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    nmw 14:23:18 on 2016/12/18 Permalink
    Tags: community, , , , , , , , , , , , mission, mission statement, , , , ,   

    The Rationality of Literacy 

    Over the past couple months, I have worked on developing a mission statement for one of my overarching goals – something like a „life goal“. Initial attempts were quite abstract, and I was greatly helped by the very considerate feedback of friends.

    In the intervening weeks since those first trials, I have kept the general aim present but I have focused on it much less. Over the past several days, I have received several ideas from other sources – more or less haphazardly, which have motivated me to reconsider this particular life goal again from a new perspective.

    For people who have been following my writing for several years, it should be no surprize that literacy is really at the crux of my thinking about many topics, and also with respect to this particular life goal for which I want to craft a mission statement. One thing that has been „bugging“ me for the past year or two is how my focus on literacy is considered by many – indeed, including myself – to be a non-human matter. In this view, reading, writing and arithmetic are technologies and therefore lack the warmth of flesh-and-blood human beings. Code and language are inert, not living things, and they cannot ultimately provide meaning in the same way as interaction with other humans can – as humans (so this argument) we are, after all, social animals.

    This view, however, interprets technology from a very parochial point of view. According to this perspective, technology is merely an artefact, a curiosity, a product… albeit of human ingenuity. We pound nails not because there is anything interesting about doing so, but merely because doing so makes our lives easier from the results of applying such technologies. There is nothing interesting about iron or steel per se, but rather such materials are only interesting insofar as they can be manipulated into helping to make nails, just as nails are only interesting insofar as they can be used to build more things. As an aside: It might make sense to think about how the technologies we use also create threating things – such as global warming, nuclear waste, AIDS and/or many other problems.

    Yet let me not drift away from the current issue – crafting my mission statement. I view language and literacy somewhat differently than most… and over the years, my thinking about these things has also undergone continued development and refinement. While I have long known (or believed) that language cannot be owned (e.g. by a monarch) or dictated (e.g. to the masses), I am now at a point where I feel it may be useful to extrapolate beyond this rather mundane and obvious fact to recognize a „rationality of literacy“, in which people make a rational decision to engage with each other via linguistic technologies. In this vein, literacy is also not simply owned or attained, but rather it is practiced (or – in the case of illiteracynot practiced).

    This is important because it redirects our attention away from the ownership of resources to the actual use of such resources. To give a concrete example: In order to engage with „cars“, it is not necessary to own cars. Engagement with cars can also happen when someone references cars. Statements like „cars are good“ or „cars are bad“ are social expressions insofar as there is agreement within a society regarding what these words (and expressions) mean.

    Likewise, our level of engagement with a topic can be as small or as large as our involvement with various other social institutions related to that topic. We might simply talk about cars with very little engagement, or we might become much more involved with cars by joining organizations that deal with them and associated technologies. Our involvement with „cars“ may lead us to become involved with „pedestrians“, „streets“, „roads“, „highways“, „infrastructure“, „pollution“, „global warming“ and many other topics, too.

    We do not need to become dictators in any of these arenas. It is completely sufficient to simply engage – to participate in the social construction of the reality related to each of these terms. It ought to be quite plain to see that the reality we thereby create in one arena might not be the exact same reality created in another arena. There might be nuanced differences, but there might also be meaningful relationships between and among the various arenas.

    Increased engagement in more and more arenas goes hand in hand with increased literacy. These two phenomena are crucially related: You cannot have one without the other (that is, at least, a hypothesis I am venturing here).

    This thinking is what leads me to venture that the mission statement I need probably goes something like: My mission is to promote literacy – in order to increase community engagement and social cohesion, and also in order to motivate humans more towards alignment and harmony with natural evolution.

     
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    nmw 20:43:33 on 2016/11/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , actualization, , , , community, , , , , , , interaction, , , , , marketplaces, , , self-actualization, , , , , social network, social networks, ,   

    For some, we get lost in media 

    I opened up a copy of the New York Times today, and in an empty space within an article, there was a blurb that reads

    Social networks put individuals at the center of their own media universes

    — I am not even sure I understand what that is supposed to mean. Let alone the notion of a plurality of universes, the idea that media are not between people but rather like belly buttons for individuals to discover themselves within … I just find it mind-boggling. Then again, according to the surrounding words in the article next to this message, social media are depicted as breeding grounds for “fake news”, as cesspools for propagating mythical stories, for manipulating large populations of suckers into following this or that social media expert, leader, salesman or whatever.

    “Social” is seen as the big mistake, the errant sidetrack from the collapsing foundations of journalism. Four words seem hidden somewhere in between the lines: I told you so. Naive and forlorn like Dorothy in a dizzying whirlwind, individuals end up as victims of lever-pulling hackers, clowns and con-artists. Social media transport hoaxes and fairy tales, yet they are also instruments targeted at novice users, training wheels to guide their first steps in the cyber-landscape. The virtual world is both for the light-hearted at the same time that it’s a wide field of thin ice. Throughout this portrayal, the real world is not embodied in media. Instead, real-world people with real-world addresses exist behind real-world mastheads printed on real-world paper. They carry real-world business cards, not fake virtual URLs.

