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June 7, 2012

A little bird tells me…
Posted by Avram Grumer at 10:17 PM * 205 comments

A few months back, I put down a book by an author I had previously liked, about one-third of the way through, and stopped reading. The problem — well, one of several — was that although this was a book set in the near future, where characters walked around with cellphones and used the Internet, the author handled information flow among the characters as if it were still the 1970s.

As an illustration to older SF authors of how the present works, in the hopes that they might extrapolate thereform when imagining the future, I present the story of Melissa Stetten and Brian Presley (via):

Ms Stetten is a twenty-something model living in New York (though possibly not a native). Yesterday she was on a plane when the fellow sitting next to her, wearing a wedding ring, tried hitting on her. She turned him down, and tweeted about it. He kept at it.

Over the course of the conversation, Brian mentioned not just his first name, but also that he’s an actor, and born in Oklahoma. Eventually he brought up that he’d just been working on a project with Matthew McConaughey, and that’s all it takes nowadays. Inside a minute, one of Stetten’s followers had found him on the IMDB.

Things got worse for Brian from there — lied about his marriage, turned out to be lying about being “clean and sober”, etc. The story’s been picked up by a Hollywood gossip site, so I imagine he’s got some ’splainin’ to do back home. I’m interested in this not so much for the sake of schadenfreude about some actor I’d never heard of (although it is fun) as for the implications for science fiction. How much have you read recently that gives you that glimpse of the possibilities of heavily networked societies? How many authors (other than Charlie Stross) are really writing about the possibilities of a crowd-sourced panopticon? And how many are still living in the ’70s?

Comments on A little bird tells me…:
#1 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 10:45 PM:

I was just at my 30th high school reunion. I brought the yearbook. People started taking smartphone pictures of the pictures in the yearbook.

#2 ::: Matthew Platte ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 11:07 PM:

Just before I clicked the RSS link for this article, I closed Jesus' General's Horndoggin' for Jesus article. Apparently pop culture really wants me to know about this actor, although this time pop culture is a day late; saw it yesterday, it's no longer news.

You've accurately described why I'm taking the time to comment: some of us, perhaps many of us, are living in the '70s. Funny and scary, that is.

#3 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 11:32 PM:

Mentioned this to my teen, who immediately wondered if his wife or agent would be the one to lower the boom first.

#4 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 11:33 PM:

"And how many are still living in the ’70s?"

Not me! I'm firmly rooted in, oh, the late 1980s. So there.

#5 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 11:40 PM:

I predict a boom in historical fantasy, just so writers can avoid thinking this out.

Actually, since magic in lazy fantasy is too often a one-to-one replacement of tech items with magic items, like magelight for flashlights, what would be the magical substitutes for Twitter and crowdsourcing?

#6 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 11:49 PM:

Barbara Gordon @5: Owls, sending, telepathy, and, yes, speak-with-animals. A little bird did in fact tell you. After it and all its friends canvassed the forest for the information you were after.

(Insert standard horror-writer rant about all of the traditional plots made completely ridiculous in a world with ubiquitous cell phones.)

#7 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 07, 2012, 11:54 PM:

Those of us who live in very small towns know all about living in a crowd-sourced panopticon. Now, thanks to the internet, the rest of y'all can share in the experience.

#8 ::: forgot the name ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 12:06 AM:

Debra Doyle @7:

It's worse when your family strongly resembles one another. I strongly remember how, as a teenager, I walked into a new-to-me hospital in my city and was immediately pinned by an emergency nurse I'd never seen in my life as 'Mrs ___'s daughter!' She recognised me by the family schnoz.

I was mortified, but in retrospect it could have been so very much worse.

#9 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 12:20 AM:

Bruce Sterling, Maneki Neko. Originally published in the late 1990s; that's when I read it. I find myself thinking about that story a LOT -- we don't yet have the AI to manage the gift-based economy at the level we see in the story, but I feel like I can almost see it from here.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 12:53 AM:

Maybe not quite up to the current day, but I'm still rather impressed with the way C.S. Friedman extrapolated forward from known tech in This Alien Shore. It includes what appears to be an early approximation of crowdsourcing.

#11 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:12 AM:

It's not the crowdsourcing that bugs me, it's the panopticon. There's nothing about a panopticon that doesn't suck.

#12 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:22 AM:

Y'mean like Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man?

#13 ::: Hailey ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:27 AM:

Rainbow's End by Vernor Vinge

#14 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:40 AM:

Xopher @11: There's nothing about a panopticon that doesn't suck.

Until you're a crime victim and the cops use CCTV video to track down the perp.

#15 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:42 AM:

Don't need a panopticon for that, Avram. It's like I said "drowning sucks" and you said "not if you're in the desert dying of thirst!"

#16 ::: Keith Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:46 AM:

If the future is unevenly distributed, then some people are still living in the 70s, while others are living in the 2010s, while still others are living in the 1950s AND they all live in the same neighborhood, which has wifi, composting and 100 year old architecture. That's far trickier.

#17 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:52 AM:

A panopticon is a kind of prison.

#18 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:07 AM:

So they were on a plane?

Internet access from a plane is flight is pretty new, AFAIK.

What I saw in Charlie Stross's blog, it seems wi-fi internet access at big events is barely usable. Cell-phone might not be good either.

There are still black holes to put a story in.

#19 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:20 AM:

The idea about a panopticon is not that you're always seen. It's that you're always able to be seen and you don't know when someone is watching.

That means that surveillance need not be constant to be perfectly effective; and what that means, in turn, is that the means to make it perfectly effective are not prohibitively expensive.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:34 AM:

Bob Shaw, Other Days, Other Eyes

#21 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:35 AM:

I suppose another difference is that in the panopticon, as originally conceived, the guards could watch the prisoners, while in the evolving universal sousveillance society, everyone gets to watch everyone else.

I suppose privacy will become a luxury. We're already seeing some of that playing out with the US gov't reaction to Wikileaks, and increasing reliance on secrecy and classification. Maybe in the future rich people's private jets will forbid everyone but the privileged few from carrying their smartphones. (Rich executive gets to tweet photos of his stewardess's ass, but she doesn't get to record him making a crude pass at her.)

#22 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:41 AM:

Naomi Kritzer @9: Bruce Sterling, Maneki Neko

I was just reminded of that by Stross's Rule 34.

Over a decade ago, when Kevin Maroney and I worked for a small company that was developing games for cellphones, Kevin handed out copies of "Maneki Neko" at a meeting with the suggestion that everyone at the company should read it. (I already had.)

#23 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:45 AM:

It's true that the crowd-sourcing and social-media aspects of this are not something that's soaked that deeply into the fiction culture. But then, I've been raging for years about the idea, baked into Star Wars, that electronic data, once released, can be recaptured.

Reality burbles along, however. I've seen various articles indicating that police in China have crowd-sourced identification work for very unpopular crimes, such as the injured toddler passed by by numerous strangers. No indication whether that has led to the kinds of misidentification problems that arise from Megan's Law and its ilk. But we wouldn't necessarily hear about that.

#24 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:48 AM:

Oh, hey, something I probably should have found a way to stick in the main post, but forgot about: Danny O'Brien on public, private, and secret register a decade or so back, and more recently on twitter and register.

(And more recently still, on the 15th anniversary of NTK. Oh, I feel old!)

#25 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:09 AM:

And yet, this isn't even all that new in some ways; just an expansion of scope of the Baker Street Irregulars.

#26 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:30 AM:

@Hailey #13: If you look carefully, that Vinge novel is actually called Rainbows End.

#27 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 04:10 AM:

There's even a chapter called "The Missing Apostrophe".

I have a little list of titles: Clouds End, by Sean Stewart; Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce; Worlds' End, by Neil Gaiman....

#28 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 04:26 AM:

Dave L., #19: Ah yes, the telescreen.

David G., #27: Journeys End by Poul Anderson.

#29 ::: Edward Esch ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 04:55 AM:

Pretty sure that's the first time in the history of the English language that the phrase "crowd-sourced panopticon" has been used. Well played, good sir.

#30 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:43 AM:

Bertrand Tavernier's "Death Watch", aka "La Mort en Direct", with Romy Schneider, Max von Sydow, and Harvey Keitel...

#31 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 06:21 AM:

I can't even imagine how, under those circumstances, a tellable story (longer than, say, the above anecdote) would ever develop. I'm happy to know that others can, and for my own enjoyment to continue reading old books.

I think in he future people will probably decide that a crowd-sourced panopticon is not worth the hassle, assuming they have the resources to run one.

#32 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 06:35 AM:

Lee@28: Yes, that one's on the list too. Good catch, though.

#33 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 07:35 AM:

Should your curiosity regarding Ms Stetten extend to visiting her own site, you'll find she's also a photographer. A generation ago I'd have said she was plenty good enough to be set up for when she tires of other people taking pictures of her; nowadays I doubt there's a living in it.

#34 ::: Richard Hershberger ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 07:45 AM:

It's a good thing I don't try to write science fiction, or fiction set in the present day either (or, for that matter, any other sort of fiction, but that is a different matter). Because I don't get social media. The technical aspects are simple enough, and I have a nominal Facebook account. But I don't get what the point is. The idea that I am interested in the trivia of daily life of my friends (much less my "friends") is beyond me. The idea that they might be interested in the trivia of my daily life is even more mysterious. *I* am not interested in the trivia of my daily life. That's why I carry a book with me: so that I have something to do while pumping the gas. But I was hearing just yesterday about a smart phone ap that lets you report multiple times a day where you are so that everyone on your social network can see this. Apparently the idea is that you might spontaneously feel the urge to actually see someone-anyone!-in your network face to face, and this allows you to find out who is nearby. Or something. So I would be hard pressed to write a character, or a society, that thought this sort of impulse normal.

As for the panopticon, we can still opt out, at least until face recognition technology becomes widespread. That actor's mistake was mixing too much truth in with his lies. If he had switched the famous actor he claimed to have worked with to, say, Brad Pitt, then he would have remained invisible.

