Hello, Hello, hello, hello, hello – The Echo Chambers of the internet

Last week we talked about the idea of who controls and makes the content that is being distributed nowadays. This was very interesting to discuss because they conjure up to different responses in people. When you say someone is “controlling” the content that you receive, generally people get a bit taken back and want to find out more and discover how to stop someone else from “controlling” it. But in reality, you are controlling it most of the time. The algorithms that are being used are looking at what you do and then curating your content around those things.
This is great if you have a hobby and want to spend time online doing more things and reading more things around that hobby. This is not so great though if you want to see more different types of things. In order to see more, you have to make an effort to go out and find things because the social media systems that you are using are not going to offer you “off the wall/out of the box” things to view. This is very obvious to me on my news feed on my phone. It is very, very travel-centric. This is simply because I open and read those articles so obviously, I want to read more of them. In order to change my feed, I need to actively search for other things that I am interested in. One of the best ways I have found to do this is to share my new service with someone else. My mother and I, for example, read the same news app but not always the same articles. She will often highlight an article that I have completely skipped that I, in fact, enjoyed reading when I opened it. The problem comes in that fact that this does not happen in a way that affects my algorithms. So I still mostly get the travel stuff on my phone.  I wonder if there is a way that we could link our accounts so that we could affect each other’s algorithms! Hmmmmm, new app idea anyone! Anyway… This system of being curated too is I think one of the issues we have today with people finding themselves in echo chambers. In this instance, I mean an echo chamber in the sense that you are surrounded in your social media by people that the algorithms see you as being like-minded with. This is in my opinion what is leading to the current tension in many areas of the world. You start out in this echo chamber of something that sounds positive or helpful but it can turn into something else and begin to get out of control without people realizing it. This was mentioned in the block post I wrote earlier about the Facebook group that was set up around the Arab Spring. https://caryghart.wordpress.com/2018/10/03/the-social-media-conundrum/ It is similar to the story about how to boil a frog. I won’t go into the details, but when things change subtly and slowly you are less likely to notice those changes this can lead to people ending up in quite radical groups and not realizing it until someone points it out from the outside. It is the same thing as the gang mentality that I was recently reading about that caused the murder of two men in Mexico. I think it is work to make sure that we curate our content but I also think that we can’t complain about being curated to, if we aren’t willing to do the work to challenge the algorithms ideas about who we are and what we need to see.     Image From: https://blog.bufferapp.com/social-media-algorithms-show-notes

The Digital Divide

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The Digital Device as defined by the dictionary sounds pretty straightforward. What is missing is as always is the context and what that actually means. What does not having access really mean? What effect does the digital divide really have? This was the conversation that we had last week during our class on Digital Culture.

There were many topics that came up during the discussion, one of which was the idea of access because of availability. This reminded me of when I lived in the UK and the work that was being done to bring high-speed internet to rural areas. I can totally understand the business side of this conundrum. You have to dig trenches or hang expensive cables long distances for very few people. The reality is that this is never going to be an area that makes these companies money. They are never going to gain back the money that they spent on running these cables and lines.

This is the point where you argue is this a public service that should be offered to those communities just like water and electricity or is it something else? I think that even 5 years ago you could have made a good argument that it wasn’t a “basic service”. But I also think that more and more as the time passes this is a basic service.  As was stated in this article about broadband for Farmers “It is no longer a luxury; it is an absolute necessity in our digital age.” I also think that this is where companies have to figure out more cost-effective ways to provide the service.  Maybe running fiber cable is not effective, maybe instead they should focus on running dedicated 4 or 5G zones in these areas. One tower can provide both cellular data for cell phones and 4/5G service for the homes. I do think if they consider this they should have separate dedicated towers or whatever it may be called. Otherwise, there will be too much conflict for the available space.

One of the other ways that people are bridging the divide is through libraries. This works great for areas that are close to a library. I am from Mississippi though and I can tell you that we have rural areas that are probably 50 miles or more from a library. So a library as a replacement isn’t really a viable option.

One thing we didn’t really talk so much about is the requirement for a device that actually accesses the internet. It isn’t enough to have the internet in your area you have to be able to access it. Many people assume that everyone has at least a smartphone now but there are many people who do not, nor can they afford one. But a smartphone is probably the cheapest way to get people on the internet. I saw when I was traveling in Namibia many of the people in the village that we visited that was probably a good 2 hours from any town with a library, many of the residents had an internet capable phone. They were only able to complete very basic tasks but it was enough that they understood how to make connections using the internet.

