COVID-19 Made Reading And Critical Thinking Skills Worse For US Students

March 31, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic is the first time in history remote learning was implemented for all educational levels. As the guinea pig generation, students were forced to deal with technical interruptions and, unfortunately, not the best education. Higher achieving and average students will be able to compensate for the last two years of education, but the lower achievers will have trouble. The pandemic, however, exasperated an issue with learning.

Kids have been reading less with each passing year, because of they spend more time consuming social media and videogames. Kids are reading, except they are absorbing a butchered form of the English language and not engaging their critical thinking skills. Social media and videogames are passive activities, Another problem for the low reading skills says The New York Times in, “The Pandemic Has Worsened The Reading Crisis In Schools” is the lack of educators:

“The causes are multifaceted, but many experts point to a shortage of educators trained in phonics and phonemic awareness — the foundational skills of linking the sounds of spoken English to the letters that appear on the page.”

According to the article, remote learning lessened the quality of learning elementary school received on reading fundamentals. It is essential for kids to pickup the basics in elementary school, otherwise higher education will be more difficult. Federal funding is being used for assistance programs, but there is a lack of personnel. Trained individuals are leaving public education for the private sector, because it is more lucrative.

Poor reading skills feed into poor critical skills. The Next Web explores the dangers of deep fakes and how easily they fool people: “Deep fakes Study Finds Doctored Text Is More Manipulative Than Phony Video.” Deep fakes are a dangerous AI threat, but MIT Media Lab scientists discovered that people have a hard time discerning fake sound bites:

“Scientists at the MIT Media Lab showed almost 6,000 people 16 authentic political speeches and 16 that were doctored by AI. The sound bites were presented in permutations of text, video, and audio, such as video with subtitles or only text. The participants were told that half of the content was fake, and asked which snippets they believed were fabricated.”

When the participants were only shown text they barely discovered the falsehoods with a 57% success rate, while they were more accurate at video with subtitles (66%) and the best at video and text combined (82%). Participants relied on tone and vocal conveyance to discover the fakes, which makes sense given that is how people discover lying:

“The study authors said the participants relied more on how something was said than the speech content itself: ‘The finding that fabricated videos of political speeches are easier to discern than fabricated text transcripts highlights the need to re-introduce and explain the oft-forgotten second half of the ‘seeing is believing’ adage.’ There is, however, a caveat to their conclusions: their deep fakes weren’t exactly hyper-realistic.”

Low quality deep fakes are not as dangerous as a single video with high resolution, great audio, and spot on duplicates of the subjects. Even the smartest people will be tricked by one high quality deep fake than thousands of bad ones.

It is more alarming that participants did not do well with the text only sound bites. Dd they lack the critical thinking and reading skills they should have learned in elementary school or did the lack of delivery from a human stump them?

Students need to focus on the basics of reading and critical thinking to establish their entire education. It is more fundamental than anything else.

Whitney Grace, March 31, 2022

Misunderstanding a Zuck Move

February 4, 2022

I read some posts — for instance, “Facebook Just Had Its Most Disappointing Quarter Ever. Mark Zuckerberg’s Response Is the 1 Thing No Leader Should Ever Do” — suggesting that Mark Zuckerberg is at fault for his company’s contrarian financial performance. The Zucker move is a standard operating procedure in a high school science club. When caught with evidence of misbehavior, in my high school science club in 1958, we blamed people in the band. We knew that blaming a mere athlete would result in a difficult situation in the boys’ locker room.

Thus it is obvious that the declining growth, the rise of the Chinese surveillance video machine, and the unfriended Tim Apple are responsible for which might be termed a zuck up. If this reminds you of a phrase used to characterize other snarls like the IRS pickle, you are not thinking the way I am. A “zuck up” is a management action which enables the world to join together. Think of the disparate groups who can find fellow travelers; for example, insecure teens who need mature guidance.

I found this comment out of step with the brilliance of the lean in behavior of Mr. Zuckerberg:

Ultimately, you don’t become more relevant by pointing to your competitors and blaming them for your performance. That’s the one thing no company–or leader–should ever do.

My reasoning is that Mr. Zuckerberg is a manipulator, a helmsman, if you will. Via programmatic methods, he achieved a remarkable blend of human pliability and cash extraction. He achieved success by clever disintermediation of some of his allegedly essential aides de camp. He achieved success by acquiring competitors and hooking these third party mechanisms into the Facebook engine room. He dominated because he understood the hot buttons of Wall Street.

