Category Archives: Politics

Battle For The Net

If you woke up tomorrow, and your internet looked like this, what would you do? Imagine all your favorite websites taking forever to load, while you get annoying notifications from your ISP suggesting you switch to one of their approved “Fast Lane” sites.Think about what we would lose: all the weird, alternative, interesting, and enlightening stuff that makes the Internet so much cooler than mainstream Cable TV. What if the only news sites you could reliably connect to were the ones that had deals with companies like Comcast and Verizon?On September 10th, just a few days before the FCC’s comment deadline, public interest organizations are issuing an open, international call for websites and internet users to unite for an “Internet Slowdown” to show the world what the web would be like if Team Cable gets their way and trashes net neutrality. Net neutrality is hard to explain, so our hope is that this action will help SHOW the world what’s really at stake if we lose the open Internet.If you’ve got a website, blog or tumblr, get the code to join the #InternetSlowdown here: else, here’s a quick list of things you can do to help spread the word about the slowdown: Get creative! Don’t let us tell you what to do. See you on the net September 10th!

via Battle For The Net.


Yes, fellow bloggers. Your freedom of expression is at risk.

The FCC is about to make another momentous decision – whether to adopt Comcast and Verizon’s “pay to play” proposal. If the FCC doesn’t make the correct choice – and say NO – the days of a free and open internet will be over. Not because we won’t be able to write what we want – but because it will be very hard for anyone to ever find and read it! freepressdotnet Netneutralitycopy1

Net Neutrality is at stake. Net Neutrality requires providers like Verizon and AT&T to treat all lawful content – like our blog contents – the same. They can’t block us, or edit us, or discriminate against the information we send and receive, like the sites we visit or the applications we use.

Imagine what will happen if that changes!

  • Big PUBLISHERS and BOOKSELLERS like Amazon will be able to pay fees, but INDE writers and bloggers will not. Guess who moves to the slow lane?
  • Big companies like Apple and Google will be able to pay fees, but startups will be stuck in the slow lanes. Goodbye, internet innovators and small businesses.
  • Big broadband providers like Comcast will be able to play favorites and put their own shows in the fast lanes while they slow down services like Netflix.
  • The big broadband companies also will be able to more than double-bill – to charge their ever-increasing basic connection fees AND charge a fast-lane fee to content providers AND charge extra fees to users for visiting less favored websites or using certain online apps.

We can’t afford this change either as bloggers or as readers and general users of the internet. For many of us, access is already too expensive and too unreliable and too slow. We also, as CITIZENS, can’t afford to lose Net Neutrality. We can’t let the internet be something just a few corporations control.

I’m not speaking hyperbole here. Before the FCC adopted the Open Internet Order, phone and cable companies were blocking traffic they didn’t like. They already are more than double-billing in other countries around the world and have started interfering with traffic to Netflix and other sites in the U.S. This coming FCC decision is CRUCIAL.

On Jan. 14, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order. The court made no judgment on the merits of the open Internet rules, but said that the FCC had used a questionable legal framework when it adopted them. To restore Net Neutrality, the FCC must correct this mistake and reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service…..

The law gives the FCC clear power and responsibility to protect the Internet from corporate abuse, but earlier missteps jeopardized not just its Open Internet Order, but the agency’s ability to promote affordable, universal and reliable broadband networks. The FCC’s role in preserving online privacy is also now at risk.

In 2002, the FCC should not have classified broadband as an information service but should have classified it as a telecommunications service. That’s what it is. Faster than the phone lines we use for slow dial-up, and phone calls, and faxing, but serving the same communication purposes.

Help push the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunication service. Then the FCC will be able to adopt strong Net Neutrality rules and keep service providers from using discriminatory practices that will hurt us all.

Make Your Voice Heard


Five Stars for Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother

Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (Tor Books, 2008; my references are to the free PDF version from succeeds both as a YA techie adventure novel and as an introduction to the debate over security versus the intertwined freedoms of privacy rights and the right to freedom of speech/self-expression. It also succeeds to some extent as an elementary how-to on protecting yourself from post-Patriot Act government surveillance.

