The new movie Zero Dark Thirty, which tells the story of the tracking and eventual killing of Osama Bin Laden, has received several Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), but it’s attracting another kind of attention as well: several writers, including Jane Meyer at The New Yorker and Peter Maass at The Atlantic, have accused it of condoning or even glorifying the use of torture by US intelligence agencies.
A recent case involving lawmakers who want to access data on the computer of a woman accused of engaging in a mortgage scam in Colorado has opened up a virtual Pandora’s box of legal questions: American courts are currently struggling with whether or not suspects can be forced to show authorities how to access their encrypted information and the repercussions of their ruling could affect Canadian law as well.
The last year has been an unusually busy one for watchers of gender representation in the news media, with not one but two high-profile women involved in the U.S. presidential race. The way in which these two politicians were covered provides a view of how gender in politics is portrayed in the media, and how this can help to explain just how unusual those two women are.
It’s ironic that as computers and other communications technology have become more accessible to the general public over the last thirty years, they have actually become less accessible to a segment of the population, one to whom access is everything: people with disabilities. More ironic still is that the history of communications technology is intimately tied to the drive to integrate people with disabilities more fully into society.
Larry Gonick is a pioneer of non-fiction cartooning; starting with Blood From A Stone: A Cartoon Guide to Tax Reform in 1971, he has made a career out of explaining complicated topics in comic format. In 1978 he published the first issue of The Cartoon History of the Universe as a comic book, starting with the Big Bang and ending with the evolution of humanity. Issues of that series were collected first in 1982 and again in 1990; later two sequels appeared, The Cartoon History of the Universe II and III, and in 2007 the series continued as The Cartoon History of the Modern World. With the second volume of that series, published this fall, Gonick brings his history up to late 2008. Throughout the series Gonick has consistently made history entertaining and approachable as well as accurate (each volume ends with an annotated bibliography) and has shed light on the history of often-neglected parts of the world such as China, India and pre-Columbian America. Among his other works are The Cartoon History of the United States and the Cartoon Guide series, which provide grounding in topics ranging from physics to communication theory to sex; his works have been among the most influential in bringing comics into the classroom.
The history of the Internet – and the history of technology in general – could be described as one big demonstration of the doctrine of unintended consequences: a system designed to help researchers collaborate, and developed to protect military communications in the event of a nuclear war, wound up being used primarily for shopping, socializing and entertainment. The same is true of many of the products and services on the Internet as well. In its early years it was mostly seen as a one-to-many broadcast medium, like TV or radio, but over time it’s the more interactive elements that have proven to be most popular, with users producing at least as much online content as professionals.
Malcolm Gladwell’s recent New Yorker article “Small Change” has set the blogosphere buzzing with its strongly stated argument that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter will not usher in a new age of social activism, as some digital evangelists have proposed, but that they and the relationships they foster are actually detrimental to real social change. As Gladwell puts it, “The instruments of social media are well suited to making the existing social order more efficient. They are not a natural enemy of the status quo.”
The old saying that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer applies to cyberspace, too: these maps comparing router and population density show that the developing world has a long way to go to catch up to North America, Western Europe and Japan when it comes to getting online. The One Laptop Per Child project aims to change all that, designing, constructing and distributing Internet-ready laptops to children in developing countries.
Developing the three-part MediaSmarts workshop series Creating Digital Content for Community Engagement changed my life. This might sound far-fetched, but I took the time to really explore what political and civic engagement looks like both on and offline, why every democratic society needs this, and how to create a powerful, effective and well-crafted media message that can help change the world for the betterment of everyone. I learned a lot about what it means to be “engaged” in our society, and how crucial this is for the success of all.
The most anticipated movie of the year, at least in some circles, is opening on March 6th: Watchmen, the adaptation of the 1986 comic book of the same name. The original, which won a Hugo Award for science fiction and was named one of Time’s top 100 novels of the twentieth century, tells the story of a group of retired superheroes investigating the death of one of their colleagues; the mystery leads the reader through the alternate world their existence has created, in which heroes with cosmic superpowers overawed the Soviet Union and in which Richard Nixon is still president in 1985. Though time will tell how successful the film will turn out to be, the buzz around its launch gives an opportunity to look at comics and how they’re adapted into other media.