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Ah, data. Sweet Lord almighty, do I love data. I love data in the same way I love houses - I have only the vaguest idea of where it comes from, I don’t know what people do with it, but by George does it improve my life.
This causes me no end of grief, given my enduring belief that the exponential explosion of the creation, accumulation, storage, interlinking and glorious, glorious use of data has taken us by the hand and walked us out of the information age and into the uncharted territory of the systems age. I see this time as laying the foundations on which the future will be built, so I hope whoever’s handling that doesn’t mess it up.
Messes will be made, problems will occur, and with any luck the growing knowledge cloud will allow them to be fixed as best as possible. But in this burgeoning environment of centralized openness, data can be - and already is - used unfairly.
The democratization of information (Wolf, 2010) unfortunately means just that. Not only does the little guy get access to it, but so does the big guy. Not only can the little guy trawl through data, but the big guy can do the same - and with more resources.
This article from SMH late last year rustled my jimmies quite sufficiently. The article draws attention to the data mining already undertaken by the federal Department of Human Services, and to the data mining they’d like to undertake.
I don’t quite like the idea of bureaucrats being able to access any of my financial interactions with the federal government with any simplicity - as they already can - but the idea of that information being compiled with medical, education, licensing, criminal, judicial, tax, or any kind of licensing information is petrifying.
When the private market collates data about consumers, it has a profit imperative to keep that information to themselves, away from competitors. The government, on the other hand, has the noble intention of trying to help citizens which, unfortunately, tends to materialize in the form of regulation.
If the law of the land is in any way related to what can reasonably be achieved through law, and sometimes it is, this opens up horrifying new avenues of state intervention which, while it may be borne of noble intent, is likely to mean many decisions individuals are capable of making will be made for them through bans or restrictions.
CISPA is how governments deal with the democratization of information - and it just passed the House.
Martin, P., (2012) ‘Data is not a dirty word’, Sydney Morning Herald, originally accessed 14/12/2012
Wolf, G., (2010) ‘The data-driven life’, The New York Times Magazine, accessed 15/4/2013
For the record, this was my favourite line in the latter article:
“Ubiquitous self-tracking is a dream of engineers. For all their expertise at figuring out how things work, technical people are often painfully aware how much of human behavior is a mystery.”
Gillmor, D., (2013), ‘Oppose CISPA is you value any privacy in our digital world’, The Guardian: Comment is Free, accessed 19/4/2013
I have two major thoughts on this week’s readings – firstly, that the Extended Mind Theory is just a little bit bullshit, and that the role of science in relation to theory has been woefully miscontrued - but my ‘n’ key is having trouble today so I apologize for it.
I really liked the way Stiegler’s Anamnesis and Hypomnesis delved into the economic impact of mnemotechnologies and advanced some of my own thoughts about what Steigler calls the ‘structural loss of memory, or, more precisely, a displacement of this memory’ to said technologies. Personally, I feel a lot less hopeless about this development than he does. I don’t see the exteriorization necessitating deindividuation and/or the destruction of one’s savre-vivre; I can conceive quite easily of a hypomnetic world that frees up, rather than dominating, the individual/social capacity for hedonism, and this world looks far more like my own than the picture Steigler paints.
Chalmers and Clark play with this notion in their extended mind theory but I believe their Extended Mind Theory takes it too far beyond the realm of logical knowledge. Active externalism looks at the interplay of mind and environment and, in my opinion, missed an important distinction: a confusion of memory and mind with that which stimulates memory and mind.
Stimulation is something that happens to and within the mind and body. While it is something that can also be borne of the mind, it does not follow that everything that stimulates the mind is also part of it – unless you define cognition in those terms. I don’t see the coupled system of mind and environment as a complete system of it’s own, but nor do I argue that there is a complete “separation of mind, body, and environment”.
I don’t have an alternate theory of the border between brain, mind, and world, so I suspect there’s more room to muse on cognition here. However, what I do have is an education in the science of memory beyond the core media curriculum and, albeit a marketing education, it refutes the assertion of the notes in the course outline and causes me some worry.
