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    nmw 15:27:59 on 2016/07/12 Permalink
    Tags: academia, academic, , , , , , , , bandwagon, bandwagon effect, , , , , , , , , , compute, , corrupt, corrupted, corruption, , , , , , , group think, groupthink, , , , , institution, , , , , , , , majority, , , , , populism, populist, , , rason, , , , , , , , , , systemic, , , trusted, , , universities, , valid, validity, vote, votes, voting, ,   

    The Spectre of Populism 

    There is a spectre haunting the Web: That spectre is populism.

    Let me backtrack a moment. This piece is a part of an ongoing series of posts about „rational media“ – a concept that is still not completely hard and fast. I have a hunch that the notion of „trust“ is going to play a central role… and trust itself is also an extremely complex issue. In many developed societies, trust is at least in part based on socially sanctioned institutions (cf. e.g. „The Social Construction of Reality“) – for example: public education, institutions for higher education, academia, etc. Such institutions permeate all of society – be it a traffic sign at the side of a road, or a crucifix as a central focal element on the alter in a church, or even the shoes people buy and walk around with on a daily basis.

    The Web has significantly affected the role many such institutions play in our daily lives. For example: one single web site (i.e. the information resources available at a web location) may be more trusted today than an encyclopedia produced by thousands of writers ever were – whether centuries ago, decades ago, or even still just a few years past.

    Similarly, another web site may very well be trusted by a majority of the population to answer any and all questions whatsoever – whether of encyclopedic nature or not. Perhaps such a web site might use algorithms – basically formulas – to arrive at a score for the „information value“ of a particular web page (the HTML encoded at one sub-location of a particular web site). A large part of this formula might involve a kind of „voting“ performed anonymously – each vote might be no more than a scratch mark presumed to indicate a sign of approval (an „approval rating“) given from disparate, unknown sources. Perhaps a company might develop more advanced methods in order to help guage whether the vote is reliable or whether it is suspect (for example: one such method is commonly referred to as a „nofollow tag“ – a marker indicating that the vote should not be trusted).

    What many such algorithms have in common is that on a very basic level, they usually rely quite heavily on some sort of voting mechanism. This means they are fundamentally oriented towards populism – the most popular opinion is usually viewed as the most valid point of view. This approach is very much at odds with logic, the scientific method and other methods that have traditionally (for several centuries, at least) be used in academic institutions and similar „research“ settings. At their core, such populist algorithms are not „computational“ – since they rely not on any kind of technological solution to questions, but rather scan and tally up the views of a large number of human (and/or perhaps robotic) „users“. While such populist approaches are heralded as technologically advanced, they are actually – on a fundamental level – very simplistic. While I might employ such methods to decide which color of sugar-coated chocolate to eat, I doubt very much that I, personally, would rely on such methods to make more important – for example: „medical“ – decisions (such as whether or not to undergo surgery). I, personally, would not rely on such populist methods much more than I would rely on chance. As an example of the kind of errors that might arise from employing such populist methods, consider the rather simple and straightforward case that some of the people voting could in fact be color-blind.

    Yet that is just the beginning. Many more problems lurk under the surface, beyond the grasp of merely superficial thinkers. Take, for example, the so-called „bandwagon effect“ – namely, that many people are prone to fall into a sort of „follow the leader“ kind of „groupthink“. Similarly, it is quite plausible that such bandwagon effects could even influence not only people’s answers, but even also the kinds of questions they feel comfortable asking (see also my previous post). On a more advanced level, complex systems may be also be influenced by the elements they comprise. For example: While originally citation indexes were designed with the assumption that such citation data ought to be reliable, over the years it was demonstrated that such citations are indeed very prone to be corrupted by a wide variety of corruption errors and that citation analysis is indeed not at all a reliable method. While citation data may have been somewhat reliable originally, it became clear that eventually citation fraud corrupted the system.

     
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    nmw 19:53:36 on 2015/09/30 Permalink
    Tags: address, , format, formats, institution, , , link, , , , , , , , , , , , , URL, URLs, , ,   

    The King of the New Media Jungle 

    There are many kinds of “new media”. Depending on your time horizon, you might even consider cassette tapes to be new media. Yet now that we have more or less arrived in the new millennium, most people would say the day of the cassette tape is over, maybe even long dead and gone.

