Cave Men with iPhones: How we’re dealing with the ‘data deluge’

Ah the web! Twenty years ago could someone have envisaged grandparents in Ireland talking to their grandchildren in Australia as if they were sitting in the same room? Or the weekly shopping arriving at your front door all because of a few clicks of a mouse? The opportunities the Internet has opened up to society are breath-taking, and the possibilities this medium offers are dizzying. Yet, as we get caught up in the whirlwind of this technological phenomenon, with its ferocity increasing every day is there anyone taking a step back? Is there anyone holding an umbrella up to the monsoon of technological bombardment and wondering how all of this is effecting the individual? The video below shows Nicholas Carr, a man tackling this exact problem, explaining how he feels the internet is affecting us:

My personal research project involves looking into exactly what Carr has spoken about here. I am an English major, also studying Psychology as a minor subject and I am intrigued by how the Internet could, and most likely is, altering our cognitive capabilities. In particular I would like to look at the way we read, and how the Internet may be moulding us into a different form of reader than what we were as little as 10 years ago.

A big ask for an article confined to a thousand words you might say, but I am not alone. People like Nicholas Carr have devoted their attention to this field of study long before I ever learned how to use a computer (something I admit to still not being able to do fully!). So, in attempting to underline the intentions of my personal research project I’m going to call it the following: A look at how we, as readers, are changing to adapt to ever increasing volumes of information available to us.

The stereotypical cave man, the hairy fella lacking table manners, craved information. More so, he depended on his ability to intake and decipher this information with his life. He learned to decipher between information that may mean a threat is nearby, and that of little relevance. The differences between the bush rustlings of a saber- toothed tiger and something like, I don’t know, a squirrel for example!

Fast forward 10,000 years, fast forward to the modern man. He walks briskly through the bustling street rushing to a meeting, his laptop with him, Rolex on his wrist, he sips his coffee while he discusses the topic of the meeting with one of his work colleagues who walks with him, all the while trying to get through to the secretary on his Blackberry to inform her that they will be a few minutes late. City parking! Saber- toothed tigers? Aren’t they a hockey team? Whatever!  He’s into number crunching, fast data and results. Much more advanced than the primitive cave man right? An increased interest in personal hygiene maybe, more advanced cognitively? I’m not so sure. The fact remains, both the cave man and the modern man, are driven by the unquenchable thirst for new information.

We, like our primitive ancestors, crave new information so much that our brain rewards us when we obtain it. Dopamine is released in the brain to induce pleasure when the brain undergoes something it enjoys. Judging by the fact that dopamine levels increase when obtaining new information, it must be argued that the brain sees this act as wholly beneficial. Interestingly the brain releases the same compounds during sex as it does when obtaining new information. This dopamine release acts as a positive reinforcer, a form of encouragement to repeat that same act again.

So knowing what we do about the composition of our brain, and its satisfaction in obtaining new information, where do we stand in a world delivering more new information than ever before. The aforementioned Nicholas Carr, in his book The Shallows, suggests that because of this ‘data deluge’ we are losing our ability to ‘read deeply’. Carr’s argument is that as our reading of on-screen articles, injected with links, pictures, videos etc. increases, the way we read is changing. In a sense, and at the risk of sounding contradictory, we are turning into literate cave men. Our prehistoric ancestors scanned their environment, quickly taking in vast quantities of data, pausing only at something which may resemble a threat. The same can be said for us with the on-screen page, we scan, click, scan, click etc. pausing briefly on something of vague interest. What Carr argues is that this form of reading is rewarded by the brain much more than trawling through a book and extracting new information every few minutes. What Carr believes is happening because of this is that our synapses, the connections the brain makes, are changing. Our brain is chemically and physically changing to suit a form of reading that allows for new information to be processed quicker. The results of this? Cognitive overload

Psychologists increasingly argue that everything in your consciousness, that is everything you are thinking of at any given moment, is in your short term memory ready to be adapted and manipulated to be stored in long term memory. The number of items we are able to work with in short term memory at any one time is said to be seven, plus or minus two, and arguments are being formed to revise this number to less again. When we exceed this limit we are said to reach our cognitive load. Our brain is no longer able to deal with any more information and, prioritising the new, lets something older out. Now think of all the information available to us as we read an article online. It seems possible that from one page on the internet we receive enough information to exceed our cognitive load, yet we increasingly work with more and more web pages open at once. Can we honestly withhold all this information in the same way we would have if we obtained it more slowly and in isolation when reading from a book? It’s debatable, and this idea does have opposition, but I’m beginning to side with Carr.