#35 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 07:45 AM:

I have something of the opposite problem in writing, as I'm working on a historical: I have to keep reminding myself that a letter could only go as fast as the available transportation, and that it depended on places to send it from, and even a hand-carried message was subject to the limits of individual transportation. On the other hand, the biggest problem with assuming a new identity was how many people might recognize you on sight.

Avram and Xopher 11/14/15: I've been a big fan of Law & Order: UK. They made thorough use of the London CCTV cameras - which, in show terms, were conveniently malfunctioning or had poor image quality or the suspect was wearing a hoodie whenever the plot needed to keep the perp unidentified for a little while longer - for solving crimes. Whenever they did, I couldn't help thinking of the cameras in "V for Vendetta," and the little girl sticking two fingers up at them and saying "bollocks" when she suspected that, hallelujah, they weren't working any more. And I always shook my head a little and thought "those cameras used to be fictional, and they existed in a dystopia." The show was set up to put me on the side of the people using the cameras... but I always had that little twinge.

#36 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 07:47 AM:

Around 2000, I took a political science class with Steve Weber, International Politics I think. He said that the major question of international relations was: why isn't there a substantial international alliance of non-US countries countering the US in a battle for global dominance? That's how balance of power works, after all.

In 2003, I was working at a bookstore (the late Cody's Books in Berkeley, California) when Bruce Sterling did an author appearance. He predicted that a really effective global civil society would look "kind of like Al Qaeda, only not murderous."

So now we see the answer to Weber's question: not countries but networks, like Al Qaeda and WikiLeaks. They use individual countries, the way one uses a coffeeshop that has a particularly lenient free wifi policy.

I wrote more about this last year (and also used the phrase "crowdsourced panopticon").

But to answer Avram's question: I am biased and think that my spouse Leonard Richardson's book Constellation Games is pretty reasonable in terms of portraying a networked near-future. Its anarchic aliens participate in "fluid overlays" (networked leaderless organizations), and the human characters are constantly networked via phone, IM, videochat, etc.

Another author: Zen Cho's short modern fantasy story "Prudence and the Dragon" practically starts with an explanation of why Prudence hasn't heard of the dragon.

#37 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 08:00 AM:

abi @ 20: I remember really enjoying the first stories about slow glass and its uses* - and then the horror as he took this to its logical conclusion and I realised the implications, the total loss of privacy...

*Naq cnegvphyneyl gur fgbel bs gur zna tnvavat pbzsbeg sebz jngpuvat uvf qrnq jvsr naq puvyq.

#38 ::: navarro ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 08:32 AM:

in terms of fantasy writing, perhaps the closest thing i can think of to a social network equivalent would be the palantiri in the tolkien stories which allowed people to look across the distances of the land and communicate with each other. it's not a perfect match because there were only 7, i think, stones to begin with and only two could communicate at a time (although the one sited at osgiliath could eavesdrop on the rest of them).

#39 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 08:38 AM:

Jim Macdonald #17: You don't need "kind of" in that sentence.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 08:40 AM:

dcb @37:

The bit you refer to in your ROT-13 was a short story first. It's called "The Light of Other Days", and is one of my ten favorite short stories, ever, anywhere. Though I can't read it without choking up. Or, perhaps, because of it.

#42 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 08:44 AM:

abi @40: Thank you! I'm away from home and for some reason couln't remember the title of the short story properly. It chokes me up as well (Rot 13 was, of course, to protect those who haven't read it yet).

#43 ::: Pfusand ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 08:46 AM:

I'm surprised no one has mentioned This Is Not a Game by Walter John Williams yet.

#44 ::: Jeff ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 08:48 AM:

Extras, The fourth book in Scott Westerfield's Uglies trilogy has a "reputation economy" where a person's status in society corresponds to how many hits their feed gets. I wasn't overly impressed with the book (it is YA, but that's not it's problem) but I did like how he extrapolated twitter and blogging to its logical extreme.

#45 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 08:56 AM:

Pretty sure that's the first time in the history of the English language that the phrase "crowd-sourced panopticon" has been used. Well played, good sir.

A mere three words together, no matter how odd, is probably not enough to be reliably unique in that sense.

(Google turns up a number of instances prior to today...)

#46 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:10 AM:

But it's still a pretty great phrase, I think.

#47 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:15 AM:

It's not a story, really, but Jamais Cascio posted a relevant anecdotal scenario a few months back (it even involves an airline flight, though it all takes place in the departure lounge). It's apparently part of something he wrote for a book called The Reputation Society: How Online Opinions Are Reshaping the Offline World (Cory Doctorow is listed as one of the other contributors).

#48 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:16 AM:

Frangano #39: Yes, I do. There are other kinds.

#49 ::: LongStrider ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:22 AM:

Hannu Rajaniemi's Quantum Thief and Brin's Earth (among others)

#50 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:37 AM:

It's problematic even in contemporary fiction; in mystery submissions I often run into characters who never use the Internet for research. Acceptable in some settings, where connectivity is slow and/or spotty and/or expensive; not acceptable in major cities and especially not acceptable if the character is under 40.

Some adult characters don't have cell phones. Not having a smart phone is okay, but not having a cell phone at all? Again, not acceptable unless the character lives where there's limited connectivity.

#51 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:39 AM:

Debra Doyle @ #7.

Amen.

Sometimes, I like to tell my young relatives and the college interns that work for me "don't do anything in private that you're afraid to admit to in public." Now, with the internet, it's all public all the time. Frankly this is why the internet scares me. Only here, the quiet introverts are called "lurkers" (or they were -- who knows what they're called now) instead of "so and so, who keeps to themself".

#52 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:48 AM:

Michael Walsh @41

There's always the Mandy Rice-Davies answer1, usually misquoted2.

This is where crowd-sourcing, and a lot of journalism, fails. Some of this story can be checked, but there are no witnesses to the key details that we can rely.on.

The events on the plane could be fake. Or thy could be all true, or it could be something in between.

1 "Well, he would, wouldn't he."
2 "Well, he would say that, wouldn't he."

#53 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:49 AM:

In 2006's "Casino Royale", 007 made good use of cell phones.

#54 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:50 AM:

Apparently Gizmodo is offering money for photos of Mark Zuckerberg this summer, on the theory that if he thinks everyone should by default share THEIR ENTIRE LIVES ALWAYS, he deserves to be photographed incessantly whenever he's in public (he tends to deny photo requests and attempt to live a fairly private life).

I'm conflicted about how to feel over this. Part of me is all "F-YEAH, how do you like it NOW, you millennial IDIOT with your settings-auto-resetting-to-ALL-CAN-SEE website?!?" But he's a twenty-something guy who just got married, and I can see this leading to a lot of seriously not cool behavior towards him.

I don't think he'll even get the point of it, because I honestly believe he can't even conceive of why all of us object so strongly to his site's repeated insistence that nobody WANTS much privacy ...

#55 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 10:30 AM:

Melissa @50: I read a mystery last year that I thought might have been reprinted from the 70s or 80s, but I couldn't find any evidence of that being the case. The characters kept having to go to the library to look in the newspaper archives, and no one had a cell phone or a computer despite its being set in a fairly large town. It was strange. It just felt so off from modern society.

#56 ::: Sam Dodsworth ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 10:40 AM:

Rikibeth@35 London CCTV cameras - which, in show terms, were conveniently malfunctioning or had poor image quality or the suspect was wearing a hoodie whenever the plot needed to keep the perp unidentified for a little while longer

In real life, they have a tendency to do that whenever there's a question about police conduct. Although ubiquitous phone cameras are doing a lot to help even things out.

#57 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 10:42 AM:

Melissa @50: Some adult characters don't have cell phones. Not having a smart phone is okay, but not having a cell phone at all? Again, not acceptable unless the character lives where there's limited connectivity.

I'm an adult living in an extremely tech-saturated area, and I don't have a cell phone of any kind. There are still a few holdouts.

#58 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 10:58 AM:

Lots of adults don't have cell phones. It's not always "holdouts," either. Sometimes it's not having the cash flow to buy into a plan. Even a prepaid phone needs fifty dollars or so to get started. I was in that position for about a year rather recently. As soon as I could do it, though, I got into the cheapest prepaid phone I could find. I needed to be able to call emergency services and the landline at work was in a separate room from the children I cared for.

#59 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:05 AM:

Jim Macdonald #48: For instance, the oubliette. I'm aware of that.

#60 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:12 AM:

If I didn't have a teenage child and an elderly mother, I might not have a cell phone or might only have a pay-as-you-go (which I had until I needed 2 phones, when the kid started middle school).

But the amateur or professional detective in a mystery or thriller should have one, and if he or she doesn't, there needs to be a) a good reason why and b) someone else around with one.

Issues of time placement in fiction can be tricky. I saw a submission recently that was supposedly contemporary (and there were computers and other tech that looked right) but internal evidence indicated that it was actually set in the early 1980s (it was set in NYC so there was factual stuff that I could easily identify as being wrong, as well as references to certain post-WWII events being in the recent past).

#61 ::: Ranting Nerd ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:33 AM:

David Brin's The Transparent Society got a lot right back in 1997. I wonder if he's working on an update.

#62 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:50 AM:

Elliott, #54: So he wants his own privacy, but doesn't understand (or rather, claims not to understand*) why anyone else would want theirs? I think he'll get the point.

* Upon consideration, this sounds more and more like a case of the "Oh, I'm so clueless!" defense that some men pull when called on sexist or stalkery behavior. Oh, he doesn't mean any harm by it, he just doesn't UNDERSTAND, you need to go easier on him...

#63 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 12:01 PM:

While I was watching an episode of "Burn Notice", it occurred to me that if I were running a banking outfit in the Kaymen Islands, and if someone came to me and said he wants to make a LARGE deposit, I might first want to google the potential depositor's name to see what comes up. Should nothing come up, it'd make me suspicious that maybe I am being conned.

#64 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 12:05 PM:

Read the post. Press ctrl+f. Started typing Hannu...

Not disappointed. Well done LongStrider @#49. Stross even said Rajaniemi may be doing this thing better than he is. Which is quite some praise indeed from the author of Rule 34. That book had me in a constant state between future shock and "is this even sci-fi? Wouldn't most of this be possible *right now*?"

