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May 22, 2007

Counting Up My LifeBits

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jonathan @ 2:27 pm

In this week’s New Yorker (”Remember This?” May 28, 2007), Alec Wilkinson trails Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell’s effort to build a personal archive encompassing all the minutiae of his life, his “lifebits.” It’s not that Bell’s life is of particular interest: As part of Microsoft’s MyLifeBits project, he’s simply investigating how new digital capture technologies from scanners to cameras to digital voice recorders can extend *anyone’s* natural capacity for memory and knowledge organization.

The practice is dubbed “lifelogging,” something most of us do to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how infected we are by that natural impulse to horde that follows advances like freely available, high-quality media on the Web or the ubiquity of cheap digital cameras and video cameras.

The interesting question for researchers like Bell is one of purpose: How do you make the increasingly robust and affordable practice of lifelogging work for you, not vice versa?

Bell’s notions of purpose reported in Wilkinson’s article — like automatic story generation from one’s vacation photos — are underwhelming at best. The gain is not only trifling, it’s destructive: Taking away the “burden” of creating our own life stories would seem to remove perhaps the most important act of our moral and intellectual lives.

Instead, I wonder if lifelogging might be one of those practices labeled “not for the faint of heart,” one that makes our lives harder but more rewarding. By allowing us to constantly reflect on and confront the facts of our experience and keep them more concretely and readily at hand in photographs and recorded phone calls, lifelogging can potentially challenge and enrich our understanding of everything from our own personal relationships to philosphical questions to political issues.

Critical to the question of purpose is Bell’s concern about the persistence of media formats. What good is an archive of digital files that can’t be retrieved 10, 20, 100 years from now? To me, any practice of lifelogging that creates a dependency on the persistence of the technology is doomed, since technologies obsolesce, are easily destroyed, etc. It might serve us better instead to adopt lifelogging as a practice that affords us continuous opportunities to enrich our lives and minds so we’re left in a better place even when the technology is removed.

June 14, 2005

Dumb Down the News With More Detail, Not Less

Filed under: Journalism & News Media — Jonathan @ 8:06 am

As I collect and read news from the Internet, much of which flows through the purifying sieve of the Associated Press (AP) — who in its eagerness to make the news more readable sifts out important facts and contexts — I’m not surprised that the Web-enabled public now believes itself a better journalist, en masse, than real journalists.

Take the following lead from an AP story ostensibly about growing hunger among America’s young children:

Increasing numbers of young American children are showing signs of serious malnourishment, fueled by a greater prevalence of hunger in the United States, while, paradoxically, two-thirds of the US population is either overweight or obese.

In 2003, 11.2 percent of families in the United States experienced hunger, compared with 10.1 percent in 1999, according to most recent official figures, released on National Hunger Awareness Day held this year on Tuesday, June 7.

Oh, I see, “official figures.” We learn when they were released but not by whom. Read the full text and note that the reporter not only neglects to document this statistic but fails to cite enough quantitative information to support the claim made in the story headline, namely that “increasing numbers of young American children are showing signs of serious malnourishment.” This claim rests instead on professorial comments and anecdotal evidence from pediatricians in the Baltimore area, and it is used to support such important arguments as the case against President Bush’s 2006 budget.

Now, I’m certainly not trying to argue against the reporter’s sources that all is well and no one is hungry. But if she really wants to dumb it down for us, and if she really wants to convince us of the case she’s making (albeit through the voices of others), she should give us more context and detail, not less.

June 8, 2005

Dealing With the Digitally Disenfranchised

Filed under: New Media & Social Change — Jonathan @ 7:36 am

Plans are underway at MIT to make an affordable laptop available to the world’s poor and developing countries by 2007. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, launched the ambitious campaign to develop a $100 laptop with the intention of broadening computer education and access across the so-called “digital divide.” The MIT project’s mission is to provide disadvantaged students and families in impoverished nations with a learning tool “much more powerful” than a pad and pencil.

But let me play devil’s advocate a moment, just because I’m cranky. It’s easy to overstate the value of technology if we don’t situate it in context. For example, when it comes to educational use, is a disconnected computer with basic software (which is what $100 will get you) really more than a glorified pad and pencil? No doubt computers empower people to learn and participate in a larger society when they facilitate access to the vast information resources, communications tools, and community forums that make up the Internet. But that’s a much more costly proposition.

