What’s So Funny, Twitter?

Some call it the “social media dopamine loop.” The short-attention-span jolt of Twitter is perfect for a few specialized things: breaking news, viral links – and presidential hissy fits. But it turns out, Twitter is perfect for jokes.

“A Twitter habit, like any other Internet addiction, is an endless dopamine loop. Your brain doesn’t have a satiety signal for social media updates. It just wants you to check your screen again and again for new content until you die. (NY Times, 7/29/18).”

Many want to opt out of the social media loop altogether. But their hedonic treadmills are turned up so fast that it’s hard to make the leap. Real life seems drab now, compared with the high-speed barrage of ironic banter online. It’s the dream of our sitcom-watching childhood come true: nothing but punch lines as far as the eye can see.

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be taking some time off during August. I will only be posting blog updates on Mondays of the month, but will resume M-W-F postings after Labor Day (no post), on September 3.

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Investing in EdTech Around the World

EdTech is everywhere as we know but most of the investment in this field is not in the classroom, also something that most of us may know. But just for the record, here are some of the recent numbers. In 2017, EdTech investment reached a record high of over 9.52 billion. The majority of that investment, however, will never see a classroom.

“In 2017, global investments made to learning technology companies reached over $9.52 billion, up 30% from 2016, which set the previous record for EdTech funding at $7.33 billion; 913 EdTech companies were funded in 2017, the highest since the record of 728 set in 2015. Yet although this was a record year, only a small amount went towards Pre-K-20 Education. Pre-K-12 companies received 13% of the overall global investment, or 13% of the overall global investment, or $1.2 billion, and higher education companies got 8%, or $682 million (EdTechTimes, March 2018).”

Major EdTech investment in the U.S. and China is somewhat expected. Another major shift is a huge increase in Africa, particularly for startups in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria. This may be due to a growing market in the continent for EdTech that goes beyond the typical classroom, an environment that is inaccessible to many children in those regions.

Ray Myers

Need a Hobby? Go Online!

On Monday, I posted a blog about one NY Times’ writer’s decision to stop “Tweeting” and spend time on other pursuits. Perhaps she would like to take up a new hobby? That seems to have been the solution for many other who have now found that the Internet can be a place to learn new skills by connecting with other “hobbyists.” Pottery, painting, cooking, you name it!

While much of this is not new, the way the Internet can help steer us toward something useful bears mentioning in the name of growing digital skepticism (see Monday’s blog). It is a reminder that the Internet’s most effective trick is connecting disparate individuals into a coherent whole. There may only be a small number of potters in any given city, but online there is a whole ceramics metropolis willing to help.

Art, for example, is an empowering thing. Most people think they can’t do it, and when they realize they can, it’s amazing – it opens up a whole new world, and that world doesn’t really have time for a lot of “fighting and fussing.”

Ray Myers

I Tweet, and So Does Everyone Else!

Way back during the early years of the Obama administration, government agencies were beginning to use social media as a means of “getting our message out.” I volunteered to be a part of this “outreach” then, as a staff member at the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. It was all new to me, and as one of the more “senior” staff, I was eager to learn some new tricks. Now I am older and so is Twitter, and it is certainly not the novelty that it once was.

I think that it still serves as a convenient “short-hand” stream of consciousness for many, but it may have become overloaded with everyone’s desire to be heard in the name of open and free expression (“TechtoExpress”). Maggie Haberman of the NY Times put it this way this past week: “To be clear, Twitter is a useful and important platform. It’s a good aggregator for breaking news. I still check my feed to see breaking news developments, and I will continue to. And it is democratic – everyone gets to have a voice, whether they work for a local paper, a small TV station or one of the biggest newspapers in the world, or are not in the media business at all. The downside is that everyone is treated equally expert on various topics.”

“Make America Great Again.” Just get a Twitter account, and tweet away. You may even be elected president?

Ray Myers

Political Messaging on Facebook

Trump is now the single biggest political advertiser on Facebook. So what’s your favorite addiction? Politics or social media? I think it is now safe to say after the last election, that if you like to get your “fake news” online, you were among those who were the most helpful in getting Trump elected. He may not have gotten the most individual Americans’ votes, but he certainly knew where the most counted and where to place his political ads, Facebook.

He still continues today and will probably continue to take the most advantage of Facebook’s hypnotic hold on those who believe that everything that they read or see online must be true! This is now the age of believing in your own opinions, regardless of what the facts may be. “If it’s online, it must be true.” As discussed on this blog on Monday, political consultants have said that Democrats who are running for election are spending a smaller percentage of their ad budgets on digital ads than their rivals, sometimes as little as 10 percent versus 40 percent for Republicans. That has spurred volunteer efforts in Silicon Valley, which is widely regarded as liberal, to help bring Democratic campaigns into the digital age.

The new digital political age? And if you can’t get enough followers, make them up.

Ray Myers

Screen Time as a Stress Reducer

“Device addiction is as likely a symptom of anxiety as a cause.”  Every teenager seems to have a device that is at their disposal any time of night or day.  It can help you to always be connected on your own terms with whomever you want to be, and feel you have established your own independence.

