DPI-659: Reading response 1

“Here Comes Everybody.”


I’ve been passively aware of the ways in which the ways in which the internet and new technologies have (and continue to) shape mankind, but Clay Shirky’s book makes my implicit impressions explicit, explaining not just what is happening, but the sociological and psychological underpinnings that drive massive changes in the ways in which humans interact.

For eons, geography was a key organizing principle. We communicated best with those who were in close proximity. The further away someone was the less we communicated, and the further away an event was, the less aware we were of it. Technology has broken down those barriers, enabling long tails of society (abuse survivors, scifi fans, or Mormon housewives-turned-entrepreneurs) to connect.

Our ability to connect on a grand scale has changed the ways in which we interact. Shirky notes that the growth in sharing that we see today is a difference so large that it has become a difference in kind. Conversations that once took place in private, or one-to-one are now broadcast on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat for friends real and virtual. In the course of sharing online, average people now break news, and elevate stories.

As a result of these connections, the average person has increased power. We the people can now embarrass (if not topple) oppressive regimes, demand change, and put pressure on drug comapnies, from the palms of our hands, without leaving home. This is amazing.

However, the use of that power goes both ways. “When you improve a group’s ability to communicate, you change what it’s capable of. What it does with that power is a separate question.” While there are many benefits to this connectivity, it can be used for good as well as evil. Terrorist groups use the internet to connect and indoctrinate new recruits. Teenage girls with eating disorders use it to swap thinspo and tips for starving. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, a well-meaning Reddit search for suspects turned into an online witch hunt that vilified innocent people.

How do we manage the bad, while maintaining the good?

In a world as boundless as the world wide web, I’m not sure we can. Norms about free speech vary from country to country, and without a central power to create or enforce norms online, these values collide. In the United States, we vilify China for restricting access to YouTube and Google, but for years banned photojournalists from taking pictures of flag draped coffins of U.S. soldiers.

Shirky notes that no effort at creating group value can be successful without some form of governance, but there is no universal virtual code of conduct (a ridiculous name). The norms that govern Wikipedia are very different from those of Facebook or Twitter.

It gets messier when you look across not only platforms, but countries. In a nation that holds freedom of speech as a hallowed right, how do we respond to the Chinese government’s (and many others’) views that such speech is a threat to national security? And how do we feel when the tables are turned and terrorists are advocating action against Americans? Where do we draw the line?

Another example of the dark side of this connectivity is the trove of absolute lies on the Internet: from the birther movement to 9/11 conspiracy theories to recent reports of Hilary Clinton’s death. Even the smallest pieces of the internet’s long tail can now find one another, enabling even the craziest crazies to find likeminded individuals to reinforce their views and add strength to their arguments. Is there a policy solution to shutting down untruths on the internet or is this protected free speech? Many would say it’s the latter.

While traditional news media acted as filters for truth, the average citizens needs to be much more savvy in evaluating information today. How can we ensure that users are informed enough to protect themselves not just from untrue news reports, but to internet scams (as in, no, that guy in Africa does actually not want to give you a million dollars)?

Trial, error, and experience will help us as a community to establish norms (which will likely evolve and change as fast as the internet does). But there will always be casualties and trolls. I don’t think the web would have it any other way.

Dateline: Baxter State Park

When I thought about the things I wanted to do with my summer back in June, Baxter and Acadia were high on the list. I’d never been to either, which seemed weird after all this time in New England. But summer here is tough: there is so much to do in so little time.

It was pretty serruptitious when one of my new classmates approached me about heading up to Millinocket, Maine for some hiking and white water rafting. Of course I was in! I took the week off from work, did some research, and made plans to head north. While the rest of the group would arrive Monday, I made plans to drive up a day early to stay/camp at South Branch Pond and then hike the Travelers Loop, which sounded almost as beautiful as Katahdin. A classmate jumped in to join me, which made the seven hour drive north much more bearable.

