“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
We’ve pointed out in the past that President Obama’s views on the surveillance state shifted completely from when he was Senator to when he was President. As Senator, he supported a bunch of reforms that are very much like the ones his panel have suggested — and which he’s about to ignore. The NY Times […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
The great inventors/businessmen of the First Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt and Matthew Boulton of steam-engine fame, were not just smart but privileged. Most were either born into the ruling class or lucky enough to be apprenticed to one of the elite. For most of history since then, entrepreneurship has meant either setting up […]
Both research and production look poised for a revolution as 3-D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project.
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Before the housing market collapsed and the government pumped billions into the economy to save it, there was a programmer named Satoshi Nakamoto. And without much fanfare, he created an idea that’s in the process of changing the world. His idea was Bitcoin.Some background information is in order before I go any further.Think back to […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
The online Internet exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act are up and running.OK, they’re up. Uhh, OK, some of them are sort of up.It has been almost a week since last Tuesday’s initial launch, and there have been more than a few problems.Website crashes, excessive response times and other problems have plagued the exchanges. […]
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping.This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government […]
As much as I love technology, part of me hates being so dependent on a live wall plug wherever I go. You find yourself trapped in some setting without accessible wall plugs and your phone is dying. You charge from you laptop, but that is dying too. You take recourse to your tablet, but that […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Today, like most days, I fired up my computer.I read freely available information on the latest developments in technology that would, in the not too distant past, have required a drive to a library to flip through journals too numerous for me to afford. I read the latest national and global news without having to […]
On a Sunday afternoon swim, a 6-year-old boy was bugging me in a sweet sort of way. He rode up and down the handrail on the stairs in the shallow end of the pool where I was trying to sit in peace. He was laughing and talking, but I couldn’t understand a word through the […]
I’ve just completed a heavy schedule of talks at the Agora Financial Investment Symposium in Vancouver. All my talks centered on information economics, Web startups, and the productivity of the Internet and its meaning. As usual, I learned as much from the attendees as (I hope) they learned from my talks. The research I did […]
“I’ve got better things to do than broadcast a message to the world about my lunch.”
An uncountable number of people have said this or something similar to me about Twitter. I’ve stopped responding. It’s the same kind of faux snobbery that causes people to look down on Facebook, YouTube, Angry Birds, smartphones and the whole of digital life generally.
Of course, these days, hardly anyone puts down the Internet in total, but this was common 10 years ago. Today, it is more common to put down popular applications of one sort or another, always with the message that my time is too valuable, I’m too serious for this kids’ stuff, I don’t go for the superficial fripperies that have enchanted Generation Mindless.
I’ve already discussed Facebook, LinkedIn and Pandora, and why their popularity is not only justified, but they have also made gigantic contributions to human well-being. They all use the power of individual volition and the self-organizing dynamic of free association to offer services, methods of learning and means of connecting with others that break through barriers that have existed since the beginning of time.
Let’s take on Twitter, the service that people love to hate the most. Among the nonusers, the word alone is almost always said with a sneer. It is the most transparently easy of all the popular social applications, but also the hardest one to integrate into your life if you are not already part of a set people using it.
Adults sign up to it and then sit and stare at it. Having no followers and following no one, the thing looks and feels as dead as Marley’s ghost. Of course, you could always send out news of the sandwich you ate for lunch, but what’s the point? In this sense, Facebook provides that much-more-immediate satisfaction that adults (ironically) demand from websites. Twitter is an application that has to be built by you.
But consider… when the unemployment numbers come out, I usually get an email from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This most recent time, even before that email arrived, I knew the numbers before. I knew the grim truth behind the numbers. I had a sense of how several major newspapers were spinning the numbers. I had access to charts that were being posted, showing how labor trends interact with other trends. And I was able to react to the news myself by reposting what I appreciated and then adding my own thoughts. Then, finally, the email arrived from the Bureau.
