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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Daily Report: ‘The Attacks Have Changed From Espionage to Destruction’

American Express is the latest victim in a wave of attacks on the online operations of American banks, David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth on Friday in The New York Times.

Advice From the Digital Age Emily Posts

The Emily Posts of the Digital Age

Advice on everything from proper behavior in the men’s room to how to open Champagne can be found in videos on the Web. But what may be the fastest-growing area of social advice is the Internet itself and the proper displays of what has been called “netiquette.”

Are manners dead Cellphones, Twitter and Facebook may be killing off the old civilities and good graces, but a new generation of etiquette gurus, good-manner bloggers and self-appointed YouTube arbiters is rising to make old-fashioned protocols relevant to a new generation.

Grace Bonney has added a weekly etiquette column to Design Sponge, her home décor blog.

Their apparent goal: to help members of Generation Y navigate thorny, tech-age minefields like Paperless Post invites, same-sex weddings and online dating â€" not to mention actual face-to-face contact with people they encounter in the offline world.

For instance, you may not think you need a tutorial on shaking hands when being introduced to someone for the first time, but Gloria Starr, an image consultant based in Newport Beach, Calif., begs to differ.

“When you shake hands, it’s two or three times up and down â€" from the elbow and not the wrist,” Ms. Starr says in one of her 437 YouTube videos, helpfully bobbing her right hand up and down in demonstration. Then “smile and introduce yourself.”

Or how about the way to conduct yourself at the gym Videos on gym etiquette are a particularly hot Web topic of late, said Kevin Allocca, the trends manager for YouTube. One video, “Don’t Be That Guy at the Gym,” shows five men demonstrating various sweat-soaked faux pas, like the “meathead” who grunts loudly each time he performs a rep, or the self-anointed “coach” who offers unsolicited (and largely unwelcome) advice to other gym-goers. Posted last April, it has been viewed some 3 million times.

No arena of modern life, it seems, is too obscure or ridiculous for consideration. An instructional Web site called Howcast.com has a popular channel on YouTube that tackles weighty issues like how to handle flatulence in yoga class or how to behave at a nude beach. “If it would be unseemly to gape at that body part while it’s fully clothed,” the latter video instructs, “it’s downright rude to gawk at it undressed.”

On another video, one veteran of the fast-food industry proffers advice on how to act at a drive-in window (“Do not scream ‘hello’ as soon as you pull up to the speaker. Wait to be greeted”), while there are more than 500 videos on the momentous subject of how to properly set the dinner table.

But perhaps the fastest-growing area of social advice â€" one that has spawned not just videos but also Web sites, blogs and books â€" is the Internet itself, and the proper displays of what’s been termed “netiquette.” There are YouTube videos on using emoticons in business e-mails, being discreet when posting on someone’s Facebook wall, limiting baby photos on Instagram, retweeting too many Twitter messages and juggling multiple online chats.

“We’re living in an age of anxiety that’s a reflection of the near-constant change and confusion in technology and social mores,” said Steven Petrow, an author of five etiquette books including “Mind Your Digital Manners: Advice for an Age Without Rules,” to be published in 2014. (Mr. Petrow is a regular contributor to The New York Times, writing an advice column on gay-straight issues for the Booming blog.)

“Whether it’s wondering how many times it is acceptable to text a date before being seen as a stalker, or what the role of parents is at a same-sex wedding,” he said, “etiquette gurus are popping out from under tablecloths everywhere to soothe all those living in fear of newfangled faux pas.”

Such advice is dished out on Web sites run by protocol professionals like the dapper Thomas Farley, a television talk-show staple, and Elaine Swann, a San Diego County-based consultant, and in the online newsletter Dot Complicated, published by Randi Zuckerberg, the former Facebook executive.

“Many of these emerging etiquette issues are complicated because there are no clear-cut, black-and-white answers,” Ms. Zuckerberg said. A recent post on Dot Complicated dealt with how to respond to a request for money, something that Ms. Zuckerberg, C.E.O. of Zuckerberg Media, said she has had to deal with quite frequently. (Her advice: “Say no and say it quickly.”)

Young people “are getting sick of the irony, rudeness and snark that is so prevalent in their online lives,” said Jane Pratt, the editor in chief of xoJane, a women’s lifestyle site where etiquette posts are a popular feature. “The return of etiquette is in part a response to the harshness of the interactions they are having in the digital sphere.”

“Nice is very cool right now,” she added.

THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY is scurrying to catch up, with a flurry of new etiquette books. “Etiquette is a popular publishing subject right now because, yes, it’s true, good manners never go of style,” said Christine Carswell, the publisher of Chronicle Books, which will publish “The Forgetful Gentleman” by Nathan Tan in May.

Last year alone, three books that tackle such subjects were published by contributors to The Times: Henry Alford’s “Would It Kill You to Stop Doing That: A Modern Guide to Manners”; Philip Galanes’s “Social Q’s: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today”; and the former “Ethicist” columnist Randy Cohen’s “Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.”

Other notable titles include “Miss Jane Austen’s Guide to Modern Life’s Dilemmas,” by Rebecca Smith, a British novelist who says she is a direct descendant of the “Pride and Prejudice” author, and “What Would Michelle Do A Modern-Day Guide to Living with Substance and Style,” by Allison Samuels, a Daily Beast senior writer, who looks to the White House for guidance.

The social quandaries seem to be endless. Are you obligated to respond to Facebook party invitations Is it rude to listen to your iPod while car-pooling

A version of this article appeared in print on March 31, 2013, on page ST1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Emily Posts of the Digital Age.

Machines of Laughter and Forgetting

Machines of Laughter and Forgetting

UNTIL very recently, technology had a clear, if boring, purpose: by taking care of the Little Things, it enabled us, its human masters, to focus on the Big Things. “Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible,” proclaimed that noted connoisseur of contemplation Oscar Wilde.

Fortunately, he added a charming clarification: “Human slavery is wrong, insecure and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.”

Wilde was not alone. “Civilization,” wrote the philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead in 1911, “advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” Whitehead was writing about mathematics, but technology, with its reliance on formula and algorithms, easily fits his dictum as well.

On this account, technology can save us a lot of cognitive effort, for “thinking” needs to happen only once, at the design stage. We’ll surround ourselves with gadgets and artifacts that will do exactly what they are meant to do â€" and they’ll do it in a frictionless, invisible way. “The ideal system so buries the technology that the user is not even aware of its presence,” announced the design guru Donald Norman in his landmark 1998 book, “The Invisible Computer.” But is that what we really want

The hidden truth about many attempts to “bury” technology is that they embody an amoral and unsustainable vision. Pick any electrical appliance in your kitchen. The odds are that you have no idea how much electricity it consumes, let alone how it compares to other appliances and households. This ignorance is neither natural nor inevitable; it stems from a conscious decision by the designer of that kitchen appliance to free up your “cognitive resources” so that you can unleash your inner Oscar Wilde on “contemplating” other things. Multiply such ignorance by a few billion, and global warming no longer looks like a mystery.

Whitehead, it seems, was either wrong or extremely selective: on many important issues, civilization only destroys itself by extending the number of important operations that we can perform without thinking about them. On many issues, we want more thinking, not less.

Take privacy. Opening browser tabs is easy, as is using our Facebook account to navigate from site to site. In fact, we often do so unthinkingly. Given that our online tools and platforms are built in a way to make our browsing experience as frictionless as possible, is it any surprise that so much of our personal information is disclosed without our ever realizing it

This, too, is not inevitable: designed differently, our digital infrastructure could provide many more opportunities for reflection. In a recent paper, a group of Cornell researchers proposed that our browsers could bombard us with strange but provocative messages to make us alert to the very information infrastructure that some designers have done their best to conceal. Imagine being told that “you visited 592 Web sites this week. That’s .5 times the number of Web pages on the whole Internet in 1994!”

The goal here is not to hit us with a piece of statistics â€" sheer numbers rarely lead to complex narratives â€" but to tell a story that can get us thinking about things we’d rather not be thinking about. So let us not give in to technophobia just yet: we should not go back to doing everything by hand just because it can lead to more thinking.

Rather, we must distribute the thinking process equally. Instead of having the designer think through all the moral and political implications of technology use before it reaches users â€" an impossible task â€" we must find a way to get users to do some of that thinking themselves.

Alas, most designers, following Wilde, think of technologies as nothing more than mechanical slaves that must maximize efficiency. But some are realizing that technologies don’t have to be just trivial problem-solvers: they can also be subversive troublemakers, making us question our habits and received ideas.

Recently, designers in Germany built devices â€" “transformational products,” they call them â€" that engage users in “conversations without words.” My favorite is a caterpillar-shaped extension cord. If any of the devices plugged into it are left in standby mode, the “caterpillar” starts twisting as if it were in pain.

