Readers, Writers, Texts

Disruptive Technologies

“Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.”

Marshall Mcluhan, author of The Medium is the Message
What if all the information in the world was categorized and easily searchable? What if all the news from around the world, all books, written texts, photos and videos that exist on a place in the world would be collected, and would be available everywhere? That is precisely the goal of Google. In this famous 2006 behind-the-scenes documentary, Dutch film maker Ijsbrand van Veelen visits Google company headquarters and finds out that, while they have laudable intentions, some people are worried about Google’s ‘Big Brother’ style direction, which not only determines what information is available, but also who, what, and when the information has been searched.

What changes will the internet bring to the types of news we encounter? As you read this, several large newspapers are under threat. Over the past decades news organizations have been bought by multinational corporations. What are the positive and negative effects of centralizing the news? For one thing, this could be harmful to the variety and amount of bias in coverage. On the other hand, financial resources might be more stable in an age of declining advertising revenue. Begin with ‘The Internet’ then read some of the following articles and formulate your own ideas about the future of the news in the digital age: 

Reading Challenge

This is a longer and more challenging text, but spending time on this piece, and discussing it with your teacher, will help you master this topic:

Class Activity: The Three Little Pigs

This advert for the Guardian’s open journalism, screened for the first time on 29 February 2012, imagines how the story of the three little pigs might be covered in the online age.

How does this advert for the Guardian newspaper demonstrate some of the principles you have learned about in this section? Watch the short film, then discuss how it illustrate the following concepts:

  • Fragmentation
  • Gatekeeping
  • Amplification
  • Echo chamber / filter bubble
  • Information flow
  • Can you find another?

Discussion Points

After you’ve got your head around the material in this section, pair up, pick a question, spend five minutes thinking and noting down your thoughts – then discuss your ideas with a friend and report back to the class:

  1. Is the internet dumbing us down and making us lazier than ever? Or is it empowering people by giving easy access to information?
  2. How is the news reported? How should the news be reported? Are the answers to these questions the same? Is accuracy the most important consideration when reporting the news?

Learner Portfolio

Write an article in any form (blogpost, opinion column, magazine article, and so on) answering one of the big questions in this section. For example: What is the future of the news? How is technology disrupting the truth?

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: infotainment texts

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Below are some articles which straddle the boundary between news and entertainment. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the features of Infotainment and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

key features of infotainment texts
  • Purpose: while they may superficially inform the reader about events, the main purpose of infotainment is to entertain.
  • Sensationalism: exaggeration and drama is the backbone of this writing style.
  • Headline: may be shocking or create anticipation. Puns, strong verbs and alliteration are features commonly seen in tabloid headlines.
  • Image: photographs are used to support the article, and may be lewd or sensational. Journalists who follow celebrities with the intention of taking revealing photos are called paparazzi.
  • Structure: infotainment texts may be written in shorter paragraphs than other kinds of newspaper text.
  • Interviews: embedding interview statements is common practice – of course, the more controversial the better.
  • Claims: look out for opinions stated as facts, with no supporting evidence, using language like ‘alleged’, ‘claim’ and ‘accused’.
  • Figurative Language: infotainment texts are a rich source of metaphor, simile, and hyperbole.

Body of Work: Black Mirror – The Waldo Moment

Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment tells the story of a failed comedian who voices a popular cartoon bear named Waldo – who finds himself mixing in politics when TV executives want Waldo to run for office.

Black Mirror is a dark satirical anthology series that examines disturbing aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a near-future world that’s believable, yet twisted in some way. In The Waldo Moment, Jamie is a comedian initially struggling to make it as the creator and voice of Waldo, his animated creation. However, bit by bit, Waldo becomes more and more popular until, despite Jamie’s scepticism about his own creation, Waldo is a hit! Unfortunately, Waldo’s success gives Jamie no joy because, while Waldo is superficially entertaining, Jamie does not believe in the things Waldo says and stands for.

This kind of self-conflict is completely relatable in our modern age. Think about when you see the reaction to your social media posts: you make a genuine comment or post a picture in the hopes of garnering ‘likes’, but nobody seems to respond. However, when you post a remark you don’t truly believe in – friends and strangers seem to love it. So you’re caught in a sudden existential dilemma: should you stick to your ‘real’ self or give in to the ‘fake’ you that other people seem to like?

Black Mirror takes this concept and, with the addition of VR technology that enables Jamie to pretty much constantly inhabit his alter-ego, runs with it to a terrible conclusion. The Waldo Moment depicts a populist outrage figure defying the polls and clinching a swathe of votes. Its final scenes of Waldo as a form of passive mind control may have seemed far-fetched back in 2013 – but seem all too familiar after the events of 2016.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

A scene from The Waldo Moment (or another relevant episode of Black Mirror) would make a good text to discuss in this assessed activity. Here are suggestions as to how you might use this Body of Work to create a Global Issue. You can use one of these ideas, or develop your own. You should always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own thoughts, discussions and programme of study when devising your assessment tasks:

  • Field of Inquiry:  Science, Technology and the Environment
  • Global Issue: How technology can affect our behaviour
  • Rationale:

In The Waldo Moment, Jamie begins his animated project out of a sense of anger and frustration. But when the project begins to gather momentum, things seem to take on a momentum of their own. Ironically, though, Jamie gets no joy from his success, because he doesn’t really believe in the things Waldo says. Discussing the way people act when they are protected by the anonymity technology provides would be a very interesting angle for an Individual Oral talk.

