variety. I was working for peanuts at the Historical Society, and knew all too well what a limited budget looked like. Besides, it was nice to reconnect with people.

In April, I received a request from a legitimate friend to come and stay with me. Though we had fallen out of touch, we had been very close as kids, and I was excited that she wanted to come and stay with me, as she had relocated to the south and wasn’t in New York often. It was the first time that my visitor didn’t fall into one of the typically clear-cut categories: people I knew I wouldn’t hear from again after their visit, and people who knew everything about me and/or shared my blood type. This was different. This was someone who had known everything about me when I was seven, and knew next to nothing about me at 22.

I prepared for my friend’s arrival (let’s call her Heather for the sake of brevity) the same way I prepared for any houseguest: I brought the vacuum cleaner out of its early retirement and shoved all books that wouldn’t fit onto the shelves into the oven (What? Carrie Bradshaw kept sweaters in hers!). In other words, I immaculated the environs.

But before Heather climbed off the subway at 72nd Street, I thought of something I hadn’t considered with previous guests. My computer. I was going to be working while Heather was visiting, and never brought my laptop to work. This had never been a consideration before. I don’t troll Satanist websites or have files of dwarf wrestling or anything incriminating on my computer. But the thought of leaving something so personal out in plain view and even inviting its use gave me pause. Here was someone I hadn’t really connected with since out fourth grade field trip to NASA space camp. Did I really want to leave a record of my entire post-Tamagotchi-era life on my desk? After all, I had no clue if Heather had developed nosy habits over time. For all I knew, she could have been Valerie Plame’s replacement.

Why do I relate this story? Because for two days, I ended up bringing my laptop to work with me. Not because I didn’t want Heather to find out that I had a Word file called “StuffWillFarrellSaid.doc” or because I was afraid she’d glean and steal my idea for a company designed solely to execute flash mobs around a variety of themes (1960s-1980s flash mobs = Flash Backs!) based on my Goole search history. I couldn’t care less if she knew this stuff. In fact, I hoped we’d re-connect enough over the course of her visit to delve into our respective quirks. But I wanted to tell her these things, have conversations. It was kind of akin to how it bothers me when people form impressions of others based on their Facebook pages prior to even meeting them. I mean, by all means, if you post it, I guess it’s your problem if you’re judged for it. But still. The idea rubs me the wrong way.

At first, the question, “Should we fear Google?” didn’t inspire much passion in me one way or another. I was borderline apathetic about it. Even as I read John Battelle’s book and applied my traditional scribbles over the pages, I was unsure how I felt. And I relate the Heather story because it helped me frame the question and decide my position.

I don’t fear Google. To me, it’s akin to fearing Shrek. I mean, have you seen this logo? They can’t even be scary when they’re trying to be!

That being said, much unlike the psycho-profile of engineers that Battelle discussed, I know I trust others too implicitly. But half of this trust is based not on my inherent optimism at the impeccable morality of mankind, but on myself. I haven’t ever chosen to reveal anything online that I would care if my mother saw. Maybe this sounds borderline sanctimonious – I hope not. I just haven’t. Maybe I’m not interesting enough. The most incriminating thing that you’ll discover about me if you dredge into the black hole of Google is an article in which I almost praised the Red Sox. And therefore, I feel no reason to fear Google. Yes, someone can find the geographical coordinates of my house using WhitePages.com, and yes, they can see what it looks like if they are feeling particularly stalker-ish. Yes, my credit card information is traveling through the mysterious ether of cyberspace when I decide I need those squirrel-shaped salt and pepper shakers from PotteryBarn.com. And yes, I should probably be more concerned, or at the very least, cautious about these things. But I don’t feel at all worried by them.

Why? Because I feel that the long tail, in a crazy way, protects me from the very medium that gave birth to it (for the purposes of this particular discussion, Google). If my credit card information is misused when completing my Pottery Barn purchase, I trust that both Chase Manhattan and Pottery Barn will fear the stigma of a tarnished reputation and long tail-executed backlash too much to ignore my problem. I trust they will deal with it accordingly. I trust that, in the end, the odds of something irrevocably catastrophic happening as a result of my regular employment of a search engine is quite remote. Especially if I, as a relatively evolved mammal, exercise common sense when using it.

No, the thing that scares me isn’t Google. The thing that scares me is that the majority of internet users may one day come to agree with Battelle’s extreme portrayal of Google. I found Battelle’s book fascinating, especially since the author came from a social anthropology background (something I can relate to with far more ease than I can the tech backgrounds of the previous authors we have read for class). The irony, though, is that I thought there were far more basic human truths in the other two books (The Long Tail and Here Comes Everybody) than in The Search, despite the author’s sociological background.

Not that I didn’t enjoy the book – I found Battelle’s explorations of the Google marketing, hiring, and business schemes very interesting. But I couldn’t quite move past the annoyance I felt when reading chapters one and two. A random selection of things that stuck in my craw…

On page 17, Battelle implies that Google is the Force that can unlock the answer to the question, “What does the world want?” (Last time I checked, the world wasn’t a unilateral being with one set of tastes.)

