Digital Distractions: Innovative Technology Writing from Yale

From Facebook to pharmaceuticals, innovations in technology are increasingly shaping the way we live our lives. In light of the recent exciting announcements from Apple and Google, we take a look at innovative new technology writing from Yale.

This week, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs launched iCloud, a new service that stores all your documents, music and data remotely, allowing access from anywhere in the world on any Apple device. Similarly Google have recently launched it’s new Chromebook, a super-fast laptop that restricts you to using Google’s online products and where all your data is stored on Google servers. Ostensibly, this could signal the end of hard-drive storage and data loss, but it also poses serious questions about privacy, and the monopoly held by these big technology giants.

But of course, technology affects us in other ways. Today the Guardian published an article about the rise of CCTV surveillance in schools, and the recent furore over Twitter’s defiance of Ryan Gigg’s super-injunction proves that advances in technology are having an increasing impact on all aspects of our lives.

Yale University Press publishes a number of interesting books on technology, including a series devoted to technology writing.  From Micah L Sifry’s analysis of WikiLeaks to Joseph Turow’s investigation into the future of digital advertising, the following books should appeal to both novices and technophiles alike.

Wikileaks and the Age of Transparency
by Micah L. Sifry

WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency

WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency

In this lively, up-to-the-minute book, technology and politics analyst Micah Sifry tells the story of WikiLeaks in the context of the growing movement for transparency in politics and of the crowdsourcing activism that the Internet and in particular Web 2.0 has made possible. In particular, he looks at the achievements of open-source web projects that collate information for individuals and governments alike, and describes how crowdsourcing initiatives have analysed MPs’ expenses, recorded political violence in Kenya and reduced bribery in India. Finally, he discusses the rather ambivalent attitudes displayed by political elites, many of whom have embraced the idea of open government in opposition only to go quiet once in power. Fascinating, thoughtful and often eye-opening, this is an essential guide to the new age of transparency. More

The Best Technology Writing, 2010
Edited by Julian Dibbell

Best Technology Writing 2010

Best Technology Writing 2010

The iPad. The Kindle. Twitter. When “The Best Technology Series” was inaugurated in 2005, these technologies did not exist. Today, they not only make headlines: they define our twenty-first-century lives. In his introduction to The Best Technology Writing 2010, Julian Dibbell addresses the collective fascination with all things digital: ‘More than other technology, the digital is us. Yet for that reason, the digital is also something more, a lightening rod for our feelings about technology in general’.

This deep fascination reverberates throughout this collection: Sam Anderson’s giddy but troubled defence of online distractions; David Carr’s full-throated elegy to the dying world of predigital publishing; Steven Johnson’s warm appreciation of Twitter’s bite-sized contributions to collective human intelligence; Vanessa Grigoriadis’ probing assessments of Facebook’s growing role in our personal lives; and, Evan Ratliff’s fascinating monthlong quest to disappear without a digital trace – each reflects our intimate and complicated relationship to digital media. Yet, as Dibbell notes, the essays collected here also remind us that some of the most disruptive technologies come from beyond the digital world. Whether it is Jill Lepore writing on the politics of breastfeeding gadgetry, Steve Silberman investigating the placebo effect in pharmaceutical testing, Burkhard Bilger tracking efforts to build a better cook stove for the developing world, Javier Marias’ writely cure for fear of flying, or Tad Friend’s profile of electric-car developer Elon Musk’s efforts to head off environmental catastrophe, we are made to marvel here, too, at how many aspects of human experience have not been transformed or remain unchanged by digital technology. More

The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth
Joseph Turow

The Daily You

The Daily You

The Internet is often hyped as a means to enhanced consumer power: a hypercustomized media world where individuals exercise unprecedented control over what they see and do. That is the scenario media guru Nicholas Negroponte predicted in the 1990s, with his hypothetical online newspaper “The Daily Me” – and it is one we experience now in daily ways. But, as media expert Joseph Turow shows, the customized media environment we inhabit today reflects diminished consumer power. Not only ads and discounts but even news and entertainment are being customized by newly powerful media agencies on the basis of data we don’t know they are collecting and individualized profiles we don’t know we have. Little is known about this new industry: how is this data being collected and analyzed? And how are our profiles created and used? How do you know if you have been identified as a ‘target’ or ‘waste’ or placed in one of the industry’s finer-grained marketing niches? Are you, for example, a Socially Liberal Organic Eater, a Diabetic Individual in the Household, or Single City Struggler? And, if so, how does that affect what you see and do online? Drawing on groundbreaking research, including interviews with industry insiders, this important book shows how advertisers have come to wield such power over individuals and media outlets – and what can be done to stop it. More

The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind
James Boyle

The Public Domain

The Public Domain

In this enlightening book James Boyle describes what he calls the range wars of the information age – today’s heated battles over intellectual property. Boyle argues that just as every informed citizen needs to know at least something about the environment or civil rights, every citizen should also understand intellectual property law. Why? Because intellectual property rights mark out the ground rules of the information society, and today’s policies are unbalanced, unsupported by evidence, and often detrimental to cultural access, free speech, digital creativity, and scientific innovation. Boyle identifies as a major problem the widespread failure to understand the importance of the public domain – the realm of material that everyone is free to use and share without permission or fee. The public domain is as vital to innovation and culture as the realm of material protected by intellectual property rights, he asserts, and he calls for a movement akin to the environmental movement to preserve it. With a clear analysis of issues ranging from Jefferson’s philosophy of innovation to musical sampling, synthetic biology and Internet file sharing, this timely book brings a positive new perspective to important cultural and legal debates. If we continue to enclose the ‘commons of the mind’, Boyle argues, we will all be the poorer. More

These books are available to buy from Yale University Press

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