Aug 16, 2018

5 min read
Photo by Stefano Pollio on Unsplash

Participé en el International Expert Workshop on Transparency que organizaron Investigadoras de la Facultad de Derecho, Política y Desarrollo de la UEES. Hablamos de transparencia, libertad de expresión, derechos humanos. Todos abogados, menos yo. Decidí empezar invitando a los participantes a firmar un Non-Disclosure Agreement. Me miraron mal. Tuve que explicar que era un chiste. En fin, esta fue mi ponencia.

Like Glass in a Rabbit Hole.

Allow me a short story from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Alice saw a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her and that did not disturb her.

It was until the White Rabbit took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on and pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge… that Alice acted.

She went down after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again from the rabbit hole.

That rabbit hole is transparency nowadays. A long and winding road with many connections, dead-ends, various physical and emotional manifestations and offshoots.

Let’s focus on the latter.

Every day, we generate at least 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, according to a 2015 IBM study.

Every day we google over 4.000 millions searches and watch more than 10.000 millions videos.

Some experts called it the Age of Information.

Others called it The Age of Distraction.

Information is virtually unlimited, ubiquitous, uncensored, unframed and free. Furthermore, anyone can publish literally anything based on the beliefs that everyone is entitled to an opinion… and that their opinion is as good as anybody else’s.

This presumably democratic environment heats the discussion about truth, trust and transparency. And the gist lies in the sentence: More information does not mean more knowledge.

David Helfand, a professor of astronomy at Columbia University and author of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of the Mind says that (i quote) “The internet makes information more accessible than it has ever been. Sorting through all that information — some good, some bad — is confusing, and engenders distrust in distant sources, such as institutions and academic experts, and to rely instead on sources closer to home, such as friends and likeminded peers. That distrust of distant sources fuels the demand for ever more information, which keeps the cycle going.”

The information overload weakens the information´s credibility, therefore we seek for more information that reinforces the distrust.

The more data you have the less you trust it and demand more, in a vicious loop. This is called the Transparency Paradox.

Data became a commodity. A basic good interchangeable with other commodities, where all the producers seem uniform and the consumer became prosumer -coined in 1980 by American futurist Alvin Toffler- long time ago.

Anyone with a smartphone is now a producer and a consumer of content.

This is the melting pot where journalism and the media develop their deeds.

The information flow changed. Dramatically.

Loads of unedited, unchecked, content continues to surface and spill. And the consumer has to decipher fact from fiction.

But 63% of the people worldwide does not know how to tell good journalism from rumor or falsehoods, according to this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer.

Remember, surfing all that information is confusing, and engenders distrust in distant sources. So we rely instead on sources closer to home like my whatssapp or my timeline.

“It seems to be pretty clear [from our study] that false information outperforms true information,” said Soroush Vosoughi, a data scientist at MIT who has studied fake news since 2013 and who led a study publish in Science. “And that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature.”

Furthermore, quoting Dan Ariely in Payoff: “the most powerful motivator in the world is our connection to others.

God playing to sentence my future with just one click in my facebook timeline, but I am atheist. My mother forecasting the future earthquake, with its place and time and intensity precisely as a mother can be. The epistemic bubble the candidate´s team create on facebook.

People in LATAM have no access to intenet?

98% of Ecuadorans use Facebook. 96% use whatssapp.

They have the means but they don’t have the motives.

Furthermore, we no longer share basic foundational beliefs. Political allegiance has replaced basic reasoning skills. Ideology -as in gender, green life or religion- has wrapped us in a layer of plastic.

Call them beliefs. Or creed or credo. Or own agenda. Call it fake news. Malvertising. Gossip. Rumour. As misinformation rises, so does distrust. BTW, I don’t trust people who don’t gossip.

“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it,” wrote Jonathan Swift three centuries ago.

59% of people feel they are experiencing the media undermining Trust and Truth. Fake news are winning the battle against the news. Social media are stronger channels to distribute information; and tradicional media suffers reputation crisis.

And what do we do about it? Not much.

So, is more information better?

This is where the Information Paradox comes in. In essence it states that the more data you have about a topic, the less actions you take regarding the topic. Climate change, for instance. Or corruption. The more information we gather and read and repost, the less actions we take to resolve the issue.

We end up overwhelmed by facts and figures. Besides, data is cero persuasive. Emotions are.

Now that I think about it, is media anachronistic?

In the past, media was perceived as transparent. The content did not need to be clear. Media did. If media was crystalline, the content was real, the truth, verisimilar. Like glass.

What is glass? A solid or a liquid with high viscosity? A liquid acting as solid? Actually is hard to define. At room temperature, glass takes the form of a solid…hard enough to contain other things. But it is not really solid, it is an illusion. Raise the temperature and its liquid nature restates.

Transparency in the information age is like glass. Defies definition.

We need to reveal more than the quality or state of being transparent. Includes pressure resistance, accountability & durability. But also incorporates partisans and foes and friends.

Remember, our personal information network entraps us just like a cult.

Being glass, transparency today seems to be translucent.

Stated the issue, how do we detour from this environment that anesthetizes thought, blurs vision, and corrupts?

What do we really need?

Transparency? How do we regain it? How can we create a news ecosystem that values and promotes truth and transparency?

My bet is simple: back to basics.

We need to completely redesigned our educational system in order to teach people how to construct their own knowledge. More critical thinking and creative thinking and less facts and figures and ideologies.

We need to teach society how to double check sources, how to access and validate information. How to be accountable for what they post, distribute, promote.

We need to learn to read. And read more. Classics, poetry, and between the lines.
We need to abide the law and punish mischievous actions -even daily acts of creole smartness.

We need to recover our institutions. Where family comes first. But also conversations, forums, readings, gatherings.

And to do this we need to create more stories. Real stories, not instagram stories.

So let me finish reading the final sentence of Alice In Wonderland: And how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.