    Real-world buildings, with real-world street addresses, real-world telephones and such media are the physical conduits for real-world relationships. In contrast (so the argument), virtual facades evaporate into thin air as soon as a video screen is turned off.

    This contrast might be all good and fine, except that it is a lie. None of these things are any more real than the other. Main Street is nothing without the street sign signifying it as such. The reason why we can agree to meet at Main Street is that we both understand it to be Main Street, and this agreement is based on us both understanding how to read street signs. Indeed: we agree on many things, of which such street signs are fine examples. We can also agree on the time of day, to speak the same language, or to answer each other’s questions succinctly and truthfully. Such agreements are crucial for us to help each other reach our goals, whether we hold the same goals in common, or whether each of us is trying to reach our own particular individual goals.

    By reaching our goals, we become not only successful, we also become who we are.  We actually self-actualize our identities. For example: a writer does not simply exist, he or she becomes a writer by writing. A worker becomes a worker by working. A buyer becomes a buyer by buying, a seller becomes a seller by selling, a consumer becomes a consumer by consuming and a producer becomes a producer by producing. As these last examples show, sometimes we can only self-actualize when other conditions are met, and sometimes these conditions also require the engagement of other people. In this sense, reaching our own goals involves a team effort — as, for example, a sale involves the teamwork of both a buyer and a seller.

    Therefore, the real world is not so much a matter of separated individuals as it is the interaction and engagement of individuals with each other in a symbiotic process of self-actualization. We become who we are by interacting with one another. Our goals aren’t distinct and separate, they’re intertwined. We need to think of media as bustling marketplaces for such exchanges to take place, rather than as sterile and inert transport mechanisms. These are not empty tubes simply bridging gaps, they are stages for playing out our roles in real life.

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 16:20:02 on 2016/07/03 Permalink
    Tags: analysis, analytic, analytical, analytics, authenic, authenicated, authenicity, , , , community, counterfeit, , , , engaging, , , , , , imposter, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , qualitative, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,   

    Sign My Guestbook + The Rationality of the Written Word 

    I enjoy following Chloe Thurlow’s writings and musings very much. Whenever I start reading, then I am quite sure that my time will be well spent. I am sad that her chloethurlow.com website is sometimes blocked when I am at work or at some other public computer, because writing on my phone is a truly laborious task which I would rather not engage in at all.

    Recently Chloe asked whether I might be willing to write something – meaning: for the chloethurlow.com audience. Obviously, yes! But it turns out willing and able are two very different things. What I immediately came up with was nothing less than „Painfully empty“ – at least that’s how I like to describe it.

    I have had other people ask me whether I might consider writing for „their“ websites. I usually decline, though, for several reasons. One reason is usually meant ironically – I use this when the person asking is a fan of Google: „they can just search“ (LOL)… and then of course the fans are forced to admit that would be logical, and perhaps they also realize how bogus the whole notion of Google is (though in some cases, I think that part whooshes right by above their heads).

    Another reason is that I would feel like an impostor. If people visit chloethurlow.com, wouldn’t they be disappointed to hear me preaching from that pulpit? As soon as I opened my mouth I would half expect my face to be pelted with tomatoes and rotten eggs. Cake wouldn’t be bad, as long as it tasted good.

    This brings me to the way I see and use „the web“. This is rather complicated, so if you don’t care then now would be a good time to stop reading. 😉

    In the early days of the web, there was this notion of „please come over to my place – and when you visit, then please sign my guestbook, post a comment“ … which was all more or less the precursor of: „please like my crap“. About a decade ago, Google made a quite significant change to the way they viewed content on the web. They introduced the concept of meaningless, insignificant blather. Of course they would probably say something like „we gave you a tool to deal with comment spam“. At the time, I was shocked that people would be willing to point out that the information on their own websites was insipid, useless, insignificant and probably a waste of your time (and certainly not worth the time for Google’s robots to scan it at the rate of fractions of a penny per pentillion). I knew then and there that this would be the end of comments. At the time, I was flabbergasted.

    Today, I look back and think: What a good thing! I don’t want to host your content. If you have something meaningful to share, then host it yourself. If you don’t have a dime, see if you can post it on some website that is willing to accept your thoughts for nothing (but don’t be so naive to think they won’t sell your private, personal parts to make money on it).

    When I want to share ideas, I see no reason to submit them to „other“ websites.

    What is an „other“ website?

    An other website is a site that I have very little or no control over. People need to get over thinking in black and white terms. You do not own your own website. People don’t own land. They use it. You don’t own me. If I feel like typing in chloethurlow.com rather than facebook.com that is entirely my decision. It is nothing other than my own rational behavior which motivates me to type in „weather“ when I want to learn about the weather. If I wanted romance, I would type in romance. I rarely type in Google.

