World Wide Mind

I’ve only just begun reading Michael Chorost’s new book World Wide Mind: The coming integration of humanity, machines and the Internet, but I’m already struck by something wonderful that gave me chills.  From page 27:

A brain-to-brain communications technology would change all that. It would reveal some of a person’s “interior” to the collective…And if one saw groups moving in perfect synchrony to accomplish an object, unrehearsed, without orders, one might begin to believe that they have a consciousness independent of each individual’s objectives. If you knew where your friends were by using the same parts of your brain that track where your arms and legs are, and if you could coordinate your motion with them when needed, then your friends would feel like a part of your body.  You would remain an individual, but you would have a new status as an integral part of a group.

I had to put the book down right there and think for a minute because it was giving me chills, in a good way.

A lot of people have been discussing the differences between left and right brain lately, but most all of it in a very superficial way, i.e. left brain people are methodical, right brain people are artistic, etc.  But the real distinction between left and right brain functionality is how the different hemispheres either create boundaries between individual objects, or dissolve boundaries into a sea of existence.  In Jill Bolte Taylor’s incredibly famous speech at TED, she discusses the experiences that she has since she experience a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain.  Near the end of that video she delves into the immersive experience of the right brain, becoming one with everything.  Though, the Symphony of Science version of her speech has been stuck in my head for days, particularly when Jill says “and it explodes into this enormous collage.”

If this process of developing a technologically induced group mind does come to fruition, I see the potential for having massive amounts of reconnection with the right brain.  In our current state of mind, we are all individuals, we are all separate.  This is a product of our left brain putting everything and everyone into their own little boxes, with their own little labels.  The right brain puts all those labels and divisions aside, and unifies everything.

This could be wonderful, or absolutely horrifying.  It’ll probably be somewhere in between.  Though most science fiction tends to lean on the side of horrifying.  I could easily name several examples, though the most glaring one is from the anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion.  Throughout the course of the series about giant robots powered by children who fight angels, you start to discover that there is a deeper purpose to these fights.  NERV was created to further the Human Instrumentality Project, which ultimately sought to break down the Absolute Terror field that keeps all life separate from each other.  (Trust me, I’m not really giving anything away here).  The incredibly surreal finale End of Evangelion shows everyone’s individual physical bodies bursting into a golden primordial ooze, and flowing out across the world.  While this would not be the physical experience, it could be the mental experience.  Especially if this neurological tech has a deepening effect on the right brain experience of life.

Piracy Is The Symptom, Not The Problem

Icon for Germany's Piratenpartei*

There have been several stories in the news lately that have been hammering away at the concept of internet piracy. The primary concern in the US being the two pieces of legislation currently winding their way through the House and the Senate, the former being known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the second the PROTECT IP Act (and yes, all the letters in “protect” are acronymic).  SOPA being the craziest of the two, in that it would lead to blocking websites via a US Firewall, not unlike China. As I mentioned in my post on this blog a few days ago, it’s easy to contact your Representative and Senators and tell them that you don’t want this to go through.

But all of this legal wrangling doesn’t get to the root of why there is a glut of internet piracy.  It follows the same train of logic that has been trotted out time and again, that people are stealing these things because they don’t want to pay for them. So Congress must combat these thieves so that publishers, record companies and film studios can protect their supply chain.

So, why do people pirate content online?  It isn’t just because they can.  And it isn’t just because free and they don’t want to pay for it.  People pirate electronic media because they love the content, and they want to get it in a digital format as fast as possible.

In a recent article for the Guardian, Cory Doctorow wrote about why people turn to internet piracy, specifically here for films.  In a study conducted by the UK Open Rights Group they found that:

though close to 100% of their sample were available as DVDs, more than half of the top 50 UK films of all time were not available as downloads. The numbers are only slightly better for Bafta winners: just 58% of Bafta best film winners since 1960 can be bought or rented as digital downloads (the bulk of these are through iTunes – take away the iTunes marketplace, which isn’t available unless you use Mac or Windows, and only 27% of the Bafta winners can be had legally).

