Shutting off the Internet in Syria, resisting the smartphone craze, and celebrating Pong at 40

Syrian rebels and bystanders watch bulldozers clean the debris outside Dar Al-Shifa hospital in Aleppo, northern Syria, on November 22, 2012.

One moment terabytes of data are flowing through the Internet in Syria. The next minute, next-to-nothing. The digital lights went out in the strife-torn country on Thursday, with experts suspecting the Syrian government shut off the net as a tactical measure in its fight against the rebel uprising.

Syria's government, for its part, is blaming what it calls "terrorists." The Internet is a robust machine -- even the Japanese tsunami didn't stop it -- but it's not unbreakable. Sam Biddle did a thought-experiment that he published in Gizmodo entitled "How to Destroy the Internet." And there's some good news for us here in America.

"The difference between Syria and a Western free market democracy is that we have a completely privatized Internet system and telecommunications system for that matter," says Biddle. "You can be on Verizon Fios or Time Warner Cable or Comcast, and while these companies might have regional monopolies, the market is still split up geographically into subsystems. There's no America Internet kill switch."

On a much smaller scale, transit officials in the San Francisco Bay area did shut off cell phone and WiFi service to a subway station after getting wind of a planned protest two summers ago. But still other countries have forced bigger blackouts. January of last year, authorities effectively shut off the internet in Egypt during protests against then-president Mubarak. China also shut it down in the region of Jinjiang after ethnic violence there.


You can't hide from marketing that wants you to buy a smartphone. Perhaps more interesting is why people resist buying one of these handheld computers. Pew's Internet and American Life project has some new numbers on the 40 percent of Americans who remain immune to smartphone charms.

"By and large, younger folks would love to have one but can't afford it," says Aaron Smith, a researcher there. "Older folks might be able to afford it but don't necessarily want one."

We asked listeners on Twitter if they were kicking it old school and got this response from @StephTheBlogger in Boston: "Still using a non-smart phone, but I'm afraid I'll cave soon." Stay strong, Steph. It's your perogative.


On a street near New York's Greenwich Village, what looks at first like a bodega for groceries turns out to be a museum and shrine to the history of video games. The perfect place to visit on the 40th anniversary of Pong.

"There's no crazy rules, there's no rules based upon rules, it's just me versus you in a very uniform mathmatical format," says Dan Mastin, is general manager of Video Games New York. He has vintage games and modern ones on display. And yes, it's also a store where you can still buy Pong, considered the first commercially successful video game. "I have the original Atari systems, I have a lot of its clones and for the PS1 I have a lot of the Pong remakes for it," he says.

Mastin gets a wistful look in his eyes when he describes an early Atari machine that would play just one game: Pong.

"They actually made a dedicated Pong console that had a massive amount of batteries and just had two paddles," says Mastin. "It's something I like to keep around, but I had someone with a very specific need earlier this year persuade me to sell it to them.  At heart, we're still a store, so I can't say no to everything, but there are certain things I love to have on location, and that's something I miss right now."

Pong, released just in time for the holidays -- in 1972.
 

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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