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The Times, They Are A-changing


This week’s eWeek column – my last for this year – is about something that’s been bugging me for a while now.
Computers do not play together very well. And this is going to – sooner or later – have political consequences. Why?
Part of the problem is ignorance. There’s just so much stuff out there, it’s tough to keep up. And the pending consumerization of Skype – the Internet phone service – is just going to make things even more confusing. I know, I know, they’re working on making it easy. But I have my doubts.
Why? Well, read the part of the column where I went to Radio Shack and asked them to sell me a DSL modem. They swore to me – as did the guy at Staples – that my local phone company, SBC, would give me one for free. They didn’t sell modems, they said. Only wireless routers.
Go ahead, laugh. Yeah, I know, they’re the same thing. The girl selling them didn’t however.
There’s a lot of confusion, too, about not-so-technical stuff. Some of this is the “who’s in charge?” lament. But John Heilemann’s piece in New York magazine where former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder talks – and smirks – about the dot.bomb crowd is worth a read. Or check out this very thoughtful piece by John Seigenthaler, former aide to Robert Kennedy, as well as the much-respected former editor of the Nashville Tennessean. Seignthaler, whose son is the NBC anchor guy, has found himself in a hell created by both the openness and the anonymity of the web. He’s being accused – falsely and probably deliberately – of playing a role in Kennedy’s assassination.
Here’s something else to think about. As loved as it is by the open source/community journalism/free culture crowd, Jimmy Wales’ Wikipedia has a real problem: The more popular it gets, the less reliable it will become. The more people who use it, the more it will become a battleground for ideological battles of all sorts, not to mention hit-and-run character assassination. Right now, the difficulty of using wikis keeps them from being destroyed which makes them seem magical and pure to people who don’t understand how the editorial process works. That’s a temporary situation that those in the know – people with a basic understanding of HTML coding – have enjoyed. It’s almost over.
The World of the Wild Wild Web is coming to an end. Those nice responsible people who sometimes wear ties and suits are going to make sure of that. They’re going to apply their laws to what happens on-line. It would be nice to say tech folks are prepared. But they’re not. That was the point of this post, which I put up in answer to Doc Searls, right before Thanksgiving. A lot more thinking needs to be done about this. And soon.
Sigenthaler’s not going to be alone in his complaints about libel for very long. His is a very important story and should be read by anyone working at the junction of politics and technology if for no other reason than his piece – in USA Today – is probably the introduction that many folks are getting to Wikipedia. On top of that, Seigenthaler is someone that politicians and reporters respect and ways to address his concerns – one of the easiest is a pay-as-you-go registration – are badly needed.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 12:24 PM | Permalink

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