Category Archives: Scholarship/Theory

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.

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 using technologies like the TV, smartphones, computers, and tablets to manage family life and to keep children occupied.” Also, “joint media engagement drops off markedly for children who are six or older.” The report also confirms the explosion of smartphones and tablets “in the homes of those who have children aged 0-8, noting that 71% of these households have a smartphone, 42% have a tablet device, and 35% have both.”

The “slightly disturbing” part includes the revelation that “[d]igital media don’t even make the list of things that parents are ‘very concerned’ about,” which seems a little at odds with the finding that “most parents (70%) don’t think that these technologies have made parenting any easier.”

Then there’s the “more disturbing” category:

39% of families are media-centric, consuming an average of 11 hours of screen time each day. These families are very or somewhat likely to use tv to keep children occupied (81% say this). About half of these families leave the tv on all or most of the time and about half (44%) have a tv in the child’s bedroom. Children in these families spend an average of 4.5 hours a day with screen media (remember, these are homes with children who are 0 – 8 years old). Lower income families tend to fall into this category.

As I say, worth a read.

Clark reveals some important insights into what it all means and offers some useful advice (being both a leading scholar in the field and a mother of two affords her a good bit of expertise into the challenges facing today’s parents). For instance:

Instead of looking for guidelines about how much is too much screen time, we need to encourage parents to think about teaching time management and we need to provide young people with opportunities to learn how to remove themselves from or end screen time. Michael Rich, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and advice author at askthemediatrician.org, suggested that families consider instituting a “digital Sabbath” in which they experience life together and apart from technologies. He also noted that this is often harder for parents than for their children. Barbara Fiese, Professor at the U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, noted the importance of encouraging healthy habits in the whole “family ecology” of which media ecology is one part.

And:

We need to remember that we don’t all experience media in the same way.

This was one of the points I wanted to make, as I observed that not all families even want to adopt a “media-light” position. I noted that the “helicopter parent” or “concerted cultivation” approach to parenting tends to keep families too busy to watch television and is framed in relation to viewing all leisure as a waste of time. Media are only seen as positive in these families when they fit within what in my book The Parent App I term an ethic of expressive empowerment. However, not all parents can engage in the kind of concerted cultivation activities that tend to make media use lighter. They may face economic, health, language, or job- or transportation-related challenges. Or their neighborhood’s not safe and so staying inside with media is a positive alternative.

This is just a sampling. I strongly encourage you to take five minutes and go read Clark’s post at PT. I often tell people that I have the smartest circle of friends of anyone I know, and Lynn is a sparkling example of what I’m talking about. If you’re a parent, or if you know one whose home has been Borged by digital media to the detriment of the family’s health, pass it along.

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