That’s a pretty bleak statistic.  But similar or even bleaker statistics could be said of any other type of digital content online.

Ultimately, the problem is supply restrictions, which are a result of the rights holder bottlenecking the product in an effort to attempt to drive up sales. The thing is, if the items that the users actually wanted to have were available via digital download the people who are currently pirating these files are 10 times more likely to purchase them.  In 2008, for the first time ever, mp3 sales outpaced CD sales.  Since 2006 US digital music revenues has increased nearly a billion dollars a year.  Worldwide it’s been increasing 2-3 billion dollars a year.  BILLION.  Also, when provided with a service that allows users to stream content over the internet, piracy tends to decline.  In Sweden piracy dropped 25% thanks to services like Spotify which allows users to access a vast library of music files and listen to music from friends for free.  The larger the collection being accessed, the less necessary it becomes to go seeking alternate means of acquiring the object of one’s desire.

When presented with a venue where people can access the content they want they will flock there.  They will even pay a fee, within reason to access that content.  Netflix is a prime example of how it can work, and how it can fail.  Netflix provides digital streaming access to movies for a nominal, per month fee (about $8.00).  They were able to get a great big bunch of content through a partnership with the Starz cable network.  However, in September Starz and Netflix announced that they were going to part ways, and that means that the Netflix catalog is going to drastically drop in scope.  Now, the Atlantic ran an article back in July, before the Starz deal breaker was announced.  In it they claimed that content was not in fact king, and that it was the service that people wanted from a highly trusted brand.  Well, when you squander your brand capital on splitting your services (then not doing so) and then you lose a bunch of content… Well, that’s going to lead users down the road to search for other methods to meet their demands.  When a distribution channel like that dries up, it leaves people in the lurch.

The same thing that’s happening to Netflix with movies is happening to libraries with eBooks.

Recently library land has been all up in arms about eBooks, and how publishers are looking to crack down even further on what libraries are allowed to have in eBooks, and continually scaling back what they’re willing to give.  The first big fiasco was Harper-Collins, who decided to put in a a DRM bomb that would make their ebooks automatically delete from the library’s collection after 26 uses.  Most recently Penguin has decided to pull its content out of Overdrive, a library ebook lending service, because of a dispute that they’re having with Amazon.  This decision was reversed yesterday, thank goodness, but this illustrates the kind of bottlenecking that I’m talking about.  These are two separate parties, whose dispute led to having the content, which is legitimately purchased by libraries, to be removed without warning.  Libraries no longer actually own the materials that we purchase, it’s just access, subject to termination at will.  And that’s an environment that content users, who want to get materials, and try new things out, are not going to be willing to tolerate for very long.  eBooks are in an infancy period, and with usage growing, problems like this can and will probably lead to pirating of digital books.

Pirated comic books have been a major problem for a while, but again they’re a problem of timeliness in the distribution chain.  Specifically there have arisen a number of fan translation sites, where they scan Japanese manga and translate the text into English before the publisher releases an English edition.  This process with the publisher takes a long time, because they want to do it well.  The fans however are willing to take right now over done right.  A friend of mine who just attended an anime convention was complaining about folks who had just watched something that they had torrented online.  Something not yet available in English, and not available in Japanese with official subtitles.  These kids saw the film with a fan subtitle, just because everyone they know had been talking about online and anticipating the release.

In today’s culture, media of every type can be delivered instantly.  When a publisher tells a consumer that they have to wait, or they have to buy the DVD, or the need to go through this complicated series of applications to download the legitimate version of a thing it just stonewalls the consumer.  Piracy is a symptom of a failure of industry to meet consumer demands for online access to content.  So, rather than legislating to crack down on piracy, which is directly attacking the consumer who desperately wants a product, we need to instead invest in changing the culture of the suppliers.

And now for some unsolicited advice to publishers.  Here are some handy guideposts to how a company could change their practices for online content distribution, that would be positive for users, positive for business, and create a better culture on the internet.