Absorbing costs to put new technologies in the hands of the people in rich, developed nations is a no-brainer: Doing so opens up a market flush with cash. (As ever, access is bi-directional.) In poor countries, no such incentive exists. The challenge of bringing the digitally disenfranchised online — which could be truly empowering — requires either a new model or a lot more charity.

June 7, 2005

Don’t Regulate: Prosecute!

Filed under: Media Reform — Jonathan @ 1:53 pm

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today reports that “in a routine scan of the NineMSN website, our reporters discovered a page called ‘RapeClub’ buried among a host of legitimate pages in a group of users.”

The page, apparently published on the Internet as a focal point for that demented handful of psychopaths who target defenseless women, contained, among other entries, at least one invitation to view pictures of rape victims. Shockingly, the page had been available for some months.

The Telegraphs’s kneejerk reaction is a call for “regulation” of new media befitting print magazines and cable television. But that solution disregards the democratic and fundamentally anarchic character of community-created media. The existence of “RapeClub” to me bespeaks a problem different from media “indecency” — it’s downright criminal. Perhaps such crimes ought be precisely defined and prosecuted, leaving the rest of us to the unbridled orgy of creativity and communication that the Web has unleashed.

June 3, 2005

Paper Is Still a Super Technology

Filed under: New Media & Social Change — Jonathan @ 1:25 am

Print media outlets today are fretting ad insaniam about the rise of the Internet and their Darwinian struggle to adapt or go extinct. But I have to think that print can remain profitable in the digital age.

Paper, after all, is one of the greatest technologies ever invented and compares favorably to many of the touted digital technologies of today: Paper allows extremely versatile content creation and annotation, supports every written language, consumes no power to operate, has no moving parts, is durable, portable, flexible, and is way undervalued. And I suspect there are plenty of affluent consumers out there who agree with me, not for giving in to habit or nostalgia, but for the simple truth that no digital solution has yet supplanted books.

Might there even be ways of reading and interacting with texts that depend on the noble medium of paper? If so, I’d say the future of print media is at least, if not bright, not down in flames either.

June 1, 2005

Is Journalism Getting Too Democratic?

Filed under: Journalism & News Media — Jonathan @ 8:27 am

The field of journalism is abuzz with talk of a sea change brought on by new media. The participatory news phenomenon of collaborative citizens’ journalism (CCJ) is taking hold among the younger, spunkier consumers of news information who believe that news-making ought be more democratic. The trend has even prompted a number of news organizations to create “citizen editor” positions in their newsrooms. Meanwhile, RSS and other syndicating technologies have helped the rest of us collect and consume news information tailored to our own criteria and stripped of (at least the overt) advertising content. No wonder folks in that collective of traditional news organizations known as “the press” are scared: They’re scrambling to escape the guillotine.

But I have faith that the press will weather these changes largely intact. If a free press is — as so many of us have trotted out — necessary to democracy, it is not because it resembles democracy. It’s because the press is entrusted by the public and its institutions of power with a responsibility to watch and conscientiously report on both. You can’t have everyone doing that, can you? Besides, as a critical consumer of news information, I prefer to read the work of a smart, decent journalist over the neutered product of some democratic process. But maybe I’m alone in that preference?

May 10, 2005

Delivering News and Opinion Since Yesterday

Filed under: Journalism & News Media — Jonathan @ 8:26 am

Today marks the ambitious launch of the celebrity blog site, the Huffington Post. The site will test a number of hypotheses about people and new media: That there exists a market of folks who crave “news and opinion” from the mouths (or rather, keyboards) of public figures and celebrities from Arthur Schlesinger to John Cusack; that these big names have the time and incentive to write blogs; that, if they don’t have the time but do have the incentive, they can delegate the task to a trusted assistant; that, if they do have the time but don’t have the incentive, they’ll spend that time writing a blog; and that, if either of the last two conditions apply, there will still be a market of folks who care to read whatever’s produced.

The sustainability of the Huffington Report may be staked on dubious hypotheses, but the thing as it exists now, I must admit, tickles even my fancy. Everyone knows that the public has an insatiable appetite for celebrity. The notion of celebrity blogs — where the words of the people who have long shaped public discourse through traditional media are broadcast to us live and unadulterated — is most titillating.

