But now that the shared TV experience is declining, many thinkers want it back. Only now can they appreciate its value and see what it gave us: The communal bonding that occurs when people sit down and watch the same thing.
Ryan Tate in an article for WIRED, “The Personal Television Revolution is Horrifying—and Brilliant”.
I thought — hoped, really — that I was worrying too much about new technology, so I called Patricia Greenfield, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. I asked: Do tech-savvy people in healthy relationships (like, say, me) really need to worry that customized media and mobile devices will undermine our connections with others?
“I think you should worry,” Greenfield told me.
A referee beheaded during a football match in Brazil, endless images of death in the ongoing war in Syria and the lifeless body of Trayvon Martin — all went viral on social media. With every click of our mouse we are bombarded with photos of violence, death and destruction on a daily basis. What are the long term mental consequences of repeated exposure to such graphic content?
Luckily, now, truthinews is here to usher in a new standard of broadcasting. First, we ask you what you think the news is, then, report that news you told us back to you, then take an insta-twitter poll to see if you feel informed by yourself, which we will read on the air until we reach that golden day when we are so responsive to our viewers, that cable news is nothing but a mirror, a logo and a news crawl.
Stephen Colbert, The Word, June 24, 2013.
FJP: Colbert essentially speaks of cognitive dissonance—the distressing state we experience when we’re faced with opinions that don’t fit with what we already believe. If interested in what this has to do with news consumption, we recommend reading Dean Miller’s chapter (entitled Literacy after the Front Page) in Page One, the companion book to the (somewhat glorifying) documentary about the NY Times. Miller is the director of the Center for News Literacy at Stony Brook University. Here’s an excerpt:
Merely teaching people how to find reliable information is inadequate if they can’t open their minds to new information. Advances in neuroscience have documented the fragility of memory, the suggestibility of perception and the extent to which our own biases can prevent us from hearing or remembering discomfiting facts, much less seeking them out. The more we learn about these reactions to cognitive dissonance, the clearer it becomes that if we don’t challenge Americans about what they believe—and how they reach conclusions—they’ll never know what they don’t know.
Although real-time corrections are modestly more effective than delayed corrections overall, closer inspection reveals that this is only true among individuals predisposed to reject the false claim. In contrast, individuals whose attitudes are supported by the inaccurate information distrust the source more when corrections are presented in real time, yielding beliefs comparable to those never exposed to a correction.
R. Kelly Garrett and Brian E. Weeks, The Promise and Peril of Real-Time Corrections to Political Misperceptions (PDF).
Yesterday I published an article, Can Robots Tell the Truth?, that explores the Washington Post’s attempt to harness an algorithm that could conduct real-time fact checking on political speeches.
Today, Kelly and Brian forwarded this paper of theirs. It’s part of a larger project out of Ohio State University’s School of Communications called “Misperceptions in an Internet Era”. Their Twitter handle is @FalseBeliefNews.
So, if you take their findings and rewrite my headline, you’d end up with something along the lines of, “Who Cares if Robots Can Tell the Truth Because it’s not Going to Change Anyone’s Mind Anyway”.
Which is discouraging. — Michael.
If advertising is meant to be aspirational, these ads [in men’s magazines] are presenting a pretty sad version of what American men can aspire to be. And advertisers aren’t selling this hyper-masculine ideal to just any man: They’re specifically targeting the younger, poorer, less-educated guys in the supermarket aisle. In the latest issue of the journal Sex Roles, a trio of psychologists at the University of Manitoba analyzed the advertising images in a slate of magazines targeted at men, from Fortune to Field and Stream. They counted up the ads that depict men as violent, calloused, tough, dangerous, and sexually aggressive—what the researchers call “hyper-masculine”—then indexed them with the magazine’s target demographics. Hyper-masculine images, the researchers found, are more likely to be sold to adolescents, who find higher “peer group support” for manly-man behaviors. They’re also sold to working-class men, who are “embedded in enduring social and economic structures in which they experience powerlessness and lack of access to resources” like political power, social respect, and wealth, and so turn to more widely accessible measures of masculine worth—like “physical strength and aggression.”
What can you say about someone who rewrites his sentences in his dreams? It has probably already been said. And it wasn’t every night that he, my third-person self, rewrote sentences in his sleep. Perhaps once a week or once every other week or once every three weeks—sometimes in fact two days in a row —whenever the subconscious compulsion took him…
…It usually happened on the road when he was sleeping in strange beds, and came about more often than not when he hadn’t had sex in a while not even with himself. So what he did, was doing perhaps, was masturbate his sentences. Was that what he was doing? Jerk them around to best advantage. Too often when he woke after hours of sleep-ridden revision, exhausted from prolonged creative effort, only the worst versions of the sentences awoke with him. His memory, he had to remind himself, traveled poorly in the night.
Misinformation is even more likely to travel and be amplified by the ongoing diversification of news sources and the rapid news cycle. Today, publishing news is as simple as clicking “send.” This, combined with people’s tendency to seek out information that confirms their beliefs, tends to magnify the effects of misinformation. Nyhan says that although a good dose of skepticism doesn’t hurt while reading news stories, the onus to prevent misinformation should be on political pundits and journalists rather than readers. “If we all had to research every factual claim we were exposed to, we’d do nothing else,” Nyhan says. “We have to address the supply side of misinformation, not just the demand side.”
Correcting misinformation, however, isn’t as simple as presenting people with true facts. When someone reads views from the other side, they will create counterarguments that support their initial viewpoint, bolstering their belief of the misinformation. Retracting information does not appear to be very effective either. Lewandowsky and colleagues published two papers in 2011 that showed a retraction, at best, halved the number of individuals who believed misinformation.
But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
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. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions”. In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.
An hour-long, 1998 talk by Postman on technology and society is available on YouTube (irony noted).