Darren Klein

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My final project was a mixture of experience and inexperience. I had some knowledge about my topic: internet gambling. I was a rank amateur in creating internet content. Going into the project, then, I assumed that creating my argument would be the easy part and learning the skills needed translate that argument into a digital medium would be the difficult. I quickly learned that I was wrong.

For all that the internet seems to offer endless possibilities and complications, it can actually be an easy medium to use. This insight seems obvious in hindsight: the reason that so much and so varied content is on the internet is because so many different people are able to place content on the internet. Before experiencing the creation of digital content, however, the great unknown can seem greatly complicated. It was partly this original caution I felt that led me to choose a podcast for my digital medium. Mainly, though, audio broadcasts brought to mind so many powerful forces I recall throughout my life: listening to audio books while driving to work; creating mix tapes for friends and family; hearing my mother read me a story as I fell asleep.

When I recorded my podcast for the assignment earlier in the semester, I was a bit put off by the software. I had used the Microsoft recording software that came pre-installed with my computer, and I found it a bit limiting. Its editing capabilities consisted solely of deleting all of the recording either before or after a point, with no ability to delete portions in the middle of a recording or to merge multiple recordings. The software made for a laborious editing process, as I was constantly interrupting my speech to delete the last few seconds, find my place and begin anew. I knew that I would go slightly insane if I had to continue that process over the longer speech of my final project, so I went searching for a better (but still free) audio editor.

Searching is the one function on the internet at which I am proficient, so I was able to quickly locate Audacity, which exceeded all of my expectations. I was astounded what difference good software could make, and I immediately revised my opinion concerning the difficulty of creating digital content. I consider this class’s greatest success, for me in particular, was its impact on how I view the internet. Prior to the class I used the internet solely as an informational or entertainment resource; something that existed independent of me that I could use for fun and research. I now see with what ease, I can add content to the internet, and I intend to continue adding webpages both for purely cathartic reasons and also as a means of argument.

Now that I was getting proficient in the “how to” of creating my argument, I turned to what I thought would be the easier part of the assignment: crafting the argument itself. I had experience in this realm as a casual internet poker player. I had some skin in the game, so to speak, and had passionate opinions on the subject. I also had experience with empathic argument in some circumstances so I thought it would take little effort to merge my passion with my empathy. For me, at least, I found that passion and empathy can have confounding effects.

My rigorous treatment of empathy has come from two sources. Over winter semester, last year, I took the Harvard Negotiation Workshop which stresses empathy in the context of reaching a negotiated solution. The negotiation workshop focuses on empathy to figure out the issues that concern the other side. The skill resolves around a story that the instructors tell near the beginning of the course. Two children are fighting over an orange. Their father ends the fight by cutting the orange in half and giving one half to each child. The first kid peels the skin off of the orange and throws it away before eating the flesh. The second child peels the skin off the orange and uses it to make tea, then throws away the flesh. The story illustrates how the father’s lack of empathy led to a Pareto inefficient outcome.

Second, I practice a form of empathy whenever I play poker. Here the skill of empathy is focused on how to control my opponents. Understanding how they think is the key prerequisite to speculating what cards they may hold. And once you are comfortable with a range of hands they are playing, empathy further lets you guess how they will react to your options given their holdings. Will this player fold to a raise? Will he call a big bet at the end of the hand if I complete my flush? Neither of these forms of empathy to which I was accustomed was broad enough—as they stood—to help me with my final project. It complicated matters that I was stuck with my predisposed reasons for favoring internet gambling. I enjoy internet poker and I philosophically believe in a lassiez-faire government of economic regulation and usually strongly endorse the idea of libertarian rights. So at first, I simply wanted to pound my fist at the bible-beaters who would impose their morality on me and keep me from participating in an activity that I enjoy with other willing participants. Besides, not being empathetic, such a position would quickly go nowhere. So the hardest part of my final assignment was setting aside my passions and finding the passions of my opponents.

It was an enjoyable and educational experience in many ways. I learned that when I really understand where my opponent is coming from, his position is not nearly is irrational as it seemed. I also discovered that in the court of public opinion, there is plenty of heterogeneity among the supporters of a position. Besides the moralists, opponents of internet poker include the competition (casinos, etc.) and people worried that the synergies between gambling and the internet would cause special problems, exacerbating the social negatives of gambling.

I had never consciously applied the skill of empathy to such a large and diverse group before this project. It helped me dissect the arguments. There are plenty of arguments on all sides of the Internet Gambling issue, and there are also many proposed solutions. Empathy helped me isolate those that I felt I had the best chance of convincing and gave me the insight to find the arguments and raise the issues that had the best chance of convincing that group. It would not help to pound my fist at the moralists, and I had no data to wave at the casinos. I could, however, understand the synergies between the internet and gambling and saw the reasonableness of the concerns people expressed regarding that union. Further, it helped me frame a debate between regulation and prohibition that would speak to that group. The CyberOne experience gave me the ability to cut through the shackles of my prejudice, understand the shapes of the locks on the shackles of others, and explore the internet as a powerful tool to broadcast my message to a greater population.