Auden: aspects of our present Weltanschauung

Wikileaks in 10

I like this mind-map by John Naughton very much and used it recently in an English class when we got talking about some tools and techniques that help us think. It comes from his post, WikiLeaks: two challenges for journalism:

… how to make sense of all this. Most people cope with this problem by, effectively, reducing its variety.

Early last Monday, I gave a 10 minute talk about Wikileaks to our top two years (12 & 13). I hope I managed to keep some of the variety. The way in, stepping stones and some points made:

To end on, to take us away from focusing just on Wikileaks, something about the big picture right now — Paul Mason’s piece which has resonated with so many (and with so many undergraduates and recent graduates I know), Twenty reasons why it’s kicking off everywhere:

… the graduate with no future … with access to social media … [which] kills vertical hierarchies spontaneously … They all seem to know each other: not only is the network more powerful than the hierarchy - but the ad-hoc network has become easier to form. … if lawyers, teachers and doctors are sitting in their garrets freezing and starving you get revolution. Now, in their garrets, they have a laptop and broadband connection. … People just know more than they used to. … People have a better understanding of power. … Technology has - in many ways, from the contraceptive pill to the iPod, the blog and the CCTV camera - expanded the space and power of the individual.


I gave the talk again mid-week to our Year 10, boiled down and in something more like 6 minutes.

Here are a couple of other pieces which I’ve found good food for thought, neither of which I had time to work in to these talks:

Bill Keller in the NYT (January, 2011):

I’m a little puzzled by the complaint that most of the embassy traffic we disclosed did not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. Ninety-nine percent of what we read or hear on the news does not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. News mostly advances by inches and feet, not in great leaps. The value of these documents — and I believe they have immense value — is not that they expose some deep, unsuspected perfidy in high places or that they upend your whole view of the world. For those who pay close attention to foreign policy, these documents provide texture, nuance and drama. They deepen and correct your understanding of how things unfold; they raise or lower your estimation of world leaders. For those who do not follow these subjects as closely, the stories are an opportunity to learn more. If a project like this makes readers pay attention, think harder, understand more clearly what is being done in their name, then we have performed a public service. And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.

Also from the same:

The government surely cheapens secrecy by deploying it so promiscuously. According to the Pentagon, about 500,000 people have clearance to use the database from which the secret cables were pilfered. Weighing in on the WikiLeaks controversy in The Guardian, Max Frankel remarked that secrets shared with such a legion of “cleared” officials, including low-level army clerks, “are not secret.” Governments, he wrote, “must decide that the random rubber-stamping of millions of papers and computer files each year does not a security system make.”

And this from John Naughton (to whom we owe a lot for his pondering of these recent events) :

For hardcore geeks, the WikiLeaks saga should serve as a stimulant to a new wave of innovation which will lead to a new generation of distributed, secure technologies (like the TOR networking system used by WikiLeaks) which will enable people to support movements and campaigns that are deemed subversive by authoritarian powers. A really good example of this kind of technological innovation was provided last week by Google engineers, who in a few days built a system that enabled protesters in Egypt to send tweets even though the internet in their country had been shut down. “Like many people”, they blogged, “we’ve been glued to the news unfolding in Egypt and thinking of what we can do to help people on the ground. Over the weekend we came up with the idea of a speak-to-tweet service – the ability for anyone to tweet using just a voice connection.”

They worked with a small team of engineers from Twitter and SayNow (a company Google recently acquired) to build the system. It provides three international phone numbers and anyone can tweet by leaving a voicemail. The tweets appear on

What’s exciting about this kind of development is that it harnesses the same kind of irrepressible, irreverent, geeky originality that characterised the early years of the internet, before the web arrived and big corporations started to get a grip on it. Events in Egypt make one realise how badly this kind of innovation is needed.