Upcoming Events

Civic Media Lunch: Andrew Keen, "The Internet Is Not the Answer"

Tuesday, March 31, 2015 - 12:00pm

MIT Center for Civic Media

RSVPs are now closed.

Now that the World Wide Web has been with us for twenty-five years, no one can doubt that it has transformed the world forever. But, in The Internet Is Not the Answer (Atlantic Monthly Press; January 6, 2015), Andrew Keen argues that on balance the web has done more harm than good except for a tiny group of young, privileged, white male Silicon Valley multi-millionaires.

Rather than making us wealthier, he writes, the unregulated digital economy is slowly making us all poorer. Rather than generating jobs, it is contributing significantly to rising unemployment. Rather than fostering equality, it is creating a chasm between rich and poor. Rather than holding our rulers to account, it is turning the world into a brightly lit glass cage in which everything is recorded and privacy no longer exists. Rather than promoting democracy, it is empowering mob rule. And rather than fostering a new renaissance, it is encouraging a culture of distraction, vulgarity, and narcissism.

How did we get here? Keen reminds us of the innocent beginnings of the Internet as he traces its evolution from World War II to the Cold War and then to the early nineties when Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web began its remarkable rise. It was then that the U.S. government handed over the publicly funded network to the commercial forces of start-ups like Netscape & Yahoo. The turning point was the meteoric rise of multibillion dollar Web 2.0 companies like Google and Facebook, which set in motion an increasingly exploitative and monopolistic Internet economy that in no way resembles the values the World Wide Web was founded upon.

By 2039, almost everyone alive will be online. Before it’s too late, it’s up to us to stop the corruption of the Internet and return it to its founding principles to foster creativity, self-expression, small business and personal freedom. What we have now, Keen writes, is a “top down winner takes all economy run by a plutocracy of lords and masters.” What we need, he explains, is a networked society that enriches citizenship, not consumption.

Andrew Keen is an entrepreneur who founded Audiocafe.com in 1995 and built it into a popular first generation Internet company. He is the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast, the host of the Techonomy interview show "Keen On", a columnist for CNN and he has appeared on CNN, NPR and “Colbert Report.” He has spoken at LeWeb, DLD, Disrupt, Next Web and TEDx. His books include Digital Vertigo and the Cult of the Amateur, which has been published in 17 different languages.

Civic Media Lunch: Carl Malamud, "Yo! Your Honor!"

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 12:00pm to 2:00pm

MIT Center for Civic Media

RSVP required below. Co-hosted by Deb Roy/Laboratory for Social Machines.

Carl Malamud will discuss the Yo.YourHonor.Org campaign to make our nation’s federal judiciary more readily accessible to people. The Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER) system charges $0.10/page to access court dockets, opinions, briefs, and orders, a price that makes access to justice a luxury only accessible to professional lawyers. Carl has been working to free this system since 2008, when a group of volunteers including Aaron Swartz worked to download 20 million pages of PACER documents and performed a comprehensive audit to alert judges to blatant privacy problems infesting their database.

Carl Malamud runs Public.Resource.Org, a nonprofit that has helped make numerous government databases available to the public. In a prior life, he ran the first radio station on the Internet and also did a brief stint at the Media Lab as visiting faculty.

Civic Media Lunch: Mushon Zer-Aviv, "How Interfaces Demand Obedience"

Thursday, April 23, 2015 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

MIT Center for Civic Media

The internet, once associated with openness and decentralization, is increasingly understood in terms of the control exerted by government agencies (like the NSA) and advertising (targeted ads). What is less commonly discussed is how this subliminal control is embedded in interface design. In this talk Mushon Zer-Aviv argues that web interfaces demand our silent obedience with every page load and he tries to offer tactics and strategies for challenging the politics of the interface.

Zer-Aviv is a designer, an educator and a media activist based in Tel Aviv. His work and writing explore the boundaries of interface and the biases of techno-culture as they are redrawn through politics, design and networks. Among Mushon’s collaborations, he is the co-founder of Shual.com – a foxy design studio; YouAreNotHere.org – a tour of Gaza through the streets of Tel Aviv; Kriegspiel – a computer game version of the Situationist Game of War; the Turing Normalizing Machine – exploring algorithmic prejudice; the AdNauseam extension – clicking ads so you don’t have to; and multiple government transparency and civic participation initiatives with the Public Knowledge Workshop; Mushon also designed the map for Waze.com. Mushon is an alumni of Eyebeam – an art and technology center in New York. He teaches digital media as a senior faculty member at Shenkar School of Engineering and Design. Previously he taught new media research at NYU and Open Source design at Parsons the New School of Design and in Bezalel Academy of Art & Design. Read him at Mushon.com and follow him at @mushon.

Civic Media Lunch: James D'Angelo, "The Ghost Bill & The Cardboard Box"

Thursday, April 30, 2015 - 12:00pm

MIT Center for Civic Media

In November 2014, James D’Angelo released the results of more than ten years of research in an hour-long YouTube video titled The Cardboard Box Reform. In it, he amasses evidence to suggest that a single, long-forgotten bill (dubbed the ‘Ghost Bill’ by representative Rees in 1972) is the cause for at least three of america’s more troubling problems (soaring inequality, campaign finance and partisanship). Better still, he suggests that we can patch these problems with the installation of a single cardboard box in the chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Sound to good to be true? Perhaps. But, his idea is gaining traction with Harvard professors, MIT researchers and many other interested citizens.

An academic outsider James D’Angelo is an ex-NASA scientist, and current winner of the MIT Climate CoLab for the design of a mobile-app that provides a global carbon cap-and-trade without requiring the support of government muscle. He is an outsider academic who, in just the last six months has spoken about advances in financial technology to Harvard Business School, novel ways to govern to the Harvard Kennedy School, and led JavaScript/cryptocurrency hackathons at MIT. He spends his time focusing on identity solutions, squirrel genomes, human evolution and DAOs.

Civic Media Lunch: Joseph Reagle, "Comment's Mysteries"

Thursday, May 7, 2015 - 12:00pm

MIT Center for Civic Media

In his new book Reading the Comments: Likers, Haters, and Manipulators at the Bottom of the Web (MIT Press, 2015) Joseph Reagle visits communities of Amazon reviewers, fan fiction authors, online learners, scammers, freethinkers, and mean kids. He shows how comment can inform (through reviews), improve (through feedback), manipulate (through fakery), alienate (through trolling and hate), shape (through social comparison), and perplex us. While we are counseled to “avoid the comments,” Reagle argues that reading the comments permits us to ask important questions about human nature and social behavior. In this talk, he will reflect on four of those questions. What’s behind the boom and bust cycle of blog, comment, and community platforms? Second, can we trust online reviews? Third, why are comments often so hostile, sexist, and racist? And finally, how can we make sense of the product review: “saved my son’s life: 4/5 stars”?

Joseph Reagle is an Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Northeastern and a faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. He taught and received his Ph.D. at NYU’s Department of Media, Culture, and Communication. As a Research Engineer at MIT he served as an author and working group chair within the IETF and W3C on topics including digital security, privacy, and Internet policy. His current interests include geek feminism and online culture.