I expect the Zuck, like the mythical phoenix (not the wonderful city in Arizona) to rise from the ashes of what others perceive as a failure. What the Zuck will do is use the brilliant techniques of the adolescent wizards in a high school science club to show “them” who is really smart.

Not a zuck up.

Stephen E Arnold, February 4, 2022

Facebook and Social Media: How a Digital Country Perceives Its Reality

September 17, 2021

I read “Instagram Chief Faces Backlash after Awkward Comparison between Cars and Social Media Safety.” This informed senior manager at Facebook seems to have missed a book on many reading lists. The book is one I have mentioned a number of times in the last 12 years since I have been capturing items of interest to me and putting my personal “abstracts” online.

Jacques Ellul is definitely not going to get a job working on the script for the next Star Wars’ film. He won’t be doing a script for a Super Bowl commercial. Most definitely Dr. Ellul will not be founding a church called “New Technology’s Church of Baloney.”

Dr. Ellul died in 1994, and it is not clear if he knew about online or the Internet. He jabbered at the University of Bordeaux, wrote a number of books about technology, and inspired enough people to set up the International Jacques Ellul Society.

One of his books was the Technological Society or in French Le bluff technologique.

The article was sparked my thoughts about Dr. Ellul contains this statement:

“We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large, cars create way more value in the world than they destroy,” Mosseri said Wednesday on the Recode Media podcast. “And I think social media is similar.”

Dr. Ellul might have raised a question or two about Instagram’s position. Both are technology; both have had unintended consequences. On one hand, the auto created some exciting social changes which can be observed when sitting in traffic: Eating in the car, road rage, dead animals on the side of the road, etc. On the other hand, social media is sparking upticks in personal destruction of young people, some perceptual mismatches between what their biomass looks like and what an “influencer” looks like wearing clothing from Buffbunny.

Several observations:

  • Facebook is influential, at least sufficiently noteworthy for China to take steps to trim the sails of the motor yacht Zucky
  • Facebook’s pattern of shaping reality via its public pronouncements, testimony before legislative groups, and and on podcasts generates content that seems to be different from a growing body of evidence that Facebook facts are flexible
  • Social media as shaped by the Facebook service, Instagram, and the quite interesting WhatsApp service is perhaps the most powerful information engine created. (I say this fully aware of Google’s influence and Amazon’s control of certain data channels.) Facebook is a digital Major Gérald, just with its own Légion étrangèr.

Net net: Regulation time and fines that amount to more than a few hours revenue for the firm. Also reading Le bluff technologique and writing an essay called, “How technology deconstructs social fabrics.” Blue book, handwritten, and three outside references from peer reviewed journals about human behavior. Due on Monday, please.

Stephen E Arnold, September 17, 2021

That Online Thing Spawns Emily Post-Type Behavior, Right?

July 21, 2021

Friendly virtual watering holes or platforms for alarmists? PC Magazine reports, “Neighborhood Watch Goes Rogue: The Trouble with Nextdoor and Citizen.” Writer Christopher Smith introduces his analysis:

“Apps like Citizen and Nextdoor, which ostensibly exist to keep us apprised of what’s going on in our neighborhoods, buzz our smartphones at all hours with crime reports, suspected illegal activity, and other complaints. But residents can also weigh in with their own theories and suspicions, however baseless and—in many cases—racist. It begs the question: Where do these apps go wrong, and what are they doing now to regain consumer trust and combat the issues within their platforms?”

Smith considers several times that both community-builder Nextdoor and the more security-focused Citizen hosted problematic actions and discussions. Both apps have made changes in response to criticism. For example, Citizen was named Vigilante when it first launched in 2016 and seemed to encourage users to visit and even take an active role in nearby crime scenes. After Apple pulled it from its App Store within two days, the app relaunched the next year with the friendlier name and warnings against reckless behavior. But Citizen still stirs up discussion by sharing publicly available emergency-services data like 911 calls, sometimes with truly unfortunate results. Though the app says it is now working on stronger moderation to prevent such incidents, it also happens to be ramping up its law-enforcement masquerade. Ironically, Citizen itself cannot seem to keep its users’ data safe.

