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  • Profile photo of feedwordpress

    feedwordpress 14:21:33 on 2018/12/21 Permalink |
    Tags: , , , biology, , , , , , , , , distrust, distrustworthy, document, documentation, documents, , , , , , , , gatekeeper, homo sapiens, , , , , information and communications technology, , , , , , ordinary language, plain language, plain talk, , , , publication, publish, , , , , , , , , , , , transparent, , trustworthiness, , vernacular, ,   

    Some Reflections on the Revolution in Propaganda 

    More or less exactly ten generations after Edmund Burke’s treatise concerning the French Revolution and roughly about twenty generations after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, I would like to give you a small update on the state of news, media and publishing following the advent of modern computers on the dissemination landscape.

    In this endeavor, I will utilize a case study involving a podcast video on the interwebs, in particular youtube.com, which I hope will help by providing a graphic illustration of what’s going on right now. The case in point is a discussion between an evolutionary biologist, William von Hippel, and a media magnate, Joe Rogan, concerning the publication of Mr. von Hippel’s new neato book titled “The Social Leap”. I shared a link to the entire discussion a couple weeks ago, here I wish to focus on a short segment starting at 2:08:55.

    Originally, my fascination with the topic centered on the origins of human language, but unfortunately there was hardly any discussion of this during the podcast. Although there are many fascinating points regarding the evolution of homo sapiens, very little (if anything at all) was directly related to the genesis of human language. I have often noted that the very first line in the Bible’s book of Genesis directly indicates “the word” as being at the beginning of human history, but exactly how this first word was ever spoken remains an enigma. My own hunch is that it followed other types of expression – such as body language, facial expressions and the like – and that several rather complex communicative norms needed to become institutionalized (and that language was therefore perhaps far more difficult to develop than other technologies). I imagine that three evolutionary developments might have been particularly advantageous, namely: 1. increased brain size; 2. “whites” of eyes; and 3. improved vocal apparatus. Mr. von Hippel also mentions the first two of these developments.

    I have heard Noam Chomsky give a ball-park estimate of ca. 75 thousand years ago for the approximate beginnings of language. Most of the developments mentioned by Mr. von Hippel predate that by a longshot, but the segment I mentioned above (2:08:55) has to do with a development that is undoubtedly much newer, since it is about reasoning and argumentation (which as far as I know must require language). The segment begins with a discussion of confirmation bias, and Mr. von Hippel then mentions a 2011 paper written by Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber, saying the paper shows that humans actually evolved to use confirmation bias to persuade each other of their own opinions rather than actually trying to find out what is actually true. I was shocked by this statement and read the original article. Upon doing so, it became clear to me that Mr. von Hippel had misrepresented the original findings – and I have contacted Hugo Mercier and he assures me that my shock was indeed warranted.

    Mercier & Sperber (2011), on the contrary, contends that while the confirmation bias may very well be active when producing arguments, it is largely inactive during the evaluation of arguments. This symbiotic relationship is crucial, and to overlook it is a gross distortion of the findings. Why did this happen?

    I believe the answer to this question involves yet another development in the history of human languages, perhaps even newer than the “Why do humans reason?” development of argumentation proposed by Mercier & Sperber. Perhaps the earliest records of writing date back to cave paintings and sculptures made by humans tens of thousands of years ago, but the development of writing systems standardized enough to be used for communication across larger stretches of space and time required the development of more advanced social institutionalization – perhaps dating back no further than just about 10,000 years (in other words, only ca. 500 generations).

    For most of this time, writing was extremely limited and was only available to the most educated classes. Therefore, any ideas shared would only be written down if they passed the muster of such highly educated gatekeepers. In my humble opinion, this recurring process led to the development of something I wish to refer to as a publication bias – a “believability” of ideas that have been written down. Shortly after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press a little over 500 years ago, the world up to that point was shaken up briefly… but that came to an end when copyright law was established and the production of large-scale printing presses became prohibitively expensive. For the past several hundred years, the publication bias has largely been reinstitutionalized, though the publishing industry became highly fragmented (from a church monopoly before 1500 to a plethora of publishing gatekeepers thereafter). The new gatekeepers were governed by many laws, and thereby it was possible to control the dissemination of information. Early modern information technologies such as telegraph, telephone, radio, television, etc. did little to change that.

