Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Touch-Screen Generation

Rosin, Hanna. “The Touch-Screen Generation.” The Atlantic, April 2013. Web. 15 Sept. 2013.

Hanna Rosin is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she covers a wide variety of topics for the magazine, including family issues, sex, feminism, crime, and more. She also writes for, where she helped found the feminist sub-site Double X, and is the author of The End of Men, a book that examines whether men are still the most dominant sex. She is also a mother of three with plenty of gadgets at home, adding to her ethos in writing this article.

This article examines how rapidly changing technology is affecting children’s development, focusing on touch-screen devices such as tablet computers and smartphones. The author draws on sources including decades-old research, modern scholars and experts, and personal experiences (her own and those of other parents) to examine the topic from several angles. The fear for many parents concerned about the developmental effects iPads and iPhones and Androids have on their kids comes down to the same concerns parents have always had about any new medium: Is the TV/video game/touch screen going to turn my child’s brain to mush or make him or her socially stunted?

Over and over, Rosin hits on two major themes: Interactivity and moderation. Several pieces of research Rosin cites suggest that interaction is the key to very young children understanding things told to them, whether by a live person or by a computer program. Apps on the iPad are frequently cited by several experts and parents as effective ways to foster young children’s development, more effective than old-school educational television programs. But on the other hand, most of those cited in the story preach some moderation and control: Much like any other medium, too much iPad time can be a bad thing. Other topics touched on range from attachment to a known icon like Elmo (whose erroneous information is trusted implicitly by Rosin’s youngest child) to prejudices that favor one medium over another (one parent toward the end of the article says that “to say to a kid, ‘I’d love for you to look at a book but I hate it when you look at the screen’ is just bizarre. It reflects our own prejudices and comfort zone. It’s nothing but fear of change, of being left out”).

This article does a great job of thoroughly examining the impact that emerging media have on the very young. I think it is a must-read for anyone trying to wrap their heads around how to think about seeing a toddler swipe her hands across a touch-screen. Katie, a friend of mine from my past life as a journalist, told me at a brunch meeting a few weeks after this article was released, that she’s constantly amazed at seeing her daughter (now 16 months old, but only about 11 months at the time) play intently with her iPad, swiping not randomly but with some degree of actual understanding about what she was doing. I hadn’t read all of this article yet, but I told Katie about what I’d read of it so far, and after a little bit of discussion she expressed the opinion that, while she wouldn’t let Vivian play with gadgets all the time, there was little doubt that some play time with the iPad was a good thing.

The article points out that a lot more research needs to be done, but my takeaway is this: Interactive gadgets are just one more plaything and one more potential developmental tool. Much as Clay Shirky points out that adults still consume media even as they participate and share more, I think that in children’s development, every plaything and tool has an appropriate time, place, and use.


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Biometric data and the Fifth Amendment

Hofmann, Marcia. “Apple’s Fingerprint ID May Mean You Can’t ‘Take the Fifth.'” Wired, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 Sept.



Marcia Hofmann is a lawyer who runs a practice focusing on electronic issues, free expression, and intellectual property. She formerly was a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and works with Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society and University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

This article examines potential legal implications of Apple’s newly revealed fingerprint ID technology, which uses biometric data to unlock the newest generation of iPhones. The author cites legal precedent, both modern and centuries-old, to explain the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, and why it’s important. Then her argument takes an interesting turn: Biometric data might allow prosecutors and investigators to skirt that protection.

Her argument hinges on the idea that the amendment only applies to things we know, not physical evidence, including our own bodies. She cites a 1988 Supreme Court case, John Doe v. United States. In that opinion, a justice said in a hypothetical that a suspect can be forced to surrender a key to a safe, but not to reveal the combination to a safe if the only location of that combination is in his mind. That particular bit of precedent, Hofmann argues, can be extrapolated to include forcing someone to unlock his or her iPhone if the only protection on it is biometric data (physical features).

This article shows us a new angle for the discussion on Apple’s newest technological step forward. When the feature was revealed last week, I heard and read skepticism about it, ranging from reliability concerns to worries about Big Brother (or whatever the Apple equivalent would be; perhaps Uncle Steve? Maybe iBrother?) having access to entirely too much data about us. But this angle is a great example of unintended consequences, as Hofmann points out toward the end of the piece. It gives us one more thing to think about as we become ever more entwined with the technology we use.


