by Patricia Miller, Public Services Librarian
Originally published by Columbia Daily Tribune.
As WikiLeaks releases another cache of classified materials, the first accounts of the organization’s dealings with news organizations have just appeared. The New York Times and the Guardian newspaper in Britain were involved in the preparation of the leaked documents for publication. “WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy” (Guardian, 2011) has shades of a modern spy adventure as authors David Leigh and Luke Harding recount cloak-and-dagger encounters with WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange through chat rooms, switched phones and disguises. They argue “no one has been able to demonstrate any damage to life or limb” resulting from the releases and that the spirit of the leaks encouraged the recent pro-democracy protests in the Arab world. “Open Secrets” (Grove Press, 2011) by the New York Times reporters focuses on the release of U.S. diplomatic cables and its impact on American diplomacy. Although less inclined to credit WikiLeaks with creating information transparency, it contends an open Internet inevitably will lead to the creation of information brokers “as a lure for whistle-blowers and malcontents.”
Micah Sifry, co-founder of Personal Democracy Forum, maintains technology itself changes politics. In “WikiLeaks and the Age of Transparency” (Counterpoint, 2011), he considers WikiLeaks part of a broader change that will end “secrecy and the hoarding of information” in favor of “openness and the sharing of information.” In “The Al Jazeera Effect: How the New Global Media Are Reshaping World Politics” (Potomac, 2008), Philip Seib discusses changes wrought by satellite television, blogs and websites in the Middle East.
While many argue the Internet and social media are contributing to the global democratization of information, others question whether the Internet will remain open and free. “Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own” by David Bollier (New Press, 2008) and “The Master Switch” (Knopf, 2010) by Tim Wu explore the idea of a creative commons in view of the media’s ownership and control throughout history. Wu asks, “Could the Internet come to be ruled by one corporate leviathan in possession of the master switch?” He warns the Internet is not infinitely elastic but depends on finite physical connections and control of the “new black gold” — bandwidth.
In “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age” (Penguin, 2010), Internet consultant and writer Clay Shirky champions the power of digital technology and new media to promote social connectivity and boost collaborative creative energies. As an example, he maintains Wikipedia was built with 1 percent of the hours Americans passively spend watching TV each year. Nick Bilton, technology reporter for the New York Times Bits blog, is another enthusiastic consumer and creator of new media in “I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works” (Crown, 2010). “QR” codes embedded in the print and eBook versions take readers to his website for videos that expand on the content of the text. Science writer Michael Chorost takes the idea of “intense connectivity” much further in “World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines and the Internet” (Free Press, 2011). He alternates between the futuristic possibilities of science and his personal story, which hinges on the two cochlear implants (or computers) in his head that enable him to hear.
Nicholas Carr challenges popular assumptions about increased creativity and connectedness in his new work, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” (W.W. Norton, 2010). Carr argues it isn’t the content but the medium that matters, and, as our brains change in response to our experiences, we are “sacrificing our ability to think and read deeply.” Elias Aboujaoude’s “Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality” (W.W. Norton, 2011) also examines the medium that allows us to create alternate online selves.
A psychiatrist, Aboujaoude explores the changes in human behavior when the line between virtual space versus reality blurs: Online relationships replace human intimacy, instant messaging or texting gives us an “illusion of knowledge,” and, worse, “the small zone of privacy that we all need and that is crucial to our psychological equilibrium is now nowhere to be found.”
Finally, author Sherry Turkle has been making the rounds of talk shows with her latest work, “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other” (Basic Books, 2011). As a professor at MIT, she researches the psychology of human relationships with technology and warns in our “culture of distraction,” the “ties we form through the Internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind.” Ultimately, she asserts, relentless technological connections exhaust us and leave us lonelier than ever.