Electronic Bias

How people perceive things, leads to bias in perception. The majority of the time i spend listening to music nowadays is in compressed formats: I use streaming services, such as Spotify, Soundcloud and LastFM. I listen to compressed music on an MP3 device, because I like a range of music to listen to an the go.

I am wondering how much this is actually leading to bias in what music i listen to. Recently I have found myself listening to a lot of electronic music, music generated on computers. Electronic music, with it’s simpler waveforms, suffers less from compression than music from analogue sources, it loses less of it’s power and nuance after compression. So, digital music is of higher quality after compression than analogue music. I do generally prefer richer higher quality music, so it makes sense that my preferences are bias by this mode of listening. It is not just me, as increasingly people listen to music in this way.  HQ (high quality) is becoming the preserve of dedicated listening, rather than the norm.

This also applies to vocals. The nuances of timbre and character of voices is lost in compression. So, people learn to listen to new music without as much focus on these qualities, other facets of the music become more important. It can be postulated that really good singers will suffer relative to good producers. Indeed production is becoming bias in favour of sounds that suffer less from compression. It means that musicianship becomes less important as artists are dismissed before listeners have the oppurtunity to listen to there skills and talents.

An increasing reliance on portable devices is a retrograde step, for the trade of of access to a wide range of music instantly via the internet.

As humans, we all suffer from bias, it takes time and energy to keep our minds open, in a world that offers us less time and energy to do it in. People are prejudiced in so many ways:

People get ideas stuck in our own heads, subjecting them to all the bias of our mental experience of life, not allowing us to objectively view ideas outside of our heads. Being able to express ourselves, to put thoughts to paper/ screens, enables us to view ideas outside of the bias of how we a re feeling at a particular moment. However, if we do this online, increasingly those thoughts come back through internet algorithms to affect us.

We are prejudiced by our families, the communities we grew up in and live in, the communities we become members of, our choices of media sources. It is so important to get away from these sources of bias and see things in a more open objective way.

We are prejudiced by the internet, of receiving more of our data about the world via a screen and headphones. Indeed this bias is getting worse as the internet and indeed society is increasingly monetarised and thus more biased. In the U.S. there is currently a debate about allowing internet providers to charge for bandwidth, slowing down access to smaller websites, decreasing choice and increasing bias . As the internet takes over more of our lives, alternative sources of data are disappearing, which decreases choice.

It seems that there are reduced opportunities to learn how to keep out minds open and be objective about our data sources.

Supporting Data

All too often relationships falter at the alter of misunderstanding. People become upset by perceptions of malice. By allowing the feelings of anger and sorrow to linger, people allow themselves opinions to become bias. This is partly the problem of nature of ‘supporting data’.

When people misunderstand  one another, a misinterpretation of intention is experienced. There is often a sense of unwillingness to be open and clear up the misunderstanding, partly because this is time consuming, requires careful thought and exposes any individual to a lot of individual personality history and quirks. Until, if ever, this occurs there is a period of upset.

So, as individuals we learn to deal with this period of upset. A simple solution is sass, to disassociate the self from the incident and not allow it to affect yourself. Otherwise as the individual doesn’t have access to all the data, or the other side of the story, they may suffer from the mortification that they have done something terribly immoral and begin to overly question themselves.

The support of friends is often sought, if affected. This requires a re-telling of the story. The friend will hear an account of how their friend has been mistreated by someone. It is not the whole story as the only data available is one side of the story. Nonetheless, the story, sounds like their friend has been mistreated. In any case, the other data is unavailable, what is important is to help their friend, to support them and reassure them that there isn’t anything wrong that they have done. Often, by implication, the other party is to blame. What often happens is that people are blamed without access to all the information.

This can be a problem as it can quickly occur that peoples labels outside the group can empirically seem to belong to a ‘bad lot’. Young men and women will often blame the other gender for social problems for example.

My concern is that this process is increasingly occurring in the media and indeed social media. Every day I become more exposed to bias data and less authoritative balanced accounts. It requires effort to ensure that you keep exposing yourself to a wide range of sources of opinions, to protect yourself from adopting the biases of groups to which you belong. Social media is particularly bad for this, for example on twitter, you tend to follow people who share your interests and general opinions, reinforcing your own bias.

My uncle, took a right wing newspaper (In the UK most mass media is right wing), he did this because he wanted to know ‘what the enemy was thinking’. As a younger man, I assumed that this was why most people read the newspapers they did, rather than one which reflected more closely their own position. Perhaps because, we are all insecure, we seek reassurance that what we think is all-right by reading/hearing similar opinions reflected back to us.