I also recently saw this video from Nas Daily, who showed how digital access can be accomplished even in poor countries with even poorer infrastructure. Zimbabwe has managed to figure out a way to exchange currency even when there isn’t any actual currency to exchange all through cell phones.

 

One thing that we didn’t discuss and I realized only when doing research and finding this article on Rural Communities was that without high-speed internet the rural communities do not have access to many online jobs that urban residents may use to supplement their income. This was one element of the digital divide that I had not even considered. Many “side hustles” are based on online access. Working from home even often requires consistent internet if not high-speed internet. So not only are rural residents struggling to get online they may be at a financial disadvantage more so that their urban peers simply due to lack of opportunity for the types of work they can accomplish.

 

Resources:

Digital Divide. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/digital divide

Duvall, Z. (2018, November 01). For farmers, broadband is a necessity, not a luxury. Retrieved from https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/414370-for-farmers-broadband-is-a-necessity-not-a-luxury

Rural communities see big returns with broadband access, but roadblocks persist. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/rural-communities-see-big-returns-broadband-access-roadblocks-persist-n881731

Gaming

For the last two classes, we have discussed Gaming. I found it very interesting that while I do not game myself, I understood much of the information being presented. I was able to make clear connections to some of the ideas, terminology and culture references. Part of that is due to my brother being a bit into gaming, my watching of the Big Bang Theory and my reading of Ready Player One (super cool website design by the way!). It probably also helps that I am geeky in the sense that my job revolved around tech so I hear about many things that kids are doing whether I participate directly or not.

Things that struck me during the course conversation was the way that my professor kept the conversation flowing between all of the elements around gaming that many people argue about. Addiction, social acceptance, management of time, gender roles, third place and more. I think all in all we had a good representation of these elements and roles they in the gaming world.

One topic we spent time on was the idea that gaming in the past has been seen as something that teenage boys do in teenage boy bedrooms in the dark. When we looked at old ads for some of the original game consols this was the way it looked. This image is changing with new game advertising. The new ads are showing more adults in social settings with “everyday” lives playing their games. This is sending the message that gaming is for everyone. Some of the games are for “loners” started possibly because in the early years of games only one person could play on a console at a time, but with new server and web-based games, it is possible to be more social online.

Also, the new focus in gaming seems to be on the social aspect. This is where a “third place” comes in. Many games have areas or chat rooms that allow the users to socialize and “hang out” with friends that have within the game. This is where I think many people get “worked up” about gaming is because they do not understand the culture. Instead of trying to understand it they criticize it. This is true of many things in life people who don’t understand something immediately assume the worse.

But like everything, it is about balance. Gaming is no different if your life is gaming all the time, then no that probably isn’t good, if your life is about gaming for a bit of fun or stress release then go for it!

It is also interesting to me that many people are getting into the nostalgia of gaming. They are buying retro games and playing them with friends at home or in third place. They are actually changing the solo isolated relationship that those games had by bringing the games into a more social context. I also wonder if a bit of this is due to people’s willingness to spend long periods of time on one game. If you game in a social context you are possibly less likely to get bored with the game.

I wonder if the games like Settlers, if they did not have the third place like elements, would the users still be playing them? Would the game hold the user’s attention? I found this in Farmville. After a few weeks, I was no longer interested.

 

 

The Social Media Conundrum

This evening we discussed the rise and impact of Social Media. There were many points that come up throughout the discussion and we watched several TED talks around the thing that is Social Media.

One interesting discussion point was that I am of an age where I developed most of who I am as a person pre-social media. This is not the case for school age children now. They are growing up in the era of social media. They may not have it themselves but they see it in their peers, parents, media, TV, etc.

We also discussed this idea that people only post the “happy go lucky” version of their lives and how that isn’t necessarily different from the way they project how their life is in face to face relationships.

When you think of these two together though as my classmate pointed out. What effect is social media having on the development of personalities? Are young adults actually living the life that social media portrays because they want to or because they feel that this is who they have to “be”. Are they effectively able to develop as an individual within a world that has a heavy social media influence?