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 12:35 PM:

Edward Esch @29:

Pretty sure that's the first time in the history of the English language that the phrase "crowd-sourced panopticon" has been used.
Let's check that:

===

12 November 2007: Felix Cohen, "A Crowd-Sourced Panopticon," on his blog Open Democracy: Free Thinking for the World.

19 May 2010: Phrase also used by commenter "humbleauthor" in the comment thread of Patrick Meier's "The Future of News: Mobilizing the Masses to Write the First Draft of History," posted 02 May 2010.

11 March 2012: Tweet by Mike Cooper (@coop): "a crowd-sourced panopticon" - Me, on personal robot helicopters, at Do Some Damage today: http://bit.ly/zUPNI4

===

That's another way the world has changed: you can query and document an assertion on the fly. It'll be interesting to see whether this makes us bolder or more cautious.

#66 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 12:50 PM:

Richard Hershberger @34--You're not the only one. My excuse is that I'm Old. Or maybe it's that I don't give an excretion about what my friends, mere acquaintances, and shirt-tail relations are doing every minute of the day.

As for living with the result (as distinct from extrapolating-from-actual-tech) of universal involuntary permanent visibility: Damon Knight contemplated it in "I See You" back in 1976.

#67 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:29 PM:

Happy goldfish bowl to you.

One thing I've been mulling-- the recent progress on gay rights was only possible because neither the laws nor the social norms could be thoroughly enforced.

Privacy leaves room for positive unknown unknowns.

What pervasive mistakes (as distinct from general aggravatingness) might result from lack of privacy?

#68 ::: mothoc ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:41 PM:

As mentioned previously, David Brin's Earth from 1991 hit some of today's ubiquity of cameras and social media very well. As well, Walter Jon William's This is Not a Game features social media use in manners very similar to the situation in your original article, where followers of certain media feeds use public internet information sources to find out the identities and locations of individuals of interest. Additionally, Mira Grant's recently-concluded Newsflesh trilogy hinges upon the idea of social media supplanting traditional media.

#69 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:48 PM:

Richard Hershberger @ 34 and Russell Letson @ 66:

In my use, at least, social media is a lot like a Making Light open thread. People can bring up a conversation topic, whether it's something in the news, or a request for advice, or just a HLN (Hyper-Local News) update, and then other people can continue the conversation on that topic or not.

It's not about posting all the trivia of your daily life, at least not for me and my friends. It's about "So, I had an interesting thought or experience, or saw an interesting thing on the internet, and I thought you guys might be interested in hearing about it. Thoughts, opinions?"

I think if you understand the impulse to post on a comments thread, the impulse to post on a social media site is rather similar.

As for sharing your location multiple times a day -- I think that impulse is part "Look at all the cool, interesting places I go!" and part "Hey, friends, if you're nearby, let's meet up!" I can grok those impulses, but they're totally overshadowed for me by my extreme aversion to the idea that anyone might expect me to "check in." I hate the idea of feeling like I might have to justify or explain where I chose to go -- or why someone saw me or my car somewhere, but I hadn't checked in publicly.

There do seem to be points -- different for different people -- beyond which social networking gets creepy or offensive, and people will start resisting it. And most people do seem to want to be able to put some limits on it, even if they don't consciously know what those limits are until they've been breached. A lot of people post everything on Facebook as "public," but never think that anyone other than their friends would bother to look -- and then something like Girls Around Me happens, and people feel betrayed and angry. They don't want "public" to be that big.

Or the backlash against Klout. Klout does almost exactly what Jeff @ 44 mentions from the "Uglies" series -- essentially scores your internet popularity, and gives you prizes for being more popular. But pretty much the instant it became widely known, it also became widely disliked. People don't like the feeling that they're being publicly judged and found wanting, and a lot of people get that feeling from Klout -- even people who would probably get a very high internet popularity score (e.g. Xeni Jardin and Randall Munroe).

I think that would be an interesting theme to explore in fiction. When does networking run into social backlash, and how does that shape the way a society is networked?

#70 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:49 PM:

The spy-craft thrillers of the Cold War make me nostalgic for an era when information was a thing you got in a folder or a newspaper. The hide-and-seek-and-bluff of classic-era Le Carré would be impossible to pull off these days.

The brilliant recent film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy has some lovingly-shot scenes of offices and typing pools and secretaries and buff folders; it's really hot stuff if you're a stationery fetishist. (And if you're an ex-smoker like me, the constant smoking of beautiful, beautiful, verboten cigarettes will have you drooling.)

#71 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 01:53 PM:

Sue Grafton is explicitly setting her the most recent books in her series of detective novels (which is currently up to V Is for Vengeance) in the late 1980s, I think to avoid dealing with the effects of cell phones and the Internet. And maybe to avoid writing about how aging would affect the work of a private detective who works alone, and the different ways people would react to a 60-year-old stranger than a 35-year-old one.

#72 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:12 PM:

Serge Broom #63: "if I were running a banking outfit in the Kaymen Islands" I'd wonder how far those were from the Cayman Islands.

#73 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:12 PM:

Vicki @71: it's smart to think about that as early as possible in a series. I'm working on one that is about 15 books in that progresses almost in real-time, so that the protagonist's daughter, who was born about a year after mine, is now about 3 years younger than mine. The protagonist's age is never firmly stated, but career and the passage of time in the series make that character close to 40. It was the right decision to have the series stay contemporary, but aging a protagonist does present some interesting plotting challenges.

#74 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:15 PM:

Scalzi handled this perfectly in some of his fiction set in modern day...although to say any more would be a spoiler.

#75 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:16 PM:

Chris Y @33, I actually found that site while googling Stetten's name, but I didn't look past the front page, and assumed it was the site of someone else with the same name.

Steve with a Book @70, have you seen any episodes of Mad Men? It's a meticulously recreated period drama about advertising in the 1960s.

#76 ::: Marc Mielke ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:22 PM:

I'm fairly connected and use social networking and the internet and such. I don't carry a cell phone because I don't really have anyone to call. I have been known to borrow my father's when we are not out together.

My name isn't obviously commonplace, but there are numerous FB profiles that share my name (down to the not-so-common 'Marc' with a 'c'), and I know of at least one name-alike who lives in the same state as myself who probably has a stronger net presence (he's an artist, manages an estate, and is very active in his field).

Searching for me, for instance, brings up a lot of signal-to-noise stuff I'd imagine would occur to quite a number of people.

Someone like Miss Garcia on "Criminal Minds" would be savvy enough to know there were two people out there with the same name, but would need legwork to sort out which data belongs to which person.

#77 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:27 PM:

Fragano @ 72... Oops. At least I didn't call them the Michael Kamen Islands. :-)

#78 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 02:37 PM:

Avram @ 21:

while in the evolving universal sousveillance society, everyone gets to watch everyone else.

I'm fairly sure that there will always be a class of people with sufficient money and power to opt out or to afford countermeasures. They may be officials of the surveillance system, or plutocrats who can buy officials, or even lowly programmers who leave trapdoors in system code, but they'll be there. Even the effects of cellphone cameras can be countered, especially if everything talks to the cloud, as seems to be the trend.

Pfusand @ 43:

The other two books of WJW's trilogy started by This Is Not A Game are out, and they get into some other questions about the interactions between social media and politics, revolution, regime-change from without, and creating utopia from dystopia in the panopticon. Recommended reading for this sort of discussion.

Dave Bell @ 52:

This is why Vinge's phrase "the Net of a millon lies" is so apt. Maybe more accurate (though less poetic) might be "the Net of a vast but unknown number of truths, half-truths, and lies".

Daniel Klein @ 64:

Sure most of the tech in Rule 34 is possible right now, but it takes years for the kind of systems described there to be planned, built, incrementally enhanced, and become routine for everyone's use. I could build CopSpace tomorrow (at immense cost, because most of the hardware wouldn't be COTS), but how long would it take for it to be tried out, accepted, and in routine use by trained users, in a large majority of the police departments?

#79 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:25 PM:

I had a moment like this just last week. I was at a wedding, and was chatting with the guy next to me. Older man, said he was David Singer, and had been director of research at American Jewish Committee. I thought his name sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it.

When he went to the restroom, I looked him up on my phone. I saw he had written a number of articles, and that was enough to remind me - he had written a well-known article with my synagogue's rabbi 30 years ago (books have been written responding to this article).

He saw me looking at my phone, and said, "That's cheating." I said, "not really, there was nothing in the phone about that article, just seeing that you had written articles in the field reminded me that you had co-authored that paper." He was still a bit bothered about it, though.

#80 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:28 PM:

Caroline@69: GAM took 'I am here' data from lots of people and turned it into 'these people are here' for a given location. Databases make this sort of previously-intractable inverse problem rather easy.

I do wonder in my darker moods whether the very concept of a relational database is inherently totalitarian; its terrible uses are uniquely terrible; it makes doing many awful things so much easier. Did Codd do something permanently damaging to the public sphere? And can we do anything about it now, short of prohibiting certain classes of SQL query on pain of death?

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:30 PM:

Serge Broom #77: The Cayman Islands isn't a big country. I'm related (distantly) to a large chunk of the population.

#82 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:42 PM:

Caroline, #69: My aversion to things like FB "check-ins" is much more pragmatic than that. I don't want J. Random Stranger being able to find out when I'm not at home! Which means I may post about my plans on my (strictly-friends-only) FB account, but I won't use any app which broadcasts that information publicly.

I predict that sometime in the next couple of years there will be a breaking story about a burglary ring that chooses its targets by (1) picking a street that looks promising, (2) doing reverse-lookup to find out who lives at each address, and (3) following those people on FB or Twitter to find out when they're on vacation. If I can think of it, you know a professional burglar can.

#83 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:44 PM:

Avram@75: Mad Men is on my combined To Watch/To Read list, but other stuff keeps pushing in front of it and I may not get there in finite time.

