Why News And The Internet Don’t Mix

(Image: Steve Cutts)

The way in which we consume information determines how we interpret it.

In his seminal work “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Daniel Kahneman, Nobel prize winning behavioural psychologist  describes how two basic systems govern the way we think. We have a primal ‘system one’ way of thinking which is fast, impulsive and emotional. We also have a ‘system two’ form of thinking which is slow, deliberative and logical.

Democracy demands we use ‘system two’ thinking in order to function. Our institutions are designed to arrive at logical, evidence-based decisions. Our legal systems are designed to apply standards of ‘reasonableness’ in solving disputes. And our media should, in theory,  be designed to engender healthy, informed, public debate.

The internet, by contrast, is designed for impulse. Everything is fast and personal. We click, like, swipe and tweet as our neural circuits light up and react to stimuli like notifications, clickbait and automatically playing video. The internet creates an effortless, instantly, interactive experience which allows us to constantly redirect our attention to whatever grabs it in the moment never settling on one task or focus.

The speed and responsive nature of the internet means not only is it a distracted medium for news consumption but also a highly emotional one. Unlike when reading a physical newspaper in which you digest information and can contemplate it’s content in manageable morsels, online news comes at you fast and encourages you to instantly share your emotional response to a story on a public platform. Today people barely get past the headlines before erupting in a tweet-storm of rage or entering the cesspit of crass comments to vent their anger and opposition.

The toxic environment for discussion and debate we all witness online is a natural manifestation of the internet’s fast and fleeting format.  Studies repeatedly show that the more moral and emotional language used in political headlines and tweets, the more likely they are to receive likes, shares, comments and retweets.

Thus in the competition for clicks, reasoned, logical and important information is often traded for stories that can manufacture outrage, anger and fear. If we want live in a world where media can inform citizens, reflect healthy disagreement and host democratic debate then we must begin to accept the current business model and infrastructure of the internet is incompatible with this objective.

We should also be concerned by the increasing extent to which online news consumption is being dictated by for-profit algorithms. In the same way the food industry has exploited our natural craving for fat, salt and sugar, so too is the attention industry exploiting our natural curiosity for conspiracy, mystery and doubt to lead us down a dangerous rabbit hole of consuming more extreme content in the name of “engagement.”

Youtube is the worst offender. Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci has written on just how manipulative Youtube’s recommended videos and autoplay function are in encouraging extreme consumption:

“Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultra-marathons. It seems as if you are never “hard core” enough for YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes”

The Wall Street Journal also conducted an investigation of YouTube content finding that YouTube often “fed far-right or far-left videos to users who watched relatively mainstream news sources”. 

Tufecki describes this recent phenomenon as “the computational exploitation of a natural human desire: to look “behind the curtain,” to dig deeper into something that engages us.” As we click and click, we are carried along by the exciting sensation of uncovering more secrets and deeper truths. YouTube leads users down a rabbit hole of extremism and profits from the process.

The internet has opened up access to unlimited libraries of information allowing us to learn more about the world than ever before. However from inhibiting reasoned discussion to encouraging extreme consumption today’s diet of digital news isn’t making us smart it’s making us sick.

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Catalonia: Is Independence Worth It?

Author: Anna Pomortseva

Puidgemont in Brussels, members of Catalan Parliament under threat of imprisonment and more than 1000 firms transferred from Catalonia to Madrid, has Catalonia declared Independence ?

 

” 8 segundos de independencia ” – a new proverb for Catalonia, which speaks of a temporary phenomenon.

The temporary phenomenon is the time period of independence, when on October 10th Carles Puidgemont signed a declaration of separation from the Kingdom of Spain. However, after just 8 seconds he stopped the process. What was it? The failure of the referendum and the triumph of Madrid?

The decision of the Parliament of the Generalitet of Catalonia resulted in negative reactions among supporters of independence. Yet it is necessary to mention that the process of separation needed to be paused to guarantee security and stability for residents.

In dealing with such a volatile situation, Catalonia isn’t ready for an immediate and violent break in relations with Spain. Who will control borders, how will wealth and power be shared, and will a new republic remain within the European market ? The best case scenario would be if Madrid & Barcelona could discuss and solve these questions and salvage the Catalan economy from the turmoil it is in now. But it sounds like utopia, doesn’t it?

In Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution, which has never been invoked in Spain’s four decades of democracy, the central government is allowed to take control of any of its 17 autonomous communities during crisis situations and may restrict power in the region for a certain period of time. However, the Article does not give a right to completely abolish autonomy in the region.

