From Beirut to Schenectady: Journalist Quinn Norton visits the U


By Anastasia Pease

One of the purposes of good journalism is to help the audience understand its world better.

That purpose was admirably served last Wednesday, Oct. 17, when Union welcomed investigative journalist Quinn Norton. Norton’s main expertise is on the subjects of hacker culture, intellectual property, the Internet and body augmentation.

On her way back to San Francisco from Beirut, Lebanon, Norton made a short detour to


Her talk at the Nott Memorial focused on technology’s impact on the Arab Spring revolutions and the subsequent developments in the Arab world.

As a fearless globe-trotter and computer expert, Norton combined her own eye-witness observations with knowledge gained through years of research.

She helped the audience understand last spring’s events in a global context: the “Facebook”

revolutions in the Arab world had had a direct connection with subsequent protests all around the world, including America’s own Occupy Wall Street movement, and subsequent local copycat protests that sprang up around the country.

She spoke about the power vacuum created by the successful uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and touched upon the tragedy of the revolution in Bahrain, whose oppressive government is supported by the United States as an ally.

Besides mentioning the liberating power of technology, Norton also covered its dark side—its role in mass surveillance, state sponsored cyber attacks, infrastructure-destroying computer viruses and data mining.

The Nott event on Wednesday night was sponsored by the IDM course on Digital Entrepreneurship, organized by Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures Christine Henseler.

The following day, Norton visited the IBM Smarter Planet Sophomore Research Seminar on “Technology, Security, Identity,” taught by Professor of Electrical Engineering Shane Cotter and myself.

The class had been studying biometric technologies and surveillance techniques.

Norton led a workshop-style dicussion about the many networks Americans inhabit and the ways these networks “see” and track each individual.

Students in the class learned about the importance of privacy settings and encryption.

They also played a digital-age version of a strategy game that asked them to imagine themselves as, for example, journalists trying to smuggle a news story out of Burma, where the ruling junta would try its hardest to keep the story from breaking out to the outside world.

For many at Union, technology is so ubiquitous, it’s almost invisible (unless it malfunctions). Quinn Norton helped her audience see it for what it is, for what it

could be and, perhaps, for what it should be.


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