I hope I’m wrong about this (please enlighten me if I am), but I doubt that Nebraska teachers are including the book in curriculum for teens under 16 or 17, if at all (and they’re likely to get flack from school boards and parents if they do, both because of the sex scenes and because of the book’s pro-freedom stance). I doubt that the schools will even have it in their libraries – and that’s a shame, because if anyone easily understands the need for privacy and self-expression and the horror of having neither, it’s a teenager. Little Brother ought to be on our library shelves and we ought to make sure our teens are reading and discussing it. It’s not dated and unfortunately is likely to stay timely.

As Doctorow says on page 1 of his introduction:

When I was 17 …..
In the Soviet Union communications tools were being used to bring information and revolution to the farthest flung corners of the largest authoritarian state the Earth had ever seen. But 17 years later, things are very different. The computers I love are being co-opted, used to spy on us, control us, snitch on us. The National Security Agency has illegally wire-tapped the entire USA and gotten away with it. Car rental companies and mass transit and traffic authorities are watching where we go, sending us automated tickets, finking us out to busybodies, cops and bad guys who gain illicit access to their databases. The Transport Security Administration maintains a “no-fly” list of people who’d never been convicted of any crime, but who are nevertheless considered too dangerous to fly. The list’s contents are secret. The rule that makes it enforceable is secret. The criteria for being added to the list are secret. It has four-year-olds on it. And US senators. And decorated veterans, actual war heroes.

It’s always been and probably always will be a constant battle to maintain freedom of speech/expression because the powers that be, whoever/whatever they are, always benefit from making sure that only they, not investigative reporters or whistle-blowers or your average rebellious young people, have it. Freedom of speech and open access to information are dangerous to those who want power and profit only for themselves, because information is powerful and the freedom to express yourself is powerful, especially if you do it well. The same goes for privacy rights – they’re dangerous to the powers that be because the lack of them gives others so much more power to terrorize and completely silence us.

As the narrator, Marcus Yallow (w1n5t0n, later M1k3y), says on p. 22, the right to privacy is not important because you need to conceal shameful acts. “It’s about doing something private. It’s about your life belonging to you. They were taking that from me, piece by piece.” If we can’t have and maintain personal boundaries that others have no right to breach, we’re left feeling naked and powerless and vulnerable to abuse, even when we have done nothing wrong – and we really then ARE powerless and vulnerable to abuse.

One of my favorite passages is the narrator’s discussion of the Paradox of the False Positive (p. 47-48), because it explains so well why collecting data on everything eradicates privacy while it allows threats to citizens from those with access (legal and illegal) to the data but does NOT protect citizens against terrorism. Another favorite passage is Doctorow’s explanation of why he publishes free e-books under a Creative Commons ( license (see the CC license on this site):

If you’re not making art with the intention of having it copied, you’re not really making art for the twenty-first century. There’s something charming about making work you don’t want to be copied, in the same way that it’s nice to go to a Pioneer Village and see the oldetimey blacksmith shoeing a horse at his traditional forge. But it’s hardly, you know, contemporary. I’m a science fiction writer. It’s my job to write about the future (on a good day) or at least the present. Art that’s not supposed to be copied is from the past.

Little Brother describes both fictional and actual tools for evading keyloggers, censorware, and other invisible monitors on the internet (and was published long enough ago to be very out-of-date, so triple check anything you use, OFTEN, to be sure what you’re using can work):

