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26 JANUARY 2016

Interview: Zygmunt Bauman: 'Social media are a trap'

"Q. You are skeptical of the way people protest through social media, of so-called 'armchair activism,' and say that the internet is dumbing us down with cheap entertainment. So would you say that the social networks are the new opium of the people?

A. The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren't created, and you either have one or you don't. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you. You feel in control. You can add friends if you wish, you can delete them if you wish. You are in control of the important people to whom you relate. People feel a little better as a result, because loneliness, abandonment, is the great fear in our individualist age. But it's so easy to add or remove friends on the internet that people fail to learn the real social skills, which you need when you go to the street, when you go to your workplace, where you find lots of people who you need to enter into sensible interaction with. Pope Francis, who is a great man, gave his first interview after being elected to Eugenio Scalfari, an Italian journalist who is also a self-proclaimed atheist. It was a sign: real dialogue isn't about talking to people who believe the same things as you. Social media don't teach us to dialogue because it is so easy to avoid controversy… But most people use social media not to unite, not to open their horizons wider, but on the contrary, to cut themselves a comfort zone where the only sounds they hear are the echoes of their own voice, where the only things they see are the reflections of their own face. Social media are very useful, they provide pleasure, but they are a trap."

(Ricardo de Querol, El País, 19 January 2016)

TAGS

abandonment • armchair activism • being-in-the-worldclicktivismcomfort zonecommunityconnection made to measurecontroversydifferent perspectivesdigital lifedigital technology and human relationships • dumbing down • echo chamber • Eugenio Scalfari • feeling in control • identity performanceindividualisation • individualist age • insular communitiesliving in a shared worldloneliness • opium of the people • performativityPope Francis • real dialogue • sensible interaction • social fragmentationsocial interactionsocial mediasocial networks • social skills • sociologistspectatorship • trap • Zygmunt Bauman

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
23 MARCH 2012

Autumn 2012: Design and Social Innovation

"There is a growing interest in the role that design can play in catalysing, harnessing, spreading and scaling social innovation around the world. This is expressed in two key ways:

> by a growing number of professional designers and design disciplines applying their skills to addressing social issues; and

> by the adoption of design tools, techniques and methods by a growing number of other disciplines focused on developing social innovation.

Perhaps the most recognisable facet of this interest has been the rise of 'design thinking' not only in business, but increasingly in public service and policy fields. Fuelled by design agencies such as IDEO in the US, non–profit bodies such as the Design Council in the UK, and education institutions such as Stanford's 'd.school', design thinking has begun to be recognised as a key ingredient underpinning innovation (whether that be social innovation or not). Indeed, according to Sir George Cox, past chairman of the Design Council, design is what bridges creativity (the generation of new ideas) and innovation (the successful implementation of new ideas). In other words, design could be described as:

'the human power to conceive, plan, and realize products that serve human beings in the accomplishment of any individual or collective purpose' (Richard Buchanan, 2001)."

(Ingrid Burkett, Knowledge Connect)

Fig.1 AT.AW [http://www.at–aw.com]

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TAGS

2012action learning • catalysing social innovation • change observercitizenshipcivil societyclients • collective purpose • community services • conceive ideas • constituents • consumersCourtney Drake • critical insight • critical literature • critical thinking • cross-sector • d.school • deign approaches • design agenciesdesign approaches • design bridges creativity and innovation • Design Council (UK)design disciplinesdesign fielddesign innovationdesign methodsDesign Observer (magazine)design techniquesdesign thinkingdesign toolsdesignersdifferent perspectives • diversity of disciplines • education institutions • George Cox • harnessing social innovation • idea generationIDEO • individual purpose • Jacqueline Wechsler • Joanne Hutchinson • logframe • logframe analysis • long-term change • NESTAnew ideas • Open Book of Social Innovation • plan ideas • political reactionism • previous learning • professional designersprototypingpublic policy • public service • public services • real change • realise products • Richard Buchanan • scaling social innovation • School of Management • School of Visual Arts in New York • service implementation • serving human beings • significant change • social design • social ills • social innovation • Social Innovation Branch in DEEWR • social interventionsocial issuessocial policysocial sciencesocial sector • spreading social innovation • Stanford Universitystrategic planning • strategy and planning • successful implementation • the role that design • underpinning innovation • User-Centred Design (UCD)users • Vera Sacchetti • William DrenttelYale University • Young Foundation

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
31 MAY 2011

Eli Pariser: beware online 'filter bubbles'

"Mark Zuckerberg, a journalist was asking him a question about the news feed. And the journalist was asking him, 'Why is this so important?' And Zuckerberg said, 'A squirrel dying in your front yard may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.' And I want to talk about what a Web based on that idea of relevance might look like.

So when I was growing up in a really rural area in Maine, the Internet meant something very different to me. It meant a connection to the world. It meant something that would connect us all together. And I was sure that it was going to be great for democracy and for our society. But there's this shift in how information is flowing online, and it's invisible. And if we don't pay attention to it, it could be a real problem. So I first noticed this in a place I spend a lot of time –– my Facebook page. I'm progressive, politically –– big surprise –– but I've always gone out of my way to meet conservatives. I like hearing what they're thinking about; I like seeing what they link to; I like learning a thing or two. And so I was surprised when I noticed one day that the conservatives had disappeared from my Facebook feed. And what it turned out was going on was that Facebook was looking at which links I clicked on, and it was noticing that, actually, I was clicking more on my liberal friends' links than on my conservative friends' links. And without consulting me about it, it had edited them out. They disappeared.

