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Your Brain Lies to You

Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt, New York Times
FALSE beliefs are everywhere. Eighteen percent of Americans think the sun revolves around the earth, one poll has found. Thus it seems slightly less egregious that, according to another poll, 10 percent of us think that Senator Barack Obama, a Christian, is instead a Muslim. The Obama campaign has created a Web site to dispel misinformation. But this effort may be more difficult than it seems, thanks to the quirky way in which our brains store memories – and mislead us along the way.

The brain does not simply gather and stockpile information as a computer’s hard drive does. Facts are stored first in the hippocampus, a structure deep in the brain about the size and shape of a fat man’s curled pinkie finger. But the information does not rest there. Every time we recall it, our brain writes it down again, and during this re-storage, it is also reprocessed. In time, the fact is gradually transferred to the cerebral cortex and is separated from the context in which it was originally learned. For example, you know that the capital of California is Sacramento, but you probably don’t remember how you learned it.

This phenomenon, known as source amnesia, can also lead people to forget whether a statement is true. Even when a lie is presented with a disclaimer, people often later remember it as true.
(27 June 2008)

AP took it to the wire but needs to rethink its role

Jeff Jarvis, Guardian
The Associated Press didn’t know what it stepped in when it sent a lawyer’s letter to the blog Drudge Retort (a Drudge Report parody) demanding that it take down headlines and excerpts from wire-service stories as short as 33 words long. This set off a blogstorm as many bloggers – me included – accused AP of the highest web crime: not getting it.

The confrontation ended in a stand-down with no precedents or policies set regarding copyright, fair use and blog excerpts. AP continues to use software called Attributor to find sites that quote its content so it can send such notices. Some bloggers vowed to boycott AP content, but quoting will continue.

In the midst of this skirmish, I realised we were witnessing the millennial clash of media models: the content economy v the link economy. AP, like the newspapers that own it, believes its value is in its articles and news. Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it? But online, where word spreads at the speed of a click, news and information are quickly commodified. And online, content is valueless if no one sees it: content that isn’t linked is the tree that fell in the forest no one heard (or turned into print).

Links are the currency of the new media economy. We bloggers think we’re doing AP and papers a favour when we link to their articles.

Jeff Jarvis is a journalism professor at the City University of New York and blogs at
(30 June 2008)

Here Comes Everybody

Billy Matheson, WorldChanging
Falling in Love with the Internet All Over Again

Sometimes relationships get a little tired.

Maybe you’ve been taking that faithful old World Wide Web for granted? Reading Here Comes Everybody will help you fall in love with the Internet all over again (Amazon link).

Clay Shirky clearly and compellingly describes the many ways that people are taking advantage of web 2.0 and the new social networking technologies.

But, I found Here Comes Everybody to be far more than simply a book about the Internet. Subtitled The Power of Organizing without Organizations, the book is committed to alerting the reader to the possibility of a distinctly new kind of society that the Internet has made possible. Shirky convincingly argues that the Internet is creating not just a networked and interconnected world, but is catalysing the emergence of a post-organizational society.
(1 July 2008)

Chinese Bloggers Scale
The ‘Great Firewall’
In Riot’s Aftermath

Juliet Ye and Geoffrey A. Fowler, Wall Street Journal
To slip past Internet censors squashing reports of a weekend riot in China’s Guizhou province, some bloggers have started writing backward.

Some 30,000 rioters set fire to government buildings over the weekend to protest the way authorities handled the death of a teenager in the province’s Weng’an County. While state-controlled media provided immediate coverage, government censors moved fast to delete online posts providing unofficial accounts and deactivate the accounts of those users.

So bloggers on forums such as have taken to posting in formats that China’s Internet censors, often employees of commercial Internet service providers, have a hard time automatically detecting. One recent strategy involves online software that flips sentences to read right to left instead of left to right, and vertically instead of horizontally.
(2 June 2008)
Fascinating description of the struggle between bloggers and government censorship. -BA