Thursday, December 10, 2009

What would Winston Smith be saying?


Above is my copy of 1984. You cannot have it--in fact nobody can have it. If you want it, you will have to fight me for it. More importantly, if the government, police, some internet company, et cetera want it, they will have to forcibly attempt to enter my home to even get near it--and they better bring plenty of ammunition.

With that said, the first of the web destinations I visited for my presentation, was an entry on Jonathan Zittrain's blog, and was entitled "Orwellian Indeed." Basically, the article, or blog entry, or whatever the proper term is, is about Amazon's ambiguous--yet potentially ominous--faux pas with, ironically enough, George Orwell's 1984, and Animal Farm. We have talked about this enough times in class, so I shouldn't have to get to far into what Amazon did. It should be enough to say that some Kindle users had these two--fitting--and incendiary classics deleted from their "readers." Zittrain's blog entry briefly discusses some of the different implications of a company like Amazon being able to do something like this, and of course, the implications of institutions beyond Amazon being able to do something like this. For instance, he writes: "Another fascinating aspect of the Cloud [his term for the intangible world of all things "virtual"]: everything is rented rather than owned, and can be taken away with only a refund to show for it." Awesome!

He then includes a response he elicited from Amazon's Director of Communications, Drew Herdener (which might attest to Zittrain's qualifications and credentials), alleging that the were removed due to copyright issues--basically he says that the books were put in Amazon's archives (Jesus, is that the right word?) by "a third-party who did not have the rights to the books." Herdener says that the deletion was the only way for them--under the current circumstances--to deal with the situation, and concludes by assuring Zittrain that they are attempting to change things, so that they will not have to delete people's books in the future. Kind of sketchy if you ask me.

The last entry pertaining to Amazon's ominous imbroglio, that Zittrain posts, is the extremely humble and self-deprecating apology that Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos made to the public. "Our 'solution' to the problem," Brezos says at one point in the apology, "was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully our of line with our principles." To this, Zittrain writes that it is "hard to ask for more than that." I do not know if I agree, because that just sounds like an ingeniously crafted act of PR.

The site that this article is found, is basically a site dedicated to Zittrain's book, The Future of the Internet: And How To Stop It. In the brief description of the book's content on the home page, Zittrain refers to all of the novel little gadgets that we have today, as increasingly being "tethered appliances." This means that they are increasingly becoming "products that can't be easily modified by anyone except their vendors or selected partners." Of course, the other--perhaps primary--concern is the increasing ability of "Big Brother" to look into our private lives. The site seems fairly well up to date, and all of the links are current and operating (if that too is the right word?). Zittrain's list of credentials is fairly voluminous, and includes a number of formidable scholarly positions and achievements, so in addition to the "domain" being a ".org," this site, book, and article seem to be fairly dependable. And with regards to being able to contact him, well, there is a blog, and an ongoing discussion, so I would say accessibility to the author is pretty much unlimited.

My second web destination is an essay entitled "Is the Internet the Harbinger to Orwell's Nightmares?" It was written by what looks to be a freelance "web developer" named Peter Braden. The essay is convincingly argued, and highlights a number of different ways that the internet seems to be manifesting circumstances--Orwellian circumstances--seen in Orwell's 1984. The essay is separated into five different sections: "Censorship," "Rewriting History," "Privacy," "The Internet Against Orwellianism," and the conclusion. He begins each section with a passage from 1984, and then discusses a modern circumstance that is similar to something that Orwell is describing in his book. For instance, he starts the section on rewriting history, which focuses on what something like Wikipedia is doing to the validity of information, and how corporations and the government get "in there" and tamper with stuff, with the following passage from Orwell's book:


"If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened--that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death."


I don't know about that though. As we all saw in the filmic adaptation in class, it is quite literally a "no-holds-barred" torturathon when the Party wants it to be (that rat scene bad enough in the book). 

Despite what seems like it would have the potential to be an acute instance of "technophobia" (any time I see the word "Orwellian,' I figure the potential for fanaticism is there), this essay is fairly positive, and definitely pro-technology. Braden just seems to show a sincere concern for warning signs that the abuses are indeed possible--if not inevitable. 

With regards to the credibility of the site, well, it is basically a really fancy blog--the domain is the U.K.'s version of our ".com." The site includes Braden's photography, a number of other completely unrelated essays, and his resume--in other words, the site is a fairly unapologetic display of "fawning self-promotion." Which is fine, I guess. This like the other web destination that I am looking at, do not contain any of those little advertisements that one finds at the New Yorker's site or anything...but...both of these sites are basically commercials for Braden and Zittrain. Other than that, the only money anyone is looking for, is, funny enough, a link to Pay-Pal on Braden's site, so you can "Buy [him] a drink." This site, like Zittrain's, contains updated links, that all seem to connect (damn, once again, is that the right word?) to the site that they are supposed to link to.

Despite the fact that Braden's site is in a "domain" equivalent to our ".com," his essay is thoroughly and convincingly argued," and despite any questionability of the source, a well formulated and argued assertion is difficult to ignore.