Title graphic of the Moonspeaker website. Small title graphic of the Moonspeaker website.

Where some ideas are stranger than others...


The Moonspeaker:
Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...


Biohazard logo courtesy of Wikipedia. Biohazard logo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Wikimedia Commons, 2015

This essay began as a series of thoughtpieces written from the perspective of a person with experience of the web and the internet more broadly since the late 1990s. It is not about the technical ins and outs as much as it is a wrestling bout with what Jonathan Zittrain notes are social problems that need social solutions. There is plenty that is right about the web too, but it is not possible to correct what is wrong by pretending nothing is or claiming that perversely incentivized corporations and rich men will do it for us. This essay is not about the complex origins of the internet at large either, which has been well covered by such investigative journalists as Yasha Levine. There are certainly issues with the internet as it has developed and been designed, but many of those issues have more to do with centralization and actual technical decisions that while they make sense in a military context are not the best for the world at large. Not much by way of those will turn up here, except in their appearances within the structure and behaviour of the web as a subset of what is hosted on it.

The web used to be a very different place. It didn't used to be overflowing with advertising pollution, privacy invasion by web tracker, and rampant abuse of social media and comment forums by gangs of males with the practical, if not literal mental state of spoiled three year olds. This didn't make it a sort of virtual heaven, though there were shades of that idea and hope in some quarters. It wasn't very open, for one thing. Access depended on being a university student or perhaps an employee of a large business or computer firm to even have an email address. Graphical user interfaces were still relatively uncommon. I got on-line myself right at the changeover: when I started university, my philosophy professor got the whole class newfangled email accounts because "they were the future" and encouraged people to take part in "Multi-User Dungeons" better known as MUDs. For my Fortran class, I had to have my programs run on a mainframe and then pick up printouts of the results for one half of the semester, then spend ungodly hours in the UNIX lab after that. By the time I graduated, I had compilers on my first computer and so could work ungodly hours programming at home – and my parents were contemplating getting a computer of their own.

More than a few commenters have suggested that the trouble with the web today is that so many people are on it now. "The great unwashed" have spoiled the web. The snobbery and vicious condescension of this claim is bad enough, almost as bad as the fact it's obviously wrong. Many of the best things on the web were simply impossible before it became accessible to people ranging from kids in grade school to grandparents. All those new people have brought additional contributions, ideas, and energy that have been transformed into projects like Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, OpenCulture, any fanfic or fandom site you can think of, preprint sites like arXiv.org and the Perimeter Institute Seminar Archive – I could go on, of course. Sometimes these projects started as one person's brainchild, sometimes they didn't. But they were impossible without the contributions and interest of all those other people who are on-line who couldn't have been back in the 1990s. These are my idiosyncratic observations, and they match those in Jonathan Zittrain's book arguing for a different future of the internet, especially his description of the internet and for the purposes of this essay the web, as a generative system.

Generative systems allow users at large to try their hands at implementing and distributing new uses, and to fill a crucial gap that is created when innovation is undertaken only in a profit-making model, much less one in which large firms dominate. Generatively-enables activity by amateurs can lead to results that would not have been produced in a firm-mediated market model.

As with anything really interesting, there is not a single problem that is affecting the web so negatively. Instead there are several interacting with each other in unfortunate ways, and I think it is possible to describe at least a couple of the bigger ones here.

First, let's face it, is advertising, well no let's be very blunt, propaganda pollution. I used to think that maybe advertising could be okay and that the way it was deployed was at fault. However, I have had to change my position on this, and not just because advertisements mimic forms online now that most of us learned to despise from cable television and glossy magazines. In both of those cases, it is hardly possible to find the actual content of the webpage for all the crap, and worse yet, some advertisements are carefully designed to mimic content. I no longer have any doubts about the lack of utility to or respect of the viewer or reader of propaganda that creeps over 10% of the view space on a page. Worse yet, propaganda has become the premiere vector for malware, spying, and blowing through data caps. The serious editorial control problems that attend propaganda are also growing in visibility. For example, see 'I cannot be that person': why the 'Queen of the Mommy Bloggers' had to quit on the 2015 era online guardian. Today, over five years later, this newspaper has completely imploded at the behest of the propagandists who include both advertisers and major foundations purporting to be charities or otherwise philanthropic. But at that time, the issue at hand was the suden discovery that advertisers were dictating the content of their host. In fact, an editorial on the guardian from the same time period asked, Is this really the beginning of the end for web ads?. Frankly, I don't think they can die fast enough. There's no excuse for taking the stupid advertisement-supported route that we already know destroys the quality of the content the advertisements supposedly supports. Check out the local newspaper of today, and compare it to one in the local library's archives for a shock even though yes, many of them did indeed have paid advertisements. The choice to have them is a sordid story in its own right.