On page 13, Battelle writes, “Search is frought with nearly paralyzing social responsibility.” (So is investment banking, and look how that turned out…)

On page 10, he says that via Google, we have “taken our once ephemeral and quotidian lives and made these actions eternal.” (I’m pretty sure the bite of bagel I just ate is going to forever remain ephemeral and quotidian.)

On page 9, he implies that Google is the force most likely to make The Matrix real. (If so, I choose the blue pill.).

On page 6, he claims that search is the aggregate thoughtstream of humankind. (I guess this means the thought stream of humankind doesn’t include much of Africa and South America).

On page 3, he claims that Google is holding our culture by its thoughts. (I never imagined Google as Clyde Barrow until this sentence.)

Page 4 details how his Mac is a more important anthropological artifact than Hadrian’s Wall or the ruins Pompeii. (I watch enough Bones to know that’s not true.)

First of all, to that last one, WHAT? And as for the rest, WHAT?!?! If I felt that he were not completely serious about some of these statements, I might cut him some slack, and even agree with him for the sake of argument. But as I read, I felt like he was in a committed relationship not with the three children and wife mentioned on the inside flap, but with GOOGLE.

I get his points. Google is a fascinating reflection of (SOME PEOPLE’S) thoughts and interests on a (NON-PERPETUAL and NON-ALL-INCLUSIVE) regular basis. It reflects the rise and fall of (SOME PEOPLE’S) tastes and interests. It is a fascinating conduit for (A CROSS-SECTION OF) consumerism. And perhaps all of this should have me shaking in my boots. But it doesn’t. Mostly because I think that if everyone in the world were given a laptop and Google homepage and used the search engine five hours a day every single day of their life, the percentage of innermost human thought and feeling captured in its caches would still be minimal. Because if words are not even enough to adequately describe and make tangible the human condition, how can GOOGLE?

I won’t have nightmares about Google hiding under my bed. But I do fear waking up one day and finding that the general population has decided, like Battelle, that Google is our brain made visible. I do fear that the two-to-three word Google query will become the standard in offline verbal communication. I do fear that along with a NYC subway map and directions to Magnolia Bakery, Heather will one day feel that Googling me is an adequate substitute for asking me about my life, and vice versa.

I can eat a bucket of popcorn in a dark movie theater while Charlie Chaplin waddles into a sunset. I can go home, pull up Google Chrome, log onto my blog, and write about the taste of that popcorn and the crackle of those old film reels. I can tag the post, and it may appear on Google. Someone may find that post in a search, read about my popcorn and Charlie Chaplin, and decide to replicate my experience. They might go to the theater, buy the popcorn, and sit in the exact seat I did. But they won’t have the same experience, and they will find that what they found in their search, what they read on my blog, can’t really describe what they feel in that seat.

I agree with Battelle about one thing. What is the point of the internet if you can’t find anything? Google has made the internet useful. It helps me find things. But it doesn’t tell me what I’ll feel and experience when I do.

And that is why I am not scared of Google. Steal my credit card information if you want, hack into my Facebook. Whatever. You can’t take anything from me via Google that I find of eminent value, anyway.

And now, I’ll leave you with something that has nothing to do with anything but the picture at the top of the page:

Response Post 1: Overheard Everywhere, via Erika

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2010 at 11:38 pm

I went into my weekly perusal of last week’s blog posts knowing that I wanted to write a response post. I also knew the task of choosing who to respond to was going to be a hard one; everyone’s posts, as pointed out in class, have been, in a word, awesome. It is one of my favorite parts of the week to sit down and read them (I usually spend the first hour of my Thursday workday doing so…shh, don’t tell).

This past week, it was Erika‘s post on the quote community that spurned thoughts about my own borderline — I’m just gonna say it — completely abnormal obsession with quotes and words. Erika, you’ve inspired me! I henceforth pledge to be more organized about how I manage my collection of thoughts. Because up to this point, my efforts to this end have resembled an episode of Hoarders.

Given that I work in the editorial department of a publishing house, maybe my affinity for words can be perceived as something less than the rabid geekiness that it actually is. And I don’t just mean words in books. I means words in magazines, words on billboards, words on clothing labels, words standing alone, words strung together into nonsensical haikus, and — best of all — words that form thoughts that I use to understand and define my life.

For much of high school, I attended a school for the arts (read: I was in good weird company), and in one of my theater classes, we were encouraged to write all over the walls of the classroom so that by the end of the year, our thoughts, lines, and things we had overheard would be staring back at us. On any given day, you could have walked in and seen a student reading a set of lines off the wall over and over again with a variety of inflections and intonations and think that you had mistakenly walked into a revival of the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. The room was painted over at the end of the year, and part of the intrigue of the whole thing was that you knew that eight years of thoughts existed underneath your own, but you would never know what those thoughts had been. Had someone else quoted George Costanza? How many classes had had the nerve to leave Shakespeare out of the mix? Did the frequency of swear words increase over time? Is there a paint remover in existence that is gentle enough to answer these questions? The only one of these questions I can answer is the last, and I suppose that’s the point.

