Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness after the Digital Explosion

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Overview

“If you want to understand the future before it happens, you’ll love this book. If you want to change the future before it happens to you, this book is required reading.”

Reed Hundt, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission

“There is no simpler or clearer statement of the radical change that digital technologies will bring, nor any book that better prepares one for thinking about the next steps.”

Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School and Author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

Blown to Bits will blow you away. In highly accessible and always fun prose, it explores all the nooks and crannies of the digital universe, exploring not only how this exploding space works but also what it means.”

Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, Author of Ruling the Waves and The Baby Business

“This is a wonderful book–probably the best since Hal Varian and Carl Schultz wrote Digital Rules. The authors are engineers, not economists. The result is a long, friendly talk with the genie, out of the lamp, and willing to help you avoid making the traditional mistake with that all-important third wish.”

David Warsh, Author of Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations

Blown to Bits is one of the clearest expositions I’ve seen of the social and political issues arising from the Internet. Its remarkably clear explanations of how the Net actually works lets the hot air out of some seemingly endless debates. You’ve made explaining this stuff look easy. Congratulations!”

David Weinberger, Coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto and Author of Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder.

Blown to Bits is a timely, important, and very readable take on how information is produced and consumed today, and more important, on the approaching sea change in the way that we as a society deal with the consequences.”

Craig Silverstein, Director of Technology, Google, Inc.

“This book gives an overview of the kinds of issues confronting society as we become increasingly dependent on the Internet and the World Wide Web. Every informed citizen should read this book and then form their own opinion on these and related issues. And after reading this book you will rethink how (and even whether) you use the Web to form your opinions…”

James S. Miller, Senior Director for Technology Policy and Strategy, Microsoft Corporation

“Most writing about the digital world comes from techies writing about technical matter for other techies or from pundits whose turn of phrase greatly exceeds their technical knowledge. In Blown to Bits, experts in computer science address authoritatively the practical issues in which we all have keen interest.”

Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Author of Multiple Intelligences and Changing Minds

“Regardless of your experience with computers, Blown to Bits provides a uniquely entertaining and informative perspective from the computing industry’s greatest minds.

A fascinating, insightful and entertaining book that helps you understand computers and their impact on the world in a whole new way.

This is a rare book that explains the impact of the digital explosion in a way that everyone can understand and, at the same time, challenges experts to think in new ways.”

Anne Margulies, Assistant Secretary for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Blown to Bits is fun and fundamental. What a pleasure to see real teachers offering such excellent framework for students in a digital age to explore and understand their digital environment, code and law, starting with the insight of Claude Shannon. I look forward to you teaching in an open online school.”

Professor Charles Nesson, Harvard Law School, Founder, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

“To many of us, computers and the Internet are magic. We make stuff, send stuff, receive stuff, and buy stuff. It’s all pointing, clicking, copying, and pasting. But it’s all mysterious. This book explains in clear and comprehensive terms how all this gear on my desk works and why we should pay close attention to these revolutionary changes in our lives. It’s a brilliant and necessary work for consumers, citizens, and students of all ages.”

Siva Vaidhyanathan, cultural historian and media scholar at the University of Virginia and author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity

“The world has turned into the proverbial elephant and we the blind men. The old and the young among us risk being controlled by, rather than in control of, events and technologies. Blown to Bits is a remarkable and essential Rosetta Stone for beginning to figure out how all of the pieces of the new world we have just begun to enter–law, technology, culture, information–are going to fit together. Will life explode with new possibilities, or contract under pressure of new horrors? The precipice is both exhilarating and frightening. Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis, together, have ably managed to describe the elephant. Readers of this compact book describing the beginning stages of a vast human adventure will be one jump ahead, for they will have a framework on which to hang new pieces that will continue to appear with remarkable speed. To say that this is a ‘must read’ sounds trite, but, this time, it’s absolutely true.”

Harvey Silverglate, criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer and writer

Every day, billions of photographs, news stories, songs, X-rays, TV shows, phone calls, and emails are being scattered around the world as sequences of zeroes and ones: bits. We can’t escape this explosion of digital information and few of us want to–the benefits are too seductive. The technology has enabled unprecedented innovation, collaboration, entertainment, and democratic participation.

But the same engineering marvels are shattering centuries-old assumptions about privacy, identity, free expression, and personal control as more and more details of our lives are captured as digital data.

