Resource: Howard Rheingold — Net Smart

Here's another Howard Rheingold talk on the subject of his latest book, Net Smart:

Here's a rough-and-ready transcript that I made with KeepSubs:

Hello. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about something that's that's been important to me for quite a while. If you fear, as I do, that our uses social media maybe making people and cultures shallow, then why not teach more people how to swim and together we can explore the deeper end to the pool? The way you use a search engine, stream video from your smartphone, update your Facebook status matters to you and and to me and to everybody because the way we use these media today, and misuse them, are going to influence the way people use and misuse these media for some time to come. Instead of asking "Is Google making us stupid? Is Facebook commoditising our privacy? Is Twitter chopping our attention into micro slices?" (all very good questions), I've been asking myself how do we use social media intelligently, humanely and above all mindfully? Netsmart is is what I've come up with in terms of talking to people who know what they're talking about doing research and counting on my nearly 30 years of experience online — and what I've come up with his the notion that the critical uncertainty today is what people know. It's a matter of literacy.

And when I talk about literacy in regard to social media, I mean not just the skill of encoding and decoding, like reading and writing is to alphabetic literacy; I mean the skills encoding and decoding the fluency in manipulating the media but also the ability to use them and in concert with others. There's a social dimension to each of the essential literacies and I think that these literacies point both inward and outward in the sense that the people who know how to use these media are going to do better for themselves but I also believe the more people know what they're doing the better we can improve the state of the Commons — we can improve the quality of the information and culture online.