16 September 2013 · 4:47 am

Facebook privacy changes

Goel, Vindu and Edward Wyatt. “Facebook Privacy Change Is Subject of F.T.C. Inquiry.” The New York Times, 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 11 Sept. 2013.

Vindu Goel covers social media and other technology issues for The New York Times, where he was previously an editor overseeing coverage of energy, automobiles, and labor issues. The Times did not have a biographical blurb for Edward Wyatt, but a search for stories he wrote posted online reveals that he too focuses on technology.

This article reports on the most recent development in Facebook’s always-evolving privacy policies. The newest iteration of the privacy policy, revealed a couple of weeks ago, makes users’ personal information available to the company for advertising purposes. This, however, seems to violate a 2011 pact the social networking site made with federal regulators over the very subject of using users’ data in advertisements, prompting the Federal Trade Commission to step up its monitoring of and interaction with the site.

The company insists the only change is in the wording of the policy, and that users’ data has always been up for grabs in targeted advertising. The company claims to show a user’s name, photo, and comments on a particular product only to people who already have access to such information. However, adoption of the new policy was delayed after user feedback and a notice of FTC investigation, and privacy advocates have expressed concerns as well.

Facebook’s ongoing battle with privacy issues highlights an important aspect of the changing digital world. Information about us, once made public, can’t be made private again. The proverbial bell can’t be unrung. So, in theory, responsible users of social media should be able to control what is private and what is public. The specifics of Facebook’s operations, however, have long been kept in secret. Users don’t know how the news feed algorithm works, and I personally occasionally fear that filters I use to keep certain acquaintances, colleagues, and even relatives from seeing certain posts will fail (to my knowledge, the only failure of my filters has been user error). This article serves as another reminder that we must stay vigilant in protecting our information.


16 September 2013 · 4:42 am

Digital lying

Garber, Megan. “The Way We Lie Now.” The Atlantic Sept. 2013: 15-16. Print.

Also available at: (here titled “How to Catch a Liar on the Internet”)

Megan Garber is a staff writer for The Atlantic. She usually writes about technology. She wrote about media innovations as an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab. Twitter: @megangarber

The main point of this article is how the act of lying is changing in the digital world. The writer first brings up an example of a woman who was caught lying on her workers’ compensation claim after she was seen spinning the “Big Wheel” on The Price is Right. Pictures she posted on Facebook from a vacation also betrayed her fraud.

While lying is not new, the ways people are lying these days are changing in a major way: A lower standard of accountability in the digital world makes it much, much easier to lie. Cornell professor Jeff Hancock is paraphrased in the article saying that the spatial distance between people interacting over the internet makes it easier to lie.  He also says real-time interaction (for example, over Facebook chat) increases the likelihood of lying.

But the flipside of the increased ease of lying is that it’s also much, much easier to get caught, as was the woman who fraudulently claimed she was too hurt to work. Our communications (honest or not) leave traces, from trails of text messages to “message seen” labels to photos and videos of someone doing something or being somewhere. The article ends by pointing out that as people figure out how much easier it is to get caught, more are paring back their lies in order to be seen as trustworthy by the people they’re connected to.

This article is an exceptionally interesting example of the way communicating and connecting has been forever changed. From false details on dating-site profiles to text messages lying about why we’re running late, we really are finding more outlets for dishonesty than ever before, despite how easy it is to get caught. I really like how the article ends by talking about how the phenomenon has sparked something of a rebound for social reasons, and I think that can be tied to another bit of new media. In the article, the author writes, “The network can be its own kind of lie detector.” I think this is similar to what happens on wikis. While the potential for disinformation exists and prevents Wikipedia from being a truly reliable source for academic work, journalism, or what have you, I have rarely encountered information on the website that doesn’t match up with other sources. I believe this is because the community of Wikipedia editors does a good job of fact-checking edits to pages that they follow.

Also of note from Ms. Garber: Contains interesting commentary on public attention spans, but not really worth a full post.


16 September 2013 · 4:40 am

Lorum ipsum and all that jazz

No entries yet. This is a placeholder of sorts. I just need a post to get this started. All my research blog posts for Digital Rhetoric will go here. Fun fact: I’m posting a blog entry, and the spell-checker doesn’t like the word “blog.”

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