Category Archives: technology

Information and media – Not weapons, but tools

Informational Power is where a person possesses needed or wanted information. This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility. Vivian Giang

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. Malcolm X

The fact is, information and media are unique and powerful tools, to be wielded by sentient creatures for good or for evil. When the American Library Association was promoting the “information power” theme years ago I worried at the value-free assumption that the information would be put to good purposes. And when we hyped the potential of the communications media, from cable to the web, I wondered more….

My skepticism is affirmed today as we experience the reality of information and communications expertise brilliantly coupled to disrupt our democracy.

This should not be news. It was either Mark Twain or H.L Mencken who advised his readers to “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.”   The technology, but not the meaning, has been updated here. http://www.adweek.com/fishbowlny/ink-by-the-barrel-on-the-internet/252889

But that’s a diversion from the real fact – that the administration has effectively wed the power of information with the power of the media to shape reality.   Those in power wield information as a sword to silence, to pervert, to foment, to shape, to craft alliances and to conceptualize, then propagate, alternative truth.   We who are but “subjects” are ill-prepared to meet the challenge; we lack, or fail to unsheathe, the information/communications skills and attitudes to withstand the onslaught.

And still it is a real fact that we are not a passive people. The Women’s March and forthcoming March for Science clearly reflect our power to harness the human power to resist.

The first line of resistance to alternative facts is well-meant but knee-jerk –- placing blame and responsibility on the communications channels, or even the sources, of misinformation and disinformation is short-term and futile.

We are challenged to fully accept that information and communications technology have been “weaponized” – and that it is incumbent upon us to “arm” ourselves. We need to assume the responsibility to become critical thinkers – and to shape a learning environment that enhances the critical thinking of future voters, including both youth and future voters.

We can’t fall for the press-bashing and post-truthiness cleverly designed to divert our focus and our energy. Instead, we need to embrace the challenge to seek the truth and to stand firm when it is information is thwarted, perverted, suppressed, hidden from public view – or is not collected in the first place!

Thomas Jefferson, a man who dealt in truth, had this to say on the subject

Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” –  Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789

* * *

Related posts – Selected:

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/marchers-will-support-research-science-real-facts/#respond

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/discovering-truth-starts-with-independent-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/creating-a-culture-of-encounter-some-info-tools/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/relax-learn-then-resolve-to-resist-post-truth-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/information-literacy-curriculum/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/national-information-literacy-awareness-month-2016/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/facing-the-facts-about-facts/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/scrubbing-history-scrapping-the-facts/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marchers will support research, science, real facts

It’s hard to specify the “tipping point.” It could have been the fact that the President considers climate change “a hoax”; or it could have been the gag orders issued to federal agencies; or maybe it was funding cuts for scientific research; or the team of researchers, archivists and librarians rushing to preserve essential scientific records. For many non-scientists it was simply the challenge to comprehend the concept of “alternative facts.”

Whatever the efficient cause, the effect is a planned March for Science – a march similar to the Women’s March, to be held in Washington, DC, in Europe, and in communities throughout the nation.

This is not to be a march of scientists but rather a March for Science. Planners describe a non-partisan march that “reaches far beyond people in the STEM fields and should concern anyone who values empirical research and science. “ Focus is on policy, including communication of findings from tax-funded research as well as funding for and nature of tax-funded research initiatives.   A fundamental premise of the initiative is that facts matter.

Details – including date – are in the works and should be out in the next few days. Meanwhile, stay informed – or get involved – through these channels:

Twitter: @ScienceMarchDC

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1862739727343189/

Reddit: /r/scientistsmarch

Get Email Updates

To help: https://goo.gl/forms/zAdY02dBEz3Ykii42

Contact: scientistsmarchonwashington@gmail.com

Who can participate? Anyone who values empirical science. That’s it. That’s the only requirement.

As a concerned non-scientist I’m eager to get instructions for gear that will appropriately represent the cause! Knitting needles are poised for action!

UPDATE:  http://www.commondreams.org/news/2017/01/25/war-facts-sparks-momentum-scientists-march-washington

 

 

 

To disempower disinformation focus on the “missing link”

Intellectual freedom is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. It provides for free access to all expressions of ideas through which any and all sides of a question, cause or movement may be explored – American Library Association

Mark Zuckerberg is between a rock and a hard place, or at least a cushy version thereof. Though FB is not the source, it is the ubiquitous channel through which floods of disinformation flow. Now his empire is at the epicenter of post-election blame. Entrepreneur that he is, Zuckerberg proposes the classic quick fix, i.e. to label fake facts and bar the malevolent sources of the bald-faced lies that disinform public thought and discourse.   (http://www.cnbc.com/2016/11/19/mark-zuckerberg-outlines-how-facebook-plans-to-tackle-fake-news.html)

It’s the predictable feel-good, shift the blame, and invariably ineffective fix – a move that denies “the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” (American Library Association) — digital age throwing out the baby with the bath.