So, very briefly, the literacies that I have isolated, certainly not all of them, but I feel the most important ones start with attention, participation (including collaboration), crap detection, and network know-how. I want to briefly touch upon each of these. Of course I get into a lot more detail in the book, but in a few minutes here I want to talk about attention as really the fundamental literacy in the sense that it's the the foundation of our ability to think and communicate — and clearly our attention is being challenged by all the screens that compete for our attention. This, you may recognize, these stills here, are from a camera in a mall in the USA and show a young woman falling into a fountain while she is texting, and in the USA 1 in 6 Americans have confessed or admitted to bumping into something or someone while texting, and having travelled I know that this is a worldwide issue. Take a look at this: here's Mark Zuckerberg giving a press conference and there's one person looking at him and everybody else is looking at their screens we were talking about the first of the 5 literacy - attention - We were talking about multitasking and here's a multi tasking student apparently does it successfully I want I want to emphasize that the recent research by Clifford Nass at Stanford has demonstrated pretty conclusively that people's think they are getting their work done more efficiently by multitasking are actually degrading their performance on the individual tasks. What was interesting to me was that this is true of about 95 percent of the subject studied what about those other five percent. There was this student. 1 of them and was just born with an an ability to pay attention to more than one thing at once or was it something that he had learnt and something that we could learn there is in existence proof for this kind of multitasking in that is pilots. Pilots have to aviate, navigate, and communicate in three dimensions and and thats while nobody is shooting at them so I do believe that one can learn to manage one's attention more effectively and there's an old name for this, an ancient name mindfulness, there's a new name for it metacognition wikipedia has a pretty good page on metacognition and it simply means becoming aware of where you are deploying your attention so when I work with my students we work on paying attention to when our minds are wandering. If you open your laptop in class and you're taking notes your checking to see if the the professor knows what he's talking about fine - but when you begin sliding into Facebook or your e-mail notice that that's what you're doing. If you're gonna do it don't do it mindlessly I ask my students when we're studying this to just take a few minutes to write what their priorities for the day are you can see I just wrote six words here and put in a corner my screen and during the day when my gaze falls upon this naturally I simply asked myself where's my attention right now? and were according to my own priorities should it be? this just a a matter not a policing one's attention but beginning to become aware of it, to train it. So very briefly since we don't have a lot of time - attention can be trained. we know this from a moblemia of contemplative traditions and we know it from ample neuroscience today. I think one of the best books about that is called the mindful brain by doctor Daniel Siegel Breathe! Researcher Linda stone noticed that she was holding her breath when she was doing her email - she calls as email apnea. We hold our breath when something is captured our attention and we're not sure whether it's good or bad. It's the fight-or-flight response if you think about your ancestors walking through the the jungle or the Savannah and the years sounds they freeze their body starts pumping hormones just in case they have to fight or flee and they hold their breath well that's very useful if you're trying to survive in the jungle if you're sitting at your computer and you do this five hundred times a day and there is nothing chasing you it's very unhealthy for you so well one thing that's very easy to do when you are attending to your screen is to take a breath breathing connects the mind and the body and attention to intention is how the mind changes the brain if you begin paying attention to where your attention is your strengthening that part of your brain that pays attention to where your attention is it's not that we are helpless in the face of all of the distractions that media afford it's that we have not taken the time to train our attention. So I wanna move to critical consumption I call it crap detection after hemingway who said that everyday a good journalist requires a fool proof internal crap detector I started thinking about this quite a number of years ago before Google when my daughter was in middle school and starting right papers and going to the the library in using the search engine search engines were called Alta Vista and info seek in those days and i sat down with her and I explained that you can get a book out of the library and you know that there was a an editor and a publisher and a librarian who all acted as gatekeepers to try to assure that the the text was authoritive that you could trust what it said nowadays of course you can put a term into a search engine and you can get an answer to any question within seconds but now it's up to you to consume the information to detimine its accuracy so I asked my daughter to to put the name of Martin Luther king the American civil rights leader into a search engine search on his name an you noticed that the third link down is called Martin Luther King junior a true historical examination if you click on that you get a website that that appears to be about Martin Luther King junior but if you read the the articles they paint him in a very unfavorable light so my daughter asked how can you tell whether this is true or not? I said well there's an author here let's search on his name and that's always a lot but there was no author for the website so I showed her a site called who is that will tell you if you put in a URL who was responsible for it and it turns out that someone called Don Black at Stormfront .org was responsible for that website so searching on that name again this is a pretty simple procedure here just a little bit of investigation reveals that storm front is a white nationalist community which is known as a cloaked website not all of the websites out there aren't what they appear to be are political or cloaked this one would be funny if it weren't a little bit scary a free online pregnancy test. And you know technology can do such incredible things these days it's easy to believe something like this so it says fill in your name and press start test so I put in the name Joe and I got a little flash animation come up that says sit still while we scan you and then it turns out congratulations Joe you're with child so I clicked on view my baby turns out it's a girl well by this time I think most people know that it's a a joke. I am concerned though about there are certain number pregnancies caused every year because young men and women aren't entirely sure about where babies come from. I couldn't help clicking on one more who's the daddy and if you don't like the daddy you can pick another daddy this is a first genetics I think actually this is in the in the UK these people claim to have tracked genetic code they got a primate that can communicate with use you a typewriter. through a a keyboard is a course completely bogus although it looks for real there is the endangered Pacific Northwest tree octopus - a completely non-existent species the URL at the bottom the screen there is that I I have a long list of sites some of them political some of them jokes, some of them hoaxes, again very briefly, as I told my daughter think like a tech detective or think like a journalist don't assume that what you find online is true check it out don't just accept what's on the first page of search results don't just use one search engine if you can find an author look on their name simple but I think required Triangulation is a word that journalists use for checking three sources before you pass along a rumor. I remember in 2011 during the Egyptian uprising that there was a report on Twitter that Egypt had shut down internet access there wasn't anything on BBC there wasn't anything on CNN there wasn't anything on Al Jazeera so I did not pass it along until I got the three sources on it and it turned out that that was accurate not long after that there was a rumor that if you texted a certain number you would help send medical aid to Haiti where they had just had an earthquake that turned out to be a hoax so I think it's very important these days in terms of fast-breaking rumors on social media that we all triangulate like journalists. also I think it's very important that because we have the ability to pay attention to many more new sources that we not only pay attention to sources that we agree with if nobody in your network none of the new sources that you are paying attention to annoys you then maybe you are in an echo chamber you need to pay attention to sources that you don't agree with but you believed to be honest and intelligent so participation is an ex literacy and we