  • IMParanoid, the fictional secret instant messenger in the book, may exist under some name now but you can’t find it easily with an internet search. What you CAN find is the fascinating hacker blog, .
  • TOR, The Onion Router, an indie internet connection, actually exists. See‎ .
  • The hint that any program whose name starts with $SYS$ is invisible to the operating system may or may not be true, so renaming your Firefox browser $SYS$Firefox may or may not work. I haven’t been able to figure this out, one way or another. Anyone who knows, please send me a link to the documentation.
  • INDIE OS: Paranoid Linux is the fictional operating system in Little Brother that assumes that its operator is under assault from the government. There have been rumors about it being in development since 2008. Other systems with such goals evidently are under development or may have been developed. See
  • Public and private keys to keep messages private and insure messages are from their purported author (Little Brother, p 55-56) are treated extensively in Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and described in detail in Wikipedia.
  • Tunneling (piping over DNS) is actual. See Dan Kaminsky,

I especially like these References at the end of the book and hope I can get to many of them in the not-distant future:

  • O’Reilly’s MAKE magazine (how-tos for hardware projects at home). See also .
  • Ed Felten and Alex J. Halderman, Freedom to Tinker blo, About security, wiretapping, anticopying technology, and crypto.
  • Dan Kaminsky, About Tunneling (piping over DNS).
  • Dan Gillmor, Center for Citizen Media at Harvard and UC Berkeley, We, the Media, O’Reilly, 2004.
  • Annalee Newitz, “The RFID Hacking Underground,” Wired Magazine, (
  • Adam Greenfield, Everyware, New Riders Press, 2006. A look at the dangers of a world of arphids.
  • Neal Gershenfeld, Fab Lab at MIT, Fab, Basic Books, 2005.
  • Bruce Sterling, Shaping Things, MIT Press, 2005. How arphids and fabs could be used to force companies to build products that don’t poison the world.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Spends donated money to keep the Internet safe for personal liberty, free speech, due process, and the rest of the Bill of Rights. EFF also helps maintain TOR, The Onion Router, See also American Civil Liberties Union (, Public Knowledge (, FreeCulture (, Creative Commons (
  • Slashdot, “News for Nerds, Stuff That Matters” ( Chronicles the fight for cyber liberties.
  • Wikipedia. Covers hacking and counterculture in depth and up-to-date. See both the entries and the “History” and “Discussion” links at the top of every Wikipedia page.
  • Cryptome ( Publishes material from Freedom of Information Act requests and from whistleblowers.
  • The Pirate Party (, Denmark, the USA and France in July, 2006.

Climate, jobs, free press: Techies wanted for a revolution

Monday night I stayed up late to watch Cspan as Senators talked about climate change. It’s about time — well, actually, it’s way past time to start talking and almost too late to fix things, but I keep hoping the powers that be will start behaving responsibly. And that we of little power will find ways to make all of us and them act responsibly together.

Meanwhile, the greediest among us still deny that anything we’ve done has caused the deep ocean warming that’s bringing us rising waters, increasingly strong hurricanes & other storms, unstoppable forest fires, widening droughts, & the extinction of more & more plant & animal species all over the planet. Worse, they deny that anything bad is happening and won’t let us do anything about it. Their denial is crazy and dangerous enough to qualify them for permanent commitment in a mental health facility for the criminally insane.

But they are so intent on preserving fossil fuel income, they can’t see (or won’t admit) how much more profit would come from giving up fossil fuels and going all-out to reverse ocean warming now.

Yes, deniers, there IS money in solar & wind power & retrofitting to ensure conservation. U.S. money & U.S. jobs. And there is profit in clean water and air, and health benefits. And profit in huge savings from avoiding the effects of rising oceans & catastrophic weather events. And the greatest benefit of all: continued human life on this planet.

The deniers can’t — or won’t — see that human life is what’s at risk here. ALL human life. Not just small life, like the salt flat beetles sacrificed for ugly development along N. 27th St in Lincoln, NE. Not just a polluted coral reef here or there. Not just the prairie mammals & birds almost totally extinct today. And it’s not just the QUALITY of life that’s at stake. It’s the FACT of human life.

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t worried about our mistreatment of the environment — of all life. I grew up in Florida near the Gulf, so I saw the goose ponds & their wondrous waterfowl & grasses disappear for the sake of strip malls & parking lots.

It was not good.

