// Patrick Louis

Internet: Medium For Communication, Medium For Narrative Control — Adapting: Education, Literacy, and Reality

Perpetual motion. In order to understand it, one must think of it in motion

  • Internet: Medium For Communication, Medium For Narrative Control
  • Part 5 — Adapting
  • Section 4 — Education, Literacy, and Reality
Table Of Content
  • Web and internet literacy
  • Biases and Human Nature
  • Our Online Social Lives
  • Disconnecting to Better Reconnect
  • Learning to Live in The Information Era

We can attempt to patch things, use tools and software as countermeasures, to add laws and regulations, or to let the market decide, but in the end we are at the center of everything. If we are facing difficulties with the medium it’s because we haven’t matured enough to handle it properly. Right now we’re still in the process of trying to grasp how it works, in an apprenticeship stage.

Knowing our tools, how to use the internet medium properly, is a foundational skill, as important as any other in our information society. This goes under the name of digital, internet, or web literacy: the ability to read, write, and participate properly on the medium, in its full extent. It’s an application of the broader information literacy.

Literacy is important because it shapes societies. The degree of literacy of people affects directly what they’re able to imagine doing and actually do on a medium. By providing these skills to more people, teaching them how to use the internet, it would make the access to participation more equitable. It would ensure that there would be more representation of diverse ideas, geographies, languages, and cultures. Consequently, it would reduce the digital divide and increase the cognitive diversity of the netizens.

At the moment, as we’ve seen before, some topics are reserved to the elites. For example, we’ve dived into privacy as a luxury in one of the previous sections. Bringing internet-literacy to everyone, as a human right, would bridge the class gaps.
In 2016 the UN started considering the right to connect as a human right and some countries have adopted it in their laws. However, education on how to use the medium is as important but often dismissed.

Different organizations have thought this through and came up with pedagogical curriculums for the digital literacy core skills needed.
These are skills that are part of information literacy in general but applied to the internet medium. They fall in these categories:

  • Seeking information
  • Verifying information
  • Using information
  • Collaborating and participating
  • Ethics
  • Security and protection

The Mozilla foundation has created a web literacy curriculum that sets the base for the creation of courses that educators can give. They have three broad sections: write, read, and participate. These are subdivided into particular digital skills such as: designing, coding, composing, revising, remixing, connecting, protecting, open practices, contributing, sharing, evaluating, synthesizing, navigating, and searching.

Instead of jumping without knowing — letting users discover everything by themselves — this curriculum could be taught in schools, or as part of trainings easily available to everyone willing to learn.
Such digital citizenship curriculum would help everyone navigate the internet effectively, communicate on it using a variety of methods and tools to a range of different audiences, and have the adequate critical thinking to be able to evaluate information and arguments, identify patterns and connections, and construct meaningful knowledge that can be applied online and in the real world.

Additionally, this curriculum could have an emphasis on understanding the dynamics of the environment, namely: the actors, economies, and algorithms we’ve seen through this series.
Awareness is key to empower us against the influential algorithms, the curation engines of the internet, so that we can use them to our advantage.

Inherently part of this dynamic are the last point above of security and protection, which rhyme with anonymity, lack of trust, and the truth crisis we’ve seen before.

Security also goes along with privacy, implying tackling social cooling problems. Teaching people about cyberbullying, digital footprints, e-safety, and cyber hygiene as soon as possible is a must to protect ourselves online. As we said, people can, after getting a basic overview of the topics, follow recommendations and news from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other non-profit organizations.

One of the most important aspect of information literacy on the internet is making sure of the veracity of what we are consuming. Some organizations and institutions related to libraries, scholars, and media literacy as a whole have put forward good practices that can be taught to everyone to critically assess and navigate the internet space.
The IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) has redacted a document on how to spot fake news and published it initially on https://factcheck.org, to later translate it into 45 languages for accessibility.
Similarly, the Center For Media Literacy has also put forward key questions to ask every time we encounter dubious messages.

A critical part of fact checking is to know our own biases, to understand our own vulnerabilities.
Being aware of the existence and inner workings of the techniques that can be used to abuse our biases is the best defence against them. It provides the basis to quickly notice when we’re being tricked by messages and take some distance. Be it propaganda or marketing schemes, an intimate knowledge of our automatic impulses, training to be primed to know the coercive nature of these messages, make us proactive instead of reactive.

Outrage and shock are two emotional reactions that are employed to get us caught in the tornado of rampage. Noticing how anger doesn’t make our opinion valid, nor more righteous, is essential. Our emotions and opinions shouldn’t always mix.

