A crippling crisis has left Venezuela hungry for food, and news. This is no pun. A permanent “Bolivarian Revolution,” one that never managed to come out of the quote marks for nobody takes it seriously, not only has deprived the country of food, but also of independent journalism. The government’s remedy for its own economic incompetence has been to clamp down on independent media. That has only limited effect in an era of vast social networks that are not centrally controlled, like Twitter. Citizen journalists have stepped in to take the vacuum left by professional ones. Locals are reporting on the dozens of lootings and protests taking place in the country. It is in the most desperate times that we most acutely yearn to know the truth.
In an age of electronic communications that are mostly conducted on the tiny screens of mobile phones, it is worth wondering what the future has in stock for literature, and its younger sister, print journalism. A new genre appears to be emerging, called “Twitterature.” Certain kinds of poetry, including haikus, can survive and even thrive within the constraints of 140 characters or less. One noted practitioner of the Twitterature creation is Eric Jarosinski, a former professor of German literature and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He now edits NeinQuarterly, a Twitter account that amounts to a literary review. It boasts 134,000 followers. He composes his verses primarily on his smartphone. One thing very limited space does is enhance the relevance of punctuation and each word, forced to impose itself over the universe of the other ones. It may be too early to say that this may one day become a mainstream form of literature. Yet judge it for yourself on its conciseness: “#HowToFindHappiness Think of where you last saw it. See if it’s still there. If it’s not, ask yourself why it left. If it is, ask yourself why you didn’t stay.” To alarmist souls, your worries about the extinction of books and newspapers may be premature. As a published author and columnist himself, Jarosinski says, “old media still pays.”
Apple is publicizing its efforts to fight an FBI request to unlock the single telephone used in a crime. A federal judge last week ordered Apple to create new software and take others steps to retrieve data from the locked phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters in a terrorist attack in December 2015 in San Bernardino, California, who was killed in a gun battle with police. The FBI requested Apple that it create an alternative operating system for just that mobile device. It is true that there are another 175 telephones waiting to be broken into, but the bureau is not requesting sweeping access to the universe of Apple devices. Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, has come out in support of the government in this case, invoking the imperative of cooperating in the resolution of crimes such as the one at stake, that left 14 dead. Others in the Sillicon Valley, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and Google chief Sundar Pichai, have backed Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, albeit in a much muted fashion. The FBI’s suggestions that Apple is turning the case into a marketing operation may have no merits. Yet this much is true: any publicly advertised move is bound to become, by its very nature, publicity. And Apple has cult following all over the world. It would not be unfair to think that the company may be banking on that. The tension between privacy and security is old in democratic societies. That’s why there are courts of law in a system that, however imperfect, affords more equal rights to all parties concerned than any other political order. Techno-populism has no place in this. Admiration earned for technological miracles does not afford privileges before the law, nor does it give a moral upper hand.