There is a whole lot of crying about the prospect of the loss of all this paying propaganda in some quarters. How to pay the bills, how unethical it is supposed to be to get content "for free." My original response to this ran as follows:

Well, how about not spying, spreading malware, overwhelming the content, and generally acting like drunk assholes in my virtual living room, advertisers? Then I would be far less inclined to block you on the few sites I visit that depend at least in part on ad revenue.

From there I briefly noted my observation of site quality collapse for the only two advertisement-supported sites that were in my regular reading rotation. The falling information quality, number of advertisements masquerading as content increasing, and now I can add, a steadily more hysterical commentariat. This made dropping those sites and moving into participating whenever possible in following and supporting web sites that use other means of funding, especially user-subscription models. As for the claim that it is unethical to get something from an propaganda-supported website for free, there are problems with it besides the virtual drunks and house trashers that this propaganda has become on-line. If a given author or company is determined that all of its products should be paid for, then it shouldn't be putting its products on-line at all. Instead, it should serve up a catalogue that people have to order from, with only teasers to catch attention. Unauthorized copies will likely find their way on-line, but as the still growing profits of both the music and movie industries show, this is not in fact the problem some would like us to think it is. Worse, since propaganda is such a problem now, an "ad-free" subscriber's edition begins to feel less like a pleasant and appropriate option balancing the needs of the publisher and the reader, and more akin to extortion. "Want to see our stuff? Don't want our drunken fratboy ads? Then you'll pay, won't you?" Actually, no. More and more people are simply doing without and finding alternate sources. Disrespecting a potential customer is a pretty good way not to have a customer. The web is not just a place for customers or drones to be indoctrinated, which is something propagandists and their hosts seem unable or unwilling to understand. This is really too bad, because if websites hosted and vetted the ads to prevent distribution of malware and keep them within the realm of decorum and not overwhelming the site content, that could at least be bearable.

The thing that pushed me away from a more permissive perspective on advertising or any other mode of propaganda was going through information about gambling machines, and thinking through the parallels between how they work, and how "social media" works. Gambling machines are designed to take money from those so unwise to play them, maximizing the amount. People lost and lose fortunes playing these machines, seeking to catch the apparently random drop that gets them the prize. For the time they spend playing, all troubles are gone, blocked out by the game and the pursuit of the chance. It is unlikely that the inventor of the liberty bell slot machine knew anything about dopamine and adrenaline and the ways our pleasure responses can be profitably and dangerously hijacked by noise, lights, and dangling a prize just out of figurative reach, especially if our lives are difficult to face. Still, he managed to take what we can now refer to as primitive advantage of these very factors, and made a profit by harnessing our dopamine rushes. "Social media" is designed in the same way. It has also finally dawned on me, that actually, propaganda works this way too. It gives a jolt, usually of fear, and the dopamine comes from doing something the propaganda suggests.

In many ways, the web is still more like a public library than a wretched and unnavigable mall, which in my opinion is a very good thing. Maybe an even better model and description is that the web is like a combination of public libraries, victorian era social clubs, yes stores, and yes for better or worse, the parts of town where the organized crime happens. It would be preferable not to have the organized crime part, although realistically we can't expect that to be completely prevented. The victorian era social club part is especially interesting, because in their day they were as much about providing social interaction and curated complementary products for their subscription fees as reading. They could also be hotbeds of terrible sexism, racism, and general awfulness depending on the make up of the membership and the policies of the group. What the web is not is a marketplace, even if on-line marketplaces happen to be the flashy thing the get rich quick schemers have managed to keep at the top of the technology and finance pages. I think we all have to accept, however reluctantly, that technology and finance pages are themselves about propaganda, and they generally follow the money in the least socially productive way. There are certainly exceptions, alas for now too few.