Placing the power and responsibility in the medium disrespects the individual’s inalienable right “to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction.” Furthermore, it won’t work.

The information chaos of the day demands a return to First Principles, in this case the core values of our political system. A fundamental tenet of this nation is respect for the responsibility of citizens to know how to self-govern.   The founders recognized that, in order to rule, citizens would need to depend on the free flow of information and ideas – thus, they stipulated the inalienable right to know coupled with the right to share thoughts and ideas. In the 18th Century that meant freedom of the press and free speech.

Ay, there’s the rub.

That was pre-social media, a time when information seekers were links in a more-or-less tangible – and linear – information chain that linked communicator and receiver. Though publishers and editors could filter the flow, their positions and proclivities were overt. Receivers of the information and ideas knew and considered the source, then exercised their right to adopt or discard the content and to talk back to the source. Though the system was far from inclusive, the basics were straightforward.

The information age expands access, gives voice to the masses, restructures the nature and power over the tools, removes the filters, and ultimately places unprecedented responsibility on the end user – who is also a sender – of the message. What is happening now is that the source holds the balance of power – receivers are uncritical accepters, frequent spreaders, of disinformation who have mastered the malevolent art of disinformation power.

As information receivers aid and abet the flow the power of information is magnified beyond calculation – the power to determine the content and manage the flow of information is nearly

Predictably, when the coin of the political realm is information – control of information corrupts and absolute control of information corrupts absolutely.

And yet, in the ongoing flap about fake news, focus remains on the sender end of the once linear information chain.   Though quick to fault the press for failure to fact check or other abuse of power, we instinctively avert attention, and thus fail to consider the power that rests with the receiver of disinformation.

Labeling fake facts — or blaming the press — fails to dig deep enough to get at the root of the pervasive and pernicious power of disinformation. The complexities of the digital age demand a radical [“of or growing from the root of a plant”] look at the linear information chain that no longer exists. What we have today is a distributed information mesh with sources welded into the links, a brilliantly designed system that, unchecked, wraps the receiver in a dark web of disinformation.

Info Power to the rest of us

Radical thinking demands a hard look at the “missing link” – the receiver of information. It is the receiver who is responsible for evaluating the message, for turning information into action. The first step is to understand and act on the fact that fabrications are powerless if critical receivers resist, dismiss or eschew the sources or content of fake facts.

Recent history suggests that we are ill equipped to ward off disinformation. Back in pre-FB days Franklin Roosevelt declared, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely” adding that “the real safeguard of democracy, is education.” The digital age challenges us to rethink the safeguards within our reach – to expand K-12 and lifelong learning options to encompass critical thinking skills that adapt with the times, to nurture a healthy dose of perceptive paranoia, to understand the power of information and the disastrous potential of disinformation.

No matter how well crafted or effectively spread disinformation is, lies are lies. Lies hide in the weeds, impotent until and unless they exercise their power to influence the thoughts or actions of the receiver. It will take creative thinking, coupled with bold action, to get ahead of disinformation.

As a democratic society under stress we need to focus unprecedented attention and energy on the receiver link of the information chain – how people know what they know, believe what they believe. Labeling or otherwise limiting propaganda at the head end is ineffective and short-term.

The best offense is a strong defense. The best defense against disinformation is a nation of voters with the skill and the will to defend ourselves against the irresistible lure of brilliantly packaged disinformation. As a democratic society we need to understand the intent of the forefathers, then decide if we are up to the radical action it will take to face the challenges of the Information Age.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. Thomas Jefferson

Facing the facts about facts

I’m telling you a lie in a vicious effort that you will repeat my lie over and over until it becomes true. Lady Gaga

There are longer, but no more compelling, characterizations of the scourge of disinformation – so serious that the sitting President of the United States brought up the subject just this week – notably at a joint press conference with German President Angela Merkel.  In that meeting President Obama spoke of the perils of  “active disinformation, very well presented.”

The heart of the matter, the President said, is that, “if we are not serious about the facts, about what is true and what is not, and especially at the time of social networks, when so many people receive the information in one sentence on their phone, if we cannot tell the difference between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have a problem.”