Right now, the current process would have no influence on the economy. According to the available data, on October 22nd almost 1200 firms transferred their headquarters to other regions in Spain. The lists include CaixaBank, Sabadell, Gas Natural & Agbar. Companies explained their actions by citing how the uncertain political situation could lead to losses.

This is not hard to understand considering the complete chaos in Catalonia. Carlos Puidgemont has left Spain and fled to Belgium in order to avoid arrest. The decision came after the Spanish Prosecutor filed charges of sedition, rebellion and other violations against Puidgemont and members of the Catalan Parliament. One day later the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called for fresh elections in December:

On October 31, Carlos Puidgemont announced in Brussels that the Parliament of Catalonia, which was dissolved by the Spanish government, recognized this decision and stopped its work before holding a long-term elections. Deposed leader Puidgemont said he was not trying to escape justice by travelling to Brussels; ” I’m not here to demand political asylum but in order to put Catalan crisis at the heart of the European Union ” he told reporters in Brussels. He added that his return to Catalonia depends on ” guarantees” of   “fair and independent treatment from Madrid “. It is important to also note that the former members of the regional government of Catalonia are accused of misuse public funds. The crime is punishable by 30 years in prison. On November 2nd, already 8 Catalan ministers have been jailed by a Spanish judge over their role in independence on October 1st that was declared illegal under Spain’s Constitution .

Puidgemont reacted to this decision in a televised address on Thursday evening, in which he claimed that “It is a very serious attack on democracy” and the elections on December 21st would be a “coup against the elections”.

There is still a huge divide between demonstrators. They are diverse, coming from all age groups and socioeconomic levels. More and more articles are highlighting that not all of Catalonia supports independence and many believe the Catalan government played their political game in order to meet their own ends.

“I want to be Spanish and I want to live in Barcelona. Who is the Catalonian government to take those rights from me ?” asked Maria Garcia , a resident of Barcelona.

Now on the streets across Catalonia we often here not “Si , Independencia Catalunya” but “Todos Somos Cataluna”, Spanish for “We are all Catalonia”

British historian Sir Antony Beevor believes in unity and that the separatist’s euphoria will be under threat of existence . He states, “Where the Catalans go from here , it’s difficult to tell -but one thing is certain: that the December 21 elections will show that there is not a majority in favor of independence and the world will breath a slight of relief , particularly the EU.”

It should be noted that the concept of holding referenda is becoming popular among regions nowadays. What does it mean for Scotland , Kurdistan , Basque Country and Catalunya to be separate ? Is it a right to self-determination or something more ? There are numbers of self-proclaimed states which are not internationally accepted and this is the major obstacle for such “communities ” in the international arena

Today,  many political scientists place more emphasis on the growth of nationalism as a precondition for separation . Simply said “back to the roots.” In the case of Catalunya , it is return to 1469 when the marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castilie laid the foundation for a unified Kingdom of Spain .  There are no other reasons except the high level of nationalism in those communities to be separate from their country and call to the world that they have established new states. However, here is another question : Is it a possible for us to see a new referendum in the near future? Unilateral way to declare independence is an uneasy road for success.

An unrecognized state cannot join the UN or the EU , nor can they avail of the benefits of international financial institutions. Its citizens are less privileged than citizens of other recognized countries. There is always a possibility of territorial dislocations of newly formed states which may lead to contradictions between neighbours . Economic difficulties also can take place : a different currency , difficulties in attracting investment and often economic sanctions.

According to such scenario with so many disadvantages , new countries will face many difficulties on their road to independence . There is nothing to say it is impossible for such states to declare independence but they may not be internationally recognized and not hold status of statehood from the standpoint of international law.

It is a necessary question to ask: Is it worth it ? Instead of making a division of us on black and white , Catalan and Spanish , Turkish and Greek Cypriots , we should put our attention and maximum efforts to the burning problems in the world: poverty , pollution, climate change . As without the world , there will be no sense to the referendum.

This article was published in association with the IRAS Global Observer an eclectic blog of news, politics, history and philosophy from students at Jagiellonian University, Krakow: 

https://irasglobalobserver.wordpress.com/

Vegas Victims Have No Right To Healthcare

With No Public Right to Healthcare GoFundMe is only way Victims of Mass Shooting Can Afford To Be Looked After.

 

In the aftermath of routine mass murder with legally purchased weapons of war, we in Europe tend to turn our heads west with disgust at the outrageous absence of gun regulation. Rarely however, do we examine the equally disturbing humanitarian disgrace that is the absence of a universal public healthcare system in the richest country on earth.

