Have statistics (really) lost their power? https://t.co/AdPC1jxEvb Does that mean we now only have lies and damn lies? #mscderm #mscedc

This is a ‘long read’ from the Guardian. By it’s nature, it’s not quick to look at, but it’s a thoughtful piece and you’ll find it here:  https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jan/19/crisis-of-statistics-big-data-democracy

“In theory, statistics should help settle arguments.” That’s the opening sentence of the essay. Digital cultures help deconstruct this sentence, following on in the track-marks made by postmodernism. There is no self-evident ‘theory’: rather, there are contexts and situations. Statistics are part of a modernist, western mind-set, linked to nation-states. Discuss! Certainly statistics have a long history: this article looks back 450 years, one could also go back at least to the Domesday Book of 1086 within England.

The article argues that, whereas, in the past, “statistics have been entangled in notions of national progress”, now this is changing. “Statistics, collected and compiled by technical experts, are giving way to data that accumulates by default, as a consequence of sweeping digitisation.”

Simultaneously, an “ability to develop and refine psychological insights across large populations” presents “one of the most innovative and controversial features of the new data analysis.”

Is this power accruing, albeit unevenly and stealthily, in the hands (or main-frames) of a “new digital elite”? If so, this feeds into “a serious challenge for liberal democracy.” And, with it, the educational cultures many of us take for granted.

What tensions and opportunities lurk between the ‘sharing economy’ (and ‘sharing culture’) and the competitive advantage of privately-held data?

 

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Sterne, 2006:23 “One of the most important choices a historian makes is that of periodization.” + spatialisation: education = placed #mscedc

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This tweet, and the reaction in it to this piece of recommended reading, reflects my long-standing interest as a human geographer in holding history and geography together as interweaving life-strands. I’ll tag this post as ‘geography of digital cultures’ and I anticipate it’s a current my posts will return to from time to time.

As this page from Hine (2000) on ‘Virtual Ethnography’ shows [clickable link below], the where and the when of digital cultures are both important. In my framing, this is akin to Sterne’s concern that the audible as well as the visible be included in our analyses. It’s not a question of one or the other, but it’s the complex and multiform interactions between them that constitute what we call ‘digital cultures’.

Hine p.62

Is ‘like-farming’ https://t.co/JOSWNGbJfZ a real, or an imagined, risk? #mscedc

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I read this piece online while trawling for something else, and it reminded me of the double-edged nature of possibility and threat within any culture, digital or otherwise. There are digital folk devils and moral threats, as there are in the non-digital worlds of past and present. Negotiating them is a challenge, for learners and for educationalists within the digital realms. My Tweet asked a question, and got no reply. Where is the village pump, the church, or wherever it is that one goes to gauge such risks and potential risks, opportunities and potential opportunities? I’m not a fan of ‘liking’: should this concern me? And visiting the digital knowers, such as I know them, such as they are, can amplify and expand the questions. http://www.snopes.com/2016/01/15/death-hoaxes-like-farming/ raises like-farming, click-bait relates it to death hoaxes. Ouch. Educational research in and of digital cultures is going to be complex. I hope this course helps with the navigation, if not with the answers.

Meet the emotional radio that cares for you, and wants to be your friend https://t.co/TOV5KdmleR Imagine one that doesn’t want to… #mscedc

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I tweeted this after seeing the video in my morning newspaper feed. Here it is. It’s a piece on a new design of radio which uses facial recognition to appraise your mood and play the music to match it.  In 4:17 minutes, I think it’s a fantastic summation of much of what I think this course is going to address. For example:

(a) AI designed to have human characteristics – the cheeky smile on the dial; the language of being a ‘buddy’, and offering “self-care and well-being”. What’s the flip-side, the politics of this kind of technology – will the house-bound be offered this as a cheaper alternative to (say) state-funded face-to-face welfare provision, such as the latter still exists within the UK? Or, thinking in educational terms, a tutor-bot?

(b) The mystery of the algorithm. The video talks about the “tricks” within the algorithm, and seeks to demonstrate them via everyday graphics, but acknowledges that they’re “not flawless”. Humorously, the presenter talks about technology looking “inside my soul”, but the film also mentions Google’s face-recognition confusions which offended certain “cultures” and “continents” (see here for a less euphemistic take on this matter). Clearly technologies have contexts, and assume and exclude contexts. Education needs to be aware of these positionalities. Back to the video, and this radio, apparently monobrows, dimples, beards and make-up can distort outcomes. Perhaps the most chilling line in the piece is the comment that “we all need to look exactly the same for it to be perfect” . It drips and reeks with political connotations. Ironically, the radio is designed by a company called Uniform

(c) The manipulation of the algorithm. The radio uses Spotify. But, as the video notes, not the whole of Spotify, but 300 songs, so that “people recognise” the music. Call me old-school, but I have about 80 CDs within reach as I type. Are 300 songs enough for one person, let alone for people in general, let alone for self-care and well-being? Presumably this capacity is incredibly adjustable, and my elderly relative need not suffer my music catalogue, nor me that of the person with the headset next to me on the last bus I traveled on. But the questions of the filter-bubble lurk here. What are the differences, and connections, between music I like, and music for people like me, a distinction the video acknowledges? This brings me to a final point:

(d) Technology changes everyday things, education included. The internet of things is an unspoken context for this video. But in all areas of life, education included, ‘smart things’ are both the same and not the same as previous artifacts. Complex changes occur in “construct[ing] learning subjects, academic practices, and institutional strategies” (J. Knox, ‘Critical Education and Digital Cultures’). Thus, what are the implications for the production of music brought about by Spotify? At very least, varied, uncertain, and riddled with seen and unforeseen changes. Also, returning to this present video and the radio it introduces, what is the function of music, of a radio – to confirm or change mood? The answers will, directly and indirectly, influence education. Presumably the algorithm can decide – although, as the video notes, there is still a performative agency for humans standing before its eye, trying to put on a desired mood. Remember the passport-photo booth when you were a teenager??