Then there is Nextdoor. During last year’s protests following the murder of George Floyd, its moderators were caught removing posts announcing protests but allowing ones that advocated violence against protestors. The CEO promised reforms in response, and the company soon axed the “Forward to Police” feature. (That is okay, cops weren’t relying on it much anyway. Go figure.) It has also enacted a version of sensitivity training and language guardrails. Meanwhile, Facebook is making its way into the neighborhood app game. Surely that company’s foresight and conscientiousness are just what this situation needs. Smith concludes:

“In theory, community apps like Citizen, Nextdoor, and Facebook Neighborhoods bring people together at time when many of us turn to the internet and our devices to make connections. But it’s a fine line between staying on top of what’s going on around us and harassing the people who live and work there with ill-advised posts and even calls to 911. The companies themselves have a financial incentive to keep us engaged (Nextdoor just filed to go public), whether its users are building strong community ties or overreacting to doom-and-gloom notifications. Can we trust them not to lead us into the abyss, or is it on us not to get caught up neighborhood drama and our baser instincts?”

Absolutely not and, unfortunately, yes.

Cynthia Murrell, July 21, 2021

Cheaper Lodgings Correlated with Violence: Stats 101 at Work

July 20, 2021

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but AirBnB- and VRBO-type disruptors do. ”AirBnB Listings Lead to Increased Neighborhood Violence, Study Finds” reports:

AirBnB removes social capital from the neighborhood in the form of stable households, weakening the associated community dynamics…

The write up explains:

Researchers at Northeastern University in Boston conducted a statistical analysis of AirBnB listings and data on different types of crime in their city. Covering a period from 2011 to 2017, the team found that the more AirBnB listings were in any given neighborhood, the higher the rates of violence in that neighborhood – but not public social disorder or private conflict.

Who causes the crime? The tourists? Nah, here’s what’s allegedly happening:

the transient population diminishes how communities prevent crime.

Interesting assertion. I have a small sample: One. One home in our neighborhood became an AirBnB-type outfit. No one stayed. The house was sold to a family.

No change in the crime rate, but that may be a result of the police patrols, the work from home people who walk dogs, jog, post to, and clean the lenses on their Amazon Ring doorbells.


Stephen E Arnold, July 20, 2021

Real Silicon Valley News Predicts the Future

July 1, 2021

I read “Why Some Biologists and Ecologists Think Social Media Is a Risk to Humanity.” I thought this was an amusing essay because the company publishing it is very much a social media thing. Clicks equal fame, money, and influence. These are potent motivators, and the essay is cheerfully ignorant of the irony of the Apocalypse foretold in the write up.

I learned:

One of the real challenges that we’re facing is that we don’t have a lot of information

But who is “we”? I can name several entities which have quite comprehensive information. Obviously these entities are not part of the royal “we”. I have plenty of information and some of it is proprietary. There are areas about which I would like to know more, but overall, I think I have what I need to critique thumbtyper-infused portents of doom.

Here’s another passage:

Seventeen researchers who specialize in widely different fields, from climate science to philosophy, make the case that academics should treat the study of technology’s large-scale impact on society as a “crisis discipline.” A crisis discipline is a field in which scientists across different fields work quickly to address an urgent societal problem — like how conservation biology tries to protect endangered species or climate science research aims to stop global warming. The paper argues that our lack of understanding about the collective behavioral effects of new technology is a danger to democracy and scientific progress.

I assume the Silicon Valley “real” news outfit and the experts cited in the write up are familiar with the work of J. Ellul? If not, some time invested in reading it might be helpful. As a side note, Google Books thinks that the prescient and insightful analysis of technology is about “religion.” Because Google, of course.

The write up adds:

Most major social media companies work with academics who research their platforms’ effects on society, but the companies restrict and control how much information researchers can use.

Remarkable insight. Why pray tell?

Several observations:

  • Technology is not well understood
  • Flows of information are destructive in many situations
  • Access to information spawns false conclusions
  • Bias distorts logic even among the informed.

Well, this is a pickle barrel and “we” are in it. What is making my sides ache from laughter is that advocates of social media in particular and technology in general are now asking, “Now what?”

Few like China’s approach or that of other authoritarian entities who want to preserve the way it was.

Cue Barbara’s “The Way We Were.” Oh, right. Blocked by YouTube. Do ecologists and others understand cancer?