I was dismayed to read that Vegas County Commissioner Steve Sisolak has had to set up a GoFundMe, the private crowdfunding online service to try and raise money for victims to receive proper medical treatment and care. How humiliating that with the largest mass shooting in U.S history the victims have to beg for charitable donations rather than be cared for by their state. Nevada’s Republican Governor Brian Sandoval vetoed legislation in June that would have allowed Nevadans to buy into the state’s Medicaid program.

Its important to remember that thoughts and prayers are free, when the likes of Trump and Lindsay Graham grandstand about their horror at “Pure Evil” watch their wallets and not their words.

The next is an excerpt from The Intercept on the extent of the problem:

“Asking strangers for charitable donations to tackle medical bills is ubiquitous in the United States. A report by NerdWallet released in 2015 found that $930 million of the $2 billion raised by GoFundMe since its 2010 launch have been related to medical bills. Yet NerdWallet’s comprehensive survey of crowdfunding sites found that barely 1 in 10 medical campaigns raised the full amount they asked for.

Contrast this American experience with that of some of our allies. In June, dozens of people were injured and eight people were killed when London terrorists ran a van through a crowd and then proceeded to stab multiple people. It was the second major terror attack of the year, the first one being in March in Manchester.

In the United Kingdom, most health care is free. The National Health Service, erected in the ashes of World War II, provides comprehensive health care to all British residents.

At the London attack, NHS staff were on the scene within  six minutes,aiding the injured. Last month, the NHS gave a special honor to the first responders, nurses, and doctors who aided the victims of the London terror attack. “They highlighted the resilience and the compassion of the NHS staff who time after time responded to victims, who had suffered unimaginable injuries – putting the needs of those people first. This is the NHS at its best,” Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer of the NHS, said.

In the Manchester attack, American Kurt Cochran was killed. His wife, Melissa Cochran, returned to the U.S. with the need for continuous care. With no American NHS, she had to set up a GoFundMe to finance her treatment. Thankfully, this one both met and exceeded its goal, having raised $83,512.”

 

Watch Kyle Kullinski discuss in more detail here:

Why You Shouldn’t Be A Blogger

A beautiful short on the internal struggle of every creative.

 

Thinking you’re not good enough is something nearly every writer experiences. From thinking ‘what’s the point’ to ‘I’m just not talented enough’ , overcoming our internal doubts is often half the creative process.

Filmmaker and founder of DSLR Guide Simon Cade has unveiled a brilliant short video on overcoming our artistic insecurities and being resilient writers. Shot with the camera looking up at the gloomy grey clouds while handwritten text mirrors the narrator’s dialogue, it is a captivating arrangement which captures the journey of becoming confident and comfortable with your work.

Check out ‘Why You Shouldn’t Be An Artist’ below:

 

 

Why Schools Fail Students

Author: Edducan

Charles Ponzi. Bernie Madoff. Benedict Arnold. Richard Nixon. Lance Armstrong. Some copper-bottomed, hall of fame, heavy weight champions of world class liars. Their very names are synonymous with deception, lies, fabrications, flights of fancy and half truths. Notably absent from that list is ‘every school in the UK’. However, and it’s a big ‘however’, this is a catastrophic omission that everyone has been complicit in.

Okay, maybe not ‘every’ school but certainly it’s true that from time immemorial the education system has been comprehensively failing to prepare their young charges with the skills, tools and knowledge to make informed choices about their futures. The guy at my school threw a psychometric test in front of us, asked if we wanted to be lawyers and drifted off into an ante-room, the subject never to be discussed again. Corralled into university courses that serve only to line the universities’ pockets and boost the schools’ stats, there are generations of degree-qualified, directionless, unemployable young adults drifting from hairnet and name-tag to hairnet and name-tag in a series of jobs that on paper they should have left behind. Worthless degrees are almost a cottage industry in the UK and it’s been allowed to happen because of years of schools creating an atmosphere of rank terror that tells kids without a degree they may as well abandon all hope.

Of course degrees are wonderful and schools should rightly encourage ambition, but it’s surpassed that lofty goal and become a rote exercise in getting them out the door so they can pat themselves heartily on the backs and congratulate one another on a job well done. Three years after the fact when these poor, mis-sold kids emerge from Westminster University with a degree in David Beckham Studies and £50,000 of debt it doesn’t affect their stats so why should they give a shit right?

edducan uni

The crazy thing is I thought people would care about this, that they would share my outrage so I asked the schools, the parents, the LEAs, the MP, even the local paper to try and help me raise awareness, I assumed that this is an issue that they would want to solve. Turns out they really didn’t. The schools were defensive, the parents in denial, the LEAs resigned, the MP ineffectual and the local paper more interested in generating revenue than news. So now I resort to huffing and puffing on the internet like so many other frustrated keyboard warriors.

