October 16, 2008
Google Makes Us Stupid While Keeping Us Smart
Scientists generally understand that as people age, their brains shrink to a degree. Many recommend doing “brain exercises” which stimulate brain activity, keeping it sharp. A recent study concludes that Internet searching stimulates the brain in a better way than reading a book. Moreover, the benefit seems to work better for those who are experienced with web searching rather than novices.
The study took place at UCLA with a group of 24 ranging in age from 55 to 76. They were divided into two with half having previous searching experiences with the second half having none. Those with searching experience showed more complex brain activity (via live MRI scans) compared to the other group.
Compare this result with an article in The Atlantic (July/August 2008), Is Google Making Us Stupid? By Nicholas Carr. He suggests that the Internet is reducing our attention span and our focus for long-form reading. That view may not be inconsistent with the UCLA reports of neurological activity. From the article:
Anecdotes alone don’t prove much. And we still await the long-term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition. But a recently published study of online research habits , conducted by scholars from University College London, suggests that we may well be in the midst of a sea change in the way we read and think.
The study Carr describes analyzes web logs and finds that more people are skimming documents rather than reading them, at least based on the page views. This may be a reflection of the research process in gathering relevant material rather than conducting the ultimate analysis of that material during that process. There is also the question of television and other media chopping content into smaller and smaller pieces interrupted by commercial messages. This may have an impact on the ability of individuals to absorb information in the long form. Google may be making us stupid on one hand, but using it with some measure of experience and sophistication may be preserving our awareness as we age.
October 15, 2008
Windows 7 Will Be Called Windows 7
Microsoft has said that the replacement for Vista will simply be called Windows 7, the same name being used in the development phase. What, nothing trendy? I was
expecting hoping for something like Windows Omnivore, coming in flavors such as the Small Child and School Edition, the Bankrupt Consumer Home Edition, the InterWeb Ultimate Edition, or maybe the Disaffected Voter and Hockey Moms Editions. I think Microsoft may have figured out that they are selling a commodity operating system instead of a lifestyle choice. Apple is good at that. Microsoft never was, just as Microsoft's web properties will never be Google. The company may make just as much money with less criticism if it sticks with the basics and does them well. [MG]
Government Moves Against Major Spammer
The FTC won a court order yesterday halting the operations of one of the largest spammers on the planet. The action was coordinated with New Zealand authorities who moved against a citizen of that country living in Australia. The New York Times reports some of the scope of the operation, a botnet of some 35,000 computers with the potential to send 10 billion e-mail messages per day. The messages hawked diet and sexual enhancement pills sourced from India. The diet pills didn't work and the sexual enhancement pills contained the active ingredient in Viagra, both containing potential health hazards to users. The spam netted as much as $400,000 in some months. Criminal charges are still pending in the case.
The action by the FTC is welcome, but if it reduces the amount of spam in my mailbox, I haven't noticed it yet. The New York Times article is here, and the FTC press release with links to court documents is here. [MG]
October 13, 2008
Obscenity Convictions Raise Issues
PC World takes a look at two federal pornography/obscenity convictions involving distribution via the Internet. The first involves Paul F. Little, also known as Max Hardcore. Little was convicted in Florida though his production company was in California. The second case involved Karen Fletcher, a Pennsylvania woman who operated a web site that trafficked in stories about violence to and molestation of children. That case was singled out because there were no pictures distributed, which would unquestionably be illegal, only text.
Little's conviction raised issues because of the community standards test that is central to obscenity convictions. The Department of Justice press release indicates that Little's company sent films to a Tampa address via the U.S. mail and transmitted five video clips via the Internet. The question comes down to can the community standards of one area be used to define the level of tolerance for for allegedly obscene pornography for the entire United States. The answer seems to be yes, if that is how prosecutors work the system. So far the number of prosecutions seem to be small in comparison to the amount of porn traveling over the networks. Statistics show that in 2006 the Internet accounted for $2.84 billion dollars in revenue to the adult entertainment industry. TopTenREVIEWS says the total U.S. adult industry take of $13.33 billion is this is more than the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC. They probably left Fox out because they weren't sure where the network wound up in the equation (joke).
Fletcher's case raises a different issue. Her site featured stories, no pictures. In light of the Supreme Court case of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 535 U.S. 234 (2002) that said pictorial virtual child pornography could not be banned under the First Amendment, can words which trigger mental images be suppressed? Since Fletcher pleaded pleaded guilty rather than being convicted, this issue will not be litigated, at least in this case. [MG]