As a young adult, I moved to Nebraska and every year have seen fewer & fewer birds of all species at all times of the year, because they are dying off by the thousands. No one around me remarks on this. When I do, they eye me suspiciously.

No one seems to remember that only 16 years ago, small birds regularly rested everywhere along the rural power lines in long double and triple rows, and birds of all sizes regularly flew overhead in town and over farmland, while hawks rode the thermals in groups of 4 here, 6 there, 5 more a ways off, and the swallows flew in thick clouds in summer twilight. Now you have to stand and watch and wait to spot the lone bird or, if lucky, two or three.

It is not good.

Humans have not inhabited earth forever, and our appearance has not been a blessing to the life that came before us and makes it possible for us to continue. For a while we have at times been a blessing to each other, but we too often take the easy way, for immediate comfort with no thought about consequences. As the rabbis say, we rush to do evil. It is our undoing as individuals. As peoples. Soon, perhaps, as a species.

After all, our fisheries are dying. The oceans are acidifying. And most of our oxygen comes from ocean plant life, which cannot survive continued acidification.

Our Nebraska Governor & legislators want us to keep rushing headlong toward poisoned water & land. They deny the danger of pushing poisonous tar sands sludge by the thousands of gallons through pipes over the biggest, most important aquifer in the plains States. Without that good, clean water, farmers & ranchers in these States cannot supply food to the rest of the country or overseas. All human & animal life here depends on it. No jobs & no profit are worth risking it.

All pipelines leak, sooner or later. It is not good.

We do NOT have to choose between the KXL pipeline risk and the risks of carrying tar sands poisons by rail. Sane people would not have chosen to create acres of poisonous ponds to hold the by-products of taking it from the ground. Only insane greed chooses to create ponds so poisonous we must frighten off the waterfowl to keep them from landing in certain death. Sane people will choose to leave tar sands oil in the ground.

Big oil & gas interests, including state and national legislators, also want us to ignore the insanity of fracturing the earth for the short-term profits of natural gas. We are to ignore the dangers of increasing earthquakes in Oklahoma & Texas — under & around pipelines already carrying oil & often leaking & spilling onto our yards and into our rivers & streams. We are not to ask about the billions of gallons of water they use and pollute to do the fracking. We are not to ask about the poisons they pump in with the water. Or the methane they release into the air. Or the ground water they pollute.

We are to shut up about such things. They are spending millions to shut us up and drown us out with denials and lies.

It is not good.

Shutting up is NOT the answer.

I am not eager to chain myself to a bulldozer or the White House fence in protest, but I am tired of writing letter after letter, and signing petition after petition, and getting excuses for willful ignorance and greed and downright evil from my Senators & Congressmen & Governor & state legislators & corporate officers. Don’t these people have children & grandchildren & greatgrandchildren? Do they actually think their descendents will exist if we don’t stop our rush toward extinction?

But I also will not shut up. Tiredness is no excuse. Nor age, and, yes, I am getting old and I am not a person of means or able to travel far from my community. But I will not shut up.

Divine intervention is not going to save us. Benign intervention from outer space is not going to save us. Hope is not going to save us. Only WE can save us and we have to ACT and make everyone else ACT to save us. Including the greedy evil SOBs spending megamillions to keep us from saving us.

I’ll keep calling & writing & campaigning & voting & may soon be chaining myself to bullfozers & fences to make change happen. But I am not enough by myself or even as a member or supporter of one or more of the many envronmental organizations out there, like, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, NRDC, EDF, WWF — it’s a long list. We need a really big national movement with thousands of us in the streets everywhere, so that we can keep ALL our legislators up all night, not just talking but legislating and forcing corrective actions NOW.

We need to be able to act together, as individuals & as organizations. And we need better internet tools (or better ways to use them) to make this happen — not new organizations but an easy way to connect existing ones, so that even those of us without means, who cannot travel from our communities, can make our voices heard as one huge LOUD voice.

I hope some of you Techies who read this will help create such tools — I know you’re out there with the know-how to make it happen or the means to help.