Does it do what normal extension cords do Yes. But it also awakens users to the fact that the cord is simply the endpoint of a complex socio-technical system with its own politics and ethics. Before, designers have tried to conceal that system. In the future, designers will be obliged to make it visible.

While devices-as-problem-solvers seek to avoid friction, devices-as-troublemakers seek to create an “aesthetic of friction” that engages users in new ways. Will such extra seconds of thought â€" nay, contemplation â€" slow down civilization They well might. But who said that stopping to catch a breath on our way to the abyss is not a sensible strategy

Evgeny Morozov, author of “To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism,” is a guest columnist.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on March 31, 2013, on page SR12 of the New York edition with the headline: Machines of Laughter and Forgetting.

Letting Down Our Guard With Web Privacy

Letting Down Our Guard With Web Privacy

Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

Intriguing experiments by Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist, suggest that people often reveal more than they mean to online.

SAY you’ve come across a discount online retailer promising a steal on hand-stitched espadrilles for spring. You start setting up an account by offering your e-mail address â€" but before you can finish, there’s a ping on your phone. A text message. You read it and respond, then return to the Web site, enter your birth date, click “F” for female, agree to the company’s terms of service and carry on browsing.

Shoppers at a mall were offered $10 discount card â€" and an extra $2 discount if they agreed to share their shopping data. Half declined the extra offer.

But wait: What did you just agree to Did you mean to reveal information as vital as your date of birth and e-mail address

Most of us face such decisions daily. We are hurried and distracted and don’t pay close attention to what we are doing. Often, we turn over our data in exchange for a deal we can’t refuse.

Alessandro Acquisti, a behavioral economist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, studies how we make these choices. In a series of provocative experiments, he has shown that despite how much we say we value our privacy â€" and we do, again and again â€" we tend to act inconsistently.

Mr. Acquisti is something of a pioneer in this emerging field of research. His experiments can take time. The last one, revealing how Facebook users had tightened their privacy settings, took seven years. They can also be imaginative: he has been known to dispatch graduate students to a suburban mall in the name of science. And they are often unsettling: A 2011 study showed that it was possible to deduce portions of a person’s Social Security number from nothing but a photograph posted online. He is now studying how online social networks can enable employers to illegally discrimnate in hiring.

Mr. Acquisti, 40, sees himself not as a nag, but as an observer holding up a mirror to the flaws we cannot always see ourselves. “Should people be worried I don’t know,” he said with a shrug in his office at Carnegie Mellon. “My role is not telling people what to do. My role is showing why we do certain things and what may be certain consequences. Everyone will have to decide for themselves.”

Those who follow his work say it has important policy implications as regulators in Washington, Brussels and elsewhere scrutinize the ways that companies leverage the personal data they collect from users. The Federal Trade Commission last year settled with Facebook, resolving charges that it had deceived users with changes to its privacy settings. State regulators recently fined Google for harvesting e-mails and passwords of unsuspecting users during its Street View mapping project. Last year, the White House proposed a privacy bill of rights to give consumers greater control over how their personal data is used.

Mr. Acquisti has been at the forefront, testifying in Congress and conferring with the F.T.C. David C. Vladeck, who until recently headed the agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said Mr. Acquisti’s research on facial recognition spurred the commission to issue a report on the subject last year. “No question it’s been influential,” Mr. Vladeck said of Mr. Acquisti’s work.

Companies, too, are interested; Microsoft Research and Google have offered Mr. Acquisti research fellowships. Over all, his research argues that when it comes to privacy, policy makers should carefully consider how people actually behave. We don’t always act in our own best interest, his research suggests. We can be easily manipulated by how we are asked for information. Even something as simple as a playfully designed site can nudge us to reveal more of ourselves than a serious-looking one.

“His work has gone a long way in trying to help us figure out how irrational we are in privacy related decisions,” says Woodrow Hartzog, an assistant professor of law who studies digital privacy at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. “We have too much confidence in our ability to make decisions.”

This is perhaps Mr. Acquisti’s most salient contribution to the discussion. Solutions to our leaky privacy system tend to focus on transparency and control â€" that our best hope is knowing what our data is being used for and choosing whether to participate. But a challenge to that conventional wisdom emerges in his research. Giving users control may be an essential step, but it may also be a bit of an illusion.

IF iron ore was the raw material that enriched the steel baron Andrew Carnegie in the Industrial Age, personal data is what fuels the barons of the Internet age. Mr. Acquisti investigates the trade-offs that users make when they give up that data, and who gains and loses in those transactions. Often there are immediate rewards (cheap sandals) and sometimes intangible risks downstream (identity theft). “Privacy is delayed gratification,” he warned.

