Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – (Part 6 – Moving Beyond Academic Elitism)

Moving Beyond Academic Elitism


As explored, our new media environment has made the world an interesting place to navigate. While it has completely turned the pre-1990’s media model on its head, it has not been without substantial growing pains. Growing pains that are still hard to fully comprehend a decade in.

One could argue that many of these issues could be tied to the inherent hands-off nature that governing entities have generally taken towards the internet. It’s always been full steam ahead, seemingly without evaluating consequences (short OR long term). Well, until very recently anyway.



From the free speech issues of social media platforms to the ISP’s frowning on having to deal with declining cable subscriptions but rising bandwidth costs associated with digital competitors, it all comes back to the deregulated nature of the beast. Few may have been able to envision the digital space becoming the new public square, nor the demise of legacy television distribution VIA the very same infrastructure in which it operates, but we’re here now. The genie is out of the bottle, and we have to answer some tough questions. To NOT do so only ensures the entities with the most to lose (financially) will continue to stifle innovation in the name of propping up an obsolete business model.



Because THAT is what private industry does. What is best for the entity is the status quo, come what may. It’s why the internal combustion engine is still the primary mode of transportation of the species.



But that is a tangent. What is more, on point is how (and why) information becomes widely distributed on these new networks of communication. Because it’s often not on account to merit or validity.



If my understanding of the typical non-social media engaging academic is anywhere close to being accurate, then this can go one of 2 ways. The first is that this so-called problem is not worth their time. And option 2 (which is more appealing to me, despite being a non-academic) is the notion that there is a place for this sort of thing. There is an established framework in terms of where all of this is discussed, debated and otherwise covered. And that place is generally NOT in the public square. Let alone directly for (or with!) the often scientifically illiterate unwashed masses.

Of everyone in the academic cohort, one of the increasingly more important segments in this area are the philosophers. But they also tend to be some of the most arrogant members of academia in general. Thus, the whole field is left open to the pop-scientists, pop-philosophers and anyone else willing to pay to have a paper published in order to show how gender studies are garbage. Whilst this trio certainly outlined a problem with academia (or at least academic publications), they COMPLETELY dropped the ball on exactly what that problem was. By a country mile.



To side with the busy academic for a second . . . I get it. I get the hesitation at letting the average citizen into these dialogues. Having a mind honed for academic discipline does not necessarily guarantee superb public speaking ability.

And then there is the issue of jargon. Communication can be accomplished with relative ease when all parties are familiar with the material at hand. However, when the audience consists of laymen (or just people unfamiliar with that area of expertise), further clarification is required. Depending on the subject, possible a WHOLE LOT of clarification. Nuance is a staple of informed and healthy dialogue, but it’s rarely easy to deliver on the fly. A big benefit to those that thrive outside the realm of nuanced reasoning.



I have run into this wall myself in more than one instance. Not just during the online discourse, but in researching suspected misinformation coming from the anti-GMO crowd and shared widely on social media. Since the 2 sides tend to be so polarized and vested in their own ideology, I didn’t even bother with citing media articles. I opted for the papers themselves. The material that the researchers themselves publish.

Let me tell you . . . what a pain in the ass. No matter how well-meaning a given project or crop may be, I can’t defend what I can’t decipher. Most of the time, one is able to gain some semblance of what’s going on in order to come to a conclusion. But it is a whole lot easier if a version were available that wasn’t primarily an intelligible mess.



Such an unnecessary barrier has always been ridiculous. But given the state of information sharing today, it has become totally unacceptable. Ignorance. of much of what is contained within the realm of academia is not only a threat to many of these disciplines themselves (think funding cuts), it is also a direct threat to the survival of the species itself. Though the current events of the paradigm in which this was written showcases this threat exceptionally well, it has always been this way. Anytime before, and likely for a long time after.



Part of this can be attributed to oversights in the education system. Critical thinking skills tend to be left to the back burner (particularly in regions dominated by religious oversight).

When it comes to legacy media mediums (books, television, etc), breaking through this wall of illiteracy proved a formidable challenge. Since it is primarily based around personal choice (choosing what shows to watch, books to read, etc), it can be hard to shoehorn any alternate narrative in. Particularly when the region itself is mostly hostile to anything but the widely accepted narrative.

In this area, new media has an edge over the old. The internet blankets all of these areas equally and (at least at present) does not have any filters to content hostile to local narratives (at least not at the ISP level). In this environment, correctly programmed algorithms can potentially be utilized to serve up the occasional healthy dose of critical analysis in order to lessen the echo chamber and filter bubble effects of correct social media frameworks.



While that proposal DOES sound a tad creepy and big brother-esk, the fact is that social media is doing this type of thing already. Only rather than steering people in healthy directions (in terms of ideology), current algorithms tend to end in extremist rabbit holes. Because such interactions keep that person’s eyes on THAT platform. And the longer they stay on that platform, the more revenue they can generate through advertising (not to mention data mining).





Should quote education friendly algorithms become apart of (or possibly even replace) the financial friendly algorithms that dominate today? If you are one of the people caught in the vortex of the more familiar algorithms, then the answer is an obvious “NO!”.

However, the world no longer has time to bend at the knee to such privileged ignorance. Thus, my solution is to deploy such algorithms. Of course, one runs into the problem of the panicky switching platforms in ALL don’t make the switch. Which would be a good place for regulators to step in. Don’t leave it to the free market to decide based on the marketplace. Mandate, and enforce.



Such action drastic action warrants the correct material for the purpose be available to distribute. You can’t just start feeding material from the complete opposite of end of the spectrum into peoples filter bubbles, or you will only dig them in deeper. Not to mention that having non-charismatic academics (or academics speaking jargon) won’t be helpful in this new space. What you need is content that is benign enough to not be threatening, yet powerful enough to start making people consider things. In the paradigm of video, a camera-friendly person is half the battle. Given the right presenter, even the most benign and boring material can come to life.



Whilst there are innumerable examples of the bad side of this equation, the good is often harder to come by. When it comes to a GOOD example of what we should strive for, the best example I can think of is Natalie Wynn, more commonly known as Contrapoints. If I were to compare her to anyone, it would be Marilyn Manson. Despite the seeming controversy-riddled image, this may conj or up, her work tends to be very educational at the core. Where the entertainment and exhibitionism come in, is in keeping us enthralled. Whether the video is 15 or 45 minutes in length.



This is not to say that every one of academia’s public faces has to be a Marilyn Manson student. All one has to be is captivating. Able to talk to an audience at their level, instead of talking down to them from a pedestal.


When it comes to the typical standard of how academia interacts with the world at large, this is extraordinarily unorthodox. None the less, the species has moved far beyond the point in which academic elitism is an acceptable luxury. If tradition is the main barrier to evolving towards a better tomorrow is going to be tradition, then what was the point of the dialogues in the first place?



Game over.



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