Regardless, I think that it was this classroom that conditioned me to covet the concept of haphazardly recorded thought. I was already enamored of language. I first became interested in theater not because of any desire to stand in front of hundreds of people and be blinded by 500 degree lightbulbs, but because I loved to read. And truly good plays and films are created by a bunch of bibliophiles, people who first and foremost loved a good story marching across a white page. As an only child whose mother was an English Literature teacher and whose house held more books than it did shelves to hold them, a good chunk of my childhood was spent entertaining myself by pressing my fingers to pages. Ironically, prior to the wall-writing class in high school, I lived in fear of physically maligning books. If my mother caught me so much as thinking about dog-earing a page from a book, even if it came from the library and not our own shelves, I was given the evil eye. And to write in a book? Such an unimaginable act was beyond my comprehension. Upon finding words written in the margin of library books, my mind jumped to what unimaginable tortures my mother would have in store for such depraved rubes.

Flash forward to the present. Ever since I was encouraged not only to mark favorite passages in pen, but use them as wallpaper, I have formulated a shorthand quote denotation system that would make John Dewey turn over in his grave. If you were to ask me to hand you my copy of any of our books for class, you would likely gasp at what lies inside. Underlining, a variety of symbols that strongly resemble emoticons, dots, arrangements of dots, letters, brackets, and emphatic exclamations all riddle the pages of almost any book I have purchased within the past six years.

The system has evolved (or, more accurately, devolved) since I first created it. It began with feather-light underlining in pencil in Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, my favorite book of all time. I was re-reading it my freshman year of college, and kept coming across lines that were like emotional sucker-punches in their creativity. And I guess it hit me that if I could highlight my copy of Waiting for Godot for class (largely to keep from falling asleep while reading it), it would probably be acceptable to the Gods of Literature if I did a bit of carbonite pencil underlining. But oh, what a slippery slope it was.

Underlining in pencil turned into underlining in pen, which turned into writing a lower-case “w” next to words I didn’t know, which was supplemented by uppercase “Ws” for words I did know, reminding me to somehow work them into my own writing or a casual conversation about what was in the dining hall teriyaki sauce (whatever it was was so obviously piquant). This turned into drawing lines down the sides of entire paragraphs to signify their brilliance, question marks to indicate an author who obviously had no idea what the heck he was trying to say (so how could I be expected to?), “Qs” for quotes to be written down in some tasteful compendium at an undetermined later date (riiiiiiight), “Ps” for interesting phrases, exclamation marks for blatant truisms, and most recently, “WTFs” for, well, you know… To loan someone a book quickly because a very personal undertaking not unlike handing someone a diary of my most intimate thoughts.

And it didn’t end there. My fascination with the thoughts and words of others extends to music, to film, to climbing on the train every morning. Too self-conscious to bring a pen and paper to the movies, I would overhear a good quote five minutes into a film and spend the remaining two hours not paying attention to the plot, but repeating the line over and over to myself in the hopes that I would remember it by the time I got back to the nonjudgemental environs of my dorm room.

The advent of iTunes and music that spanned beyond the bleak Top 100 rotation of radio stations meant that my quote/thought recording system had to be expanded even further to encompass all of the songs that could populate my playlist if only I could figure out what they were. By sophomore year, my Facebook page was receiving as much traffic on Thursday nights at 10:05 pm as the rest of the week combined. The posts? “Kate, what was that song that was playing in the background on Grey’s tonight when Meredith punctured the dude’s heart with her fingernail and his internal cavity was becoming engorged with puss? Man, that song SPOKE to me…” And I always had the answer, because next to my computer were two hundred sheets of paper folded into various powers of two, lined every which a way with my scribblings of song lyrics. The TV had to be on Volume level 99 to ensure I could hear the lines and either write them down or Google them in real time. And that was just the music! These random sheets also contained such pearls of wisdom as:

“I think all anyone really wants in life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich.” – Liz Lemon

Which, in rushed Kate shorthand probably would have originally been documented as,

“I thnk all ne1 rlly wants n lif is 2 sit in ☮ & eat a snwch.” – LL

I had hundreds of these depressingly origami-ed sheets “organized” in the immediate vicinity of my desk. This complex filing system involved me shoving all the sheets into folders or the giant tupperware box under my bed along with concert ticket stubs and random ephemera from memorable occasions (the “VW” pried from the hood of my totaled car [not my fault!], a Wonder Woman Halloween costume, my hurricane preparedness kit…). I had gone from a borderline-acceptable pencil graffitiing of Toni Morrison to full-scale, anti-intellectual maxim collecting in less than four years. And the internet was officially encouraging my bad habits.

