Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it

The public interest is what the public is interested in, bitches.

Thanks to Facebook, we all see new memes every day. Some of them are funny, some insightful, and a lot are of the preaching to the choir variety, which even though they’re right as rain, they occasionally get tiresome. Like a lot of us, frustrated as hell with the sorry shape of our society and the deteriorating condition of our planet and the sheer hopelessness of mounting an assault against the mountain of cynical, corrupt cash standing between us and a solution, I guess I suffer from bouts of what we’ll call Fact Fatigue. If we’re intelligent, I fear, the truth is too much with us.

Every once in awhile, though, somebody sends one around that’s so on-point you can’t ignore it. Today, for instance, it was my friend Heather Sowards-Valey (she of Fiction 8 fame) sharing this one from Sciencegasm: Continue reading “Amusing ourselves to death: new Sciencegasm meme nails it”

Getting a PhD was the best decision I ever made. And the worst.

American businesses are anti-intellectual. American universities are anti-relevance. The gods help the overeducated schmuck stuck in the middle.

Hi. I’m Sam, and I’m a PhD.

Hi Sam!

CATEGORY: EducationFor those of you who don’t know me, I have a doctorate. Communication, University of Colorado, 1999. Some days it’s the thing I have done in life that I’m most proud of. Other days I think it’s the worst mistake I ever made in my life. There are days where I think both things more or less at the same time.

A couple of recent articles address my frustration and ambivalence. Continue reading “Getting a PhD was the best decision I ever made. And the worst.”

Socialist Test

Are you a socialist? Take the test….

A 2011 study yields surprising results.

The word “socialist” was, for all intents and purposes, dead and buried after the fall of the Iron Curtain. But it has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity since, oh, 2008 or so. The thing is, since we hadn’t had any real socialistm for awhile, our understanding of what the term means has gotten a little fuzzy.

So the question is, how socialist are you really? Maybe none at all, maybe a whole lot, and maybe somewhere in the middle. Let’s find out. Continue reading “Are you a socialist? Take the test….”

Cyberspace, cognitive mapping and design: some stray thoughts

I apologize in advance because this is going to ramble. And be wonky. If it helps, please know that it all makes sense in my head.

Our professional development program at work – yeah, my new job has an actual interest in professional development – has us doing some reading each week and informally discussing the insights. This week we were asked to read a section from a human-computer interaction text. It got me to thinking about some issues, and then one of my co-workers had a comment that took me even further down the rathole. Continue reading “Cyberspace, cognitive mapping and design: some stray thoughts”

Parenting in the age of (runaway) digital media

A newly released report from the Center on Media and Human Development at Northwestern University tells us some things we probably already know and some other things that ought to disturb us a little. Our good friend Dr. Lynn Schofield Clark, author of The Parent App, walks us through the main findings and offers some analysis in a post at Psychology Today, and it’s worth a read, especially if you’re  a parent. On the “we knew that” front, Clark notes that modern parents are “much more comfortable with communication technologies than were the generation of parents who preceded them” and that “these parents are … Continue reading Parenting in the age of (runaway) digital media

Skepticism vs. Denialism and how to tell the difference

I suppose, as a general rule, the human animal is built to prefer knowing to not knowing, but I have been struck over the course of the past decade or so at how much worse our society has gotten at tolerating uncertainty. It’s as if having to say “I don’t know” triggers some kind of DNA-level existential crisis that the contemporary mind simply cannot abide.

Perhaps this is to expected in a culture that’s more concerned with “faith” than knowledge, reason, education and science, but even our extremely religious history fails to explain the pathological need for certainty that has come to define too much of American life. Perhaps it’s due to fear. America is currently being slapped about by one hell of a perfect storm, after all: Continue reading “Skepticism vs. Denialism and how to tell the difference”

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, pt. 2

Part 2 of a series; Previously: What Bell Labs and French Intellectuals Can Tell Us About Cronkite and Couric

The Signal-to-Noise Journey of American Media

The 20th Century represented a Golden Age of Institutional Journalism. The Yellow Journalism wars of the late 19th Century gave way to a more responsible mode of reporting built on ethical and professional codes that encouraged fairness and “objectivity.” (Granted, these concepts, like their bastard cousin “balance,” are not wholly unproblematic. Still, they represented a far better way of conducting journalism than we had seen before.) It’s probably not idealizing too much to assert that reporting in the Cronkite Era, for instance, was characterized by a commitment to rise above partisanship and manipulation. The journalist was expected to hold him/herself to a higher standard and to serve the public interest. These professionals – and I have met a few who are more than worthy of the title – believed they had a duty to search for the facts and to present them in a fashion that was as free of bias as possible.

In other words, their careers, like that of Claude Shannon, were devoted to maximizing the signal in the system – the system here being the “marketplace of ideas.” Continue reading “Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, pt. 2”

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1

Part one of a two-part series.

From Cronkite to Couric: the Kingdom of Signal is swallowed by the Empire of Noise

The recent death of Walter Cronkite spurred the predictable outpouring of tributes, each reverencing in its own way a man who was the face and voice of journalism in America for a generation or more. The irony of all these accolades is that we live in an age where “broadcast journalist” is such a cruel oxymoron, and we seem to speeding headlong into an era where the word “journalist” itself threatens to become a freestanding joke. Why, against this backdrop, would so many people who are so involved in the daily repudiation of everything that Cronkite stood for make such a show memorializing the standard by which they so abjectly fail?

As I read what people had to say about Cronkite, I realized that something I studied and wrote about over a decade ago helps explain why our contemporary media has gone so deeply, tragically wrong. Continue reading “Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1”

Dr. Slammy’s Law of Social Communication

This came to me just now in an e-mail exchange with our friend John Harvin. So, tell me – am I onto something? Has this already been said? In any public communication system where access is generally open, noise tends to expand at an exponential rate while the expansion of signal is merely additive. Of course, it’s hard to imagine why this would occur to me… Continue reading Dr. Slammy’s Law of Social Communication

Chaos, Complexity, Kant and Mill

One of the great debates in the field of ethics centers around the thinking of Emmanuel Kant vs. the Utilitarians – most notably John Stuart Mill. To simplify, Kant’s philosophy suggests that the means justify the ends: we should always do the right thing and trust the results to work out for themselves. Mill, on the other hand, argued that we should do what produced the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, and that the ends justified the means.

I’ve always tried to do the right and moral thing, of course, but when push comes to shove I’ve been an unapologetic utilitarian. I might, in my brasher moments, have put it this way: what matters is the outcome, the result, and doing the noble thing when it leads to a tragic result isn’t ethical, it’s both immoral and stupid. Continue reading “Chaos, Complexity, Kant and Mill”

LIFE and the long view: ideologies of science and technology since the Enlightenment

Part two in a series.

As I suggested in Part One, the messianic/utopian view of science and technology attributed to LIFE Magazine is consistent with an ideological bent that traces its lineage to the dawn of the Enlightenment in Europe.

Francis Bacon’s highly influential New Atlantis, first published in 1626, recounts the narrator’s fictional shipwreck on the shores of Bensalem, a lost utopia, and offers one of the earliest testaments to the potential of applied science (Outhwaite & Bottomore 1994). In an extended ceremony, Bacon is given to know the seemingly limitless bounty of Bensalem’s scientific expertise. Bensalem is well versed in all manner of advanced technology: refrigeration and preservation, mining, agriculture, astronomy, meteorology, genetics, animal husbandry, desalination, medicine, musicology, mechanics, air flight, and mathematics are literally only a few of the society’s advanced technological arts. Continue reading “LIFE and the long view: ideologies of science and technology since the Enlightenment”