Commentary

  • The Blind Men and the Elephant Stampede

    by Barry Chudakov on April 4th, 2011

    The Blind Men and the Elephant, a story dating back to the 13th century, has been used by Sufis, Hindus, and Jain, among others to convey a profound truth: we describe the world based on local observation, blind to the larger picture. This parable of how we understand the world now comes with a twist. Today as vast quantities of information come via numerous communication tools, each tool gives us a useful but incomplete view. Once the world was a simple, lone elephant; now the world is buzzing with digital pachyderms. The story rings true while it has gone high-tech: we are still groping around for a comprehensive understanding but now the elephants are in stampede.

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  • Gadget Angst

    by Barry Chudakov on January 29th, 2011

    It was autumn of 1939, a time W.H. Auden would commemorate as a “low dishonest decade.” Ludwig Wittgenstein and his young Cambridge student and friend, Norman Malcolm, were walking along the Thames when they saw a newsvendor’s placard announcing that the Germans were accusing the British of an assassination attempt on Hitler. Wittgenstein thought it was likely true; Malcolm said such a thing was impossible because “the British were too civilized and decent to attempt anything so underhanded, that such an act was incompatible with the British ‘national character.’” Years later Wittgenstein wrote to Malcolm:

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  • Tracking, Sniffing & Fingerprinting: The Metalife of Identity

    by Barry Chudakov on December 28th, 2010

    A recent burglary at the home of Washington Post writer and editor Marc Fisher was documented by a Facebook boast.  The burglar took Fisher’s new coat, his son’s iPod, savings bonds, cash and a laptop. Then the burglar opened his son’s laptop computer and posted a photo of himself to the boy’s Facebook page. In the photo, the burglar flashes the stolen cash and is wearing Fisher’s winter coat.

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  • Who’s Watching?

    by Barry Chudakov on November 19th, 2010

    “I like to watch,” says Chance the Gardener in Jerzy Kosiński’s biting 1971 media fable, Being There. Chance cannot read or write (satirically presaging the stereotype of today’s digital natives) but he knows what he likes. When he first rides in a car he observes, “This is just like television, only you can see much further.” We now have many more tools just like TV: our phones, gadgets and apps enable us to see further (and know more about) what anyone else is doing.

    We are all becoming Chance the gardener. We all like to watch—and we are watching each other.

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  • Secret Life

    by Barry Chudakov on September 15th, 2010

    Bees have a secret life. As do numbers. Trees apparently have one, American teenagers always have had one. Secrets are immensely important to us, both in their keeping and in their discovery. We might even say, riffing Socratically, the unsecreted life is not worth living. But what happens to our secret life in the era of publicy and Public Parts? Hive mind and tribal display turn our privacy garments inside out: we wear our inner lining to the outer world. Our secret life is going public with more frequency, more intensity, more reality than ever before; at the same time it is also a target, a tracking and marketing tool for someone we likely do not know or know about. Our secret life is becoming a Metalife.

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  • Sexting, Texting and Metalife

    by Barry Chudakov on August 19th, 2010

    Phillip Alpert, an 18-year-old from Orlando, took a sleeping pill late one night in 2008 after fighting with his former girlfriend. Perhaps it was the fog of the sedative, perhaps a stab of dark emotion coupled with anger over the way she had talked to him. But when he awoke a few hours later, Phillip thought of the nude photos his girlfriend had sent him when they were dating. He went to his computer and e-mailed those photos of the girl, who was then 16, to her ‘contact list,’ which included her parents, grandparents, and teachers.

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  • The Mind That Thinks About Itself

    by Barry Chudakov on July 28th, 2010

    “… many scientists now argue that the best predictor of good judgment isn’t intuition or intelligence or even experience. Rather, it’s the willingness to engage in introspection, to cultivate what Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, calls ‘the art of self-overhearing.’ The mind that thinks about itself thinks better.”

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  • Metalife of a Terrorist

    by Barry Chudakov on May 7th, 2010

    A failed car bombing took place in the heart of Manhattan late Saturday evening May 1st. This is more than the story of a terrorist whose efforts were thwarted due to superior police work; it is also a case history of the rapid building, deployment, and capture of a Metalife.

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  • Heartbeats

    by Barry Chudakov on May 3rd, 2010

    “Everybody’s got a hungry heart,” Springsteen told us. Everyone also has, it turns out, a unique heartbeat. IDesia, an Israel-based biometrics company, is capitalizing on this phenomenon, taking it to consumer healthcare and the emerging field of bio-identification.

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