Posts Tagged ‘ politics ’

Crowdsourced Intelligence and You

This post should have gone up ages ago, as part of a course assignment for HUCO 510.  Sometimes you just get side-tracked.  Anyway, this week something happened that gave me the perfect topic to complete my assignment.  Enjoy.

~~

On May 2, 2011 Osama Bin Ladin, one of the most feared terrorist leaders in the world, was killed.  Nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, attacks orchestrated by Bin Laden, US Navy Seals successfully carried out the assassination.  A nation rejoiced.

And, as that nation rejoiced, within minutes of the news being made public on the Internet and on television, all social media websites were abuzz.  One can imagine the sheer volume of the expressions of support, opposition, incredulity, happiness, sadness, congratulations and disgust that flooded the web.  Or, one can simply search “osama” on the Twitter index.  The President would later televise an address to the nation confirming the death of the man who had been cast in the role of nemesis to an entire people and way of life.

It is during these kinds of world-changing events that the most interesting insights about our society are discovered.  Megan McArdle, editor for The Atlantic, made one such discovery, as she browsed her Twitter feed on the fateful day.  One tweet in particular caught her eye.  Being one of Penn Jillette’s 1.6 million followers, she read the following quote, apparently in response to the death of Bin Laden:

“ I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

Amid the—no doubt—millions of reactions, some of them shocking, this short sentence at least had the ring of reason.  And it was attributed to perhaps the most famous civil rights activist in North America.  A combination of Jillette’s celebrity as a performer and this level-headed response to the event in contrast to many much less level-headed responses made it viral; within hours of it going up on Twitter, many of Jillette’s followers had retweeted the quote, and it had become a trending topic on the social network, in the midst of the Bin Laden furor.  McArdle, unlike many others, did not retweet the quote, though she did initially feel the urge to pass it on.  She hesitated, however, because it didn’t “sound” like Martin Luther King, Jr.  And for that hesitation, I am sure she was later grateful, when it was soon discovered that the quote was misattributed.

Besides the end to privacy (which I’ve repeatedly discussed on this blog), another quality of modern communication technologies that we must all adapt to is the speed at which information travels.  Networks like Twitter and Facebook increase the rate of transmission exponentially.  The cult of celebrity has also found fertile earth in these virtual spaces.  If I had been the person to publish the quote on Twitter, with my 80 or so followers, rather than Jillette, the quote would not have been so popular, and the backlash would not have been so severe.  The fact that the initial tweet reached 1.6 million people dramatically increased how quickly the quote spread from that point.  So where did Jillette get the quote?

Despite some media outlets implying that he did this deliberately to mess with his followers, it seems clear now that it was accidental.  Jillette copied the quote from a Facebook user’s status update that read:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” MLK jr

In viewing this, it is clear that Jessica Dovey, the Facebook user, was adding her own interpretation to an authentic quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.  Jillette tried to copy it to Twitter, but given the 140 character limit for tweets, was forced to edit it down.  Apparently he did not realize the first sentence was not part of the quotation.  Jillette later apologized repeatedly for the tweet, stating that it was a mistake.

“Why all the fuss over this?” one might ask.  It seems that most people are upset not so much by the misattribution as they are at the criticism of the popular reaction and the media circus that has surrounded the assassination.  Dovey and Jillette, and McArdle as well, who went on to write a blog post and editorial in The Atlantic online about her discovery of the misattribution, have faced a great deal of criticism since the quote was first shared.

We live in a world of memes, in a place where information—regardless of its accuracy or authenticity—is shared at an exponential rate, and where fiction can be accepted as fact based on who says it and how many believe it.  The only thing surprising about this particular incident is that the mistake was discovered and the truth of it spread online as fast as the initial tweet did.  If it had taken a day or two longer for someone like McArdle, with a platform to spread the information, to discover the mistake, would anyone have noticed?  Probably not.  It is not like people haven’t been misquoted or misattributed in the past.  What’s noteworthy is the speed at which this particular misquote proliferated.

I find this interesting because, as I have stated, it gives evidence of how communication has changed in our society.  Many of us rely on sources like Twitter to engage with current events.  It serves us well to be reminded that, in spite of the many benefits of crowdsourced intelligence, the onus for fact-checking is on the reader.

