Archives For the internet

To the Editor, Prospect Magazine,

Dear sir, it has come to my attention as a citizen of the internet, that your, until recently, esteemed publication has named polemicist Richard Dawkins as number one on your “world thinkers” list for this year.

I understand that this poll is, in essence, well in every sense, a popularity contest, and thus is not really indicative of the intellectual lay of the land… or globe. Even if some 70% of practicing “philosophers” are atheists according to a recent study, Richard Dawkins isn’t even atheism’s top thinker. Alain de Botton, and Lawrence Krauss must surely trump him in the brain stakes. Ricky Gervais tops him in the wit stakes. And Penn Jillette tops him in the making magic appear to happen when he opens his mouth or moves his hands stakes…

Far be it from me, an unpublished writer of an unpopular, by any real measure, blog, to call your judgment into account when it comes to publishing this sort of list after soliciting advice from an expert panel constituted of “the masses” (I understand your survey drew more than “10,000 votes from over 100 countries” in “online polls”) but I just wanted to humbly remind you that this is, after all, the same internet that attempted to send Justin Bieber to North Korea, sent Pit Bull to Alaska, and continues to be enamoured with web polls that present opportunities for Pharyngulation. This feels a lot like one of those events.

You see, dear Prospect, there is a real chance that in proclaiming that the person with a large social media presence is the world’s foremost thinker, in a study that is a result of a poll conducted on the Internet, that you may open yourselves to being considered what the youth of today might call a “numbnuts”… such polls aren’t just open to manipulation, they lend themselves to manipulation, and your analysis of the poll which trumpets the power of social media essentially invites manipulation.

Dawkins, as much more learned people than I – like literary critic Terry Eagleton – would attest, is guilty of a little bit of overreaching when it comes to lambasting his opponents, and underreaching when it comes to, well, thinking… As Eagleton puts it (in the London Review of Books):

“Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology. Card-carrying rationalists like Dawkins, who is the nearest thing to a professional atheist we have had since Bertrand Russell, are in one sense the least well-equipped to understand what they castigate, since they don’t believe there is anything there to be understood, or at least anything worth understanding. This is why they invariably come up with vulgar caricatures of religious faith that would make a first-year theology student wince. The more they detest religion, the more ill-informed their criticisms of it tend to be…

…Dawkins holds that the existence or non-existence of God is a scientific hypothesis which is open to rational demonstration. Christianity teaches that to claim that there is a God must be reasonable, but that this is not at all the same thing as faith. Believing in God, whatever Dawkins might think, is not like concluding that aliens or the tooth fairy exist. God is not a celestial super-object or divine UFO, about whose existence we must remain agnostic until all the evidence is in. Theologians do not believe that he is either inside or outside the universe, as Dawkins thinks they do. His transcendence and invisibility are part of what he is, which is not the case with the Loch Ness monster. This is not to say that religious people believe in a black hole, because they also consider that God has revealed himself: not, as Dawkins thinks, in the guise of a cosmic manufacturer even smarter than Dawkins himself (the New Testament has next to nothing to say about God as Creator), but for Christians at least, in the form of a reviled and murdered political criminal. The Jews of the so-called Old Testament had faith in God, but this does not mean that after debating the matter at a number of international conferences they decided to endorse the scientific hypothesis that there existed a supreme architect of the universe – even though, as Genesis reveals, they were of this opinion. They had faith in God in the sense that I have faith in you. They may well have been mistaken in their view; but they were not mistaken because their scientific hypothesis was unsound.”

In Dawkin’s defence – he doesn’t have time to worry about sky fairies, or publishing intellectually credible and honest works – he’s lining his pockets with the proceeds of the angry anti-religious screeds published in the guise of popular science or philosophy books – and as you point out in his bio, appeasing his horde of Twitter disciples with cameo turns on the Simpsons. He is a busy gent. He’s too busy to debate serious opponents, and he’s been far too busy to publish original academic work in a peer reviewed science journal since 1980. You know this. Because your own biography of the world’s leading thinker has almost nothing to say about his capacity as a thinker.

When Richard Dawkins, the Oxford evolutionary biologist, coined the term “meme” in The Selfish Gene 37 years ago, he can’t have anticipated its current popularity as a word to describe internet fads. But this is only one of the ways in which he thrives as an intellectual in the internet age. He is also prolific on Twitter, with more than half a million followers—and his success in this poll attests to his popularity online. He uses this platform to attack his old foe, religion, and to promote science and rationalism. Uncompromising as his message may be, he’s not averse to poking fun at himself: in March he made a guest appearance on The Simpsons, lending his voice to a demon version of himself.