    My kids consider their smartphones to be new media. A recent article by Jason Calacanis (“Apple’s brilliant assault on advertising — and Google“) took a deep look at some current developments among the leaders in this space. This and similar articles have been making the rounds for several weeks now and have been one of the focal points of much heated debate. Much of the controversy is about advertising (in particular: online advertising) and the monopolistic hegemony Google holds over advertising on the world-wide web.

    In my opinion, the world-wide web (“www”) is the king of the new media jungle.

    I am not alone in this view, but it seems that there are indeed quite few people who are able to see this clearly. Consider, for example, this comment written on “Hacker News” regarding Jason’s article:

    This [controversy] exemplifies a misunderstanding I see a lot of people make. The web isn’t whatever happens to be rendered by a browser. It’s a shared information space full of linked resources. The protocol and document format aren’t defining characteristics of the web, they are implementation details. It’s the links and distributed nature that are the defining qualities of the web.

    (note the irony of how many people commonly refer to news.ycombinator.com as “Hacker News”: ycombinator.com is ycombinator.com — referring to it [or news.ycombinator.com] as “Hacker News” is simply rather comical nonsense)

    Why is the www the king of the new media jungle? Well, if you wish to take an opposing point of view, then you must be getting your information via some other channel, right? Please: Feel free to share with us how you are reading these words I am writing! 😉

    You may be watching a video. Are you watching via terrestrial television? You may be listening to audio — have you tuned your FM radio to a new channel recently? Are you perhaps reading a newspaper? Dead tree format?

    An often quoted observation is that new media rarely replace old media (although I might generally agree, I feel that mp3 players / recorders are so widespread today that they have pretty much completely replaced cassette tapes). However, today almost all forms of media are consumed via the web… and therefore via a web address (or link) — something like e.g. ycombinator.com or https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10275595.

    I guess every media format has peculiarities that are typical to that particular medium. Books are different than newspapers, mp4 video files are different than VHS (and these are also both different than celluloid film). Some of these differences are in the technology itself, other differences are socially and/or institutionally sanctioned. For example: Copyright is not something inherent to print, ink on paper, or almost any “media” technology. And copyright itself (as a social institution) has changed and evolved over the years. Nonetheless: Today, and also for the foreseeable future, the world-wide web will continue to be the king of the jungle — perhaps even increasingly so.

    In this light the world-wide web deserves special attention. Yet again: How ironic it is that most people view the www as if it were merely a cheap imitation of other forms of media!

     
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    nmw 17:52:23 on 2015/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , instinct, instinctive, instincts, institution, , Jung, , , , , , role, roles, , ,   

    Intermission 

    I feel I need to tie up some loose ends from the previous post.

    There are two phenomena that I seem to have kind of mashed up (at least that’s what I think). Both of these are from my very novice understand ing of C.G. Jung’s ideas.

    On the one hand there is instinct, and on the other is unconscious. I am not sure if I mashed up these ideas, or whether C.G. Jung did that — but I want to take them apart (because I think it’s important to keep them separate).

    Intermission

    Instinct is rather plain and simple: it’s like a hard-wired program — there’s no changing it (and I also believe there’s no denying it’s existence). When we are born, we begin to breathe — instinctively. We also searched for our mother’s breast — instinctively. Our mother’s breast gave us milk — again: instinctively.

    Denying this is perhaps possible, but I also feel it’s ridiculous.

    On the other hand, I am not so certain about the “unconscious” … and even less so about a “collective unconscious” being in everyone’s psyche as an instinctive hardware configuration.  As I said in the previous post, I feel that a large part of these more-or-less nebulous ideas are written into the human record — and that could involve many different kinds of writing, including a vast mythological oeuvre handed down from one generation to the next, or “actual” writing (e.g. literary works), or writing in the form of buildings or other artefacts with specific purposes (e.g. a hospital, an ambulance, a courthouse, a judge’s hammer, a church, an altar, etc.). Much of my thinking along these lines is indebted to a book called “The Social Construction of Reality” (cf. this wikipedia.org page)

     
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