Random Thoughts about Things I Read Today

I was going to spend today writing about dual credit, but I got bored and spent my time reading various articles online.

  1. Justin Peters gives the Bill O’Reilly story the “no-spin” explanation it deserves in “The All-Spin Zone: Bill O’Reilly’s long career of transforming B.S. into “common Read Tweetssense.” Like so many other things lately, too many of us underestimate the appeal of Fox News and it’s television hosts, Peters says. O’Reilly speaks to an aged viewership who appreciates strong opinions and paternalistic “straight talk:” Correctness is less important than certainty and, Peters argues, gives rise to Trump’s successful presidential election. I agree. As the world gets more complex, people want to believe the solutions are simple and easy. “Elites” like Obama and Clinton bloviated, spun, and obfuscated. O’Reilly, for his faithful viewers, cut through all that BS for common sense solutions. Watching O’Reilly, for me, was always a bit like watching a talking WWE episode, but I’m thankful for O’Reilly’s career because he gave us the Colbert Report.   Interestingly, commentators like O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh have an out-sized influence based on the actual number of viewers and listeners. (FYI–if you don’t follow ratings, the NBC Nightly News has about 10 million viewers a day.) Any post about O’Reilly also needs a shout-out to the advertisers who pulled their ads as a way to stop supporting a many accused of such abusive behavior. Of course, I’m sure the sting of unemployment is soothed by his $25 million pay out.
  2. After spending time reading about Bill O’Reilly this morning and then sitting in an hour and a half meeting, I read (with a great deal of longing) Forbes “The Best Places to Retire in 2017.” The mind and body are willing, the 403B isn’t. I’m looking forward to reading about Forbes best places to retire in 2037. That’s painful to write. I’ve reached a point in life, though, were retirement becomes this actual thing instead of some abstract concept in the long-away future. I particularly like that the list seems to privilege college towns and lower cost housing. Retirement isn’t just about money (thank goodness). Keeping costs down, having easy access to medical services, and living someplace with low cost entertainment matters.
  3. The Texas Senate has advanced a bill to gut the top 10% rule. These types of bills pop up every couple of years. For those of you outside the great state of Texas, years ago the state mandated that state institutions automatically admit any student who finished in the top 10% of their high school graduating class. The idea was to create diversity at public institutions without requiring race-based admissions. Using high school standing takes into account the impact race and economics has on ACT/SAT performance and rewards good students from bad high schools with automatic admission to a state institution. Of course, both the U of Texas and Texas A&M have waivers. For those of us at mid-sized regional universities, gutting the top 10% rule would help as those students who weren’t admitted to UT or A&M would be forced to go with plan B and attend less expensive, high quality regional universities. Works for me. I’m weary of our state representatives writing bills and higher ed policies based on what works at UT and A&M and forgetting the other colleges in the state. The current budget proposed anywhere from 4% to a 10% cut for higher ed, cuts that some of smaller schools can’t absorb. In 2001, the state portion of higher ed funding was 65% and students paid 35%. Today, those numbers are reversed, even as our legislators tell us they want more graduates. We’ve done more with less for so long, I fear we’re about to do less with almost nothing.
  4. If you have a chance, read Adrianne Jeffries’ “How Google Eats A Business Whole.” After, try not to get worried that we’re giving our entire lives over to machines that will control knowledge and truth. Reminisce about the good old days when Bill O’Reilly was around to tell you what to think. If you haven’t read Dave Eggers’ The Circle (read a great review here and an old blog of mine here), check it out. His novel (spoiler alert!) is about how social media has infiltrated every nook and cranny of daily life. (Hopefully, the movie will live up to the novel.) Jeffries’ dos a nice job, unintentionally, of showing exactly why it’s so difficult to teach research skills to students these days. Who are the experts? How do you trust data? Where is truth (or truthiness for any Colbert fans out there)? As importantly, we probably need to start paying more attention to the way social media, information aggregate sites, and invasive data purveyors shape ideas and impact business. In the meantime, I wonder what google has to say about dual credit?