Many of these biases are temporal and only work for a short period of time, this is why they often seek immediacy, scarcity, and speed. Slowing down media sharing and consumption practices is a good method to avoid falling for them.
The slow thinking way of processing information, compared with fast thinking, would also counter the speed property of the internet medium.

The author Hans Rossling has written about the declinism mindset, how the media change our perceptions, and how to fight these biases in his book Factfulness. The book takes three sides: realization that we do not see the world as is, awareness and identification of our instincts, and how to fight and control them by changing the way we see things.
Documents and teaching materials for educators can be found on the gapminder’s website.

Biases and instincts are short-term, on the long-term we should consider habits related to our surroundings, how we participate online and create communities. Just like it’s essential to learn the dynamics of the environment, it’s also essential to understand and learn how social interactions work on the internet.

This includes grasping what social biases we are prone to — the influence of our virtual surroundings — a good calibration of what this surrounding consists of, and how they are linked.

To calibrate, we can deliberately determine and examine the gatekeeping level of the community we are part of, or the ones we intend on joining or creating. This can be used to bring back a certain quality and trust.

The calibration can come in the form of segregation or separation of our online interactions and profiles. Instead of partaking on platforms that force us to integrate all of our lives, we have to select the ones that help us distinguish between the multiple facets and activities we do.
In the real world we go to different places with different people to do different things, we can do the same virtually. This would help mitigate the phenomena of private life becoming public life, social cooling, and overall paralysis.

The influence of our digital surrounding comes from various sides, all of them wanting to put us in a box, as a well-defined templatized individual. This could be because of marketing, the recommendation and curation engines, or simply the influencers and people we keep up-to-date with.

As with most of what we’ve mentioned so far, knowledge is the best way to avoid being manipulated to fit a narrative. We could train ourselves in metamemetics thinking to be able to recognize the content of the memeplexes, take some distance to criticise them. This would include stopping seeing memes as infotainment and to see them in their real light.
Above all, we need to learn to separate our definition of self from what we consume and share.

We could take this further and distance ourselves completely, to disconnect as a way of reconnecting.

Many are seeking interactions on the internet as an escapism from the difficulties of their lives. To feel safe between the walls of filter bubbles.
Some of these malaises emerge from the cultural insecurities and lacuna we’ve dived into in other sections.

Yet, some studies have found that these insecurities are reduced, along with fewer biases and reaction to outrage, and better communication, when we pull the plug for a while to do offline activities.

In particular, the most effective studies have looked at performing offline pro-social activities such as helping NGOs. Keep in mind that this should be sustained long enough so that it isn’t linked to any online social justice, mob-justice, internet karma points, or the virtue signalling we discussed earlier.

On one side, it works because we get far away from outrage and the negativity that is prominent online. It brings a more positive balance to what we feel instead of being consumed by our screens and their constantly urgent and pressing issues that we sense we are forced to react to.

On another side, it works because it takes us back to raw reality, with its sense of community away from neoliberalism and individualism. Maybe it shows how real human connection cannot be replicated online, but only the chemical reactions.
Nearly everything distinctive about human nature can be seen as a form of cooperation, and taking part in offline activities brings back our humanity.

Ironically, this is the same mechanism that is used to deprogram people from cults or addictive habits. To create a support group around them, with real connection, bonding, support, and orientation.

It could also be because taking time offline and doing non-profit work changes our neoliberal views, if our societies are inundated with them. We can think again of society as an organism which we are part of, with its flaws, and accepting each member with their minute differences.

This last point is probably what triggers our issues on the internet, the malaise and cultural gaps we talked about but that are not addressed.
Learning to live in the information era and the societies shaped around it needs the acceptance of multi-culturality and ambiguity. It requires a post-modern mindset, or even a meta-modern mindset, while most are equipped with a modern one.

For that, we have to make peace with post-modernism and what it implies, without reverting, because of our insecurities, to a cozy pre-modern mindset of tribalism. Some call this transition meta-modernism, or neo-modernism and post-postmodernity.
This means mitigating absolutist thinking, mitigating our inner urge to grasp for reassurances that would reinforce our beliefs when we find ourselves in the absence of certainty. The post-modern world doesn’t owe us certainty, on the contrary, it disintegrates absolutisms, annihilate dichotomy thinking (black-and-white mindset), removes categorical imperatives, and all the expectations on oneself and others. For post-modernity and meta-modernity, these are obstacle to our growth, they are our immunity to change and it makes us uncomfortable when we have to let go.
Absolutist thinking can significantly contribute to disorders of mood and affect, which can, in turn, negatively impact our quality of life because the world itself isn’t absolute and doesn’t bend to our preconceived notions. They are considered cognitive distortions in modern psychology since most of reality and everyday life takes place in the gray area, in between extremes.