So Facebook isn't the only place that's doing this kind of invisible, algorithmic editing of the Web. Google's doing it too. If I search for something, and you search for something, even right now at the very same time, we may get very different search results. Even if you're logged out, one engineer told me, there are 57 signals that Google looks at –– everything from what kind of computer you're on to what kind of browser you're using to where you're located –– that it uses to personally tailor your query results. Think about it for a second: there is no standard Google anymore. And you know, the funny thing about this is that it's hard to see. You can't see how different your search results are from anyone else's.

But a couple of weeks ago, I asked a bunch of friends to Google 'Egypt' and to send me screen shots of what they got. So here's my friend Scott's screen shot. And here's my friend Daniel's screen shot. When you put them side–by–side, you don't even have to read the links to see how different these two pages are. But when you do read the links, it's really quite remarkable. Daniel didn't get anything about the protests in Egypt at all in his first page of Google results. Scott's results were full of them. And this was the big story of the day at that time. That's how different these results are becoming.

So it's not just Google and Facebook either. This is something that's sweeping the Web. There are a whole host of companies that are doing this kind of personalization. Yahoo News, the biggest news site on the Internet, is now personalized –– different people get different things. Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times –– all flirting with personalization in various ways. And this moves us very quickly toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see. As Eric Schmidt said, 'It will be very hard for people to watch or consume something that has not in some sense been tailored for them.'

So I do think this is a problem. And I think, if you take all of these filters together, you take all these algorithms, you get what I call a filter bubble. And your filter bubble is your own personal unique universe of information that you live in online. And what's in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But the thing is that you don't decide what gets in. And more importantly, you don't actually see what gets edited out. So one of the problems with the filter bubble was discovered by some researchers at Netflix. And they were looking at the Netflix queues, and they noticed something kind of funny that a lot of us probably have noticed, which is there are some movies that just sort of zip right up and out to our houses. They enter the queue, they just zip right out. So 'Iron Man' zips right out, and 'Waiting for Superman' can wait for a really long time.

What they discovered was that in our Netflix queues there's this epic struggle going on between our future aspirational selves and our more impulsive present selves. You know we all want to be someone who has watched 'Rashomon,' but right now we want to watch 'Ace Ventura' for the fourth time. (Laughter) So the best editing gives us a bit of both. It gives us a little bit of Justin Bieber and a little bit of Afghanistan. It gives us some information vegetables, it gives us some information dessert. And the challenge with these kinds of algorithmic filters, these personalized filters, is that, because they're mainly looking at what you click on first, it can throw off that balance. And instead of a balanced information diet, you can end up surrounded by information junk food.

What this suggests is actually that we may have the story about the Internet wrong. In a broadcast society –– this is how the founding mythology goes –– in a broadcast society, there were these gatekeepers, the editors, and they controlled the flows of information. And along came the Internet and it swept them out of the way, and it allowed all of us to connect together, and it was awesome. But that's not actually what's happening right now. What we're seeing is more of a passing of the torch from human gatekeepers to algorithmic ones. And the thing is that the algorithms don't yet have the kind of embedded ethics that the editors did. So if algorithms are going to curate the world for us, if they're going to decide what we get to see and what we don't get to see, then we need to make sure that they're not just keyed to relevance. We need to make sure that they also show us things that are uncomfortable or challenging or important –– this is what TED does –– other points of view.

And the thing is we've actually been here before as a society. In 1915, it's not like newspapers were sweating a lot about their civic responsibilities. Then people noticed that they were doing something really important. That, in fact, you couldn't have a functioning democracy if citizens didn't get a good flow of information. That the newspapers were critical, because they were acting as the filter, and then journalistic ethics developed. It wasn't perfect, but it got us through the last century. And so now, we're kind of back in 1915 on the Web. And we need the new gatekeepers to encode that kind of responsibility into the code that they're writing.

I know that there are a lot of people here from Facebook and from Google –– Larry and Sergey –– people who have helped build the Web as it is, and I'm grateful for that. But we really need you to make sure that these algorithms have encoded in them a sense of the public life, a sense of civic responsibility. We need you to make sure that they're transparent enough that we can see what the rules are that determine what gets through our filters. And we need you to give us some control, so that we can decide what gets through and what doesn't. Because I think we really need the Internet to be that thing that we all dreamed of it being. We need it to connect us all together. We need it to introduce us to new ideas and new people and different perspectives. And it's not going to do that if it leaves us all isolated in a Web of one."

(Eli Pariser, TED.com)

Fig.1 recorded at TED2011, March 2011, in Long Beach, CA. duration: 9:05

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TAGS

57 signals • algorithmic editing • algorithmic filters • algorithmic gatekeepers • authorised voiceauthorship • balanced information diet • broadcast society • challenging consensus • civic responsibilities • civic responsibility • content editors • curate the world for us • demassificationdemocracydifferent perspectivesecho chamberEgyptEli Pariser • embedded ethics • Eric SchmidtFacebookfilterfilter bubbles • gatekeeper • Google IncHuffington Post • human gatekeepers • information dessert • information flows • information junk food • insular • insular communitiesinsulationisolated in a Web of one • journalistic ethics • Mark ZuckerbergNetflixnew ideas • new people • New York Timesno single standard • personal unique universe of information • personalisation • personalised filters • query results tailoring • relevancesearchsilotailoredTED Talksthe self • uncomfortable • Washington Post • Yahoo News

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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