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Not everyone can afford to be blasé
November 12, 2013 8:48 AM   Subscribe

What I think we forget–or worse, never even realized—is the extreme privilege often inherent in “digital literacy.” Yes, much of the Internet is free. But it takes time and energy to develop the skills and habits necessary to successfully derive value from today’s media. Knowing how to tell a troll from a serious thinker, spotting linkbait, understanding a meme, cross checking articles against each other, even posting a comment to disagree with something–these are skills. They might not feel like it, but they are. And they’re easier to acquire the higher your tax bracket. - The New Digital Divide: Privilege, Misinformation and Outright B.S. in Modern Media
posted by beisny (37 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
So when I sneeringly link to Snopes in comments to my idiot FB friends and family's credulous posts of urban legends, I am actually lording my digital privilege over them. Nice.
posted by jayder at 8:52 AM on November 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Maybe you can think of it in terms of noblesse oblige.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:58 AM on November 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


Good thing we're so good at spotting troll journalism! While the author may have a valid point that people aren't engaging, I'm not sure that they are correct that this is somehow different from how it's always been.
posted by rebent at 9:08 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Knowing how to tell a troll from a serious thinker, spotting linkbait, understanding a meme, cross checking articles against each other, even posting a comment to disagree with something–these are skills.

Yep. Knowing how to do stuff requires learning it.

are removed from the iterative, lightning-fast online media cycle for hours at a time and often for the entire day.

Oh no, how will they feed their children!

The “rich” are fine and the rest of the population is left to fend for itself, essentially illiterate of the fast-moving and ever-changing trends in online culture.

This is a thing that only rich people would be particularly concerned about missing out on.

This whole thing reads to me like people in the Berkeley hills whose kids raise chickens and compost their food scraps at school (but who will grow up to be lawyers and engineers) worrying about the kids in East Oakland because, "oh my, their school lunches aren't even organic!" As if that's their biggest problem.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:08 AM on November 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


My friends in tech and finance are living it up in San Francisco and New York, easily able to pay obscene rents and call up an Uber black car whenever they don’t feel like waiting five minutes or walking two blocks to get a cab or ride the subway.

So true. Although I'm not his friend I too live it up. One of my favorite things is to gorge myself on Ortolan while being carried to my daily milk bath before summoning one of my fleet of back cars to take me to a gala, soiree or sometimes even a fete.

I always find it kinda funny when people are uncomfortable about how much I have to pay to live in the city I was born in. You don't need to tell me it is expensive! You want me to move so you can stop worrying about my mortgage payments?
posted by Ad hominem at 9:10 AM on November 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


So when I sneeringly link to Snopes in comments to my idiot FB friends and family's credulous posts of urban legends, I am actually lording my digital privilege over them. Nice.

So I've got a hunch you didn't read the article, but no, sharing skills and information with people who don't have the same access to it is pretty clearly a good thing to do.

"Privilege" doesn't mean "fuck you you're automatically terrible." It means "awesome, but I hope you're sharing some of what you've got." Which, if you're helping less-skilled people get their hands on accurate information, you are.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:11 AM on November 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Since when is this a new thing? It's existed as long as print has existed. I'd say before, but there wasn't really much in the way of media before, just word of mouth, so it wasn't really a thing before the sixteenth century.

But you know what you start seeing in the sixteenth century almost right away? State regulation of presses. And you know what one of the biggest justifications was for said regulation? The fact that unless the state controlled the presses, ignorant citizens wouldn't have any real way to tell information from misinformation. If two posters are printed out official-like, who's to say that this one is an official royal proclamation and that one isn't?