And then something wonderful happened. Something that, at the very least, promised my return to the manageable tip-of-the-iceberg of my quote collecting (my emoticon-ish book scribbles). I got a Blackberry. And the best feature on this blessed piece of techno-wonder is that it can hold a nearly unlimited umber of LISTS. Lists! Of QUOTES!

Using my Blackberry, I’ve made Overheard in New York look like a slipshod excuse for a compendium of random thoughts. I have a “Daily Overheard” list for unclassifiable things I hear (“I’ve MET your dad. He has high cholesterol and a tattoo on his forehead. But he LOOKS healthy.” – Bankers on lunch break, Starbucks Wisconsin Avenue, September 13th, 2010). I have an “Only in DC” list (“By the way, it won’t be the first time I’ve lost a deal because my guy ended up in jail.” — Starbucks, Union Station, August 13th, 2010). I have a “People Who Are Smarter Than Me” list (“Every time I take off my sunglasses it’s like going from being blind to being…not blind.” — Outside Dupont Starbucks, September 2nd, 2010). Apparently I also need a “Starbucks” list. Then there’s my book quotes list, my lyrics list for things I overhear and want to Google later, and, perhaps most importantly, my film quotes list. I no longer have to worry about forgetting a particularly good line — I can just stick my hands inside my purse and type it into my list without setting off the blatant Nerd Homing Device that a paper and pencil brought into a megaplex would be.

Erika opened my eyes to something, though. As nice as it is to be able to leave a movie with my quotes safe in my Blackberry, as many Ingrid Michaelson concerts as I have enjoyed because of my initial ability to Google an obscure lyric, I miss the days when the collective thoughts of a cross-section of mankind lived in rubber-band bound bushels under my bed. Not because I like owning an archive of cumbersome paper junk, but because I don’t think there is anything quite like documenting a thought with a pen or reading something that I can relate to from a page made from a murdered tree. And though I literally have no room in my apartment to resuscitate my initial system, I think I am going to pull out that Moleskin notebook I bought at Barnes & Noble trying to be like the cool tortured writer kids in Greenwich Village whose coffee is as black as their nail polish (a look that somehow I don’t think would work for me. But I do like the tiny subway map on page three that allows me to look like, “Um, yeah I know how to get to Mosholu Parkway in the North Bronx. Don’t you?!”).

Erika also introduced me to some interesting quote portals I didn’t yet know of. My favorite has always been BrainyQuote and Goodreads, simply because between them, they seem to have the broadest selection and allow me to save and compile my favorites easily. But ultimately, Google is the Garden of Eden of quotes for someone like me, whose queries should often be expected to yield no results. To the brilliance of Google, there have only been a handful of times that I have not been able to find a song, quote, or source that I was looking for, even when armed only with information like, “song lyrics: garden gate…arms…waiting…gotta feel…”

John Battelle claims that the beauty of Google is that “it’s driven by the unimaginable complexity inherent in human language.” He’s right. It is the beauty and it is the wonder. Out of nearly infinite combinations of words and numbers and languages, that Google can give the name of an unrecorded song, retrieve an obscure film that flopped at Sundance in 1998 based on a line of four words, and know that when I type, “yellow gun metrics,” what I really mean is “Gold Guns Girls, song by the Canadian band Metric,” is pretty amazing. But not as amazing as the fact that half of all searches use only two or three words, two or three words that unlock the collective memory of human civilization.

You can probably guess what my answer to the “Should we fear Google?” question is going to be.

All this being what it is (a typically rambling post not really about anything in particular except how awesome Erika is for writing about quotes), the event that will ultimately mark my move from the Land of Rent to the Land of Own will be words. No, I’m not going to torture some poor editor with a book proposal about the tribulations of a Millennial with a U-Haul buying her first one-bedroom. But you better believe that any domicile of mine is going to have a room wallpapered with human thought, from the inspirational to the inane. And all of you are invited to come over and write on my walls.

Blog Topic 4: The Long Tail of a Culinary Carte Blanche

In Uncategorized on October 12, 2010 at 10:55 pm

Fifteen years ago, if you told someone in Manhattan that you had grabbed lunch at a food cart they would likely look at you a if you were a) secretly bankrupt, b) conducting dangerous amateur experiments on yourself, and/or c) looking for a quasi-legitimate way out of Friday night dinner with your mother-in-law via internal self-mutilation.

The ill repute associated with the majority of New York food carts was always overblown, yet rarely questioned. Out-of-towners didn’t deign to even look the way of a Sabrett hot dog cart and squirmed at the thought of a hand reaching out from a shiny steel box to offer them a falafel. For the proliferation of over-priced restaurants in Manhattan, this meant profit fueled in equal parts by ignorance and snobbery. With the internet still in its nascent, pre-mass adoption phase (read: no effective way for foodies to connect), Petrossian was king and Nuts 4 Nuts was scraping by with a customer base comprised mainly of a few brazen locals and broke college students.