I’m the owner of an extremely modest Nokia 2730, were it a human being it would be much closer to the cave man described above than anything modern. Yet, it still can gain access to the internet and receive emails. Not bad for €39.99! But it is nothing compared to the handheld devices available at the very cutting edge of technological advancement. They’re more like pocket sized computers that just happen to have the capability to call someone! One must ask that with technology such as this available and no one considering the consequences this same technology will have on our cognitive capabilities, did the old way of reading ever stand a chance?

Disclaimer: The writer of this article is aware that it contains videos, pictures and links, something the article argues is weakening our mental capabilities. The writer, however, will not take any responsibility for any mentally debilitating effects this article may have on his reader!

Works Cited:

Websites

www.wikipedia.org

www.youtube.com

www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/cognitive-load.html

All images taken from: Google Images

Books

Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. W.W Norton & Company. 2011

Blogs

http://www.irishtimes.com/blogs/mechanicalturk/

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The Impact of Web 2.0 on Education

For my personal research topic I have chosen to study the impact that Web 2.0 technology has on education today. From the beginning of our studies in this seminar back in October where we looked at Alan Liu and  Kenneth M. Price’s articles, this aspect of the seminar interested me. My aims for the project are to look at how the web has evolved, how it is being used in the classroom and how it is being treated by governments and state authorities.

Even before the introduction of the computer to the classroom it is true to say that education was constantly changing. What we are experiencing now is probably the biggest change that will ever take place in education, which is the incorporation of Web 2.0 technology into the classroom. The concept of Web 1.0 meant that a closed group of people created the contents of the web. Web 2.0 involves contents being created collaboratively by an open community of users. Blogs, social networks and even YouTube are examples of the Web 2.0 concept. To make it simple, you could think of Web 1.0 as a library. You can use it as a way of accessing information, but you can’t contribute to or change the information in any way. Web 2.0 is more like a big group or community having a discussion on a topic. You can still use it to receive information, but you also contribute to the conversation and make it a richer experience. Our class blog is a perfect example of how Web 2.0 is designed for people to become participants rather than mere viewers. The collaboration that everyone showed is what makes Web 2.0 work. Without it, Web 2.0 is nothing.

Image found at: http://msjosay.hubpages.com/hub/The-Difference-between-Web-20-and-Web-10

As previously stated, without collaboration from the learners (students), Web 2.0 tools provide very little in the way of educational value. For that reason, the role of the teacher is arguably more important now than it ever was. Education is crying out for teachers with the motivation and competency to develop these new ways of learning, to encourage the use of new technologies. Although the role of the teacher is changing, it will never be replaced by technology, but if the right training is provided for teachers, they can use Web 2.0 technology to advance the learning capacity of their students. There is no reason, other than funding, why schools should not adopt to these technologies to enable educational advancement in children. Knowledge is by no means less useful because it was acquired through a computer rather than face to face.

Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, wikis and interactive learning games are quite easy to install and manage if the teachers had the basic training to implement them. We have seen first hand through the class blog how useful they can be to a learning environment. The advantages are that students can learn from each other and find people with similar interests and it can also be managed quite easily by a teacher/supervisor. Also, following a bookmark site gives insights into the administrator’s research, which could play well in a classroom setting as a teacher tracks students’ progress. Students, in turn, can learn from their teacher’s webpage.

Image found at: http://www.saferinternet.org

Although there are many advantages to the use of Web 2.0 technology in the classroom, there is a certain reluctance amongst teachers (particularly Irish teachers) to adopt these technologies. This is shown in a survey done by the blogging site anseo.net. The reasons for this is most likely a lack of knowledge of these technologies. This year, The European Resource Centre (ERC) has set out guidelines for setting up teacher training courses in Web 2.0. Although these are only guidelines and are by no means compulsory for any member states, I feel that they are on the right track towards ensuring that all teachers are well trained in Web 2.0 technology. The eventual aim of these guidelines is that all teachers within the EU realise the education potential of Web 2.0 and are able and competent to use it as a teaching tool. David A. Thomas from the University of Nevada reflected on these exact thoughts in a speech titled “From Web 2.0 to Teacher 2.0” at an international conference on web technology. He says that courses on technology should be compulsory for all teachers but should be grouped depending on the teacher (primary, secondary, third level). His article is an example of how the United States is treating Web 2.0 in education.