    What did change it was the advent of the personal computer. Desktop publishing was hardly a challenge to traditional publishing, but electronic publishing is marching forwards in leaps and bounds on its way to completely eradicating the titans of the paper era. Day after day, the cost of publishing information across the entire globe continues to new record-setting lows. It is a well-known, commonplace fact that publishing technology has now also been birthed from Pandora’s box, and that it is now nearly everywhere, cheap and easy to use… for anyone.

    And therein lies the rub: The days of publishing gatekeepers are finally over. Clicking a button is not at all difficult to do… and so everyone’s doing it.

    The result we need to face today is that the publication bias – the naive trust in written information – is (or at least should be) also gone, probably forever (or at least for the “foreseeable future”).

    And yet likewise we see virtually on a daily basis that the publication bias is actually very far from gone. On the contrary: not only do old habits die hard, but now we have even more, new and improved, of such biases. Perhaps leading the pack is the modern brand name – completely vacuous and empty, but highly valued, exclusive and nearly impenetrable to most rational thought processes. Brands carry the weight of innumerable imaginary people, built up over years, decades if not centuries. Such colossal weight bogs the average human’s mind, and the most popular brands are revered as gods, never to be doubted or questioned. What previously had been delegated to print, today can fly as high as Coca-cola, Apple, Amazon, Facebook or Google or YouTube or untold other brands. No longer is the sky the limit, either – no, these fantastic companies will fly to the moon, Mars and far beyond into space, reaching for the stars.

    Will ordinary humans ever come back down to earth? How will we ever be able to re-introduce a modicum of rationality into our species? Perhaps we should untie ourselves from our slavery to brands, brand names, megalithic monopolistic enterprises and such. Maybe we should return to ordinary communications – straight talk, free of mumbo jumbo.

    Luckily, the founders of the Internet apparently did have enough foresight to foresee the potential dangers of centralized information resources. The technology at the basis of modern civilization today is actually not the problem. The problem is modern human behavior, especially the way modern humans behave in groups. We have seen this time and again throughout the 20th Century, now we must “human up” and become more reasonable.

    We must learn to recognize the difference between fake and real. This is actually not as difficult as it sounds. What makes it relatively simple is when we simply recognize that the human languages we use on a daily basis are our own, and that we are free to communicate our ideas, wants and needs as we please. We don’t need no central authority to control our thoughts. We don’t need no dictator to figure out the truth. We can rely on what we understand from humans, and also that we will be understood by humans. Humans are rational beings – and that means they will rationalize their ideas, each according to their own language. Mutual understanding among humans is the primary goal we must strive for. Regular ordinary straight talk is the basis of human rationality, and it is time we recognize this fact and reestablish regular ordinary straight talk into our daily lives, our information and communication technologies and our entire media landscape.

    We should not trust that Joe Rogan or William von Hippel are right. We should not feel secure that the big data algorithms of YouTube or Google will watch out for us. We need to open our own eyes for ourselves and take a good hard look at reality – because that is what matters.

    One last point I wish to address is an issue that I feel could easily lead to a misunderstanding. While I argue that brand names are inadequate as symbols of trust or reliability, brand names do serve a constructive purpose, function and useful role in the modern social order. These labels and identifiers enable us to refer to individuals, individual entities, individual processes and distinct, unique phenomena we engage with and participate in on a daily basis. Therefore, they serve an integral role in our entire social fabric. Note, though, that our ability to reference such entities and phenomena has very little to do with the trustworthiness of the entities or phenomena themselves, but rather with the trustworthiness of the social order – for example, a well-functioning legal framework that forms the basis of such well-established social institutions as private property, fair trade, open communications, etc.

    Meaningful information requires language, and meaningful accounting requires itemization. Bringing both of these phenomena together is a matter of dovetailing information organized via language with the accountability of big data bases. If you would like to participate in helping to make this happen, I invite you to get up and sign up with phenomenonline.com!

