Category Archives: Literature

Goodbye, EGM

I just read and confirmed from multiple sources that Electronic Gaming Monthly, a veteran gaming magazine published since 1989, has been canceled. It seems EGM’s parent company, 1Up, has been sold off to UGO and almost immediately, the decision was made to scrap EGM and lay off several senior staff members. The January 2009 issue will be EGM’s last.

I’ve read EGM on and off since the early 90s, back when gaming was just for us nerds and didn’t command near the popularity and respect that it does these days. I remember the bold sense of humor and no-nonsense reviews were traits that really made the magazine stand out from its competitors.

But alas, as video games have evolved and shifted into mainstream popular culture, so too has journalism evolved away from print media such as newspapers and magazines toward interactive, cheaply-distributed websites. Magazines and local newspapers are going to have some tough choices to make as the years go by. Even the ones that survive may not remain in the same forms we recognize today.

I knew the day was coming when most of my favorite print magazines would disappear in favor of an online presence, but I didn’t expect it to feel like suddenly losing several old friends. I hope all of the recently unemployed staffers find alternate work quickly. For all the laughs they have provided over the years, it’s the least I can hope for.

More on Orwell – Morewell!

Through all my rambling in my last post, I never mentioned that 1984 is actually a pretty good novel once it actually gets going. I can see how a reader might be turned off at how slowly the pace moves until about half way in. Regardless of how boring it might seem at at the start, I still recommend that people read it simply to open their eyes to how easily we give up some of our most basic freedoms and the consequences of doing so.1984-front

My primary reason for reading 1984 in the first place was to discover the story behind “Big Brother,” a term that seems to be thrown around a great deal by the media and conspiracy theorists. It turns out that Big Brother is just a name and a face given to the concept of around-the-clock surveillance of the individuals of society.

In 1984, the government of Oceania monitored all citizens through devices called telescreens (televisions that watch you – yeah it sounds like a Yakov Smirnoff joke) to ensure they weren’t engaging in illegal activities, behaving erratically, or fostering anti-government tendencies. Since the government needed a friendly face under which to operate, they created Big Brother, their benevolent leader and protector.

Propaganda was also spread that stated, “Big Brother is watching you,” which is just a masked way of saying: “Be careful what you do, because the government always has its eye on you.”1984-Big-Brother-Poster

Knowing now what the concept of “Big Brother” is, I’ve come to realize that it is now used primarily by the media as a fear mongering tactic to shy people away from some new technological advance – especially technology that makes use of personal information or communications (i.e., Google’s GMail*).

1984 shows us that we should remain ever vigilant about what rights we surrender. In this day and age, by simply using certain technologies, we effectively waive certain privacy rights. Fueled by recent films such as The Matrix and I, Robot, fear of becoming slaves to our own technology is very real. Such films inspire us to ask one of the great philosophical questions of our time: What negative impacts are new and existing technologies making on our lives?

At first thought, it’s easy to say there aren’t any negative impacts. However, to consider the question further, perhaps it may be helpful to think of the state of our lives should certain technologies (e-mail or mobile phones, for example) become suddenly inoperable. In my opinion, over-reliance on technology is a negative impact.

So indeed we have already sacrificed pieces of ourselves for our modern conveniences. How many more sacrifices are we prepared to make in the name of technological advancement? More importantly, how close are we to the world of 1984 by making those sacrifices?what-is-right-is-often-forgotten-by-what-is-convenient-quote-1albert-einstein-quotes-appalingly-obvious-technology-exceeded-humanity-toxic-relationship-destroyer
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*According to many misinformed people, someone working for Google is sitting at their computer, reading peoples’ e-mails, and deciding what advertisements to put up based each message’s content. In actuality it is a computer algorithm that scans for keywords from the text – not much different than anti-virus software scanning messages for viruses or software spell-checkers searching for misspelled words.

No Names

I finished George Orwell’s 1984 shortly after finals week, but I’m only now sitting down to write about it. Considering some of the recent happenings in the news, it seems an appropriate time.

Like it’s cousin, Brave New World, 1984 is a dystopian novel that outlines a grim existence for the future. 1984 has come and gone, but does that not reduce the potency of Orwell’s critique. It’s not difficult to see society heading in the terrible direction of 1984’s circumstances. Every day we give up certain freedoms to maintain social order and harmony.

For all the technical inaccuracies and impossibilities of the movie Hackers (which would have been more accurately named Crackers), I admit that I found the film at least mildly entertaining. There are bits and pieces of philosophy stuck in there – so brief that if you blink, you’ll miss them. In a deliberate nod to Orwell, a character named Emmanuel Goldstein delivers one of the most philosophical quotes in the movie:

Screen-Shot-2014-04-18-at-18.51.11You could sit at home, and do like absolutely nothing, and your name goes through like 17 computers a day. 1984? Yeah right, man. That’s a typo. Orwell is here now. He’s livin’ large. We have no names, man. No names. We are nameless!

The amount of digitized data has increased exponentially since that film was made in 1995, so it’s probably safe to assume that 17 computers is now a gross understatement. From the government, to our insurance companies, to our financial institutions, to our commerce – our livelihoods have been reduced to mere numbers in databases. We have become the little ones and zeroes that comprise some huge system that we have little or no control over.

Our identities have become commodities. Unscrupulous harvesters sell our e-mail addresses to spammers by the millions. Advertisers collected demographic information on us such as where we shop and what we eat so they’ll better know what to throw in our faces next time we open our eyes. And now come to find out most of our major financial institutions handle our personal information with very little regard as to how it may be misused. This is clearly illustrated by institutions such as Citigroup, a company that does not even bother to encrypt sensitive customer data before sending out into the world in a UPS box.

We have become so detached from our own identities that it is now possible for others to use them for their own maligned purposes. All it takes is the knowledge of a few sets of numbers that can be obtained quite easily.fortunetellerBW

It’s obvious now that we can’t simply throw away all these conveniences that we’ve come to rely on. It’s not like we can just stop using our driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, and social security numbers and go back to addressing each other by name. That may have worked when America was nothing but a network of small towns and villages connected by dirt roads, but certainly doesn’t cut it in today’s fast-paced global economy.

Perhaps using biometric verification systems are the future of secure commerce – a scanner at every terminal that verifies you are indeed who you say you are and approve of whatever transaction that’s been initiated. Of course, there will still be tech-savvy identity frauders out there who are able to capture and reproduce fingerprint or retinal signatures for whatever diabolical means, so I’m not suggesting that biometrics would be and “end-all” solution. I do believe, however, it would put us in a better situation than we are in now.

After all, right now all it takes is digging through some victim’s trash or mailbox and doing a little internet research to pull off a good identity fraud.

Well I seem to have digressed a bit from talking about 1984, and this post is already long enough, so more on Orwell another time.