Stephen E Arnold, July 1, 2021

Reddit Search Engines: Some Tweaks Might Be Useful

May 6, 2021

Reddit is a popular and vast social media network. It is also a big disorganized mess. The likelihood of finding a thread you read on the main page three weeks ago is zero to null, unless you happened to make a comment on it. That, however, requires a Reddit account, but not everyone has one. Google and other search engines attempt to locate information on Reddit. Reddit attempts to do the same for itself. Both options have limited results.

Reddit search is a can of worms, much like the web site itself. Information can be found, but it requires a lot of digging. A specialized search algorithm specifically designed to handle the information dump that is Reddit would be the best option. Github hosts a Reddit Search application that does a fair job of locating information, although it has some drawbacks. The search filters are perfect for Reddit, focusing on the author, subreddit, score, dates, search terms, and searching through posts or comments. The more one knows about the post/comment they wish to locate, the better the search application is. However, if searching for basic information on a topic without filling in the subreddit, date span, or author delimiters spits back hundreds of search results.  Reddit Search is similar to how most out of the box search tools function. They work, but need a lot of fine tuning before they are actually useful. Reddit Search does work as long as you have specific information to fill in the search boxes. Otherwise, it only returns semi useful results. The good news is that old Reddit is still available. Hunting remains the name of the game for some online information retrieval tasks.

Whitney Grace, May 6, 2021

Microsoft LinkedIn: Opting and Gigging

February 25, 2021

Microsoft LinkedIn has determined that its millions of job seekers, consultants, and résumé miners can become gig workers. “LinkedIn Is Building a Gig Marketplace” asserts:

LinkedIn is developing a freelance work marketplace that could rival fast-growing gig sites Fiverr and Upwork. The two-sided marketplace will connect freelance service providers with clients in need of temporary workers for one-off projects. Like Fiverr and Upwork, it would focus on knowledge-based work that can be done remotely online…

How long has Microsoft LinkedIn been contemplating this shift? One date offered in the article is 2019. That’s when LinkedIn acquired UpCounsel. The idea is that when one needs a lawyer, one uses a legal version of Very me-too. Thomson Reuters offers a service called, which has been available since the early 2000s. But good ideas take time to gestate. This is not a me too knock off of TikTok which has inspired Facebook and Google innovation. LinkedIn innovated with ProFinder. This is a way for LinkedIn members to find “professionals.”

Sounds good, right?

Writer Joan Westenberg is over LinkedIn, and advises us we would all be better without it. The Next Web posts, “Delete LinkedIn—You’ll Have Zero F****ing Regrets.” After years of enduring countless messages from those who want to sell her something, she finally deleted her LinkedIn account. Not only did the platform fail to provide her any professional benefits, she was also disheartened by the superficial relationships with her hundreds of contacts. (At least this platform does not call them “friends.”)

Having had some success at sales for her business, Westenberg has observed that the way to sell to someone is to build a real relationship with them. Her favorite way to do so is to offer help with no agenda, to demonstrate her products have value. She writes:

“That is the antithesis of LinkedIn. Where people send you off-brand and clumsy sales pitches at best — or at worst, scrape your details for scalable and utterly useless outbound campaigns. They send pitch decks in the same breath that they introduce themselves for the first time. They want you to buy with no reason why. LinkedIn feels less like a platform for selling, and more like a platform for being sold to. A LinkedIn message is the 2020s equivalent of a cold sales call. You dread it. You hate it. You just don’t want to deal with it. … I would rather focus my attention on platforms where I know people have come to genuinely research, interact, learn and consume. Quora. Angel List. Dribble. Medium. Substack. And yes, Twitter. And I would rather remove the false sense of accomplishment we get from engaging on LinkedIn, where we log into a landfill of utter [excrement] several times a day and feel like we’ve done our bit of networking and growing, with no evidence to support that belief.”

Westenberg advises others to join her in ditching the platform. All we will lose, she concludes, are the vanity metrics of clicks, likes, shares, and comments, all of which provide nothing of value. Hmm. I for one have never gotten a job through the platform, but I do know someone who has. Then there are all the professional courses the platform acquired when it snapped up in 2015, many of which are quite helpful. I suppose each user must weigh the site’s role in their professional lives for themselves, but on this point I agree—LinkedIn is not fundamental to professional success.