For example:

What if we had a website that could track and MAP things in real time by crowd-sourcing — a website we could use to stay informed & up-to-date as advocates, and to recruit more advocates & to persuade legislators & pressure corporations? A website that existing environmental groups could use to coordinate with each other and extend their reach? To plan & coordinate actions of all sorts? open source software could help make it happen — if folks with the know-how are willing to make it work.

Such a website could keep us informed by mapping such things as:

  • Existing & proposed pipelines
  • Natural gas wells, fracking sites, polluted wells (& known pollutants & effects)
  • Polluted land, creeks, rivers, ponds, lakes
  • Leaks & spills (crowd-sourcing could pinpoint new problems as they arise & help keep info up-to-date)
  • Pollution details such as start date, company responsible, remedial efforts & progress & costs
  • Reactions from responsible gas or oil or pipeline or transport companies — & their contact info
  • Reactions from/environmental positions of local/state/national representatives — & their contact info
  • Advocacy actions & events, from mass efforts at long-distance lobbying to coordinated marches on state houses and occupations of corporate offices.

Every new posting could automatically go out to Facebook & Twitter & subscribing blogs & individuals & wherever else becomes possible.

So this is a shout-out to Techies who care: The world needs you to organize a revolution. Please help.

5 Stars for Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years

I don’t give ‘good read’ nods very often to books on history, but I think Tom Standage’s Writing on the Wall: Social Media – The First 2,000 Years (2013, Bloomsbury Publishing, Kindle Edition) is an excellent  read – well organized, with a pleasant style, and full of interesting portrayals of important figures set in the context of their times.

The book had me from the start, with the “Introduction: Cicero’s Web.” I had a wonderful high school Latin teacher who taught Roman history, art, architecture, and mythology along with Latin grammar, Julius Caesar’s prose, Virgil’s Aeneid, and, yes, some of Cicero’s work, as well. So I loved revisiting old friends in the Introduction and “Chapter 2 The Roman Media: The First Social-Media Ecosystem” – and discovering both new facts and a new way to view those old friends and their times. I had not known about the use of graffiti on the walls of Pompeii and throughout the Roman Empire; knowing about the graffiti helped me understand both the upper class’ correspondence and everyone else’s graffiti as evidence of social networks in action, rather than “literature” in contrast with property defacement.

As Standage puts it, “social networks were the dominant means by which new ideas and information spread, in either spoken or written form” (KL 61-62)*. The scrolls and posted Acta and graffiti and subsequent “series of social-media systems that arose in very different times and places are linked by the common thread that they are based on the person-to-person sharing of information” (KL 78-79).

(*KL is my abbreviation of “Kindle Location.”)

Chapters 3 thru 8 are a romp through European, English, and American history, showing how social-media systems grew farther reaching and more complex after the advent of the printing press, with periodic cycles of censorship accompanied by harsh penalties, including death. These are chapters I will read again, looking for surprises I may have missed the first time, like the surprise I had at learning the role poetry played in court gossip and politics in both England and France. Given the myriad graduate courses I took in English Lit, and the scholarly articles I had to read, shouldn’t I have stumbled on this before? But the poetry Standage is talking about isn’t in the “canon of great poetry” — except, of course, some of it is, like John Donne’s. There is delightful stuff here about rebels from Luther to Paine, and coffee houses, and the stamp tax, and revolutions, and the need for a free press, and the glories and pitfalls of publishing.

Chapters 9 , 10, and 11 deal with the rise of mass media and the birth of digital social media much as previously discussed in my reviews of McChesney, Berkun, and Shirkey. Standage also describes the development of the internet from ARPANET. He argues that mass media is the opposite of social media, and the rise of digital social media is the re-emergence of the old social networking, with new tools to use which increase the speed and reach of our communications but serve the same purpose: to fulfill the age-old human need to form networks with others and to exchange information with them.

Now that I’ve finished the book, I find myself thinking most about content from “Chapter 1 The Ancient Foundations of Social Media: Why Humans Are Wired for Sharing.”

