Tag Archive: internet

Johnathan Franzen delivered the commencement address at Kenyon College this year. It was a profound meditation on our relationship to the technological world of our own invention. Almost a Dr. Frankenstein and his monster story, Franzen shines a light on our near-romantic levels of fixation on gadgets and internet alter-egos. The harshness of his condemnation is tempered considerably by the dispassionate accuracy of his assertions.

Somehow Franzen manages to blend spot on critique of the narcissistic nature of a lot of social media:

We click the mouse and a machine confirms our sense of mastery. And, since our technology is really just an extension of ourselves, we don’t have to have contempt for its manipulability in the way we might with actual people. It’s all one big endless loop. We like the mirror and the mirror likes us. To friend a person is merely to include the person in our private hall of flattering mirrors.

With breathtakingly frank observations about fear, pain and love

When you consider the alternative — an anesthetized dream of self-sufficiency, abetted by technology — pain emerges as the natural product and natural indicator of being alive in a resistant world. To go through a life painlessly is to have not lived.

The speech is one of the most thought-provoking investigations into the ramifications of our techno-universe and beyond that I have personally encountered. Every word should be read, savored and possibly read again. As much as I’d like to insert the whole thing here, clinking a link hopefully won’t prove so great a hurdle that you’ll deprive yourself of his brilliance. Franzen adapted his speech into an essay published in the New york Times OpEd pages last month. Do yourself a favor and find a way to follow that link.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are.




One of our favorite Pioneering spirits here at Net Positive, Douglas Rushkoff, has recently launched the Contact Summit. Just about 6 months away, this counter-conference as Rushkoff lovingly refers to it, will take place in the big apple on October 20th. Our favorite part is the non-heirarchical structure. All attendants are also presenters if they so choose. The whole event is designed with collaboration in mind and all are welcome to bring their projects to the table. Sounds like a priceless opportunity to mix it up with people who are walking the walk. Here’s the intro from Rushkoff:

We might open with some short “provocations” from people in the field sharing their greatest challenges, but the object of the game is to spawn, share, and develop our hopes and dreams. What will come out of this process is anyone’s guess. At at the very least, we’ll convene meetings about the ideas we care about, and vote on the ideas we want to pursue and push forward. We’ll have a giant Bazaar where everyone can demo their works in progress for one another and seek help, customers, or collaborators. We’ll have the chance to get the advice of leading technologists, entrepreneurs, and theorists on our work, and to educate ourselves about what everyone else is doing.

More than that, we will have planted a flag in the sand that social media is evolutionary in spirit, and capable of addressing the greatest challenges facing humanity at the brink of economic, ecological, and cultural crisis. And to celebrate this fact.

Social media is about more than socializing or creating affinity groups around consumption preferences. If you want to counter the commercialization of this incredible part of the commons, this seems like the chance to do it.

photo: tourism-review.com

The beauty of the internet is its freedom. Everyone with something to say can be heard. If not by the world, then at least by a few more people than they might be able to reach with only their vocal chords (or even a pad and pen). This has helped to usher in the most momentous moment in human history.

Our ability to communicate freely together, without the intrusion of corporate interests trying simultaneously to sell us and censor our press, has played a significant role in speeding up the pace of change in the world. Finding a way for 7 billion people to communicate is no small task and it does present some challenges even as we overcome so many boundaries to become the most connected humans in history.

A favorite refrain of those threatened by the internet (usually at their pocketbooks), is that it is dangerous and unreliable, filled with unscrupulous people spreading lies and misinformation. On any network as immense as the internet, there will be some who negatively exploit the opportunity it provides. The vast majority, though, are people with the best of intentions seeking the truth and speaking from the heart.

Now comes the challenge. With so many well-meaning voices, opinions, stories and thoughts out there, how do we narrow our window onto the world enough to be able to take in the view? It’s very easy to get deafened by the cacophony, give up and reach for the old standbys in defeat. Suddenly you realize that the internet is just another outlet for the same perspectives brought to you by your television, and then what have you really gained?

Lately I’ve been taking advantage of the RSS feed option on many of my favorite info/ news blogs. The fact is, when your interests are diverse and there are a multiplicity of outlets feeding each of those interests, it can be hard to keep up. Having all the most interesting sites appear together on one page goes beyond convenient, it makes it much more likely that you’ll even take the time to check in and bone up on all the new developments in the world. Think of it as your own Huffington Post. On that site, Arianna and her team select the voices for you based on a clear set of ideals. It’s one stop shopping for politics, current events, gossip and more politics. Imagine how much better that could be if you were your own curator. Sounds like a task, but it’s surprisingly simple and the work is done only once for a lifetime of easy access to stuff you’re actually interested in. Google reader is my choice since it’s accessible from my email, but there are many more.

When it’s strictly news I’m after, Twitter has become my go to. Again, it’s like you’re the curator/ editor of your own newspaper. You choose your writers and columnists and then let them fill your screen with all manner of interesting current events. No filler, no advertising, not even too great of an effort to get it up and running. In fact, you don’t even need to bother tweeting yourself to follow along with others. One of my favorite tricks is checking the profiles of the people I’m most interested in to see who they follow and then linking up to the ones that look interesting. This has really opened me to up to all sorts of interesting ideas and idea makers I might never have been exposed to. Needless to say, Twitter works especially well for a short attention span. Just beware of the overly prolific tweeter. Before you know it you need a machete to make it through just one person/ groups posts and all the others get lost in the frustration of having to scroll forever just to find them.

Now if you want things even easier, I recommend the site that I check more than any other. Chris Martenson’s website is so chock full of critical information you could spend days or months there without a second wasted. I highly recommend taking in his vitally important Crash Course in its entirety. This is a presentation he put together over 5 years of extensive research and offers for free to all. A former Pfizer exec living the full American Dream, this man saw the writing on the wall and made some major changes. If his information wasn’t inspiring enough, his example certainly should be.

Beyond the extensive archives and resources, the site has something called the Daily Digest that should be essential reading. Martenson and his team have their finger on the pulse. See for yourself. You can have an email sent with the Digest or hook up to the RSS feed for it. Once you’ve seen a few, you’ll probably want to join Martenson’s very fortunate members and get even closer to the oracle himself. For a small fee your membership will give you access to Martenson’s personal posts and alerts. You’ll never feel more secure in your understanding of the global picture than with this guy whispering in your ear.

So there you have it. This is how I drown out the noise and zero in on the essentials in this vast internet universe. If you value the access and honesty brought to your life by this invaluable tool called the internet, maybe you should join the cause to make sure it stays open and free to everyone. For more on the issue of net neutrality, here’s a great article.

photo from Ad Majorem Blog