“But this may really be only an uncertain independence, many having been raised under the whirring of helicopter parents, over-involved and trying to fix every problem for their children. This suffocates independence at a time when teenagers should be exploring autonomy, limits the development of self-reliance and grit and may even directly produce anxiety and depression . . .

Yes, we should devote resources to making smartphones less addictive, but we should devote even more resources to address the public health crisis of anxiety that is causing teenagers so much suffering and driving them to seek relief in the ultimate escape machines (NY Times, 7/15/18).”

Ray Myers

How to Win an Election – Campaign Technology

Forget about your “hanging chads,” fake news and dirty tricks. Get some savvy technology tools to load onto your campaign bandwagon. And, of course, the right people to make it all work. Democrats obviously have the greater need.

“Democrats are often thought to be tech savvy, because the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 were celebrated for their online touch and because much of Silicon Valley backs the party’s candidates. In fact, . . . Democrats in congressional and state-level races have been out-matched by their Republican rivals, who benefitted from the heavy tech investments during the Obama years and their enthusiastic embrace of targeted ads on platforms like Facebook and Google.

People don’t understand how not far along we are as a party (Democratic). Obama was really good at tech, but it never trickled down to a Senate race, let alone the state-level stuff. (NY Times, 7/14/18).”

Ray Myers

Twitter to Purge Fake Followers – Back to the USSR

Timing is everything as the old saying goes. Trump may have been the recipient of some good timing in terms of his world travels next week when he visits with his good buddy Vladimir Putin.

“For Twitter, the reform comes at a critical moment. Though it is a smaller company with far fewer users than Facebook or Google, Twitter has been sharply criticized for allowing abuse and hate speech to flourish on its platform. And along with other social networks, Twitter was a critical tool for Russian influence during the 2016 election, when tens of thousands of accounts were used to spread propaganda and disinformation. Those troubles dampened Twitter’s prospects for acquisition by a bigger firm, and the company, which went public in 2013, did not turn a profit until the final quarter of last year.”

I wonder how many followers Trump will lose? Maybe his Russian followers will still find a way to “influence” him, and increase his number of (fake?) followers. He will be visiting with them next week?

Ray Myers

Supreme Court Pick and Tech Freedom

Is Net Neutrality really unlawful? Our new Justice seems to think so. Trump announced on Twitter last week that he would name a nominee to serve on the highest federal court in the United States at 6 p.m. PT Monday night. The choice comes about two weeks after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would retire by July 31. (Check out out the full coverage at our sister site CBSNews.com.)Trump’s choice, if confirmed by the Senate, will have a say on landmark cases for years to come. Supreme Court justices make rulings that affect everything from education to marriage equality to free speech. Tech has increasingly appeared on the court’s docket. In 2018, the justices ruled on cases that affected online shopping and phone location data history privacy.  In its next session, which starts in October, the Supreme Court is expected to hear cases on tech issues again, including an antitrust argument over Apple’s App Store.Kavanaugh, 53, has served as a US Court of Appeals judge for the DC Circuit for 12 years, providing opinions on key tech issues like net neutrality andThe potential Supreme Court justice sided against net neutrality in a 2017 dissent, arguing that it was “one of the most consequential regulations ever issued by any executive or independent agency in the history of the United States.”Kavanaugh wrote that net neutrality was unlawful because it prevented internet service providers from controlling what type of content they provide to people, violating a company’s First Amendment rights. He compared it to cable providers being able to control what customers could watch.Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, called Kavanaugh out for his stance on net neutrality in a tweet on July 3.”Kavanaugh frequently sides with powerful interests rather than defending the rights of all Americans like when he argued that the FCC’s #NetNeutrality rule benefiting millions of consumers was unconstitutional,” the senator tweeted.  The circuit court judge has also argued in support of the NSA’s massive surveillance program.In 2015, the US Court of Appeals declined to hear a case on the NSA’s phone metadata collection, first unveiled by whistleblower Edward Snowden.In his opinion, Kavanaugh argued that the NSA’s surveillance program was consistent with the Fourth Amendment, even without a warrant. He said that data requests from the government were reasonable for national security.”In my view, that critical national security need outweighs the impact on privacy occasioned by this program,” Kavanaugh wrote.He cited the “third-party doctrine” established in 1979, which allows law enforcement to obtain data on a person without a warrant if they obtained it from a third party (CNET 7/10/18).Ray Myers

Twitter is Trump’s Song Bird

Twitter used to be an apolitical forum where you could type and hashtag away just about anything that seemed important or “interesting” to you. But times have changed as we all know, and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has turned it into his most powerful propaganda tool. But can’t Twitter do something about that? A Washington Post reporter recently (Manjoo, 7/5/18) asked that same question to Vijaya Gadde, head of the legal policy and trust office at Twitter. “She declined to answer directly, pointing instead to a January statement in which the company stated that blocking a world leader’s tweets ‘would hide important information people should be able to see and delete.’ But what if that important information conflicts with Twitter’s mission to promote a healthy public conversation? Sooner or later, Twitter’s executives and employees are going to have to make a decision about which is more important, Mr. Trump’s tweets or the company’s desire to promote a healthy public conversation. It’s hard to see how both are tenable.” Ray Myers