How deliciously ironic that in trying to feed an internet culture predicated on the popularity of memes, and the sharability of lists, that you’ve given top billing to this English gentleman and then damned him with faint praise. Is this the biography of a leading intellectual? I’ve bolded the bits that refer to his contributions as a “thinker” rather than as a rabid attack dog operating in an area in which he has only the credibility afforded him by his tribe of minions.

37 years ago he had a good idea. And now he’s a crotchety old man with a megaphone. Here are ten “public intellectuals” with more Twitter followers than Dawkins who you might like to consider for next year’s list. I’ve put stars next to the ones who have been on the Simpsons.

  1. Justin Bieber (approx 39.1 million)*
  2. Lady Gaga (approx 37.3 million)*
  3. Katy Perry (approx 36.5 million)*
  4. Rihanna (approx 29.6 million)
  5. Taylor Swift (approx 27.8 million)
  6. Britney Spears (approx 26.9 million)*
  7. Shakira (approx 20.6 million)
  8. Justin Timberlake (approx 20.2 million)* (in N Sync)
  9. J-Lo (approx 18.2 million)
  10. Kim Kardashian (approx 17.8 million)

I hope this helps. I look forward to reading a more rigorously and well thought out (ie not dumb) approach to identifying “world thinkers” in the future. Unless your link bait strategy was to be very clever and ironic and I’ve missed the joke.

Sincerely,

Nathan

Sometimes the Internet is a sad place

Seriously. Somebody tweeted what I can only imagine was a semi-funny, semi-serious, question about the history of the Olympics. And wow.

Some of them are clearly joking. I hope. There’s an extended edition here with a little bit of a language warning.

Via someone named @Chrissymacc on Twitter.

Ladies and gentlemen. I give you. Your future Dog President.

I laughed. Then I laughed some more. Beats the old stick your arms out from behind another person’s back trick…

The weight of the internet…

This video is doing the rounds – and I can see why. Because it is kind of interesting to know that all the 0s and 1s that make up the stuff we read on our screens actually weigh something. 50 grams, as a matter of fact.

Content farms are the bane of the content creator’s existence. Other people flooding the Internet with cheap mass produced content has the same effect on the content market that any mass producing of something once good and pure has… it cheapens the experience for everybody, big companies make all the money, and then eventually something shifts in the market. It happened with beer. It happened with coffee. Now Google is stepping in to stop content farms leeching off the Internet with their search engine snake oil.

If none of this makes sense to you – then don’t worry – this infographic and accompanying post from techi.com is here to help.

This song is awful. Just awful. Many people are calling it the worst song in the world (Dave Miers isn’t). I wish Autotune technology would become sentient and eat all the awful autotuners out there. And Justin Bieber. That’s a singularity I could get behind.

But the story behind this story (the music video has had more than 27 million hits and the single is roaring up the charts on iTunes), is that this 13 year old girl’s parents paid a company (Ark Music Factory – here’s Rebecca Black’s Profile on their website) $2,000 to make a viral video. That’s $2,000 well spent. Except for all the hate. TechCrunch’s wrap up of the viral side of the story is worth a read. Gawker’s coverage is also pretty good (here’s another, and a story about the company behind the video), and here’s a C-Net wrap up.

Her story has gone mainstream media – where she responds to all the hate and reaches out to Justin Bieber…

Here’s a parody…

Now, if only the Old Spice man would weigh in on a Bieber/Black duet we’d have some sort of viral perfection.

Explaining online relationships

Here’s a handy guide to the people you meet on the Internet.

I think I’d like most of my online relationships to fall somewhere between columns 2 and 4. Column 7 is just scary.

From Pamorama. I think Steve from Communicate Jesus may have tweeted this, so I tip my hat to him. And urge you to follow his blog (and his tweets)

My mind blown: Don’t Panic

The iPad is pretty much the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I only just noticed.

Here’s a passage from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish – one of the five books in the trilogy.

“Fenchurch leaned across him and drew over her canvas bag.
“Is it anything to do with this?” she said. The thing she took out of her bag was battered and travelworn as it had been hurled into prehistoric rivers, baked under the sun that shines so redly on the deserts of Kakrafoon, half-buried in the marbled sands that fringe the heady vapoured oceans of Santraginus V, frozen on the glaciers of the moon of Jaglan Beta, sat on, kicked around spaceships, scuffed and generally abused, and since its makers had thought that these were exactly the sorts of things that might happen to it, they had thoughtfully encased it in a sturdy plastic cover and written on it, in large friendly letters, the words “Don’t Panic”.

