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Category Archives: Media

Planned ignoring could be the answer

As a nineteen-year-old counselor at a camp for children from inner city Halifax, I first learned about the idea of planned ignoring (https://www.mayinstitute.org/news/topic_center.html?id=395). I was shocked that there could be such a technique, that being ignored could be recommended as a way to help children, that it could be therapeutic. But then I wasn’t a kid whose acting out, and only acting out, was reinforced by attention. And I suppose it wasn’t in my character anyway, since I did want more attention sometimes than I got. As a person working with children and youth, I thought that all children’s expressed needs, frustrations, complaints, and antics should be responded to in some way.

I have come to know better over the years to respond to people–my children, students, and others, on a continuum of attention, including sometimes purposefully ignoring behaviors or comments that don’t deserve a response.

Now I see planned ignoring as a possible answer to the problem of a Donald Trump presidency. The more I learn about Trump, the more I believe that the only thing that matters to him is attention, and whatever behaviors get that attention will become his modi operandi. So planned ignoring of certain behaviors of his should have the effect of extinguishing them through lack of reinforcement, as long as his more desirable behaviors are reinforced at the same time (https://www.special-learning.com/article/extinction).

Most of us are only exposed to Trump’s behavior through the media, and we know that the purpose of for-profit media is to win our attention long enough that the advertisers see increases in sales. So no one can expect the corporate media, however horrified they appear to be by Trump’s words and actions, to initiate any sort of campaign to ignore him. We’ve seen that his ability to shock, offend, perplex, and provide comedy to the public tends to increase ratings and readership of outlets that cover it. And when increases to readership and viewership of specific types of stories can be tracked, as they can for online media, there’s another layer of reinforcement added, this time for the media to spend more time spreading stories of Trump’s undesirable behaviors, if they are the most consumed.

So it has to come from us. Media consumers can and should make the choice to withdraw attention from all forms of coverage that reinforce negative, attention-seeking behaviors by public figures. Not that we should ignore important coverage, but we need to distinguish between that and coverage that effectively reinforces what’s worst in human nature.

This idea could certainly be applied more broadly, such as to a move to cut down on gluttonous consumption of stories about violent offenders, terrorists, fringe elements, and copy-cat offenders. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2015/12/04/yes-mass-shootings-tend-to-produce-copycats-so-do-terror-attacks/?utm_term=.2ee9e5a59024)

Is it even realistic to suggest the idea that media consumers can make the kind of concerted effort that could move a person like Trump to behave? Probably not, if it means there is real consensus about what behavior is wanted. Many people love the fact that Trump will say and do anything, and call it a virtue. But from what I can tell, if enough consumers of media did participate in a movement to avoid coverage (and intervening paid advertisements) that’s mostly spin and hype and had no practical application, it could affect ratings and send the heads to media scurrying into the meeting room to adjust their coverage (how ratings are determined: http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/solutions/measurement/television.html).

It’s not helpful to watch five minutes, be appalled, and watch ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes more. That kind of thing gives some of the least trusted news sources the highest viewership. (http://www.businessinsider.com/here-are-the-most-and-least-trusted-news-outlets-in-america-2014-10) So there’s no incentive to be more trustworthy, and certainly none to provide coverage not solely designed to entertain. Personally, if I get sucked in that way as I pass through the living room, I feel defiled and stupider for it afterwords. the phrase amusing myself to death comes to mind. There’s a book that’s as relevant as ever. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amusing_Ourselves_to_Death)

Neither is it effective, apparently, to specialize in coverage critical of Trump, since although he occasionally gets irritated by it, he probably still believes what he was quoted as saying in The Art of the Deal:

“Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.”

