Privacy Battles Promotion on the Facebook of Our Lives
Privacy as we knew it in the days of paper and pens is gone, and it isn't coming back. Short of withdrawing from our dominant means of communication, i.e., the one you're using right now, there's little we can do to keep ourselves to ourselves.
The inaugural fuss over President Obama's desire to continue using his Blackberry points directly at the problem. Since a breach of the President's privacy could have world-changing consequences, he was told he had to remain insulated from the incessant electronic banter that he, along with the rest of us, had come to take for granted. He resisted, as most of us would do.
In the President's case, a high-security compromise was reportedly reached. Most of us don't need extreme security, though, and it would probably make things too inconvenient for us anyway. For the average netizen, a Pentagon-grade Blackberry is pretty low on the list of priorities.
I'm not concerned here with whether all the openness the internet provides is a good idea. I'm concerned with the facts: social networking sites and protocols are not particularly secure or private, and that's by design.They are about communication, and more specifically, about sharing. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are successful because they work with, not against, human nature, and human nature is--for most of us--inherently social. We are a group-based species, not recluses.
But what will become of the blogs, tweets, and Facebook updates we post today when the platforms that carry them are replaced, merged or compromised? Facebook and Twitter don't know and we users certainly don't know. But one thing we can safely assume is that these traces of our lives won't be gone. They'll be out there in some digital form forever.
We unknowingly accept more and more incursions on the privacy we used to value and the pace is accelerating. RFID chips in our passports, videocameras on our streets, cookies on our computers, electronic toll collection units in our cars, purchase-tracking supermarket club cards: one by one our private places and movements are opened permanently to inspection. And while on some level we retain a healthy mistrust of governments and large corporations, we tend to sigh and give up under the pressure. Our private realms have shrunk to the walls of our own homes -- and that's only when our computers are switched off, if they ever are. But where's the outcry?
In most circumstances, we don't care. Privacy is outweighed by the instinct to be social for most of us. Witness the millions of citizens signing up for social networking sites where privacy is practically, if not officially, an afterthought. To some extent we're guilty of not educating ourselves when we jump on the latest technological bandwagon, but we also just don't care enough to worry about it. The question of whether we should, seems academic—especially as we succumb to increasing surveillance without putting up much of a fight.
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Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.
- The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
- Researchers speculate it could be a previously unknown species and one of humanity's earliest evolutionary ancestors.
- These fossils may change how we view the evolution of our species.
Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.
A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.
Rethinking humanity's origin story
The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.
David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.
The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.
Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"
He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.
"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."
Migrating out of Africa
In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.
Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.
The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.
The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.
Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.
Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.
Did we head east or south of Eden?
Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.
Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.
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