In 1995, I lived in a house divided. My family needed an automotive vanity plate that would proclaim our bitter internal disagreement over the locational origin of our next Würste. My father, ever the amateur chef and proto-foodie, stood in fanatical defense of the hot dog cart that was usually parked down the street from his office, from which he said he had taken one bite and seen God. To this day, his desktop background at work is this poetic homage to the food truck industry:

My mother responded with equal vigor in the opposite direction, passionately dropping words like “salmonella,” “ecoli,” and “scurvy,” the latter of which I now suspect she’s a bit confused on the specifics of.

Nevertheless, at eight, these words scared the bejesus out of me, and were enough to trump the magical smell radiating from a honey roasted nut cart. Experimentation be damned, my food would come from a proper grocery store in the proper form (e.g. the shape of a Lunchable, Capri Sun pouch, or a tape measure of faux-fruity fat). Because what could be safer than a pouch containing a cube of “cheese product” and a rubbery, surprisingly resilient stack of “turkey?”

With the exception of one foray into the genre of roadside boiled peanuts outside Savannah, Georgia, my food cart familiarity remained weak at best in the following years. My father continued to defend the wonder of meals on wheels, and my mother continued to look like she’d swallowed a lemon every time the topic was brought up. And then I went to college.

And thus commenced my era of reckless and unbridled experimentation…of food. I went to college in Miami, a city where food carts did not accompany virtuous pagans in the outermost circle of hell.  When you went to the beach, you went to the food carts. When you went to Coconut Grove, you went to the food carts. University of Miami had long since harnessed the trend and provided mobile campus vending services via…you guessed it, food carts. We had nomadic Starbucks food carts, dependably-situated breakfast food carts, and even a Latin food cart. I had platters of fried plantains on Calle Ocho, I tried juevos rancheros from a cart in Homestead. I deified the man outside the Orange Bowl who sold churros prior to football games. Some people seek revenge on the parents and their strict high school boundaries by doing the walk of shame. I just walked to food carts.

And then came Los Angeles. Before living in LA, my newly acquired fondness for mobile meals was just that – a fondness. But after a month in LA, it had turned into a full-scale interest, joining other weird inclinations including Humphrey Bogart movies, a musical genre that can only be described as “most likely to randomly be heard on Thursday night TV shows or while standing in line at Starbucks,” historical fonts, murder mystery parties, using Web MD to tally the number of unforeseen ways I might kick the bucket (Did you know that if your back hurts, you might be dying?), ironic Canadian signs, old maps, and, yes, knitting (though as of yet, I have not tackled pink socks). And this new formal interest in food carts, it turned out, was both made possible and fueled by the internet’s long tail.

Los Angeles, with its laid back creative culture and quirky sense of humor, was the perfect city to lead the food truck revolution. California has always enjoyed the benefit of a savvy tech culture whose web savants know that the internet is there not to extend the iron fists of corporations, but to alert the good people to a wicked delicious locomotive burrito. And alert us they did.

… … … … … …

My favorite line in Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail comes at the end of Chapter 7 when he concludes his thoughts on “the new tastemakers” by saying, “Soon everything will make it to market and the real opportunity will be in sorting it all out.”

Not only do I feel this simple thought to be the most poignant and important of the book, but I also do not fail to recognize the purely coincidental culinary language employed. “New tastemakers?” “Everything goes to market?” The puns are a stretch, and somewhat cringe-worthy, but they’re there nonetheless. And that irony was not lost as I read, knowing that I planned on writing this blog post about food. And to Anderson’s actual point, had it not been for the ascendancy of those men and women populating the internet’s long tail with an ever-increasing number of laudatory thoughts about Los Angeles food carts, the trend would likely have next gained momentum. My mom would still belong to a great majority of old-school critics blaspheming the food truck institution. As it stands, because of internet buzz, food trucks are the new Petrossian. There are multiple food cart festivals throughout the country – DC’s was just last week – and there are many social media sites that have pages devoted to mobile food fanatics.

There is a food truck Wikipedia page. Many cities now have their own food truck Facebook pages. Twitter pages, detailing the real-time locations of food trucks throughout various cities, abound. There are Flickr communities to prompt virtual cravings. There’s an Amazon thread prompted, of course, by a book. The are communities on Digg. There is this.

Los Angeles Magazine featured the food cart phenomenon, and it’s pride in having pioneered the trend, in its most recent food issue.  The first of many food truck blogs continues to grow in visibility and popularity with thousands visiting the site every day. Food Carts Portland even sells t-shirts on its site. Atlanta’s page includes a Cluetrain-esque manifesto (“Anyone who wants to sell food on the street will have to follow rules concerning waste disposal, sanitation, safe temperatures and the like, but too much protection of the consumer squelch a scene we feel is ready to roll. Let the revolution begin!”).

