understanding our tools

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”Father John Culkin (1967) in  ‘A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan’.

If every medium influences communication, then what effect does that have on our own learning as well as how we help others to learn? We choose our tools, and then they take us in a certain direction, of which we may not be conscious.  Knowing which tool to select becomes critical, especially in communications. Email can be terse, while Twitter is short and lacks nuance. The printed word does not have the emotion of the spoken word. Video can be all emotion and little substance. Consider the power of Riefenstahl’s 1934 film, Triumph of the Will for Nazi Germany. It was all about emotion and imagery, with almost no narration.

Today we have social media. These are new languages for a digital era. Tweets spread fast. So does what is known as ‘fake news’ which is nothing new, though it is viewed as the latest clear and present danger to our society.

“The latest establishment notions to ‘ban fake news’ is a ridiculous example of this. There have been fake news for centuries, most of it really funny even when it ultimately describes something real, and those fake newspapers (like Weekly World News) have been in the newsstands beside ordinary newspapers for just as many centuries.

But suddenly when fake news are distributed over the Internet, they’re a problem that requires unprecedented curtailment of liberty? They were not a problem when they were right beside The Economist in the newsstands?” —Rick Falkvinge

This latest reaction shows the need for widespread media literacy. Is fake news the real threat? To understand the new media, we need fluency. Network era fluency could be described as individuals and communities understanding and being part of global networks that influence various aspects of our lives.

For individuals, the core skill is critical thinking, or questioning all assumptions, including one’s own. People can learn through their various communities and develop social literacy. Information literacy is improved by connecting to a diversity of networks. But control of networks by any single source (e.g. Facebook) destroys the ability for people and communities to develop real network era fluency, which is not good for society in the long run and may kill innovation and our collective ability to adapt.

Mass network era fluency can ensure that networks remain social, diverse, and reflect many communities. This kind of fluency, by the majority of people, is necessary to deal with the many complex issues facing humanity. We cannot deal with complex issues and networked forces, like platform monopolists, unless we can knowledgeably talk about them. This requires fluency.

7 Responses to “understanding our tools”

  1. tonyjoyce

    Excellent post and excellent points Harold. The trouble with “fake news” isn’t what is true of false, for that component of “fakeness” is grounded in our personal belief systems. Rather, and especially so these days, conceptualization of “news” is largely based on our expectations of the source’s reputation. It is this reputational component that has been destroyed by anonymous websites and algorithms, popup ads and the gamesmanship of Google placements, spam and phishing emails, and the far more devious tactics of the new physiological warfare between state and state-less actors.

  2. Harold Jarche

    Good point, Tony. This is why I promote investment in networks of varied experts. If I don’t know whether a source is credible I can ask someone, whom I trust, in my extended knowledge network. Of course, creating such a network takes time and effort, and people often do not see the value until they have such a network.

  3. Gary Wise

    Hey Harold! Enjoyed the article and it triggered a question. We are looking at user-generated content within the organization (our slice of humanity) and there is trepidation regarding something getting posted that is incorrect (fake). I note how Wikipedia is self-regulating in that regard, but a fledgling effort will lack that “social maturity”. The tendency is the “control the network” but at what cost to giving maturity a chance to grow. Am I drawing a valid parallel here or am I stretching? Thanks! G.

    • Harold Jarche

      Wikipedia has editors, so you could as well. Call the editors ‘curators’ who find and improve what has been shared. This may placate senior management. In addition, I would suggest a peer rating system, which may encourage people to share when they see that their peers find it of value.

  4. Ramkumar yaragarla

    Hi Harold, in my opinion, for ideas to flow freely in a social network, there are certain triggers and patterns that needs to be manifested in the network. For example, the relational trigger, only when people trust each other and others and when there is reciprocity, they will they participate otherwise it is a challenge. Making people to collaborate, is one of the most difficult challenges. I liked your post on the network literacy and the accompanying overlapping circles diagram which explains it all. Learning has to be organic and also learning through others. I think that is where the social literacy comes into picture.
    Good post. Good learning for me as well. Your mention on fake news being circulated was also good. The point from Rick was a revelation to me that people did’nt mind fake news when placed beside the Economist. I did’nt know that fake news always existed for so many centuries.
    Your previous reply to the comment on Explicit knowledge management was really good. The flow from implicit to explicit knowledge. As you rightly said this is a challenge in so many organizations.
    I happen to bump into your site from another site. Nice posts, liked reading through it. Cheers, Ramkumar.

  5. Ramkumar Yaragarla

    Thank you Harold. I will look into the attached links above. The graph is explanatory. regards, Ramkumar.


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