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“TV bad”, TV says.

December 29, 2014 1 comment

When we watch “Beavis and Butthead” we mirror the characters. We sit in front of a screen and watch two young men staring at a screen. This mirroring is unique: many books feature characters reading and songs will often reference music and its power to influence. The “ars poetica” is a form of poetry specifically focused on the art of poetry writing. Meta-thinking is reflective on the act of thinking.

In some forms of this “meta-art”, the art comments on itself. A dystopian television show like the UK’S “Black Mirror” warns us of technology’s development despite being the product of a complicated network of technology devices. Film and television often feature dystopian narratives that warn us of our interactions with film and television. Such “finger wagging” warnings urge we caution further development by casting narratives that suggest the dangers of “what could be”.

Are such critiques limited to film and TV? Do books exist that warn the reader of reading? Have songs been heard that warn the user of listening to music? One struggles to find examples. Film and TV are unique in their use of the medium to criticize the medium.

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The Misuse is the Feature: Cognitive Tech & Action

December 29, 2014 1 comment

Technology can be categorized into two distinct categories: “cognitive” and “non-cognitive”. In the “cognitive” camp I place items like Facebook and Twitter, which prompt the user to interact with its features. A user of these sites is asked to share their thoughts. One is capable of sharing every thought, desire and idea on the site and it works to encourage the user to do so. The user must choose the level of interaction and one could very easily (and many often do) over-share or over-interact with the site. One could very easily destroy a reputation by publishing every thought on Facebook. To fully interact with the site means to respond to its prompting to share fully. Every half-thought idea, emotional impulse and desire becomes fodder for its prompting and if shared material for public consumption.

In the other category, which I call “non-cognitive”, I group items like cars, cooking equipment and material we often see as tools. These items do not prompt us for their use. The microwave does not display a text encouraging you to use it and the car doesn’t honk to encourage you to travel. Among these devices is an in-built limitation that leaves the user to determine interaction. Though one can very easily do damage to a reputation with these tools (for example a car driven dangerously) the level of hazard is lower than the items in the “cognitive” tools category because the user is less influenced by the actual technology.

My suggestion is that the “cognitive” tools are dangerous because their development outpaces our psychological ability to understand the correct way to use them. One must learn to use Facebook correctly. This learning includes an increased awareness of the material suitable for public consumption and the boundaries therein. One should not share secrets or security information like passwords, bank codes, etc.. on these mediums. We learn just what to share.

Such learning though is not automatic and many do not develop these skills or choose not to use them. Commenters make rash and vile commentaries on the internet but in public maintain a calm, cool demeanor. Would these commenters act the same if viewing the video in a public theater? The user chooses the level of interaction. Wisdom comes in learning how to use the technology and gaining the skills for correct use. Many will not gain this info or will choose to disregard these skills.

This disregard for proper use is common with all technology. An ancient technology like alcohol or sugar continues to be misused despite centuries of use and consideration. One can incorrectly drive and destroy a home with the technology of fire. This challenge of learning proper use is common to all technologies. The distinction remains; however, with the “cognitive” versus “non-cognitive” technology: prompted by “cognitive” technology we are forced to develop skills in spite of its asking. This technology form doesn’t want us to filter our interactions. Perhaps the evidence of our struggles with this form are in the constant slew of comment boards and “over-sharing” where a user misuses the technology. Cognitive technology is dangerous because it battles our development of skills.

Camera Call

December 3, 2014 Leave a comment

In light of recent news, the issue of police authority has given rise to a national question: Can we regulate our police force? Given authority to “serve and protect” the laws and citizens of the country the quandary comes in our inability to determine the acceptable application of this authority. How much force is one allowed to use when facing a lethal threat? We often view such questions with a “tit-for-tat” simplification, concluding that an officer engaged in a life or death battle is justified in lethal force? Yet herein lies our problem: what is “life or death” and how do we determine that once an incident has ended such actions were justified?

The means by which we determine negligence in public officials is faulted. As we see in FIFA, the NFL, and other large organizations the task of investigating comes internally. FIFA investigates FIFA and the NFL considers NFL actions? Should we be surprised when accusers are dismissed and negligence not found?

The challenge comes in finding the means to conduct these investigations. Given that many of these cases involve the death of the other participant in the incident is essential that evidence in the moment be gathered. On-body cameras for officers is the first step to working towards a better system of investigation. Gather video of the incident and require it be used to consider the case. Included with the benefits of this evidence is the additional accountability that comes with awareness of the cameras? Will the cameras eliminate bad behavior or will in hinder officers from doing their jobs? Of course these questions will arise, but for the benefits of the victims whose stories remain untold it is essential that some technology be used to collect their stories. “All men are created equal” and their stories must be told if we are “innocent until proven guilty”

Of Reactions to Reactions

November 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Can Newtown explain Ferguson? In reflecting on the physical world, Sir Isaac Newton wrote that “to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction”. Born in 1642 and yet connected to the here-and-now. In Ferguson, Missouri protestors took to the streets in reaction to a grand jury’s decision to not charge Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown. Reaction begot action begot action and reaction. Vicious cycle? Yes: for those who own the buildings and the businesses. From victimization came more victims and from suffering came more suffering.

Speaking in Chicago on the day after the protests, President Obama said: “I’ve never seen a civil rights law or a health care bill or an immigration bill result because a car got burned, it happened because people vote. It happened because people mobilized. It happened because people organized.”

The reactions characterized by Newton can be observed in every aspect of our world. From nature see the microcosm and our human turmoil in miniature. Reactions spindle forward as variables adjust. Are we little more than thunderstorms? Can no progress come from what we wrought?

