Sunday, July 13, 2008

Doom and Gloom

Haven't managed to write for this in a while, been a bit busy and lazy. Now that I'm back to writing on this again, I suppose I'm in a fairly pessimistic mood. Perhaps it's the continuing bad news with regards to the economy, the environment or our government, but I've definitely got the feeling that I should be writing more letters to my Senators and Congressmen.

This is somewhat unusual for me as I tend be pretty damn optimistic with regards to the future, but after having a friend spend hours at a party telling me that the US is degenerating into a police state, with Obama voting for that damn FISA bill, watching the US financial sector melt down, and while the Wilkins Ice Shelf is melting, Congress is spending its time banning clove cigarettes. I suppose articles like this are a pretty good expression of what I worry about.

There is a place for paranoia. I'm generally optimistic about humanity's ability to adapt, but the last seven and half years have given me no faith in our government to do anything but make the world worse. I hope this election changes that, we're going to need a huge shake-up in the system. The Democratics won't do it just on their own. Don't get me wrong, I despise the Republican party, but the Democrats aren't exactly a bastion of well executed policy.

So, I suppose I should get around to yelling at my representatives about the budget deficit, farm policy, drug policy, tax policy, energy policy and civil rights, and hope that it doesn't have to get worse before it gets better.

More detailed thoughts to come later, but for now, sleep.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Active v Passive Information Consumption

One problem I've had with the Internet over the years is that I've tended to be a very passive consumer of the information on it. Of course, that's one of the reasons I've set up this blog, in order to make sure I'm putting some thoughts back out there and doing some actual thinking. Now, don't get me wrong, the Internet is far less passive than, say, TV. The Internet is even less passive than books. However I feel that I get more into ruts with the Internet than I do with books. I'm not sure why that is, but I have definitely gotten into the habit of reading the same websites, looking up the same news, lurking on the same forums, and I need something to jostle me out of it. I feel like I go through a lot of the same content without it really making an impact on me, without really remembering it, it's just a means of spending time, not that different from TV.

Perhaps part of the reason I never commented on forums was the complete lack of personal connection. Which makes me want to expand my idea on unifying every username on a public system to one public social profile so that there would be more personality behind forum posts. Of course a lot of people wouldn't like that idea and would try to encrypt and make themselves untraceable. But for majority of people, some IP address queries, some linguistic analysis, maybe even studies of time of input. Or even simple comparisons of usernames. That of course would take all sorts of computing resources, but I imagine it would be doable in not to long. Of course I should take some classes on machine learning and search before claiming anything like that. That's more just something of a dream at this point, though I would love to see it.

There are a lot of benefits to a more social or active approach to gathering information. We buy books so that we can communicate with others about those books, or simply that we can impress other people that we own those books. I feel that at this point the Internet is so vast and specialized that there is less chance of overlap with your peers. Therefore you are generally isolated in the specific field that you're interested, and less likely to branch out from that. You are also less likely to communicate about what you are interested in, and therefore less likely to think about it.

Another benefit of having people's communications combined into one social profile would be to cut down on the number of stupid things people get away with post anonymously on the net.

Of course, there are other means to encourage people to think about more things more deeply. You could add a question/testing program if you wanted some sort of auto-teacher. Not sure teachers would be happy with that, but fortunately for them, I think creating programs able to teach and understand what one is thinking are even more difficult to make than a system that would combine all of one's contributions to the Internet into one profile.