Overall, there is quite a broad consensus now that propaganda is a problem on the web, not just its subset of advertising. However, that certainly can't entirely explain the awfulness of much of the web right now, because so much of it derives from places where propaganda in the form of advertising is besides the point or even non-existent. This is another aspect that forced me to accept that propaganda was a broader issue than advertising as such. Then there was observing such behaviour patterns as the egregious behaviour on reddit long before the site's management began trying to monetize it. The determination to monetize anything that has a large number of unpaid participants is a huge problem, but that goes right back to the issue of propaganda and the attempt to colonize such spaces with advertising in particular because supposedly they'll generate so much money from all those people supposedly dumb enough to work for free.

In fact, the desire to exploit the energy people have put into popular websites associated with social networking and newer style bulletin boards is another significant problem for the web. The cynicism and lack of respect this desire reflects is bad enough, but it is not unique. It is contiguous with the discovery of the fan in the twenty-first century and the potential for abusing their love of a particular fictional universe for profit. Whenever the fans protest the way the fictional universe is developed, the storms of condescension pour down. After all, the universe in question is fictional, they should grow up, et cetera. Except, the fans are expressing what they understand is supposed to be the way things work. After all, aren't they customers now? Aren't they paying good money, and specifically not getting content for free? Then they should be getting satisfaction for their investment, right? If it's supposed to be good for public institutions like universities, why isn't it good for movies and television programs and comic books? Let me add explicitly here that I am not being sarcastic. These are genuine questions, that I think reveal the tensions between the "consumer in a free market" fairy tale that we are encouraged to believe in, and the actual conditions we live and work in.

One of the less pleasant outcomes of this dynamic has been what Maciej Cegłowski hilariously labelled The Web Obesity Crisis in a talk he gave in october 2015. He draws out a different set of issues that the drive to serve propaganda to web site visitors causes, specifically the way that these materials bloat sites beyond utility and encourages people to believe they can't participate in building the web without extensive tools and "services." In general, personal computer manufacturers are okay with this, because the increasing load on desktop, laptop, and hand held computers drives demand to upgrade to more powerful machines. Jonathan Zittrain pointed out over ten years ago how the proliferation of malware and spyware taking up processing cycles contributed to this same pressure to upgrade and upgrade, leaving those manufacturers to shrug their shoulders about privacy invasion and similar issues.

Here again, the way of approaching people surfing the web is a transfer of the model from television and the movies before the web became available and more accessible, as well as in a time of low to no competition between entertainment companies in that medium. The times of low to no competition have now reached the web, at least in terms of mainstream sources of entertainment and news. It is to the point that even on-line pornography is completely normalized. But we should not forget that the most common image of the habitual television watcher is the couch potato, the presumed ideal passive consumer. The couch potato doesn't create, doesn't have independent opinions or judgements. The couch potato just accepts whatever is available among the few channels on the television. Regular movie watchers don't have quite as pejorative an image attached to them, but again there is an image of accepting whatever the nearest theatre may provide.

The thing is, fans and the busy participants on sites like reddit are anything but passive. Way back when I wrote the preliminary drafts for this piece, this seemed generally positive, in part because of my misunderstanding of the independent and deeper origins of fan conventions. That does not change that I had seen personally and on the web evidence of fans and active participants in on-line communities creating exuberantly and bringing their energy together in worthy causes. However, I had also seen early evidence of those busy groups banding together in pointedly unworthy causes, in a harbinger of how much worse the web was going to get for women and racialized people, though I had no way to properly appreciate that at the time. The cyberbullying ordeal of Amanda Todd that culminated in her suicide in 2012 was still being presented as some sort of awful fluke. Except that women in particular have found that contrary to the usual "progress narratives," the web is a more and more dangerous environment for women and girls. I first happened on A DIY Guide to Feminist Cybersecurity in 2017. Things have not gotten better now that woketivism has been used to write licenses to harass women and girls on and off line in every possible manner, including physical threats.

