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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, , , , , , , , , , , , , majority, , , , popular, 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.

     
  • Profile photo of feedwordpress

    feedwordpress 19:53:11 on 2014/02/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , cult, , , disorder, , , , , , , frame theory, , , , , , media convergence, meme, memes, , popular, realism, , , surrealism, thematic, theme, themes,   

    Little Bitty Digital Fantasy 

    Closing a door behind him, the author prepares for a little change of pace…. It will be an experiment — an experiential quasi-essay, a window to a different space, one of fantastic cyber-surrealism.

    Approaching the entrance, he sticks out his finger. He sees a red button, he wonders what it means… — one way to find out would be to press it. Trying to touch it to see, but it recedes back. He sticks it in further, and further it recedes. Finally — just as he thinks he can’t reach far enough — the button bounces back, biting the finger with a high voltage electric shock. Sucked in though the portal, the author is transformed into an energetic stream of bits, emerging from the opposite side as a very long string of ones and zeroes.

    As the string streams into the black, empty space, into the storage medium on the other side, the bits disperse and fly off in every direction imaginable. Little specks of white light scatter out across the vast, dark emptiness, but the oddest thing of all is that no one is there to witness this spectacular event.

    Each little itty bitty individual speck of light now lives a life of its own, with no connection to any of the other bits that had just previously been parts and parcels of the author himself. Now emerging as a meaningless scatter-plot, the story disintegrates.

     
  • Profile photo of feedwordpress

    feedwordpress 20:11:51 on 2012/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: contrarian, contrarians, contrary, , , lose, , , , , , popular, , , , revolutionaries, , , , , , ,   

    Pioneers, Revolutionaries, Contrarians and Consumers 

    I had a couple pretty bad days this week — one day was especially bad (I was crushed), and the the rest of the week was a very gradual improvement… to the point that I almost feel like I am OK again. :)

    It was pretty much a bad scene to be anywhere near me for most of the week (and on the worst day I basically had to lock myself in a closet in order not to get burnt at the stake).

    I don’t remember at what point in this I decided to get in touch with a couple of my friends — the type who basically tell you the truth (no matter how bad that might seem), but they told me some things that I think I needed to hear.

    No one on earth (besides myself, and maybe my father) considers me a pioneer. “Pioneer” is a positive word, and most people prefer to somehow ever-so gently break it to me that I am simply a wack-o. :P

    One friend refers to me as a revolutionary (not this week in particular, more generally) — maybe like Rousseau or Karl Marx. Most revolutionaries are wack-o, and few are successful in any way. They struggle against an establishment regime that is focused on maintaining the status quo (cf. “Establishment Apologists Acknowledge that the Status Quo Is Unfair — and They Want to Keep it that Way for Their Own Benefit“).

    Another friend this week referred to me as a contrarian. I guess that’s similar to being a revolutionary — except that the revolt is not against an establishment regime, but rather against “mainstream” ideas. I don’t know which of these is better or worse (I think they’re both bad, actually). I think being a revolutionary is more acutely dangerous, but being contrarian is perhaps more damaging to your social reputation (i.e., being sort of “out of touch” with the social environment, abnormal or even weird).

    I think I am neither — like I said, I view myself as a pioneer (sort of like Columbus, Martin Luther, Galileo, or Da Vinci — all role models, except that it helps to have wealthy, strong, or simply very supportive backers, like some/all of these guys did). If you want to be a pioneer, then doing that without any backers is a lonely undertaking (at best). If such trailblazing (see e.g. “From Newspapers to Pay Per Info“) is unconventional, then that may lead to problems.

    Another friend said to me (as I was ranting on the phone): “well, maybe people don’t want that”. True, but after thinking about it for a couple of days now, I have come to the conclusion that maybe it doesn’t matter whether consumers want or like something… — i.e., it doesn’t matter whether people want the world to be round or not; the world simply is the way it is. Yet I also think everything is relative — or at least it can be: There is probably no reason why you couldn’t pretend that the Earth is the center of the universe… — then you simply have to come up with more complex formulas to explain why other parts of the universe simply don’t actually seem to  revolve around the Earth (at least not obviously, or exactly, or precisely or whatever).

    Michael Jackson was very popular. If you ask “who was the best musician in the late 20th Century” and you let the market decide, then that would probably be Michael Jackson. Consumers don’t usually pick pioneers, revolutionaries or contrarians. Likewise, they are not very good at predicting stock market crashes.

    Maybe people who maintain that the market price is “always right” should be burned at the stake. (just kidding ;) )

     
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