In Terms of Info Diets, I’m a Vegetarian

ImageThis week in CEP 812 we were asked to consider the media we use and reflect on our own personal ‘information diet.’ I will admit, I do not have a healthy “information diet” in terms of variety of sources; yet, each individual source I consume is kind of like a “casserole,” packed with variety and contradicting ingredients that come together and taste like heaven on your tongue- a quick fix that satisfies each of the necessary food groups. My limited diet is actually something that I have always been aware of; I have accepted it and feel okay with it. We live in an age where information on the web is tailored to fit individual interests and beliefs. For some, the ideas discussed in the TED Talk given by Eli Pariser (2011) may feel like something right out of a dystopian novel, where we have no say over what we view, and arguably, because we are only exposed to information that confirms and/or supports our current stance or way of thinking, we will become robots controlled by, cue conspiracy theory: the government. For others, like myself, it is just another technological advancement or marketing ploy, similar to ones put in place prior to the worldwide web.

In my opinion, the idea of “filtering” and exposing only certain pieces of information is something that has been occurring for quite some time. For example, a person subscribed to Women’s World magazine will definitely be exposed to different advertisements than someone who is subscribed to Sports Illustrated or Vogue. However, that isn’t to say that Women’s World is trying to hide their information from people who aren’t subscribed, just as Google isn’t trying to hide information from individuals by filtering their searches. Even more-so, local news stations are known for either their liberal or conservative take on events, which often sways their viewer population. Advertisements on radio stations, commercials on television stations, and music in clothing stores are only a few ways I can think of that have been affecting society’s “info diet” long before web filtering.

Maybe I am in a generation young enough to be comfortable with the idea of the “filter bubble” that Priser (2011) discusses. With as much criticism as Millennials get, I think we have a hyper awareness of how the web “categorizes” [us] or even society. I can think of a time four years ago when my Facebook feed was full of sarcastic posts regarding advertisements the site had tailored to their profiles. More recently, I can recall how the advertisements went from wedding rings to Christian singles after I ended my relationship. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think everyone is as oblivious to the “filter bubble” as one may think. Most websites you have to sign up for ask you to choose interests and build you a unique home page based on those interests…some sites just take out the first step and automatically customize things for you. While some view the automatic filtering algorithm as a bonus feature that makes their life easier, others, like Nicholas Carr (2010) begin to question if this process is actually removing ones capacity to think critically or grow intellectually.

While I would argue that my generation is aware of the filtering process and uses it to their advantage, I can see why it is important to acknowledge one’s information diet. For me, I am comfortable using a few selected sites, yet I am very aware of where to find alternative sources of information on the web as well as individuals with countering beliefs. Like, Jenkins (2010) said, the direct skills needed to change society begin in interest driven networks. So, if younger generations are aware of this “filter bubble” they will know how to seek others to create the diverse experiences Gee (2013) discusses are necessary in order to solve problems of the future. I would argue that what one person sees as a generation of “obsessive device-checking techno-slave zombies” another sees as an innovative army, collectively tackling 21st century problems. The real issue is in how to fuel educators to embrace technology and learn to use it as a tool in the classroom. I have a hard time believing students view facts and forget them immediately; I can testify that students in my classroom make connections to their twitter posts or magazine articles quite often.

With that said, my daily information diet consists of sources such as: Buzzfeed, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Wood TV. I use each of the sources for educational and personal purposes. I believe each expose me to diverse pieces of information or viewpoints in unique ways…my day wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a Facebook status with 100+ comments where users debate back and forth over some political or religious topic. So, arguably, while I am still “hanging out” within the confines of my personal “filter bubble” I am not always comfortable, especially when a friend tries to drag me into a heated debate regarding same sex marriage via a Facebook post. I guess I would call myself a vegetarian in terms of the “info diet.” I would say my diet, although limited by variety of sources, is healthy due the complexity –nutrients–within each source. Yet, sometimes I avoid the countering opinions or the controversy all together, which is not healthy, so this week for CEP 812 I am challenging my thinking by purposefully seeking out opinions and ideas that are contradictory to my own using sources that are not currently a part of my “info diet.” Here are the three new sources of information that have pushed my thinking in new ways:

