Pandemics and Information Literacy

Chiropractors are NOT doctors. Yes, they often call themselves ‘doctor’ but that does not make it so. The great western philosopher George Carlin once said, you can call yourself a captain, but if you can make that up then I am a Field Marshal (or at least something like that). The point here is that definitions matter.  ‘Chropractic’ is pseudo-scientific. Yes, there is some benefit to seeing a Chiropractor, specifically for those who think they feel better after a treatment. But just because you think you feel better does not make it true. For instance, the found of Chiropractic wrote the following in a letter dated May 4, 1911, “But we must have a religious head, one who is the founder, as did Christ, Mohamed, Jo. Smith, Mrs. Eddy, Martin Luther and other who have founded relations. I am the fountain head.” -So here Palmer is telling us that he is on par with Jesus Christ. Dr. Palmer goes on, “we must incorporate under the man [palmer] who received the principles of chiropractic from the other world”.  And now for something different.

“I need to find the latest information about the Covid-19”. –So let’s go online….

Wrong. The Internet is effectively doing more harm than good. What is the solution? Newspapers. Journalist and the journalism profession are far from perfect. However, real journalists have a set code of ethics. Yes, some journalists break this code, but more often than not journalists/journalism is responsible-that is actual journalists.

When journalism is labeled “fake news” or “phony” it is important to examine who is saying this and to what are they referring. “The pope endorses Donald Trump for President” was an actual headline published in 2016 from a non-reputable source. So you might ask, who is saying this and why? This quote was published by WTOE5News.com, a ‘news’ source that existed for only a few weeks. In fact, the about section of this website described itself as, “a fantasy news website”. This site, and others like it, make money off of ‘clicks’ which is why such ridiculous stories are present in your social media news feeds (pro tip-DO NOT GET YOUR NEWS FROM SOCIAL MEDIA).

Now more than ever it is important to get relevant/correct information to the public. Posting rumors on Twitter does nothing to benefit society, only to create panic and make people believe that someone is an expert ‘just because.’ While we live in a time that is distrustful of educated people, it might be time to rethink how we treat people who dedicate themselves to learning and teaching. By this, I mean subscribe to your local newspaper and listen to those with actual credentials.

 

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And this is part of the problem.

The greatest danger is the spread of unsubstantiated rumors.

A ‘blogger’ posted to Twitter last night that a child in Bloomington tested positive for corona virus.

This very well may be true, but that is beside the point. As best I can tell this person is not an M.D. A careful look at their blog makes on question their motives for making this sort of announcement. Specifically, there is an extremely posed post that lets you know all of the brands of clothing this person wears; not to mention the Amazon links that appear elsewhere in the blog. As I am forever the skeptic, this post seems not only dangerous, but self-absorbed. This is entirely unsubstantiated at this point. It is not the job of ‘Twitter’ (or anyone on Twitter) to create panic like this. Until the health department officially announces something this is just a rumor. This is dangerous. Again, this may very well be true, but it is not the job of Twitter to create panic (although that seems all that it is good for).

Last night, the local school district notified parents that schools would be closed today. In their letter it was stated that “We were notified that families have been exposed to others displaying symptoms of the COVID-19/Coronavirus”. Read that sentence carefully. “We were notified” -By Whom? “families have been exposed to other displaying symptoms” -displaying symptoms and having the virus are two totally different things. Again-Again, this might lead to an actual case, but there is nothing in that sentence that offers any authoritative proof that anything has actually happened.

Now, please click on the multiple links below from Amazon regarding products I think are cool…..Oh wait.

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Data Privacy

Yeah right Google

Imagine if you went out and bought a new car for $30,000. Then, the company that sold you that car got $5 for every mile you drove. That is essentially what is happening with the data you generate using almost any Internet based technology.

The data you generate is worths thousands of dollars. Most people do not believe this, but consider the following. If you have a smart phone your every movement is tracked to some degree. If you have any app that allows you to pay for services or receive money, that behavior is also tracked. This might seem innocuous but consider what a massive amount of this data could be used for.

Person X’s behavior is tracked, along with 100 million other people. Machine learning is able to take this data and create more effective marketing materials and tailor shopping ads to things that might interest you. For instance, the population that gets coffee from the Indiana Avenue Starbucks have a lot in common. They are mostly college students and professors, people that either have (or will have) considerable buying power. How valuable might it be for a company to know all the other things someone does throughout their day after buying coffee? Check in on a course management app (Canvas, Blackboard, etc) then get an Uber ride to the bars, where they use Apple Pay or Venmo to get drinks/food. Collecting large amounts of this data is a goldmine for companies.

Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) has introduced legislation that will strengthen citizen’s control over their data, how it can be used and who can see it. While there is still more to do, the fact that this is receiving attention at the federal level is truly a positive thing. You might consider calling your Senators (actually calling) and ask them to support this bill.

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The beauty, joy, and frustration of fountain pens

I like writing with fountain pens. Back when I sold cars (which I hated) I started carrying/using my grandfather’s Parker 51. This was not an affectation, just something I liked for the elegance. I then started collecting Montblanc Pens, but it was for the reason of trying to convey my status (i.e. that I was important). In graduate school I reflected on this and became rather embarrassed that I had viewed material possessions as a way to communicate my importance and promptly sold them; after all I was a poor graduate student. About 10 years ago I picked up that old Parker 51 and started using it again. Since then I have taken to purchasing pens now and again.

The above image is my collection of Pelikan 800 series pens. I have since lost the O3B (Oblique triple broad), but continue to use the rest. I rarely use them in public due to my fear of being viewed as a poser, or even worse as an affectation.