On the other hand, it is possible that the majority of people now on-line are not fans or vigorous reddit participants or whatever at all. Perhaps they are primarily on social media and not writing articles or building things. Except, I have a hard time seeing the effort the social media mavens I know put into their profiles and the content they contribute as equivalent to nothing. The trouble for them is the same as that for folks like me who tried using "free" webspace from various web companies in much earlier internet days. If we used that "free" webspace, the terms of use claimed we had agreed to give up all claim over our designs and work to the company for them to exploit as they saw fit. If the company went under, there went our websites. Or the company could take our sites away from us on all manner of pretexts, pointing back to the "terms of service." Well, nothing says contempt quite like such terms of abuse. The contempt for the general web visiting population bears a strong relationship to the intense efforts to deskill and disempower them. Entire businesses as well as open source tools are built around the idea that building a website should be like using microsoft powerpoint. All visual, no code, lots of templates. But why should it? Coding a website is actually not at all difficult. Here is the code for a simple, no frills, easy edit webpage:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
<meta charset="utf-8" />
<title>Title That Shows at the Top of the Web Browser</title>
<h1>Title on the Page Itself</h1>
<p>A paragraph of whatever you want to say.</p>
<p>Another paragraph.</p>

A raw beginner would need a bit more information than this of course, but this already allows them to ask sensible questions and sort out what is happening. Having taught people the basics of webcoding myself, it astonishes me how astonished they are that it is quite possible to build a website with little more than a text editor. Or that they can link to any file type they like just about, including plain text files (use the back button your browser to return to this essay). They can hardly believe it. They may never want to actually code a site by hand or be able to tweak a pre-built template for their own site, but this makes at least a small change to their view of the web. And by the way, the people I'm referring to are not people sneeringly referred to as "digital immigrants" but those lauded as "digital natives." The real definition of a "digital native" seems to be someone who has been presented everything about computers and the internet as magical black boxes into which they are not allowed to look. Certainly, that would be just the sort of person who would remain passive and easily exploitable.

Still, this all begs the question of what many people are getting instead of satisfaction from building something on the web, or the dopamine rush system inherent to social media. These are not perfect and total systems, so then we need to ask what else could be an incentive for someone unwilling or unable to do things like code web pages or integrate into a virtual community of some type. Here I think the sad fact is that we have an unhappy confluence of the factors identified in Lukianoff and Haidt's book The Coddling of the American Mind. The vast majority of the world is of course not the united states, and yes, "american" is not properly a term that refers only to people who live in that country. Still, this is an important book published in 2018, developed from an original article published in the atlantic in 2015. By a happy accident, I even read this article as one of my colleagues at graduate school recommended it. The book is an important development of the issues that article raised, including numerous receipts and practical recommendations to help improve the current conditions on the web, on campuses, and in the political culture of the united states and the other places affected by its aura.

Many young people, through no fault of their own, have been trained into getting a different sort of hit from their participation on-line. They have learned that they must, whether or not they really want to, virtue signal, that is behave in certain ways to avoid being attacked or otherwise abused for not having the right opinions. Those ways now include participating in on-line, and increasingly on-line organized offline mobs, either directly or by not doing anything to oppose the most violent and destructive actors. Now the hit is one related to relief, because they avoided the mob of crazy today. This is an accident of the way that the three untruths Lukianoff and Haidt identify have affected the understandable decisions of parents who desperately want to do the right thing by their children, combined with the perverse incentives of the profit by propaganda ecosystem that has infiltrated the web. I think it is worth quoting those three untruths here, because they also describe so much of what has gone awry with the web, especially in the past ten years. Here they are.

  1. What doesn't kill you makes you weaker.
  2. Always trust your feelings.
  3. Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

These are very seductive lies, and they reverberate with accidental good affordances of the web. On the web, even without algorithms intended to drive us to argue and thereby increase page views, we are able and even encouraged to seek only after what pleases us and to avoid what doesn't. The lack of tone markers and developed community standards means that we are prone to reading text messages and emails as not merely awkward or rude but as personal attacks. Many of the early web participants and developers of software to run the internet more generally knew each other in real life and could call one another on the phone. They never designed the web or other parts of the internet to encourage the development of interpersonal communities and counter asocial behaviour because it never occurred to them that eventually almost everyone at any level of computing knowledge and experience might be on-line. Zittrain describes how they also applied principles of compartmentalization and not worrying about problems until they cropped up and needed a solution, which also left gaps wide open for the gambling machine profiteer model to move in rather than more constructive interpersonal interactions.