Advertisements

(post)Humanism

This post is written in response to weekly readings for HUCO617: Posthumanism. This week we were reading Humanism, by Tony Davies, which describes the emergence of “Humanism” as a concept, a movement, a pedagogy, a philosophy, an ideology, a ‘Snark’. http://www.amazon.com/Humanism-Critical-Idiom-Tony-Davies/dp/0415420644/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1286296464&sr=8-1-spell

There are so many weighty concepts and reversals worth discussing in Davies’ Humanism that it is hard to know where to start.  Perhaps the most important aspect of Davies’ history of the term is something he never quite addresses: the structure of the text itself.

Davies’ approach to reaching a whole and encompassing definition of ‘Humanism’ says quite a lot about our own historical moment and the current state of (post)Humanism.  In his introduction Davies carefully notes that his history is not strictly chronological but should follow an internal logic, a narrative that identifies the plurality of Humanism and enumerates its myriad conflicting variations.   He begins with the 19th and 20th century attempts to first legitimize the essential and universal qualities of Humanism (undermined by the political ends such attempts are invariably put to) and then to deconstruct and disable the validity of these same qualities, and indeed, the validity of Humanism itself as a concept; then moves on to 15th century Italy and the origins of the European Renaissance (a period he does not forget to point out is just as fabricated as ‘Humanism’), pauses on the Enlightenment when the notions of essence and universality of Man are at once crystallized and inextricably bound up in the very real politics and power structures/struggles of the period; and, finally, ends at the present moment, with the realization that the very idea of Humanism is so problematic—so “chimerical” (128)—that it might not be salvageable, and yet it remains a sole refuge from a vast, cold, and unsettling universe within which our utter insignificance is wretchedly felt.  Derrida whispers through Davies’ approach to defining Humanism within a particular historical context, and then starkly proving how the definition is not humanism, is in fact an antihumanism according to how we have come to conceive the concept in terms of universality and individuality.  Like Derrida in Différance, Davies enacts the quixotic struggle to find a central truth in the plurality of meanings by circling the concept of ‘Humanism’, and in so doing proves that there is no centre [1].  There is no one ‘true’ meaning, only movement between different conceptions of the word, between the presence and absence of supporting values, humanism and antihumanism, human and Other.

I want to linger a moment on the idea of the Other, which Davies only briefly touches on in his conclusion with a too-quick summary of Emmanuel Levinas and Ted Hughes’ ‘Wodwo’ (142-146).  Making a radical move Davies denies himself, I’m going to define ‘Humanism’ right now as “the pursuit of human identity “; Levinas says that ‘humanity’ is “a continuous and precarious process of becoming human…[and] the inescapable recognition that our humanity is on loan from others” (142).  We are defined as human by those things we perceive as not-human, we become ‘human’ only as a mirror reflection of the foreign, the different.  Ted Hughes’ poem gives voice to the Wodwo, a “half-human”, “larval shape” arrested in a state of becoming (144); to me, it reads rather like the internal monologue of Frankenstein’s monster in the moment it achieves self-awareness.  In Davies words, the poem is about “identity as movement, not destination; seeking, not finding” (143).  Both the Wodwo and the Monster are figures moving between the Other and the Human.  And perhaps this movement is what (post)Humanism should be about, what it has always been about.

I’m fascinated by the notion of the Other because I feel it plays a key role in the analysis of popular science-fiction narratives.  It provides a fertile landscape in which to explore the figure of the robot, the cyborg, and its significance in literature.

______________

[1] In his concluding chapter, Davies describes how the pursuit of progress through a science founded on Reason—a defining feature of Humanism—has displaced “the very notion of ‘centre’ that secures the conceptual scaffolding of the human.” (132)

Fulfilling the immortal promise of one Austrian terminator…

Wow.  It’s been awhile.  The dust has to be at least three feet thick in places, and the spiders are monster-sized (don’t even get me started on the cobwebs).