I teach younger students and I have seen first hand how their behavior on the football pitch is direct copying of the behaviors they see of professional players. Now, this is not new because of technology. What is new is how widespread it is.  People have copied those that they idolize since forever, but now everyone can copy one or two people in minute detail with slow motion, play by play. Is this affecting them negatively? Is there even a way to study that to test that theory?

We also watched this TED Talk about public shaming that has happened on Twitter. He makes many good points but the one that struck a chord with us in class today was the idea that the person who spoke up and said: “I’ not sure her joke was intended to be racist.” (min 6:33) got shut down. Whereas the person who said that “Someone with aids should rape this b#$%^ and then we’ll find out if her skin color protects her from aids.” (minute 8:10) has no one telling them that their comment was inappropriate.

I have seen this multiple times on Facebook and it is something that I try to avoid but is not always possible. It is not always possible to avoid seeing it but I do avoid interacting with it. I don’t understand how people can claim to have one set of values but think it is also okay to speak like they have another set because they disagree with someone else’s beliefs, values, religion, etc. Being on the internet is not a free pass to bash people.

We also watched this video of a talk by Wael Ghonim who created the Facebook page that was one of the key rallying points for the Arab Spring. He points out that what started as a positive movement because large and unsustainable. That social media was at first a positive but in the end a detriment.

I have seen this first hand with Facebook groups that I have been in that became larger and unmanageable. They got to a point where the work it took to manage the content, messages, and personalities becomes almost a full-time job.

All and all I think it goes back to how the tool is used. This statement can be used in many contexts but it is true in social media. I think part of what makes it something that is going to be debated about for all time is that social media is so fast. It is fast to start, fast to change, fast to disappear, just fast. So it is a very dynamic “thing” which makes it hard to study, manage, and moderate.

 

GDPR is it even possible?

Today in my Digital Culture class we discussed the idea of Cultural Lag which is defined as:

a condition of strain or maladjustment produced by the lagging of one of two corelating parts of culture behind the other. (Schneider, 1945)

An example of this would be privacy laws around data protection on the internet being passed years after the founding of the internet. The culture of privacy has lagged behind the culture of the internet.

Governments are trying to fix this lag with laws like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which was purposed in January 2012 (Voss, 2012) but took until 2018 to take effect. In taking 6 years to come into effect the lag has grown between what people and companies have been doing to protect user’s privacy and what the law says they should be doing.

Until 2018 anything that a company did was mostly up to them and their own business ethics. Now everyone is being held to a similar level of account. The questions now are, is the law accurate for the times? Is the law feasible? Is the law accomplishable? I attended a training recently for school leaders and one of the takeaways I had is that teachers need to ask if you can really access what they want to access in the way that they have planned to access it. In other words, will that assessment type actually access the skills, knowledge or understanding that you think it accesses?

I wonder if GDPR is truly able to do what it wants to do in the way it wants to do it or will it end up becoming so unmanageable and unreasonable that companies will be unable to function within the regulations.

I also wonder if GDPR is someone taking away the personal responsibility a user has to protect themselves online. Users have been told for years how their data will be used, but how many of them actually took the time to read the user agreement before clicking “accept”? As a person in a school who is responsible for creating student accounts, I do take the time to read them. Even before GDPR come into action many companies clearly stated how they used data and what data they collected. You simply had to read and make a decision for yourself.

The problem comes when people say but I have to click “agree” to use the service and I “want” the service but I don’t want them doing … with my data. Well, then you don’t use the service. You can’t have it both ways. The company clearly states (yes not always) how they use your data. Your “wants” are not the companies responsibilities.

I have had to tell teachers repeatedly that they can’t have a program/app because it doesn’t meet with guidelines acceptable for use with students. Their response is but it does exactly what we want and we won’t put any personal information in. Sorry but not allowed. And yes sometimes those companies only put restrictions in so that they don’t have to deal with the legal issues, but “thems the breaks”.

I also think that topics like GDPR help give rise to scare tactics. “See there are all of these bad companies out there trying to sell your data and you are going to have trouble with your privacy from this”. Data being sold is not a new issue. My mom receives magazines all of the time that she never ordered. Someone sells her address to a subscription company, they send her a couple of magazines and then a “You’ve had a few copies, now try a subscription” notice or even worse a “Your subscription is about to run out” when she doesn’t even have one notice.

We have all had our phone numbers sold on. These are exactly the type of data problems that the internet has.  Have any laws, rules, or regulations been effective at preventing them?