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 19:53:36 on 2015/09/30 Permalink
    Tags: address, , format, formats, , , , link, , , publish, , , , , , , , , , 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!

     
  • Profile photo of nmw

    nmw 12:53:20 on 2014/09/02 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , enlightenment, , , , , , , , , , , publish, , , , publishing industry, , , , , , traditional publishing, traditional publishing complex, , , ,   

    How the Traditional Publishing Complex Tamed the Mob … and What Outsiders Could Learn from Justine Musk 

    So far, the Internet has only experienced one major crash: The very poorly named “Dot Com” crash of 2001. This had nothing to do with the “dot com” top-level domain per se. It had much more to do with a much more general and very much premature hyping of all things Internet — and then when it became clear that 9 out of 10 ideas were hare-brained, 9 out of 10 online business models went out of business. Note, however, that by this time the Internet had already become — or at the very least it had started to become — a force to be reckoned with. This was the first heyday of bloggers and wikis — for example, consider what happened when Trent Lott spoke on December 5, 2002 at the 100th birthday party of Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina:

    In the wake of controversy, Lott resigned as Senate Republican Leader on December 20, 2002, effective at the start of the next session, January 3, 2003. Bill Frist of Tennessee was later elected to the leadership position. In the book Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig argues that Lott’s resignation would not have occurred had it not been for the effect of Internet blogs. He says that though the story “disappear[ed] from the mainstream press within forty-eight hours”, “bloggers kept researching the story” until, “finally, the story broke back into the mainstream press.

    By the time Digg was founded in 2004, it had become very clear to the traditional publishing industry that something was afoot: their business was eroding from beneath — and if something didn’t happen quite soon, then the traditional publishing industry would be gone in short shrift.

    Note that the traditional publishing industry had been a crucial element in many advanced economies worldwide, strongly influencing education, research, propaganda and much, much more. If this were to simply crumble and break overnight, a much larger traditional publishing complex would probably go down with it — and therefore many people were very worried. Some more examples of this worrisome trend included many new websites created around a “classified advertising” model (such as craigslist), and Google’s then-still-new AdWords system.

    Then, some time around 2006, things began to change. Perhaps the most indicative instance of how things were changing was the “Google Press Day” event held on May 10, 2006 (Google has since removed links to the documentation it had disclosed about these presentations from its investor.google.com website). Although this event was not widely covered by the press, it was attended by many leaders in the publishing industry. Google officers explained their business model, and how they were tweaking their algorithms so that searches for terms such as “credit card” would be made to return search engine results pages (SERPs) with the brand names of companies doing business in that market segment. All in all, Google seemed to be making a case for mutual collaboration with the traditional publishing complex, rather than competing with it.

    Since then, many other websites are using a similar approach — and most prominent among this new model of “co-opetition” is, of course: Facebook. Yet large parts of the so-called “mobile web” are also very much about advertising to users, and also tracking user behavior. Google, Facebook & Co. had now become transformed from a “Wild West” marketplace into a partner that more and more members of the traditional publishing complex could work with quite well — and thereby increasingly publish traditional publishing stories in a newfangled way… called “social media“.

    The advantage of this new approach for members of the traditional media complex is that they no longer need to compete with the revolutionary mobs found in the innumerable and uncontrolled spaces on the “Wild West Web”. Google, Facebook, Twitter, et. al. would reduce such “unknown” people into insignificance, and instead promote those brands which the entire traditional publishing complex have come to rely on. Although many people will probably not recognize the similarity to the way some North African governments collaborated with North African Internet service providers to basically “turn off the Internet” in North Africa during the Arab Spring, the leading brand names operating in the “social media” space can very effectively squelch out any message that is in opposition to the messages advertisers seek to get across.

    If you are not an advertiser, not a publisher, not a member of the traditional publishing complex,… — if you are not affiliated with this industry in any way, then what can you do (if you want to be heard)?