“Where did you get this?” said Arthur, startled, taking it from her.

“Ah,” she said, “I thought it was yours. In Russell’s car that night. You dropped it. Have you been to many of these places?”

Arthur drew the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from its cover. It was like a small, thin, flexible lap computer. He tapped some buttons till the screen flared with text. “

iPad + wikipedia = Hitchhiker’s Guide.

Actually, if you read the Wikipedia entry for the guide. Which is kind of meta. It says:

“The Guide’s numerous entries are quoted throughout the various incarnations of the Hitchhiker’s Guide series. As well as offering background information, the Guide’s entries often employ irony, sarcasm and subtle commentary on the action and on life in general.”

Which means it’s probably more likely that an iPad plus reddit is the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe it’s some combination of reddit, metafilter, Lifehacker, wikipedia, and wolfram alpha.

So it seems fitting that you can buy this cover:

Google’s Guide to the Internet

This is a beautiful website/book designed to introduce people to the internet – Google serves it up when you download Chrome for the first time.

If you want to know about the Internet, or have an old or young relative who keeps pestering you – then you should send them to that link.

How the Internet works

This is a nice, simple, little comic explaining what it is that goes on when you type a web address into your browser. It’s a handy reference for when you have those conversations with a dullard who doesn’t really know what’s going on, but suggests it has something to do with monkeys or magic. Or Monkey Magic.

Via labnol.

Useful reminder.

From FlowingData.

I don’t often give serious parenting advice here. I know my audience. But my purpose for this post is twofold – first, to congratulate Steve Kryger from Communicate Jesus for this piece on Sydney Anglicans that has been syndicated on Gizmodo.com.au, and second, to share Steve’s list of ten tips for parents. I think they’re good, and a great acknowledgment that clean feed, or no clean feed, the issue requires a thought out approach from parents not a government mandate.

  1. Understand what your child is doing online (put the computer in a public space, talk to your children, use accountability software).
  2. Ask your child to explain to you what they are doing, and why they are doing it.
  3. Talk to your child about your values, and how these should be lived out, regardless of the environment.
  4. Filter the content that your family views online.
  5. Understand the minimum age requirements for different websites and technologies (children under 13 should not be on Facebook).
  6. Understand how these popular websites are used, and what the opportunities and threats are.
  7. Understand what avenues are at your disposal if something goes wrong (e.g. your child’s Facebook account is hacked).
  8. Consider how you will respond if you discover your child is acting inappropriately, or viewing inappropriate material.
  9. Decide when or if your child will get a mobile phone.
  10. Understand the new functions of mobile phones, and what the opportunities and threats are.

The Internet: Now with Vuvzelas

If, like me, you’ve been up late at night watching the World Cup and you’re finding it hard to adjust to life without the drone of the vuvuzela – then I have a solution for you. Use this site as the gateway for your browsing and you can add the monotonous (in b flat) buzz of the Vuvuzela to any web page.

Here’s St Eutychus with Vuvuzela.

Stuff the Internet Likes

So, you like reading cool stuff on the Internet? Well it turns out most of it still comes from traditional media – so says this infographic from Good, a blog.

Some awesome things

Here are, apparently, the twenty most awesome things in the world. As decided by the Internet.

  1. Internet
  2. Life
  3. Oxygen
  4. Music
  5. A Nap
  6. Technology
  7. Lasers
  8. Physical intimacy
  9. Lightsaber (Real)
  10. Lightning
  11. Ninjas
  12. Leonardo da Vinci
  13. Sunlight
  14. Chocolate
  15. The Earth’s Atmosphere
  16. Super Nintendo
  17. Star Wars
  18. Tetris
  19. Liquid
  20. Velociraptor

Bacon comes in at 23. A travesty.

Here are the 20 worst things polled by the Most Awesome Thing Ever site. The Internet has taste.

  1. Kevin Federline
  2. Mitt Romney
  3. Sanjaya Malakar
  4. Robert Pattinson
  5. Glenn Beck
  6. The Hills
  7. Glitter
  8. Lance Bass
  9. Eliot Spitzer
  10. Akon
  11. Rod Blagojevich
  12. John McCain
  13. Lane Bryant
  14. Chris Brown
  15. Sarah Palin
  16. John Kerry
  17. Nancy Pelosi
  18. Mario Cuomo
  19. Republican Party
  20. Ryan Seacrest