Fragano Ledgister@81: we can't be very far now from a complete family tree for the entire world, or at least that portion of it that records births properly. Unify all the reliable genealogical records on the Internet, and all that can be inferred from publicly-available sources, and you'll probably be within shouting distance. The number of people who have ever lived is only in the billions; the directed graph showing descent will be sparse. I was wondering about this sort of thing when reading recently about how nepotistic the US Presidency is, for really really weak values of 'nepotistic'.

#84 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:47 PM:

Lee @82:
Pretty sure there already have been several reports of such burglaries (and don't forget foursquare!). And recently one where someone showed off a pile of money they'd won on FB and was promptly burgled.

#85 ::: protected static ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:47 PM:

Steve with a book @80: it isn't new to relational databases, or even databases as conventionally understood. The authoritarian impulse has always valued the ledger book in whatever form it took. For instance, witness the ratio of granary workers to scribes here: http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/100001753

#86 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:54 PM:

I've also been wondering for a while whether we're going to see a trend of people giving their kids very common names, to make them more anonymous in the Google Age, or very uncommon names, to make them easier to find.

Maybe both. Maybe we'll se more people adopting professional names. Perhaps in the future a typical person will be Sam Smith in his private life, but Fly Fornication Blorglethorpe for work purposes. ("Fly Fornication" is an old Puritan name, but thanks to George Carlin I think it'd be a good name for a golfer.)

That solution won't work for people who want to use their professional status to gain bennies in their private life, though, like our horny airplane passenger.

#87 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 03:54 PM:

Lee @82 and geekosaur @84: There was a burglary ring in Los Angeles a year or so ago that was breaking into the homes of actors and wealthy people in their 20s whose activites could be traced on twitter, Fb, and in newspapers. When they went to parties or premieres, the gang would break into their homes and steal anything small and portable.

The incident geekosaur referred to was actually worse, iirc--the person whose home was broken into was the mother of the person seen with the money, who no longer lived at the parental home. The money was, in either case, no longer at the person's home (so the person was only a little stupid, I guess?).

#88 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 04:03 PM:

Steve @ 83:

Birth records only go back so far; wars and population shifts make older records inaccessible at best, destroys them at worst. When you get back before about 1800 outside of Western Europe and its colonies, it gets harder because there are no surnames, so tracking families is harder.

Speaking as someone who frequents Ancestry.com and JewishGen.org, that is.

E.g., I can track much of my mother's family, the branch that was in Lithuania, back to the middle 1700s. That's mostly from census records, rather than birth/marriage/death records. Beyond that, there are no surnames and few records. For the majority of the family that was in Poland or Russia, the records don't exist, or haven't been found & translated, so I can't really go beyond records of those who came to the US.

Fortunately, another genealogist tracked down the Argentinian cousins on Dad's side, but nobody knows what comes before my great-great-grandfather, and that only because my great-grandfather was interviewed by Andy Logan for a profile in the New Yorker in 1949.

Actually, one of them, a 77-year-old retired doctor of my generation (even if I'm 46, the spread among 13 great-aunts and -uncles means a wide range in ages after a couple of generations), was in the news for having been beaten to death in Argentina in a robbery gone bad, a couple of years ago. Weird to find that as the result of google-searching distant relatives.

#89 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 04:27 PM:

Caroline @69: Clearly degrees of gregariousness vary a lot in any primate troupe, and (putting aside matters of the kind pointed out by Lee @82) mine seems to be set at the level of the virtual clubhouse or neighborhood bar or coffee shop--you drop in when you feel sociable or like catching up with the regulars or whatever, and otherwise get to stay home and tease the cat or read or watch NCIS reruns.

I started with computers about the same time the BBS got invented, and that connection immediately struck me as part tech-info network (lots of explaining modem setup strings and such) and part pen-pal club. Usenet forums extended that model, but Facebook turns the clubhouse into something much more public (even though any virtual passerby can read, say, Making Light)--like trying to hang out with your friends out in the intersection instead of inside the corner bar. There's another forum where I spend quite a bit of time, and even though it's viewable by anyone who can find it, it doesn't have that sitting-in-Macy's-window feeling that I get from Facebook. And I still tend not to inject what feels private into our chats--even though I've met many of the members in the flesh and would not hesitate to talk about, say, my health or vacation plans or job prospects in a face-to-face conversation. And then, circling back, there's the fact that I'm just not that gregarious to start with. (I hope that doesn't get picked up and used against me somehow.)

#90 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 04:41 PM:

I feel like we spend so much time in front of screens now, and that doesn't even get shown in movies or on TV most of the time. It's like going to the bathroom. Everyone does it, but it's written out of stories. That's fine, stories don't need characters taking bathroom breaks. But as we live more and more online, we need to find a way to work that reality into storytelling. I have no idea how though.

#91 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 04:54 PM:

Russell Letson @ 89... the virtual clubhouse or neighborhood bar or coffee shop

"Everybody comes to Abi's Internet Café Américain!"

#92 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:03 PM:

Lee @82: that particular novel was written years ago -- back in the 90s, IIRC: you are looking for "Mindkiller" by Spider Robinson.

#93 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:09 PM:

Ahem: I was wrong. "Mindkiller" came out in '88. And I'd be surprised if the basic idea (use computers to hunt for promising crime opportunities) didn't go back to the 1960s, or even the 1950s (or whenever big public utilities began using online computing resources).

On the panopticon: wait until we get lifelogging for real, on a mass scale. We're within spitting distance of the storage and hardware needs already. All we need are bluetooth webcams and suitable data tariffs for our mobile phones, and software to back up everything we see and hear into the cloud ....

If this isn't happening within 5 years, it will not be because it isn't possible but because, like the proverbial food pills, not enough people want it.

#94 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:18 PM:

T. L. Sherred's "E for Effort"; Isaac Asimov's "The Dead Past".

#95 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:23 PM:

Oh, and Lewis Padgett's "Private Eye". (Probably by Henry Kuttner, but it could have been Catherine L. Moore; you never know with them.)

#96 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:28 PM:

Also note that "lifelogging for real" was prefigured by Clarke's Imperial Earth. (I think he underestimated how small those personal assistants would get, though.)

#97 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:38 PM:

Russell Letson @89:
And then, circling back, there's the fact that I'm just not that gregarious to start with. (I hope that doesn't get picked up and used against me somehow.)

Not here, it won't.

#98 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:47 PM:

Charlie Stross @93, Robinson's Mindkiller came out in '82, not '88. (At least here in the US.) I remember referring to it in an essay I wrote for high school, which I graduated in '84. (And it's an expansion of a short story that ran in a 1979 issue of Omni.)

#99 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 05:51 PM:

Abi@97: The verb probably should have been "datamined," just to properly locate the proposed perp.

#100 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 06:13 PM:

So far as I know, food pills just aren't workable because there's no way to pack enough calories into something small enough to reasonably be called a food pill.

#101 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 06:17 PM:

I'm already wondering how to get as much use out of social networking stuff without getting into the panopticon. I'd quite like a facebook account because a lot of my friends are on it and I miss important news like marriages and births, but can't think of a nice fake name to go with a nice fake address.

Or I can just opt out of it all, which is limiting. A mobile phone is now a social necessity, and in the future it seems that not utilising some of the various social things will mean that you just don't get certain opportunities etc.

Ranting nerd #61 - I've been reading Brin's blog on and off for a year or two and don't recall him ever saying he'd do an update to The transparent society. Rather he refers back to it at times as if he thinks there isn't much that needs updating.

#102 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 06:27 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @100:
As I was informed by several cancer patients (although it's possible., even likely, that the details are more complex): if you don't use your stomach regularly, it shrinks and in extreme cases atrophies. Extended IV feeding means you get IV feeding for the rest of your life, because your stomach can no longer digest food; food pills would probably be similar.

(This seems not unlikely considering the number of things that start to atrophy due to underuse in microgravity. If you're not using it, the body's not going to waste energy maintaining it.)

#103 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 07:05 PM:

Charlie Stross, #93: Lifelogging figures prominently in the Neanderthal culture of Robert J. Sawyer's "Neanderthal Parallax" trilogy. Unsurprisingly, the humans in the story are largely horrified by the very idea, but it works quite well in a culture with a different set of base assumptions... one of which is the desire to breed out violent tendencies from the species.

#104 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 07:35 PM:

Kevin Riggle @6,

With regards to magic "tweets", we got to talking about that in a Victoriana game (magical steampunk roleplaying; technology is a cross between the-way-the-future-was and magic substitution) and immediately decided that there were, in fact, tweets in this world, and it was done by, quite literally, sending flocks of small birds. Who had to be paid with seeds in order to diverge their very short messages (birds can't carry much weight, after all).

Much giggling ensued.

#105 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 09:15 PM:

#35 ::: Rikibeth

I too have been contemplating the opposite of this - reading a lot of Cornell Woolrich stories and noting the technological limitations that make them work - for instance, although I was perfectly aware there were no cel phones in 1940, it hadn't occurred to me that all the "public" phone booths were inside restaurants or stores; thus, in several stories a character can witness a crime or discover an important clue late at night, then spend a half hour trying to find a place that's still open so s/he can call the cops, by which time of course all evidence has been wiped away.

Yesterday, I concluded that in the early part of the 20th century, it was not unusual for a young person to move permanently to another (usually larger) town in search of work; that it was also feasible for those with some money and leisure to spend a month's vacation with distant relatives or at a rented cottage; but that it was much less justifiable to travel across state lines for a one-day event like a family wedding -- hence the plots that turn on someone not knowing their in-laws by sight or vice-versa.

#106 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 10:13 PM:

When I was working at Hagstrom Map as the manager of the research department, we were told that a man would be coming around to talk to some of the department heads, myself included, get a picture of what was going on, and make recommendations. Quite soon after that, the researchers had, utterly unprompted by me, looked him up online and printed out what they could find. This would have been about 2003 or so.

Earlier this year, Josh and I were en route via subway when there was an announcement that all trains were skipping Union Square. Now, for those who don't know the NYC subway system well, Union Square is a major station. It doesn't get skipped. Smaller stations get skipped. It certainly doesn't get skipped by everything. It doesn't get skipped, and it doesn't get closed, not even for the Halloween Parade, which complicated foot traffic in the area.

