Surveillance and Morality: The Rambles and the Panopticon

Interesting piece in the Economist (in response to another interesting piece in Philosophy Now, questioning whether increased surveillance has a diminishing effect on morality):

In other words, when surveillance operators use the enforcement of morality as a pretext to aggrandise their own power, they may aim not to minimise transgression, but to provoke a cycle of transgression and repression. And this seems to me to be a good description of how surveillance works on the internet. The internet, obviously, began with a promise of anonymity, not surveillance. It was a place where nobody knew you were a dog, a technological incarnation of the Central Park Rambles. It took many years, and many embarrassing posts and emails, for people to realise that beneath the digital Rambles lurked a panopticon. When people obsess over the privacy architecture embedded in Facebook, this is what they’re worried about. They worry that they are in a space that deliberately creates the illusion of privacy in order to tempt participants to engage in revealing behaviour, which can then be leveraged for fun and profit by the observers secretly taping the proceedings through one-way mirrors.

I’m not fully convinced this holds true for people growing up with the internet (if anyone) and i have thoughts on this piling up in my head, but wouldn’t know when to bring them into a coherent form.

It also reminded me of Adam Greenfields recent piece Neopanopticon, even though it’s probably only very loosely connected, but i’ll stick it into this post for future reference anyway.

For some inexplicable reason i’ve been remiss to post about Lukas Mathis recent piece on gestures:

In a way, gestural user interfaces are a step back, a throwback to the command line. Gestures are often not obvious and hard to discover; the user interface doesn’t tell you what you can do with an object. Instead, you have to remember which gestures you can use, the same way you had to remember the commands you could use in a command line interface.

Java 4-ever

Father: “Hey, what are you guys up to?”
Son: “We are just enjoying some porn.”
Father: “Hope you’re not doing Java and open source…”

iPad First Impressions

A few notes on iPad after three and a half weeks of using one (written on an iPad, as seems to be customary for these kinds of posts):

  • When the iPad came out, everyone was gushing about its speed. I can’t say I’m quite as impressed. It’s not that the iPad is slow, but rather that I didn’t expect any less of it. If it were slower, I would be sorely disappointed. However, my old iPhone 3G seems unbearably slow now by comparison.
  • Battery runtime was a pleasant surprise. You can easily get 10 hours of runtime. I had read about this before, but this is something I could only fully appreciate once I had experienced it first-hand. Unfortunately recharging takes several hours as well.
  • I’m using the iPad strictly as a device for media consumption. How anyone can fathom using the iPad as a full-on desktop replacement is entirely beyond me, especially where typing is concerned. This is the first time I’ve written something longish on an iPad and even just writing this post makes me want to chop off my hands.
  • The iPad is a fantastic reading device. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time in front of the computer reading text, you owe it to yourself to buy an iPad. Web browsing and reading are a real pleasure and a lot of my reading has moved from my desktop to the iPad. I’m also getting back into the habit of reading ebooks. Feedbooks seems to be a decent source for books in ePub format, including a few science fiction novels under Creative Commons licenses by Cory Doctorow, Charlie Stross, Peter Watts and Rudy Rucker.
  • My first assumption on iPad mobility was right: I don’t take it with me out of the house nearly as often as my laptop, but at home it’s always with me, while the laptop rests on it’s desk (as it always has), bound and shackled by a myriad of cables. A completely different kind of mobility.
  • Although the iPad is comparatively slow when it comes to raw computing power compared to a personal computer, it feels much faster than a normal computer. Resuming from sleep and launching apps is near instantaneous. Quickly checking e-mails or looking something up on Wikipedia is much faster than on a PC.
  • Even though Apple is emphasizing portrait orientation in its marketing, I find it far more pleasant to use it in landscape mode. I also usually prefer the two-pane layout in apps like Mail or Netnewswire, which is only available in landscape orientation. The screen orientation lock is a bliss – I have it on all the time.
  • iPhone app upscaling is really only acceptable for games. For everything else I find it unbearable (especially for apps where you read a lot). I don’t have a single iPhone app installed that isn’t a game.
  • Upscaled iPhone icons look really bad on the iPad home screen. Apple should have opted for displaying them at their original, smaller size next to the larger iPad icons. Even worse, when you add a website with an iPhone icon to your home screen, its icon will also be poorly upscaled.
  • Apps that I currently miss from my iPhone: a Skype client, a Facebook client, a Twitter client comparable in quality to Twitter for iPhone (Twitterific is a decent substitute).
  • Netnewswire for iPad is by far the most polished app I’ve encountered yet and worth every penny. I hope some of that polish will find its way into the iPhone version soon.
  • Other apps I enjoy: iBooks, Wikipanion, IMDb, Dropbox, Simplenote and Harbor Master. The latter is a fantastic game for two people sharing an iPad.
  • Media apps like the New York Times’ or the BBC’s looked interesting for a few days, but now I don’t use them anymore. I much rather read in a browser.

Today’s Guardian

Phil Gyford recently launched a fantastic alternative reading interface for the Guardian website named Today’s Guardian. In the accompanying introductory weblog post he shares his design rationale. Especially his argument around finishability resonates strongly with me:

Finally, I wanted finishability. I wanted to be able to read today’s news, know I’d read it all, and that I’m done until tomorrow.

While i enjoy reading the print edition of daily newspapers, i never got into the habit of reading them online. Sure, i would follow external links to articles and read them, but i would never visit their homepage or subscribe to their RSS feeds to keep up with what’s going on, and i believe the primary reason for that is lack of finishability.

Another galling aspect of newspaper websites is the amount of redundancy in navigation structures: You might find links to one and the same article on the website’s frontpage, on the section frontpage, in subsection overviews, in a “most popular” box, as a suggestion for related articles, and so forth. As a reader you need to constantly keep track of what you’ve already seen and read, whereas with a printed paper, you just leaf over an article and can be sure it won’t demand your attention again. Even though the content might be the same, the container it comes in turns online and print editions of newspapers into two completely different media, where i personally strongly prefer the latter.

It’s interesting then that Today’s Guardian doesn’t really work as an online newspaper for me, either. It’s beautifully made, with the best intentions and great rationale, yet something seems to be off still. Somehow the navigation feels too sluggish to me (despite not being particularly slow by any measure). Maybe it would work better on an iPad.

PS: I would be remiss not to include a pointer to Phil Gyford’s follow-up weblog post, Today’s Guardian feature requests.