The power, influence and tenacity of disinformation is evident – everyone has a story of having been duped, even having shared or acted on a kernel of disinformation planted with malice aforethought to skew public perception and action. We are conditioned to believe what we read or see, particularly if the information is well presented by “credentialed” spokesperson and/or, better yet, backed up by inscrutable, and thus infallible, metrics.

Disinformation is no respecter of receiver: Did any of us believe, if just for a minute, that Pope Francis favored a presidential candidate in the recent election? Or that that climate change might be just an overblown theory? or that the CIA was somehow behind the Malayzia Airline crash? Or that Ford Motors was planning a major move to Mexico?

Back in the pre-social media day the term “information literacy” was fashioned to put a name on an emerging Information Age challenge. Last month we even offered a hasty nod to Information Literacy Month. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

The fact is that efforts to build information literacy skills lag far behind the ubiquity, fluidity and instant gratification of social media.   Far more insidious is the harsh reality that the wizards of disinformation have mastered the tools to manufacture palatable lies, to present the fake information in irresistible nibbles, to package propaganda a fact — then “repeat the lie over and over until it becomes true.”

For me the spark of hope that springs eternal ignites when Gaga and Obama sound the same alarm – that the power of disinformation is real, pervasive and a threat to this democracy.

The forefathers established a nation built on the premise of an engaged citizenry.   Informed voters (as narrowly defined by the white men who wrote the rules,) would have access to information by and about their government and the skills to consider both the source and the content of information. Relevant, valid information would be communicated to the citizenry not in 140 character blips but in pamphlets, newspapers, orations, even books! http://www.constitutionfacts.com/founders-library/founders-reading-list/

Disinformation is hardly a new idea. In 1710 Jonathan Swift penned The Art of Political Lying” in which he expressed his dim view of fake information:

Falsehood flies, and truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived, it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale hath had its effect: like a man, who hath thought of a good repartee when the discourse is changed, or the company parted; or like a physician, who hath found out an infallible medicine, after the patient is dead.

Feeling good about feeling informed – in 140 characters

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance~~Plato

Since “information literary awareness” is on my mind this month, I resonated when I spotted this from the latest Journalist’s Resource: “Facebook and feeling informed: A proxy for news?” I loved the reference to the self-delusion of “feeling informed.”

The article cites a specific study and findings: “Appetizer or Main Dish? Explaining the use of Facebook news posts as a substitute for other news sources” published in Computers in Human Behavior, 2016.   There’s an abstract of the study online and a summary of findings in this Journalist’s Resource article: (http://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/social-media/facebook-social-media-news-informed)

What stunned me most was to learn that 63% of Facebook users see it as a news source – a number that inflates to 74% among 18-34 year olds. In fact, when it comes to the meat of the story, Facebook sells only the sizzle, not the steak….

In a fleeting act of desperation I decided to go with the flow, to surrender to the times, to capitulate. So, to reduce the complexities of information literacy, search strategies and other pedagogical anachronisms, I propose that student researchers streamline the formalities of information literacy down to these elegantly tweetable basics:

  • What’s the problem?
  • Who said so?
  • When?
  • Whadda they know?
  • What’s their angle?
  • What difference does it make?
  • What’s my take on the story?
  • Can I say it in140 characters?

With apologies to the poet, doesn’t that cover “all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know?” I know I feel informed……

 

“Information Literacy”- Universal challenge of the digital era

Information’s everywhere so now we have to think

 As we reel in the barrage of misinformation, punctuated with provocative spurts of ignorance, it seems ironic – if timely — to note that October 2016 is National Information Literacy Awareness Month.  On the positive side, we should be keenly aware by now that this democracy, based as it is on an informed citizenry, faces an unprecedented challenge.

In truth the term “information literacy” makes me cringe, though I can offer no alternative. More to the point, my serious concern is to focus on the concept – that we keep the goal in mind as we struggle to sort through the maze of messages with which we are bombarded. So I use the term “infolit” and think about how we cope – individually and as a society — with the maelstrom.

Since the dawn of the digital era teachers and librarians have led the push to prepare youth to meet the challenge of the information age. The United States National Forum on Information Literacy offers a serviceable definition of infolit — to wit: “the ability to know when there is a need for information, to be able to identify, locate, evaluate, and effectively use that information for the issue or problem at hand.” The story of infolit is well-chronicled in a pair of lengthy Wikipedia pieces that provides references, definition, and basic background.

Still, today’s information-saturated environment presents a challenge for every lifelong learner – i.e. everyone. We are all in the same boat, struggling to stay afloat in a turbulent sea of information overload, misinformation, and truncated innuendoes. It is incumbent upon each of us, regardless of age, economic, social or education status, to hone the skills of discernment, to stifle the spontaneous reaction, to share information responsibly and thoughtfully – in a word, to think.

