What we have here is a failure to communicate*

I have a Facebook account.  I created the account about five or six years ago because I had read about Facebook while reading materials for my Internet law course.  Social networking/Web 2.0 was the new thing and I wanted to understand it.  Viewing the site required creating an account, limited at the time to those with .edu addresses.  I looked at the site for 15 minutes, logged out, and didn’t look at it again until a student discovered my account and “friended” me.  I responded affirmatively.  Since I now had one friend I decided my presence should include more than my name so I posted a picture, added some personal information (including that I am married–in the civil sense, not the Facebook sense), and left it at that.  I almost never used the site, viewing it only when a student stumbled across my profile and friended me.  I always respond affirmatively if I know the student.  I’ve never been comfortable browsing student profiles.  It feels like wandering into the basement when teenagers are having a no-adults party.  Things are going on that we shouldn’t share with each other.

Over the past few years Facebook has gone mainstream.  You no longer need an .edu address to create an account.  Legal periodicals discuss how lawyers are using Facebook for networking and advertising.  Facebook:  It’s not just for kids anymore!  I, however, know very few adults with Facebook accounts so I continue to hold it at arms-length.  Every semester a few more students add me to their friends roster, I visit once or twice, and I leave it alone.

A colleague mentioned this week that she had created a Facebook account and contacted me.  I did not receive email notice of the contact so I checked the site to discover a pile of messages in my inbox dating back six months: friend requests, event invitations, requests for job recommendations, and other time-sensitive communication.  Apparently, during one of Facebook’s many recent makeovers, my communication preference changed and I was no longer opted-in to receive site notifications.  The result was six months of unanswered communication, although my failure to respond caused no terminal consequences.

Clearly, while my academic interests include the power and utility of social networking sites, my communication style is rooted in earlier technology.  If getting messages requires that I walk past the kids partying in the basement, I’ll remain out of the loop.

*Everyone over a certain age, and those younger who know films of the 60s, will recognize the speaker and the source.

Goodbye, Print

The Christian Science Monitor announced yesterday that it will abandon its daily print edition to offer daily coverage only online (Christian Science Monitor to exit daily print business). It is the first national newspaper to do so. This news comes a few days after the Boston Globe’s latest restyling, which simplified the layout and offloaded the fluff–entertainment, lifestyles, amusements, etc., all of which I read assiduously–to a daily magazine dubbed “g.”  (“g?” I would understand “e” because the restyled Globe features four sections.  Is it “g” as in “Gee, I wish more people bought the Globe?”, or “g” as in “the boston globe is now lower case and tomorrow will be even smaller?”)

Disappearing newspapers sadden me.  My parents met while working at The Hartford Courant (“Older than the Nation, New as the News”).  My father worked at the Courant for almost 50 years, save for his time in the Army Air Force in WWII.  I learned to read from newspapers. My first job was delivering the Courant.  I’ve subscribed to the Globe for my entire adult life and read it daily.  Newspapers are in my DNA.  Newspapers are symbols of community–there are Globe readers and there are Herald readers.  Few people read both.  Reading the Globe sports page–the best daily sports coverage in the U.S.–is an act of bonding, a celebration, a requiem.  Newspapers represent competing voices in local and national conversations.  Newspapers are pleasantly tactile, even if the ink stains one’s fingers.  Newspapers start the fire in the hearth and house-train puppies.

Newspaper websites can be outstanding.  I only read the Wall Street Journal online and the New York Times online every day but Sunday.  Each uses the medium to take news delivery beyond the dimensions of print on paper,  but try house-training a puppy with the your laptop and the NY Times website.

I understand the financial pressures that are driving newspapers into the electronic-only embrace, but we’re losing something in the process.

Virtual Acts, Real Consequences

Two stories caught my attention this week.  The first (see here and here) concerns two Dutch teenagers convicted for “virtual theft” and sentenced to a total 360 hours of community service for pressuring another teenager to transfer a virtual amulet and virtual mask to their account in the game RuneScape.  The court reasoned that the amulet and mask were goods under Dutch law, so their forced transfer is theft.  Apparently the defendants relied on more than virtual pressure to accomplish the crime–they “beat up and kicked their victim” and “threatened him with a knife.”

The second deals with a Japanese woman who, angered when her virtual husband in the game Maple Story divorced her, logged onto the game using the virtual-ex’s identity and password and killed his character.  Japanese police arrested her on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, crimes that carry penalties of up to 5 years in prison and $5,000 fines.  During police questioning the woman explained her actions:  “I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning.  That made me so angry.”  The woman did not engage in real-world revenge.

Squeezed

Last night I attended a student-faculty social event sponsored by the SMG senior class–beer (them), club soda (me), and nachos in a Kenmore Square bar.  (Had the Sox won the seventh game of the ALCS this bar and the rest of Kenmore Square would have been shoulder-to-shoulder with fans heading to Fenway, and I would have left shortly before 8:00 PM to take my seat in Box 86 Row G.  But the Sox didn’t win the seventh game and I drove home.)  The students attending, being seniors, are facing the worst employment market in recent memory.  Finance concentrators face drastically fewer jobs than existed two months ago when many completed Wall Street internships, marketing, operations, and IS concentrators face tightened hiring budgets, and accounting concentrators face–well, I don’t know what they face.  I haven’t talked to any recently.  Gallows humor and anxiety are the plat du jour.

Gallows humor, anxiety, and thoughts of graduate school.  It’s law-school application season, I’m working through my stack of LSAC recommendation letters (this weekend’s goal is to write four), and I’m talking about law school almost daily.  A number of students for whom law school was a possibility in a few years have penciled it in for September 2009, and others are seriously considering it for the first time.  Common sense says that the number of applications for next year’s 1L class will be up.  Competition, already intense, will be fierce, squeezing applicants from their reach schools.

