Please Rob Me: what’s the big panic, exactly?

Paul Raven @ 18-02-2010

Unless you’ve been sleeping under that hypothetical internet-proof rock for the last 24 hours, you’ve probably caught wind of the charmingly-named Please Rob Me, a site that aggregates publicly-available Twitter updates which announce that their creator has left their home empty while they go somewhere else. The theory here is that, by announcing you’re not at home, you’re openly inviting some nefarious evil-doer to burgle all your stuff in your absence; what a terrible indictment of geolocational status updates and public announcements of your daily comings and goings, AMIRITE?

Well, frankly, no. Even someone as poorly versed in crime literature (be it fictional or factual) as myself is aware that an experienced and/or smart burglar tends to “case the joint” carefully before doing the job. And while Please Rob Me might make it possible to know when someone’s out of the house without surveilling it from across the street, that’s its only advantage… assuming that said burglar is willing to take an internet status update as a surety, which – were I a burglar – I certainly wouldn’t do.

So, yes – Please Rob Me may be a useful way of highlighting the fact that many people who geolocate themselves publicly on the web haven’t thought about the implications of that information being publicly available (which is what its creators meant it to do, if I’ve understood their “why” page properly), but it isn’t a sign that there’ll be a sudden swarm of Twitter-combing burglary crews hitting the luxury pads of Silicon Valley high-flyers while they’re slurping up lattes downtown.

If your house is worth robbing, and if it’s being targetted by the sort of burglar who doesn’t just operate on the basis of pure opportunism, then that burglar will find a way of knowing when you’re out of the house, whether that be through watching your Twitter stream or the more old-school (not to mention tried, tested and reliable) method of keeping an eye on the place for a week or so and learning your daily routine. Public geolocation might make that easier to do at a distance, but when their freedom is at stake, I expect the more cautious burglars – the ones who are likely to get away with burgling rich people’s houses at least once, in other words – aren’t going to rely on 140 characters and a GPS tag before crowbarring your back door.

Privacy and lifelogging are important issues, but the alarmist tabloid-esque flapping over Please Rob Me is actually obscuring the important parts of those issues, not bringing them to the forefront. So let’s think things through before hitting the big red button marked ‘technophobia’, shall we?


O NOES teh webz iz infantilizin yr brainz (yes, again)

Paul Raven @ 25-02-2009

A bearded man infantilizing himself yesterdayIf you’re anything like me, you’ve probably never heard of Lady Greenfield, professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, and director of the Royal Institution. But Lady Greenfield knows all about you, and how your use of social networking sites and computer games is contributing to the ongoing infantilization of the 21st Century psyche:

Arguing that social network sites are putting attention span in jeopardy, she said: “If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder.

“It might be helpful to investigate whether the near total submersion of our culture in screen technologies over the last decade might in some way be linked to the threefold increase over this period in prescriptions for methylphenidate, the drug prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

[Emphasis mine – try playing the same game with the whole of Lady Greenfield’s output, kids! Should keep your attention for twenty seconds at least.]

Will no one think of the children? God only knows that when a generation grows up with things that its elders didn’t have, the fate of the human race is bound to take a turn for the worse. Just look at the pernicious long-term effects of the printing press, the germ theory of medicine, radio and popular music, and (of course) television… [image by jmr_photo]

It’s unfortunate that we’re so hard-wired for fearing change – no new technology has managed to erase that little character trait yet, it seems. As always, the TechDirt boys do a great job of shredding this week’s sensationalist backlash against Twitter:

It’s pretty clear that none of these folks have ever really used Twitter — because they all seem to interpret it as being a broadcast mechanism, rather than a conversational one. This isn’t to say that Twitter is right for everyone, but most of the people who find value in it, find value in the conversational aspect of it, not that it “broadcasts” mundane facts of their lives. […] There are still plenty of people who hate Twitter, but it’s difficult to take seriously people complaining about it when it seems quite clear they’ve never even bothered to use it.

Quite – now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to post a few naked pictures of myself to Lady Greenfield’s MySpace page. LOLZ