I suspect that there is a strong temptation to interpret this as evidence of the peculiar psychology of computer programmers. After all, there is nobody who is going to claim that Richard Stahlman, who is most famous for his conceptualization of free software or Eric S. Raymond who is most famous in his turn for his association with hacker jargon hold simple mainstream views. They are each asking important questions about how computers and software should be developed as well as occasionally stepping into media and political morasses of their own making. This is a temptation that should be firmly resisted, because the questions they ask are important, and they happen to be most mediagenic. Other inventors and contributors have a more middle of the road style of presenting their views and arguments for what the web should be, even if their proposals are not actually so middling. See for example the man widely considered the inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, or more recent important women developers like M.K. Fain. Sadly, Berners-Lee seems to be thoroughly caught up with trying to lock up the web with "digital rights management" these days than facing up to the problems of on-line censorship and attacks.

Still, I admit that in some ways the thing that most efficiently represents what's wrong with the web is still the animated gif. Yes, even now in these days of appalling on-line harassment, censorship, and abuse. Absurd as this claim may seem, unfortunately, it is anything but. The animated gif has never been away, in part because it is clever, can be used in remarkable and artistic ways, and they are generally respectful of bandwidth limitations. However, like anything designed to move and distract attention for whatever reason, the key challenge is to use them with moderation. They proliferated in the most terrible way possible, and worse yet at first it was impossible to stop them if they were set up to loop continuously. Of course, this meant that propagandists trying to sell things abused them shamelessly. It took until almost 2020 for web browsers to consistently support either stopping animated gifs by hitting the escape key or by changing a preference. Based on my research, that setting has only recently been shifted into a checkbox or slider to allow a person to decide whether to let the gif play at all, once, or forever, instead of forcing them to use the equivalent of firefoxes "about:config" page. In a desperate pinch, there is Gord Hill's wonderful project, uBlock Origin. It is perhaps best known as an advertisement blocker, but as Hill himself reminds those adding it to their web browsers, this extension will block anything that a person chooses to, including animated gifs. Of course, that I know all this reveals my personal dislike of the awful things, but I do think there is a small place for them.

The issue here seems to be the still common insistence that there should be less text on webpages and more pictures. Perhaps this is in part an extreme reaction against the original web, which was text-only, even though that seems very much like throwing out the baby with the bath water. The web didn't stay pictureless long, and video followed rapidly after, gifting us with the long and tragic ascension and death of flash. Text remained and indeed remains predominant. At first nobody found fault with this. Then something funny happened around the early 2000s as more and more people began to see the web as a way to extract rent by placing advertisements on other people's web pages. Curiously enough, just as advertising companies began to gain traction, usually by stealth via providing search engine services, it suddenly turned out that a wholly new way to write for the web was required. This came after literally twenty-odd years of successful web writing for different purposes and audiences had already been developed.

Books on building websites began explaining that sentences should be no longer than could be comfortably read on a screen that was 640 pixels wide, and paragraphs verboten if they were longer than two or three sentences. They recommended many pictures and lots of pull quotes, although what the pull quotes could be from when the article also had to fit on only one or two screens remained a mystery. By definition, pull quotes come from the main text. These guidelines had little relationship to studies showing that computer screens were not equal to books for lengthy reading, since most of those studies hadn't even happened yet. No, they really came into their own with the proliferation of advertisements and the attempt to claim there is no other way to fund great stuff on the web. I confess to taking the first two or three of these books that I encountered seriously to begin with, but after trying to actually follow their guidance and finding it completely unsuited to my website and my writing, my capacity to accept the nonsense they purveyed fell in a hurry.