 SO here’s an invitation to one and all. Ignore most of the coverage, and try to get the essentials from sources not dependent on corporate advertising and have excellent journalistic principles and a history of covering what’s truly important. Some diseases can only be cured by being starved of nourishment.
 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Culture & Society, Ideas, Media

 

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If only there were enough if this to go around

Heavy turquoise, mug, softly ribbed and a little asymmetrical, warms your hands as you sip the foam. You reflect on the pleasures of the good breakfast of sausage, eggs, and Brussels sprouts with cheese, the run along the trail with Indian plum buds bursting like candle flames on the banks of the running stream. The soy milk foam is stuck down at the bottom of your mug, and you want that last bit. Reaching for the first implement on hand to scoop it up, you find a weathered stick cracked to a point, rough and splintery, and after imagining the feel of the wood on your tongue, decide to leave it where it is. Your youngest son has been here, whittling sticks being his specialty. All sizes and shapes, with or without duct tape handles or wooden hilt, some with round twine, left behind everywhere, swords and pistols for his daily battles. You used to study animal tracks when you were a girl, learned to recognize rabbit trails, the difference between dog and cat impressions, the story of an owl attack on a rodent in the snow. Now you follow trails of toy weapons, discarded socks, used dishes, and food wrappers, interpreting natural human history.

You’ve hooked up your laptop in the back bedroom for some quiet while most of the family watches the football game. You’re glad your daughters and son can enjoy that relaxed time together with their dad, but you’ve never tried to cultivate that particular interest, though the advertisements are an interesting study. But sometimes people get annoyed at your commentary. The Mazda ad that asks, “Remember the time when your trunk wouldn’t open itself? When you only had HD in the living room? When a little weather could put a hold on your plans?” All a giant cultural irony to you, and you can’t help saying so. Do they think that just because some folks are sitting down to a football game on a Sunday afternoon, they think their purpose in life is to strive for more luxury, withdraw more from the troubles and injustices of our times, to give in to and feed a craving for more, more, more? Must just be clueless, never studied or served overseas, never had a taste for, say, the news. We talk about an educated citizenry, and then this is what we produce–manipulation of those too dull to separate false from true, want from need.

You pick up some audiobooks for your boy last week, told him they were required listening, wanting him to broaden his range beyond the usual formulaic series. Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, Hitler Youth, and Farmer Boy. He was totally engaged. Hitler Youth an eye-opener, the way these boys were encouraged to compete to be the best while being ruthless to the weak, to elevate the state above all other loyalties such that children turned their neighbors, their companions, their parents in for comments critical of the regime and the fuehrer, submitted themselves sacrificially unto death, all the while fighting tooth and claw to survive and come out on top, hoping to be one of the elite. As their nation did the same, organizing to recover from their war losses and breech the humiliating conditions of the Treaty of Versailles. In their trust in the state and desire to serve it in its struggle, ordinary Germans people failed to convey to their children the foundational principles, the personal ethics, that would have enabled them to see through this demonic form of patriotism. Which you see as a kind of moral laziness, an abandonment of parental responsibilities, both in actual families and in German religious institutions.

Back in the kitchen after the game you hear the comforting rush of dishwasher, the oven timer on the granola rings, your daughter taps on keys as she wraps up her essay on experiential learning. She was completely stuck, couldn’t get from being about to talk about what she wanted to say to creating written sentences that flowed. So you asked her questions and typed her thoughts, worked on showing her the process, even fed her some phrases. She’s really improving, and starting to write about issues important to her, getting that this is her education. You suggest that she conclude her paper with something about how it was through her educational experiences that she became interested in experiential education, and is now interested in not only getting this paper handed in as required for a grade, but in studying related issues for a deeper personal understanding.

Running down the trail today, you tried to pay more attention to the different bird songs, catch sight of the singers. The tough ones are those that hide out in the underbrush. But today as you came to the intersection of two trails, there was a winter wren perched on a mossy rock, singing. High and sweet, melodious in a non-structured way, each phrase a few seconds long. Each time it sang, it opened its tiny wings and held them at an angle downward from its body, and turned its beak from side to side to direct the song to all the wrens at various points of a wide arc. Although you were standing only a few yards away and it must have seen you, it ignored your presence and stayed relaxed. When a second runner came around the bend the wren looked after him and got quiet, and you moved on quietly.

It went like this:

 

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How not to be tracked

I just completed several completely untrackable searches and movements about town. I slipped by Google, Microsoft, Asian hackers, global mobile device corporation IT departments, data mining specialists, even Homeland Security and CSIS. And I’m willing to share my techniques with you. In layperson language, easy to understand and with step by step instructions that even tech-challenged information users can follow.