Cynthia Murrell, February 25, 2021

Telegram Appeals to Diverse Constituencies

February 25, 2021

Other than heated conflicts between US political parties, the recent coup happened because of the mass spread of conspiracy theories propagated by social media. Social media platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, were used to communicate right wing extremist misinformation. In the past, it was difficult for bad acting extremists to pool their “knowledge” and meet liked minded individuals, but the Internet fixed that.

Many social media platforms kicked right wing extremists off their platform, because of crackdowns that followed post-coup. According to Vox’s article, “Why Right-Wing Extremists’ New Favorite Platform Is So Dangerous” the bad actors already found another tool to communicate. Telegram is a Dubai-based platform and only 2% of its users were US-based until the coup attempt. Now Telegram boasts 25 million new US users. Why do bad actors love Telegram?

“Telegram is currently the most downloaded app in the Google Play Store, having unseated Signal for the top spot in the United States. Telegram’s specific combination of features, however, make it especially popular among American right-wing extremists, who have joined the platform in droves after being kicked off of Twitter, Facebook, and Parler. The latter is another extremist favorite and was recently kicked off the internet, though it’s now back in a very limited form.”

Telegram has three components: private and public channels that only a limited number of people can follow, groups where up to 200,,000 can communicate, and Secret Chats-one-on-one encrypted conversations.

Some bad actors can reach larger groups to spread misinformation and they can do so anonymously. Telegram does not monitor its content, but after its been used to incite violence its developers did crackdown on some of the channels. Telegram is popular for another reason: It is a reasonably reliable app.

Since Telegram is not US-based it does not need to comply to the country’s standards, but we have heard that the company has a relationship with Mr. Putin’s telecommunications agency. Other countries may find it slightly more challenging to monitor.

Whitney Grace, February 25, 2021

Microsoft Teams: More, More, More

January 12, 2021

Last week I was on a Zoom video call. Zoom is pretty easy to use. What’s interesting is that the cyber security organizer of the meeting could not figure out how to allow a participant to share a screen. Now how easy is it to use Microsoft Teams compared to Zoom? In my opinion, Microsoft Teams is a baffler. The last thing Teams needs is another dose of featuritis. Teams and Zoom both need to deal with the craziness of the existing features and functions.

I have given up on Zoom improving its interface. The tiny gear icon, one of the most used components, is tough for some people to spot. Teams has a couple of donkeys laden with wackiness; for example, how about those access controls? Working great for new users, right? But Microsoft who is busy reinventing itself from Word and SharePoint wants to be the super Slack of our Rona-ized world. Sounds good? Yep, ads within Office 10 are truly an uplifting experience for individuals who use Windows 10 to sort of attempt work. Plus, Teams adds Channel calendars. Great! More calendars! Many Outlooks, many search systems, and now calendars! In Teams!

I noted this BBC write up: “Pupils in Scotland Struggle to Get Online Amid Microsoft Issue.” I thought teachers, parents were there to help. The Beeb states:

A number of schools, pupils and parents have reported the technology running slowly or not at all.

What’s Microsoft say? According to the Beeb:

A Microsoft spokesperson said: “Our engineers are working to resolve difficulties accessing Microsoft Teams that some customers are experiencing.” When pressed on whether demand as a result of home schooling was causing the issue, Microsoft declined to comment.

Just like the SolarWinds’ misstep? Nope, just working to make Teams more interesting. Navigate to “Microsoft Teams Is Getting a More Engaging Experience for Meetings Soon.” If the write up is accurate, that’s exactly what Microsoft has planned for its Zoom killer. The write up reports an item from the future:

Microsoft is working on making Teams meetings more engaging using AI and a “Dynamic View” to give more control over meeting presentations.

And what, pray tell, is a more engaging enhancement or two? I learned that in the future (not yet determined):

The Dynamic view is said to let you see what’s being shared and other people on the call at the same time. With the call being automatically optimized in a way that lets participants both see the important information that’s being shared and the people presenting it in a satisfying way.

News flash. The features appear to add controls (hooray, more controls) and the presentation seems just fine for those high-resolution displays measured in feet, not inches.

Bulletin. Just in. More people are using mobile devices than desktop computers. How is Teams on a mobile device with a screen measured in inches, not feet?

Oh, right. Featuritis and tiny displays. Winners. Maybe not for someone over the age of 45, but that’s an irrelevant demographic, right?

Stephen E Arnold, January 12, 2021

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