Tag Archives: technology

Technology, News and the Distorted View of Reality

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s the way we received our news was very different from the way we currently consume our news about the world around us. The technology was beginning to change but it was still a time of the three primary commercial networks (NBC, CBS and ABC) with the Public Broadcast Channel. Later Fox would come in on the UHF channels and cable TV would begin to emerge. It was a world of newspapers which were published daily and news programming which would be on at regular morning, evening and nighttime schedules. Perhaps the world moved slower: there were no cell phones, no social media, no internet. It was a world my children wouldn’t recognize and while I don’t want to get caught in a nostalgic idealization of that period I do want to reflect upon the changes that technology and our use of technology has changed us and how the economic models behind these technologies have shaped the news media we consume.

In 1980 a change began within the existing media of television with the advent of CNN, a network devoted to around the clock news coverage. Through a number of events, like the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, the Persian Gulf War and the expanded political coverage of Presidential campaigns CNN and then additional dedicated news channels, like MSNBC or Fox News, began to shift the consumption of news from dedicated news times within the day to more frequent viewing throughout the day. Many organizations began showing news programming throughout the day in their waiting areas instead of networks programming. In the 1990s, as more people began using cable TV, the continual availability of new programming and multiple news channels cause the evolution of new types of news programming designed to keep people tuning into the various stations to keep the revenues for those channels going (since advertising is the economic driver of network and cable news). When news is viewed as a consumer product and the purpose is to keep people continually tuning into new and new commentary programs it needs to generate some type of reaction to keep people engaged. The media long ago figured out that people are emotional creatures and that emotions like anxiety and shared disgust would keep people coming back to their channels. This has led to a distorted perception of reality based on what will continue to get people tuning in and increasing the ratings of the news programming rather than an accurate perception of reality. Most people believe, for example, that the world in which we live is less safe than the world they grew up in but statistically this is not true, but media presents to people a reality that is focused on the most violent and most memorable crimes and creates an anxiety that is not based on a balanced view of our world.

As we entered the 21st Century the age of digital information continues to alter the way we get out news and has continued to lower the threshold of review for publication. With the advent of the internet the average user now has access to incredible amounts of information but relatively few ways to effectively filter that information. Search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo all use algorithms to attempt to bring relevant information to the searchers screen but just because a website may be relevant does not ensure it is accurate, honest or true. While websites, blogs, twitter feeds and other places have provided access to people who would not have been able to publish through newspapers, journals and print media they also have removed or significantly lowered the peer review process designed to help insure that information is accurate. Especially with the advent of social media sites like Facebook where people can share information and links and the Facebook algorithm attempts to compute what other people want to see based on likes and shares (and an economic model that pays on advertising on a per click basis) it has led to intentionally misleading or incorrect but ultimately profitable reporting that causes people to view articles based on their shared opinions, disgusts and paranoia. In the past election the proliferation of false and misleading articles based upon a person’s political persuasion continued to build the level of anxiety and mistrust in the political and electoral system. It has become increasingly easy to create echo chambers by surrounding ourselves digitally with people who reinforce or enhance our beliefs, biases and prejudices. It has become much easier to criticize another person’s views without ever having to encounter and experience the other person as a real person because of our digital technology. While the availability of information through the internet and the vast data it can provide is a remarkable technological breakthrough the economic engine of the digital reporting cycle and its continual reinforcement of the truth we want to see, rather than having some peer reviewed or other method to attempt to make the news we consume an accurate picture of reality has led to what many are beginning to term a post-truth reality.

In our society news is a consumer product and probably always will be and yet there are a number of ethical questions that we should be asking about the news that we consume. Is there a way to create a better system that provides a news media that reflects reality better than profitability? Are there ways to encourage people to become critical consumers, especially online, where the threshold for publication is incredibly low and there is no accountability for publishing dishonest or misleading information presented as news? Are we willing to settle for a smaller America where our tribe of people is only those who agree with us, who may look like us and believe the same way that we believe in or are we willing to experience the cognitive dissonance of engaging with someone whose reality may be very different than our own? With each new technology there is an ethical lag as we attempt to figure out the ethical implications of the new technology, what would an ethical consumption of digital media look like? What would be the expected ethics of media presented as factual reporting?

These are not easy questions but they are things that we need to wrestle with if we want a nation of citizens that can make informed decisions then we need the information they receive to be accurate. If we are only consuming media that feeds our anxieties, disgusts, prejudices and biases then we will continue to have an increasingly polarized and divided society. Perhaps it is my idealistic nature but I do believe an ethical media is possible, although difficult, in age of digital consumption.