    Some people may choose to go out on the streets and protest, but others may find that to be a nuisance… — or at least a rather ineffective alternative. Also: It is not clear whether the best solutions are to be found by figuring out which group can shout the loudest. What if your aim is to find solutions to problems through rational thought?

    Beyond polishing up rational thinking skills, such outsiders might also need to brush up on literacy skills — especially those literacy skills that are not taught in most educational systems: The ability to effectively express and also to publish your own ideas in a manner that will enable readers who are thirsty for enlightenment to easily grasp the useful and practical advice such information can provide.

    One of my favorite leaders in this field is Justine Musk — not necessarily because of the topics she writes about, but primarily because of her great skill in doing so. Justine has a knack for explaining topics in a very simple and straightforward manner — and these are topics her readers are very thirsty to read more about. Her arguments are usually well thought out, and therefore they are usually also very compelling.

    I have not read any of Justine’s fiction-writing, but in my opinion most of her non-fiction writing campaigns are very successful.

     
  • Profile photo of feedwordpress

    feedwordpress 14:03:31 on 2013/11/14 Permalink
    Tags: , closed web, , , , , , , non-fiction, nonfiction, , , publish, , , , , , , , ,   

    How the Internet has revolutionized publishing, and why the Internet will not change fiction publishing one iota 

    This is actually very fundamental with respect to online literacy, so in case you’re distracted, please either turn off whatever is distracting you or just come back later when you’re not distracted. Reading this while you’re distracted will do neither of us any good — if you’re never not distracted, then never mind, forget about it and go on doing whatever is distracting you some more. ;)

    Now, for the rest of you: For many centuries — perhaps even millenia — publishing has been about authors. The Internet changed that. Why? Because now it’s about topics.

    Let me give you an example: facebook.com is not about Mark Zuckerburg. It is the online version of what used to be the telephone directory… or at least one of them. Just as there used to be many phone directories, I expect there will at some time be several online versions (for example: personally, I think the .TEL top level domain is a far better system than facebook — it is very user-friendly, easy to understand and at the same time much more advanced technologically). The main point is: Websites are not about people, websites are about topics.

    Of course there are websites where the topic of the website happens to be a person — for example: marianne.com or nmw.tel, or the many millions of websites that exist first and foremost on the bottoms of business cards. Among such websites, fiction will continue to thrive as it has always thrived: readers follow fiction by author — as they used to visit the library shelves devoted to the author of paper books, so today they will visit the domain of the author who publishes his or her work online. What readers of fiction hunger for is in the author’s mind: stories, ways of telling a good story, expertise in the use of language, and so on.

    On the other hand, when they hunger for information about a topic, users will key in that topic and probably arrive at a website about that topic — in this case by-passing the author. Think about this for a moment. Just imagine several authors — whether Johannes Kepler or Gallileo Galilei, Sir Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein, a Pope or a Protestant — had all written books about the same topic… for instance: physics. Each of these people could have published such a book and called the book “Physics”. These days, they could even publish several books about the same topic, and give them all the same title, simply adding “revised edition” or something like that.

    Yet online, there is only one physics.com (apparently owned by Ray Kopsa or perhaps someone at CoVariant Systems), there is only one physics.net (but it is available / for sale, apparently from a colleague of mine at fabulous.com), only one physics.org (which is apparently the address of the “Institute of Physics”), and so on. As there are several hundred top-level domains, there are several hundred opportunities to write about “physics” on the open market of the world-wide web.

    Beyond that, ICANN has come up with a very stupid idea — namely to auction off all the other top-level domain strings anyone cares to bid on to the highest bidder. If, for example, Google or the Pope were to be the highest bidder for the string “physics”, then they would become the dictators of what anyone may publish at that address (and they would thereby also be able to dictate the price for how much that would cost). Since this essentially closes off the rest of the world-wide web to private development, I think it is useful to refer to all such domains as the closed web.

    Note that there is no longer really much of an opportunity to publish information on any particular topic unless it is under the constraints of either the competitive (and hence presumably “fair”) open web or according to the stipulations (which may be rather idiosyncratic and/or dogmatic) of the closed web.

     
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