"Hm," said I. "What protest is going on that I forgot about?"

As soon as the train came above ground, I checked on my smart phone. It was the Million Hoodie March.

#107 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:00 PM:

I don't have a cell-phon either. Well, I do, but it sits in a drawer turned off until I need it for a trip or a convention. I tend to receive maybe five calls a month. I've had one (1) instance in the last ten years where it was really handy to be able to call someone from where-ever-I-was.

For conventions, they're the bees knees.* Other than that, they're way to much work and money. And they're not finished.*

* I generally try to get people to text me. The voice reception, especially in the bowels of a convention center, means that I can barely understand what the other party is saying, and I find that incredibly stressful.

#108 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:35 PM:

Avram @98: Robinson's Mindkiller came out in '82, not '88. (At least here in the US.) I remember referring to it in an essay I wrote for high school, which I graduated in '84. (And it's an expansion of a short story that ran in a 1979 issue of Omni.)

"God Is an Iron" is the short story. I think of that book every time I set up an auto-pay for a bill.

#109 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 08, 2012, 11:50 PM:

Sarah, #105: I don't believe that all the public phone booths were inside stores. Superman is a product of the 40s, and he changed identities inside a phone booth on the street corner!

OTOH, shortly before public phone booths virtually disappeared, there was a period when most of them were more like phone cubicles, just a couple of short wall segments and a ledge for the phone book (this was done in an effort to keep vagrants from using them as urinals), and there was a whole series of jokes based around Superman hunting desperately for an old-style phone booth to change in.

#110 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 12:19 AM:

I sometimes wonder what it might have been like to read the second Wimsey book, the one with the brother and the plane, without the casual assumption that yes, air travel happens all the time, no it's not special at all.

#111 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 12:57 AM:

Avram@ 86:

I knew Fly Fornication Blorglethorpe. Fly Fornication Blorglethorpe was a friend of mine. You, Sir, are no Fly Fornication Blorglethorpe.

#112 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 02:27 AM:

Melissa @60

You either have to handle things as a proper historical, or you have to Sherlock it.

Let's take an example...

Lord Peter Wimsey was in a war and suffered severe PTSD. That's pretty easy to cover and, in a British context, when you look at the military careers of the Monarch's sons and grandsons, it wouldn't be implausible. Wimsey is backed by old money. Sandhurst and the Army for a second son would work.

His PTSD could even give him something of a distaste for cellphones, though Bunter would carry one. Look at what you can use for photography, these days.

These days, you'd get headlines in the more rabid parts of the press, but the death penalty has gone. That shifts the Harriet Vane situation in new directions. And some of the deadlines aren't there any more.

But I cannot see how you could do Five Red Herrings after Beeching had his way, and society has switched to personal motor cars.

#113 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 05:05 AM:

@Richard Hershberger #34: Amen. I avoid social network sites as if they were flea-ridden cats. A lot of my relatives now do the Facebook thing and I have told them firmly that if they can't send me an e-mail, or tell my answering machine about it, or even (gasp!) write it on a piece of paper and put the piece of paper in a mailbox, then obviously it isn't that important and I don't need to know about it. I will not go to a visually shouty and electronically nosy site like Facebook, any more than I would go to a loud bar full of handsy drunks. Talk to me somewhere else please.

IMO, the easier it is to send a signal, the more likely it is for the signal to be noise, or worse. A while back, somebody here explained to me what teens and tweens mainly do with their cell phones. When I was in Keds, they called it "gossip" and said that we shouldn't do it because somebody might get hurt.

@Dave Bell #112: Make the "red herrings" a bunch of people who do tweet and blog and Skype and so forth; the culprit is the one who knows how to diddle the time stamp software.

#114 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 05:13 AM:

@Richard Hershberger #34: Amen. I avoid social network sites as if they were flea-ridden cats. A lot of my relatives now do the Facebook thing and I have told them firmly that if they can't send me an e-mail, or tell my answering machine about it, or even (gasp!) write it on a piece of paper and put the piece of paper in a mailbox, then obviously it isn't that important and I don't need to know about it. I will not go to a visually shouty and electronically nosy site like Facebook, any more than I would go to a loud bar full of handsy drunks. Talk to me somewhere else please.

IMO, the easier it is to send a signal, the more likely it is for the signal to be noise, or worse. A while back, somebody here explained to me what teens and tweens mainly do with their cell phones. When I was in Keds, they called it "gossip" and said that we shouldn't do it because somebody might get hurt.

@Dave Bell #112: Make the "red herrings" a bunch of people who do tweet and blog and Skype and so forth; the culprit is the one who knows how to diddle the time stamp software.

#115 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 05:40 AM:

A couple of people upthread mentioned Walter Jon Williams' This Is Not A Game, but what they didn't mention is that the sequel, Deep State, which came out in Feb. 2011, describes something very like the real-life role of communications tech in the Arab Spring.

Either that was the fastest manuscript-to-market turnover I've ever heard of, or it's downright prescient. My knowledge of Project Byzantium (through the people I know who are involved in making it come to pass) meant that about halfway through the book my jaw started hitting the floor.

#116 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 07:30 AM:

Lee, #109:

Superman is the reason I assumed there were street-corner phone-booths, but I'm beginning to wonder if that was a later trope for the character - I can't recall him using one in the Fleischer cartoons, for example, while I do recall him ducking into broom closets or behind curtains.

My comics-fans spouse is now looking this up - he's found a reference from 1942, and a statement that the trope started on radio; but the panel is a tight close-up so I can't tell if the phone booth is on a street-corner or inside a building.

#117 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 07:36 AM:

Hang on, spouse has found an image of an outdoor phone-booth from "The Mechanical Monsters" (1942).

#118 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 08:49 AM:

A.J. Luxton @ #115, see also Cory Doctorow's Little Brother (2007), which involves a mesh network built on game consoles.

#119 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 10:56 AM:

Dave Bell @112: Your example works just fine--a reasonable personal reason for the character not to carry a cell phone (albeit a slightly unusual side-effect of PTSD based on what little I know of the condition). Plus a cell phone in the possession of someone who is often with the main character. That would be an acceptable set-up as far as I was concerned.

I wonder if Wimsey could be rebooted in the modern age? The social commentary aspects of the fiction would work, I think. And we've seen contemporary detectives who are members of the nobility, so that wouldn't be a barrier. He'd be a metrosexual (lol) and there would be speculation about his sexual orientation, at least until Harriet showed up.

#120 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 11:11 AM:

Dave Bell, Melissa Singer: I've been having exactly those thoughts the last week or so, in a very No I Am Not Writing This kind of way.

He'd quote the Beatles and The Lord of the Rings along with John Donne and Shakespeare. Perhaps Harriet would be in danger of being extradited to the US, which would open the death penalty back up.

Does Oxford still have Gaudies?

#121 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 11:25 AM:

Carrie S, #120, Oxford certainly does still have Gaudies. My wife went to one a few years ago - and she shares a college with Lord St George.

#122 ::: D. Potter ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 11:33 AM:

In the last couple of the V. I. Warshawski mysteries the detective/protagonist turns off her cell phone because she realizes that she can be tracked (in fact she goes so far as to remove the battery; I'm not sure the current phones permit that), activating it only when she must.

I think it's her niece who clues her to social networks, though.

#123 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 12:39 PM:

Jenny, #113: E-mail has been a godsend for me in terms of keeping in touch with people. I am a horrible correspondent; by the time I have to (1) type it in, (2) print it out, (3) find an envelope, (4) find the address and write it on the envelope, (5) find a stamp, and (6) make a trip to the post office, most things just aren't worth it. The other thing e-mail is good for is time-shifting. If I think of something I need to ask somebody at 1 AM, I don't have to wait until they're up the next morning to ask it -- and they can respond when they're not in the middle of doing something else.

I do find Facebook useful for arranging parties, but I also keep an e-mail list of the people I want to invite who aren't on Facebook; that's just common courtesy. Aside from that, most of what I use it for is passing along links, because I don't trust it for anything much more personal than that.

#124 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 12:39 PM:

You couldn't reset Murder Must Advertise with modern media, though. The story assumes an innate crudeness of the system, which would be made up for by speed and redundancy nowadays. The plot assumes that communication works in a particular way, for a particular scheme to be possible, and to fail in a specific way, and that kind of gadget-plot is not transposable to a setting where gadgets are different.

#125 ::: Zander ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 12:45 PM:

This thread inspired this LJ post, if anyone's interested; http://smallship1.livejournal.com/740854.html#comments

#126 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 01:05 PM:

Erik, 124: Instead of the cubar obbx, it could be based on the first word of the day's Google Doodle hovertext. If there isn't a doodle that day, use the previous doodle's list of links.

No idea how the detective would crack it, though. (And does the Met still have a height requirement? I'd be sad if Peter never got to dress up as a policeman officer.)

#127 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 01:28 PM:

#113 ::: Jenny Islander :

IMO, the easier it is to send a signal, the more likely it is for the signal to be noise, or worse.

That puts something very neatly that I didn't have phrased.

I had the more roundabout concept of wondering what Ben Franklin would have thought of a high proportion of people having a combined and very cheap printing press and post office in their homes. Would he have predicted spam?

#128 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 01:30 PM:

In #34 Richard Hershberger writes:

The idea that they might be interested in the trivia of my daily life is even more mysterious. *I* am not interested in the trivia of my daily life. That's why I carry a book with me: so that I have something to do while pumping the gas.

Wow. I read while I am brushing my teeth. I read while I am putting on socks. But you, sir, are a champion Warrior Against Boredom.

I don't think I have ever pulled out reading material while waiting for gas to pump. Maybe I should try it.

(Mind you, my car is equipped with an S. J. Perelman collection in case I ever have to wait for a towtruck, or the passage of an extremely long freight train. These days, e-books in a smartphone might serve this purpose, but I formed these habits long before smartphones.)

