Week 4 Discussion


The theme for this week is complexity because the readings certainly bring up a complex question: are we becoming better people with the use of new media and the internet, or are we declining? With technology being incorporated into almost every aspect of life, the readings for the week ask if we are being controlled by it or if we are learning to control the technology.  Certain websites we use such as Google know that we will visit their page and take advantage of it, as shown in Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” They know that the more time we spend on their page the more money they are bringing in.

Most importantly, the human brain is a complex organism by itself, but the powerful machines that most new media are comprised of are just as, if not more, complex.  The human brain created these machines but it is slowly forgetting how they work.  We are aware that search engines will bring up lists of websites with our searches found within, but we don’t know how they are able to find those specific strands of text amongst so much data. To the average person who surfs the web, the inner technicalities and workings are unknown to him/her.  Many of the articles’ authors raise awareness that we, as humans, don’t always fully understand what we’re doing on the web.

Discussion Questions

  • In what ways does new media shape the way we think, speak, and communicate outside of digital environments?
    • ​​How has the simplicity of new media hindered us as human beings?
    • How can it improve our critical thinking skills?
  • As Carr mentions in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” there have been doomsayers around since Socrates. Using examples from your experience with new media, where is the truth in the doomsayers’ arguments? Do you believe there will be a time when we accept this innovation as we did with writing and the printing press?
    • Is the Internet, or other new media, worth the sacrifice? What qualities of the Internet and new media make it worth it? How can we propagate those qualities for future generations?
    • When do we start asking ‘what is next’?
  • Should the U.S. start performing assessments of digital literacy? If so, how could they go about doing this?
  • Rushkoff states that “reading has become a process of elimination rather than deep engagement.” How is deep engagement with media still relevant today?

Main Ideas

  • Complexity
    • The bias of technology moves us away from thinking complexly and an appreciation for complexity; this is embedded in the medium itself
    • Each media steers us towards a certain way of interactivity
    • New media is leading us to live life more simply and to prefer this simplicity
  • Complex Nature of Online Spaces
    • Websites are complex systems
    • The average user uses all kinds of services provided to them on the Web, and the only knowledge they need is to know how to navigate the site to drag and drop, or click on certain things
    • The actual way information is being moved online is done behind closed doors, drawing a distinct line between those who can solve the problems and those who cannot
  • Filter Bubbles
    • Internet platforms are using algorithms to show us what it thinks we want to see, not what we need to see; it’s becoming more and more personalized for each user
    • You don’t decide or see what gets edited out from your “filter bubble”
    • We should be more aware of cookies following us and collecting data; this creates a bubble around us of finding new and different information
    • It’s not a “balanced information diet,” and we need at least some control to connect us all together, otherwise it will isolate us in a web of one
    • Technological evolution is not inevitable
  • The difference between thick and thin tweets
    • Thin tweets only have one layer of information (“i like cottage cheese”)
    • Thick tweets have multiple layers of information embedded in 140 characters (“Come out to the #alpacashow Oct. 4-5 in Lansing, MI, check out the link for more info: www.link.com“)
  • Traditional vs. digital styles of reading
    • Surface engagement vs. deeper reading
    • We can have a deep reading experience online, but most of the time we are just skimming the surface
    • This surface level is available to everyone, but if you are more tech savvy in digital literacy you are able to engage and interact more deeply
  • Digital literacy
    • Definitions:
      • Task-based (conceptual) – Literacy is the ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.
      • Skills-based -Successful use of printed material is a product of two classes of skills: word-level reading skills and higher level literacy skills
    • Types:
      • Prose literacy: The knowledge and skills needed to perform prose tasks, (i.e., to search, comprehend, and use continuous texts). Examples include editorials, news stories, brochures, and instructional materials.
      • Document literacy: The knowledge and skills needed to perform document tasks, (i.e., to search, comprehend, and use non-continuous texts in various formats). Examples include job applications, payroll forms, transportation schedules, maps, tables, and drug or food labels.
      • Quantitative literacy: The knowledge and skills required to perform quantitative tasks, (i.e., to identify and perform computations, either alone or sequentially, using numbers embedded in printed materials). Examples include balancing a checkbook, figuring out a tip, completing an order form or determining the amount.
  • New media influence on the human brain
    • Our brains are constantly changing
    • Rushkoff doesn’t believe that we are opening ourselves up to higher-level thinking, but instead relying too heavily on technology
    • Because of the ecology of the medium, we are moving more favorably to the quick-fix solution
  • Oversimplification of everyday problems
    • Rushkoff says that the Internet oversimplifies nuanced problems
    • If we fall into this mind-set that everything should be so easy, when the system breaks, we don’t know what to do and there becomes a distinct line between those who know what they’re doing (employees, customer support/service) and those who don’t (us, users). When we become accustomed to these quick-fix solutions it then may become more difficult to face real-world problems on our own.
    • There is a simplicity in the Internet giving you exactly what you want
    • We prefer the easy way out and value speed
      • Sparknotes vs. actually reading the text
      • “Just Google it”

Additional Readings


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