Sunday, May 3, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Are You Sure You're 18?

For the past week my productivity has been completely shot. As a result of being unproductive on the internet, I've lost all sense of self. I find myself in a strange reality where I can't differentiate between my own identity and that of a 33 year old in Oregon who works as a personal trainer. It's all thanks to the wonderful site that is Omegle.

Upon visiting the site, it's purpose is immediately apparent. There is no navigation, or list of links. There is simply a banner declaring, "Talk to Strangers!" and a button that allows you to do so. All of the chat is anonymous, and so far as I can tell, completely unmoderated.

After having a few boring conversations with people from Brazil (Most of the people on Omegle during the day seem to be from Brazil. Most of them are boring) I met a guy from Oregon. We had a long talk. I basically spent the night with this guy. What I was struck by, as how open that people are willing to be when they think they are anonymous. After his I had another such conversation. Then another.

Then, I started to use the personalities of the previous people I had talked to, in new conversations. Despite the fact that I was completely full of shit, I still got what I perceived to be juicy and honest responses to my queries. But what if all of the other people were doing what I was doing? After a long and circular discussion with my self, I have arrived at my current state of confusion.

One of the beauties of anonymous culture, is that it allows us to be anyone we want. It causes us to realize the fundamental truths of being human, through complete obliteration of self. Whether or not the people I chatted with were genuine, is unimportant.

I could continue that rant further, but I'm sure you understand my vague point. I would urge all of you to try out this service, as it is great fun and extremely intellectually stimulating.

I've saved all of my convos, and if I feel it is appropriate, I may post them here. So keep your eyes open.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Have Your Cake, Or Don't

Last week I posted bloopers from Google street view. Scroll down in case you missed a fantastic series of snapshots that captured a kid falling off of his bike. It's perfect. You can see the moment that the van startles him, and then his classic, feet in the air, rolling plummet to the pavement. I love it. I know exactly what that kid on the bike is going through. The dissociative moment of confusion when your brain first registers that something is wrong. Instinct takes over, your eyes close, your limbs flail. Then a flash, followed by a mental reboot. It all comes back to you after the fact, and by then it's too late to recover. Anyone who saw is already laughing at you. And in this kids case it's a little more extreme. Sure in the heat of the moment the laughter might hurt you, but everyone is laughing for a reason. They relate. Falling off of your bike is one of those humiliating shared experiences. Like spilling a drink or having someone walk in while you're masturbating, it's these moments of vulnerability that people can relate to. I wonder if that kid knows how many people have laughed at his moment?

"Google Maps is some ill shit... As much as it helps. It makes me wonder .... Can they see me pee." This well put quote from Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids probably sums up what you are thinking at the moment. The amazing services provided by Google and countless other sites do present a dilemma. Should we be worried about our privacy?

Granted, the chances that it will be you falling off of your bike when the Google van drives by are slim, but the issue remains. Anyone with a computer could easily track you down using little more than your IP address, and then look at satelite photos of your house. They could find a picture of you on Facebook. Oh God. Just think of how much they could do!

On the surface this seems like a warranted knee jerk reaction that I would expect people to have. Surprisingly though, I rarely hear any suck concerns. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad that the news hasn't been flooded with interviews of distraught people worried that Google is destroying America. Maybe I'm just cynical, but this pleasant surprise puzzles me.

There are only two possible reasons that there hasn't been a paranoid outburst against Google. Either people are dropping their insecurities, and allowing themselves to be more open with each other, or they simply have no idea.

I would like to think that it's because we are gearing towards a less paranoid, less fearful society, but somehow I doubt it. Still though, I am glad that the vocal minority hasn't taken huge issue with this yet. Even if they aren't knowingly being more open, I think that it is likely that the gneration coming up now, the ones who were born with Facebook, will inevitably be more open, and less fearful of each other. They will be used to having that photo of them, caught in the throes of a vulnerable moment, preserved for all to see.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

For Your Consideration: Google Street View Bloopers

When you take pictures of every street in the entire country, you are bound to come up with some funny things. I have collected, and present here for your amusement, what I deem to be the best of said "things." Enjoy.

And now for the best thing ever:





For more visit Street View Fun.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I Know You Never Ever Read The User Agreement

How does it feel knowing that all of your personal information is in the hands of a 20-something CEO who is desperately trying to prove to investors the he can turn a profit on the internet? Well if you are one of the many users of Facebook, this is the situation you are in, and as CEO Mark Zuckerbeg recently proved, he is willing to go behind your back if it means turning a profit.

