The Angel of the iPhone: Part 4, A Web of One

Continuing on with our "discerning of the spirits," thinking about the spirituality of Web 2.0, what I'm calling the Angel of the iPhone.

In the last post we talked about the obvious, the true human goods provided by Web 2.0 and mobile connectivity. Here in this post I'd like to think about some of the ways that the Angel of the iPhone might be failing to fully deliver on that wonderful word "connected."

Rather than write about all this, let me simply point you to two TED talks that raise some of the relevant issues.

Eli Pariser discussing "filter bubbles" on the Web and how they can create Web 2.0 ghettos--a Web of One.

Sherry Turkle on her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (H/T to Emma for the heads up about Turkle's work):

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12 thoughts on “The Angel of the iPhone: Part 4, A Web of One”

  1. I've been aware for a while, at least theoretically, that Google, Facebook, et al., have algorithms for deciding what to show you. The extent of such filtering and the criteria used, as documented in the first video, is somewhat disconcerting, however. It's a good reminder that we can't let the Web do the thinking for us.

    From a purely academic standpoint, this problem is played out frequently in student research papers. Instead of looking for the most reliable sources, students go for the easiest and most available source, which tends to be wikipedia. Even if wikipedia is accurate (which it usually is), students need to realize that it is not a legitimate source of information from a research standpoint. Unfortunately, high school teachers don't tend to police the sources on research papers, so the problem is kicked down the road to their college professors.

  2. I also think students succumb to confirmation bias, stopping with the very first source that fits their worldview.

    For example, I'd like to do a study about confirmation bias and Google search terms. Get a group of liberal and conservative students and ask them to locate online material to be used in a paper to discuss the issue of, say, abortion. Sit the students down in front of a computer and record their very first search term. My hunch is that the liberal students would start off significantly more often with a search of "pro choice" where the conservative students would more often start off with "pro life". And Google responds. We carve the world into ghettos of ideological agreement.

  3. I've only had time to watch the Turkle talk so far, but my first response was this: "
    Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation." - Saint Augustine. It is also very sad how the spirit of the iphone has interrupted godly family relationships. This put me in mind of Hebrews 12:1. "Very sad" is such a lame way of putting it. My real emotional reaction is much more rich and complex than "very sad." But, it's time for lunch with my family ;)

  4. I've been trying to go offline on Sundays. I don't own a smartphone/iphone so that's easy (I leave my cellphone on since I don't have a landline) but I leave my laptop off and my television off all day.

    I find this difficult and it frightens me how difficult I find it. It's more difficult for me perhaps because I live alone. However, it gets easier by the end of the day. I slowly stop framing my activities as facebook statuses (with myself in the third person) and, as Turkle says, validating my thoughts by sharing them with others. We have to not fear facing off this fear of disconnection and aloneness because mastering it will make us better human beings. So I persevere.

    On a practical note, if you want to block certain websites of your choosing (like facebook) for a pre-set amount of time I recommend leechblock for Firefox.

    When I started blocking facebook for an hour or two I would still keep clicking on the link, and I even tried to get around the program.

    Don't block this blog though. That would be silly.


  5. In terms of academics and connectivity, my 8th grader had a "group project" to do recently called a "prezi" that was done purely online through a designated website. Group projects no longer require the group to call/talk/communicate or get together in person.

  6. Despite the seeming impersonality of online projects and discussions, I think they play an important role in education.

    For one, they allow reticent students to participate more fully than they can in class, where they may not be able to get a word in edgewise (especially difficult for introverts who need time to formulate their thoughts), or may choose not to participate for fear of humiliation (real, due to speech impediments, or perceived).

    Online projects provide a more organized structure for completing the work: each participant knows what they are responsible for and is accountable to the others. Teachers can often monitor the work and see exactly who contributed what to the project.

    Finally, collaborative online projects are a socioeconomic equalizer: no need to only be in groups with people you know or people who live close by or people who don't live on the other side of the tracks. A group can be a truly random subset of the class without having to worry about logistical and socioeconomic impediments to collaboration.

    That's not to say that all school work should be online...but it does have it's purposes and benefits in moderation.

  7. I am using Turkle for my Christianity and Culture class - really great stuff. You should also check out her book The Inner History of Devices.

  8. Hi Joe,
    You're right about all of that. But when he needed some help, because he couldn't figure out how to "draw the lines" in the program, there was no one to ask. The project was due before midnight on Sunday, submitted through the website, so the teacher wasn't available, nor was the group, to ask questions or get help.

  9. Patricia, sorry to hear about your son's bad experience. I agree that tech-based assignments that are build on an inadequate instructional scaffold or which do not have adequate built-in help can be detrimental to education. What I described was certainly somewhat idealized, and no doubt there are attempts to implement educational technology that fall short of the ideal (due mostly to inadequate training and mentoring in a pell-mell rush to implement technology in schools). I hope you took the opportunity to notify the teacher of this deficiency so that he/she can improve the next time.

  10. Yet another recommendation to a BBC story on this:
    Quote: "The Bishop of Buckingham - who reads his Bible on an ipad - explained to me the similarities between Apple and a religion.
    And when a team of neuroscientists with an MRI scanner took a
    look inside the brain of an Apple fanatic it seemed the bishop was on
    to something.

    The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the
    same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith."

  11. I am in college; my professors don't like Wikipedia so I subscribe to the online encyclopedia Brittanica. Is that much different?
    Professors have no business charging students with confirmation bias. Education is supposed to open minds and expose our biases, and an educator's job is bias-bust. If your student's assignments are shackled with bias then the teaching or assignments need to be restructed to minimize that possibility. A professor should actively determine the biases of each individual student at the beginning of the term and tailor assignments accordingly, and even have students respond to other students.
    "Do the work and get the grade" is easy for professor and student, but it isn't ideal, and it isn't education in the fullest sense.

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