#129 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 02:55 PM:

Before I had kids, I was known around town as The One Who Walks and Reads. I have peripheral vision somewhere on the far side of the bell curve. I can cross streets with my nose in a book. When I only had one child and that one was a tiny baby, I could put her in the stroller, spread a really big book on top of the stroller, and be the Reading Stroller Lady. These days it isn't so easy.

I wouldn't want to do it with a Kindle because occasionally I would slip in the mud or something; also I can drop a paperback, stuff it into my pocket a bit too hard, etc., and not be out more than $0.50. (I buy them used.)

#130 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 03:42 PM:

One of the implications of tech still being worked out is etiquette. Not just the "What can I put on My Face in a Tube?*" questions, but what tech is acceptable.

Texting is rapidly taking over from phoning because it's considered less intrusive; the textee can keep doing whatever they're doing and still get the message later, where a phone call has to interrupt someone's day. (you'd think answering machines would be an equalizer here, especially considering by how long they predate texts, but they still don't seem to be. Something about the written word vs. the oral, I suppose).

Colin heard a radio program where someone was asserting that modern etiquette requires you to text someone (not a business, obviously) to find out if it's a good time to phone them, not phone out of the blue. Colin and the friends (30s, 40s, late 20s) he shared this with, even the most texting-inclined, thought that was absurd ("maybe you should send an e-mail to see if you can text." "And mail a letter to see if you can e-mail" "and send a carrier pigeon...") but one of them mentioned it to some younger coworkers, and they got into a serious debate about the point.

Personally, I didn't have a cell until this year; my husband didn't have one until late in my pregnancy, when it occurred to me that, while I wasn't likely to have problems getting hold of him if I was the one out of the house when I went into labour (find me a business that wouldn't let me borrow a phone under that circumstance - and many random strangers on the street, for that matter**) I'd have a bear of a time reaching him if I was home and he was out. Then his new job gave him an iphone, and I got the extant one. I've used it twice, carried it around almost never, and been bothered by a wrong number at 4 AM once. Not sure that quite balances out...

*The Middleman series' handy social networking/video site of dodging trademark issues.
**Would this be the cell phone equivalent of herd immunity?

#131 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 05:19 PM:

D. Potter @ 122: (in fact she goes so far as to remove the battery; I'm not sure the current phones permit that)

I think it's only Apple that seal the case shut - I've never seen a phone where you couldn't take the battery out.


Lenora Rose @ 130: Texting is rapidly taking over from phoning because it's considered less intrusive; the textee can keep doing whatever they're doing and still get the message later, where a phone call has to interrupt someone's day. (you'd think answering machines would be an equalizer here, especially considering by how long they predate texts, but they still don't seem to be. Something about the written word vs. the oral, I suppose).

I personally _hate_ speaking to machines, so I'll never leave a message if it can be avoided.

#132 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 05:23 PM:

I remember the first Lord Peter book mentioning his way with the telephone as if it were very unusual: "sat down to the telephone with an air of leisurely courtesy, as though it were an acquaintance dropped in for a chat." That's the way most people treated telephone conversations in my youth (before cordless phones created the habit of pacing), but clearly it was not so from the beginning.

Crossing the Atlantic in a small plane has never been the norm, so I found that aspect of Clouds of Witness pretty riveting.

#133 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 06:03 PM:

Higgledy piggledy
Crowdsourced panopticons
Tweeting and camphone shots
Keep us in view.
Everything's known to us
Just throw a bone to us
Do you want to live in the fishbowl?
Me, too.

#134 ::: Kurt Montandon ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 07:52 PM:

The Children of Men (book) is especially bad about this, though it was published in '92. There seems to be no technology in the book that was invented after 1965. Not a single computer, digital watch, cell phone, etc., much less technology extrapolated into 2021.

It threw me enough out of the world and story that I only got a few chapters in before giving up.

#135 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 08:24 PM:

Cassy B @ 104

One of the Internet's hoax RFC(*) documents is IP over Avian Carriers - carrier pigeons. In 1990, it was implemented by pigeon fanciers/hackers in Norway, and the report is fairly extensive. The ping output shows two-hour packet round trips.

(*) RFC stands for "Request For Comment", the Internet's standards. Traditionally, joke RFCs are often issued April 1st. At least two, "The Naming of Hosts" and "SONET to Sonnet translation" would be right at home here.

#136 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 08:43 PM:

Sean @90: I think it was in the 1980s that I first saw it mentioned that one important difference between most people's real lives and the television shows they watched was that the people on television didn't watch television.

Television characters, whether on sitcoms or crime dramas or family sagas, were always doing something: going somewhere or talking to someone or dealing with a problem or buying something. Watching television is, for dramatic purposes, like taking a bath or sleeping or waiting for a train. It's going to be edited out, on television, and maybe mentioned briefly in a book. There are aspects of what we do with the net that are like that: reading a newspaper or watching a movie or ball game doesn't become interactive because I'm doing it here rather than using newsprint or a television set.

But there's also a different sort of merging of things, I think: once upon a time, if I was in New York and dating someone in Boston, we'd have spent a bunch of time on the phone if we could afford it, and that would be more focused, or sent lots of letters. Now, we can chat on IM and interweave that with looking at blogs, petting the cat, phone calls from our mothers… it's not just the amount of time spent looking at a screen, it's the ways we interact with other people via the screen, which a person watching television doesn't.

#137 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 08:58 PM:

Vicki @136 -- Whedon certainly had television watching show up (at least in passing) on Buffy -- people refer to it occasionally, and they have movie-watching parties as well. It's post-80s, and I hadn't thought about it being as uncommon as your comment makes me recognize it is.

#138 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: June 09, 2012, 10:47 PM:

IIRC, WJW commented about how reality had caught up with his fiction in Deep State, and he'd had to deal with it by throwing more chrome at it - I think it was in a Big Idea post on Scalzi's Whatever.

#139 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:59 AM:

#131 (Roy G. Ovrebo): various other mobile-device-makers are following that trend as well with unibody handsets which do not allow the user to remove/replace the battery. My Nokia N9 is like this. (I read, in this thread, the reminder that when the battery's in then it's trackable, and thought "ah crap.")

#140 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 01:31 AM:

139
So what do they expect people to do when the phone needs a new battery? Or do they expect people to routinely replace it before then?

#141 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 02:56 AM:

A.J. Luxton @ 115:

WJW wrote on his blog after Deep State came out that he'd lucked out by having the Arab Spring become news in the West at about the same time as the release of the book. He'd finished the book early in 2010, I believe, and it followed the normal publishing cycle. But aside from luck he deserves the credit for some really good research and careful extrapolation from that.

And if you haven't, be sure to read the 3rd book, The Fourth Wall. It's different ...

#142 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 04:22 AM:

Melissa @119

In the books, there's a reference to Lord Peter having problems with giving orders, because in the war it so often led to people getting killed.

Though I don't recall whether that is authentic Wimsey, or the authorised sequels...

Update to current military operations, and every soldier carries a two way radio, earpiece and mic, in constant contact with their superiors. It might not be everyone hearing everyone, but it's possible that Wimsey has given an order, and heard the man die.

And that's where the no-cellphone idea came from.

I have an uncomfortable feeling that this is deriving from the authorised sequels. Did DLS go into detail about his PTSD? It is part of his character, but how explicit is she?

#143 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:17 AM:

Kurt Montandon@134: many years ago I read the early Allen Steele novels (Wikipedia reminds me: Orbital Decay (1989), Clarke County, Space (1990), Lunar Descent (1991)) and enjoyed them very much, in spite of being a little bit thrown by their 'near future' being one where space was just another place to have a blue-collar job, yet popular culture still seemed to be exactly the popular culture of the 70s and 80s. Characters were doing space things, in space, but there were Grateful Dead quotes and snarky remarks about men who wear Fruit Of The Loom shirts. It's not so much the future as an alternate late-80s from a timeline where the Apollo program never stopped.

#144 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:35 AM:

In the books, there's a reference to Lord Peter having problems with giving orders, because in the war it so often led to people getting killed.

Though I don't recall whether that is authentic Wimsey, or the authorised sequels...

It's mentioned in Busman's Honeymoon.

#145 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:38 AM:

And the PTSD is fairly explicit in Whose Body, in the episode where WImsey has worked everything out and turned the execution over to Parker.

#146 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:06 AM:

Delany, in The Motion of Light in Water, mentions the experience of taking his first-ever airplane flight, and comments on the changing representation of Catching A Spaceship in SF: spaceports now are assumed to be a little bit like airports, but SF authors were once unfamiliar with airports, so they showed spaceports as being like what they were familiar with; that is, railway stations.

In Travel by Wire, I think I remember that Clarke has teleportation in Britain being run by the Post Office, because of course it would be.

#147 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 08:06 AM:

thomas @144

Thanks, that fits with my hazy memory, something like Bunter explaining something to Harriet.

The starting point would be Wimsey in his early thirties, which would put the Dowager Duchess in the ambiguous fifties of her life.

(Oh, all right...)

He's a shell-shocked war veteran, she's his widowed mother. Together they fight crime!

(Sorry.)

(Well, not really. Imagine what you could do with some redubbed clips of Sherlock. Una Stubbs could pass as a Dowager Duchess.)

(I might be starting a manic phase...)

#148 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 09:39 AM:

Steve with a book (143): From the reviews I read when the first one came out, that (alternate 1980s where the Apollo program never stopped) seemed to be the premise. So it's not surprising you had that reaction.

Dave Bell (147): He's a shell-shocked war veteran, she's his widowed mother. Together they fight crime!

I'd read that.

#149 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:00 AM:

Henry @135

Ghod, I love geeks....

#150 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:05 AM:

Vicki @136 and Tom @137,

I'd never consciously noticed before the lack of TV-watching on TV shows (I've noticed the lack of book-reading, but figured that's because it's boring to watch....) but I suppose I should give a counter-example; in "The Big Bang Theory" they do watch TV (or, rather, they start to before said TV-watching is comically interrupted), and the characters refer to watching TV regularly. However, off-hand, that's the only show I can think of where this happens.

#151 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:08 AM:

Sumana @ 139,

Latest phone accessory; designer Farraday cages! (If someone hasn't started marketing these, they should....)