The enormous divide in levels of privacy between inputting queries to the web and my method is startling. You know it is, from watching “Mission Impossible” and all the newer films about what can be quickly discovered about anyone who uses the internet, cell phones, credit cards, GPS equipped vehicles and other devices, membership cards, and even digital home electric meters. Think about that…with the meters, for example, someone can remotely tell when you’re home using your appliances, and when the house is likely empty with the lights dimmed. Vehicle and mobile device GPS is good for ascertaining your location on the move, credit cards or store membership cards good for tracking location plus purchase habits and linked characteristics, such as whether you have children and their approximate ages, special dietary needs in the household, pregnancies, sexual activity, physical or mental illness, reading and viewing habits, and occasional or frequent incontinence.

With Microsoft supplying laptops and Google supplying Chromebooks to schools and developing a plethora of student-friendly apps, classrooms are also a trove of trackable data. When linked with lunchroom records, attendance and activity logging and eye movement trackers, it’s only a matter of time before the corpsy corps that run that part of the Cloud will be able not only to test kids keyable knowledge, but predict test results ahead of time. As well as determine every market-relevant trend coursing through school kid culture.

Those of you who see all these changes with giddy acceptance, as the “smell of progress” (what our great grandparents called the stench of the pulp mills and factories of that era), can stop reading now. The rest is only for those interested in restoring some portion of their private lives and narrowing the circle of society that is able to watch over their comings and goings.

When I share my techniques, they’ll be surprisingly familiar to you, but you may see them in a whole new light, as I did–as beacons of freedom, places of safety in a hostile world, havens from the rat race, miraculous privileges conferred instead of just your right, your natural right. These practices may be known to you, but they are in danger of being lost to this generation. So this is in a sense an opportunity to re-skill.

First there’s the travel aspect. Whether you choose to walk, ride your unregistered bicycle, or pay cash fare to ride the bus, you will be minimally tracked in each case, dependent on the number of security cameras along your route.

Second, it is sometimes possible to purchase goods at stores or markets and pay with cash, avoiding giving one’s phone number, membership card, or zip code. No one but the merchant need know, and they have too much to do to remember anyway. Trading and bartering is even better, as even your bank need not know you are making an exchange.

Last, it is possible to obtain information and cultural content without being tracked in several ways. The most secure source of information is your own mind. Your mental repository of experiences, memorized facts, figures, music, skills, and methodologies may be out of practice, but the human mind is a powerful tool and can be reconditioned. Even more powerful is the resource of contemporary community knowledge which we may access through sharing information with other live human beings using the medium of spoken or unspoken language. Further non-trackable information and other types of searches are possible with the use of books, radio, an other free broadcasting, while those media continue to exist.

Perhaps, like me, you already joined FaceBook or some other social media site and listed your birth date, educational, employment, residence and travel history, your list of family members, friends and associates, all your likes, and personal photos, for the benefit of the Facebook advertising department, and are now receiving startlingly relevant advertising popups. Even if you later removed your information, it’s no doubt been collected and is being stored by someone for some purpose or other. Well, it can’t be helped. But this is the first day of the rest of your life, and the whole world is still open to you. Enjoy it, and may we never know anything about it unless you want us to.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2014 in How to, Ideas, Media

 

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What if most people are less well-informed than necessary for a free democratic society?

Was listening to a piece on CBC Radio “Ideas” that touched on surprising research findings several decades ago that the average American citizen wasn’t very bright, not bright enough to make informed, reasonable decisions in a democratic society. The conclusion being that manipulation was much more effective, a continuation of the techniques used to keep folks backing WWII efforts and getting men and woman addicted to smoking. In the case of the progress of democratic society, a benign manipulation along the lines of the well-informed and visionary direction chosen by the intelligent few. The invisible government, I think they called it.