Articles have recently appeared in New York Magazine, A short Gothamist thread brought a surprising number of comments. In the Boston Globe, a Harvard Economics professor opined on the deeper significance of the phenomenon (…but isn’t it possible that we just have grown to like that hand reaching out and handing us a warm falafel nestled in cellophane?). And perhaps the ultimate sign that food carts have thoroughly saturated even the most square corners of the marketplace is the article that appeared in yesterday’s – try not to pass out – Wall Street Journal. If you follow the search query “food trucks” down the rabbit hole of the Google News, you will learn that LA is actually contemplating applying restaurant grading criteria to the once laissez faire carts.

All jokes aside,  the food truck ascendancy exemplifies the trends Anderson describes in The Long Tail. People, now having access to information about food carts and the ability to virally spread their enthusiasm, have created a growing trend that would have been unthinkable fifteen years ago. Not only is the ability to patronize food carts functionally facilitated by the social online community (How else would one go about finding their favorite cart on any given day?), but this same community has also created an entire subgenre of culinary specialization. And what does this mean? Along with the increasingly admired hole-in-the-wall gems that have always peppered our cities but flown beneath the radar of The Food Critics, we now have far more vibrant, unique, and affordable choices for dining.

Even more exciting to me is the fact that, because of this seemingly small phenomenon, we have more opportunities to connect in a very real way with interesting people who can improve the quality of our days, and therefore the richness of our lives (see last Friday’s Washington Post article). Frequenting a food cart isn’t like accompanying coworkers to Le Pain Quotidien for lunch. It’s more like getting your hair cut or going to the dentist. We all have to get our split ends trimmed, we all have to have fluoride treatments to prevent cavities, and we all have to eat.  These are commonplace, necessary activities. But if your hairdresser of five years is kind, if your dentist of eight years is funny, and if your food cart chef is there every Thursday with a quirky take on what goes on in the West Wing, these people become more than points of service. They become our friends, our confidants, our empathizers, and the people we think of as being on Our Team.

And all of this because the kids in Los Angeles liked their mobile tacos and thought it was time to share them with the world.

Viva la Revolución, indeed.

Personal Blog Post 1: My world in a bubble.

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 at 11:29 pm

When I was 11, the Metropolitan Museum of Art came out with what probably is the millionth version of a New York snowglobe.

My parents and I were on a December visit to the museum, a tradition that culminated with what is, and always has been, my favorite bastion of consumerism – the Met Store. There is something about the place that makes you feel that for once, by being materialistic, you are actually accomplishing something noble and erudite, that you’re bettering yourself in some absurd way simply by being in the presence of such overpriced refinement. I firmly believe that my IQ increases upon crossing the threshold and that the catalogue’s semiannual arrival in my mailbox completely cancels out my other, more incriminating geriatric subscriptions (Martha Stewart Living? Vogue Knitting? Who, me?).

The mazelike shop is organized into sections – books and calendars, apparel, tote bags, scarves, the most beautiful jewelry collection you will ever see, home furnishings, and a children’s section filled with what I considered a better collection of books than existed at the neighborhood bookstore. All of this stuck me as being much better than FAO Schwartz, whose aisles were littered half with boys’ undignified games and half with the undignified boys themselves.  And I was, after all, at the stage of circle-circle-dot-dot cootie precautions. The Met Store provided neither Star Wars Legos nor running noses, and it meant a few more minutes spent inside before plunging back into the tundra on 5th Avenue. So I was content to follow my mom passed pendants of Faberge eggs (which I thought came from artistic chickens) and stained glass scarves (which I thought came from artistic nuns).

But this was the year that my contentment with the gift shop detour would escalate into full-scale hysteria. Because this was the year that I saw it — object of all objects, toy of all toys, price-gouging of all price-gouging. Nestled sneakily on a bottom shelf in the calendar section (probably to avoid the attentions of clumsy, butter-fingered minors like myself) was the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York Snowglobe. I don’t remember the actual moment I first saw It, but I am pretty sure I probably emitted a melodramatic gasp and extended a hand in gimme-gimme-gimme longing. This, quite obviously, was so much more than a toy.

It is unclear how or why this particular item became a lifelong obsession. I didn’t have some extensive and obscure snowglobe collection, nor did I have a highly-evolved taste for water-logged toys. But from the moment my mother said, “No,” to my suggestion that she just go ahead and buy the item on-site on that day in 1998, I was enamored. I had to have the globe. And 12 years later, I would.

… … … … …

Four months ago, almost to the day, I could be found schlepping all of my earthly possessions (books, food, and back issues of Martha Stewart Living) into a double-parked truck on West 72nd Street, and U-Hauling it all out of Manhattan. I was moving to Washington, DC to enroll in a graduate program at Georgetown and try my luck in yet another city.

Notice I make no mention of the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York Snowglobe I had lovingly and carefully wrapped and packed and cushioned against my bedspread. That’s because I never got that snowglobe. Despite the weekly visits to the museum that defined my life in New York City, I had never invested in my hallowed childhood aspiration. I had wanted to purchase it prior to moving as a sentimental reminder of my life in New York, but moving occupied a great deal of time, and it just never happened. And it was still there, sitting on that bottom shelf next to calendars whose years got progressively higher in number.