And yet herein lies the critical value: progress. From what progress do our reactions serve? Perhaps this is the key question to ask: “What progress comes from our protest?” Are we building a better world by reacting as we do? One is cautioned to consider this, to ponder one’s emotion and consider a reaction. Destroying in reaction to destruction is a farce.

Devices: Self Control

October 25, 2014 Leave a comment

In a September 15 article in Pacific Standard, David Destino writes on the powers of accountability and how a sense of being grateful leads to greater self control. Have a nasty habit? Crave the candy bar(s)? Destino says the best defense is thinking about the many positive features of your life.

Included in the article is the now infamous “marshmallow test” conducted by Walter Mischel in the late 1960s. As part of the test, a group of children were told that by delaying gratification they would be rewarded by a doubling of the treat. A child who loved candy bars would be presented with a single bar, told he could eat it now or wait a bit and receive another, and then left alone in the room. Mischel and his coleagues watched from a distance and observed the techniques used to deny the temptation to indulge. The children used a variety of techniques: some sang songs, looked away or found some other stimulation to distract themselves from the treat. Mischel went further and continued to gather data on his participants and found that those who were capable of delaying instant gratification then went on to lead more successful adult lives: they had less debt, more stable families and a slew of other features that suggested the long term power of self control. From Mischel’s work came a sense of the importance of cultivating self control in people. Is it possible to teach self control?

Destino notes the popular belief that because self-control is so important the process of cultivating techniques to assist in self control are important to teach children. He notes movements like Alcohol Anonymous which focus less on the personal factors that lead individuals to dangerous behaviors and more on techniques to avoid the dangerous item of desire. If the item can be avoided then perhaps the individual can resist the temptation. But what can be said of the success of techniques? Are there less alcoholics in society? Is obesity now a problem we read only of in textbooks?

Far from it.

Instead we live in a world rattled by addictive temptations. From food to technology it seems our every human feature has some item designed to stimulate our pleasure. We exist in a world of plethora filled with countless ways to find just what we want.

Destino offers a second way to defend ourselves from temptation. Choose instead the path of gratitude. Consider what you have to be thankful for and focus on cultivating these benefits. He notes of programs that force an individual to do a good deed if some undesireable action occurs. Termed “pre-commitment” some common actions are an automatic donation to a charity if an expensive item is purchased. Would less people buy the latest IPhone if in purchasing it a equally priced donation was sent to a charity? Might the dreaded candy bar consumed require an hour of service at a soup kitchen? While such actions can seem cruel they do create a greater sense or accountability. We might think we know what’s best for us but faced with the myriad of temptations we are weaklings in the struggle. Studies now show that our self control is like a muscle: use it frequently and it gets sore. Destino writes of a study where subjects were more likely to commit an undesirable act after fighting the temptation for a plate of chocolate chip cookies. We get worn out, it seems, and need something outside of our brains to keep us on the course.

 

Impersonal The Person

March 24, 2014 Leave a comment

In her interview with Brian Lehrer, Danah Boyd discusses contemporary challenges in child maturation. Well-versed in technologies complicated relationship with parents and their children, her work bases its conclusions on anecdotal evidence with young people. Her arguments are cogent and well-researched, and present a slew of new ideas about technology. From Boyd it becomes clear that a new perspective about technology must be developed to educate both parents and children. How has the internet changed the way we mature? Clearly, the relationship between peers has been altered drastically by technology. In Boyd we hear the complicated levels of these changes: alterations both for peers in similar age groups and between peers of different groups.

Each generation relates to technology differently. The ways in which an older generation uses Facebook is drastically different from a younger generation. Despite a common platform the two groups both utilize and understand the technology differently. From this great void of understanding comes significant confusion. How do children relate to their parents posting on Facebook? What do children do when their parents refuse them Facebook access or insist they function as a gate-keeper?

As our relationship with technology develops so to will our relationship with those who use technology. Just as users of Facebook come to understand the platform, the means of understanding others who use the platform will develop. Will a sense of someone’s “Facebook-self” become more common? Are we capable of allowing someone to exist as someone else on the internet? The online world is rich with opportunities to be someone else. In these new identities an amazing wealth of power can be seized. Where confusion enters the picture is when these distinct personalities are blurred. With the use of alternative identities it becomes critical that distinctions remain intact. How do parents keep their children safe? Ultimately each family must reach their own conclusion; though, a recognition of the multiple identities of online life is essential. Disregarding this is to disregard the rules of the internet and the very reality in which we live.

 

Dreadful Drive

January 11, 2014 Leave a comment

Given that its main ingredient is human imagination, paranoia is the most powerful of human motivators. Threaten the individual with an existential crisis and desperate measures are guaranteed to ensue. It’s an evil meal to muster: whether cooked for relationships, careers or reputations, paranoia winds itself from one idea into another.

Paranoia gains significant gusto from its use of human creativity. An initial situation is exaggerated and expanded so that minor problems become crisis. Twinged with paranoia the most minor of missteps quickly becomes conspiratorial plot. What one gains from such exaggeration seems likely tied to primal ways of life. Overzealous worry liked helped the human being hunted, but in today’s world we exist in a world of endless minor threats. Ambiguous language, both textual and body, create countless moments to second guess and wonder. For many, the daily minutia of corporate ways becomes a greatest drama.

How can one cope with paranoia? Its likely impossible given its wiring to our primal states. We may work to rationalize or to question, but we’ve little defense against our ancient tools. What protected us for centuries, and made it possible for our genes to exist these thousands of years later, was never cautious confidence. To be alive today is to be a latest link in a long chain of survivors. Perhaps we’re just the latest edition of the paranoid humanoid: always worried, but breathing nonetheless.

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