Still, the Huffington Post promises more than celebrity — it promises substance. Arianna Huffington, columnist and onetime candidate for governor of California, has lined up more than 250 of what she calls “the most creative minds” in the country to write a group blog that will cover topics from politics and entertainment to sports and religion.

When the project was publicized in anticipation of the May 9 launch, many Web rats pounced, condemning the Huffington Post to failure because it stomps on the supposed grassroots nature of blogs. To me, a more damning charge is that a celebrity blog, which draws its power not from its content but from its author, can be nothing but another PR tool in a publicist’s arsenal. Famous people can’t help but posture themselves for public view — or appear to posture themselves — not for anything they say or do, but for who they are. They are constrained by fame in a way that undermines truth value in their words. Indeed, we don’t even know who’s writing, say, Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog. So I guess what I’m recommending is that maybe Gwyneth Paltrow’s publicist should write his or her own blog — that might be worth reading.

April 20, 2005

Meetup Goes Commercial

Filed under: Business & Advertising — Jonathan @ 8:33 am

Meetup.com has at last revealed its true intentions. The child of a decent investment by eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, Meetup.com provides Web-based tools — and now print materials, as well — to help people organize real-world social events called “meetups.” Meetups are local opportunities for people to come together around a shared interest, such as a political agenda or knitting. Now, Meetup.com is following in eBay’s footsteps, blindsiding its users with unportended fees.

Starting May 1, 2005, the formerly free service used by over 2 million people (54,000 active groups), will cost $19 per month per group. If Meetup could retain all of its users — an unfathomably rosy scenario — its annual revenue stream would top $12 million.

In the Internet Age, this is a popular business model: Create a demand for a service by giving it to millions of people for free, and then one day nonchalantly slap a charge on it, claiming (as Meetup’s founder Scott Heiferman does in a heartfelt letter to his customers) that the company has “spent countless hours exploring every possible option to avoid this.”

I don’t deny Meetup the right to turn a fair profit on the service it provides. But neither am I swayed to believe that Heiferman is anything but disingenuous in his explanation for the change. Does he mean to say that the company never had a business plan? That he assumed he would just go on indefinitely providing a free service, so long as his seed funding didn’t run out? (Note: I actually visited Meetup about a year ago at its Manhattan location, and I can’t say that wasn’t the plan. How much overhead is required to staff an office of recent college grads sharing IKEA furniture?)

It is commonly observed that we live in a world of increasing quantification, and companies can know how small changes will impact their bottom line before they make them. Managers have tighter and tighter control over how their companies perform on paper relative to a quantified standard.

With so much emphasis on numbers, even companies like Meetup.com, which began with a strong social agenda, can forget that their customers interact with them not only on economic terms, with wallets and credit cards, but on human terms, with gratitude or resentment, good will or hostility. These feelings may be left out of Meetup’s equation, but they will no doubt impact — negatively — the human effect of Meetup’s innovation. When Mr. Heiferman rhetorically asks, “Why bother with Meetup?” I dare say that’s a good question.

April 6, 2005

Jedi Mind Trick Marketing

Filed under: Business & Advertising — Jonathan @ 7:42 am

Add one to the arsenal of tactics used by industry, government, and special interest groups to “get into the heads” of the people: cognitive dissonance. The phenomenon isn’t new, but cognitive dissonance as a conscious marketing strategy will certainly sow confusion among the befuddled masses — or, among the media literate, new self-understanding.

Take StriVectin, a skin cream packaged as a highly-specialized topical treatment for stretch marks, with a price to match, as profiled in a recent issue of New York Times Magazine. On the shelf at Rite-Aid, the stark white box of StriVectin with its black type and minimalist graphics connotes the quiet power of doctors’ offices, pharmacy labs, and specialized medicine. In fact, the product sells largely to a “subculture” of women who know its utility as a generic wrinkle reducer — a cosmetic. For that, StriVectin brings in billions of dollars in sales each year.

What’s interesting is that StriVectin’s maker has decided to capitalize on the cognitive dissonance that exists between how the product is packaged and how it is used. The product’s core consumers, they found, value the apparent legitimacy of a product that is “doctory,” that isn’t selling itself to them (hah!), and that gives them a feeling of wielding some kind of insider knowledge.