Recently Facebook pulled a fast one and changed their user agreement without so much as a post to the news feed. This would be fine if it were simply smoothing out the wording , or clarifying a point. Unfortunately it was a bold authoritarian move which can be summed up with the words, "I own you ." With the change, Facebook declared ownership over everything that you post, including contact information, wall posts, and even photos of yourself. Not only did they declare permanent ownership of what is currently posted on Facebook, but also what has been posted in accounts that have been deleted. It was only after a bored anon felt like rereading his user agreement, that the change was reported to several internet watchdog groups.

Naturally, the response from the public was overwhelmingly negative. A massive Facebook group was constructed within a day protesting the change. Zuckerberg tried to explain it away as a simple clarification in policy, rather than a regime change. Luckily no one drank the kool-aid, and the policy was changed back several days later.
While I don't think that Facebook should have the legal right to change their user agreement without first notifying their users, it does hit upon something that has always bothered me about how people use the internet. You know all of those boxes below long bits of text that you so flippantly click when signing up for a new online service? I know yo click them without reading the agreement. I know you think to yourself, "well if this were a bad thing to sign, it wouldn't be allowed." Wrong.

One thing that most people fail to understand is that the internet is quite literally the wild west of technology. It is relatively unbound by law, and the laws that are in place are so sparsely policed that if you wander outside of the sheriff's territory, you had better be ready to defend yourself. Luckily that isn't as hard or as dangerous as it was in the old west, but it does mean that if you aren't watching out, you can sign a whole chunk of yourself over to another entity with just the click of your mouse. Using social networking sites, and the internet in general, is somewhat of a Faustian bargain. You can have anything you want, but you can not have yourself. You can't have your privacy.

Whether you like it or not, once you post something to the internet, it's no longer private. I don't care how many passwords you have on that Photobucket account, or what you changed your privacy settings to. If it is on the internet, and someone wants it, it's as good as theirs. Take this into consideration. Employers scan Facebook when screening employees. Just because that photo of you passed out in a public restroom is for friends eyes only, doesn't mean they won't see it. More than likely they will. Now imagine that Facebook has a price for this information. They don't even have to break in or use a backdoor. This same price is offered to advertisers who want to know what you buy, how old you are, and where to send the spam to. Not only this, but even if you delete your account, Facebook is holding onto this picture for possible blackmailing opportunities in the future. (An extreme vision of the future, but a possible one)

What Facebook did was shady, but well within the limits of acceptability. Don't expect this to be the last time that Facebook, or other sites try to mislead you. At this point in time, Zukerberg is backed against a wall, pinned down on all sides by investors wondering where their millions are. Do you think they will listen when he tells them the internet doesn't function in the same way as the real world? More than likely, he will try to use what he has to make their millions, and when it comes to Facebook, all he has is what you post.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Internet's First Top Model

In 2000 The Guenis Book of World Records was the shit. It had a big shiny cover, a picture of Dancing Baby, and a half page spread of Cindy Margolis in a purple bikini. She was holding down the record of "Most Downloaded Woman." Looking back on it I can almost picture the out of touch executive giving the order to cram the book full of that internet thing. At the time it wasn't hard to pick out the new hot thing, but the speed at which culture moves on the internet has been increasing exponentially. It seems impossible to me that anyone holding down a day job would have time to keep up with it, which makes me wonder if the creators of the hit show America's Next Top Model were really aware of what they were doing when they chose Allison Harvard to be on the show.

To a large population, Allison Harvard is known as Creepychan, and has been since around 2005 when her pictures were posted to an online image board. Because of her enormous eyes, and creepy photos she quickly developed a devout and obsessive following. Did someone at the CW know this? Is this why she was chosen? I seriously doubt it.

In the proud tradition of reality show web sites, a popularity poll was posted. Before any of the other contestants had broken triple digits, Creepychan was ahead by several thousand votes. Last I checked she had 96% of the vote, and it was rising. All this thanks to a massive push from people determined to prove their devotion. I would imagine that this has left the webmaster baffled, the producers jubilant, and instilled a deep feeling of insignificance in the other models.

It will be interesting to see how this season unfolds, which is exactly why people should take note of this. I hate the show, but will I be tuning in? Yes. Intentionally or not, this show has just connected with a rather sizable audience who would never have previously considered watching. Let's see if they tune in as well.