Can you control who sees all that personal information about you? Can email be truly confidential, when nothing seems to be private? Shouldn’t the Internet be censored the way radio and TV are? Is it really a federal crime to download music? When you use Google or Yahoo! to search for something, how do they decide which sites to show you? Do you still have free speech in the digital world? Do you have a voice in shaping government or corporate policies about any of this?

Blown to Bits offers provocative answers to these questions and tells intriguing real-life stories. This book is a wake-up call to the human consequences of the digital explosion.

Preface xiii

Chapter 1: Digital Explosion: Why Is It Happening, and What Is at Stake? 1

Chapter 2: Naked in the Sunlight: Privacy Lost, Privacy Abandoned 19

Chapter 3: Ghosts in the Machine: Secrets and Surprises of Electronic Documents 73

Chapter 4: Needles in the Haystack: Google and Other Brokers in the Bits Bazaar 109

Chapter 5: Secret Bits: How Codes Became Unbreakable 161

Chapter 6: Balance Toppled: Who Owns the Bits? 195

Chapter 7: You Can’t Say That on the Internet: Guarding the Frontiers of Digital Expression 229

Chapter 8: Bits in the Air: Old Metaphors, New Technologies, and Free Speech 259

Conclusion: After the Explosion 295

Appendix: The Internet as System and Spirit 301

Endnotes 317

Index 347

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What People Are Saying


"If you want to understand the future before it happens, you'll love this book. If you want to change the future before it happens to you, this book is required reading."
—Reed Hundt, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission

"There is no simpler or clearer statement of the radical change that digital technologies will bring, nor any book that better prepares one for thinking about the next steps."
—Lawrence Lessig, Stanford Law School and Author of Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace

"Blown to Bits will blow you away. In highly accessible and always fun prose, it explores all the nooks and crannies of the digital universe, exploring not only how this exploding space works but also what it means."
—Debora Spar, President of Barnard College, Author of Ruling the Waves and The Baby Business

"This is a wonderful book—probably the best since Hal Varian and Carl Schultz wrote Digital Rules. The authors are engineers, not economists. The result is a long, friendly talk with the genie, out of the lamp, and willing to help you avoid making the traditional mistake with that all-important third wish."
—David Warsh, Author of Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations

"Blown to Bits is one of the clearest expositions I've seen of the social and political issues arising from the Internet. Its remarkably clear explanations of how the Net actually works lets the hot air out of some seemingly endless debates. You've made explaining this stuff look easy. Congratulations!"
—David Weinberger, Coauthor of The Cluetrain Manifesto and author of Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder

"Blown to Bits is a timely, important, and very readable take on how information is produced and consumed today, and more important, on the approaching sea change in the way that we as a society deal with the consequences."
—Craig Silverstein, Director of Technology, Google, Inc.

"This book gives an overview of the kinds of issues confronting society as we become increasingly dependent on the Internet and the World Wide Web. Every informed citizen should read this book and then form their own opinion on these and related issues. And after reading this book you will rethink how (and even whether) you use the Web to form your opinions…"
—James S. Miller, Senior Director for Technology Policy and Strategy, Microsoft Corporation

"Most writing about the digital world comes from techies writing about technical matter for other techies or from pundits whose turn of phrase greatly exceeds their technical knowledge. In Blown to Bits, experts in computer science address authoritatively the practical issues in which we all have keen interest."
—Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Author of Multiple Intelligences and Changing Minds

"Regardless of your experience with computers, Blown to Bits provides a uniquely entertaining and informative perspective from the computing industry's greatest minds. A fascinating, insightful and entertaining book that helps you understand computers and their impact on the world in a whole new way. This is a rare book that explains the impact of the digital explosion in a way that everyone can understand and, at the same time, challenges experts to think in new ways."
—Anne Margulies, Assistant Secretary for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

"Blown to Bits is fun and fundamental. What a pleasure to see real teachers offering such an excellent framework for students in a digital age to explore and understand their digital environment, code and law, starting with the insight of Claude Shannon. I look forward to you teaching in an open online school."
—Professor Charles Nesson, Harvard Law School, Founder, Berkman Center for Internet and Society

