Week four was divided into two different themes that looked at privacy and protection as well as law and policy. It was prudent timing because released during this week was a documentary on Netflix called the Great Hack that speaks to the insidious nature of data accumulation and what the companies who store our data can do with it. While all documentaries can be dissected for bias, its central focus, that large scale digital companies can accumulate data and act without our knowledge to influence us, is a pretty objective fact in today’s digital world.
One of the interesting thoughts that I had while watching this was what would education be like if the same tools that big digital corporations used to manipulate us were used positively in schools for the purpose of educating. Teaching in its crudest form, is social manipulation – particularly from a behaviour sense. Assigned seating so a students’ attention is not distracted, pacing lessons so that enthusiasm is kept, designing lessons that attract and motivate learning. Would I be able to teach better by virtue of keeping a students attention if I had access to the same data tools that Cambridge Analytica did? Would my teaching and lessons change for the better?
In most schools, data sets are still remedial and there is sincere respect to privacy when it comes to sharing them; often at the detriment of the student and teacher who would otherwise benefit from making connections to the patterns within them.
Through serendipity I found a very useful link after engaging with comments made in the forum discussions this week. In the thread Are we thinking too small with policydevelopment? Lori and Julianne lead me to a NS Dept. of Education webpage that sent me through a world of dead and mis-labled links but ultimately culminated in my stumbling upon a website called Need Help Now. The site is a an initiative from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, and is developed very clearly and with many resources for youth, parents and teachers alike. One of its main features is a clear and organized page for describing how to Remove Pictures/Videos from social media and websites by identifying where to go on each of these services to report indecent images. Further, it helps to clarify the law and gives generalized advice about what actions you should take.
In week three the focus of the course was on Health and Wellness. I reflected on my own digital use by digging into my iPhone’s Screentime app. My data helped inform me that overall I use my phone more than I assumed (although pleasantly surprised and terrified to realize that my use is actually trending down…).
The fact that smartphones need a tool to remind us about our overuse is reflective of the design of these technologies. Often our digital use is dictated by the specific principles of addiction that software and hardware developers incorporate so that we remain glued to our devices. If it is hard for an adult to reign in their use it must be impossible for students who are still developing their attention spans.
If you understand the tricks that grab your attention you can learn to have a healthier relationship with your phone.
In the following Vox video, Tristan Harris, co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology and a former Google design ethicist explains some tips that people can use to change their behaviour with their phone. He describes three things that people can change in their phone settings that will move us away from addiction.
Turn off all non-human notifications.
Grayscale your screen
Restrict your home screen to everyday tools.
What is genuinely worth your attention on an uninterrupted basis?
While a person who acknowledges that they have a problem can develop strategies to prevent further addiction, when thinking about our students we must remember that they are often unconvinced that they have a problem and for every video or webpage that advocates for how to put down your phone, there are those that help students bypass and circumvent the strategies that developers and parents put in their way so they can further satiate their click/post desires.
It seems apparent that like any addictive drug the first step is acknowledging you have a problem and it doesn’t seem as though many people want to take that first step. The Center for Humane Technology believes that “while companies have been upgrading technology, they’ve been downgrading humans;” shortening our attention spans, addicting children, and turning life into a competition for likes and shares.
In the unit this week we looked at netiquette which is a portmanteau of (Inter)net and ettiquette. Ettiquette is defined by Google as the “customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular group” and online there are many different “groups” that require different behaviours. Navigating these different groups can be challenging, particularly because online interactions don’t typically take place with the physical social cues that in-person behaviours involve and a person may not have anyone acknowledge their miscues directly, which leaves one to continue to make social or digital errors.
I tried to think of an online context for which I did not have much frame of reference and I immediately thought of Snapchat. I do not use Snapchat, but I do have a cursory knowledge of how it is used and what it is for. If I were to start using it would I come off like a novice, much like my parents did when they began using Facebook? Am I my parents already??? I found a video that illustrates some of the common behaviours that using Snapchat requires. A few of these behaviors are common sense to a digital native and have some commonality between the norms of different social media platforms but many of these tips are specific and would be unbeknownst to me without guidance or heavy use of the platform.
During our discussions in the forums the idea of email etiquette was broached and there were many strong feelings about how one should write an email. As a general statement, I dislike email and the technology. I try hard to limit the emails I receive and try hard to limit the emails I send. I think if a technology was designed well, one wouldn’t have to do these things. Between emailing, messaging, and texting email is dead last in terms of efficiency but I understand its necessity in this day and age. When the communication is for a specific back and forth between two people in a formal or professional relationship, formal letter writing conventions should be adhered to. Greetings, salutations etc. However, once there is cordiality I am inclined to disregard unnecessary text. My inclination is that we are all busy here and formality takes time to craft and read and if it lends nothing to the message then it should be removed. No one frets when texts are written this way. The medium truly is the message.
So far in this course we have looked at what the digital challenges are for today’s youth. In the film InRealLife (2013) the filmmaker takes us through the world of today and sprinkled among the detailed descriptions by youth of what their day to day interactions are with technology we see adult talking heads who affirm that today’s youth are in over their heads when it comes to digital interactions. While the focus of the film is on youth, it’s perhaps wise to realize that we have had intrusive Web2.0 technology for well over 10 years and the high school student career is only three years long. Many of these ‘students’ and ‘youth’ are now adults and the problem is much greater than just that of the young. Many of the problems that affect the youth in the film are the same that affect the teachers who stand before them.
The following video illustrates what is like to move throughout the world without your phone. As exaggerated as they likely want it to seem, the depictions probably hit too close to home for many.
But why are we so addicted to checking our phone and why do we engage with these apps despite some of us being aware that they are a time suck, or cause us harm in other ways? Vox tries to help explain why Facebook in particular keeps us attached to it and what some of the dangers to our privacy can be because of these phenomena.
Finally,a satirical take on our digital interactions is brought into the real world. Is it any wonder that these programs create such anxiety with their users? Aside from the content that we submit to these programs, we must also look at the design and how it affects our use and well-being. When re-framed, these programs are as absurd as they get.