Though the month of October offers far too little time to overcome our digital gaps, we can begin by focusing on the reality that we are at a critical moment in the history of this nation and the world. As never before we engage as producers, intermediaries, receivers, and processors of information; it is incumbent upon us to consider the dimensions of our responsibility, to realize that all information is not created equal and that funding source, authority, intent, verification, and a host of other factors shape the content of the messages that bombard us. As citizens of the information age we must also recognize and respect our role as sources and sharers of information and ideas.

The challenge of the Information Age is to internalize the fact that information matters – and to act accordingly. Exchanges of ignorance are inane at best, potentially dangerous. To honor the intrinsic value of good information is not instinctive; it must be taught, learned and applied – until it becomes habitual.

At one point I thought to create an ad hoc list of materials to help young people sharpen their infolit skills. During that initiative it came to me that these exercises would be appropriate for any one of us. Masters though we may be of digital manipulation we might well take time to think critically about what’s known in some circles as “critical thinking”.

So this launch into Info Lit Awareness Month begins with titles for adults who may hope to hone their own thinking skills before sharing them with 21st Century learners. There nothing conclusive about this, the point being to encourage readers to think about thinking.

One starting point might be a dip into the website of The Critical Thinking Community for their thoughts on the subject: http://www.criticalthinking.org//

Though this library-centric reference may compound the info overload it offers a comprehensive overview of information seekers and their interface with resources and it sets the stage for thinking about the broad scope of the challenge:

http://www.wip.oclc.org/content/dam/research/publications/2015/oclcresearch-library-in-life-of-user.pdf#page=190

Following is a pot pourri of approaches to logical thinking, coping with fallacies, intelligent embrace of the Net and the scourge of intentional misinformation – needless to say this is the proverbial tip of the infolit iceberg:

  • Almossawi, Ali and Alejandro Giraldo. An illustrated book of bad arguments.
  • Bennett, B. Logically Fallacious: The ultimate collection of over 300 logical fallacies.
  • Cryan, Cran and Sharron Shatil, authors, with Bill Mayblin, illustrator.Introducing Logic: A graphic guide.
  • Mintz, Ann P, editor. Web of Deceit: Misinformation and manipulation in the age of social media. Numerous contributors.

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge;  It is thinking that makes what we read ours. John Locke

World Usability Day – Engaging Users in the Design Process

The user is NOT a lower life form –  Ken Becker

This is not, but could be, the theme of World Usability Day celebrated this year on Thursday, November 13. It’s a day to gather communities of professional, industrial, educational, citizen and government groups, all focused on a common mission to ensure that the services and products important to life are easier to access and simpler to use. Theme of this year’s celebration is “engagement,” with emphasis on engaging users in design of usable products and services.

There are at least two Twin Cities are events on the calendar for World Usability Day.

* At the University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus participants will participate in a full day program. Presenters will explore the concept of engagement, on the experience of students, library users, The Nerdery and more.

The day’s events are free and will take place at the Student Center Theater, 2017 Buford Avenue, on the St. Paul Campus. More information at http://worldusabilityday.org/events/2014/world-usability-day-university-minnesota

The St. Paul Campus program is sponsored by the IT@UMN User Experience team, UMN Libraries, and the CLA Department of Writing Studies, in collaboration with partners at The Nerdery, Macalester College, MnSCU and Thomson Reuters.

* Starting at 6:30 the same evening, UXPA-MN is sponsoring another celebration of World Usability Day at Rojo Mexican Grill, 1602 West End Boulevard, near the intersection of Highways 100 and 394. Representatives of three local organizations will discuss user-centered design principles that have contributed to their success. Free and open. For more information or to register go to http://www.upamn.org

For more background on World Usability Day check out the WUD website for a great short video intro featuring John Hockenberry. Though his explanation is not new it’s the best possible backgrounder on the idea that shapes the day.   The listing of WUD events around the world underscores the universality of the global theme.

The WUD story brings to mind the pioneer work of Minnesotans Clyde ‘Budd’ and Dolores Hagen of Henderson.   For the past three decades the Hagens have spearheaded the annual Closing the Gap conference on assistive technology. Though Budd died last September, plans for next year are already going full steam. The 33rd Annual Closing the Gap conference will be October 14-16 with pre-conference workshops October 12-13 2015. Again this year the conference will be at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Bloomington. More about Closing the Gap at http://www.closingthegap.com/conference/faqs.lasso