Which was actually kind of a real problem. Pamphleteers, i.e., people who mass-distributed short pamphlets for public consumption, were a perennial thorn in the side of just about everybody--including other pamphleteers. With no regulation, you could publish anything you wanted and attribute it to anyone you wanted. Want to frame someone for treason? Write a pamphlet and stick someone else's name on it. Even if everything is sorted out, you just ruined someone's month. There was actually a recorded instance of someone printing and distributing an entirely fake transcript of a Parliamentary proceeding. His Majesty's Government was Not Amused. And piracy, i.e., the unauthorized republication of other people's texts, was rampant. This caused huge problems. Imagine trying to share scientific research in scholarly journals or through published treatises when people are out there making knock-off copies that are only distinguishable from the originals if you sit down and compare line by line but which contain errors which invalidate the claimed results.

The print world basically got that sorted out after a few centuries, largely through the introduction of copyright. It was made illegal to operate an unlicensed press, simply because the crown thought it needed to act to ensure that the things that were published were published by reputable, responsible actors. For a while there, the crown outlawed the publication of all legal books because the printers were in a spat, including the deliberate introduction of low-quality, error-filled piracies of each other's case reporters. Copyright was introduced to solve this, and given how much we tend to trust printed material, it's worked remarkably well.

The really important thing to realize here is that it didn't work by educating the population to discern quality publications from shitty ones. It worked by making it easy for those few people who cared to easily identify shitty publications and imposing penalties enforceable by law. This acted to create a "print culture" to the extent that today, if you pick up a book, you can be pretty sure who printed it, where and when it was printed, the identity of the author, and that what you are holding in your hand is a true and accurate reproduction of what the author originally wrote (or at least agreed to have published). You didn't need to investigate any of those things, because the system worked to ensure integrity at every step of the chain.

But we're back to the Wild West with the introduction of digital culture. Print made the production of mass media possible. The internet makes it even easier, democratizing it in a way not previously conceivable. And just like with the introduction of print, we're running into problems of credit and credibility. Which publications are you supposed to believe, how can you tell who has written what, and how can you tell that what you are reading now is exactly what the person to whom it has been attributed actually said? We've gotten used to thinking about copyright as purely a business model. We've forgotten that it was originally an attribution model too. You can't have a reliable, credible press--print or digital--unless someone is taking responsibility for what is being printed. That makes anonymity, one of the big features/bugs of the internet, hugely problematic.
posted by valkyryn at 9:11 AM on November 12, 2013 [30 favorites]


Is this article backed up by any research? Because it reads to me like a bunch of anecdotes and meaningless links to his own articles. To wit:
My friends in tech and finance are living it up in San Francisco and New York, easily able to pay obscene rents and call up an Uber black car whenever they don’t feel like waiting five minutes or walking two blocks to get a cab or ride the subway.
See, for me almost all of the woo I get via social media acquaintances is from SF and NY, but it's not hippies and foodies, it's libertarian techies expounding on Randian nonsense or how New Atheism/SFF fandom/etc is being "victimized" by women and minorities and gays.
posted by zombieflanders at 9:18 AM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Is this article backed up by any research? Because it reads to me like a bunch of anecdotes and meaningless links to his own articles.

Which is ironic, considering those anecdotes are mustered in support of the claim that too many people are increasing over-reliant on information-light opinion articles.

Absent the specific mentions of 'digital this' and 'digital that,' this could just as easily be an article from a century ago. The media of the past was not exactly averse to running headlines solely to sell copies, regardless of the truthfulness of those headlines. When he writes that [W]e’re a country ruled by public opinion–and it’s the media that drives that opinion, I can't help but think that there might be some historical antecedents worth examining.
posted by cjelli at 9:38 AM on November 12, 2013


So when I sneeringly link to Snopes in comments to my idiot FB friends and family's credulous posts of urban legends, I am actually lording my digital privilege over them.

The pop-under ads keep it real though.
posted by thelonius at 9:38 AM on November 12, 2013


It’s expensive to be a core user of online media. It’s expensive to develop the skills to become one. To those for whom it is already second nature, that is something usually born of privilege.

I’m wondering if this foreshadows the new “digital divide.” As mobile and broadband costs fall, the issue of “access” to the internet diminishes (both globally and locally). Yet access to the digital world is not sufficient to bridge the divide.