  • Stop attacking your consumers

Nothing turns people off from buying your products like a million dollar lawsuit.  Stop suing people for ridiculous sums of money because you already have billions of dollars.  Clearly, you can afford an army of lawyers and these people often cannot.  Its greedy and creates a poor image of industry.  Stop pursuing further methods of legal action to crack down on piracy, because you are the one who isn’t adapting.

  • Provide services where users can demo an item, sample it, and then choose to purchase it or not.

This is what happens with Spotify.  You can listen to an unlimited amount of music, and chances are, you’ll buy some of it if you like it.  And then you’ll listen to it again, and again. Sample chapters of an ebook may lead to reading the whole book or purchasing a copy of the physical book.  It’s called browsing.  People do it every day.

  • Create timely distribution of content online, simultaneous with physical releases.

One of the major reasons why things get pirated is that the legitimate distribution services have a delay from the time of broadcast or release dates.  A user can watch something on television, but it takes a day for it to hit Hulu.  There’s no need for that.  It shouldn’t matter if you’re watching it on TV or online, it’s a broadcast.  If a DVD drops, there should be streaming and downloadable copies on the same day.  No question about it.

  • Global releases should be simultaneous.

Another reason why things get pirated is that they may be released in one country first, and then users in another country have to wait from a day, a week, or up to months before it could ever see the light of day somewhere else.  The internet as a distribution channel means that everyone is waiting for that comic to hit the shelf, or that television show to air.  Consumers, and rabid fans especially, are savvy to time zones.  People will wait up to 4:00 a.m to watch a television show in a foreign country.  World Cup anyone?

  • Once it’s out, it’s out.  Make your complete backlist fully available.

As it was in the British Film example, people go looking for what they can’t find through normal distribution channels.  Many of those things are older titles and things that have gone “out of print.”  There is no longer such a thing as “out of print.”  Once something has been published, it is made a part of a permanent body of human work.  You can’t stifle the movement of that item, nor should you.  Take advantage of people’s desire for hard to find items and make your entire body of work available digitally.  If there is a legitimate means to acquire it, people will do so.

  • Simplify the access method

Make the item readable or viewable through software that comports to generally accepted industry standards.  You don’t need to slap a ton of DRM on something, or use some unique proprietary software when you’re making it as widely available and purchasable as possible.  Let your audience buy your product through as many different venues as possible, and on any device they want.  Also, if at all possible to make that content available in multiple devices at once all the better.

  • Set reasonable price points

Users are willing to pay, but not extortionate prices.  Reasonable cost for the product in a timely fashion will lead to sales.  Overly high prices will push users away.  You’re in business, you should know that already.

  • Encourage distribution partners

Don’t quash partnerships that close off distribution channels.  When you pull service from a place it makes the consumers angry.  Instead find multiple venues to promote and sell your product and people will buy it where they go normally.

  • Let your items go

With movies, music and books end this practice of licensing content for use.  It’s a product, people buy it, or they don’t.  It’s not an ongoing service. Once a consumer has purchased an item, the producer/publisher needs to get out of the picture.  Your continual involvement in the product is more than an annoyance, and has crossed over into the realm of mind games.  Will it still be around? Will I know if its deleted?  Do I have to buy it again and again?  Just stop that.  It’s like psychological torture.  Let a person buy a book, and move on with life.  My purchase doesn’t need to be the focus of your life to follow what happens with these items.  It’s intrusive and disingenuous.  A sale of goods is a finite transaction.  Let it be.

  • Allow and promote sharing

People are social creatures, and we like to share things.  Not usually with the whole world at once, but often times with friends that we know in our daily lives.  When you make sharing easier, it spreads word of mouth about your products.  And that’s the strongest link to creating brand awareness, having a trusted friend recommend something.  I like sharing books with friends and I should be able to do that electronically as well as with a printed book.  It’s no different, and shouldn’t be treated as different.