#152 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:12 AM:

Dave Bell@142

There are authorized Wimsey sequels? I never knew! Are they any good?

#153 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:27 AM:

CassyB @ 152, they start off okay, and get progressively worse.

Thrones, Dominations, which Dorothy L Sayers, started to write, is quite good. A Presumption of Death, based on some DLS notes, is reasonable. The Attenbury Emeralds, which ppears to be made up out of the whole cloth, is neither good nor reasonable.

#154 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:32 AM:

Andrew Wells @153

Thanks; I'll look actively for the first, read the second if I come across it, and ignore the third!

(Newbie question; when doing the link-back, should I put the first-name last-name as above, or is just the first name sufficient? This question not just for you, but all multi-named people. Trying to learn the social norms here....)

#155 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:38 AM:

I'm quite new here, too, so I shall watch out for answers!

#156 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 10:41 AM:

Cassy B,

It's probably worth using both names for me, as there are other Nancys on the board.

#157 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 11:25 AM:

Recall that showing a TV screen on TV is difficult without a big black bar showing up across it. Anytime you show a screen it takes special work to synchronize the picture; think of it as a special effect.

Plus, there's the whole "don't remind folks that they're in a work of art," where you don't (in the course of your melodrama) have the hero say to the villain, "You sound like the villain in a melodrama!" no matter how true it may be.

#158 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 11:30 AM:

Texting before calling: holy cats, that is genius. I don't call a lot of people, and when I do, it's either a very quick time-sensitive thing-- not always important, but, "Hey, is X the bellydancer who performed at Y's wedding? Because I met her mother at Wiscon," or, "Are you at home right now? Z is locked out of her house and is coming over to get the key, and I can let her in if she needs, but I'm downtown."--

Okay, we're abandoning that sentence.

Anyway, it's either that or it's me calling someone to talk. Not everyone has forty minutes to sit and chat, even for fairly active values of 'sit'. I've made appointments via email before, but texting would work too.

#159 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 11:31 AM:

Nancy C. Mittens @156, Thanks! Now I know. {smile}

#160 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 11:33 AM:

Jim Macdonald @ 157, that's no doubt why in those rare shows where they show the characters watching (or starting to watch) TV, they show the back of the set, not the front. With the added scrpt advantage that you're watching the characters watch TV, not watching TV with the characters....

#161 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:01 PM:

Mary Aileen@148: interesting! I could have sworn that there was an explicit reference to the Challenger disaster in one of the three books that firmly anchored them to our timeline. Either way, I enjoyed them and will have to revisit some time.

There's some murky disputed territory between historial fiction and alt-history; it's all alt-history in the sense that it never happened, but the 'straight' historical fiction author operates under a sort of parole which forbids mucking around with big stuff. Invent a 19th-century town or Congressman, but not a State or President—that would take you into a different sort of contract between author and reader.

TV shows where no-one watches TV are one thing; worse are SF shows (and books) set in the present day where no-one has ever seen any SF, or learned any lessons from it. (Let's go back in time and change history / oh dear it hasn't worked out as well as we thought it would / how could we ever have known? Stephen Fry's Making History, I'm looking at you.)

Remembrance of the Daleks, the best of the very late era old-Dr Who stories, takes the action back to the day (November 23rd, 1963) of the first ever episode, and playfully almost shows us a TV showing us the first episode of Dr Who.

#162 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:09 PM:

Steve, #161: One of my favorite bits in Independence Day is when the fighter planes are first attacking the alien ship. They launch missiles, which hit an otherwise-invisible energy field some distance from the hull. Wil Smith's character says "They've got shields"--and everyone knows what he means. Because apparently Star Trek exists in the context of the movie.

#163 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:21 PM:

Nora Roberts' JD Robb books have a wonderful moment in Fantasy in Death, where a character, upon realizing what's going on, says, "That's science fiction shit."

The book is set in 2061 and the premise concerns what is and isn't possible in a full-immersion VR game.

The series has problems-- they're SF in genre but not SF in the genre conversation, for one thing-- but I love them for that line alone.

#164 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:30 PM:

Andrew Wells, #153: The Attenbury Emeralds, which ppears to be made up out of the whole cloth, is neither good nor reasonable.

Wait - do the emeralds get stolen again, or is this a prequel to (spoiler)?

Steve, #161
Making History, I'm looking at you

Had it been a larger group of people, I would have been surprised that no one was worried about the consequences of altering the timeline, but with an unauthorized two-person project, I just assumed neither person was an sf fan; also, one was young and naive, and the other was very convinced that no turn of events could be worse than what *had* happened.

#165 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:37 PM:

Steve with a book, #146:

My experience of E.E. "Doc" Smith is limited, but I was struck by how his space engineers have no concept of an electronic flight computer - the crew always has to include at least one live navigator with a slide rule, making course corrections on the fly. It also took me a while to realize that what he called "plates" were video screens.

That said, the jargon of his engineers and pilots struck me as oddly believable, probably due to being modeled on that of the aircraft engineers and pilots of his own time.

#166 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:41 PM:

Steve w/book, #146: Off on a slight tangent here, one of the things I really liked about B5 was that sometimes when the characters were walking around in the station, you'd hear PA announcements in (presumably) alien languages in the background. It was a reminder that whatever else the station was, its original purpose was to be an airport in space.

Cassy, #154: I tend to stick with first names unless there are multiple regulars with the same name, for whom I include a last initial or some other specific identifier. This is because I'm lazy and don't want to type any more than I have to. :-)

Jim, #157: "... and happy endings only occur in theatrical productions." - The Mikado

#167 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:41 PM:

Sarah, #164 - I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that they keep getting stolen.

But as no-one here should read the book, I don't really need to avoid spoilers!

#168 ::: Andrew Wells ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:47 PM:

Hopefully not too off-topic -

I was re-reading soome Arthur C Clarke the other day, and noted portable music players and e-books. I am impressed with the prediction of these; but would have been more impressed if he had also managed to predict wrangles over DRM, copyright infringement &c.

#169 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 12:50 PM:

Sarah @165:
Remember, they were written in the mid-late 1920s. The revealing computer tech moment is after Kinnison's second stage training, when he is experimenting with trying to get a computer to set up a particular integral on a room-sized calculator.

Tubes are never mentioned in the context of calculators, IIRC, but are noted (complete with glowing filaments) in enough other contexts to make it clear he never imagined the transistor, much less the rest of the semiconductor revolution. Given that imagined tech level, it is not surprising that he didn't imagine such a beast being small enough to fit on a ship.

#170 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 01:11 PM:

There are some shows where the characters watch TV. One was The Sopranos where Tony was a great fan of The History Channel. (The Internet also existed in their reality - Tony's daughter actually showed her brother a website about the mob, to prove for him that his dad wasn't just the boss of a garbage company.)

Then there's Seinfeld, where a whole story arc concerned a fictional sitcom about Jerry Seinfeld...

#171 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 01:39 PM:

Didn't Twin Peaks have a serial within the serial back in the late 1980s (which seemed to be commenting obliquely on the action of the series itself). And South Park has Terence and Philip.

#172 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 01:41 PM:

Andrew Wells (153): I enjoyed The Attenbury Emeralds reasonably well, but it's not a very good Sayers imitation.

Steve with a book (161): It has occurred to me that all* fiction is arguably alternate history: the characters (mostly) don't really exist, and neither do a lot of the locations. Or the events.

But that's too broad a definition to be useful.

*Except possibly the kind of historical fiction that tries to hew as closely as possible to known history and personages, only inventing conversations and the like.

#173 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 02:20 PM:

It was of course, the late 1980's that were an oblique commentary on Twin Peaks, and not the serial within the serial. Gah.

#174 ::: Bruce H. ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 03:38 PM:

Cassy B @151

They were not very designerly, but I have used small Farraday cages while testing wireless insulin pump controllers. They were about the size of a thick hardcover novel, solid metal with a copper mesh gasket, and a toggle latch to hold the cover tightly closed.

#175 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:55 PM:

Cassy 154: I generally use the first name and the post number (if I'm in a rush or the comment is very short and casual I don't). That's at least unambiguous, even if, as Nancy points out, there are multiple people with the same first name in the conversation.

One pitfall to this approach is that, for example, Mary Aileen's first name is Mary Aileen.

Jim 157: OTOH I remember someone in some show somewhere saying "Oh, spare me the supervillian riff!" Or words much like those. I think it may have been a Whedon thing, but

google google

No, it was Stargate SG-1. That show was almost as full of pop-culture references as Farscape. My favorite was Sam saying she could "MacGyver something together," and Jack (played by the same actor who played MacGyver) telling her never to say that again.

And the actor who said the "spare me" line above also played Q, the closest thing to a supervillain ST:TNG ever had.

#176 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 05:59 PM:

Xopher @175: Dang. Now I have to go find that Star Trek Mummer's Play Mike and I whomped up, because there's a line or two about Q for you.

If I don't come back from the attic in a decade or two, please send search party.

#177 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 06:03 PM:

Here you go, Xopher.

Q:
In come I, just call me Q
I do whatever I want to do
Leaping through any and all situations,
I'm simply an animate plot complication

-- from "King Boreas and the Vulcans," by JMF, with help around the edges from EM

#178 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 06:17 PM:

Thanks, elise!

#179 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:14 PM:

Posted with the note that the Daily Mail is a tabloid of the worst sort with a reputation of turning on female journalists. Their exposal of "lies" seems pretty questionable. Having said that, the article led me to reading her blog and her ex's twittersteam.

Can we trust ANYTHING Melissa Stetten says? Model who tweeted actor's in-flight advances has history of stretching truth | Mail Online

#180 ::: Lisa Padol ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:18 PM:

The Doctor Who episode "Blink" dealt with screens within the screen the viewer is watching.

#181 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:32 PM:

Sylvia @ 179:

The items listed as actual lies include:

- Not giving her age to agencies. Not a surprise in Hollywood. If the article has her age right, she lies by at most a year or two.
- possibly liking/ not liking an actor. or possibly changing her mind. Good lord help us.
- a probable April Fool's joke, which if it wasn't, is the one of the lot that's serious.