    When I write, I expect people to be similarly rational. When Ella and Louis sang „Let’s call the calling off off“, they were declaring how relationships and meaning intertwine on a level that has little or nothing to do with individual pronunciation but everything to do with shared engagement with shared ideas. While I might seek to engage with romance, I might avoid engaging with brand names… and a big part of such a decision has to do with participating with people who perhaps think like I do, or perhaps think different – but in any case who care enough to become engaged.

    One important takeaway from this view of the web is an orientation towards language over a brand name orientation. Another – which is actually sort of a corollary – is that saying something like „you can contact me at so-and-so“ becomes meaningless. You can contact me at many locations, because I am engaged with many topics. I am not just here or there, I am almost everywhere.

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 19:04:09 on 2016/05/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , artificial languages, , , , , community, , emerge, , human intelligence, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , traing set, traing sets, , , , ,   

    Literacy and Machine Readability: Some First Attempts at a Derivation of the Primary Implications for Rational Media 

    Online, websites are accessed exclusively via machine-readable text. Specifically, the character set prescribed by ICANN, IANA, and similar regulatory organizations consists of the 26 characters of the latin alphabet, the „hyphen“ character and the 10 arabic numbers (i.e. The symbols / zyphers 0-9). Several years ago, there was a move to accommodate other language character sets (this movement is generally referred to as „Internationalized Domain Names“ [IDN]), but in reality this accommodation is nothing more than an algorithm which translates writing using such „international“ symbols into strings from the regular latin character set, and to used reserved spaces from the enormous set of strings managed by ICANN for such „international“ strings. In reality, there is no way to register a string directly using such „international“ characters. Another rarely mentioned tidbit is that this obviously means that the set of IDN strings that can be registered is vastly smaller than strings exclusively using the standardized character set approved for direct registration.

    All of that is probably much more than you wanted to know. The „long story short“ is that all domain names are machine readable (note, however, that – as far as I know – no search engine available today on the world-wide-web uses algorithms to translate IDN domain name strings into their intended „international“ character strings). All of the web works exclusively via this approved character set (even the so-called „dotted decimals“ – the numbers which refer to individual computers [the „servers“] – are named exclusively using arabic numerals, though in reality are based on groups of bits: each number represents a „byte“-sized group of 8 bits… in other words: it could be translated into a character set of 256 characters. In the past several years, there has also been a movement to extend the number of strings available to accommodate more computers from 4 bytes (commonly referred to as Ipv4 or „IP version 4“) to 6 bytes (commonly referred to as Ipv6 or „IP version 6“), thereby accommodating 256 x 256 = 65536 as many computers as before. Note, however, that each computer can accommodate many websites / domains, and the number of domain names available excedes the number of computers available by many orders of magnitude (coincidentally, the number of domain names available in each top level domain [TLD] is approximately 1 x 10^100 – in the decimal system, that’s a one with one hundred zeros, also known as 1 Googol).

    Again: Very much more than you wanted to know. 😉

    The English language has a much smaller number of words – a very large and extensive dictionary might have something like 100,000 entries. With variants such as plural forms or conjugated verb forms, that will still probably amount to far less than a million possible strings – in other words: about 94 orders of magnitude less than the number of strings available as domain names. What is more, most people you might meet on the street probably use only a couple thousand words in their daily use of „common“ language. Beyond that, the will use even fewer than that when they use the web to search for information (for example: instead of searching for „sofa“ directly, they may very well first search for something more general like „furniture“).

    What does „machine readable“ mean? It means a machine can take in data and process it algorithmicly to produce a result – you might call the result „information“. For example: There is a hope that machines will someday be able to process strings – or even groups of strings, such as this sentence – and be able to thereby derive („grok“ or „understand“) the meaning. This hope is a dream that has already existed for decades, but the successes so far have been extremely limited. As I wrote over a decade ago (in my first „Wisdom of the Language“ essay), it seems rather clear that languages change faster than machines will ever be able to understand them. Indeed, this is almost tautologically true, because machines (and so-called „artificial intelligence“) require training sets in order to learn (and such training sets from so-called „natural language“ must be expressions from the past – and not even just from the past, but also approved by speakers of the language, i.e. „literate“ people). So-called „pattern recognition“ – a crucial concept in the AI field – is always recognizing patterns which have been previously defined by humans. You cannot train a machine to do anything without a human trainer, who designs a plan (i.e., an algorithmic set of instructions) which flow from to human intelligence.

    There was a very trendy movement which was quite popular several years ago that led to the view that data might self-organize, that trends might „emerge from the data“ without needing the nuissance of consulting costly humans, and this movement eventually led to what is now commonly hyped as „big data“. All of this hype about „emergence“ is hogwash. If you don’t know what I mean when I say „hogwash“, then please look it up in a dictionary. 😉

     
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