This video was created by The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP). This is a government funded group whose goal is to ensure that the youth of Great Britain are protected online. There are different levels to this agency: the first is run by the police to investigate cases of child exploitation on the web. The other level is harm reduction, which they called the ThinkUKnow campaign. This campaign was established to ensure that children learn to use the web in a safe and fun way. Not only have the British Government released this advertisement on national television, they also commissioned the CEOP to travel to schools all over Britain, teaching children about web safety by using games and other fun activities to help their message sink in. As this is a government agency in Britain, I decided to check what the Irish Government and state agencies were doing to promote web safety by our youth. After extensive searching I came to the realisation that there is nothing being done to ensure that our children are using the web safely.

How much more rapidly will education change under the influence of the openness, ease of access, and social nature of Web 2.0? It is hard to answer, but with the way education has changed in the past decade, who knows. Much responsibility is on the Irish Government to adopt these new education methods in the way that their British, European and American counterparts are doing so, although I cannot see much being done within the next few years. The fact that Ireland is heavily influenced by the EU is a positive in this case however, as the guidelines set out By the ERC may be enforced on the Irish education system. I believe that it is essential that the implementation of Web 2.0 in education should be backed by a strong and realistic programme of training for all teachers, regardless of experience, and should continually develop to meet the changing needs of learners and teachers.

Bibliography

Websites

http://ceop.police.uk/

http://www.web20erc.eu/

http://www.anseo.net/2009/01/20/irish-teachers-attitude-to-web-20/

Books

Lauden, Kenneth C. and Traver, Carol Guercio. E-Commerce 2011: Business, Technology, Society. Pearson, 2011.

Online Articles

Liu, Alan. “Imagining the New Media Encounter.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Blackwell, 2012. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.

Price, Kenneth M. “Electronic Scholarly Editions.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies. Blackwell, 2012. Web. 9 Mar. 2012.

Thomas, David A. From Web 2.0 to Teacher 2.0. Proceedings of the Twentieth Annual International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics. Texas: Pearson Education, 2009. Web. 7 Mar. 2012.

Videos

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxOSk0VYy28&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unIo2QVfO0w&feature=related

Internet Anonymity

Anonymity has long been a part of our culture, from the many historical songs and books that have the author “Anon”, to the more contemporary notion of Ghost Writers, anonymous donors to charity and witness protection programmes that we occasionally come across in the movies. The internet phenomenon of anonymity however has developed into something much more prevalent and is a very real topic of debate among web users today.

We all of us have different internet User Names or Avatars with which we communicate ourselves to other people on the internet. The act of signing up to a new blog, forum or social media site requires that we provide a name and picture of ourselves so that we can contact others with mutual interests and discuss topics relevant to the site itself. The issue over the last few years has been the prevalence of some to create fictitious monikers for themselves and then to act out against society through this moniker. One needs only to glance at the average comments on a You-Tube video to get a glimpse of the content to which I am referring.

Trolling is a phenomenon that came into existence because of the lack of formal, civilised structures on parts of the internet. The basic premise is that one poster can essentially say what they like about another poster as everyone is entitled to their opinion, or in the mind of a Troll, “everyone is entitled to my opinion”. The purpose of “trolling” is normally to derive humour for a situation, and though it may not be funny to the poster, there is certainly an audience for the jokes as web-sites like this and this, show.

There are, as one would expect conflicting views on Internet Anonymity. There are those who argue that it is anyone’s right to create a moniker for their own usage on the internet and a basic right to have freedom of expression when using the internet. The opposition holds that there is no problem with someone freely expressing their opinion, so long as they keep the sense of decorum they might find in civilised society.