Tonight as I finish up making a small dent in the housework I’ve neglected in favor of a volunteer sewing project for my daughter’s 4-H club, I sadly acknowledge that it’s still true, if not more so. I didn’t want to see it that way. For some reason all these years I’d been focusing on the immorality of corporate and government leaders in using the media to spin the news, cultivate brand loyalty rather than intelligent debate, and cultivate an image that instills confidence, rather than being informative, objective, and open to the wisdom of folks living in actual communities. Then as I considered the thought that most people just aren’t very smart, it was like turning to face another ugly truth that had been there all the time. No, it’s not a surprise. I know I’m on the continuum, aware that I so often don’t get things, don’t know enough, don’t articulate well enough, to contribute to the building of a better and more just world. Yet I’m told I’m highly literate, intellectual even, know lots about lots of things, have a good mind. Which is scary, because when I read some classic nineteenth century British or Russian novel, or Roman speech, I’m struck by the beautiful complexity of ideas, the rich vocabulary (even in translation) compared to many prize-wimnning best sellers today. I mourn the loss, wish I could emulate that style. Who can teach me? How hard must I work, and how will I find the space in my life?

What got me looking back at the idea that people just arent’ smart enough for true democracy was listening to my daughters and their friend giggling over YouTube videos in their bedroom on their smart phones. On for ten, fifteen minutes, more. I felt the sadness, the frustration at my seeming inability to pass on even what little I have of love of great literature, appreciation for good reasoning and communication in the service of humanity. I made the mistake of knocking and entering, making some comment on the stupidity of the content they were streaming in a flavor of lament. My daughters’ gaze hardened and the eyes of the guest looked surprised.

Today in the van, energized rather than fatigued, I was able to take a more positive approach with my daughters: making observations, even showing appreciation for a discerning consumption of pop culture, in order to study and consider, question and analyze, judge and discriminate, separate false from true. What online content do we create? What do we access and pay attention to, and why? How does it all affect us–differently for different people? In what direction are we being influenced to go, by whom or what force, and is it a worthy direction? What is lost? And so on.

Again that intense pull to get back into teaching. One area where I don’t feel discouraged about the “one starfish” scenario, knowing the explosive nature of education, of nurturing wisdom in even one student a year. It would be worth it. It is worth it. Proverbs 8:11: “For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it.

 

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In memory of those killed at Tiananmen Square and around the city of Beijing

 
 

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Bowling team member accused of assault and battery

Typical. We all know how bowlers are, don’t we? It just goes to show.

Or,

Surfer Jailed for Drunk and Disorderly Conduct

Lacrosse Players Convicted of Rape

The question I’m trying to raise is why specify sport, except where the perpetrator is a world-renowned athlete, or the crime is directly connected with the sport, as in,

Golfer Clubs Hamster to Death,

Rugby Players Attack Opposing Team, or

Boxer Throws Female Admirer Out of the Ring, Cracking Ribs

Because headline writers count on raising reader interest by playing on stereotypes, so we can feel good about having them confirmed by an independent source.

Here are some real headlines I found, after I got fed one too many radio reports on football players’ crimes. Do these real headlines sound more plausible? Or do you wonder, like I do, what football has to do with the story at all?

High School Football Players Accused of Sexual Assault Make 1rst Court Appearance

Kishawn Tre Holmes & Byron Holt Jr., High School Football Players, Charged In Sexual Assault Case

Steubenville High School Football Players Convicted of Rape are Sentenced

3 Oregon State Football Players Jailed on Counts of 3rd Degree Assault, Disorderly Conduct

Football players are disproportionately represented in such headlines, from what I can tell.

If someone wants to show, with adequate data and good scientific analysis, that being a football player is associated with a predisposition toward violent crime more than any other sport (or along with, say, tennis or curling), they can go ahead and try. But it’s unfair to associate, without explanation, a crime with a sport, as it is with a race or nationality, just for effect. At the very least journalists should consider the feelings of the many upstanding and law-abiding football players (and their relatives and friends) among their readership.

So how about being fair and specifying all sports and leisure pursuits in crime headlines, and see what interesting reactions we can create in readers’ minds?

Diver Smothers Aunt in Fit of Rage

Hurdler Jumps Ship with Smuggled Cocaine

Head of Quilting Association Hijacks Small Aircraft

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Media, Writing

 

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“Nothing that good can succeed,” we thought.

“Nothing that good can succeed,” we thought.

I just heard an interview on CBC that I’d like to share with you, Mandy Pitinkin interviewed by host Jian Ghomeshi. I hope you enjoy it. Meanwhile, I’m going to put some episodes of “Homeland” on reserve, and accept my daughter’s challenge to make a batch of cookies that have no whole grains or oatmeal.

 

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