Yes, it’s annoying and yes there should be accountability but is accountability even possible? And if it isn’t possible what is possible in regards to data protection of personal data?

 

 

Schneider, J. (1945). Cultural Lag: What Is It? American Sociological Review, 10(6), 786-791. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2085849

Voss, W. (2012). Preparing for the Proposed EU General Data Protection Regulation: With or without Amendments. Business Law Today, 1-5. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/businesslawtoday.2012.11.02

Balance is the Key

Just watched this video clip and felt a bit like he was speaking to the choir with me. A tech integrationist, (teach students tech in context in their rooms when they need it) I am constantly having to defend tech. I am having to defend it because most of the information going out to people about tech is how bad it is for everyone.

What about how good it can be? What about that student who doesn’t speak English who I sat next to and used google translate to help him understand the purpose of an assignment. Who then lit up like a light bulb because he finally understood what he was supposed to be doing in the class?

What about the student who has motor skill issues with handwriting but is able to publish a story using audio that is just as good as their peers?

I have this debate nearly every day and I am not all tech all the time. I have often asked teachers, why are you using tech wouldn’t it be easier and faster to just have them write/speak/draw something.

But to globally discount it because someone proved it’s bad, drives me nuts. I especially get nuts when they start talking about serotonin & stress levels. Baby’s crying creates stress in a parent, nobody is suggesting that they leave or get rid of the baby to manage their stress.

I agree that BALANCE is key. And just like not everyone gets it right with food, alcohol, exercise or anything else. It doesn’t mean we get rid of the thing but we educate better about the thing. In this case the “thing” is Tech.

Evaluating eLearning

My homework for my E-learning Theory and Technology course at the Cork Institute of Technology is to review this Wall Street Journal website about the Kowloon Walled City.

We were asked to spend time exploring it and then reflect on the following three points:

  • Engagement of learner
  • Quality of interaction
  • Advantages and disadvantages over traditional ways of learning.

First I would like to say that we were supposed to spend 10 minutes exploring and reflecting. Here I am 25 minutes later beginning my reflection while trying not to return to the website and explore more!

So as far as the engagement of the learner goes I think that this is an amazing site. The following things are the positives I would say the site has for engagement.

  • It is visually appealing on every page.
    • Each page is unique but to me, that unique element does not distract from the experience but heightens it.
    • One of the points the digital story makes is that the Kowloon Walled City was a maze of buildings, alleyways, and people. I think that the visual changes in the story build on that maze feeling and reinforce the chaos that many people must have imagined it to be like, yet the site also reflects the order that the residence described as the reality.
  • The story uses sound, images, and text.
  • The short clips are just the right length to keep the learner engaged but not lose interest because they drag on.

As for the quality of the interaction, the quality of this digital story is amazing. The elements are put together in a way that tells a story if you go from point A to point B through the site, but also tells the same story if you play a bit of alphabet soup along the way! Everything ties to something eventually. The way the stores of real people who lived within the walled city are woven throughout the site makes you the reader feel what it would have been like to live and work there.

The advantages of this type of learning platform are that a learner can attack the learning in whichever way they prefer. They can watch a video or just read the text. Nearly all of the text on the first page (People) reinforces the video, yet does not copy the video 100%. You are getting less information if you only choose one method but you are not “missing out” on the whole picture of what the walled city was like.

This type of platform allows for someone to experience through first-hand interaction a place that they may never get to visit. Having recently visited Hong Kong and hearing about the tiny apartments and “cage” houses still in Kowloon, it was very interesting for me to see what it had once been.  As a way of learning, first-hand experiences are a good way for learners to connect with a learning experience and make emotional connections with them. Even if those first-hand experiences are only through video interviews and not live person to person interviews.

A disadvantage to this type of platform is that for some it can be visually overstimulating. They may get distracted easily and jump from place to place within the site without really engaging with the learning.  This could be especially true when they get to the “Imagination” page and begin watching video clips of movies.

Overall I think that this is a great learning piece if you just want to get a feel for what it was like to live and work inside the walled city.

If you wanted a detailed look at any element of the walled city, I don’t think that it would achieve any level of detailed information.

Personally, I like this platform. For me, it was just the right amount of information to keep me interested in exploring without losing interest or getting off task (which is a huge problem for me!).