Those who choose law school because the job market is bad are betting that they’ll graduate to better prospects in 2012.  As I’ve written many times the stratification in the legal profession means that a small number of law grads each year compete for well-paying BigLaw jobs while many struggle to earn enough to cover their student loans.  No one goes to law school expecting to finish in the bottom half of his or her class but, of course, the math dictates that every other law student will land there, where employers don’t recruit.  The legal profession is not recession proof.  In A Grim Verdicit Awaits Law Grads the National Law Journal reports “[t]he number of legal jobs nationwide is steadily declining . . . Jobs in the law sector shrank by 2,000 in September — the fifth consecutive month of losses. The legal work force of 1,165,100 was down by 1.15 percent from a year ago, when the industry employed 1,178,600 people.”  As I was writing this another headline (also from the National Law Journal) popped into my email inbox:  Grim Report Advises Law Firms to Prepare for a Long, Painful Slide.  Did the NLJ get a special on the word “grim?”

What to do?  Some prospective law students should consider an alternate course following graduation next May.  One student I spoke with last night is considering Teach for America.  It is already quite competitive and becoming more so, but it and similar programs allow one to defer law school, gain life experience, grow older (life experience and maturing being consistent with my mantra that there should be a gap between college and law school), and, most importantly, do something worthwhile for others. “Helping others” is not a career objective I hear often from my students but this economy may force some to re-evaluate their choices.  My decision to attend law school and my orientation to law were shaped by my college and post-college experience doing prisoner’s rights and legal services work.  It would not be a bad thing if more of our bright, ambitious students spent time in public service work.

Judge Orders Transfer of Domain Names

Kentucky’s plan to seize domain names belonging to online gambling sites took a giant step forward this week when a state court judge ordered transfer of 141 domain names to the state in 30 days unless the sites block access by Kentucky residents.  The judge ruled that the domain itself is a gaming device under Kentucky law.  Kentucky has targeted the online gaming industry “because it was illegal and drained money away from Kentucky’s legitimate gambling.”

Consider what transferring the domain names to the state means.  A user anywhere in the world who types, say, wildjack.com into his web browser will be directed not to http://www.wildjack.co.uk/?bTag= but to a Kentucky .gov subdomain bearing notice that the site has been seized. It won’t matter whether online gaming is legal where the user resides–he will not be able to access the site.  If Wildjack.com does not find a way to block Kentucky residents it will be forced out of business.  Domain name seizure would become a highly effective method for local governments to force their law on the world.

That’s a bad precedent.

RIAA Appeals File-Sharing Decision

The RIAA has appealed Judge Michael Davis’s decision to toss out the $224 jury verdict in its copyright infringement case against Jammie Thomas. Last month the judge vacated the verdict after deciding he erred when instructing the jury that Thomas could be liable merely for making a copyrighted song available for sharing online, without regard to whether someone actually copied the song.

Hockey Mom with Fendi Bag

This goes up there with John Edwards’ $400 haircut:  the highest-paid consultant to the McCain campaign during the first two weeks of October was Sarah Palin’s make-up artist, who earned $22,800.

Twenty-two thousand eight hundred dollars.  In addition to the $150,000 the Republican National Committee spent to outfit Palin and the rest of her brood.

It’s expensive, being Mrs. Joe Sixpack.

The Palin Backlash

It is fascinating how Sarah Palin’s nomination has turned conservative columnists and commentators against John McCain.  They echo what many others (like me) were saying immediately after McCain announced her selection: she is too inexperienced, she knows nothing of substance about the most important domestic and foreign policy issues, and her selection was a cynical move that calls McCain’s judgment into question.  This avalanche of apostasy includes Peggy Noonan’s recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece.  (Subscription required)  Noonan’s conservative credentials are impeccable.  Among other things she served as advisor to President Reagan and speechwriter for Bush senior.  Here is some of what she has to say about Palin:

[W]e have seen Mrs. Palin on the national stage for seven weeks now, and there is little sign that she has the tools, the equipment, the knowledge or the philosophical grounding one hopes for, and expects, in a holder of high office. She is a person of great ambition, but the question remains: What is the purpose of the ambition? She wants to rise, but what for? For seven weeks I’ve listened to her, trying to understand if she is Bushian or Reaganite . . . But it’s unclear whether she is Bushian or Reaganite. She doesn’t think aloud. She just . . . says things.

. . .

This is not a leader, this is a follower, and she follows what she imagines is the base, which is in fact a vast and broken-hearted thing whose pain she cannot, actually, imagine. She could reinspire and reinspirit; she chooses merely to excite. She doesn’t seem to understand the implications of her own thoughts.

Sarah Palin represents all that is mean-spirited, coarse, and reactionary about our political process.  That she could be one breath away from the presidency should keep everone awake at night from worry.

The Sinkhole

Reviewing the events of the past five weeks I am struck by how bad the crisis looked looked three weeks ago–when Lehman declared bankruptcy, Merrill Lynch teetered on the edge of failure before Bank of America agreed to buy it, and the government bailed out A.I.G.–and how much worse it is today.  It’s like watching well-built houses get dragged into a sinkhole.  You don’t know how deep the sinkhole is, only that its inexorable settling continues to swallow everything it touches.

Crisis Timeline

I’m reading, researching, and assembling materials on the subprime mortgage market and the current credit crisis.  The New York Times created a timeline on the unfolding crisis that includes articles, graphics, audio, and video.  It starts with September 7 and is called “Five Weeks of Financial Turmoil”–a name that will, no doubt, change as the crisis continues.  It calls to mind coverage of the 444 day U.S. hostage standoff in Iran from 1979-1981–“Hostage Crisis:  Day 79 . . . . Hostage Crisis:  Day 248.”   A grim connection for a grim time.