This book by by Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis falls towards the glass is half empty side of the argument about the influence of technology on our lives. If you’re concerned about the negative effects of the new digital landscape then this book could be for you. The authors’ primary concern relates to a common theme in the media these days: personal control of information, privacy, and identity in a digital world.
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Here are some of the questions they are trying to answer… You should read this book if you find yourself asking the same questions…
- Can you control who sees all that personal information about you?
- Can email be truly confidential, when nothing seems to be private?
- Shouldn’t the internet be censored the way radio and TV are?
- Is it really a crime to download music for free?
- When you use Google or Yahoo!, how do they decide which sites to show you?
- Do you still have free speech in the digital world?
- Do you have a voice in shaping government or corporate policies about any of this?
The basic idea is that information freedom is a very tricky business. Some of our fundamental assumptions about privacy, business, and identity are in the process of being shattered. The authors are computer scientists writing for a more general audience… and at times they succeed but I don’t find them as hopeful, accessible, or convincing as Grown Up Digital which I reviewed previously.
I do like the fact that they stress how technological changes and social changes reinforce one another. We often don’t see these changes as clearly as we should when we are caught up in the middle of them. In the end, the authors take a typical academic escape route and hedge their bets by stating that we don’t really know what’s going to happen or whether future changes to information control will be positive or negative.
Here’s an overview of the chapters for those who are interested:
Digital explosion: Why is it happening and what is at stake?
Naked in the sunight: Privacy lost, privacy abandoned
Ghosts in the machine: Secrets and surprises of electronic documents
Needles in the haystack: Google and other brokers in the bits bazaar
Secret bits: How codes become unbreakable
Balance toppled: Who owns the bits?
You can’t say that on the internet: Guarding the frontiers of digital expression
Bits in the air: Old metaphors, new technologies, and free speechClick the picture to buy the book