  • Field of Inquiry:  Beliefs, Values and Education
  • Global Issue: The failure to stand up for one’s beliefs and values
  • Rationale:

Jamie seems caught in an existential dilemma: Should he stick to his ‘real’ self or give in to Waldo, his ‘fake’ self that other people seem to like? Jamie’s not the only person who has trouble sticking to his beliefs and values – especially when those beliefs put a person in conflict with wider society.

possible literary pairings
  • Shaw’s Pygmalion – it may be a slight stretch, but this play is set at the end of the industrial revolution in Europe. As such, increased manufacturing capability has enabled unprecedented social mobility and people are speaking and acting in ways unthinkable just a few short years before.
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee – a discussion of the chilling character of Colonel Joll would be a very interesting way to pair these texts. Where Jamie is hidden behind his animated character, Joll hides his identity behind a pair of inscrutable sunglasses. Alternatively, consider how the unnamed magistrate has always felt that there is something rotten at the heart of the empire – but he has never managed to stand up for what he believes is right until now.
  • Charlotte Mew’s Selected Poetry – in several of her poems, Mew’s speaker seems to empathise with marginalised people who suffer discrimination. She wants to befriend loners and those who are misunderstood. But more than once (think Saturday Market and Ken) her speakers fail to intervene when they see injustice done. Why?
  • The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt – a perfect pairing if you want to discuss the failure of people to stand by their professed values. In Act One of his play, the mayor of Guellen declares support for humanist values in the face of Claire’s offer – money for a murder. But what happens to the town’s morals in the face of temptation?
  • Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet – not a single character in Mamet’s play wants to do what is right. Instead they only act in ways that profit themselves. You might argue that the characters have no beliefs and values to betray – unless you count the dog-eat-dog rules of the workplace that govern their lives.
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel – there may not seem to be an obvious link between these texts, but the further Pi drifts from land, the more his ‘true’ self – a vegetarian pacifist – gives way to a savage, darker personality who will do anything to stay alive. Can you make the argument that Richard Parker is Pi’s ‘Waldo’? Alternatively, you could look at how Pi does stand up for his beliefs, especially concerning his faith in God,, which survives and is even strengthened by his ordeal at sea.
  • Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick – this would make for a strong pairing. Living in a totalitarian dictatorship means many people have to put aside their true thoughts and feelings and adopt a persona that fits in with what others expect to see.

Towards Assessment: HL Essay

Black Mirror has always been particularly interested in the concept of our ‘digital self’ and, if you’re interested in this concept too, you could investigate how the Black Mirror series presents the relationship between our ‘selves’ and our ‘digital selves.’ If you want to venture beyond the scope of The Waldo Moment alone, you should keep focus on episodes relevant to this idea. Fortunately, the show has given us: animated avatars in Fifteen Million Merits; the posthumous re-creation of people in Be Right Back; the possibility of being digitised for eternity in San Junipero; digital clones in USS Callister… to name but a few.

In truth, the show provokes so many questions and explores so many themes that, if you’re not interested in the theme of ‘self vs digital self’, you should be able to investigate something more to your liking. The topics covered include: the obsession with celebrities, reality TV, social networks, video games and smartphones; the end of private life; robots and androids; social and commercial profiling; fake news and opinion manipulation; dating sites and matching systems; immersive augmented reality; cybersecurity and cyberbullying; the transfer of memory or consciousness into a machine; and trans-humanism. What’s important to remember is that your essay must involve analysis of ‘how’ the show provokes questions and explores these issues. Consider the conventions of science fiction writing as well as conventions associated with television shows, such as mise-en-scene, use of camera, editing techniques and sound.

Wider Reading and Research

If you are interested in the topics and articles on this page, you might like to conduct some wider reading and research. Here are some recommendations to get you started:

  • Google: Behind the Screen – In this famous 2006 behind-the-scenes documentary, Dutch film maker Ijsbrand van Veelen visits Google company headquarters and finds out that, while they have laudable intentions, some people are worried about Google’s ‘Big Brother’ style direction, which not only determines what information is available, but also who, what, and when the information has been searched.
  • Think Like a Journalist – in this amusing-but-serious Tedtalk, reporter Kelsey Samuels discusses how journalists tell what news is real and what is fake – and the importance of getting her reporting right.
  • Across Platforms and Places: The Future of Journalism – in this talk, Professor Palilonis argues that journalism must connect audiences to stories so they feel personally immersed in a technologically disrupted world.
  • The Future of Journalism – When Tom Rosenstiel is asked, “Has digital technology made journalism worse or better?” he has a quick answer: “Yes.” In this talk, he asks: in a world where the audience dictates what “news” is, what new roles must responsible journalists learn to play?
  • Truth in Numbers? Everything According to Wikipedia – this documentary explores the impact of Wikipedia on the way knowledge is formed and the legacy for future generations.
  • Evaluating Online Information – this brilliant resource was made by librarian Timothy Arnold at the University of Iowa. Follow the links to discover how to counter misinformation and disinformation online.
  • Understanding Information Disorder – published by Firstdraftnews, this in-depth resource explains seven types of disruption that’ve been amplified in our digital world.

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