Friday Faves – What We’re Reading This Week
Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive.
We Don’t Think Alone – We Collaborate
Anne says: How many individual ideas, thoughts, knowledge have you developed alone? And I mean truly alone – without influence from your social context, without ideas that are triggered by your colleagues, without in fact reading our Friday Faves?
This article from Scientific American is a book review of “The Knowledge Illusion,” by Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown University, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business. Their core argument is that our intelligence depends on the people and things around us, and how we are not very good at recognising this. Knowledge, they say, is a community effort.
The article is an interview with the authors, illustrated by examples of how we construct memories and how our brains build the concepts into sophisticated patterns. They expand this argument by highlight how most thinking involves collaborating with other people.
They describe what matters is access to knowledge. How the knowledge we use resides within our communities and how we participate in a community of knowledge. Thinking isn’t done by individuals; it is done by communities.
These core themes are of particular interest for me, as they augment my doctoral research findings and further inform my current research into digital capabilities that support mindshifts in the workplace from me (individual work without collaboration) to we (work enhanced by collaborating with others).
However – there is a warning at the end of the article that in current political climates we can all take heed from – it links very much to Nat’s Friday Fave below – and other technology related issues of pooled ignorance or the impact of social media to influence or reinforce our opinions or biases. I’d prefer to take a more positive perspective and encourage people to discover communities that have diverse and differing views to your own. Explore their concepts and attempt to understand how that community has rationalised their knowledge. It is only with this deeper understanding of others that we can begin to broaden our ability to break down the biases and knowledge that divides us.
A Harvard Mathematician Reveals How Algorithms Are Making Police and the Courts More Biased
Nat says: From the author of ‘Weapons of maths destruction’, the latest from Cathy O’Neil reminds us about the traps of big data and the biases associated with data’s usage – in this case, with police profiling and subsequent arrests. Crime data is captured from arrests and is then used to predict future crime rates, as stated:
“…algorithms where you’re looking for crimes based on the location of previous arrests, or previous convictions, or even previous reported crime, that kind of algorithm is intrinsically biased.”
Similar uses of data unfolds in the workplace. HR or similar teams often use employee ‘data’ to make decisions about workforce planning, engagement tactics, and even employee dismissal – all without ever talking to or meeting employees face-to-face. Both an understanding for how data is created, and subsequently used, is something that should not be overlooked. Data does not exist ‘out there’ but is both created and consumed by people. The ethical issues around data, as well as the biased processes regarding an algorithm’s creation, are just some of the issues Cathy explores in her work.
In Defence of the Internet ‘Pile On’
Jakkii says: “Everyone just loves to be outraged” people often decry. The cycle of outrage often follows a fairly predictable cycle: someone says or does something stupid, twitter calls them out on it, news websites jump on it, it starts to hit Facebook, maybe it makes traditional news. People will be screaming for anything from the person being fired to not being “allowed to breed” (and worse), and they quickly move on from screaming at or about the person (or company) to screaming at or about each other. If someone hasn’t mentioned ‘free speech’ or invoked Godwin’s Law, you’ve probably not reached peak outrage.
With that in mind, I found this piece to offer an interesting perspective. Highlighting the recent example of Mia Freedman and Mamamia who publicly shared private discussions about accessibility challenges a guest of theirs faced, the article highlights something we often ignore: the experiences and voices of marginalised people. The author suggests that when we try to stifle ‘outrage’ in favour of ‘civility,’ we end up derailing a conversation where marginalised people actually have a voice.
All pile-ons are not created equal. The language we use to defend an individual who is publicly shamed for, say, being fat in a change room, should not be the same language we use for a millionaire journalist who shames a fat person for their access requirements
In a civil society, we need to be able to have difficult conversations. We may not always do this well – in fact sometimes it seems quite rare. But perhaps efforts to shut down outraged rhetoric because some people are incapable of expressing themselves without vitriol is actually doing us all a disservice in the name of niceness. Perhaps we need less focus on being nice, and more focus on learning to engage constructively with challenging ideas, opening our eyes & ears to the experiences and voices of marginalised people.
How Battling Brands Online Has Gained Urgency, and Impact
“…we must (first) understand why brands are suddenly more vulnerable to consumer sentiment than they once were. It all comes down to one thing: Social media is the new TV.”
Emilio says: Once upon a time, brands had full control of their narrative through advertising… until social media came along.
For many months, negative public sentiment towards Uber had snowballed starting with #DeleteUber, a social media campaign that urged users to stop using the ride-sharing service after accusations of undue profiting from the travel ban cabbie strikes at New York airports. And just last week, its founder was forced to step down after sexual harassment allegations and the toxic company culture he promoted were exposed online.
Similarly, in Australia, One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson has found herself on the receiving end of an online barrage of public outrage for a number of her unfounded statements. Recently, she called for a separation of school kids with autism in classrooms, and prior, when she criticised the national vaccination programme – claiming there was a test for vaccine allergy reactions – she was forced to retract and apologise after a social media backlash from parents and the medical community.
Those quick to point out the evils of social media are forgetting it is indeed the great leveller. Whether you’re a big brand or a marginalised group, you no longer need big ad budgets to put your message and narrative across. Through clever and well thought-out campaigns, social media gives everyone a mighty ‘megaphone’ that could force even the most powerful to bow down.
Facebook Launches Amber Alerts in Australia – A Feature it Hopes No One Will Have to Use
Joel says: It’s not often you’ll hear that a technology company has spent development resources developing a new feature for their product that it hopes no one will ever have to use. But that’s exactly what Facebook has announced this week.
From Thursday this week, Australia will become one of only a small number of countries where Facebook will allow police forces to use news feeds for so-called “amber alerts”.
The term may mean little to most Australians, but in the US if a child is kidnapped and police think their life may be in danger they can issue an amber alert on radio, TV and, from 2015, in Facebook feeds.
Facebook’s Director of Trust and Safety, Emily Vacher, said around 200 of the alerts had flashed up on feeds since they were first introduced overseas.
“No matter where a child lives in Australia, from the biggest city to the smallest town, if they go missing police will have access to amber alerts.”
It’s a great idea – with the amount of people that use Facebook on a daily basis in Australia it makes sense to get these alerts out in front of as many eyes as possible. But lets just hope we don’t ever need to see one pop up in our feeds.