"To many of us, computers and the Internet are magic. We make stuff, send stuff, receive stuff, and buy stuff. It's all pointing, clicking, copying, and pasting. But it's all mysterious. This book explains in clear and comprehensive terms how all this gear on my desk works and why we should pay close attention to these revolutionary changes in our lives. It's a brilliant and necessary work for consumers, citizens, and students of all ages."
—Siva Vaidhyanathan, cultural historian and media scholar at the University of Virginia and author of Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity

"The world has turned into the proverbial elephant and we the blind men. The old and the young among us risk being controlled by, rather than in control of, events and technologies. Blown to Bits is a remarkable and essential Rosetta Stone for beginning to figure out how all of the pieces of the new world we have just begun to enter—law, technology, culture, information—are going to fit together. Will life explode with new possibilities, or contract under pressure of new horrors? The precipice is both exhilarating and frightening. Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis, together, have ably managed to describe the elephant. Readers of this compact book describing the beginning stages of a vast human adventure will be one jump ahead, for they will have a framework on which to hang new pieces that will continue to appear with remarkable speed. To say that this is a 'must read' sounds trite, but, this time, it's absolutely true."
—Harvey Silverglate, criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer and writer

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780137135592
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley
  • Publication date: 6/20/2008
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 106,342
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Hal Abelson is Class of 1922 Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and an IEEE Fellow. He has helped drive innovative educational technology initiatives such MIT OpenCourseWare, cofounded Creative Commons and Public Knowledge, and was founding director of the Free Software Foundation. Ken Ledeen, Chairman/CEO of Nevo Technologies, has served on the boards of numerous technology companies. Harry Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College, is Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science at Harvard. He is author of Excellence Without a Soul: Does Liberal Education Have a Future? Together, the authors teach Quantitative Reasoning 48, an innovative Harvard course on information for non-technical, non-mathematically oriented students.

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Read an Excerpt

Blown to BitsPreface

For thousands of years, people have been saying that the world is changing and will never again be the same. Yet the profound changes happening today are different, because they result from a specific technological development.

It is now possible, in principle, to remember everything that anyone says, writes, sings, draws, or photographs. Everything. If digitized, the world has enough disks and memory chips to save it all, for as long as civilization can keep producing computers and disk drives. Global computer networks can make it available to everywhere in the world, almost instantly. And computers are powerful enough to extract meaning from all that information, to find patterns and make connections in the blink of an eye.

In centuries gone by, others may have dreamed these things could happen, in utopian fantasies or in nightmares. But now they are happening. We are living in the middle of the changes, and we can see the changes happening.

But we don't know how things will turn out.

Right now, governments and the other institutions of human societies are deciding how to use the new possibilities. Each of us is participating as we make decisions for ourselves, for our families, and for people we work with. Everyone needs to know how their world and the world around them is changing as a result of this explosion of digital information. Everyone should know how the decisions will affect their lives, and the lives of their children and grandchildren and everyone who comes after.

That is why we wrote this book.

Each of us has been in the computing field for more than forty years. The book is the product of a lifetime of observing andparticipating in the changes it has brought. Each of us has been both a teacher and a learner in the field. This book emerged from a general education course we have taught at Harvard, but it is not a textbook. We wrote this book to share what wisdom we have with as many people as we can reach. We try to paint a big picture, with dozens of illuminating anecdotes as the brushstrokes. We aim to entertain you at the same time as we provoke your thinking.

You don't need a computer to read this book. But we would suggest that you use one, connected to the Internet, to explore any topic that strikes your curiosity or excites your interest. Don't be afraid to type some of the things we mention into your favorite search engine and see what comes up. We mention many web sites, and give their complete descriptors, such as bitsbook.com, which happens to be the site for this book itself. But most of the time, you should be able to find things more quickly by searching for them. There are many valuable public information sources and public interest groups where you can learn more, and can participate in the ongoing global conversation about the issues we discuss.

We offer some strong opinions in this book. If you would like to react to what we say, please visit the book's web site for an ongoing discussion.

Our picture of the changes brought by the digital explosion is drawn largely with reference to the United States and its laws and culture, but the issues we raise are critical for citizens of all free societies, and for all people who hope their societies will become freer.