Seeing Both Sides of the Coin

Working in recruitment and as an academic advisor I see both sides, I hear employers lament the lack of quality and I see schools making great claims about how wonderfully they’re performing. Ofsted estimates about 70% of schools are failing to give the right quality and amount of help in careers advice, The Sutton Trust concurs, as does the DfE, the LEAs and employers. In fact the only people who disagree are the schools.

Microcosmically the area I live in, I’ve contacted, spoken to or met every secondary school in the Cheshire West and Chester and Cheshire East regions. Several times. With the exception of private clients and a few bold schools this has yielded almost no work. Because ‘they do all this already’. Not with outside providers you understand, heaven forefend they actually engage experts in the field, no, no – they simply draw on the wellspring of their already overstretched faculty, who by the very nature of their profession, are only qualified to tell students about accessing a career in teaching. My business partner, a qualified teacher, holds qualifications in teaching English as a second language, the fundamentals of college counselling and a PhD from Columbia University and me with 14 years of getting people jobs, writing CVs, interview coaching, developing professional comportment and networking skills should quite rightly defer to a 23 year-old graduate who’s somehow ambled arse backwards into the position of Head of Careers. As well they should, given their background in teaching Geography.

 

Wilful Blindness

Conversations I’ve had include gems like, ‘60% of our students go on to Russell Group universities.’ What about the 40% that don’t? I presume it must be even more exciting, so much so they couldn’t bring themselves to tell me. The Chair of Governors of a free school described our offering of careers and university advice as the ‘latest fad’. Yup, apparently preparing students for life after school is a passing whimsy. One school’s quick to assure me when I make contact they are on top of things because they have their DT teacher on the case. Phew. Without knowing what we can offer, the schools dismiss outside help without a second thought, such is either the level of arrogance or the wilful ignorance of how badly what they’re doing is regarded by anyone who actually knows what they should be doing. When we offered to host free seminars to let parents and students know they had options they would return to their blank-faced, unblinking menhir like ‘computer says no’ response. Unassailable, unreasonable and completely unwilling to loosen their stranglehold – the mentality seems to be one of:

‘I don’t care how badly we’re doing it, we mustn’t let anyone else try and do it better.’

We conducted a survey asking people their feelings on the provision available and what became clear was the amount of trust conferred to schools, trust that’s not been reinforced by facts or even anecdotal evidence just blind faith. We collectively have allowed them to enjoy this feted position as the guardians of our children’s futures and ceded responsibility but haven’t held them to account when it starts to unravel. They employ antiquated techniques, hangovers from a bygone era and hope that by giving kids access to a few links detailing what jobs exist they’re fulfilling their obligations. It’s beyond reckless, it’s borderline criminal.

sheffield

 

 

So what can be done? Lobby the schools, push them to explain how and why they feel a woodwork teacher is the best person to tell their children how to access a career in bio-engineering or arts administration or how to study overseas, or get grants and scholarships to work in molecular biology. Ask them what qualifies them to tell kids how to write a CV or how to interview.

Or how to get work experience and conduct informational interviews. Or network. Or how to construct an application for an apprenticeship or job or university personal statement. Ask them to prove that they’re one of the illustrious 30% of schools that are getting at least some of it right. If they can’t answer those questions then speak to your MP. Or read my book.

 

Edducan is a blogger helping parents and students alike get the best from education and carve the life they want.

Check out his website here:

https://edducan.blog/

Harvard Professor Explains Why Finance Doesn’t Work

Mihir Desai professor at Harvard Business School discusses how the world of finance has become broken and corrupted by indifference and greed.

In this clip he argues that while general dislike and animosity towards finance is mostly justified, financial services and investment are industries we cannot live without.

Whether it be saving to go to college, grow businesses or the ability to purchase home finance is central to helping manage society. According to Desai, energy must be directed towards fixing the industry so that it is focused on value creation for people rather than value extraction for bankers.

This is an interesting discussion and poses some difficult questions as to the capacity to change the global neoliberal system in which the worlds 8 richest people have as much wealth as half the worlds population

What Makes A Video Go Viral?

What makes a video go viral? Is it a formula or is it just something elusive and unpredictable? trying to make content that will go viral can be a dangerous game for content creators, limiting their creativity or trying to tailor their talents to what they think people like, rather than just trusting their gut with what is actually good content.

Unfortunately we have an online system that prioritizes vitality over quality. Videos such as “Charlie bit my finger” or the salt bae meme show that these things are almost impossible to predict and that trends change often, if you become good at what you like, it is likely the trend will follow you rather than the other way around.