‘Get a life’ redux

There’s been a bit of a ruckus on MetaFilter recently regarding a journalist, Laurie Garrett, who attended the World Economic Forum and sent an email to her friends filled with her personal thoughts an speculations about the conference. The email was of course not intended for publication, but this being the 21st century and what with the Internet and all, the email has spread far and wide.

At first, the MetaFilter denizens were a little bemused about the whole thing and doubtful about whether it really was written by Garrett. Once it was discovered that she did write it, there was some general discussion about the email contents and some comments about her apparent unprofessionalism as a journalist for passing on confidential information to her friends and then simply assuming that they wouldn’t pass it on (instead of, say, encrypting it, or at least putting some kind of disclaimer at the end).

Then it got interesting. Two days ago, Laurie Garrett emailed MetaFilter, castigating all the readers, clamiing that her privacy was being violated, bemoaning all the useless Internet geeks in the world and essentially telling us all to ‘get a life’.

That was more than enough to engage MetaFilter members, who were either infuriated and/or pleasantly amused at the rantings of a Pulitzer prize winning journalist who doesn’t understand how security works*, and seems to think that talking politics over dinner is necessarily better than talking politics over the Internet. Sigh. It’s a wonder that there are journalists who still ‘don’t get’ the Internet. The notion that everyone who participates on Internet forums are clones of the Simpsons Comic Book Guy is, well, completely illusory, infantile and destructive.

* Emails don’t just magically appear on the Internet (or specifically, the web). Someone has to post them there, and in this case, it was one of Garrett’s friends. There’s no rational reason to get annoyed with MetaFilter, but if she does want to be annoyed, it’d be better for her to identify the original culprit(s). But as I said earlier, the blame lies with her as well, for not taking appropriate precautions when passing on sensitive information, which is a pretty risky and unprofessional thing to do.

2 Replies to “‘Get a life’ redux”

  1. The trick here is that proving that the internet is more than just clones of the Simpsons Comic Book Guy takes more effort than the average non-netizen is willing to expend. I wrote about this a little while back. CSI, a great TV show that for the most part does a decent job with technology, got the internet All Wrong a few weeks back. It’s like they never bothered to do any research and just went with the caricatures they knew. Cyberpunk girl, online gamer geek, blue-shirted marketing drone. God I hate it when they pigeonhole the Internet to just a few stereotypes.

    But how do we fix that?

    I’m not sure. But we start with accessibility. This means everybody should be able to get broadband as a city resource, like trash collection or water.

  2. Hi Tom. I think it runs deeper: I expect there are an awful lot of people living today who will never “get” the internet, or want to.

    That’s ok. There are still people who don’t “get” mobile phones, or computers. For a long time, I expect your average crofter didn’t “get” steel. People grow up in a paradigm of how to live their lives. It’s a shame for those who are out of step with the paradigm shift IMO, because if I had to choose any time to live in the history of mankind, it would be at this time, when we are starting to get networked together.

    And living now, I like to get as fully integrated as I can afford. Every time it gets more convenient for me to access the net, I experience tangible joy. Not because it lessens the experience of my “real” life (which is Garrett’s poorly-hidden strawman), but because it actually increases it.

    More and more I find information, conversation, art, culture, fleeting insights into minds both deeply different and haltingly familiar to mine, to be at my very fingertips. It’s an exciting time. I have lived a fuller life, compressed into the last five to ten years, than I would have thought possible before these phenomena emerged. I am more well-informed, I consider more opposing viewpoints, I check my facts more fully, and I understand more deeply. If you’ll forgive a flight of metaphor, I float like a river-dancer on the stream of information, aiming my canoe with deft twitch of wrist.

    It’s been … real. It’s increased the set of what I think of as real. And yes, I’d like to share. Ubiquitous access would be a great start, as you point out. But I believe we will also experience sweeping social change, and inevitably some will be “left behind” while the changes are happening. But measured against the changes in our lifestyles when we shifted from an agricultural to an industrial paradigm, I believe these changes will be considered retrospectively to have been more than worthwhile.

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