This also applies to the trend of over-rationality and over-objectivism, where everything has metrics and is calculated. This over-emphasis on clear definitions and delineations, with no in-betweens, is another kind of absolutist thinking.

Navigating risk and uncertainty is a never ending endeavor. No amount of reassurance will ever quell all of the anxieties we have in our lifetimes.

This transition from modernity isn’t new, it’s been happening for almost a hundred years now and is only accelerated by the new attributes the internet brings.
This is clearly seen through some Western and Eastern art movements.

Modernism was about individualism, the conquest of the single person against the world, independence, personal ownership, but also a general malaise about our place in the world, nihilism, existentialism, fordism, seeing humans as tools, consumption, the psychoanalysts such as Freud, and the marketers such as Bernays.
In this transition, initially out of the absurdity of consumption, sprung art movements such as Dada. It had objects at its center and rejected all logic and reasons, the non-sense of all the machineries.

This extended into movements such as surrealism, shinkankakuha, and abstract expressionism that now had in the center the internal human experience and its reflection on the world. It portrayed a space between dreams and reality, using psychic automatism as a tool to extract thoughts, an inner discovery of our own senses and connection with our environment. The Surrealists and the shinkankakuha movement were fascinated by dreams, desire, magic, sexuality, and the revolutionary power of artworks to transform how we understand the world.

All of these movements were prequels to today’s post-modernism and meta-modernism. Our malaise was put unto art that expressed our infinite smallness, squeezing out our unconscious thought for us to admire and discover new visions, always reinterpreting, always breaking assumptions.
They express the tension we have between structure and non-structure, in any domain, even vis-à-vis language with topics such semiotics.

Presently, we have neural networks dreaming, algorithms that go into inceptions called deep dreams. We are the spectators of this space, the guides which gets back the reflection of their own dreams through a machine.
Yet, dreams rely on associations, even if unthinkable. They learn from these templatized, memeplexes, absolutist thinking.
Again, we should learn to distance our definition of self from what we consume, or offered to consume.

To tackle this we have to fix our cultural gaps, to get our act together. Do everything we can to increase our cognitive diversity, to have more global voices, to look for bridge figures, to search for in-betweens be it geographical, ideological, cultural, or others.

We can build internet realities that take into consideration our complexity, our diversity, our various and myriads of ways of expression who and what we are, and how we want to live. To accept the multiple facets of human ingenuity and creativity.
We can deliberately dabble with this way of thinking, this “meaningness”. The acceptance of nebulosity and fluidity, to learn to find meaning in uncertainty, to learn inter-sectional, cross-cultural connectivity. We can find our gaps and fix our weaknesses within this space, in others, creating a collage of humanness.

However, this poses multiples forms of challenges to move out of our comfort zones and expand our world views. Societies move the burden on the individuals and ask them to provide the structure and system for themselves instead of delegating it to some absolute authority.

Yet as the meme trickled into other online spaces, the line “we live in a society” – originally intended to be an enlightened statement which denounced the many flaws and contradictions of society – instead turned into a piece of satire.

The online world and discussions that bridge cultures make issues more apparent. These controversial topics need to be addressed openly, not through mobs, but maturely. Each on their own.

Some authors and psychologists have written endlessly on the individual’s effort to make sense of experiences, the meaning-making process, metaperception, neo-perception, and self-transformation.
From the “Mental demands of modern society” from Kegan, to Piaget subject-object relations, to Erik Erikson “ego identities”, to Abraham Maslow “self-actualization”.

Learning to live in the informational society is being deliberately open and motivated to possibilities from the intersectionality of all the experiences and ways of seeing the world.
We’re learning to communicate on a global scale while coexisting with algorithms.

This concludes our review of how we can mature to better adapt to the internet medium. We’ve started by exploring educational curriculum such as web and internet literacy, so that we can be properly prepared. We’ve said this includes reading, writing, and participating. Next, we’ve said this curriculum should also take into consideration awareness to biases, knowledge being the best way to tackle them. Later, we’ve mentioned long-term adaptation, social adaptation to the internet, which include learning to manage our connections online by segregating them properly and not being put in templatized boxes. After that, we’ve examined completely disconnecting as a way to better reconnect. We’ve seen some studies about helping NGOs and how it reduced biases and our reaction to online outrage. Finally, we’ve dived into what it means to be a netizen of the information era and societies, to live in post-modernity reaching meta-modernity. We’ve discussed some of the artistic transitions and how they reflect our malaise and continuous improvement at including ourselves in this intersectional and cross-cultural world that has never been as connected as today.

Table Of Content

References








Attributions: Origin of the ‘Primum Mobile’, from: Robert Fludd, Philosophia Sacra, Frankfurt, 1626




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