Podcast: Jack Brown on Maths

In this episode I have coffee with award-winning maths teacher, Jack Brown. It’s a really fascinating insight into the mysterious mind of a maths teacher. By the way, you can find his amazing YouTube Channel here.

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Cats on a Treadmill

Media in the Online Age

Facebook and online media in general often claims that thanks to the World Wide Web we are connecting with each other and making greater communities. However, more and more research is suggesting that in fact the opposite is happening. Companies like Facebook are actually atomising society and encouraging an ‘Echo Chamber’ effect on our fundamental ideas, values and beliefs.

In a recent article on Tech Crunch, Jon Evans argues that

At Facebook’s scale, behavioral targeting doesn’t just reflect our behavior, it actually influences it. Over time, a service which was supposed to connect humanity is actually partitioning us into fractal disconnected bubbles.

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A New Statesman article outlines how the Echo Chamber is linked to the recent decision for Britain to leave the European Union:

Social networks – and echo chambers specifically – might be partly to blame. A study carried out last year, entitled “The spreading of misinformation online”, revealed their concerning effects. According to Michela del Vicario, a co-author of the study, echo chambers are “closed environments, inside of which users are not reached by contrasting information”.

And The Independent even claim that social media Echo Chambers are in part to blame for the rise of Donald Trump’s success in the United States of America:

Instead of trying to reach out and understand why people felt moved to vote for Trump, too many admonished them. We retreated to our echo chambers, where we bellow our opinions at people who are already in agreement and enjoy having them repeated back to us. Our prismatic view of public opinion through tailored social media feeds not only hid from us the confused, angry people we needed to try and reason with, but it gave us a warped view of their motives. And this is where it gets particularly scary: Trump voters are fully aware he is sexist and xenophobic, they just don’t care.

But what is the answer? Should we all leave Facebook and the Internet for good?

Andrew Keen argues that the Internet is a failed experiment. That the promise of the World Wide Web has not been fulfilled. So, perhaps we shouldn’t abandon it completely but if research is telling us that social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are actually bad for our mental health then surely we should no longer use them?

We can argue that the Internet (and by extension your own social media) is like a mirror. If an idiot looks into it then it is an idiot who peers back. If you redesign how you use social media and the Internet then things can change. One of the most difficult things to accomplish is to navigate through the noise of the Internet. To look past the bigotry, the lies, the fake news and even the cats on a treadmill. To look past all that and to seek out only what makes us better is more  difficult than we think and this, I would argue, is because when it really comes to it, deep down, we don’t care.

It appears that Neil Postman was right when he wrote in his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

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And so there it is.

As Adam Curtis says, Oh Dear.

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

Today is the last official class for A2 Media and whilst I’ll continue to update this blog before your final exam I thought I’d share this video from Steve Jobs.

 

Life Stinks (and that’s ok)

Mock Exam results are almost upon us! This is a critical time of the academic year and how you respond to your result can have far-reaching consequences. So, I’ve made you a short podcast to listen to all about resilience and coping with failure.

The image is taken from that time a seagull crapped on my leg as I was walking to work.

HyperNormalisation

Adam Curtis’ ‘HyperNormalisation‘, available on the BBC iPlayer. 

“We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless migrant crisis, random bomb attacks. And those who are supposed to be in power are paralysed – they have no idea what to do.

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This film is the epic story of how we got to this strange place. It explains not only why these chaotic events are happening – but also why we, and our politicians, cannot understand them.

It shows that what has happened is that all of us in the West – not just the politicians and the journalists and the experts, but we ourselves – have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. But because it is all around us we accept it as normal.

But there is another world outside. Forces that politicians tried to forget and bury forty years ago – that then festered and mutated – but which are now turning on us with a vengeful fury. Piercing through the wall of our fake world.”


This will be a great piece of additional work for you. Not only is it a brilliantly edited documentary with a wealth of found/stock footage montage but it also presents radical ideas. Please watch and then we can all get coffee one afternoon to discuss.

The Echo Chamber

This is a fascinating concept and one  connected to our role as Media students. It is also something incredibly relevant to our lives, especially recently.

The night of the European Union Referendum I checked my Facebook and various online media sites and then got ready for sleep. It seemed quite clear how the vote was going to go and  many of my friends on Facebook had shared how they voted so I felt pretty confident about the outcome. I went to sleep expecting to wake up still in the European Union.

xE9pKYou all know what happened when we woke up that morning. I picked up my phone and clicked on the news app where it revealed that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. I was flabbergasted. I read on and checked other news sites and they all confirmed the same thing. I felt like I had woken up inside a Kafka novel. Turning on Facebook also revealed that nearly all of my friends had also been as surprised as I was at the result. Everyone, it seemed was absolutely livid.

But how could this be? Everywhere I looked online had revealed a ‘Remain’ outcome and especially my Facebook. I had unexpectedly fallen into the Echo Chamber.

The Echo Chamber is a place where your own ideas, values and beliefs are echoed by all those around you. It is a place where likeminded individuals repeat and often amplify these views so much that opposing views are either drowned out or are never heard. The views are echoed so much and so successfully that you end up convincing yourself that yours is the only view or at least the most valid. From Wikipedia:

Participants in online communities may find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. This can create significant barriers to critical discourse within an online medium. Due to forming friendships and communities with like-minded people, this effect can also occur in real life. The echo chamber effect may also prevent individuals from noticing changes in language and culture involving groups other than their own. Regardless, the echo chamber effect reinforces one’s own present world view, making it seem more correct and more universally accepted than it really is.[5] Another emerging term for this echoing and homogenizing effect on the Internet within social communities is cultural tribalism.[6]

But is this a problem? Surely, it’s a good thing to be surrounded by like-minded people? Perhaps. And perhaps not.

By existing in the Echo Chamber we run the risk of not really knowing what the world is truly like. When I went to bed that night I honestly thought most of the country had the same point of view as me regarding the EU. I was wrong.

This is dangerous because it can lead to limited critical thinking on very serious topics. We need to expose ourselves to opposing ideas, values and beliefs to both understand them and if appropriate, argue against them. But we can only do that if we allow ourselves to exit the Echo Chamber. But if we do we run the risk of listening to views we disagree with, we might get offended, we might get upset. However, we also might have a better understanding of the world around us and that, my dear students, will always be a good thing. Even if we discover truths we consider ugly.

To find out more about the concept of the Echo Chamber and its place in mass media, party politics and culture then head over to David Byrne’s website to read his article.

http://davidbyrne.com/the-echo-chamber

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