This is very dangerous. For example, the great lesson of the rise of Nazism in the twentieth century. A small minority of any population, tries to buck the system and commits crimes. The criminals will come from every religious, racial or social group. However if the dominant media only report , for example, the crimes of Jews and neglect to report those of other people, then the impression created is that Jews commit most of the crimes, when this has no statistical basis. This view became pervasive in Nazi Germany and was one of the causes of the terrible rise of Naziism. So it worries me now, that Muslims are now placed in a similar position in contemporary Western Society.

It is easier for people to feel that someone else is to blame and that it isn’t their fault, really because there isn’t enough data readily available to assess whether as an individual you are part of the problem or not. not readily available as it harder to locate data sources outside of your culture/ social group. Whilst difficult and non-commercial (the data sources will not be marketed at you), it is important that everyone does this, to spend a little time thinking outside of the generalisations we require to get by and stay positive.

People are distracted by the trivial, the serious is often mentally tiring and disturbing. Art is a great stimulus to the intellect and source of positive feelings. What makes something a rewarding piece of art is interesting, so often people seek the background to the art. As a starting point, one may seek to discover the artists background or biography. Beyond that people may become interested in gossip of the artist as celebrity (here beginning to concern the trivial). The ardent fan may seek personal information beyond, that required to understand the art, to feel a sense of personal connection to the artist. The bulk of popular media responds to this  by generally providing trivial data, at the expense of balance. Again, we become accustomed to this torrent of trivia and instead of vigilently questioning it, begin to accept these trivial opinions as truths, after all they are only trivial truths.

But, it affects democracy too. The idealised British democratic system is based upon politicians taking advice and data from a range of people, generally experts in the field, academics and captains of industry. Ideally, all this data is then rigorously discussed amongst politicians of a range of types, and compromises reached and policy enacted to improve the general situation. Whether the UK ever had this ideal is a matter for debate, however it is clear that this ideal is no longer the case. Today politicians only seem to take data from favoured (and hence bias) sources, there is little scrutiny. As I’ve said before, policy occurs to placate those identified as being important to appeal to for re-election and maintain relationships with favoured sources, rather than best policy.

So, having access to all data, not just from those that support us, is necessary for getting a balanced overview of anything. It is understandable not to do this all the time, as people need to live positively. Rather than question every hiccup, be aware that it is a way of dealing with incomplete data. People should remain aware of the risks of the explosion of data the internet exposes us too and the bias implied.

Public-Private Partnership

Is the sense of a public and a private sphere merging?

Increasingly, it seems, that with the development of internet the sense of what is public and private is becoming less clear. By private, I mean your personal life, outside of work, where information and communication are kept confidentially between friends and family. By public, information and communication is available for the world to see and you can be held to account for what you say.

In a sense there is grounds for an analogy with thoughts. Your own private thoughts, remain within your own head, it is your personal choice whether you wish to share them with family and friends or a wider public (as I’m doing here!) Politicians have always smeared this. Strongly declaring their beliefs within their core supporters, whilst tempering them with the wider public. I want to focus on the internet.

The internet is still developing it’s social etiquette and various forces are at work. and more and more of our working and social lives depend upon it, which is perhaps driving this lack of distinction.

The internet offers the opportunity for anonymity. It is possible to create a persona and use the interent as this persona. Hence allowing people to experiment. However, this ability is waning, as internet identities tend to merge, to be linked and be traceable and transparent to anyone who wishes to delve deeply enough to be from one person, so one cannot hide oneself or owns personal preferences from different people. This delving is frowned upon, it is cyber-stalking, an invasion of privacy. Yet this invasion of information that is freely given and freely available publicly on the internet.

It is social media that has contributed to this merging. also to what I regard as an interesting emerging phenomenon. Socially, the onus on what to communicate and in what circumstances has in the past been entirely the prerogative of the individual, the information giver. What is emerging is the onus is increasingly placed on the receiver of information.

Before the internet the only way of obtaining information from a person was to ask them for it, giving the receiver the opportunity of what and how much to reveal. With the internet and particularly social media, one obtain vast quantities of information about the person. This information is all publicly free adn available. Yet all the information we provide is for the audience, being publicly available everyone is the audience. So much of it is whilst informative, largely irrelevent to what the information the person wants to know.

This brings me to the issue of privacy. We know to repect people’s privacy and right to do whatever they live in thier private lives. When staying at someones hopuse, we have learned a good sense of what is ‘public’ and what is private. We don’t delve through peoples drawers and cupboards, but may peruse their bookshelves or music collection.