This isn't a new digital divide, it's the same old one, just a little faster. In case you are unclear on the digital divide, codacorolla's epic comment gives you an idea how it works. Yes, broadband is cheaper now, but that does not mean that everyone can afford it -- $40/month, plus the cost of the hardware, plus electricity, plus a place to keep it is out of the means of a lot of people. Not to mention the problems of dealing with the internet for people with motor control issues, visual disability, or just being old enough that the internet hasn't always been there.

It isn't just a matter of debunking ridiculous claims for relatives, either (although, heavens knows, critical thinking is always in demand). In many cases it's very basic things. Basic things, like finding governmental forms online (and, since the physical location has closed, that's the only place you can get them), really are beyond large swaths of the population.
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:53 AM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


In case you are unclear on the digital divide, codacorolla's epic comment gives you an idea how it works. Yes, broadband is cheaper now, but that does not mean that everyone can afford it -- $40/month, plus the cost of the hardware, plus electricity, plus a place to keep it is out of the means of a lot of people. Not to mention the problems of dealing with the internet for people with motor control issues, visual disability, or just being old enough that the internet hasn't always been there.

^This.^

I remember when I couldn't afford to have broadband at my last apartment. I had to go to the library every time I wanted to check my email. Huge bits of what was going on on the Internet was lost to me--though I think I have made up for it in record time now--and the other folks at the library who were on the waiting list were a mixed bag of folks: young kids whose families might not have been able to afford a computer full stop, people checking on job listings they might miss out on, etc.

It's when people show their luck/privilege by saying, "But everyone can afford Internets!" that I tend to remember just how damn fortunate I am. These are the same people who rail against the USPS for being obsolete without thinking about the sort of folks who really rely on it for so much.
posted by Kitteh at 10:17 AM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I started to write something that I realized was basically the title of this post. It is really frustrating though to hear otherwise well meaning people not understanding or caring that so many things in our society are becoming available only with internet access, or high quality access.
posted by bongo_x at 10:21 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


African-Americans (who are rarely considered beneficiaries of "extreme privilege" in the USA) use social media like twitter, vimeo, and instagram more than other ethnicities - this would seem to negate many of these well-made arguments.
posted by kanewai at 10:24 AM on November 12, 2013


The print world basically got that sorted out after a few centuries, largely through the introduction of copyright.

Factually and essentially incorrect. You're talking about the Stationer's Guild, which was Not a Good Thing. It wasn't until the Statute of Anne when the author got any damn say in the legal system in who could publish their work, and copyright further solidified that right away from the publishers and towards the authors (until the advent of work-for-hire took it all back).

Meanwhile, pamphleteers kept on pamphleting, authorized or not... from Thomas Paine to Tijuana Bibles to Jack Chick to the burst of Zines in the '90s that gave way to blogging in the modern day.

Copyright has shit/all to do with accountability on the edges of popular culture.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:24 AM on November 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Great article. Though what the article calls "digital literacy" would be more accurately called digital media literacy: just one important skill in a larger set of skills (I call them "bit literacy") that include: knowing how to manage email, set up a task list, organize files and photos for later storage, set up online bookmarks, and so on. Knowing how to assess and cross-reference digital media sources are important, but that's just one skill of many that could be considered part of the digital divide.

(For my part, I made my ebook on the topic a free download.)
posted by mark7570 at 10:42 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder how Ryan Holiday feels about everything that came after his byline at the end of the article.


Follow Ryan Holiday via RSS.

Linkbait Linkbait Linkbait Linkbait

Linkbait Linkbait Linkbait Linkbait

posted by GrapeApiary at 10:53 AM on November 12, 2013


MetaFilter: fuck you you're automatically terrible
posted by XMLicious at 11:06 AM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Not a new issue at all. It's been one of the central concerns of professional librarianship for at least a decade.
posted by Rykey at 11:07 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bridging the Digital Divide
posted by eviemath at 11:14 AM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Media literacy, digital and non:

Media Literacy Week

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)
posted by eviemath at 11:17 AM on November 12, 2013


African-Americans (who are rarely considered beneficiaries of "extreme privilege" in the USA) use social media like twitter, vimeo, and instagram more than other ethnicities - this would seem to negate many of these well-made arguments.