There’s a confected distinction between short-term, long-term, and ‘medium term in-between’ memory (what you’re looking for is working memory, which occurs before short term memory). I think I might see what Husserl is getting at – the nature and ability of recall – but there’s no acknowledgement of factors inhibiting or facilitating recall. References to Proust ignore what motivates information processing in order to be stored in memory and under what circumstances it’s facilitated or inhibited. The only other text with a strongly scientific interest reads more like realizations of science fiction designed to horrify and warn rather than inspire. I can see that the role of these notes is to provide some underpinning information on which to build with the readings, but weak foundations build a poor home, and in a course that’s heavily theory-based and deals broadly with information processing, this rustles my jimmies.
Stiegler, B., ‘Anamnesis and Hypomnesis: Plato as the first thinker of the proletarianisation’, Ars Industrialis, accessed 28/3/13
Anon, ‘The Extended mind’, Wikipedia, accessed 28/3/13
< http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Extended_Mind >
Noe, Alva (2010), ‘Does thinking happen in the brain?’, 13:7 Cosmos and culture, accessed 28/3/13
Pamoukaghlian, Veronica (2011), ‘Mind games: Science’s attempts at thought control’, BrainBlogger, accessed 28/3/13
In July 2011 the Australia Federal Government announced it was finally ready to acknowledge that the playing of video games was an activity no longer dominated by children. Protecting the children would no longer cut it as an excuse to ban stuff. It was time for an R18+ classification category to be created. A long campaign had been waged to allow adults to make game choices for themselves, and with the announcement, the internet was appeased.
The reason a review was needed was summed up nicely in the segment of the guidelines called ‘The Code’ (reproduced below). ‘Adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want’. Fair enough. Adults should be able to do what they want (so long as they are not infringing on the rights of others to do what they want). Isn’t that the point of being an adult - making decisions for yourself?
Another problem was that games that really should be R18+ would minimize a few of the stronger elements in order to sneak into the MA15+ category, meaning kids could get to what was overall a game more suitable for adults. Still pretty simple, right?
Apparently not. Today, new classification guidelines were released, to come into effect on the 1st of January 2013. Overall, they kinda blow. You’d have a hard time accessing games or game content you couldn’t before.
Themes, language, and nudity (three of six Classification Board areas of regulation) have ‘virtually’ no restrictions.
Drug use is permitted, as long as it’s not ‘related to incentives and rewards’ or ‘interactive … detailed and realistic’.
‘Depictions of actual sexual activity’ are not permitted. ’Depictions of simulated sexual activity may be permitted’, as long as they’re not ‘explicit’ and/or ‘realistic’. Seems inconsistent to me, since you can rent a porno at 18. The interactive nature of video games is used to justify this crap (technological determinism..).
As for violence, ‘High impact violence that is, in context, frequently gratuitous, exploitative and offensive to a reasonable adult will not be permitted. Actual sexual violence is not permitted. Implied sexual violence that is visually depicted, interactive, not justified by context or related to incentives or rewards is not permitted’.
Again with the sex! Are all regulators puritan? As long as everyone involved in filming consented then, again, it’s barely different to renting BDSM porn. And you can stream that shit the moment you figure out what Google is and what BDSM means.
Anyway, the code uses a lot of language to make itself seem fair. ‘Not permitted’ vs ‘banned’. Then it says lovely things like this:
“Under the Code, classification decisions are to give effect, as far as possible, to the following principles:
(a) adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want;
(b) minors should be protected from material likely to harm or disturb them;
(c) everyone should be protected from exposure to unsolicited material that they find offensive;
(d) the need to take account of community concerns about:
(i) depictions that condone or incite violence, particularly sexual violence; and
(ii) the portrayal of persons in a demeaning manner.”
I’m not too sure why (d) is there. Firstly I believe it is not only wrong but foolish to censor anything that is real, or realistic, because that shit is REAL. As in, it’s out there in the world. In Australia. In a bunch of our homes. Every night. Trying to protect your quivering emotions from the ugliness of humanity by dismissing and hiding the problems is weak and, I feel, an appalling reflection on the ethics of those who advocate such an approach. Moreover, (d) directly counteracts (a), so one of them has to go. The continued existence of Refused Classification as a category also counteracts (a), so it’s pretty clear which one the bureaucrats decided to let wither.