With peoples homes on the internet, nothing is private, yet it is emerging that we shouldn’t delve. Iinstead of the onus being to the host to hide away what they wish hidden and publicly display what they would like people to look through, the onus is on the guest, to not look beyond the relevant to the reams of other information and there are often less clear distinctions. Information is available equally.

To illustrate the above, consider Facebook. some people use this almost professionally, some use it very privately, to all their hundreds of ‘friends’ some are close friends, other loser connections. There is no standard etiquette for this. so what happens is that information received is pre-filtered by the visitor rather than the  host. For example, Someone reveals details of a personal crisis, their close friends will naturally rally to the call, their loser connections understand that the message wasn’t directed at them and ignore it. The point being is that the reader does the filtering, and not the other way around, the reader has a piece of personal information that they would otherwise not have. The younger generation are, i believe, becoming skilled in filtering information from the internet in a different way to how older people filter information.

The internet is still developing, new social rules are being thrashed out in an ever changing landscape. Yet, this has legal consequences. For example the case of people who have whinged about aspects of their job to their private friends on Facebook, but this information is available publicly to there employers and there have been cases of employers who haven’t pre-filtered the information out of context and sacked people. how public and private existences will evolve over the time and social rules develop will be interesting.

A Journey to 2.2ie Land

I’ve been finding myself talking about differences between generations. I remember being an eighteen year old and wanting not to go to ‘2.2ie Land’

2.2ie land was created by the previous generation of my parents. The creation of a suburban ‘idyll’. where people would live in their own houses, which were centrally heated with modern appliances. they had a personal life outside of work, comfortable steady jobs and 2.2 children (this being the average family size at the time.)

This dream for the most part was achieved. It was within such an environment that I grew up. It was a dream fulfilled. Mt grandparents generation lived a much more meagre existence, in cold damp houses, working in often appalling conditions down the pits. Where heating and disposable income were a luxury.

In a sense my parents generation tackled the problems they identified with the previous generation. So as an eighteen year old I was identifying what the problems, the failings of this model were. to not be part of the problem but to be part of the solution and make the world better.

My generation had a dilemma. We could either fight for improvements or give in to maintaining the system which seemed be pressuring us to join. To those who gave in, vast wealth was offered and a level of luxury beyond that of our parents. To those who chose to fight, simply were uncomfortable with the idea of working for corporations simply to make money and not help achieve anything, they wanted to do something useful. The big cause was the environment, it was clear that the economy was damaging the environment in an unsustainable way. The problems seemed to be getting worse: the corporations were becoming more powerful and influential, people had less time as their commutes to work become longer, house prices were rocketing and more  food in the shops was coming from the other side of the world.

I like to think of myself as one of the fighters. However our generation faced theenormity of the task of saying that our parents had got it wrong, when actually they hadn’t, they simply hadn’t foreseen the enormity of the problems created by perpetuating a system that required revision. My generation also became distracted by the internet.

When i was eighteen I was at university. In the university there were computer rooms. In these rooms were PCs where you could type up your essays. These PCs were connected to the university mainframe and via telnet the internet, such as it was then. It was so thrilling to connect to servers and chat by text with students at universities in the US and other exotic locations. We found software to play chess with these people, it was amazing. A lot of the creative energy went on developing the internet. Perhaps I was stupid for not joining in as I didn’t want to sit at a keyboard all day (But of course I now sit at a keyboard for most of the day!).

My generation grew up with patiently waiting weeks for a trip to the city to visit the record shop and buy the new LP by our favourite band. Patiently sitting through the hour of ‘The Chart Show’ on TV, in the hope of hearing one or two songs we would like. The internet was my generations dream and it happened too.

To an extent we made it easier to circumvent corporate power by allowing access to small independent businesses, we stopped the rip off of CDs being £12 and only 67p going to the artist for example. But we failed to sort out the  problems left by our parents generation as the internet created it’s own monsters.

Others in my generation did enter the corporate world, step by step compromising to achieve positions where change for the better could be made, only to find sustainable solutions weren’t ‘cost-effective’ enough. Was anything achieved?

So, what of the next generation. I read this today. Perhaps the vast library of resources that my generation built into the internet dream has caused it’s own problems. One of the reasons I didn’t want to become a computer geek is I know how absorbing it is, how you escape from the world into it. I remember wasting days playing silly games on my ZX Spectrum as a child, not really actively enjoying the process, but simply chewing the cud. However the internet has become so pervasive that losing a connection to it does stop your life; you can no longer manage your social life or obtain information. How much is the next generation losing the skills and spiritual enrichment of non-computer based activities. This is why i don’t own a Kindle and buy books, as I want to get away from a ruddy screen for a while. Where are they going to find the energy and resources to solve the problems of our world?