This is an example of an everyday use of Twitter. But it is only one of an infinite number of possible uses. And once you start and get the hang of it, downloading the app and following things you care about, you begin to realize something absolutely astonishing about this seemingly superficial thing. Twitter has radically individuated, democratized and universalized the consumption and production of all forms of information, turning the whole world into a customizable communications bazaar like no generation in history has ever seen.
This customizability is what gives rise to the caricatures of the tweeter as a superficial twit, wasting time blabbing on about nothing to other similar types. But when you see people in revolutionary political situations organizing themselves, using tweets and evading the boot of the dictator by using Twitter to communicate, strategize and outmaneuver the most-powerful armies, it should make you stop and think.
As a means of producing of information, every user has potentially the same influence as every other user. The only possible difference concerns the number of followers you have (I have 700, while Lady Gaga has 20 million), but even that is not really a final determinant, since every message can be re-tweeted and a message sent to one person can turn into a message sent to 140 million people in a split second.
What this means that is The New York Times and White House have exactly the same technical power to influence as the person who just took my order for beer at the pizza shop. The difference in the reach of messages is entirely determined by other users of Twitter, thus resulting in a crazy meritocracy of distribution.
As a means of consuming information, you have access to the instant thoughts of every star, mogul, institution, official or whomever and to the exact same extent as the big-time reporters or other institutions. And it turns out that people like Lady Gaga really like this. Every public figure does, except perhaps the dictators threatened most by this powerful means of instantaneous truth telling.
Currently, Twitter is handling 1.6 billion search queries per day and being used to send some 340 million tweets in the same period. It’s consistently in the top 10 most-popular websites. The service is offered to every person on the planet at no charge. The revenue model is to charge companies for promoted tweets in search results, as well as to charge large Internet companies for the use of applications that display Twitter feeds on their websites.
There’s a rude awakening, however, for anyone who thinks he or she can jump onto Twitter and make a splash. You cannot invite others to follow you. People have to reach out to you, and therefore, in this sense, Twitter can be a more-difficult nut to crack than Facebook.
Your first step should be to follow institutions or people you care about. They will be notified that you have followed them. One hopes, then, that they will respond by following you, but there is no way to make them do so. If you seek followers, your best approach is to find someone who is already deeply embedded in this world to recommend you to their followers. But even then, it is a long haul to get to the point that you have a substantial number of people caring about what you are saying.
Why should you bother at all? There might be someone who has no interest in what anyone has to say and also has nothing to say himself, and plans to maintain this attitude from now until death. That person has no use for Twitter. For everyone else, it is great source for acquiring and relaying information on anything and everything, and therefore, there are few people on the planet who would not benefit.
For career builders, a war chest of Twitter followers is part of the personal capital that you accumulate and carry with you wherever you happen to live or work. In this sense, this can be an essential part of your freedom and personal empowerment. It reduces your reliance on institutions and helps you gain control of your life.
For public personalities, it is obviously rather indispensable. But the same is true for any business. If you assemble followers (I love to follow businesses!), you can immediately reach them with special deals and announcements and do so at zero cost. What could be better than that?
For any individual, there are always times when you need others and it becomes important to get information to them. You might be in danger. You might have amazing news. You might need to send for help. In those times, you will be glad that you have prepared by assembling a valuable network of people who care whether you live or die. Certainly, the state doesn’t much care, so it is up to us to form associations that do.
This is why I’m most interested in Twitter, in its uses of building a global movement for human liberty against the despotism of the state in every nation. Twitter disregards borders. It disregards states and their pretensions. It follows no one’s plan. It obeys no authority. It proves the capacity of free people to be self-ordering. Even the company deserves congratulations for not even into pressure from government authorities to cough up user information.
Twitter enables individuals to be self-governing units with an important element of empowerment in their hands: the ability for one person to reach the globe in any instant in time with the most-valuable commodity in existence — namely, information.
That’s why Twitter is amazing.
By the way, follow me @jeffreyatucker