As part of my research there are two names that have constantly cropped up as part of the debate. On the one hand Christopher Poole or “m00t” as he is more widely known is a firm advocate for internet anonymity. Jaron Lanier is of the opinion that this phenomenon will lead to a degradation of our society if allowed to continue unchecked.

Christopher Poole is the founder and creator of “4chan”, an internet picture board website. 4chan is responsible for many of the internet phenomenon that we take for granted today, such as the rules of the internet and memes.

Poole, or m00t as he prefers to be called, gained notoriety when he won Time Magazines The World’s Most Influential People in 2009. This shocked many people at the time as he had been relatively unheard of before this and went on to beat people like Barrack Obama and Oprah. The reason for his success was the fact that it was an online poll, which the Internet fixed. Not only to the extent that he won, but also so that the first letter of each of the winners names, when printed in Time would read: m.A.R.B.L.E.C.A.K.E.A.L.S.O.T.H.E.G.A.M.E.

moot is notoriously private yet he has consented to a few interviews, the most important of which I think is this:

Jaron Lanier is one of the creative minds behind Virtual Reality and has been an intellectual thinker on all matters technological and internet related since  the mid 1980’s.

He is probably best known for his book : You Are Not a Gadget, which he refers to as a Manifesto. Lanier is of the opinion that all information should be free to access by all and that through this process we can begin to learn more as a species. He has spoken out against advertising and social media. He also has an issue with the application more than the concept of anonymity. He feels that though it is important that everyone is able to express ideas and opinion; it should not be to the detriment of other people’s opinion.

The arguments in both cases seem to share the belief that all information should be free and that everyone should be entitled to this information. Whereas Lanier believes that any block to this freedom of information should be reasoned out, Poole’s web site has unfortunate links with what can only be described as a militant wing of the internet, “Anonymous“.

Over the last year, more and more people have become aware of the actions of this group, mainly due to the actions of the group towards those they considered an enemy of the Internet as a result of new legislation in the form of: S.O.P.A., P.I.P.A  and A.C.T.A.

Anonymous are of the opinion that our basic freedom is under threat by corporations who are attempting to force through legislature that would prevent people from the free accessing of information and artistic content on-line. In response to this they have staged large protests and have hacked several countries in retaliation to what they see as crimes against the public. In these protest they have been very busy.

There is no real way of knowing how this problem of internet anonymity will work out in the future. It is clear that there is a degradation of our societal norms as a result of people’s willingness to comment on other people in a sometimes cruel way due to the remove of having a computer in front of them and not a real person. As technology continues to become more and more involved in the way in which we all communicate, this does not bode well for the future. It is in our hands to decide what is to come and the awareness of the issue can but strengthen our resolve.

Social Media and the ‘Wisdom of Crowds’

The topic of my personal research project is Social Media; the affect that it has on us as indiviuals, and also the affect that it has on contemporary society as a whole. The topic of my class presentation and the related posts in my personal blog have primarily focused on the affect that social media has on us as individuals, such as our formation and maintenance of digital seconds selves in parallel with our everyday, analogue lives. The introduction post on this topic can be found here. The message that I attempt to deliver in my personal blog and presentation is that, as individuals, we can tend to invest too much time into our digital selves, resulting in large portions of our lives being lived in these spaces, and as a result, a deterioration of quality time invested in our actual selves.  This video parodies that idea with a musical quality that I lacked in my presentation:

I will now use our collective class blog to expand upon the idea of social media in a broader context, specifically the role that it plays in contemporary society as a whole and the power of social media in harnessing the unlimited potential of the co-creation and sharing of ideas among individuals for the benefit of society. This idea is known as ‘Digital Humanitarianism’ which I briefly touched upon in this post.

In this Ted Talks video, Clay Shirky briefly outlines advances in media that have aided human interaction. The first of these, and the topic of Sinead‘s class presentation, was the printing press. Then followed conversational media such as the telegraph and then the telephone. These were followed by radio and then television. Technology such as the telephone provided us with ‘one-to-one’ interaction, while advances such as the radio resulted in a ‘one-to-many’ form of interaction.