Honestly, though, I don’t feel like I can argue this part of my point much better than the guidelines do.
Adults should be able to read, hear, see and play what they want. They’re mature enough to make that choice.
I’m not even going to talk about keeping age-inappropriate stuff away from kids because that is what an R18+ classification does, and beyond that it is up to parents.
I say ‘they’ referring to players of video games because I very rarely play games. I don’t own a gaming console and I haven’t downloaded games onto my computers. I owned a few Playstation games back when it was called a Playstation but I eventually found the stress of being attacked by whatever attacks you in Crash Bandicoot was too much for me. That was the end of my illustrious gaming career.
However, I don’t feel like this is an issue that does not affect me. It’s part of a broader series of administrative and political decisions that kinda terrify me. To get back to something I said earlier - the point of being an adult is to make decisions for yourself - well, the flipside of that is to make responsible decisions. One needs to apply some critical thinking skills as to whether or not one wants to spend an hour or a few hours or the whole day playing games, immersed in the violence of whatever the latest shooter is, to what level of violence you are comfortable engaging with through your controller, and what type of violence.
Critical thinking is a skill and, just like any other skill, it diminishes if it is not practised. When games are ‘refused classification’ (never forget that this is just a nice euphemism for banned, censored, prohibited) you don’t really have to think about what it is appropriate for your or your kids to play because that decision has been made for you by the Classification Board.
The Classification Board is an independent statutory body comprised of 11 people I hadn’t heard of but maybe should have (some former ABC execs, other media types, assorted public servants, former defence personnel, and a few with legal and business backgrounds). The youngest is 26, the next youngest are two of 32 years, and a 39 year old. Of course, the board is ‘trained’ and ‘assisted’ by the Office of the Attorney General, which also ‘helps’ with ‘developing’ policy, and operate under the scope of the Commonwealth Classification (Publications, Films and Computer Games) Act 1995.
The Act is designed to “help consumers make informed choices” but it actively removes some of the choices we could make, and should be able to make, or decide not to make.
In the gaming arena, as in so many others, our society is moving in a direction where the correct response to problems is not seen to be equip people with the skills or knowledge or tools to encourage people to make the right decisions to cope with the problems individually (which I’m sure was the initial intention of classification) but to preemptively ban the ‘wrong’ decisions. This is because it is easier for the state and they/the community inevitably know best what is in the interest of each and every varied, unique individual.
This lulls us into a very false sense of security. We end up living our lives to a checklist of pre-approved behaviour, believing (as we are told) that if we don’t break the rules no harm can come to us.
It’s as silly as thinking, ‘If I stay in the lane I’m supposed to drive in and follow the speed limit I will never get into an accident’. But that’s the basis of our road rules, too.
Then the reason you need to think critically, and I’ll try to say this without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, is that this is, after all, the government we are talking about. That is who decides which games you are and are not allowed to play. What you are and are not allowed to see. What makes it into the curriculum. Which civil liberties we are allowed (in NSW, none, apparently). Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction (Reagan) and governments never hand back control, rather, they only ever take more and more. In Australia it is easy to believe the government is here to help, and their interjections into your ability to choose your path may just be benign enough. All it takes is one charismatic wacko, and enough people who will stay silent.
We all thought it was going to get better. I guess not.
This morning Fairfax media announced it is ending print, going tabloid, cutting some 1,900 jobs, and the social media sphere has lost. its. shit.
This is probably because I follow every Australian I find who is even peripherally connected with media, but everyone seems to be sad, angry, and longing for yesteryear. I’ve seen staff walkouts predicted, comparisons to the vehicle manufacturing industry with relation to subsidies, people hoping the same thing happens at NewsCorp, and I find myself agreeing with Senator Conroy for possibly the first time in my life, as he uses this to promote the need for the NBN.
Noone likes to watch their treasured social institutions change - just take a look at the Church’s massive overreaction to the movement to change the legal definition of marriage. Like marriage, though, the role of broadcasters and journalists is society is changing. Unlike marriage, this change comes with job losses, but in both cases the fracas is the end result of poor forward planning.