Mr. Acquisti, lean and loquacious, grew up in Italy. His father, Giancarlo, was a banker by profession and a pianist on the side. Mr. Acquisti inherited his father’s passion for music; last year he helped him write an opera about Margherita Luti, the woman believed to be the painter Raphael’s lover and muse. Mr. Acquisti’s other passion is motorcycle racing â€" he rides a red Ducati â€" though the pursuit of tenure, which he acquired last year, has lately kept him off the racing circuit.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in Rome and master’s degrees in the subject from Trinity College in Dublin and the London School of Economics, and he became interested in the economics of privacy while studying for a doctorate in the interdisciplinary School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley.

A version of this article appeared in print on March 31, 2013, on page BU1 of the New York edition with the headline: Letting Down Our Guard.

The Child, the Tablet and the Developing Mind

I recently watched my sister perform an act of magic.

We were sitting in a restaurant, trying to have a conversation, but her children, 4-year-old Willow and 7-year-old Luca, would not stop fighting. The arguments â€" over a fork, or who had more water in a glass â€" were unrelenting.

Like a magician quieting a group of children by pulling a rabbit out of a hat, my sister reached into her purse and produced two shiny Apple iPads, handing one to each child. Suddenly, the two were quiet. Eerily so. They sat playing games and watching videos, and we continued with our conversation.

After our meal, as we stuffed the iPads back into their magic storage bag, my sister felt slightly guilty.

“I don’t want to give them the iPads at the dinner table, but if it keeps them occupied for an hour so we can eat in peace, and more importantly not disturb other people in the restaurant, I often just hand it over,” she told me. Then she asked: “Do you think it’s bad for them I do worry that it is setting them up to think it’s O.K. to use electronics at the dinner table in the future.”

I did not have an answer, and although some people might have opinions, no one has a true scientific understanding of what the future might hold for a generation raised on portable screens.

“We really don’t know the full neurological effects of these technologies yet,” said Dr. Gary Small, director of the Longevity Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of “iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind.” “Children, like adults, vary quite a lot, and some are more sensitive than others to an abundance of screen time.”

But Dr. Small says we do know that the brain is highly sensitive to stimuli, like iPads and smartphone screens, and if people spend too much time with one technology, and less time interacting with people like parents at the dinner table, that could hinder the development of certain communications skills.

So will a child who plays with crayons at dinner rather than a coloring application on an iPad be a more socialized person

Ozlem Ayduk, an associate professor in the Relationships and Social Cognition Lab at the University of California, Berkeley, said children sitting at the dinner table with a print book or crayons were not as engaged with the people around them, either. “There are value-based lessons for children to talk to the people during a meal,” she said. “It’s not so much about the iPad versus nonelectronics.”

Parents who have little choice but to hand over their iPad can at least control what a child does on those devices.

A report published last week by the Millennium Cohort Study, a long-term study group in Britain that has been following 19,000 children born in 2000 and 2001, found that those who watched more than three hours of television, videos or DVDs a day had a higher chance of conduct problems, emotional symptoms and relationship problems by the time they were 7 than children who did not. The study, of a sample of 11,000 children, found that children who played video games â€" often age-appropriate games â€" for the same amount of time did not show any signs of negative behavioral changes by the same age.

Which brings us back to the dinner table with my niece and nephew. While they sat happily staring into those shiny screens, they were not engaged in any type of conversation, or staring off into space thinking, as my sister and I did as children when our parents were talking. And that is where the risks are apparent.

“Conversations with each other are the way children learn to have conversations with themselves, and learn how to be alone,” said Sherry Turkle, a professor of science, technology and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and author of the book “Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other.” “Learning about solitude and being alone is the bedrock of early development, and you don’t want your kids to miss out on that because you’re pacifying them with a device.”

Ms. Turkle has interviewed parents, teenagers and children about the use of gadgets during early development, and says she fears that children who do not learn real interactions, which often have flaws and imperfections, will come to know a world where perfect, shiny screens give them a false sense of intimacy without risk.

And they need to be able to think independently of a device. “They need to be able to explore their imagination. To be able to gather themselves and know who they are. So someday they can form a relationship with another person without a panic of being alone,” she said. “If you don’t teach your children to be alone, they’ll only know how to be lonely.”

E-mail: bilton@nytimes.com