Thursday, March 17, 2005

From the Newstand

A brief foray today into the latest edition of The Economist to make it to my local independent bookstore. Dipping into The Economist always makes me feel like I'm way behind on history, geography, politics... and that there's just no way to catch up. It also invariably makes me wonder who the little worker bees are that write all the unsigned articles. The veneer of objectivity that not having bylines gives makes me uncomfortable -- whose bias are we exposed to? Are the unknown authors more or less likely to be 'professional' under cover of anonymity or when they are exposed to the world?

[Just in case you feel like subscribing to The Economist and also contributing to my book fund:]

The Economist on the difference between a search engine and a collaborative search (like Amazon's recommendations):

"Where the user of a search engine is on a solitary quest, the user of a collaborative-filtering system is part of a crowd. Search, and you search alone; ramble from one recommendation to another, and you may feel a curious kinship with the like-minded whose opinions influence your own --and who are, in turn, influenced by your opinions" (p30).

By the way, I read somewhere (who knows where, really) that applied for and received a patent for its collaborative search technology.

Who knew?

Here's one for your useless trivia file, also from The Economist:

"According to Avital Ronell, a professor of philosophy at New York University and author of The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, and Electric Speech, [Alexander Graham] Bell was just as interested in using his invention to contact the dead as he was in talking to his associate Thomas Watson. 'Bell and Watson had attended regular seances in Salem,' says Dr Ronell. Bell even drew up a contract with his brother, agreeing that whoever lived the longest should try to contact the other. For his part, Watson was an avid medium who spent hours listening to the weird hisses and squeals of early telephone lines in case they proved to be the dead trying to make contact" (p15).

But my favorite quote from The Economist has to be this one -- surprisingly lyrical for a staid publication:

"Phones are not so much omnivorous as promiscuous. The future belongs not solely to all-in-one super-phones, though they will appeal to some people, but to a far wider range of gizmos, including dedicated devices, digital jacks-of-all-trades, and every imaginable combination in between. The best way to describe it is not convergence, but divergence" (p16).

My own cell phone is, lamentably, neither omnivorous nor promiscuous, though it is divergent: while most other people have upgraded to tiny, fancy cell phones that take pictures and receive e-mail, I still carry around my first chunky, clunky Nokia. And I confess: most of the time it's turned off. I'm just not a phone sort of person!

March 21 Newsweek

In his column "The Technologist," Steven Levy asks "[s]ince anywone can write a Weblog, why is the blogosphere dominated by white males?" He concludes: "It appears that some clubbiness is involved. [Blogger Halley] Suitt puts it more bluntly: 'It's white people linking to other white people!' (A link from a popular blog is this medium's equivalent to a Super Bowl ad.) Suitt attributes her own high status in the blogging world to her conscious decisions to 'promote myself among those on the A list'" (p16).

Mmm... The A list? I wonder how you figure that out... I guess for now I'll just be content to read and write (pretty much for myself!) -- I guess I'm not ready for primetime yet! (But what IS the A list for lit blogs???)

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