Admittedly, it would be hard — and downright ballsy — for other firms to consistently market products far afield of their intended uses. Still, I expect to see more cognitive dissonance, not less, as companies seek to distinguish their products in novel ways. In championing new media literacy, I can only see this development as an opportunity for consumers, too: We can develop our own sensitivity to how such Jedi mind tricks affect us, our behavior, our notions of what’s possible. With greater self-understanding, we may be more prepared to act rationally, even if that means buying StriVectin because you know the way it makes you feel.

March 30, 2005

Technology To Make Life Harder

Filed under: New Media & Social Change — Jonathan @ 12:05 am

The excitement brought on by the popularization of blogs and wikis is not undue: Not only are they excellent tools for communication and collaboration, but the multitude of ways in which these technologies are being used is arguably inducing positive new social realities. Through new media, we’ve created new forms and new rules of social engagement. Now, politicians are freer to interact with their constituents and vice versa, students with their teachers and vice versa, businesses with their customers and vice versa — and much, much more.

Suites of collaborative corporate communication tools — like those hyped by Eastwick — besides being a mouthful, are creating transparency and accessibility within the walls of traditionally hierarchical organizations and between traditionally insular organizations and the public. That wiki-fever should strike corporate communities, in particular, seems odd given what we purport to know about the technology. After all, what do businesses have to gain from so much openness? Potential smear campaigns? Loss of competitive edge? Everyone knows that unhappy employees and unhappy customers are more vocal than happy ones.

It doesn’t make sense unless the glowing words by which we praise the potentials of “democratic” new technologies glow because they are, well, slightly intoxicated. How long is it, really, before some PR whiz at Company X is engineering the “open” communication portal of the company to distill calculated — even fabricated — emotional effects on its participants? No doubt the very adoption of these new technologies represents a strategic decision, from the top down, triangulated from multiple motives.

There doesn’t need to be a conspiracy afoot to raise our concern. If we are getting more sophisticated with communication media, then perhaps we need to simultaneously develop our sensitivity to the dangers of duplicity and self-delusion inherent in that sophistication — especially for those of us in the new media community who have multiple motives of our own.

March 21, 2005

Truth, Subjectivity, and Hogzilla

Filed under: Media Language — Jonathan @ 9:42 pm

We study media. In particular, we study how media impacts human consciousness. Those who value and study human consciousness or “subjectivity” labor to articulate its importance, especially if we wish to suggest a certain primacy to subjectivity without inviting accusations that we’re spewing postmodernist drivel and denying the existence of an objective reality. Here as everywhere, the terrain of language is perilous.

But over the weekend, I came across a most elegant approach to this terrain in a most unlikely place: the story of “Hogzilla” as reported in The New York Times:

Asked if she believed Hogzilla was real, Beverly Moore, a retired bookkeeper eating lunch at Flander’s Cafe in Alapaha, raised her eyebrows and said, “It’s a real story.”

“It’s a real story.” Ms. Moore’s statement at once validates and undermines the truth of the Hogzilla tale. That is, she lays aside claims about the objective truth of the content of the story and privileges the reality of the story itself. We take a similar interest in all media-borne “stories” here at NewMediaLiteracy.org.

Of course, Hogzilla became the subject of a National Geographic documentary that last night confirmed the real existence of an 8-foot, 800-pound feral hog slain in Alapaha, Georgia in 2004. Apparently, forensic scientists donning biohazard suits signed off on the claim. I would say “So much for subjectivity,” but then, that documentary is “a real story,” too.

July 22, 2004

Wild Firestarter

Filed under: Journalism & News Media, Media Language — Jonathan @ 11:59 pm

What triggers the enormous blazes that devastate the American West seemingly every summer? It is a natural subject of curiosity, given the magnitude of the destruction that ensues. We have been taught that forest fires often have as their root cause an event so small and preventable as the spark from a flung cigarette butt hitting dry brush. And those who grew up on Smokey the Bear’s relentless campaign to instill in us a sense of personal responsibility for such disasters would naturally like to see someone held accountable.

So we took interest last week when it came to light that a fire consuming thousands of acres was started by a lone target-shooter in the woods of Southern California. And when we learned that the man would be issued a summons and fined an amount to help defray the public cost of fighting the fire, we were justly pleased.

But what do we do when the cause of a catastrophic wildfire is simply unknown?