1) I added TED to my Feedly. I added TED to my diet for several reasons. I realized that while I have watched several TED Talks, they have each been very similar in content and purpose, and they were the popular talks that most people know about, too. I have always had a positive opinion of TED, mostly because my undergrad professions showed great Talks and spoke fondly of the site. I followed suit. I shared the handful of videos I had been exposed to and spoke positively of the opportunity and creativity. However, prior to this week, I actually wasn’t aware that TED Talks addressed issues outside of education. I actually found myself interested in the new technological advancements coming to the medical field. Moreover, I watched several clips spanning environment issues, medical research, the business world, domestic violence, politics, and psychology.  I also didn’t know about speaker qualifications. Even with a slogan that says, “Ideas Worth Spreading,” I had never questioned who decides the ideas are worth spreading…after playing around, I found the protocol required to give a Talk and found myself interested in listening to a young kid giving a TED Talk, which was very cool because I thought only “old” people could give TED Talks. Even though some Talks were boring to me, I did enjoy highly controversial topics discussed regarding politics and education reform, which are areas I typically shy away from.

2) I followed @ArneDuncan on Twitter. Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education. Most of his tweets are about federal policy and new education initiatives. Prior to this week I had always prided myself on not being invested in educational politics, or politics in general. I wouldn’t say I am naïve or careless when it comes to either, but I definitely don’t let politics make me jaded about my profession or the future of education. I have always had the mindset that I can’t change or control what is happening, so I should focus on doing what I love most, teaching and building relationships with kids, and the rest will fall into place. I actually had my sister figure out my retirement information two years ago in the midst of all the changes. I really don’t care about that stuff…is that bad? However, even though I felt like I had better things to be doing, I tried my best to scroll through Arne’s tweets. I actually found myself clicking on articles he tweeted about, then clicking similar articles linked at the bottom of that article and so forth. This is a process I typically follow on Buzzfeed, a site in my “filter bubble,” where one article leads me to another and I end up creating this vast web of connections and information. I found myself interested in the variety his twitter account offered. I was surprised to see that amongst the political tweets—healthcare reform, education reform, state testing—there were sweet, uplifting tweets about educators and their impact. I will say that I actually found most of the political articles interesting and easy to read, too. Most political articles use terms I am unaware of and technical language that I cannot relate to, this was not the case with his linked articles.

3) I followed @michillerhee on Twitter. Michelle Rhee is the CEO and founder of Students First—an organization focused on pushing legislators, courts, district administrators, and school boards to create and enforce policies that put students first. Like I mentioned previously, I usually shy away from politics in general and I definitely do not involve myself in the Common Core Debates, however, when deciding what sources to add for this weeks task, I was immediately drawn to Michelle Rhee’s twitter because it was focused on student needs in terms of politics and standardized testing not the other way around. One thing that particularly disturbed me was an article she linked about PBS, a site I previously had very positive opinions of, as well as several articles regarding standardized testing laws that affect dying children or children with special needs. As an educator, my passion is helping kids, and I kind of feel that I have neglected the cause by ignoring news regarding standardized testing and legislature. I hope to stay in tune issues that have been affecting so many children in the US that I had previously been blind to.

In sum, while the first two sources I consumed didn’t change my opinion or thinking in any way, they did encourage me to think more and explore information that I would have otherwise ignored, which I believe is the point of a balanced information diet. Moreover, the last source I added to my diet actually changed my thinking about staying aware in terms of educational laws. Now, I really feel that it is my duty to stay aware to make sure my “kids” are receiving all the supports available to them, and, more importantly, to voice my opinion to help ALL kids who may be suffering due to current laws.

References:

Carr, N. (2011). The dark side of the information revolution [Web]. Retrieved from http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid57825992001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAADXaozYk~,BawJ37gnfAnGoMxEdQj_T9APQXRHKyAC&bctid=1128986496001

Gee, J. P. (2013). The Anti-Education Era: Creating Smarter Students through Digital Learning.

Jenkins, H. (Performer) (2011). Media scholar henry jenkins on participatory culture and civic engagement [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgZ4ph3dSmY&feature=youtu.be

Pariser, E. (Performer) (2011). Beware online “filter bubbles” [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles.html

Creative Commons licensed “@plugusin Graphic” by  Bill Ferriter, used under CC BY

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One thought on “In Terms of Info Diets, I’m a Vegetarian

  1. Great post, Kristen. I really like how you related your infodiet to actual food to show how you feel about the way you receive information. I think it’s neat that you aren’t flabbergasted by the fact that our information is filtered, and actually you mentioned several other ways (pre-internet) that our infodiet may have been filtered. The new twitter handles you started following were great choices. I, too, looked at following Duncan and Rhee with this assignment as I thought it might be good to receive tweets about the political side of education, since I do use that as a talking point about the frustrating aspects of my job–yet I don’t even get my information from the Secretary of Education himself. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    Allison

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