Google: Friend or Foe?

How goes it everyone?

I know we all love Google and the convenience it provides. Heck, Google is so deeply ingrained in our daily lives and habits that the brand name itself has become a verb. Don’t know something? “Google it,” we all say.



But what if I told you that Google might be making you dumber? Nicholas Carr wrote an excellent article on this subject if you want to dive a little deeper than my brief commentary, but the basic gist is that having all of the world’s information (and misinformation) at our fingertips at the push of a button is making us impatient, shortening our attention spans, and diminishing our capacity for critical thought. You know how you often opt to read short, quick, easy blog posts like this or watch a short video on a topic in lieu of reading a research paper?

I know that I do this (don’t feel guilty!). That’s an example of what we’re talking about here. All of this technology and convenience (or rather our growing reliance on it) is making us lazy! Do you have trouble finding most places without using a GPS (I know I do!)? It’s making us incapable of performing simple tasks for ourselves like reading a map or simply remembering where things are. This is an issue that growing numbers of experts are starting to sound the alarm about.

In summary, be careful about how much your using Google and other convenient tech. Make sure to keep your brain active so you don’t lose it!


Are Bots Brainwashing Us?

Hey everyone,

If you’ve been closely following politics and reading the news over the past four years, you’ve probably at least heard of bots. But what exactly are they? And why do they matter?

A bot is an autonomous program on the internet or other network that can interact with systems and users. A bot can be programmed to do all sorts of things like write tweets about specific subjects on twitter at a specific time each day. A bot network or “botnet” is a group of these bots who work in concert with each other at the behest of whoever programmed them.

Bot network

Bot network

What’s worrisome about these botnets is that they’re becoming shockingly realistic and more difficult to distinguish from real human users, and real human users are having their views influenced by these bots employed by dishonest political actors both foreign and domestic. It is widely agreed upon by reputable sources that the past two U.S. elections (the 2016 election in particular) have been heavily influenced by botnets designed to manipulate public opinion. Unwitting social media users are being bombarded with dishonest propaganda from these botnets on a daily basis.

In summary, make sure you’re getting your info from real people! If you want to know more about this subject, Timothy Laquintano and Annette Vee have done an invaluable in-depth study that it would behoove all to read.

Just a friendly heads up for all you political junkies out there. Peace!

Discussion Boards and Writing Ecology

How goes it everyone?

If you are a current or a former student that graduated in recent years, you are likely quite familiar with discussion boards; an online academic interaction tool that has increasingly been replacing traditional classroom debate. Since the onset of the Coronavirus Pandemic, this great replacement has only accelerated even further due to most classes shifting to an online format. Most of us students do at least a few discussion board posts every week in a given semester these days.

But do you know the theory and theorist that led to the rise of the discussion board as a staple in the academic experience of the average college student?

Image of Discussion BoardDiscussion boards came to us in the classroom thanks in large part to an academic by the name of Marilyn Cooper. Her theory of writing as an ecology was critical to the adaptation of the discussion board as an academic resource on a large scale.

If you’re like me and were immediately befuddled at the sight of the phrase “writing as an ecology”, fear not! What follows is as simple and concise of an explanation as I can muster.

Writing as it is understood by the mind of an educator has evolved greatly in the past century. Writing instruction used to focus primarily on the written product- allowing students to write a paper and then focusing on correcting surface-level structural and grammatical errors. Then the focus shifted to writing processes- focusing on teaching students how to write in a structured manner. From there we moved to focusing on the cognition of the writer- trying to shape understand the writer’s mental processes. And then, finally, Marilyn Cooper came along and introduced her theory of writing as an ecology.

What differentiates Cooper’s theory from the three mains schools of thought that came before it is her rejection of the writer as a “solitary author”; one who writes his or her work almost entirely independent of the outside world based on an imagined audience consisting of a few generalized stereotypes in the mind of the writer. Instead, Cooper postulates that all writing is interactive and is based on the norms and other factors of its time, and that in order to properly teach writing, educators should seek to facilitate writing peer communities that serve as a genuine audience for the writer, in stark contrast to the generalized imaginary audiences of the theorists that preceded her.

And it is this theory that laid the groundwork for the widespread adoption of the discussion board; it is meant to serve as an interactive and genuine audience for us students as writers. Do you think it achieves that purpose?

That’s about all I have time to say without droning on and boring you, but feel free to follow the hyperlink above if you want to read more about Marilyn Cooper and her theories!


Stock Market Shenanigans and Societal Use of Tokens in the Digital Era

Hey ya’ll!

So, in case any of you haven’t noticed, the stock market has been buzzing lately. To summarize, young amateurs and ordinary folk have banded together to stick it to the man on Wall Street in retaliation for a shady practice called shorting. Here’s a meme courtesy of the users of r/wallstreetbets explaining the situation for rubes like me who don’t know jack about stock trading:

Power to the people! But putting aside our jubilance at the suffering of Wall Street for a minute, this Gamestop phenomenon is a prime example of some of the rapid changes that our sweeping our society as well as all of humanity, particularly pertaining to our evolving use of tokens. If you’re scratching your head and wondering what on Earth it is that I’m referring to, check out the work of Denise Schmandt-Besserat!

The basic gist is that since the dawn of civilization, we humans have always used some sort of tool to represent money and/or resources, which Denise Schmandt-Besserat refers to as tokens. In the beginning, we mostly used pebbles or clay figures to to keep track of our economies. Then we progressed to writing and pebbles and clay figures were gradually phased out. Then we began to mint coins and print the dollar bills that are ubiquitous today. And now, we see another form of token on the rise: digital currency.

The stock market is a prime example of digital currency; it exists as a data point rather than a physical object that you can touch like a pebble or a dollar bill. As our society digitizes, so to is our use of tokens. Pretty soon, we might evolve to a point where all of our tokens are digital, and we have a cashless society. This stock market business is only the beginning! Much to think about!