Post Human Evolutions Part 1

MercuryMercury-The Liminal Travelers

Amelia Rose, Virtual Relaity Content Around a Female Head, image from http://vrworld.com/2015/07/31/opinion-what-is-the-future-of-virtual-reality/

Amelia Rose, Virtual Relaity Content Around a Female Head, image from http://vrworld.com/2015/07/31/opinion-what-is-the-future-of-virtual-reality/

Does there come a point where homo sapiens become so transformed
Adapting to their new environment to the point where they evolve to post human species
Is there a point where the physical world humanity was created for recedes before a virtual one
And a population self selects themselves to become the occupants of a digital age
Living their lives through an avatar constructed not of flesh but from coded images
Where the construction of identity takes place on the multiple earths of the new reality
And the clouds of the heavens are exchanged for the cloud of data that is beamed through the air
Does the image of the mirror fade away before the image that traveler projects
A new self created to voyage in the liminal places of the new world
Does part of the human race change into some bio mechanical being wired
Permanently connected into the wireless broadcast that form the air they breathe
Do the sense of sight and smell become mediated through the screens of cyberspace
And do the geeks inherit the world where they can be the creators
As they occupy that liminal space between the virtual world and the physical
Becoming the ambassador to the other human species from their undiscovered country
And carrying their tribute of images and icons to the new gods of Rome
For they are Mercury, the messenger of the gods occupying the space between
The mediators for the unapproachable others that have been selected away
From the mass of the humanity to dwell in among the pantheon of new deities



Authority: Getting to the Heart of the Issue

Again they came to Jerusalem.  As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to him and said, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you the authority to do them? Mark 11.27f NRSV

Authority, it is an important and interesting word, and it is the word at the heart of the changes that have been going on in the world around us.  The good news is this is not a new thing, in fact one of the things that will be coming in future posts is an examination of how this has played out in the lives of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) but before we can get to this we need to understand what is it we are talking about: What is authority and what does it mean?

In Greek thought, as reflected by the language, the word we translate as authority is literally “from one’s being” it is formed from the prefix ek which means from or out of and ousia which means being-for those familiar with the language of the Nicene creed this ousia word plays a central role when it talks about ‘one being with the Father…’ but this is a Greek way of thinking and while I want to value that word as a background, I think it also plays way too much into the emerging crisis.  We have found ourselves increasingly isolated, even in the midst of webs of communication that bombard us continually.  We may receive hundreds of texts, tweets, emails, facebook posts in a day and yet I find that for many people there is an increasing attachment to their smartphone or table to give them meaning…while we have been told to go out and be independent, that our authority really comes from within, that we are our own people we find ourselves at the end of the day wrestling with that famous Alice in Wonderland question, “Who are you?”

In the 2010 Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland we see one answer to the question, Absalom the Caterpillar points to the oracullum, a compendium of what has happened and what will happen as a way to show Alice who she is, in short you are who the book says you are, your actions are a part of a pre-determined narrative of which you and all the other players have a part, and who you are, being the ‘right Alice’ is determined by how closely you adhere to this story.  In the Disney version, which I grew up with and watched countless times with my children, the question of “Who are you?” is much more a question of self-realization, who you are seems to be a question that, in more of a Greek philosophical style, is internal and your ability to know oneself gives one the authority to respond authoritatively to the seeker (although the caterpillar’s known self is in a process of transformation that will lead to a new identity as a butterfly).

Let’s go back to the word authority, it comes from the idea of authorship, authority is the ability to tell the story, to spin the tale or set the frames in which we understand who we are and what it is we do.  As much as we may want to think that we are all the authors of our own story,we find ourselves with our stories as a web of other relationships and stories which sometimes have control of but often we do not. Often we find ourselves looking to someone else saying, “Who am I?”  I think that is at the heart of many people’s addiction to their phones. Now the digital responses of others, their likes and comments and flares help us know who we are, we are seeking approval of others, and even negative attention is better than being ignored. Yet the traditional sources of identity and authority…family, church, government or nation, wealth, education, popularity at some point all of these have failed us, we seek their approval perhaps, and while we rely on them we don’t want to admit that they might have shaped us to be who we are. We may know when we see our father or mother in our actions that they shaped us, but we want to be our own people (just like everyone else). We’ve grown cynical, to use fancy words we operate out of a hermeneutic of suspicion, and we find we are deeply unsatisfied with answers that used to satisfy. How did we get to this point?  Well that is a whole narrative unto itself which is beginning tomorrow.

purple rose 01 by picsofflowers.blogspot.com