The stuff I have read on this suggests it's very much a shifting landscape, as I guess we would expect in the current social media environment, but that doesn't really affect the argument because social media is only partly about "using the internet." For one thing, it's easily done by phone (globally, smartphones (or at least semi-smartphones) seem to be outstripping pcs as the tool of choice) and having a phone doesn't easily let you access, say, those government forms. Secondly, older and disabled users are still out in the cold. Third, as I point out in this comment in somewhat more detail is that use of social media doesn't really tell you much about how "digital savvy" a person is because it's just using commercial tools to do things the company wants. Tweeting bears the same relationship to digital literacy as using a post-it does to literacy.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:25 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Knowing how to tell a troll from a serious thinker, spotting linkbait, understanding a meme, cross checking articles against each other, even posting a comment to disagree with something–these are skills.

I disagree with the set up of a lot of the anecdotes in the article and I too am amused at the lack of citations to the plethora of materials already written on the subject, but I would just like to say that I work with smart, fairly privileged college students and I still run up against these issues all the time. What is a browser, how to add a printer, how to work in open-source software programs, how to judge whether something is peer-reviewed or not, what is a Dropbox, privacy on social media...There is a lot of knowledge about manipulation of devices and working within certain programs like SnapChat and tumblr, but often they have little experience in analyzing or searching for information.

I'm also saddened that I could do a ctrl + f on his article and find not a single mention of libraries, which are actively working in a lot of communities to try to provide better access to the internet, digital literacy skills, and help provide people with a working knowledge of government forms/online job searches/etc.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:33 AM on November 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


Factually and essentially incorrect. You're talking about the Stationer's Guild, which was Not a Good Thing.

Yeah. I'm just going to go ahead and tell you to read Adrian Johns and check back with me, mkay?
posted by valkyryn at 11:49 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


African-Americans (who are rarely considered beneficiaries of "extreme privilege" in the USA) use social media like twitter, vimeo, and instagram more than other ethnicities - this would seem to negate many of these well-made arguments.

No - more AAs who are already online use social media relative to whites who are already online. If there are 50 African-Americans with Internet access and 25 of them use social media, that's a greater proportion than 100 whites with Internet, of whom 40 use social media. It doesn't mean that more African-Americans have Internet access than do whites.
posted by desjardins at 12:13 PM on November 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


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posted by Nanukthedog at 12:39 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I work as a security guard or at the counter of a Wendy’s, our media environment is significantly more difficult to track. Not everyone has their Internet time subsidized by an employer who asks them to sit in front of a computer all day. In fact, many people have jobs that forbid them from doing just that, with bosses who will write them up if caught checking their phone. These people–we often refer to them (derisively) as “average Americans”–are removed from the iterative, lightning-fast online media cycle for hours at a time and often for the entire day.

Our? Really. The first person plural just comes off as gross.

Also, his representative examples of people on the wrong side of the digital divide are not really helping him sound less condescending.
posted by desuetude at 12:52 PM on November 12, 2013


And a timely report from the Pew Charitable Trusts (not finding a link to the original report though):
The report found the proportion of Philadelphians with Internet access has been steadily rising since 2011, when about 76 percent of residents were plugged in, compared to an estimated 82 percent who have access now...Sixty-five percent of respondents reported using cell phones to access the Internet, up from 45 percent in 2011.

It's great that 82% of the city has some internet access, though there's a distinct age difference-- and of course that plays out in job applicants, in access to government services, in access to news and crime reports, and so on. (Not to mention the differences between using services on a mobile device, typing skills, and the differences in apps vs. their website counterparts...)
posted by jetlagaddict at 2:09 PM on November 12, 2013


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posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:13 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


But we're back to the Wild West with the introduction of digital culture.
So your solution to being in 1800s America is to return to 1700s England?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:05 AM on November 13, 2013


Yeah. I'm just going to go ahead and tell you to read Adrian Johns and check back with me, mkay?

