Democracy, Gunpowder, Literacy and Privacy

In an important sense, privacy is a modern invention. Medieval people had no concept of privacy. They also had no actual privacy. Nobody was ever alone. No ordinary person had private space. Houses were tiny and crowded. Everyone was embedded in a face-to-face community. Privacy, as idea and reality, is the creation of a modern bourgeois society. Above all, it is a creation of the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century it became even more of a reality. [p. 258]

In a time when amorphous “rights” to privacy seem to be multiplying like wildflowers, this is an important insight from Friedman. In my opinion, many of the creative privacy theories being concocted today are often based on false nostalgia about some forgotten time in the past when we supposedly all had our own little quiet spaces that were completely free from privacy intrusions. But as Friedman makes clear, this is largely a myth. It’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate issues out there today. But it’s important that we place modern privacy issues in a larger historical context and understand how many of today’s concerns pale in comparison to the problems of the past.

So writes Adam Theierer in “Privacy as ‘a modern invention’,” quoting Stanford law prof Lawrence Friedman.

Medieval people also didn’t have democracy, gunpowder or widespread literacy. That makes none of them the creation of “a modern bourgeois society.”

It’s a tad embarrassing, really.

Maybe, with more time, there would be more context which I could find.

How to Present

As I get ready to go to South Africa, I’m thinking a lot about presentations. I’ll be delivering a keynote and a technical/managerial talk at the ITWeb Security Summit. The keynote will be on ‘The Crisis in Information Security’ and the technical talk on Microsoft’s Security Development Lifecycle.


As I think about how to deliver each of these talks, I think about what people will want from each. From a keynote, there should be a broad perspective, aiming to influence the agenda and conversation for the day, the conference and beyond. For a technical talk, I’m starting from “why should we care” and sharing experiences in enough depth that the audience gets practical lessons they can apply to their own work.

Part of being a great presenter is watching others present, and seeing what works for them and what doesn’t. And part of it is watching yourself (painful as that is). Another part is listening to the masters. And in that vein, Garr Reynolds has a great post “Making presentations in the TED style:”

TED has earned a lot of attention over the years for many reasons, including the nature and quality of its short-form conference presentations. All presenters lucky enough to be asked to speak at TED are given 18-minute slots maximum (some are for even less time such as 3- and 6-minute slots). Some who present at TED are not used to speaking on a large stage, or are at least not used to speaking on their topic with strict time restraints. TED does not make a big deal publicly out of the TED Commandments, but many TED presenters have referenced the speaking guidelines in their talks and in their blogs over the years (e.g., Ben Saunders).

Ironically, he closes with:

Bill Gates vs. Bill Gates
Again, you do not have to use slides at TED (or TEDx, etc.), but if you do use slides, think of using them more in the style of Bill Gates the TEDster rather than Bill Gates the bullet point guy from the past. As Bill has shown, everyone can get better at presenting on stage.

bill-vs-bill.jpg

I’ll be doing some of both. As both Reynolds and Bill understand, there are better and worse styles. Different styles work well for different people. There’s also a time and a place for each good style of presentation. Understanding yourself, your audience and goals are essential to doing any presentation well.

Of course, style only matters if you’re a professional entertainer, or have something interesting to say. I try hard to be in the latter category.

If you’re in Johannesburg, come see both talks. I’m looking forward to meeting new people, and would love to hear your feedback on either talk, either on the content or the style.

TSA Kills Bad Program!

The government is scrapping a post-Sept. 11, 2001, airport screening program because the machines did not operate as intended and cost too much to maintain.

The so-called puffer machines were deployed to airports in 2004 to screen randomly selected passengers for bombs after they cleared the standard metal detectors. The machines take 17 seconds to check a passenger and can analyze particles as small as one-billionth of a gram. (“An Airport Screening Program Is Killed,” New York Times

Via Froomkin. I hear they’re investing the saved money in a porcine catapult.