A text written according to the guidelines in these books is very easy to paste advertisements into of course, and luckily for me things had turned out such that my participation on the web has never been advertisement funded. The advertisements can be placed wherever a pull quote could go, or where in some magazines an illustration would go, as in such well known publications as Harper's or the New Yorker. These guidelines created the flexibility two column layouts on paper can provide to insert unrelated material in the midst of a body of text, and indeed, you can see that some of them must have come straight from looking at such layouts on paper and trying to understand what made them more readable. Except, they missed the point, as the many great sites on typography both for paper and the web have explained. The issue is not necessarily the length or complexity of the text, which should vary with the purpose of whatever is being written. The issue is with the legibility of the words due to the combination of font, layout of the page, and layout of the words themselves. The combination of this often eviscerated or pre-masticated form of writing for the web leads to web pages with not much reason for anybody to stick around looking at them, with the obvious exceptions of sites that are primarily about movies, sounds, or visual art of some other kind. So the folks writing in this way resort to flashier graphics to hold interest, just as advertisers and other propagandists do. Which is incredibly counterproductive, because the problem is that the writing isn't dense enough. As we all know too well, this lack of density left great big gaps for the propaganda sellers specializing in outrage to farm for clicks.

Still, all is far from lost, although the hard work to get back to a good situation is not simple. Téa Smith's assessment of the situation strikes me as both hard nosed and determined not to surrender the store to the thieves, and considering she has considerable experience in the professional parts of the web, that counts for a lot. There is plenty of potential for the web yet, positive potential that isn't about leaving it in the hands of the worst elements among those who can access a wifi spot or get paid to spread propaganda. While it is true that simply trying to totally banish advertisements and other forms of propaganda would not in itself magically fix the web, there is plenty that can be done by anyone who has to use the web to challenge the hegemony of "social media" and the advertising model. If more of us built websites and voted with our virtual feet to refuse to participate in or otherwise support censorship platforms like reddit, most newsites, and yes "social media," that in itself would be amazing. But I am all too aware that most internet service providers no longer provide a few hundred megabytes of space to build personal websites in anymore, and that in any case, not everyone has the time or desire to do that, for many good reasons. So I would honestly suggest reading Lukianoff and Haidt's book, especially Part IV where they provide practical recommendations for day to day actions that fit sensibly within the busy workday of anyone. My only quibble with them is that I totally disagree with supporting or taking part in any organization founded by former staffers of "social media" or "search engine" companies. They have fundamentally mixed motives if not perverse incentive to try to save propaganda and encourage the enclosure of the web. More of the same problems, even more nicely such as with less pornography and an end to animated gifs, will not fix what is wrong with the web.

Our key challenge I think, in facing up to what is wrong with the web and fixing it, is resisting the encouragement to look for some sort of "technical solution." Neither machine learning or anything labelled artificial intelligence is going to somehow be deployed and auto-fix what are in fact social problems. Zittrain draws a parallel between individual personal computers and autistic persons who cannot easily recognize and interpret social cues. In this he is both right, and nastily wrong. The issue is not the computers as such, but the operators who make use of them, from the people who just want to play a game or surf to the ones who courtesy of a filter bubble driven by outrage stoking algorithms take part in on-line mobs. If we keep talking about the computers, then we will keep looking at the computers in themselves to solve it via new filters, dropping the generative aspects of the web and the internet more broadly, or other such approaches. But as Zittrain himself notes, an important problem that desperately needs solving is building in means of providing social cues and enforcing their recognition. Lukianoff and Haidt are not taking the same direction, yet they are also talking in part about the problems created by lack of social cues and the subsequent reinforcement of other social trends that are not in themselves about the web. Different ways of moderating on-line platforms and providing feedback among participants to create observable social cues are an important start. Like it or not, we can't automate away dealing with these issues, we have to work on establishing social mores on-line. Nor can we fix the issue by demanding that no one ever be able to participate anonymously on-line again, because people behave excruciatingly badly under their own names all the time. No matter what, we who are participating on-line have to fix it, not wait around for a magic saviour to supposedly write a software solution.