For structural fires, the specific causes and contributing factors involved are often known and rarely undocumented. There is, after all, a driving monetary incentive to assign liability for the property damage sustained in any structural fire. And the smaller scope of most structural fires can make the job of isolating first causes somewhat easier. The result, of course, is satisfying, explanatory detail, from which we can glean a certain intellectual mastery over the whole phenomenon of structural fires, so that when the topic arises in conversation we might cite statistics on the effectiveness of fire safety measures in building codes or the dangers of risky indoor behaviors like smoking and drinking (together).

Wildfires, though, are different. Government agencies who keep cause data on wildfires generally distinguish between what they believe are “lightning-caused” fires and what they believe are “human-caused” fires, but those categories are never detailed enough to satisfy us. We want to know exactly what kinds of human carelessness or error were involved, what irresponsible lout is to blame, and certainly what causes might have come that were neither human nor lightning.

Thankfully, we have a few news reporters eager to fill in the gaps, knowing full well that the public craves this knowledge. And once in a while, they uncover information so spectacular that it makes for a story of downright mythical dimensions.

Read, for example, the following passage from a July 19, 2004 Associated Press (AP) wire, which offers an unattributed but dramatic account of how the latest fire in Los Angeles County began:

SANTA CLARITA — Firefighters battled Monday to save hundreds of homes threatened by a stubborn wildfire that broke out over the weekend in tinder-dry brush and raced over hillsides and through canyons in northern Los Angeles County.

Although no houses have been lost, nearly 1,600 homes have been evacuated since the fire began Saturday. It was ignited when a red-tailed hawk flew into a power line, was electrocuted and its flaming body fell into brush left dry by years of drought.

The AP reporter identifies no source for the red-tailed hawk story. Instead, it is laid out in the journalist’s own matter-of-fact prose. Although the account has not been repeated in updates of the same story, this strange information still sent reverberations, however quiet, across the Internet.

On the Oregon Birding List, a man identified as “Tim Lee” frets about what may well become an epidemic of electrocuted hawks:

I think this could be a time for the engineers and environmentalists to form an idea of trying to prevent red-tails or other birds of prey from hitting the power lines. Maybe they could try to establish a type of noise-making bird-proof sensor which could force the hawks to stay away from the risks of electrocutions.

Maybe this is just an arbitrary idea that I snatched it out of blue. Hopefully, there could be a solution of preventing the bird electrocutions ASAP. That way, it could make the environment a safer place for birds to cruise around, but also a safer place for us to live.

A respondent, Barbara Millikan, writes back to Mr. Lee with some skepticism about the story, noting that in the dozen or so similar cases she’s heard about or witnessed(!), “the bird is electrocuted, but isn’t burned.” She explains, “The short happens at a pole with a transformer, and the jolt throws the bird off (or the contracting muscles, or the bird falls) but in any case, a circuit breaker kicks in and the power goes out, just about immediately.” She includes in her posting an original poem on the topic, penned in 2000:

DEATH OF A HAWK

Circling, the red tailed hawk
Screams high and thin,
Calling to her mate
in vain.
Eyes wide and claws clenched,
His body lies
Tangled in blackberries
At the foot of the power pole
Where he landed, and,
With one wide, back-winged sweep
Closed the circuit from hot to ground.
The computer only flickered;
Protected from surges
These words live on.

(Barbara Millikan, 2/3/00)

Clearly, much pathos can be found in the image of a majestic hawk’s "flaming body" dropping into some dry leaves and setting the countryside afire. The truth value of the AP’s firestarter story, though, is another matter. When someone like Mr. Lee has no trouble segueing that story into an argument for protecting hawks from electrocution, a measure that will also make the world "a safer place for us to live," perhaps we should worry — and wonder if our reporter, hoping to dazzle us, hasn’t inadvertently ignited some kind of fire himself.

May 4, 2004

It’s Vexillological, Stupid!

Filed under: Journalism & News Media, Media Language — Jonathan @ 11:46 pm

Last week, when Iraq’s Governing Council unveiled in Baghdad a new Iraqi flag designed by UK-based Iraqi artist Rifat al-Chadirchi, it prompted an immediate, decisive response from the world’s vexillologists — folks engaged in the study (and, necessarily, the love) of flags. The verdict? The new flag is no good.

Most experts at the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) would agree with their president, David Martucci, who handed down judgment in a recent article in the Globe and Mail, which is reproduced on Flagwire. Al-Chadirchi’s design, Martucci said, lacks an appropriate symmetry, bases itself on questionable symbolism, and marks a radical, unjustified departure from the Pan-Arab colors of red, green, black, and white.