It also mentions her talking about a miscarriage and a rocky relationship, but never actually dares to say these things didn't happen. It lists them in close conjunction with the above lies or "lies", but only says her blog includes posts about them. The way it reads to me is that they wanted to make that association in peoples' minds without actually courting a slander case.

Oh, also mentioning she took an antidepressant. Because that has something to do with lying or not.

I don't know if he hit on her, but if this is the level of the reporting against her, I'm sickened for a lot of other reasons.

#182 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2012, 07:40 PM:

It should be easy enough to determine if they were both on the same flight, sitting next to each other -- has either denied it? If not -- I'm sorry, making up that kind of story and getting the kind of crowdsourced identification is not easy. And if they hadn't arranged it in advance, neither would have known who s/he was going to sit next to. So doing the kind of research to make this whole megillah as damning as it was to Presley is really unlikely to have happened. I can see her lying about some things, but the way the story happened -- that's not the way people lie.

#183 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 02:20 AM:

Diatryma @ #163, at Library Thing all my JD Robb books are categorized as "crime, police procedural, Eve Dallas" rather than SF.

#184 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 02:27 AM:

Xopher @ 175:

I think we're finding more and more mentions of genre within TV shows and books these days, if only because the very nature of fandom has expanded in an adaptive radiation reminiscent of the Cambrian Explosion. My favorite recent example was a couple of seasons back on Castle a TV show about a mystery writer who partners with an NYPD detective and wears a windbreaker with "WRITER" on the back. While interrogating a Chinese covert agent Castle unexpectedly showed fluency in Mandarin. His partner asked him if he'd studied the language in college. He replied, "Favorite TV show". The joke is that Castle is played by Nathan Fillion, who also played Mal Reynolds in Firefly, where he spoke in Mandarin frequently.

#185 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 10:07 AM:

I'd agree that the JD Robb books are more mystery/crime than SF, but SF they remain. They're this fascinating corner of the genre, and the closest I can come to summarizing it is 'in the genre but not of it'. If I were going to do a gigantic critical work on anything I've read, I'd probably pick them because their relationship with just about everything is a little off standard.

#186 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 11:29 AM:

Rewatching Stargate Atlantis recently, there's a great riff where the doctor is grumpy about using the Stargate, and the others say "He's worse than McCoy" - "Who?" - "The TV character he plays in real life."

The giant dreadlocked warrior gets nicknamed Chewie almost immediately: "Easy, Chewie".

#187 ::: Dragoness Eclectic ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 11:40 AM:

Fragiano @ #72: However, the Caiman Isles are where we keep the rare crocodilians.

Charlie Stross @ #93: You've just described the milieu of Mira Grant's "Newsflesh" trilogy, at least for reporter/bloggers.

Vicki @136: The old "All in the Family" show was novel at the time for having Archie Bunker sitting and watching TV. The camera angle was from the direction of the TV, so you never actually saw the TV, but it was clear that was what the character was watching.

Sarah @165: IIRC, one of the WWII admirals (Nimitz or Halsey) credited Doc Smith with inventing the concept of a ship's C3I center (Command, Control, Communications and Information) on the Directrix in "Galactic Patrol" (or one of the other Lensman novels). A concept they successfully implemented and took advantage of in WWII and ever since. He may well have invented some of the jargon now used by engineers ;-)

Other stuff: fan of J.D. Robb here. "La Nora" is a good writer in general, and just a class act all around. As for genre, I think of the Eve Dallas novels as Cyberpunk. Not a term you see much anymore, but they are, as is the new TV series "Person of Interest".

#188 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 01:24 PM:

Quoting Wikipedia on Doc Smith,

An influence that is inarguable was described in an 11 June 1947 letter to Doc from John W. Campbell (the editor of Astounding magazine, where much of the Lensman series was originally published). In it, Campbell relayed Captain Cal Laning's acknowledgment that he had used Smith's ideas for displaying the battlespace situation (called the "tank" in the stories) in the design of the United States Navy's ships' Combat Information Centers. "The entire set-up was taken specifically, directly, and consciously from the Directrix. In your story, you reached the situation the Navy was in—more communication channels than integration techniques to handle it. You proposed such an integrating technique and proved how advantageous it could be. You, sir, were 100% right. As the Japanese Navy—not the hypothetical Boskonian fleet—learned at an appalling cost."

Of course, this rather conveniently ignores the C3I system developed by Fighter Command of the RAF, successfully used in 1940.

#189 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 02:11 PM:

TV shows where people watch TV:

How I Met Your Mother incorporates TV a lot, though usually they're watching movies on tape/DVD. In one episode, Ted makes his soon-to-be-fiancee watch Star Wars (the right one) to see if she has "the right stuff" to be his wife. One of the main characters is a tv newsreporter (for various fringe channels) and the other characters frequently watch her broadcasts and have even appeared on her program once or twice.

On Big Bang Theory, the tv watching isn't always interrupted before it gets started; sometimes we come into a scene where they are watching something (and have been for a while, judging by internal evidence) and then something disrupts the gathering.

Modern Family includes tv watching several times a season, though tv-watching usually breaks down along gender lines. The men watch sports; the women watch stuff that makes them cry. The exception is nature shows, which fascinate everyone.

There was a Doctor Who episode where some characters were watching EastEnders; you could see the screen and if you were a fan of the soap you knew exactly what was going on.

In The Great Game episode of Sherlock, John and Sherlock are in a cafe when a program comes on featuring a recent murder victim; John says that he and Mrs. Hudson frequently saw her program (since they're home all day with nothing to do). Sherlock is later shown watching tv and being twitchy; John complains that he should never have gotten Sherlock hooked on crappy television. (They talk about tv in A Study in Pink but do not watch anything in that episode.)

#190 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 03:05 PM:

UK sitcom The Royle Family specialized in shots from the 'viewpoint' of the TV set that every member of the family was watching.

(That made me wonder what the first British novel was in which all the main characters habitually watched TV. It may well have been Nineteen Eighty-Four.)

#191 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 06:23 PM:

Sanford and Son had a lot of TV, and so did All in the Family. In the former, I particularly remember one character (Grady?) saying he was going to watch a little teh-leh-vih-sion, which my mother used to imitate.

#192 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 06:43 PM:

Community occasionally has characters watching clips of "Inspector Spacetime" (a fictional TV show which is a spoof of Doctor Who).

Karen Gillan (who plays Amy Pond on Doctor Who) is apparently a big fan of Community .

#193 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 07:34 PM:

I can't immediately think of examples (other than Watchmen), but a tv set in the background, whether characters are watching it or no, is a pretty useful device for supplying information pertinent to the plot, usually in the form of a news broadcast.

#194 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 08:12 PM:

The Simpsons watched TV a lot, notably the Krusty the Clown show and its Itchy and Scratchy segments. House watched TV occasionally, usually either by himself or with Wilson, as did Fox Mulder. Various Pythons had to watch telly-vision, after the radio exploded, but before the penguin exploded.

#195 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 11, 2012, 08:16 PM:

Sarah @ #193, used particularly anvilicously in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

#196 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 07:31 AM:

Lila @195

"Anviliciously". Great word. Must steal....

#197 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 09:52 AM:

Cassy B @196: See Anvilious at TV Tropes.

#198 ::: Stefan S ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 06:41 PM:

I think of a fragment from Edna Millay:
The mind, to meet the brutal age has grown/ An iron cortex of its own

#199 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:21 PM:

Cassy B, I didn't invent it! Indeed I think I may have encountered it either here or on the original Slacktivist (before the latter moved to Patheos).

#200 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:33 PM:

Steve with a book @190: That made me wonder what the first British novel was in which all the main characters habitually watched TV. It may well have been Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In Orwellian England, television watches you.

Sarah @193, if you're looking for examples from comics, television is a great big deal (with more than one plot thread depending on it) in American Flagg.

#201 ::: Cassy B ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2012, 10:47 PM:

Lila @199, yes, Gag @197 referred me to the meme-link. But it's still a great turn of phrase, and so immediately obvious what it means even on first hearing....

#202 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 03:15 AM:

P J @140 - Sealing the battery in the phone makes the case stronger and more durable. It also allows a larger battery to be used for the same volume, because it doesn't need a separate extensive shell a standalone battery needs for safety. The service strategy for iPhones is that outside of the warranty period, you can have your phone replaced for a fee with a refurbished model with a new battery. The old phone is then refurbished itself.

Bruce @184 - I think the Castle/Firefly crossover is even better in the part where his daughter tells him he stopped being a Space Cowboy years ago.

Finally, on the topic of where sharing information online gets complicated in ways we don't currently deal with:
As more of a person's online and offline activity gets recorded and cross referenced, it will be difficult to distinguish between what they read and what they do. Legally, you can make the distinction as there's plenty of precedent. But what impact would it have on you to know that 90% of the porn your coworker watches shares a number of characteristics with your appearance? It might be they're incredibly creepy. It might be that they think you're cute. It might be that they actually have you off their radar entirely because they're devoted to their partner. But once you find this sort of thing out, I don't think you can avoid it affecting you.
Are you willing to go camping with someone who has 5x as many edits on Wikipedia articles about serial killers as anybody else? Are you willing to meet them for a date?

#203 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 17, 2012, 11:01 AM:

202
Ah, that explains it. (Not an iPhone user.)

#204 ::: Henry Trooup ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2012, 11:04 PM:

I happened today across this search challenge from February. Given a photograph, determine where it was taken. Even, find the phone number. The challenge was taken up, successfully.

Few, if any, contemporary stories leverage this, and fewer in a real-world manner (i.e. not "magic AI" or ridiculous zoom-in a la Bladerunner.) But, quite a few recent contemporary-setting novels I've read have the hoary old "villain mails photos to character" trope going; I've never seen anyone flip that around to "villain reveals secret lair by mailing photos to character."

#205 ::: Mary Aileen wonders if that's spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 10, 2014, 11:35 PM:

Jamal, if you're real, the answer is "because that's the way the contracts are written."

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