'Kay.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:13 AM on November 13, 2013


So your solution to being in 1800s America is to return to 1700s England?

No. It's the recognition that features of our culture which we are accustomed to treating as immutable laws of social nature were, in fact, carefully constructed over a period of centuries and still vulnerable to the same challenges that inspired them in the first place.

More particularly, it's a call for a reconceptualization of copyright, away from merely the support of a particular publishing business model, and towards the recovery of copyright as a means of ensuring the integrity of the relationship between author and reader. Right now, the determination of whether a particular use constitutes "fair use" is largely predicated upon the alleged effect on the market for the work in question. I think that should be only part of the analysis, and not the most important part at that. A use which interferes with the relationship between author and reader, by creating the impression that a particular copy has been authorized when it has not, should be illegal, even if the effect upon the work is negligible. A use which does not so interfere, by making it clear that the copy in question is a piracy, should be okay, even if the effect upon the market is allegedly substantial.
posted by valkyryn at 8:16 AM on November 13, 2013


>Yeah. I'm just going to go ahead and tell you to read Adrian Johns and check back with me, mkay?

'Kay.


See, that's what I'm talking about. Is this a claim to being Arthur Williamson? Because if it isn't, dude, linking to one negative review of a book does not constitute internalizing the argument. The review doesn't even address the substance of the argument I advanced, nor does it in fact support your own rather cursory claims. If that's how you want to proceed here, we're done.

If you are so claiming, (1) that's a pretty ambiguous claim, and (2) I've no real reason to believe you, because this is the internet and you're anonymous.
posted by valkyryn at 8:23 AM on November 13, 2013


dude, linking to one negative review of a book...

As opposed to a one liner with an amazon link?

If that's how you want to proceed here, we're done.

Yeah, we're done.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:03 AM on November 13, 2013


Well, not to be flippant, but what we're talking about is from a period of time and place in which monarchy was a viable political orientation. That, taken with the idea of "anonymity being problematic", looks like the footprint of certain strains of paleocon thought. I guess as long as we have feudalism we'd better bring back kings?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:31 AM on November 13, 2013


I don't know the history of copyright as it relates to verifying authorship but the modern solution to the problem that valkyryn described is digital signatures. It's a much more comprehensive and reliable solution and would generally provide considerably more information about why you should trust a particular piece of writing, and it would be much easier to identify, discuss, and fix problems arising in such a system, or even duplicate and create a new redundant version of the verification system, versus an immense, expensive state-run system like copyright that depends on pervasive government and legal influence over everything that gets published.

And let's face it, a new copyright-like system nominally designed for sorting out which sources can be trusted is going to be compromised and perverted into a means to consolidate money and power in the hands of a few people, just like the current system that supposedly exists to ensure that authors are properly compensated for their work and incentivized to continue with it.

What's even better is that the key element to establishing a well-designed and useful digital signature system is ensuring that the public at large is educated about the technology, the issue highlighted in the OP here, rather than devoting resources to courts and a legal industry and other mechanisms where the majority of expenditures devolve to a small number of people.
posted by XMLicious at 12:14 PM on November 13, 2013


Oh, and for those not familiar with digital signatures, this technology is already in use on a massive scale: when your computer or mobile phone updates its operating system, for example, digital signatures or something like them are what it uses to verify that the new software components really come from Microsoft or Google or Apple or whoever and not some sneaky person trying to trick your computer into installing their viruses. So it's just a matter of making the average person knowledgable enough, and making the tools easy enough to use, so that humans can apply them to messages and other writings and easily verify that the digital signature on something matches the person it's claimed to have been written by.
posted by XMLicious at 12:29 PM on November 13, 2013


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