I’ve had two academic jobs, one at Harvard and one at NYU.
At Harvard, my assignment was to get a blogging program started. It was imho a big success. Harvard was the first American university to offer blogs to its community, and that included people who did not have harvard.edu addresses. The philosophy of blogging is inclusive, and I’m glad they agreed to let that happen. It has led to all kinds of great things all over the world, because it’s such a central and influential place.
My goal at NYU, which I did not achieve, was to have every journalism student learn to set up and run a server. I felt this was important because at least they had to understand what a server is, and how simple it can be, and not be intimidated by techies who often try to push around non-technical people. It turns out “push around” is a lot worse than I envisioned. Read this post by my former colleague Jay Rosen for an idea of how the techies in government are working to disable journalism.
The best answer to a controlling techie is this: “No problem, I’ll do it myself.” That usually gets them listening. If you can actually do it, then they no longer have power over you. Now that we know that the government has its own huge development organization, it would be wise for us, outside the government, to have a large group of developers we can turn to. Even better if every journalist knows how to run a server. Then you don’t have to rely on anyone but yourself.
So what should be the response of the populace to pervasive government surveillance? Well, obviously we should try to reform the government through the democratic process. But I wonder if that can work. We’d probably choose someone who sounds a lot like Barack Obama before he was elected. There must be something that happens when a new president gets the keys to the White House. “Here you go, run the country, heh.” That first day on the job must be a trip.
I don’t know if it will help for people to run their own servers, but we sure can’t get out of this mess by continuing to depend on Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, et al. We learn more every day about how much they are owned by the government. No, it’s not surprising, but actually knowing it is different from suspecting it.