* In Europe a major response to political involvement in digital content has arisen in the form of the Pirate Parties.  Their entire platform revolves around restructuring copyright and patent law.

The All Spin Zone

twisted face

Objects in mirror are less twisted than they appear

I spent the better part of last night having a “conversation” with two of the people on my Facebook list who hold diverging political viewpoints from myself.  I use conversation in quotes, because this wasn’t really a conversation.  It was rather an ideologue shouting up an incendiary piece of rhetoric and my calmly explaining to that person how the information that they’re looking at is biased.  I should have taken the advice of everyone in the universe and “don’t feed the trolls.”  Often I can’t help but attempt to challenge someone who holds an opinion based on misinformation.  Because that’s where this is coming from, misinformation and a lack of intellectual curiosity to explore the veracity of the claims being presented.

OWS & Crime

The majority of this conversation I had last night focused around the belief that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are a band of criminal thugs who are out to destroy America.  This is a pretty standard talking point of conservative media outlets, and pretty much only conservative media outlets.  On October 11th the New York Times ran a story about the complexity of dealing with criminal activity among the encampment in Zucotti Park, following in the wake of a female camper who was raped.  They discuss the competing narratives within the police reports about activity surrounding the event and talk about the steps that the OWS protesters had taken to provide on site security for the encampment.  In the wake of this article, conservative media outlets began characterizing the Occupy Wall Street protest as being nothing but “crime all the time,” exacerbating the image of the group as a lawless mob.  And there is no doubt that growing security risks were a problem within the encampment.  It was a large event that ran for months with only volunteers who had varying degrees of security training, an inconsistent approach to dealing with conflict, and a very confusing relationship with police.  But this doesn’t mean that they are, as a whole, a group of criminal thugs.  Just that security at the event was difficult to maintain, and that is true in a lot of large public venues where people are emotionally engaged.

And then there is the story of Nkrumah Tinsley who was captured on video stating that they were going to burn New York City to the ground.  Again, this story was picked up by conservative news outlets, ran like the wind, and painted the entirety of the protesters as violent, firebombing anarchists.  My conservative friend said “why didn’t they shout him down? Why didn’t they say, that’s not us?!”  The implication is that the protestors support that message.  So, I went looking for the video, and here it is.

As you can see, Nkrumah Tinsley, the person who goes on this screed, is at first being supported by the human microphone.  This is a technique whereby the people surrounding a speaker repeat what the speaker says to increase the volume of the comment for other people to hear.  After the human mic repeats “On November 17th…” Tinsley launches into his firebombing idea.  But the human mic stops.  They don’t spread that message, they don’t amplify his words.  And the people around him look awkward and walk away.  There are only two people who are supporting this message in the video, one is the person who Tinsley is high fiving at the end of his first tirade, and the second is the casual supporter who’s standing next to him at the end of the video.  Tinsley, is one person, with maybe two supporters, at a protest of thousands of people.  And his own mother, in court, said that he has always had mental problems.  These protests are public events and people who are emotionally disturbed are drawn to these places, especially if he or she believes that s/he has a message to impart to the world.  Managing that is a challenge for anyone who operates in a public environment.

Not to mention that public events are also subject to the work of agents provocateurs.  Early on in the Occupation happening in Washington DC a similar protest was being formed to make a statement about unmanned aerial drones. Patrick Howley, a journalist working for the American Prospect, a conservative publication, intentionally infiltrated the protest going to march on the Air and Space Museum.  His instigation of the crowd at the Air and Space museum led to him and other protesters being maced by security staff at the museum and forcing the museum to close two hours early.

My concern in this part of the conversation was that biased media sources and their proponents are using a broad brush to characterize the entirety of the protesters as a lawless band of thugs. This is both oversimplifying the problems and practicing guilt by association.  The overwhelming majority of the people involved in occupy protests are peaceful people who are there to support a message.  The criminal acts of individuals, and the rants of delusional people are the exception and not the rule.  By this crazy train of logic everyone involved in college sports supports pedophilia, just because of the rape scandal at Penn State.