The old Iraqi flag, with Allahu Akbar (”God is great”) penned in Saddam’s own hand:
Old Iraqi Flag
>New Iraqi Flag

To an outsider, Al-Chadirchi has made what might seem like reasonable choices: The blue stripes at the bottom of the new Iraqi flag represent the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and by extension, the Sunni and Shiite communities that claim them as their heartland. The yellow line represents the Kurdish people of Iraq (an identification that Martucci notes with some suspicion). The three peoples are then symbolically united under the crescent of Islam.

Perhaps all flag symbolism is arbitrary. But al-Chadirchi became arbiter himself when he abandoned certain conventions forged during the 20th century’s Pan-Arab Nationalist movement. Unless he can make his choices resonate with the people his flag represents, his flag will flop rather than flap.

According to Associated Press and other news reports, the unfurling of the new flag in Baghdad was met with confusion and skepticism as Iraqis grappled with it as an unanticipated and seemingly trifling act by the Governing Council. Within a few days, thousands of university students demonstrated in protest of the new flag, which in their minds drew too close for comfort to the pale blue and white flag of Israel. Widespread sympathy for this view forced to Governing Council to return the flag to al-Chadirchi so he could darken the blues a shade.

The flag of Israel:
Flag of Israel

The cynicism — from both the vexillologists and Iraqis — cannot bode well for Iraq — not to mention poor al-Chadirchi. In this to do over the new flag, we see the all-but-ineffectual Governing Council condemned for a purely symbolic act: adopting a new flag that is itself nothing more than a symbol, a representation of exactly what the country is not.

And to know that the Looney Tunes-inspired flag of the new Canadian province of Nunavut, adopted in 1999, fared much better among residents and vexillologists alike. Yeah, that smarts.

The flag of Nunavut:
Flag of Nunavut

March 21, 2004

What Are the Odds of Dying?

Filed under: Media Language — Jonathan @ 11:33 pm

Pretty good, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). The organization has published a bold summary of data on this topic on its Web site: a table of values that sets down exactly what your chances are, as an American, of dying in a given manner — be it by accidental strangulation in bed (a one-in-10,948 chance over the course of a lifetime) or the surprisingly common misfortune of being “bitten or crushed” by a reptile (a one-in-115,486 lifetime chance).

NSC's 'Odds of Dying'

With more than 150,000 U.S. lives claimed by “external causes” in 2000, you can expect the diversity of manners and methods to be impressive. And it is. The NSC table delineates admirably the multitude of circumstances that present us with the danger of dying — or, more accurately, the danger of being killed — over the long term. The Council, mind you, addresses only what it considers to be the preventable causes of death, not disease or natural causes. Its mission is “to educate and influence society to adopt safety, health and environmental policies, practices and procedures that prevent and mitigate human suffering and economic losses arising from preventable causes.” The editorial choices that result from the NSC’s worldview make for interesting comparisons: on the Odds of Dying table, suicide or “intentional self-harm” is lumped in with the external causes, while the provenance of lung cancer remains the Inevitable.

I’ve been wondering how to use all this information constructively. The NSC’s stated goal in providing it is to educate the media — and via the media, the public — about safety and the lack thereof in contemporary life. Everyone wants quotable numbers on the odds of being struck by lightning or attacked by a shark, and why shouldn’t we? The language of probability is a universal one inasmuch as we (even we non-math types) can overcome our innumeracy to grasp simple numerical statements like “one in 73,062″ (the lifetime odds of dying in a “cataclysmic storm”). And it doesn’t take a genius to recognize the subtler points, like how these simple probabilistic statements represent unrealistic odds depending on an individual’s exposure to a given danger. Here in the Northeast, for example, there are few reptiles capable of biting or crushing us to death, so the one-in-115,486 probability figure is for us an exagerration, while the same figure is likely smaller than the real odds faced by those fearless southern Floridians.

All titillating thoughts, indeed, but what’s the take-home point of all that fuzzy data? Is it meaningful? Probably not very. Anyway, I’ve always been told that the true odds of dying are more like 1 in 1, so I’m not hedging any bets. Still, I intend to keep the NSC’s probability figures at my fingertips, if for no other reason than to remind myself of all the ways I miraculously skirt death, while others are not so fortunate.

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