Critical Thoughts on Attention, Crap Detection and Participation in Digital Media

Attention Deficiency

As I begin to write this blog, I am already distracted by several tabs open on my browser, an audible ring of a new text message, and a calendar reminder that my favorite radio program begins in five minutes. Carr in Net Smart (Rheingold, 2012) explains these interruptions or distractions are causing us to lose “deep, sustained focus” (p. 52). These distractions or lack of attention are dissuading our intention to achieve a goal, in this case, write this blog.

Rheingold uses Sherry Turkle’s 15 years of research to amass ways to become more mindful of how we’re using digital media and participating in online activities. Although he cites research that our use of digital media is detrimental to society and weakens our capacity to think critically, he also provides solutions to increase our aptitude and critical thinking skills.

Learning how to be a Crap Detective 

Reading Rheingold’s (2012) chapter about deciphering websites’ credibility supports my pet peeve of friends believing and sharing fake news stories and Facebook privacy policies. The proliferation of false news stories promotes our own inability to think about the content’s truthfulness and impact to others. I refer to Snopes.com to determine whether a story is true or not and post the link online. I have recently read several posts about Facebook releasing all our personal information  and photos. This was crap four years ago and people are still sharing it. I re-shared the truth via Snopes.com and warned my friends that I would stop following their feeds if they continued to post the crap. 

Eight years ago I worked for an online media startup where we used SEO to get a website to rank authentically within the first three pages of Google, but Rheingold suggests that we look beyond the first 30 search results to find more credible websites. Does this mean the crappy spam sites are doing a better job of SEO than the credible counterparts? 

Other sites to determine the validity of digital content are FactCheck.org, and NewsTrust.net. Note the url extension as well this is one predictor of reliable information; however, any website can choose a .org or .net, but .edu or .gov. The latter two must be verified an educational institution or government entity. 

Participation Online

There are multiple levels of participatory engagement from reading content, sharing a link, interactive gaming sites, “likes” to clicking on a hypertext link. How we participate also contributes to how we curate content. Rheingold (2012) explained, “The voluntary curation contribution of every person who ever puts a link on a Web site, blog, or tweet is what enables Google to…rank the sites in order of popularity” (p.127). And with that popularity, we provide information that becomes a powerful dictator of knowledge or stupidity. 

Posted on October 23, 2016, in Social Media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I loved your commentary on the “crap detection” portion of Rheingold’s “Net Smart”. I, too, am often irritated and bewildered at what people will believe simply because they read it on the internet. I often (sarcastically) reply to such people, “oh, you read it on the internet so it must be true!”, or “did the internet tell you that?” (Yes, I am not always very nice :P)
    When I find something (say a facebook post or interesting “article”) I often do my own search to look into its accuracy before reposting it myself. Or, I will post it with the disclaimer, “I don’t know if this is true or not but…” and then usually finish with, “it would be cool if it was” or “I hope it is”, so that anyone reading my post knows that, not only do I not take everything I read on the internet to be inherently accurate, but neither should they.

    • Great ways to pose your position on the credibility of such links. I found a video of Rheingold discussing his ideas of search and credibility aka “crap detection” and he suggested that we teach kids as young as 8 how to be good crap detectives. I was shocked and amazed that kids as young as 8 could analyze sites as being reliable or not. Here’s the video link: https://youtu.be/AHVvGELuEqM

    • Gina, I try to do the same thing too about suspicious links, which is really an invitation for others to comment and disapprove its credibility.

  2. There is definitely a problem with determining the veracity of online information, but to my mind this is just an extension of the idea of being a discerning user in today’s society. The Internet allows everyone to be an expert, so therefore we must always be expert in ferreting out our truth.

    It’s the same process we have learned to do in terms of the written word. Books and tomes that promise truth and discerning content are driven by the same people who post articles about your brains rotting from microwave radios. They are trusted more by instinct; printed words have been around for ages; it costs money and effort to create such works, and they are often begat by someone with an acronym after their name. The downsides do exist: once bound the information they contain becomes finite, bound by time, place, and intent. Turkle’s book for instance is full of sweeping leaps of logic and broad generalizations meant to scare a generation still coming to grips with the changes wrought by our technological wonders.

    Trust has to be earned. We use Google, Wikipedia, and other search engines to answer questions we have about the world. But should we trust them? Probably not. There are tens of thousands of people who work everyday to manipulate what we see online and when.

    • I think Rheingold said something to the effect that we are constantly being subjected to information and at a pace faster than we can process, so we tend to bypass the process of determining whether it’s credible or not.

      I’m intrigued by your response to Turkle. Do you think she has more of a negative impact upon millennials or that younger generations need to learn more critical thinking skills, so they’re able to discern truth from crap?

  3. A healthy skepticism is certainly needed whenever we approach things online. You make a good point that bogus sites often get the same ranking as credible sites. In other forms of media, there was a level of gatekeeping to serve as a primary filter, but because the Internet has leveled the playing field, users have to take on that responsibility. To Lloyd’s point, I agree that simply because it’s in a book doesn’t mean it’s right or trustworthy either, but it does mean that it went through at least some level of vetting in the editing/publication process. That’s more than can be said for the random blogs or webpages that some guy tapped out in his basement.

    I have two hesitations about teaching “crap detection” to children. Although it is certainly necessary (and always has been, but perhaps more so now), I’m not sure how that practically looks. What does a teacher have to do to instill it in kids? You might be able to practice it through projects and assignments, but I think it’s more of a cultural instinct than necessarily a teachable skill. Secondly, how would critical kids affect other aspects of culture? Would they start questioning all authority figures? I could play out doomsday scenarios of disrespect for authority, rebellion, disregard for laws, etc., and probably leap down a slippery slope, but I do think it bears asking how teaching “crap detection” online could bleed into how kids see the rest of the world.

    • I’d like to know more about the educating young students about credible sites as well. I would hope that this is the beginning of learning critical thinking skills as well – and when to apply it – especially with authority figures. This too can be a “slippery slope” with authority figures. I think this would make an interesting research project as well. Thanks for chiming in!

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