Stop SOPA

Friends. Do you like knowing that the search results you get are not scrubbed out by the American Government? Do you think that the Motion Picture Association of America should have the authority to force the government’s hand to start blocking websites around the world? Do you think it’s fair for a company to have their funding cut off by credit card companies for something that one of their users may have done, allegedly…

If not, then you need to go to http://house.gov/, type in your zip code and write to your representative RIGHT NOW and tell them that you DON’T support HR 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act. It’s overreaching, unconstitutional, unamerican, and a threat to freedom of speech on the Internet.

Eric Riley, Librarian Of Mars

Space Marine Librarian

Space Marine Librarian from Games Workshop. I intend to look like this as I conquer the universe.

I will admit right now that I have an obsession with space.  I have had it for years.  I mean, come on, every little kid dreams of being an astronaut at least once.  Fueled by movies like Close Encounters, ET and Explorers, I was ready to fly off to space and see some aliens.  Maybe not the Aliens aliens, but something cool.  In my college years I read Parable of the Sower and listened to The Martian ChroniclesStar Trek, Farscape

This is a huge part of my mental landscape.

So, why am I thinking about Starship Libraries?

Duh, So I can be a Starship Librarian!

I mean, surely there are going to be information control needs relevant to interplanetary travel.  Especially long term journeys like going to Mars.  Going to Mars is going to be a trip of years at a stretch, and that’s going to require all sorts of skills.  I think I may be able to help provide something useful to a mission.

Plus, I’ve been thinking about how I could get myself in shape, and having a big goal is a great way to do that.  I know, that’s shallow and kind of insane.  But seriously.  People can just apply to become an astronaut on USA Jobs like any government job.  I never imagined it could be so close.  Having useful skills, being intelligent, and having the physical conditioning are surely all part of the package.

So, that’s my dream.  Being a librarian in space.

Let’s see if I can make that happen.

Information Literacy’s Role in the Penn State Story

Everyone has been talking about the Penn State pedophilia/rape story, and it is absolutely horrifying.  But there was something in this story that jumped out at me that I wanted to highlight.  It was a just an offhanded comment in the NY Daily News piece about “victim 1.”

The victim’s mother tells Stephanopolous how she gradually became aware of the abuse, saying he would act out violently to intentionally become grounded and avoid seeing Sandusky, at one point telling her he wanted to know how to look up information on sex offenders.

That’s right.  This victim was savvy enough to know that he could look up information about people who were sexual predators online, but he didn’t know how.

In a recent episode of the Sex Is Fun podcast the crew interviewed Amy Lang who runs the website Birds + Bees + Kids, which explores how parents can talk to their children about sex in a world that is overloaded with explicit sexual information online.  One of the shocking statistics that comes out in that two part interview is that children today have typically encountered a pornographic website by the age of 11. Now, there are dozens of ways that this information can be taken.  But let’s look at it in the context of the situation at hand.

Here, a victim of childhood sexual abuse, at the hands of a trusted adult, understood that something was horribly wrong.  He knew that there were adults who hurt children sexually, and that this was a crime.  He knew that there is a lot of information about sex on the internet.  He also knew that there were places online where someone could go and find out who these people are who sexually abuse children.  Perhaps he went online so that he could compare his experience against the experiences of other people who were hurt like he was, or look at pictures of other molesters and see if they looked like his molester.

One of the biggest mental hurdles that victims of childhood sexual abuse encounter is thinking that either this is only happening to them, or that what they’re going through is somehow supposed to be happening.  It has been a problem of isolation, where victims feel alone in their circumstances. Clearly that is changing.

With broader access to online information about the world, about life, sex, and traumatic experiences, children like this young boy can quickly find information about what is happening to him.  Clearly he knew it was wrong, and he turned to a place where he thought he could find an answer. The internet.

It wasn’t the law, or McQueary, or Paterno, or Penn State that brought down this wall of silence. It was a kid looking up sex offender information on the internet.

That is the world we live in.