“Mechanical heart”
Bill McConkey
Collage of a digitally enhanced pencil drawing of the human heart and photographs of different brass instruments. Digital artwork. From the Wellcome Image Awards 2009 – see the other winners here.

Last week was Open Access Week, which meant I got to hear a great talk from John Wilbanks of the Science Commons (you should subscribe to their blog!) I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the legal challenges of data sharing, which is giving me a headache. But there’s an easier way to celebrate Open Access Week: by visiting the Guardian’s a multimedia show about the history of the internet, starting with ARPAnet in 1969. Pop quiz: do you know what the first message sent over the internet was? Answer after the fold. . .

The first message was “Lo.” And no, smartass, it wasn’t supposed to be “LOL” – the ARPAnet crashed halfway through the word “Login.” So very appropriate. 🙂

Since then, the internet has come a long way, baby. Now we have trolls. iO9 reports a new insight into troll psychology:

In a study conducted at Stanford, psychologists discovered that people who hold extreme opinions are more likely to voice them loudly than those who hold moderate opinions. At last, science has explained most of what you read on the internet. (source)

I disagree: there is no explanation for most of what you read on the internet. And there’s more of it all the time. On his blog, Alan Jacobs asks what the heck (and who the heck) Acawiki is for. I’m not sure either:

AcaWiki is like “Wikipedia for academic research” designed to increase the impact of scholars, students, and bloggers by enabling them to share summaries and discuss academic papers online. AcaWiki turns research hidden in academic journals into something more dynamic and accessible. . . AcaWiki enables you to easily post summaries and literature reviews of peer-reviewed research. (Source: AcaWiki; go to AcaWiki FAQ).

Okay: I’m all in favor of increasing the interdisciplinary reach of research. But there are already people summarizing and discussing research articles all over the internet, on niche blogs and fora. I’m not sure it helps to try to unify all those conversations in one place – but then, I’m a believer in small conversations. On Wikipedia, which is arguably the largest conversation around, many authors coexist relatively peacefully by agreeing to cite to outside sources, instead of derailing an article with their own perspective. But it seems to me that derailment is exactly what you are supposed to do when you critique an academic article. Then someone will argue with you. And that multisided argumentative process, happening over time, is the real “good”. Can that really be captured in a wiki?

Of course, if you want some real technopessimism, here’s Nicholas Carr (of “Google’s Making Us Stupid”) on Google Wave:

The flaw of synchronous communication has been repackaged as the boon of realtime communication. Asynchrony, once our friend, is now our enemy. The transaction costs of interpersonal communication have fallen below zero: It costs more to leave the stream than to stay in it. The approaching Wave promises us the best of both worlds: the realtime immediacy of the phone call with the easy broadcasting capacity of email. Which is also, as we’ll no doubt come to discover, the worst of both worlds. Welcome to the conference call that never ends. Welcome to Wave hell. (source)

Carr is responding to two more wary essays by Lev Grossman (“Google Wave is both free and pretty cool. Its main defect is that it’s almost impossible to explain”) and Jessica Vascellaro (“Another obvious downside to the constant stream: It’s a constant stream”), which are also worth reading, although they make the same eternal family of points: tech changes. Communication changes. We change. It’s scary. Lo, the Internetz awaketh.

But wait – it’s not all bad out there. Over at his blog, Ethan Zuckerman has some inspiring reports from PopTech ’09:

Kyna Leski, an architect and art professor at RISD, gave her students a painting by Paul Klee – asked them to build a third dimension to the painting. One student assigned height to rectangles based on color, and built a complex object. He’d somehow osmotically absorbed the work of Klee and created an object that refracted the morning light to recreate the Klee painting.

The creative process makes me think that I am an atheist, and that I am not.

We become mystified by words like creative ability, talent or genius. These are different intelligences. Artistic sensibility is a keen intelectual perception. It’s on the cusp between percept and concept. It comes from the latin root that means “to gather”. I reckon, I get it, I gather, I see…(source)

Ahhhhhh. I feel much better already.


  1. #1 Isis the Scientist
    October 25, 2009

    Your first link reminds me, have you seen these cakes?

  2. #2 Jessica Palmer
    October 25, 2009

    yup, blogged ’em a couple weeks ago. 🙂

  3. #3 Mylasticus
    October 27, 2009

    “I disagree: there is no explanation for most of what you read on the internet. And there’s more of it all the time.”

    hehe, good point!

  4. #4 Sebulon
    October 30, 2009

    “The first message was “Lo.” And no, smartass, it wasn’t supposed to be “LOL” – the ARPAnet crashed halfway through the word “Login.” So very appropriate. :)”

    This is true, but it’s also true that immediately after it crashed, they tried to submit “login” again…meaning that the first three letters ever sent over the ARPAnet were, in fact, “LOL”. 😀

  5. #5 Jessica Palmer
    October 30, 2009

    Nice!! 🙂

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