Editorial . . . . . 26th July, 2018
Our hero this week is Patrick Soon-Shiong.
Not because he’s the son of Chinese immigrants, who grow up in apartheid South Africa, spent his afternoons selling the evening newspaper, moved to the US, became a surgeon in 1984 and ended up a bio-tech billionaire.
Nor is it particularly because he just rescued the Los Angeles Times from cost-cutting and lamentably-named media company Tronc (short for “Tribune online content”) for $500m. Nor is it because he wants to restore the paper to its former glory.
No: it’s because, like Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, he realises the importance of newspapers in these days of fake news — lies as they were known before social media — as well as clickbait (news that doesn’t exist but makes you click on a link to make money for a website), and news that’s aimed to divide by not giving a balanced view.
If cutting-edge people such as Bezos and Soon-Shiong can see the benefits of print, hopefully others will follow.
Dr Soon-Shiong told the Guardian this week: “The newspaper is really important to bind the community.
“It bound us in my world of South Africa, and it’s really a voice for the people.”
The same is true in Congleton, as much as South Africa or LA; more so, as places such as LA have multiple sources of reliable information. Without a newspaper, most towns in England would only have the unreliable and often vindictive ramblings of social media to fall back on.
Dr Soon-Shiong, a transplant surgeon who pioneered cancer drug Abraxane, wants not only to tackle fake news — which he called the “cancer of our time” — but also to prevent the news being delivered only by those catering for people with short-attention spans; some news links now promise how few minutes of your time reading any potted story will take.
He told the Guardian that “bite-sized” news and information was worsening attention deficit disorders, especially among young people.
He said: “This is now an addictive phenomenon that gives you short pieces of paragraphs, Twitter, that then makes it impossible to separate true information, unbiased information, from what is considered fake news.”
He believes that the tactile experience of reading ink paper is an antidote to shortened attention spans and joked with the Guardian: “Kids today want to buy vinyl records … so you’ll have hipster kids wanting to see paper soon.”
It’s true Dr Soon-Shiong has at times been accused of hyping up his own activities, but his fortune, $7.6bn, shows that he’s right far more often than he exaggerates.
Talking of fake news, after Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg appeared before those somewhat out-of-their-depth US senators, his company released details of what it collects about users, presumably so it can later say it told us.
Information it admits to harvesting includes data on your devices (operating systems, battery levels, available storage space, file names); mouse movements; other accounts you use; family device IDs (so it knows who you live with); information about nearby wi-fi access points, beacons, and cell towers (so it knows where you are); data from photos, not least facial recognition; the names of your mobile operator and mobile phone number; other devices, such as your television (and fridge if internet-enabled, presumably); and cookie data — it knows the websites you use.
It also logs all your text messages and phone calls. It knows who you text and call, and though it can’t read texts, it does automatically scan all the text and image content of your Messenger conversations. (Facebook companies WhatsApp, Oculus and Instagram have separate policies).
I had a jolting reminder of the depth of its knowledge a few months ago. I made a phone call to someone I’ve not spoken to in close to 20 years. He has no connections with my current life, but next time I looked at Facebook all his family and friends appeared. The only way Facebook could have obtained this information was through monitoring my phone call.
Other companies/websites may collect information but no-one else has access to so much data, pinned down to your real identity. The latest Private Eye reports that the company has patented software to “identify sentiments in conversations in a chat application”.
All we can say is: good luck Dr Soon-Shiong, and more power to your elbow.
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