There is a human response, at least at the first flush of novelty,  in the use of such technologies but – as the video notes with a ‘like it or not’ fatalism – we are “increasingly monitored and manipulated” by algorithms. My overall take on the video’s tone about this radio is that it’s like the coo-ing over a seemingly gifted baby or toddler. As with all radios, it’s the teenage years that will prove interesting.

 

Thank you, @j_k_knox and all, for a great online film festival tonight. It’s something I’d love to use in my own teaching, sometime. #mscedc

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The ‘Film Festival’ was an interesting cultural experience. Someone on the chat-stream mentioned popcorn: I, for one, cracked open a bottle of cold beverage to augment the occasion. I was fascinated by the focus on chatting while watching, and how much that cuts across the typical cinema experience, but feeds into (and off) the watching-with-mates experience.

Labels make and reflect cultures: calling it a ‘film festival’ links into a long and diverse history, at least back to 1932 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_festival), and a quick Google search for ‘online film festival’ shows up a whole realm of digital culture I wasn’t aware of. Two initial comments here on what I’ve found:

1. How does one uncover the good, the bad and the ugly, and discern one from the other? In part, it’s the case with any new cultural exploration. But, for me in theological education, it’s not good to be going poking around watching short films on work-time without some sort of guide. Suddenly, strangely, I almost want a algorithm to help me. I wasn’t expecting that thought / reaction. How, though, do I explore digital cultures’ film artefacts appropriately, within my particular educational setting?

2. There’s a lot of different educational and social uses for online films, and the educational and the social quickly blur. Just the ‘Our Features’ and ‘Use Cases’ on the frontpage of https://togethertube.com/ demonstrate that. Quite apart from the ‘themes’ in our recent film festival, the forms themselves are fascinating.

Had a pinteresting morning

Having never tried Pinterest, but with the ‘visual artefact’ in mind, this morning I signed up and had a play. Already, I can see the scope for compulsive collecting of images. I liked Pinterest’s need/option to choose five initial interests to spark the whole thing off. This afternoon, I got an email suggesting some more images for one of my boards and that set me off on another trail, and the setting up of a couple more boards. I feeling – well – if not hooked, at least involved.

In that light, here are two questions for other users:

First, does anyone any good advice on what I do with the images, beyond collecting them? I guess a short answer would be ‘whatever you want to do with them’. Behind the question, though, is an underlying one for education and digital cultures – how we nurture (in ourselves and others) the creative use of a multiplicity of tools, when life is short and attention spans sometimes seemingly not much shorter.

Second, does anyone know how Pinterest ‘works’? Is it simply a sum of its users contributions, or what? Behind this question lurks the ethical / political question of what the technology is doing, especially behind the scenes. I ate a banana for lunch, with (shamefully) barely a thought for the conditions of its cultivation and sale. I feel I risk the same empty-headed move with the multiplicity of technologies at my finger tips.

Other than https://t.co/i5VBJyP1Fw are there any more detailed instructions about how to join / prepare for tonight’s film festival? #mscedc

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I’m looking forward to tonight’s film festival. It feels like a night out. Wondering, what should I wear? Or, more to the point, do I watch the films beforehand, or watch them cold? Wondering how others are approaching it – even the anticipation creates a sense of community around it. But is that because it’s a date in the diary, a digital event, both – or more?

@j_k_knox Amplify yes, &also structure/guide human tendencies. Reciprocal engagement b/n humans & human creations. Giving worthship! #mscedc

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I’ve tagged this post ‘unity and diversity’. It’s the final part of a string of four posts discussed here. [If I can work out how, I’d like to get the strings of Twitter interaction within my lifestream too. Can anyone advise how?]

I guess our initial reactions to new issues can be revealing of what we bring to the topic from previous life experience. As mentioned earlier on this lifestream, I’m deliberately working from the assumption that none of us arrive on this course unformed by previous experiences. For me, these four related Tweets are an indication of something I bring to considering education and digital cultures.

It’s the question of the one and the many: how to maintain both unity and diversity within a culture, a relationship, a place, an activity. Without one or both poles eating up the other.

I’m interested in how digital cultures negotiate these poles. Looking at the article by Jeremy Knox supplied for our course’s pre-reading, in different formulations, unity and diversity are negotiated by ‘cybercultures’, ‘community cultures’ and ‘algorithmic cultures’. In the latter cultures, Knox concludes, agencies are “much more complex” in their relationships, with “increased entanglement“.

This is a thread I anticipate re-emerging elsewhere along this lifestream. I’ll try and tag it up where I sense it appears. It’s a live issue for me as one who has studied Aboriginal politics in Australia in the latter half of the twentieth century, as a church minister, and as a theological educator. I sense, too, it’s a life issue for all our cultures, digital and/or otherwise.