Looks like I’ll be reviving this old dinosaur once more, as an aid in completing this term’s assignments in a timely fashion.  You can expect blog posts on records management issues and posthumanism (surprise!).  I’ve got one of the former already percolating on my back-burner about the failed Edmonton City Centre Airport closure plebescite.  For more info, here’s a great article by Paula Simons summarizing the stakes and the outcome: http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Councillors+avoid+taking+easy/3531591/story.html

But first a few housekeeping matters:

  • Haven’t done much with the mission statement project over the summer, although I did complete a draft proposal at the end of the winter term that I apparently forgot to post here.  Expect that in days to come.
  • After taking a long and critical look at my XML/Mandala analysis of robots in Asimov, I’ve decided to completely overhaul my approach.  Not quite sure how I want to go about it, but I want to figure out a way that I can parse my reading of a text in a RDBMS, with the ability to export into XML or other languages for analysis with tools like Mandala.  Coding everything in XML from the start feels a bit like painting myself into a corner, particularly when I’m already looking at other ways of analyzing my “reading” of these texts besides the Mandala browser.  Basically I’m back at square one.  Expect more on this eventually, though not necessarily any time soon.
  • Personal news: Following a rather embarrassing and unremarkable delivery of my paper on Asimov at SDH/SEMI last June, I decided to join Toastmasters.  It’s been a great experience that’s given me some useful insight into how to prepare and present more effectively, as well as an opportunity to practice and build confidence in my speaking skills.  Just recently I won a club contest and will be advancing to the area competition.
  • More personal news: On top of a full courseload, this year I’m working as a reference assistant at Grant MacEwan U. city centre library, research assistant for a project studying risk communication for pregnant women and seniors (in Alberta) during the H1N1 pandemic last year, and I’ve renewed my contract as technology mentor for the Arts Resource Centre on campus.  If the blog goes updateless for several weeks, just assume I’ve had a nervous breakdown and will be released from my padded cell in good time.

And now to take care of those spiders…

Living on a fish island…

((Note: I started writing this post last Friday and then just forgot about it.))

I had the strangest dream ((last)) Wednesday night.  I dreamt I was in a bubble under the sea.  Atlantis.  The décor was that of a 5-star hotel.  The Hilton Aquatique.  The soundtrack for my dream was Rush’s Limelight.

Ever since that dream I can’t stop listening to Rush. ((Well, I’ve moved back to Iron & Wine, now))

Let’s do a closing of the tabs, à la Neil Gaiman.

#1- So Archie is tying the knot.  As one twitterer put it, “it’s a sad day for lovers of crappy comics everywhere”.  Let’s be honest though.  Archie isn’t complete failure, he has some decent academics, some better athletics, he could probably make it into a nice college.  But the Andrews are your typical middle-class family, and Riverdale’s been hit just as hard as anywhere else in the US by the current economic downturn.  The Lodges, on the other hand, pretty much own Riverdale.  Archie’s just being practical.  His fiancée’s father has the connections and the money.  Not only could he get placed in a fancy school, but he might finally trade in that old jalopy for a reliable, sporty-looking vehicle.  A hybrid.  Or an SUV.  Whatever.  He’s making the smart choice.

#2-Bill #44 Twitfest.  In general, I think Twitter is a great medium within which to introduce items for political debate.  Note the following observations made by various provincial politicians: Continue reading

The Internet: Fundamentally transforming our brains

((As an aside, watching the Oscars and Wall-E just won best animated feature.))

The Guardian | The digital revolution risks changing the way we think

Jackie Ashley

…is the new way of social interaction actually changing the brains, and indeed the minds of a generation, and if so, what might that mean?

… We know from neuroscience that the brain constantly changes, physically, depending on what it perceives and how the body acts. So Greenfield suggests that the world of Facebook is changing millions of people, most of them young.

Greenfield argues that a shorter attention span, a disregard for consequences in a virtual everything-is-reversible world ((I bet sirdavid wishes it really was an everything-is-reversible world… sadly, not always the case)), and most importantly, a lack of empathy may be among the negative changes. She quotes a teacher who told her of a change in the ability of her pupils to understand others. She points out that irony, metaphor and sympathy can all be lost in cyberspace. ((I would disagree with this point; while maybe some of the nuances of the verbal medium are lost, everything that can be communicated textually can be communicated in cyberspace. So are we saying that metaphor and irony are harder to express in text? Oh, well sure, naturally that makes sense. What?))

There is also the question of identity. An intern working for Greenfield told her: “In a world where private thoughts and feelings are posted on the internet for all to see, it’s hard to see where ourselves finish and the outside world begins.” Where is the long-term narrative in a life reduced to a never-ending stream of bite-sized thoughts ((each roughly 140 characters in length))? Even clever writers end up “twittering” a burble of banalities.