[Update: It turns out that TSA will not be allowing pigs to fly. Their implanted ID chips are not government issued, and when challenged, they do not demonstrate a willingness to cooperate with the TSA officials. Sorry.]

Web 2.0 and the Federal Government

This looks interesting, especially in light of the launch of data.gov:

The Obama campaign—and now the Obama administration—blazed new trail in the use of Web 2.0 technology, featuring videos, social networking tools, and new forms of participatory and interactive technology. This event will feature government, technology, and new media leaders in addressing the special challenges and opportunities of doing Web 2.0 in the federal government. Please join this exciting discussion moderated by American Progress Senior Fellow Peter Swire, who also served as counsel to the New Media team for change.gov and the revision of whitehouse.gov.

Panelists:

  • Tim O’Reilly, Founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, Inc.
  • Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, charged with blending new information technologies with diplomacy.
  • Faiz Shakir, Research Director for The Progress Report and ThinkProgress.org at Center for American Progress Action Fund.

It will be webcast, details at Web 2.0 and the Federal Government

Giving Circles and de Tocqueville

There was an interesting story on NPR the other day about “giving circles.” It’s about groups of people getting together, pooling their money, investigating charities together, and then giving money.

The story mentions how the increasing bureaucratization* of fund-raising leads to groups whose involvement is “I write them a cheque each year.”

It also mentions that the folks doing the investigation end up volunteering their time and getting involved:

“Even if we don’t feel like we’re giving away a lot of money, I think it’s just building in commitment that’ll expand to other things that we do,” she says. “So beyond our involvement in this giving circle, I think we’re all probably going to be more engaged with our communities overall.” (“Donors Turn To Giving Circles As Economy Drops“)

de Tocqueville would be shocked, shocked to discover that actually speaking to other people would increase civil involvement. But as we bureaucratize, background check and formalize every bit of volunteering, more and more people choose to stay away.

*The spell checker knows that word. How sad!)

Can’t Win? Re-define losing the TSA Way!

We were surprised last week to see that the GAO has issued a report certifying that, “As of April 2009, TSA had generally achieved 9 of the 10 statutory conditions related to the development of the Secure Flight program and had conditionally achieved 1 condition (TSA had defined plans, but had not completed all activities for this condition).”

Surprised, that is, until we we saw how the GAO had defined (re-defined?) those statutory conditions in ways very different from what we thought they meant, or what we think Congress thought they meant.

Read the details at “GAO moves the goalposts to “approve” Secure Flight

Just Landed in…

Just Landed: Processing, Twitter, MetaCarta & Hidden Data:

This got me thinking about the data that is hidden in various social network information streams – Facebook & Twitter updates in particular. People share a lot of information in their tweets – some of it shared intentionally, and some of it which could be uncovered with some rudimentary searching. I wondered if it would be possible to extract travel information from people’s public Twitter streams by searching for the term ‘Just landed in…’.

just-landed.jpg

This is a cool emergent effect of people chaotically announcing themselves on Twitter, a MetaCarta service that allows you to get longitude/latitude and a bunch of other bits all coming together to make something really cool looking.

Via Information Aesthetics

Need ID to see Joke ID card

A bunch of folks sent me links to this Photography License, which also found its way to BoingBoing:

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Now, bizarrely, if you visit that page, Yahoo wants you to show your (Yahoo-issued) ID to see (Matt’s self-issued) ID.

It’s probably a bad idea to present a novelty version of a DHS document to law enforcement.

It’s a worse idea to live in a country where someone sees enough harassment of photographers to design such a thing so well.

The very worst idea, however, is to discover pressure to send the whole thing down the memory hole.

Twitter Bankruptcy and Twitterfail

If you’re not familiar with the term email bankruptcy, it’s admitting publicly that you can’t handle your email, and people should just send it to you again.

A few weeks ago, I had to declare twitter bankruptcy. It just became too, too much. I’ve been meaning to blog about it since, but things have just been too, too much. Shortly after I did, The Guardian published their hilarious April Fools article about shifting to an all-twitter format. I found it especially funny because they made several digs at Stephen Fry, the very person who drove me to twitter bankruptcy.