  1. See Yasha Levine, Surveillance Valley: The Secret Military History of the Internet (London: Icon Books, 2019). See also his 2018 baffler article, All EFF'd Up. He is a surprisingly rare skeptical voice about silicon valley and the internet more broadly, and well worth reading for that in itself.
  2. See The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace (New York: W.W. Norton paperback, 1999) by Margaret Wertheim for the proof.
  3. Multi-User Dungeons have an unfortunate name from a more general perspective, but they come from an innocent though certainly niche origin in porting table top role playing games on-line. They are text-based and still around to join and participate in.
  4. Jonathan L. Zittrain, The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It (Yale University Press and Penguin UK, 2008). This book is available on-line at harvard university. Page 84.
  5. Also see the thoughtpiece, The Pleasure Machine.
  6. It would take a different essay or thoughtpiece to touch on the original funding source besides subscriptions that newspapers used to depend on that got killed dead by such websites as craigslist, the classified ads. For some receipts on the effects of loss of classified ad revenue, see Advertisers Blacklisting News, Other Stories with “Controversial” Words Like “Trump” (16 august 2019 at nakedcapitalism), The Newspaper Death Spiral is accelerating: Classified Ads Down 31% Q3 (12 november 2016 at inquistr for a mainstream view). The new york times noted something was going on in 1995, Advertising; Classified ads are rapidly finding a new home on the Internet,so this was not new news to the established news organizations. Since then the older newspapers have begun selling classified ad space on their own websites, and presumably in their apps.
  7. This is not the same thing as saying there is no problem at all. There is a problem, that those corporations fleece the artists constantly and fans want better, guaranteed ways of getting money to the artists, and of course artists need and deserve to make a living.
  8. Among those I am familiar with from direct reading is naked capitalism and techdirt, both alas still hung up on advertisements.
  9. Leaving aside for the moment the web's problems with remembering what it should forget and forgetting what it should remember. See Bret Victor in The Web of Alexandria and The Web of Alexandria Revisited.
  10. Zittrain, pages 99-100.
  11. For an eye opener on conventions and sci-fi fandom, see Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth, Camille Bacon-Smith (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1992).
  12. For an overview of cyberbullying and its impacts on Amanda Todd and her family, see cbc.ca news: 8 Years After Death of Amanda Todd, Her Mother Speaks Out in New Cyberbullying Documentary.
  13. Yes, I am thinking of the terrible proliferation of wordpress templates, let alone wordpress itself.
  14. This is not the same thing as claiming that the web should be coded with only a text editor – I quite agree that such claims are nonsense.
  15. The apparent inventor of the terms "digital immigrant" and "digital natives" is Marc Prensky in his 2001 article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, which he helpfully provides in pdf format on his website. I mistrust the framing to be honest, in part because the general attitude towards immigrants in the united states is so bad, and while I wholeheartedly agree that computers and when in their lives children have access to them have had an important impact on their responses to educational systems with pre-computer origins, from their our views diverge significantly.
  16. There is a striking level of overlap between between the notion of the "digital native" and the generation of children discussed by Jean Twenge in her book iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood – and What That Means for the Rest of Us (New York: Atria Books, 2017).
  17. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (New York: Penguin, 2018).
  18. Lukianoff and Haidt: pages 1-15. This is also the book from which I learned about Jean Twenge's book with the awesome victorian era style title above.
  19. Zittrain, pages 30-34.
  20. Richard Stallman's website is worth having a look at in order to read his descriptions of his political and social viewpoints.
  21. Eric Raymond also keeps a website where he curates his thoughts and ideas, but he is probably most famous for his 2001 on his views of computer programming and software, The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary (Boston: O'Reilly Media Inc.).
  22. See Tim Berners-Lee's biography at the World Wide Web Consortium website.
  23. M.K. Fain is an important developer and leader in the creation of a new social media and on-line communities for primarily for women. Another well-known leader in this area today is Sall Grover who is guiding development of an application and platform to help women connect with each other when searching for rentals and the like.
  24. Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium have argued for including DRM as part of the standards for use on the web when accessing media.
  25. Fair enough, readers should not have to take my word on this. Here are links to both of these publications: Harper's, New Yorker. Please note I did take care to select examples from online magazines that provide a sensible amount of material even for non-subscribers to read with advertisements that don't necessarily crowd the text.
  26. See her 7 june 2019 blog post Blink. Blink. Blink. Miss a decade a.k.a. "Why I am breaking up with marketing." Then spend some quality time with her other writing and videos and consider supporting her work, which is excellent and often funny.
  27. "Filter bubble" is a term popularized by Eli Pariser in his 2011 book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You (New York: Penguin Books).
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Last Modified: Monday, January 02, 2023 00:53:08