Writing is not dying. If anything it would appear that there is increased attention to the art of writing.

Consider email. How often do you read/comprehend an email that is longer than one sentence? I find that most people just read the first line or so and respond to that idea, leaving the rest either partially or entirely ignored. Maybe that is just me. However, when I actually write a letter I (sometimes) get a response and this correspondence makes it clear that the person replying actually read what I wrote.

Will people start writing more letters? Probably not. However, the next time you think of someone important to you, it might be worth your time to actually write something on a physical artifact. People will notice. They will realize that this seemingly anachronistic act signifies that they are important to you. Or maybe not.

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Apple is Picking on Amazon

Currently it is 11:00 pm EST on 3-3-2019. I am pretty sure that on my Apple MacBook Air, while using Safari, typing in the search of ‘amazon’ does not auto complete for the Amazon.com. That cannot be a coincidence!

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Facts, Alternative Facts, and Noise

The President is not happy with Google News. Just to be clear, no one should be happy with Google News. Google News, or pretty much any news that aggregates other stories is pretty much useless if you are looking for truth. Whether or not something is true or not is entirely beside the point of Google News.

If people want to be better citizens and find better information then do the following, put down your phone/computer/tablet and pick up an actual paper or magazine. Or start paying for news from sources like The Guardian, The New York Times, The National Review, or your provider of choice. When you only rely on the free content of the Internet, then the only information you get is the free content of the Internet.

Google, and all of its satellite entities such as Google Scholar, Google News, Google Maps work according to [insert blank here]. The truth is that no one outside of Google knows how these algorithms work. The invisible hand of page ranking

 

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The Economy of Stuff

Not too long ago Wal-Mart drew many comparisons to the Borg. The Borg, for those who might not know, played the part of the new über villains on Star Trek The Next Generation. They were unstoppable, “you will be assimilated” was their catch phrase. The Borg operated as a collective, adding to their operating system anything unique that a species might offer and discarding the rest. Hence the comparisons to Wal-Mart.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s Wal-Mart was the commercial goods super power. When a Wal-Mart store opened two other events were likely to occur. First, any lesser store selling anything similar to Wal-Mart went out of business, namely the mom & pop stores. Secondly, the real estate around Wal-Marts were soon populated with McDonalds, Applebees, and similar consumer driven shops that thrived off of the corporate model.

And now there is Species 8472. The Borg encountered only one enemy that was capable of not only defending itself, but also able to destroy the Borg with only the slightest effort, Species 8472: also known as Amazon.

Amazon started off as a bookseller. I remember discovering Amazon in 2006, looking for a compendium on social stratification (oh the irony). It is not likely that people can remember the first time they bought something from any given store, but this case was memorable for the fact that the title I got completely fell apart (bad glue on the spine) upon taking it out of the box. When I called to complain the person helping me was extremely polite and sent me a new copy next-day air. Having put myself through undergrad working retail I have a special appreciation for great customer service. I was hooked.

Amazon’s model grew well beyond books. There is seemingly nothing that Amazon cannot provide, all with 2 day shipping if you have an Amazon Prime Account. Amazon even has a built in bar code scanner for smart phones that allows you to price shop. Wal-Mart has always offered price matching but you had to drive all the way to the store. With Amazon you can walk into almost any store, scan an item, and have it shipped to you in a matter of days. Completely dismissing the human interaction that helped you find the product in the first place.

The hatred that Wal-Mart received for driving down wages, selling cheap products, running locally owned shops out of business, and just about anything else seems to be missing from criticism of Amazon. Amazon is just as guilty of anything Wal-Mart did and more. A point of clarification, what Amazon and Wal-Mart did was to take advantage of a market system that champions creative destruction. Anyway.

Amazon is not immune to criticism, but it would appear that Amazon is being treated much differently from Wal-Mart.

One of the many differences is that Wal-Mart’s business model relies heavily on human interaction. People go to a Wal-Mart to find things, even things they did not know they needed. The store has to be arranged and cleaned. Wal-Mart is a tangible experience where you are likely to interact with at least one person during your shopping trip (even if you use the self checkout). Amazon uses human labor, but it is unlikely to actually see an Amazon employee. The Amazon shopping experience is completed entirely through Human Computer Interaction.

Virginia Eubanks visited IU last Spring to talk about her new book, Automating Inequality (which Amazon just told me I purchased on January 17, 2018). First off, it is a great book and offers many unique insights towards the use of technology in society, go pick up a copy. During her talk Professor Eubanks mentioned how technology provides us with a kind of empathy override; that if technology makes a decision that potentially ruins someone’s life that we are able to distance that tragedy by acknowledging that the computer did it.

The relatively subtle criticism of Amazon seems like empathy override, afforded by Amazon’s business model of hiding its human capital. We cannot easily see the working conditions in an Amazon fulfillment center, in fact getting any kind of a picture of these places is next to impossible. Furthermore the average Amazon shopper is likely to be solidly middle class. Amazon customers likely have a bank account, a fact many people take for granted. Avid Amazon shoppers are not likely to know anyone who actually works for Amazon.

Amazon provides a wonderful platform that allows customers to buy almost anything. The shopper remains entirely unaware of the human expenditure necessary to maintain this model. It is very difficult to criticize things that are not understood. Social criticism of Amazon is growing, but it pales in comparison to that experienced by Wal-Mart. The reason is likely due to the fact that much of Amazon’s negative impact is hidden from its shoppers.

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