Today, as a result of social media, we have this:

Above, is Bill Cheswick’s Internet Mapping Project in which he traces the edges of individual networks and then colour-codes them. This image beautifully illustrates the social scale of networks which the internet and social media allow to interact. While previously media only allowed limited ‘one-to-one’ or ‘one-to-many’ interaction, according to Clay Shirky: “the internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time.” Essentially, allowing ‘many-to-many’ interaction on a large scale, international medium for the first time. Social media has become the mode of transport for all the previously discussed modes of communication such as video and phone technology. Social media sites catering for specific interests now allow users to watch, read, or experience the same content, while simultaneously discussing it, regardless of space or time.

While the personal benefits of such interaction are obvious, there are also global benefits of social media and the instant interaction and sharing which it provides a platform for. Particularly in the coverage of, and reaction to, global disaters.

Here are two videos; the first is a news broadcast from 03/11/2011 reporting on the tsunami which was devestating Japan:

The second video is a piece of citizen footage, filmed by a handheld video recording device on location, and uploaded to the internet:

Which video was more powerful? Which video gave you a more vivid and honest depiction of the experience of the disaster?

For me, without a doubt, it was the second video. And this is why; According to James Surowiecki, citizen journalism and social media will play a major role in the future of world news coverage, and digital humanitarianism. Surowiecki states, in this Ted Talks video, that the tsunami disaster was the seminal moment when social media, and particularly the Blogsphere, came of age. During and following the disaster, bloggers came together to give us a far more powerful experience of the tsunami that mainstream news simply could not achieve. People adding so much content such as their personal accounts and videos of the disaster at ground level, and dedicating time to link and tag these posts accordingly was done for free, with no other intent but to share their stories. While very few individuals make a living off blogging, most of these people do it simply for the social capital.

This, according to Surowiecki, is the great genious of the internet. People have found a way to collaborate and create and share, without any money at all. This has resulted in expanding our established ideologies such as ‘value=money’ or that we must pay for something for it to be of any quality. We all have something to contribute, and if we collaborate and share it without capitalistic goals, we can create beautiful, and powerful things. And this is why I, personally, am fascinated with the potential that social media holds for the future of our society. The Wisdom of Crowds, also written by Surowiecki, touches on this collective potential of groups of people working together, and the fact that group intelligence is far greater than that of the individual. Often the collective intelligence of a group can be far greater than that of even the smartest person within that group. This is why social media’s focus on creating networks of individuals, and providing a space for ideas to travel freely, is integral to the future quality of what we experience on the world wide web.

While social media is a utopic space to nurture this collective intelligence by allowing free collaborative networking, the rapidity of social media also results in great advances on the humanitarian front, particularly in terms of awareness. A case in point is the earthquake in China in May of 2008 which was announced on Twitter several minutes before the US Geological Survey. This resulted in a shift of the established paradigm of a government which informs its citizens, to a citizen body that informs its government but also the world. This act was one of many which contributed to the return of agency to the citizens of cities and nations world wide. Within half a dayof the earthquake, as a result of social media sites sharing news of the disaster, donations webpages were set up with donations pouring in:

Image taken from Clay Shirky Ted Talks video.

Evidently, social media has far more potential than simply being a means of maintaining idyllic, digital second selves through sites such as Facebook:

Other mediums, particularly the blogsphere, are encouraging collaborative interaction of creative individuals, which in turn, results in the production of powerful, passionate representations of the world around us, that traditional capitalist institutes cannot match. If we can avoid the addictive tendencies of those from the preivious ‘Gotta Share’ video, we can make a difference in the quality of content that is produced in today’s digital age. As well as this, social media is playing an increasing role in the humanitarian field, offering powerful ground level coverage, as well as rapid response and support, to global disasters such as the Japanese tsunami. In the words of Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter: “When you give people easier ways to share information, more good things happen.”

Works Cited:

 Ted Talks Videos

Lewis, Paul. “Citizen journalism.”

Shirky, Clay. “How social media can make history.”

Surowiecki, James. “When social media became news.”

Williams, Evan. “Listening to Twitter users.”

Websites

www.cheswick.com

www.newyorker.com

www.shirky.com

www.youtube.com

Newspaper Articles

‘Sichuan Earthquake’ New York Times. Accessed May 15 2012.

Books

Surowiecki, James. The Wisdom of Crowds. Anchor Books. 2004.