Cambridge, Massachusetts

January 2008

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Preface xiii

Chapter 1: Digital Explosion: Why Is It Happening, and What Is at Stake? 1

Chapter 2: Naked in the Sunlight: Privacy Lost, Privacy Abandoned 19

Chapter 3: Ghosts in the Machine: Secrets and Surprises of Electronic Documents 73

Chapter 4: Needles in the Haystack: Google and Other Brokers in the Bits Bazaar 109

Chapter 5: Secret Bits: How Codes Became Unbreakable 161

Chapter 6: Balance Toppled: Who Owns the Bits? 195

Chapter 7: You Can’t Say That on the Internet: Guarding the Frontiers of Digital Expression 229

Chapter 8: Bits in the Air: Old Metaphors, New Technologies, and Free Speech 259

Conclusion: After the Explosion 295

Appendix: The Internet as System and Spirit 301

Endnotes 317

Index 347

Read More Show Less

Preface

Preface

For thousands of years, people have been saying that the world is changing and will never again be the same. Yet the profound changes happening today are different, because they result from a specific technological development.

It is now possible, in principle, to remember everything that anyone says, writes, sings, draws, or photographs. Everything. If digitized, the world has enough disks and memory chips to save it all, for as long as civilization can keep producing computers and disk drives. Global computer networks can make it available to everywhere in the world, almost instantly. And computers are powerful enough to extract meaning from all that information, to find patterns and make connections in the blink of an eye.

In centuries gone by, others may have dreamed these things could happen, in utopian fantasies or in nightmares. But now they are happening. We are living in the middle of the changes, and we can see the changes happening.

But we don't know how things will turn out.

Right now, governments and the other institutions of human societies are deciding how to use the new possibilities. Each of us is participating as we make decisions for ourselves, for our families, and for people we work with. Everyone needs to know how their world and the world around them is changing as a result of this explosion of digital information. Everyone should know how the decisions will affect their lives, and the lives of their children and grandchildren and everyone who comes after.

That is why we wrote this book.

Each of us has been in the computing field for more than forty years. The book is the product of a lifetime of observing and participating in the changes it has brought. Each of us has been both a teacher and a learner in the field. This book emerged from a general education course we have taught at Harvard, but it is not a textbook. We wrote this book to share what wisdom we have with as many people as we can reach. We try to paint a big picture, with dozens of illuminating anecdotes as the brushstrokes. We aim to entertain you at the same time as we provoke your thinking.

You don't need a computer to read this book. But we would suggest that you use one, connected to the Internet, to explore any topic that strikes your curiosity or excites your interest. Don't be afraid to type some of the things we mention into your favorite search engine and see what comes up. We mention many web sites, and give their complete descriptors, such as bitsbook.com, which happens to be the site for this book itself. But most of the time, you should be able to find things more quickly by searching for them. There are many valuable public information sources and public interest groups where you can learn more, and can participate in the ongoing global conversation about the issues we discuss.

We offer some strong opinions in this book. If you would like to react to what we say, please visit the book's web site for an ongoing discussion.

Our picture of the changes brought by the digital explosion is drawn largely with reference to the United States and its laws and culture, but the issues we raise are critical for citizens of all free societies, and for all people who hope their societies will become freer.

Cambridge, Massachusetts

January 2008

© Copyright Pearson Education. All rights reserved.

Read More Show Less

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2008

    An intriguing analysis of how the digital age has changed our lives

    Few people would deny that the world has changed significantly since the explosion of the Internet. Hal Abelson, Ken Ledeen, and Harry Lewis have written an intriguing analysis of many of the issues that have erupted due to the ubiquity of digital data, not only on the Internet but elsewhere. 'Blown to Bits: Your Life, Liberty, and Happiness After the Digital Explosion', published by Addison-Wesley, digs into many of the ramifications of making so much information available to the world at large. As I read through the book, I was alternately fascinated and horrified at what information is available, and how it is being used and abused. While the subject matter is primarily about a technology that many people may still not comprehend, the book is written at a level permitting most people to understand how it affects them. There is sufficient tutorial information on how the Internet functions to allow all to follow the reasoning. For those more web-savvy, there are many references to web sites illustrating the authors¿ points. The reader is encouraged to check them out as you go. While there is a natural flow from one chapter to the next, each one is sufficiently encapsulated so that you can read chapters in any order you like. 'Blown to Bits' is a fascinating read which will get you thinking about how technology is changing our lives, for better and for worse. Each chapter will alternatively interest you and leave you appalled 'and perhaps a little frightened'. You will be given the insight to protect yourself a little better, and it provides background for intelligent discussions about the legalities that impact our use of technology.

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