When we the public didn’t have the technology, or the ability otherwise, to connect with people on the other side of the world, or interact with our authorities, on a more or less level playing field we needed reporters to collect and distribute information in an accessible way. For the majority of the Western world, at least, the distribution problem has been solved. Internet, fuck yeah. Quality news and information is free and freely accessible. Hell, I’m a media student and I don’t do much (I’m the kind of girl who spends way too much time consuming media because there’s an overload of information that’s just so much more stimulating than whatever I’m supposed to be doing) and the last time I paid to access news media was in February 2011.
This is the first serious blow of the ‘digital revolution’ and it has been coming for the longest time. Paid news media is old paradigm. There is an enduring need for journalism, but traditional means of capitalizing on it are disappearing as private distribution continues to increase. Bloggers the world over are inquiring, discovering, distributing and opining on everything imaginable and distributing at no cost to the consumer, earning income through ad revenue, or earning nothing at all and publishing just because they feel like it.
When people are doing your industry’s job for free because they can, you need to adapt or perish. News is being democratized, eating away at the power traditionally concentrated in the hands of broadcasters. If you want to capitalize on information distribution then you need to seriously differentiate your product and give us a damn good reason to pay for it.
Fairfax, this is why your paywall is fucking stupid. Quite apart from the fact I can get your reposted AAP content elsewhere for free, you are on the internet now and we are equals here. Your top-down, one-way-broadcast, old-fashioned power-hoarding approach isn’t welcome in our vast anarchic playground.
You got to monopolize an audience whose access to information was limited by place and those barriers are gone now. Deal with it.
So, to skew the topic of this week’s blog, I found what I read of the excerpts of Paul Edward’s A Vast Machine (2010) to be a fascinating history of the globalization of climate data and the challenges of massaging different data sets collected in different ways into compatible formats. However, in effect I clearly missed the point of the text as I dropped out at the first hurdle. It lost me at the first mention of the International Panel on Climate Change.
I’m sure we all remember 2009’s Climategate, just before the much-vaunted Copenhagen climate summit, when something something was hacked something climate scientists are liars something something faking the data something.
See, I don’t really remember the end of 2009. I remember reading a lot of news, but mainly it was a strange and glorious time of youthful post-graduation unemployment. One thing I do remember that what I took away from the Climategate scandal, and what I hold somewhere in my subconscious, is that the data going in and coming out of the highest levels of climate science is not accurate.
Most people I know are climate skeptics, and Climategate reinforced that. Even when many logical explanations have been proffered, that doubt has been implanted, and there it stays. On the other hand I think most people would agree that the climate skeptic’s case rests on misinformation or misunderstanding, and others might argue it is in part outright lies on behalf of vested interests. Yet both sides of the climate change debate are sizeable.
I sit squarely in the middle, knowing only that I know nothing and won’t live to see the worst of whatever happens. I am rationally ignorant. Not knowing either side to be correct, but taking into account the passion, rhetoric, scale, and number of participants, it looks an awful lot as though truth, facts, lies, damned lies, and statistics mean nothing: that perception will always win out over reality.
The human mind is capable of ignoring or believing anything it puts itself to, to the point of literally losing touch with reality. Jonah Lehrer points out that “we come equipped with all sorts of naïve intuitions about the world, many of which are untrue”, such as the historical belief that the sun revolves around the earth, and that therefore “science education is not simply a matter of learning new theories. Rather, it also requires that students unlearn their instincts, shedding false beliefs the way a snake sheds its old skin”.
Lehrer points to a recent study of cognition by Andrew Shtulman, which noted, “When students learn scientific theories that conflict with earlier, naïve theories, what happens to the earlier theories? Our findings suggest that naïve theories are suppressed by scientific theories but not supplanted by them”.
The brain, Lehrer points out, then uses different pathways to answer questions that augment our intuitions to those that go against them. It is literally more difficult to accept some truths than others. People who aren’t noticing any changes in climate trends more specific than seasonal change in their daily lives can find it easy to reject claims that they are indeed occurring, meaning that whoever wins the PR war, pulls the best Climategate, or terrifies the most people gets to define the frame of the discourse and the way most people consider the issues.
That should probably be a terrifying thought, but for someone who wants to work in PR it really is quite comforting.