really wouldn't be talking about the web at all if it wasn't for participation the web was not created by a government to wasn't created by a corporation it was created by millions of people putting up web pages just very briefly a couple of examples Heather Lawver again I believe she was in the She was in Reston Virginia and she created a website for fans of the Harry Potter books Warner Brothers who own the copyright tried to shut her down they sent her a cease and desist order. she organized a worldwide boycott that backed them off before the Warner lawyers discovered she was sixteen-years-old there was an obscure blogger in the US by the name of Beth Harris who discovered that the source code for Diboll the company that makes the voting machines for much of the USA in much of the rest of the world which they had been keeping secret was on a public server she made that information public and a Court in the US found in her favor and then here's one of the young revolutionaries in Egypt. who used Facebook YouTube and Twitter as part of what they were doing not making a claim here that the it was a Twitter revolution but I am making the claim that people have used and are using In turkey in Egypt, in Brazil right now social media to organize and and coordinate political activity and of course we're now custom to teenagers inventing new industries and making themselves billionaires - very powerful people from their dormitory rooms you know i emphasize the youth of these examples just to show that if you know how to participate you can wield real power, political power, economic power, and cultural power Curation is a word is being used these days in terms of people making decisions about what's good information online about a particular topic and passing their decision their decisions on to others and I believe that curation is a great way for people to easily participate and the not only increase their own knowledge but benefit others and just very briefly I want to run through the benefits of that we all need to transform information overload into useful knowledge if we make something that we had to do available to others anyway we can benefit everyone and create a public good and also signal that we are people worth cooperating with it's a good way to enhance your reputation as an expert in a topic and if everybody if more people in a culture participates we have a very different culture a person who regards herself on as an active creator of some of the culture the that she consumes online has a very different view of herself as a citizen and an active view of herself as a citizen than someone who sees herself only as a consumer of culture that's created by others there are so many different ways to participate we cannot leave it just to Facebook to create our content for us we need to create we need to participate we need to continue to be in charge of what the culture on the web is so again Don't just consume - create the web has a particular architecture that makes it too easy for individuals to contribute small bits of knowledge small bits of usefulness, small bits of helpfulness that add up to a lot for everybody Curation is an easy way to begin practicing collective intelligence learn the norms and boundaries of local cultures before participating know what you're participating in and crap detect thyself before broadcasting questionable info you know we can't really and shouldn't really try to police the information that people put online if that was possible, if that had been done we wouldn't have the web but what we can do is that we can make sure that the information we send out is accurate before we pass along a rumor that's sent to us there are so many ways to collaborate I've written books about Two of the different genres of collaboration I'm not going to get into deep about any of these stories smart Mobs as I said in Brazil millions of people are on the streets in ways they never were before because they were able to communicate with each other and to organize with people they weren't able to organize with in places and at paces they weren't able to organize before I first started talking about virtual communities in 1987 to try to get across the idea that it wasn't just electrical engineers who used their computers to communicate with now of course hundreds of millions if not billions of people communicate daily with people they share an interest with if you are a a cancer patient if you're a gamer if you were an educator or student you're probably participating in a virtual community of some kind online people are 'em putting their computing power together this called distributed computation when your computer goes to sleep it can take part of a scientific computation and send the results to headquarters If you go to you can help scientists understand how protein molecules configure very important in aids research in fact there's even a game called fold it on the x box and a team playing that game was able to discover important biomedically important facts about the protease enzyme We think of Crowdsourcing in terms of companies having their their customers creature content for them well this is a picture of Jim Gray who went missing in the San Francisco Bay in a sailboat his friends organized a search overnight they got 500,000 images of the area of the Pacific Ocean were he went missing they divided into half a million images and they searched them they didn't find him but they put this together with tools that are available online literally overnight Wikipedia is is not the only but maybe the most prominent form of collective intelligence all these are are genres of collaboration if you know the literacy Of how to collaborate in a smart mob or a virtual community or or crowdsource or collective intelligence you and those you join with have abilities and powers that you would not have had otherwise and we're now seeing this extend to learning. You know educational institutions schools used to have the monopoly on learning. nowadays if you want to learn how to do something whether it either build something out of wood or configure a computer server there's probably a 15-year-old who's going to show you how on YouTube so again we compete we cooperate as much as we compete and online literacies of collaboration enable us to participate in that collaborative actions unlike participatory actions climb the curve of engagement you start out simply and you can you get more engaged there are a wide variety of ways to participate and if you want to get others to participate give them a lot of ways that they can choose to participate you know nobody assigns someone to write a Wikipedia article on a particular variety of an apt some person who considers himself an expert on that apt who does is called self-selection and is very powerful people contribute online for a number of reasons survey research has shown that learning enhancing reputation social reasons meeting other people and adding to a public good are all reasons why people will contribute online and casual conversation enable strangers to trust each other enough to cooperate so that chit-chat online that seems trivial is actually the way people get to know each other finally network awareness I'm aware of the the time limit here I'm not going to get into detail which I do in the book but we now live not in an information society but in the network society and their are a number of different kinds of knowledge that have emerged from network science that emerged from sociology and that wer'e beginning to understand and have a very direct impact on the way we spend our lives online particularly important for young people who are coming online to understand that their participation online is now happening in a network society social networks certainly predated Facebook but they're far more important today because we are able to link ourselves in ways that we were not able to do so before So I know, indeed it's the connection between these different pieces of knowledge that that create a literacy of networks you don't have to be a scientist to understand them I i try to convey them in the kinda terms that you would convey to your teenager before they get too involved online so in the interest of time just wanna very quickly say that networks have structures understanding the structures enable you know what you can do with them both strong and weak ties are useful to individuals and it may not be the number of Facebook friends you have its more important to exhibit work The Social Network Analyst call centrality the number of people in that works to go through you to get to each other diverse networks are collectively smarter and people who can bridge networks can stand to benefit by doing that this research has not been done online yet but it's been done in face to face neighborhoods the strongest indicators strongest predictor whether you will receive favors from others is whether you do favors for them at online you're able to do favors in a visible way so paying it forward can pay you back so um in closing again I moved through this material very very quickly I don't try to keep up with just the technologies keep up with the literacies and you'll find out more at I think if you have time I am happy to answer questions Thank you very much indeed