Author Archives: davidbanks

A Few Notes on #TtW15

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Photo By Aaron Thompson

I was happy to see Theorizing the Web go so well for so many people. The committee has been getting a lot of positive and constructive feedback and we’re reading all of it. If you feel so moved to write your own reflections on #TtW15 please send them our way. Last year, my post-conference thoughts were all about labor and the dangers of doing what you love. That’s still a problem ––TtW relies almost completely on volunteer labor–– but this year I’m thinking more about the institutions that prop up the typical Hilton-hosted conference model and make it difficult, if not financially impossible, to have more events like Theorizing the Web.

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How Databases Will Change the 2016 Presidential Race

Image Credit

Image Credit

The 2016 presidential race has already started and it’s easy to get caught up in the horserace and forget about all of the technologies and tactics that campaigns employ to get their message out. The 2008 Obama campaign was the first to take full advantage of social media and eight years later these tactics seem to have become the new normal. It is now possible to deliver precisely tailored messages for key demographics and even individuals. American presidential campaigns have never been models of democracy but with the help of private databases and corporate collusion, the 2016 presidential race is shaping up to be a very murky process. (more…)

Good Encryption Doesn’t Make Good Government

Image Credit: Kris Krüg

Image Credit: Kris Krüg

When someone starts talking about privacy online, a discussion of encryption is never too far off. Whether it is a relatively old standby like Tor or a much newer and more ambitious effort like Ethereum (more on this later) privacy equals encryption. With the exception of investigative journalism and activist interventions, geeks, hackers, and privacy advocates seem to have nearly universally adopted a “good fences make good neighbors” approach to privacy. This has come at significant costs. The conflation of encryption with privacy mistakes what should be a temporary defensive tactic, for a long term strategy against corporate and government spying. It is time that we discuss a new approach. (more…)

Would if… Nah it’ll never happen.

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I started writing something about funding community media houses using fees extracted from cable companies, something that local governments will have more political leverage to do with this recent FCC ruling, but as I look back at the dissenting opinions from the Republican commissioners, and the palpable fear of claiming anything close to regulation in the final FCC order, I feel pretty deflated. Don’t get me wrong, its good that net neutrality was preserved, but we should also call it what it is: holding ground. This wasn’t a step forward, it was a lot of work and campaigning just to keep a not terrible status quo. (more…)

Why Do Many Reasonable People Trust Science?

I have a secret to tell all of you: I kind of don’t care about teaching evolution in science classes. Put another way, I’m less than convinced that most people, having learned the story of species differentiation and adaptation, go on to live fuller and more meaningful lives. In fact, the way we teach evolution ­­––with a ferocious attention toward competition and struggle in adverse circumstances–– might be detrimental to the encouragement of healthy and happy communities. I also see little reason to trust the medical community writ-large, and I cringe when a well-meaning environmentalist describes their reaction to impending climate change by listing all of the light bulbs and battery-powered cars they bought. I suppose –given my cynical outlook– that the cover story of this month’s National Geographic is speaking to me when it asks “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?” Good question: what the hell is wrong with me? (more…)

The Conspicuous Absence of Solidarity

The slain, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

The slain, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha

My small city of Troy, New York is drawing up a new comprehensive plan. Lots of towns and even universities do this from time to time as a way of coordinating and re-aligning the institutions and organizations into some kind of general direction. These sorts of moments encourage individuals to be reflective as well as divisive. There’s a lot at stake (or at least it feels that way) and people feel the need to protect what they see as threatened by change, or go on the offensive and try to root out what they see as a long-standing problem. More than anything, these sorts of comprehensive planning efforts force us to confront our everyday lives as a set of conditions and decisions that exist outside of our control but are ultimately steerable if enough political will can be leveraged, if enough organizing around a particular issue gets done. Last night, a wide variety of people came together to discuss what they thought was working and what was needed attention in our city. (more…)

The Tyranny of Small Town Internet

The Albany New York Town Hall

The Albany New York Town Hall

 

It is certainly good news that the Obama Administration has come out strong for net neutrality. The President recently made an announcement that his office would help promote local broadband competition as part of a broader effort to improve the country’s data infrastructure. More specifically, the federal government plans to help municipalities develop their own data networks, fight state laws that prevent municipal governments from offering public broadband options, and help small businesses compete in local markets with companies like Verizon and Time Warner. The chairman of the FCC followed suit by announcing (in WIRED Magazine…?) yesterday that he would be circulating a proposal to apply Title II to telecom companies and mobile phone carriers, effectively making it illegal to throttle connections based on what sorts of services you are connecting to. This is all good news but I’m also hesitant to trust local authorities with my internet connection. Aren’t these the same governments that defend murderous police forces and cooperated with the federal government to shut down political dissent? Why should these organizations control the network? While I am definitely not a fan of huge telecom corporations, I don’t trust my local government either.  (more…)

We Are More Than Our Brains

an outline of a human head and a brain inside of it made from neon lights.

image source.

NPR launched a new show this month called Invisibilia that “explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” The show’s hosts Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller are great personalities and the show is beautifully edited in a way that doesn’t reach the Reggie Watts-esque soundscape of Radiolab nor does it stick closely to the dry public radio persona that has been lampooned countless times. I was, however, really disappointed when I learned that the huge topics under investigation in this show would only be understood through “psychological and brain science.” There are a lot of different disciplines that can be brought to bear on huge topics like “ideas” so why are we getting another show that confuses humans for brains? (more…)

#OpCharlieHebdo is a Terrible Idea

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On January 9th, people donning the symbols of Anonymous promised a “massive reaction” to the shooting deaths of over a dozen people in Paris. Posted to YouTube and Pastebin under the hashtag #OpCharlieHebdo, Anonymous proclaimed, “It’s obvious that some people don’t want, in a free world, this sacrosanct right to express in any way one’s opinions. Anonymous has always fought for the freedom of speech, and will never let this right besmirched [sic] by obscurantism and mysticism.” Obviously what happened in Paris was a despicable act and I have little sympathy for the perpetrators but their actions weren’t random. What happened in Paris is the beginning of a fight between fanatics who hold polar opposite views on free speech and the battle lines being drawn are dangerously close to the ones that outline the War on Terror.  (more…)

Neither Here Nor There

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image credit

Just seven days in and 2015 has already given us two tough events to deal with: the bombing of an NAACP office in Colorado Springs, Colorado and a shooting in Paris that seems to have targeted the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. Out of what seems to be sheer luck, no one was killed in Colorado but 12 people are reported dead from the shooting in Paris. Both events are tragic, scary, and infuriating, but only one seems to be getting front page mainstream news attention. (more…)