… … … … …

Last weekend, I went back to New York for the first time since I moved away. I spent time with my best friends, raised my voice and dropped some expletives while watching a Yankee game, and playing Gin at night around a kitchen table. It was like nothing had changed — I had never moved to Washington, I had not been absent for summer outings in the Park, and I certainly had not forgotten my way around underground.

And this was no accident. Despite my self-proclaimed pride in my independence (I had, in the past, moved to Los Angeles, Miami, and DC without knowing a soul on the other end), DC Round 2 had been the most challenging locational readjustment of my life. I had come here once before for a summer internship, a situation for which the pressure was off, as I knew the experience to be of a limited duration. But for some reason, this move was killing me. I missed New York, and nothing reflected this nostalgia more than my online browser history.

On any given day this past summer, my computer could tell you that I visited Gothamist, New York Magazine, the local section of the New York Times, Overheard in New York, and even Subway Alerts many, many, many times. I would Google Street View my old street to see when and if any changes would appear. I would check the cupcake calendar on the Magnolia Bakery website because I am an obvious masochist and wanted to know the exact flavor of fat I would not be eating on any given week. I checked the listings at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and compared them to E Street. I Flickr-ed “Chelsea High Line,” “Riverside Park,” and “NYC Hot Dog Carts.” My desktop background changed from an image of the Brooklyn Bridge to a kid subtly and humorously picking his nose while he watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In short, I was using my time very productively.

Meanwhile, DC raged on outside my window. While not at work or school or e-stalking my ex-home, I would meet friends for a movie or dinner. To their credit, they are all wonderful people and did their very best to enamor me of my new city. But our two-hour conversations were challenged by my many-more-than-that-hour New York web life.

And my success at continuing to live my life in New York while not actually in New York became frighteningly apparent to me last weekend while back in New York. For the first time in my life, I was more informed of recent New York news and happenings than anyone I knew, but couldn’t tell my grandmother the first names of the candidates in the DC mayoral race if she paid me.

My weekend trip, of course, included a trip to the Met. And on my spin through the gift shop, I ended up where I always do: in front of the snowglobe, next to the calendars. And something struck me. I hadn’t bought the snowglobe before I left New York, and yet I had still found a way to trap that world inside a bubble. Instead of shaking a snowglobe every once in a while, I was spending a great deal of my time trapping New York inside my laptop. But I wasn’t shaking this recreated New York and letting the pieces fall where they may — it was shaking me and making it extremely difficult for me to adjust to and enjoy my new life in DC. And as much as I enjoyed been seen by my friends as an (albeit freakish) expert on Summer 2010 New York Goings-On-About-the-Town, I realized I was handicapping myself and sabotaging my relationship with Washington. I wasn’t giving it a chance. Yes, it is different from New York. And yes, I will probably always feel most at home in the place where sarcasm levels rival the altitude of the Empire State Building and every other conversation includes a Seinfeld reference. But I was, for the first time in my life, seriously abusing my usage of the internet and using it to inadvertently handicap my real life by instead choosing to live a life online. Which is a concept I have always hated, and a trap I have always thought it easy to avoid. It was time to reassess.

So I bought the snowglobe. It’s sitting on my desk right next to my computer. I’m going to shake it once now and head to DCist.com to see where I can find a pumpkin cupcake near L’enfant Plaza.

Blog Topic 3: Bill of Rights, Bill of Wrongs

In Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 at 10:04 pm

Should there be a Bill of Rights for the social web? In a word, no.

Upon early contemplation of the question, I was merely opposed to the idea for a few practical reasons. But after thinking further, browsing the justifications of other people, reading Clay Shirky’s book, and perusing the Open Social Web’s official forum, I now find the concept downright stupid.

First, a recap for the purpose of clarity. Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington of opensocialweb.org proposed the need for an online Bill of Rights. They outlined three primary goals of such a document: ownership of personal information, control over whether and how it’s used, and freedom to grant persistent access to personal information. This proposal was aptly first published in the form of a blog post in order to solicit discussion and debate amongst readers. And debate they did. Readers’ comments are as inspired, interesting, and impractical as the original idea itself.

Let me reemphasize that my first and primary reaction to such a declaration of rights is that it should not exist at all. That being said, like the Cluetrain Theses, I find the three proposals for the Open Social Web’s Bill to really be only one proposal (the right to exercise control over personal information) that is relatively limited in scope. Ownership and control of personal information is, of course, desirable and, at times, critical to our non-online lives (e.g. personal bank account information that is hack-able over the internet and the resulting depleted bank balance that is debilitating in real life). But endless other considerations of equal importance to online social activity exist: equality of opportunity for expression, a right to safely express one’s self without fear of dangerous retribution, etc. To attempt to identify all such “rights” and assemble them into a compendium is impracticality No. 1.

