The Digital Divide is alive and well on the Suncoast

Sarasota is a beautiful place to live. We have the most gorgeous beaches in the country, the climate is perfect 365 days a year and if you were so inclined, the restaurants would have you outgrowing that teeny weeny bikini in no time at all. Most of the people who live here are affluent and highly educated. Most.

There are still pockets of the Suncoast that can’t afford to enjoy all the things the area has to offer, and it’s in those pockets where the digital divide still exists. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that of the households in the North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton area that make less than $20K a year, 50.7% of them are without broadband internet access. In households making more than $20K a year, broadband access jumps to 81.4%.

So, what’s being done to bridge the digital divide in this part of the Sunshine State, where more and more of the high school curriculum takes place online? At least on the hardware side, some Florida high schools offer classes where students rebuild donated computers to give to students who don’t have them. Other organizations like the Gulf Coast Community Foundation are rallying resources from area businesses to contribute to the state’s digital needs.

Mandating a bridge over the Digital Divide is one thing; but coming up with community solutions to a community problem is a far better resolution.

Gnikat a resolc kool ta books (or Taking a closer look at Skoob)

Our last class assignment was for each of us to take a deeper dive into a social media platform, explaining what it was about and why it can be considered ‘social media.’ Mark Scott chose Skoob — ‘books’ spelled backwards.

As Mark told us, Skoob is a social media platform that caters to book lovers who speak and read Portuguese. As of right now, it is not translated into any other languages but it has a very healthy following of four million users. Skoob was launched 10 years ago, and has showed steady growth ever since.

I think conventional thought might say that Skoob needs to either expand into other languages, or slowly die. I don’t think that will happen though. By not only existing, but flourishing for ten years, the platform exhibits staying power. It caters to a niche, which I think plays in its favor. Skoob shows it is keeping up with other platforms by providing interactivity with Facebook and Twitter. I also think the language barrier isn’t much of a barrier at all. Portuguese is the 9th most spoken language in the world.

Thank you Mark, for introducing us to this platform. Skoob is pretty looc!

Dr. Google: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Semantic Web

Let’s face it, thinking is hard work. A quick Google search tells me the average person makes 35,000 decisions EVERY DAY. Brown shoes, or black? Stairs or elevator? Sandwich or taco? That’s a lot of thinkin’. We need all the help we can get, and the semantic web is ready and willing to step in and take over.

The semantic web seeks to make our lives easier by customizing how it delivers the information we seek. Google is getting smarter. So are cousins Siri, Alexa and the rest of the semantic web family. They do things without us asking, like reminding us where we parked or telling us how long it will take to get to work. The semantic web can use our past behavior to predict what we will need before we have to ask for it.

The semantic web also uses context to refine how it helps its users find information. It no longer reads the words in a search request as individual data points but reads how the words are put together to determine meaning. Remember the early days of search engines? You might be trying to identify a species of frog with red eyes, and the results would be about frogs, the color red, the anatomy of the eye, the anatomy of red eyes, or red frogs, or frog eyes? The search saw those keywords as individual elements, instead of part of a whole. The semantic web reads the meaning of those words together, understands their context, and rewards us with a more focused search result.

The advantage is a more efficient web experience. “My phone knows me so well, it can finish my sentences.” There are concerns about that familiarity, though, many of them dealing with security and privacy. Amazon has admitted that its Echo and Dot devices are always listening, but to help improve the customer service experience. That’s great, if we trust Amazon to only hire employees with the best of intentions in every situation. One wrong hire, and this whole thing could go sideways.

The semantic web is revolutionary, and has changed the relationship I have with my phone. I just don’t want my phone knowing that much about me.

Weaponizing Media Literacy to fight the Fake News myth

Sandy Hook didn’t happen. Those were crisis actors.

The moon landing actually took place on a Hollywood sound stage.

The earth is flat.

The myth of fake news isn’t new. It’s been around for as long as mankind has had the ability to lie for personal gain, or the inability to grasp the world around it. Fake News has only recently gathered steam because the current occupant of the White House lends it credibility, and does so through official channels. Even when confronted with these false narratives, the American people have been told that they are simply “alternate facts.”

As a veteran of local TV news, this is offensive to me on every level. I’ve spent nearly 30 years obsessed with facts and truth. I know the angst and hand-wringing that comes with knowing about a big story, but having to hold on to it until you have it completely buttoned up with sources and paperwork. I also know the anguish of getting it wrong; finding out after the fact that what you thought was true, wasn’t. Writing a correction or retraction sits with you for a while, and not in a good way. This is true for me, and for the hundreds of dedicated journalists I’ve worked with over the years.

Media literacy is the only way to combat the false narrative of fake news. It’s okay to watch Fox News, as long as you know it’s a network with an agenda. The same could be said for CNN. It’s okay to monitor Breitbart and The Hill. In fact, I encourage people to consume media from across the political spectrum. We can’t be a thoughtful citizenry if we isolate ourselves with people and information that feed our personal agenda. Productive discourse begins with knowing all sides of an issue.

We are in the middle of a war right now. It’s a war for the truth. To win, you not only need to have a plan of attack; you need to know your enemy’s. That’s media literacy.