The last half of this chapter gives a good reprise, which I thoroughly enjoyed, of the history of written communication.

Writing evolved from using clay tokens to record quantities and was invented 5,000 years ago, by accountants. The first written documents come from the Mesopotamia, date from around 3400 B.C., and record bread and beer rations. Over the next 500 years, pictograms gave way to more abstract symbols, or ideograms, which were multiple wedge-shaped (“cuneiform”) impressions made with a stylus. Ideograms, which stand for sounds, appeared around 3100 B.C., probably to write people’s names, and led to the first general-purpose form of writing.

By 2600 B.C., cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing systems were flexible enough to record abstract ideas – hymns, religious texts, and messages. Purely alphabetic writing began in Canaanite script around 1800 B.C. For the next 1500 years, only a small number of people were literate: literacy was power, mostly limited to some of the ruling class who used it for administrative purposes. Literacy increased in Ancient Greece; the earliest true alphabet (with consonant and vowel symbols) emerged there in early 800 B.C. The addition of vowel symbols made it much easier to learn to read and write. (Those of us who struggle with Hebrew are painfully aware of the learning to read without vowel symbols.)

But it’s the earlier part of Chapter 1 that I think about most. It begins with a quote from Robin Dunbar, “Without gossip, there would be no society,” and traces the evolutionary development of the brain and language as necessary consequence of primates’ living in large groups and having to survive within a complex social structure. Given the importance of gossip (“information about common acquaintances’ control of resources, sexual activity, alliances, and disputes operating at a societal level” [KL 234-236]) to human society, I wonder at the motives for its bad reputation as ill-intentioned slander, then remember that much of that reputation is tied to misogyny (in a patriarchal culture, the dominant attitude is that men pass social information; women gossip).

Standage sites research by Dunbar frequently in this chapter. “The larger the group, the more mental processing capacity is needed to keep track of the growing web of relationships” (KL 167-168). Primates need a large brain to form alliances and coalitions, balance their own needs with those of the group, and hypothesize about others’ view of the world. “The fact that group size strongly correlates with neocortex volume suggests that the primate brain is indeed a primarily social organ” (KL 174-175).

Standage says, “Dunbar has gone so far as to suggest that the exchange of social information, rather than the need to pass on information about food sources or to coordinate hunting, was the driving force behind the development of language, because using language makes maintaining social bonds much more efficient— which in turn allows for larger (and safer) groups” (KL 222-224). “Whether or not it really did drive the development of language, the exchange of social information does seem to be the main thing for which language is used: it accounts for around two thirds of spontaneous human conversation, according to observational studies” (KL 226-227).

Given the size of the human neocortex, the average group size for humans should be 148, which Dunbar rounded to 150 (KL 188-189). This group size recurs often in human societies – the average size of a hunter-gatherer clan, earliest farming settlements, many villages recorded in the Domesday Book (KL 190-191). It is the largest group size in which everyone can know everyone else (KL 192). Below the 150-person limit, peer pressure can maintain order, because everyone knows each other (KL 196-197). The typical size of a military company is 150 (KL 197).

Primates use grooming (which is only partly hygienic and also is pleasurable) to build and maintain strong relationships with a few others from their group. Members of a grooming coalition support each other, steer members away from rivals, come to each other’s aid, etc., and they send social signals by who they groom, for how long, and so on. “The constant interplay between grooming coalitions helps resolve and prevent conflicts, knitting the group as a whole together and making all its members safer from predators” (KL 163-165).

Humans shifted from physical grooming to speech, which has three big advantages: you can talk to more than one person at a time, you can talk while doing something else, and you can find out about things you didn’t witness. Speech also lets people influence others’ opinions, share judgments about others’ trustworthiness, and let the group more easily detect members who take advantage of others, because “those who do not witness bad behavior directly will soon learn about it” (KL 216-18).