In Mr. Fry’s case, he’s literate, funny, worth listening to, and prolific. These traits in a twitter user are horrible as his content dominates the page over all the other tweets. The problem was twofold: I couldn’t keep up with Mr. Fry alone, and yet having removed him, a graph of the interestingness quotient of my twitter page resembled an economic report.

I discussed this with some other friends, one of whom is my favorite twitterer, because he has some magic scraper that puts his tweets into an RSS feed on his blog and I can read them at my leisure.

I opined that what I really need from twitter is streams separated into separate pages with metadata about how many unread tweets there are from each person I follow, and a way to look at them in a block. That way, I can look at Mr. Fry’s tweets, note that there’s a Mersenne prime number of them unread, and catch up.

In short, I want twitter to either an RSS feed or an email box. Either is fine.

One of my friends said that perhaps what Mr. Fry should do is put his tweets together into paragraphs, the paragraphs into essays, and then collect the essays in a book.

She also pointed out that twitter is perhaps the first Internet medium which does not level social hierarchies, but creates and reinforces them. The numbers of people following whom, who is attentively watching whose tweets and so on recreates a high-school-like social structure.

This brings us to #twitterfail, the current brou-ha-ha about a change in twitter rules in which direct messages only go to people who are following people who are following those who are following — someone.

The #twitterfail channel is a bunch of people retweeting that they think this is a bad idea. There is apparently no channel for retweeting if you think it’s a good idea.

Valleywag thinks it is a good idea in their article, “Finally, Twitter Learns When to Shut Up,” pointing out a Nielsen report that 60% of new twitter users drop out after signing up. This might be a way to cut down the noise level for people who are newbies, according to Valleywag.

Others see it as a way to further reinforce the status hierarchies. The brash and ever entertaining Prokovy Neva says:

What [various twitterati, none of whom is Stephen Fry] all have in common is an overwhelming desire to have lots of “friends” who follow them, but they want them to be loyal, positive, and not talk back, except to warble about how they’ve read their books or gush about how wonderful they are.

What they definitely, definitely DO NOT like is when people they aren’t following talk back to them using @. They hate it. It gets them into a frenzy.

I think they’re both right. I think that the sheer noise level of twitter combined with a wretched UI makes it unusable for people who have a long multitasking quantum. My twitter page goes back a mere seven hours, and Beaker has only said one thing (I hope he’s not sick). If I go to a long meeting or get on an airplane, I’ve lost context.

There are two behavioral feedback loops I see. Sometimes one twitters because one is twittering, which drives more twittering. The other is that one is not twittering because one is not twittering which drives not wanting to look at twitter.

Cutting down on the noise level would help people get into twittering, but not as much as Valleywag thinks. Twitter’s systems and subsystems are power-law driven (which is the same thing as saying they’re human status hierarchies). If you’re a newbie, noise isn’t really the problem, the problem is figuring out who you want to follow and wondering why you should bother tweeting into an empty room.

Prokovy Neva is right, too. The social circles that twitter creates are lopsided, and power-law in scale (which is why the whale is up so much). An even playing field for replies means that people who have lots of followers but follow few others not only don’t see messages from people they don’t know, but can have a nice civil public conversation with the few people they follow without having to know about the riff-raff. Right now, the downside of having lots of followers is that you can be on the receiving end of that power law. Over the long haul, that will lead to self-monitoring on the tweets, having tweets handled by assistants (which already goes on), or just giving up on it all.

I suspect that twitter will reverse this change (if they haven’t already) at least in part because there’s no channel of retweeting for people who like the change. Perhaps most of all, I think they realize that reinforcing the hierarchies to that degree would indeed make the twitter fad fade even faster than it would otherwise.

That seems to itself be inevitable, since it’s now been reported what should surprise no one — spammers are gleaning email addresses from tweets in real time as well as using twitter trending to drive uptake. That tweeting opens one up to spam will tend to put the brakes on it.