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Sadly, the universe had other plans. We arrived at Baxter to a light rain, and a three-mile trail run showed me how treacherous wet granite could be. When I awoke to persistent rain the next morning, I knew I’d need to make alternate plans. The mountains were socked in with fog, and I had no desire to be above the tree line for hours in those conditions.


We broke down camp and were out of South Branch by 7 a.m. There wasn’t much reason to stay longer.

We decided to head south a different way than we’d arrived, following the park road west before turning left. It was beautiful, and we seemed to have the whole place to ourselves. I started to get hungry shortly after 8, so we stopped at a waterfall/picnic area to eat and take in the view. It was pretty nice, and I imagine on a hot day it’s very nice.


We started to see more people the further south we got, but it was never crowded. Baxter does an amazing job at crowd control, though it sometimes feels like they don’t really want you there. Camping is on a reservation system, there are limited parking permits to climb Katahdin/Baxter Peak, and there is no back country camping allowed. While Acadia felt claustrophobic, I felt almost like I had all 200,000 acres of Baxter to myself.

The highlight of the day was Kidney Pond. It was so unexpectedly lovely: beautiful scenery, a serene lake teeming with loons and frogs (and leeches), canoes, cabins…. I would have spent whole week there. By then, the weather was improving, so we signed out a canoe ($1/hour) and went exploring.


Kidney Pond is also home to the cutest library, full of old books, board games and puzzles. It reminded me of a cross between my grandmother’s house and summer camp, and the absolute anthesis of today’s screen run, connected world.


Which reminds me: There’s almost no cell service at Baxter. Like none. It’s kind of glorious, but it means you have to go old-school in the planning and communication. As in “We’ll be at the lake anytime after three… see you sometime.” That was pretty much the plan with our friends.

We headed out of the park at the southern entrance, pausing to take a look at Katahdin, which we planned to climb the next day. The mountain dominates the landscape, and factors prominently into the lore of the local native population, who believe that a winged storm god lived in the vicinity, creating wind.

I had no idea of the journey ahead the next day. At the moment, I was happy to simply take in the view.




Maine Huts & Trails

Ever since Amina and I hiked the Grand Canyon, I’ve been wanting to do more trail running and explore running longer. My back put those goals on hold, but after successfully running 13 miles on trails in April, I let my friend Sam convince me to join a group of friends on a 30 mile trail run up in Maine.

I’d never run more than 13 miles at a time before. I’d never hiked more than 17 miles in a day. But I trust Sam, and knew she wouldn’t leave me, and I was curious about my abilities. So I made a reservation with our group at Maine Huts & Trails, and set about testing out backpacks and hiking poles. I also made sure to pack a headlamp, figuring that worst case I’d just slow down and finish really, really late.

Last Friday, we loaded our gear into two cars and headed north five hours to West Forks, Maine. Our journey included a lunch stop at Duck Fat for some carbo-loading, a couple of bathroom breaks, and a harrowing few miles on some poorly maintained logging roads. Once we parked, we had a mile hike to the Grand Falls Hut, the northernmost hut in the MH&T system.

13-13418892_10153840343339087_4391658206629460838_nPhoto credit: Sam

We had a lazy afternoon of board games, trail exploring, and hammock reading, and then a pasta dinner and a bonfire before turning in at a respectable 10 p.m.

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The alarm went of at 5:30 the next morning. After a bagel breakfast, we loaded our packs and hiked our stuff out to the car to be brought 30 miles south by our two selfless sherpas, Kelvin and Rebecca. The rest of us strapped on hydration packs and took off running.


The first several miles flew by. The trail meandered along the Dead River, through tall grasses and birch groves.


We saw lots of deer and moose sign, but no actual animals, probably because they could hear us coming from miles away.

