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    nmw 14:23:18 on 2016/12/18 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , literate, 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 10:16:04 on 2016/06/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , anti-social rationality, , , , , , , , , , , literate, , , offers, , , , , , search engine optimization, , , spam, spammer, spammers, spamming, , target market, , , ,   

    Spam Index, Shopping Catalog & Co. – An Introduction to Anti-Social Rationality 

    Do you want to be the #1 top result on Google?

    No, thank you.

    To many people this reaction might seem odd.

    Let me backtrack a little. Yesterday I alerted yet another person of the fact that I can see they are using gmail.com as their email server (even though their email address shows merely their own domain name). I had initiated contact, and in the header information to their reply email – well, anyone can see this information, because it is in plain daylight, plain text, plain and simple – there was Google / Gmail. However, because most of the „users“ on the Internet are illiterate, many people think no one will ever notice that their correspondence is being shared with innumerable Fortune 500 companies and governments who are aligned with Google to harvest „insights“ from this data.

    My business contact was surprized, and broke off the contact. Of course Google knows who I am talking about, but I will nonethless respect this person’s privacy. If this information gets shared with other businesses (for example: competitors might pay money for such data, and simply add the cost to the price of their products and/or services), then it was not me, but rather the organization that is the world’s leading provider of industrial espionage software (aka Google).

    I am often disappointed and regret the widespread illiteracy. But at least I am not myself one of the suckers whose private information gets sold to the highest bidder.

    I think many people consider my complacency illusory and backwards. After all: If you want to show up on the Google website, wouldn’t you be happy to let them probe your interior, private and confidential business communications?

    No, not really – but thank you very much for the FREE OFFER! 😉

    I have many websites that rank very well (but no thanks to any sort of „special consideration“) on pretty much all search engines. Indeed, if there were a search engine they did not rank well on, then people would probably eventually avoid using it simply because the results on such a search engine would „suck“. Many years ago I sent Matt Cutts a „tweet“ showing him there was something wrong with Google and then they fixed it. You might be able to still find our exchange on twitter.com – but you would have to go back many years (I haven’t used twitter for… OMG, IDK how long).

    One thing you need to consider if you actually get a website to rank well on such so-called „search engines“ (BTW: many / most businesses which track „search engines“ are usually unable to define what is / isn’t a „search engine“), then you should be ready for spammers. If you are not ready, your site will be flooded with spam in a matter of minutes. Most of this spam is generated by robots, and robots work very fast. Being the top result on Google is an open invitation to having your inbox overflowing with love from a wide variety of „artificial intelligence“ machines. I, personally, have little or no interest in such robotic affection.

    I actually even have little interest in ranking highly on Google. In my opinion, the results are already so shoddy that I feel showing up on Google is sort of like showing up at a thug lineup. Most company websites where the company marketing team prides itself for its high ranking on Google are sending a very clear message to consumers: „We paid a lot of money to show up here, so if you buy from us you will probably need to pay a little more“. There is very little indication of quality or reliability from showing up on Google or Facebook or Youtube or whatever most people think of as a general „search engine“. At least Facebook seems to be honest about the need to pay money, but I really don’t think that would actually motivate me to waste it on reaching billions of people (and/or robots) with very limited literacy skills. Most such people (and/or computers) would probably not even understand (and/or act on) the most clearly written message anyways. They are usually primarily searching for a free lunch, flashing lights, bells and whistles – and I am not interested in offering anything like that. I am prepared to offer people and businesses affordable solutions, but I don’t want to be your slave.

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    nmw 19:04:09 on 2016/05/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , artificial languages, , , , , , , emerge, , human intelligence, , , , , , , , literate, , , , , , , , , , 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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    nmw 16:09:28 on 2016/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , common language, , , , , , , , literate, , , , , ,   

    The Rise of Rational Media 

    Recently, I posted something on Facebook that I said to Vint Cerf 10 years ago. It was revolutionary then. Even more shocking to me today is that it probably still seems revolutionary.

    Why? Why do so many people still appear so lacking in literacy skills? Perhaps even more importantly: Why do I remain so optimistic that more and more people will eventually acquire more and more literacy skills after all?

    So far, I am sorry to say that I don’t know why. Maybe I simply prefer to have an optimistic outlook.

    But I think almost anyone will have to admit that there are clear signs that a change is indeed presently happening here and now. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations were clear signs that people are no longer willing to be duped and suckered by governments and corporations alike. The only failure Occupy experienced was a lack of power – in the end, the side with more and most of all more powerful guns won.

    Is literacy more powerful than weaponry? The Enlightenment preached that the pen was mightier than the sword, but was that perhaps also simply a hoax?

    Again: My optimism leads me to continue to believe in the power of literacy. What happened during the Occupy uprising was, after all, not a true test of literacy against weaponry – it was plain and simple stubborn power against stubborn power… and stronger stubborn power won.

    The true test of literacy is when people decide „We won’t get fooled again“… and follow through on their own convictions.

    This was one reason people stopped using Google and started using social media websites instead. They didn’t realize the new boss was more or less the same as the old boss. Do they realize this now? Time will tell.

    What became quite clear during the Occupy uprising was that the government was not on the side of the 99%. This was perhaps a shock to many… but it is not the first time that a government has sided with commercial and industrial interests.

    As I recently wrote: Government may indeed have very little or even no interest in promoting the literacy of its people if it believes it may be threatened by a more literate population. In order to win a following, governments and corporations alike employ propaganda and advertising rather than rational argumentation.

    Rational media, instead, are built on a foundation of literacy. Still few and far between (mainly because propaganda and advertising were much more widespread throughout the 20th Century), rational media are not normally closely held by private interests. Indeed, because of the distributed nature of the Internet, it is very difficult to maintain monopoly power over rational media (versus, for example, retard media).

    The first sign of a literate public is one which is willing and able to abstain from succumbing to monopoly powers. This was true when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the front doors of a Catholic church cathedral 5 centuries ago, and it is equally true for anyone who is willing and able to refrain from using Google or Facebook.

    Another sign of a more literate public is one which is willing and able to agree on terminology. This is perhaps easier said than done. Obviously, it is extremely difficult in situations where people speak completely different languages. Yet even when people speak more or less the same language, they may have different opinions about many things, and such differences of opinion may lead to differing terminology, and perhaps also significant misunderstandings.

    One way to mitigate this problem of potential misunderstanding is to focus intensely on „common language“ terminology. It is possible to sacrifice precision without sacrificing accuracy, and it is a great feat to be content with a solution which is essentially on the mark despite spilling over into minor side effects.

    There are many more aspects of a literate society that deserve to be enumerated, but this post is already quite long. So I will simply save them for another rainy day.

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