Standage says Dunbar’s research found that most people have 5 intimate real-world friends (akin to members of a grooming coalition) and another 10 close friends within their larger network of 150. Interaction on Facebook similarly concentrates within a core group, an average of 7 other people for male users and 10 for females. This core group is the digital equivalent of a grooming coalition (KL 200- 203). “Using social media is merely the most recent and most efficient way that humans have found to scratch a prehistoric itch. The compelling nature of social media, then, can be traced back in part to the evolution of the social brain, as monkeys and other primates evolved over the past thirty-five million years; in part to the exchange of gossip following the emergence of human language, around one hundred thousand years ago; and in part to the origins of writing, around five thousand years ago” (KL 124-128).

In the last paragraphs of the book (“Epilogue”), Standage says:

…..Whether or not its particular model proves to have broad appeal, the future of social media is likely to see new models based on decentralized architectures and paying customers being added to the mix.

But whatever form social media takes in the future, one thing is clear: it is not going away. As this book has argued, social media is not new. It has been around for centuries. Today, blogs are the new pamphlets. Microblogs and online social networks are the new coffee houses. Media-sharing sites are the new commonplace books. They are all shared, social platforms that enable ideas to travel from one person to another, rippling through networks of people connected by social bonds, rather than having to squeeze through the privileged bottleneck of broadcast media. The rebirth of social media in the Internet age represents a profound shift— and a return, in many respects, to the way things used to be. (KL 4221-4227).

I’ll say it again: This book is an excellent read. (And, yes, I first borrowed it from the NLC but then bought my own Kindle copy.) My thanks to Nebraska Learns 2.0 for recommending it.

P.S. There’s so much in this book, I can’t imagine it NOT being useful to a librarian or anyone who wants to know something about how today’s social media reflects our past and relates to our basic urge to communicate. Or about the history of written communication. Or about differences in attitudes toward copyright or being paid for one’s published work or why freedom of the press is important. Kind of basic to libraries,  yes?

United Breaks Guitars

United Breaks Guitars by Dave Carroll is an easy read – and if you buy the Kindle version, you get links to download free copies of the music videos Carroll made (they’re also on Youtube) to speak out about United Airline’s poor customer service.

The book also is a great follow-up to Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus because it illustrates Shirky’s point that social media can interconnect us so well, we can use them to create both personal and social change. For Carroll, social media aren’t the sources of our connections to each other but platforms that “let us experience our connectedness” (pp. 131-132). He believes that social media are about communication (p. 116) and that

 …once it sinks in that all people share an inherent connection to one another, and that longing to experience that connection forms the basis for many of our choices, everyone would be wise to take note. If we are really connected at the deepest level, then that would explain why it feels good to help others (because we’re really helping ourselves). It can also account for why it’s so frustrating to be treated badly and, if you think about it, why it feels so unpleasant to hurt someone else (because we’re really only hurting ourselves when we do). The impact of this inherent truth can be felt not only on a personal basis, but also in business. (p. 136).

Carroll also asserts that “the concept of statistical insignificance has to be one of the most destructive ideas that certain companies employ when it comes to customer service” (p. 107). I agree. The goal needs to be to get it right 100% of the time, because no customer-service failure is insignificant; every failure is worth worrying about because every customer matters (p. 107). As Carroll says, studies show that customers who have a problem and get that problem solved actually like the company better than those who never had a problem (p. 110).


United Breaks Guitars is the sort of book I’d like young people to read for some inspiration and encouragement to keep working for what they believe in – and for some good advice. To make something other people will want to spend time on, Carroll advises asking, “Can I make something that looks good, sounds good, and makes people want to tell their friends about it?” (p. 112). He says,

If you care that people may choose to spend some of their valuable time looking at you, your content will likely raise itself up and stand above the “clutter.” I have learned that the simple act of caring changes the outcome, and I challenge everyone to try it for themselves. It works. The beauty of caring is that it’s contagious and unlimited. (p. 178)

The advice is good for us librarians, too. Caring, quality, and a focus on good customer service make a huge difference to our patrons.