And now for impracticalities Nos. 2 through however many I end up ranting about…

How in the world could such a Bill of Rights be enforced? It couldn’t. And an unenforceable treatise is a useless treatise.  If online users wish to support the idea of an online Bill of Rights, fabulous. Even I agree with the tenets set forth on opensocialweb.org. But loose support does not equate to marked improvement in the morality and fairness of social web applications.

Most of the people who express support for the idea in all probability already follow the guidelines voluntarily, respecting the ownership of others’ personal information and safeguarding their own. As one Open Social commenter pointed out, the web doesn’t have the infrastructure to support the legal weight of any final wording decided upon for an online Bill of Rights. And I personally would rather the Supreme Court stay away from the whole issue. Isn’t it enough that corporations are now imbued with the glorified power of nearly unlimited campaign spending? If the issue of online rights were ever to enter the SCOTUS, I fear the outgoing result would be voting rights for websites.

For me, the biggest problem with proposing a Bill of Rights for the social web is the same problem I have with many of the sentiments expressed by Shirky and Scott Rosenberg (the latter of whom explicitly acknowledged the quandary). Both writers implicitly based many of their examples and arguments on a very black-and-white, right-versus-wrong structure when the web is the greyest of all grey worlds. Evan-versus-the-Sidekick-Thief. Flash mobbers-versus-flash crashers. Corporations-versus-consumers. Publishers-versus-subscribers. The problem with all of this, especially in the latter case, is that almost all of us play both rolls. The internet has turned us all into Janus, and the faces we reveal and masks we don online are dependent upon our own ever-changing situational needs and desires. Thus, in proposing a Bill of Rights for the social web, we may be protecting ourselves in one situation and incriminating ourselves in another. In the case of Evan, a legislated — or at least agreed-upon — right to control over personal information legitimates his mellow-dramatic crusade to recover his friend’s Sidekick (which was itself a piece of property and also contained a great amount of personal information). However, that same right to personal information might protect Sasha from having her personal photos uploaded to the internet and a video of revealing the location of her home from being posted.

Another problem I have with the concept of an online Bill of Rights, regardless of its content, is that it poses an ironic potential threat to the very concept of equality upon which the U.S. Bill of Rights was based. If a Bill of Rights for the social web were to be codified, solidified, and applied, it would, in theory, imbue users with heightened protection from those seeking to abuse their personal information, security, and privacy. What’s the problem with that, you ask? Nothing. The problem lies in the fact that even if everyone has an equal right to use the social web freely, many millions of people still have no access to the social web at all. And if social web users can converse and transact business more safely on the web because of a Bill of Rights, those who do not enjoy computer access are forced to socialize and engage in commerce in the hypothetically less-secure real world, thus creating…INEQUALITY! Oh, the irony. Now, I know I am taking this way too far and playing Devil’s advocate. But still. It’s something to think about…

Which leads to yet another dilemma: Unlike the U.S. Bill of Rights, a Bill of Rights for the social web would govern a multinational constituency. All of these constituents reside in nations whose governing documents vary radically and would inevitably, at least in some cases, fly in the face of any global web doctrine.  And in that case, a new problem arises: Which document would enjoy primacy? A government constitution and a codified set of laws hundreds of years old, or an online Bill of Rights? Who would decide? Will governments need to form online task forces? Will Hillary Clinton have yet another topic added to her global agenda? Will we have to call the UN? I am having visions of a V for Vendetta-esque global flashmob donning Guy Fawkes masks and gyrating to Run This Town (feat. Rihanna) just thinking about it.

The United States Bill of Rights was nothing more than a set of amendments to already-accepted standards of behavior (also know as the Constitution). And the only big amendment the web stands in need of is the same amendment that the physical world also often lacks – the need for common sense. If social web users exercised it more often, a Bill of Rights would be largely unnecessary. I think of logging onto the internet as an implied user agreement, kind of like the little box you have to check every other week when iTunes changes its download policies. Perhaps this agreement is too implicit. Perhaps web browsers need to automatically open to a page with a little box for us to check – “By using the internet, I agree to not make idiotic decisions.”

Clay Shirkey claims, “Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technology, it happens when society adopts new behavior.” In the case of the web, the new behavior has precipitated a new society, or at the very least an alternative one. While the online population can be no larger than the actual population, it is different. And like any emerging society feeling its way through its inception and civilizing itself along the way, we simply must hope that as the internet grows and becomes mainstream, a majority of its users will assume habits of propriety, respect, and common sense. The threat of being ostracized from the online community may seem ethereal but is, in fact, very real and very powerful. If people go online to connect and feel part of a greater force of humanity, ostracism from even this two-dimensional world can be devastating. And though it is never good to govern using fear tactics, a healthy dose of communal rebuke for those who abuse the tenets of online property, trust, and respect can go a long way. And firewalls can go even further.

I’ll close with a different kind of Common Sense, simply because I think the 1990’s were where it was at