… Digital culture has brought us a wider conversational democracy (good), which suffers from short attention span and is too self-referential (less good). There is no answer to this. The new world is here to stay. It is part of who we are becoming and how our minds are adapting. If you opt out of it, you cut yourself off…

On the broader points (the fact that digital communication is transforming the way we think, that the culture of the internet– in the main– promotes a shorter attention span and a penchant for self-reference) I agree with Ashley. The article is rather circular, though, presenting the argument that the most effective communication is physical and face-to-face, talking about how with the current events taking place globally we need more honest “IRL” debate, without coming right out and saying the Internet is seriously compromising the chance of this (I leave to you whether that’s actually the case or not– I don’t think so). While Ashley compliments Susan Greenfield for raising the long-term effects of digital social media, she never really gives those long-term effects any real consideration; seriously, what will happen in a world that can only communicate in 140-character blurbs when we need to solve such important problems as global warming, national security, and energy use?

But then, I’m not totally convinced that the digital revolution has the downside Ashley and Greenfield are suggesting. Short attention span, sure, but what about the thousands of bloggers out there that daily share their opinions– often carefully thought-out and meticulous– in cyberspace? What about video-bloggers on youtube, and podcasters on iTunes? …I think the big issue at stake, the most important part of us that is affected by the use of social media, is the one of identity. It’s too early to tell, I think, whether we’re looking at something greatly beneficial or mostly detrimental, but it’s important to recognize (and I think Ashley agrees with this) that whatever the changes are, we are changing the way we think by using this technology.

Anyway. To end as I began:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UblUO0LjPUg

Agnotology – You mean ignorance isn’t bliss?

W I R E D | Clive Thompson on How More Info Leads to Less Knowledge

Normally, we expect society to progress, amassing deeper scientific understanding and basic facts every year. Knowledge only increases, right?

Robert Proctor doesn’t think so. A historian of science at Stanford, Proctor points out that when it comes to many contentious subjects, our usual relationship to information is reversed: Ignorance increases.

He has developed a word inspired by this trend: agnotology. Derived from the Greek root agnosis, it is “the study of culturally constructed ignorance.”

I had flashbacks of Neil Postman as I read this article. Arguably a different yet related concept is information-glut (or, perhaps more commonly, “information overload”): the notion that after a certain point the more information accumulates, the more chaos, uncertainty, and ignorance (rather than order, clarity, and knowledge) there is (Technopoly). As I recall, Postman posited this as something inevitable rather than driven by an actual desire to sow disinformation. He uses a story from Plato’s Phaedrus about the discovery of writing to illustrate his point. The god Theuth presents writing to the Egyptian King Thamus and describes how, by teaching it to his people, it would be “a sure receipt for memory and wisdom”. Thamus is less than enthused. He says to the god:

The specific which you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality. (371-372)

Continue reading

#tcot presiding over Twitter, #tpot eating digital dust

Top Conservatives on Twitter

To Build The Conservative Community on Twitter

  1. Find the following strategy that works best for you. For some people that means following everyone on #TCOT. For others, a more selective strategy of just following people who you find most interesting may work better.
  2. Make a point of tweeting conservatives on the list who you don’t know, but you think might be interesting.
  3. Use the “#TCOT” tag before tweets you think might be of interest to the entire community.
  4. Tell your conservative friends who are not on Twitter to join now.

I find it both frightening and awesome that #tcot (a microblogging tag for “Top Conservatives on Twitter”) beats out any other hashtag used on Twitter by above 10,000 uses. 10,000! It tops out at 30,177 tags, with #mumbai a distant second at 19,492, and #gaza (which I’d have assumed would be on top) in fourth at 13,664.(see: http://hashtags.org/tags/most-updated )

Are liberals just not using Twitter? Have they not figured out how to use hashtags? …It appears #tlot (Top Liberals on Twitter) and #tpot (Top Progressives on Twitter) have been suggested, but so far the bandwagon remains a lonely place. (I’m partial to TPOT myself, but then I’m also partial to ridiculous puns; I’d be somewhat concerned, though, about an abundance of pot/kettle/black jokes at the expense of any forward-thinking progressives.)

Still. Something must be done. The right is trailblazing the microblogging scene while the left is caught resting on its laurels. This cannot stand!