The first 12.3 miles took just over three hours. We likely could have gone faster, but this was my first time doing this kind of thing and I didn’t want to push it too hard and get hurt or be miserable. So Sam and I kept a relaxed 15 minute pace, stopping to take photos, walking the inclines, and chatting.

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Toward the end of the leg my back and shoulders started tightening up, causing me to freak out a little bit. I knew there was a lake at the next hut, and promised myself that if I continued to push it, I could hop in for an ice bath as soon as we stopped. When we arrived at the Flagstaff Hut, that’s just what I did.

Photo credit: Colleen

Water has never felt so good. I stood there for awhile trying to let as much of the cold soak into me as possible, but the water was frigid, and I didn’t last long. Still, it helped enormously.

The rest of the group took off pretty quickly as they were worried about tightening up, but Sam and I were already tight so we stayed back, stretched, and had a snack. I wasn’t in a big rush leave this view.

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Finally, we hit the trail again. We didn’t make it far before we had to stop to take in another gorgeous view.

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We made it another half-mile down the trail before spotting these beauties.

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Lady’s slippers are a species or orchid found across the Eastern United States. They take a long time to grow, and are a fairly unusual sight, so I was pretty excited to find them all along this stretch of the trail.

A mile or so later, we made radio contact with Kelvin. Since there’s no cell service in this area, each group carried a walkie talkie. We agreed to turn the walkie on at the top of each hour for 15 minutes so we could check in with each other. Sam and I had reached a trail junction just as we made contact with Kelvin, who was on a mountain bike. Kelvin advised us that the Hemlock Trail he was on was overgrown and boggy, so we decided to take the higher winter route and pass by the Halfway Yurt.

The going was pretty slow for the next few miles. The yurt was at the top of an almost 1.5-mile long hill. At one point, we worried that we’d lost the trail, as we seemed to be on more of a jeep road. Fortunately, because we were up high, I had cell service and was able to see that we were indeed still on the trail.

16-13423942_10153840345014087_2365236818565959756_nPhoto credit: Sam

Sam and I stopped for a few minutes in the yurt to have a snack and stretch again. But we knew we’d slowed down considerably, so got back on the trail pretty quickly.

We had a mile run downhill, and then crossed a road to find the last stretch of the trail that Kelvin had warned us about.

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Some parts were boardwalk, some was more boggy with logs for structure. Not much of it was runable. It took us more than 40 minutes to cover two miles.

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By this time, we were in sporadic contact with Kelvin via text. He advised that when we hit the dirt Carriage Road we should run down that instead of proceeding to Poplar Hut, as the trail was in similarly bad condition. Sam and I had enough water, so we didn’t need to stop at the hut, and we didn’t want to make our friends wait another two hours for us to arrive.

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So we took off down Carriage Road. And encountered some “only in Maine” signs.

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Kelvin met us halfway up Carriage Road. We’d cut three miles off of our run. But we’d run 24 miles, and had another steep, 3 mile hike to get to Stratton Brook Hut, where we spent the night. (Side note: the Maine Huts & Trails are pretty sweet, and I would totally go back in summer or winter.)

My legs were tired, and my back was sore, but overall I felt a lot better than I thought I would. I had no blisters or chaffing. Nothing was in major stabbing pain. My spirits were high.

Finishing this was a huge confidence boost for me, and made me eager to run more trails. Somehow, the miles go faster when I’m surrounded by trees, and while I doubt I’ll be running 25 miles every weekend, I’d definitely plan (and train for) another.

15-13418642_10153840344914087_2679253614674407249_oPhoto credit: Sam

24 miles
7 hours, 26 minutes (moving)
18:35/mile average pace

Nathan running vest (Amina’s)
2 liter water bladder
Salomon trail runners
Smartwool socks
NB fitted tights
long sleeve shirt
trucker cap
hiking sticks

1 pb&j
5 energy balls (made by Sam)
3 energy gels
1 Gu chomps
1 Nuun tablet
1 package tropical pork jerky
~4 liters water

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