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

My Anti-Social Tendencies

Late in David Eggers’ fine new novel The Circle a character drives off a cliff to avoid the aggressive attack of total strangers demanding that he “be our friend.” Eggers’ portrays a kind of dystopian world where fictional social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, etc. have infiltrated every nook and cranny of daily life, and he raises serious and legitimate questions about what Ellen Ullman in her New York Times Sunday Review calls the “tyranny of transparency.” In the novel, Mae Holland works for the Circle, a company determined to convince an all too willing public that “Secrets are Lies” and “Privacy is theft.” The Circle manages to reduce humanity and human interactions to various algorithms and patterns, tracing, predicting, and anticipating the hopes and desires of just about everyone. The goal, of course, is to make the world a better place. Totalitarianism always seems to begin with such noble goals.

As with so many of these kinds of novels, the scariest part isn’t how easily the technology might be mastered to pull off such a feat.

The frightening part is how willingly humanity participates in its own annihilation.

Eggers’ novel, to be fair, doesn’t actually end with the death of humanity, but he certainly seems to imply that things like secrecy and privacy are, in fact, vital to being human. In The Circle, tuning out is not only rude but indicative of some vaguely defined evil. Politicians begin wearing cameras and every interaction is recorded. Those who refuse simply don’t get elected. Voting, by the end of the novel, is mandatory through a Circle account; hence, citizenship requires an account. That account requires other accounts and the inputting of various pieces of personal data. Privacy implies, the Circle says, guilt. We are our online identity and our online avatar is us. The Circle closes as the lines of demarcation between who we physically are who we are online collapse.

Characters share (and share and share and share) every last detail of their lives. In many ways, Eggers imagines a world where our self-esteem outpaces our discretion and we imagine that because mom told us we were special (and little league gave us a ribbon for showing up at the fields twice a week) our opinions matter, regardless of our qualifications. In essence, not telling people what you like or don’t like is equivalent to robbing your friends and neighbors of valuable data, even if you are ill-informed, idiotic, or imbecilic.

It used to be rude to speak out of turn. In Eggers’ novel, it’s always your turn. And my turn. And his turn. And her turn.

There is, I realize, a certain amount of irony involved in blogging about the possible dangers of social media. Once I post this blog, I will add a link on my twitter account that automatically posts to my Facebook account, creating a digital trail leading folks back to the blog. Each of those sites will troll for data, searching for key words, collecting frequencies, and making assumptions about what ads to send to my email and what images to stick on the left hand corner of my next google search. Each morning the little elves in my computer will do everything possible to trick my mouse into clicking on the pretty pictures, thereby adding to the digital database that is John Wegner.

And if you are reading this sentence, WordPress has already gotten everything they need from you. Feel free to click on any ads you see if you want, but the cookie crumbs are already working their way into the belly of the beast.

“Based on your search history, we just know you will also enjoy  . . . Click here.” Please and Thank you.

Anyone who reads my blog, though, might notice how infrequently I’ve posted lately. Even before I read Eggers’ novel, I knew my writing would slack off heading into the holidays. I had a major project for work to complete, and, since I spend too much of my workday staring at little pixels, my goal was to take about a month off. Let the fingers rest, I told myself.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve enjoyed blogging, and, quite honestly, writing twice a week for a year has helped me write much more gooder :). I’ve written around 150,ooo words in a little over a year. That’s a novel full of essays.

Not a very good novel, mind you, but you get the idea. Writing well, I tell my students, takes three things: Practice, More Practice, and Practicing again. Blogging certainly provides such a thing.

But I also realize the truth of Eggers’ novel. Every key stroke makes my life far more public than I might have ever imagined. Each search, tweet, post, “like,” or click creates an identity and gives external forces opportunities to shape my internal desires. I’m a red-blooded American, heterosexual male: of course I want to see Scarlet Johanson’s wardrobe malfunction and Beyonce in that sheer, see-through dress. 

Am I better person if I avoid the temptation? Or am I a bad person when I don’t click because I’m not being true to myself? If it’s NSFW is it Safe For Home (unless my wife finds out)?

Our public identity has always been a construct in which we “prepare a face to meet the faces that [we] meet,” as J. Alfred Prufrock tells us, but never before, it seems to me, have we so willingly invited the public into our own private space. Our face is in a constant state of preparation or, perhaps more aptly put, constantly being constructed and reconstructed for us with each and every click. When are we every ourselves? Or, Eggers certainly seems to ask, are we every really supposed to be ourselves? 

I could, I guess, turn off, tune out, and power down.

But what would my friends think if I did?

 

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)