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Must-see TV for the weekend: Three takes on how we create, spread, and take in information

Three recent talks that challenge how information is evolving.

In the United States, we’re about to start the three-day Memorial Day weekend, which means a little more sun, a few more hot dogs, and a bit more mental space. Don’t let it go to waste! Spend some part of it listening to smart people say smart things!

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society here at Harvard has hosted a spree of folks this month talking about the kinds of subjects we’re interested: how information gets made, how it gets shared, and how it gets consumed. First was James Gleick, talking about the ideas contained in his terrific book The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. Then came metaLAB’s Matthew Battles, who brought in his knowledge of the history of knowledge to talk about what it might mean to “go feral” on the Internet. And finally, earlier this week, Mike Ananny of Microsoft and Berkman spoke about the public’s right to hear and how APIs are changing media infrastructure and affecting free speech.

At some point, maybe after that second BBQ burger (extra mustard, please), take a stretch with your iPad or your laptop and have a listen to what these guys have to say. You’ll be smarter for it.

James Gleick / The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

James Gleick is a native New Yorker and a graduate of Harvard and the author of a half-dozen books on science, technology, and culture. His latest bestseller, translated into 20 languages, is The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood, which the NY Times called “ambitious, illuminating, and sexily theoretical.” Whatever they meant by that. They also said “Don’t make the mistake of reading it quickly.”

Matthew Battles / Going Feral on the Net: the Qualities of Survival in a Wild, Wired World

How do we balance the empowering possibilities of the networked public sphere with the dark, unsettling, and even dangerous energies of cyberspace? Matthew Battles blends a deep-historical perspective on the internet with storytelling that reaches into its weird, uncanny depths. It’s a hybrid approach, reflecting the web’s way of landing us in a feral state—the predicament of a domestic creature forced to live by its imperfectly-rekindled instincts in a world where it is never entirely at home. The feral is a metaphor—and maybe more than just a metaphor—for thriving in cyberspace, a habitat that changes too rapidly for anyone truly to be native. This talk will weave critical and reflective discussion of online experience with a short story from Battles’ new collection, The Sovereignties of Invention.

Mike Ananny / A Public Right to Hear and Press Freedom in an Age of Networked Journalism

What does a public right to hear mean in networked environments and why does it matter? In this talk I’ll describe how a public right to hear has historically and implicitly underpinned the U.S. press’s claims to freedom and, more fundamentally, what we want democracy to be. I’ll trace how this right appears in contemporary news production, show how three networked press organizations have used Application Programming Interfaces to both depend upon and distance themselves from readers, and describe how my research program joins questions of free speech with media infrastructure design. I will argue that a contemporary public right to hear partly depends upon how the press’s technologies and practices mediate among networked actors who construct and contest what Bowker and Star (1999) call “boundary infrastructures.” It is by studying these technosocial, journalistic systems — powerful yet often invisible systems that I call “newsware” — that we might understand how a public right to hear emerges from networked, institutionally situated communication cultures like the online press.

                                   
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