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Posts Tagged ‘headline

Barely a month (week?) goes by without headlines about the link between using mobile device and some harm, e.g., poor mental health. We do not call those headlines a form of gaslighting because so many of us have bought into them.

Thankfully, this critique, Flawed data led to findings of a connection between time spent on devices and mental health problems, bucks the trend. That article summarised recent research and concluded: 

…simply taking tech away from (young people) may not fix the problem, and some researchers suggest it may actually do more harm than good.

Whether, how and for whom digital tech use is harmful is likely much more complicated than the picture often presented in popular media. However, the reality is likely to remain unclear until more reliable evidence comes in.

The thesis of the article: “The evidence for a link between time spent using technology and mental health is fatally flawed”.

The thrust of the article was that studies in the area of mobile device use and harm relied on self-reporting measures. It then argued how such measures were logically and methodologically flawed.

First, we do not pay attention to what we do habitually. Such activity is background noise, not foreground work. As a result, it is difficult to accurately remember how frequently we use mobile devices or apps.

Next, the author shared how he and his colleagues systematically reviewed actual and self-reported digital media use and discovered discrepancies between the two. He also outlined his own research of using objective measures like Apple’s screen time app to track device use. He concluded:

…when I used these objective measures to track digital technology use among young adults over time, I found that increased use was not associated with increased depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. In fact, those who used their smartphones more frequently reported lower levels of depression and anxiety.

The author revealed that he used to be a believer of what the popular media peddled about the harm of mobile device use. But his research revealed that the popular media were simplifying complex findings: 

The scientific literature was a mess of contradiction: Some studies found harmful effects, others found beneficial effects and still others found no effects. The reasons for this inconsistency are many, but flawed measurement is at the top of the list.

We cannot simply read headlines, form conclusions, and craft far-reaching policies of mobile use, e.g., limit kids of age X to Y minutes of iPad time. Why? The measurements for the evidence of harm are flawed and the results of studies are mixed. 

We need to be critical readers, thinkers, and actors. We could start by reading beyond the headline, i.e., actually read the whole article and not propagating articles without first processing it carefully. This is more difficult to do than casually sharing a link, but it is a vital habit to inculcate if we are to be digitally wise. And with most habits, doing this gets easier with practice.

Here is one thing I dislike about how local rags often write their headlines and tweets — their taglines are about one thing while their content is not.

Take the initial daily COVID-19 case reports, for instance. They often list the number of community and imported cases, but the articles do not actually tell you about the cases and are often reminders about safety measures [example].

Video source

Another example is the video above about a possible review of Secondary 5 for what is currently the Normal (Academic) stream. The review is timely given how the new PSLE will stratify students differently and how polytechnics have through-trains.

Hidden from the title of the video was the news that two arts institutes are combining to offer an arts-specialised degree. A journalist asked if this was a relevant move given how those in the arts were not doing well now. The Education Minister countered by pointing out that modern jobs required people with wide ranges of experiences and interdisciplinary outlooks.

This video had a “hidden” message in that it was not indicated in the title. That second message was equally important. However, lazy titling, a lack of video splicing, and indiscriminate sharing did not do the message justice.

If there ever was a headline that created dissonance, it might be this one: Single-use plastic bags have ‘lower environmental footprint’ compared to paper and cotton bags in cities like Singapore.

Why dissonance? It counters the message that we need to reduce, reuse, and recycle. But there is more nuance to all sides of the environmental argument.

The “save the earth” message is heralded by the 3Rs as principles to practice. But this does not discount that context matters. If we take into account the environmental impact of bag “production, distribution, transportation, waste collection, treatment and end-of-life disposal”, single-use plastic bags could be “the most eco-friendly option” by this research project’s numbers.

Here is one more number. According to the principle investigator of the research project, “reusable plastic bags are the best option, provided that they are re-used many times – over 50 times to be precise”. These are better than single-use bags and even paper and cloth bags.

See? Dissonance.

To add to the discomfort is another caveat. Single-use plastic bags, if incinerated (like they are here) are the “best option that is currently available, provided that there is no significant leakage of waste into the environment”.

But all these figures and practices does not mean that we take a non-nuanced stance of doing what we already do: Use once and burn. What the article did not turn to is how the interpretation of such research affects human attitudes.

I would wager that most people cannot tell if they are using single-use or multiple-use plastic bags. Most Singaporeans still expect to get plastic bags and demand them if they do not. Service staff reach for plastic to wrap and bag with muscle memory. Just buy several buns at a local confectionary and watch the plastic bag version of Inception play out. The attitude is one of indifference, not nuanced use of bags.

No one is going to count the number of uses of every plastic bag. Very few care what happens to a plastic bag once they dispose of it. Tell any of these people that single-use bags are best here only entrenches ignorance (don’t know) and apathy (don’t care).

We need news articles that go beyond facts and figures. We need readers who are information literate so that they can tell the difference and make a difference.

Using Betteridge’s law of headlines, The Guardian published an article titled: Could online tutors and artificial intelligence be the future of teaching?

The short answer to any such headline is no.

The longer answer is that modern online efforts provide educators with lessons on how to teach so that learning happens more optimally and meaningfully.

For example, data from a company called Third Space Learning and University College London revealed this:

An early analysis found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that when tutors speak too quickly, the pupil is more likely to lose interest. Leaving sufficient time for the child to respond or pose their own questions was also found to be a factor in the lesson’s success…

The lesson about teaching that focuses on learning: Give learners opportunities to interrupt and intervene.

The longer answer also focuses on whether such efforts will make humans irrelevant:

Hooper agreed that the aim is not to replace teachers with robots. “There’s a slightly dubious conversation about how AI will make humans irrelevant, but it’s not at all about replacing humans,” he said. “Our whole belief is that for children disengaged with the subject, who are lacking in confidence, people is what matter. An algorithm can’t provide that.”

Even well-meaning teachers sometimes get in the way of learning. Whether you like or realise it or not, it is about focusing on the learner and learning, not the teacher and teaching. The latter are means to the former.

Ambar said that maths used to make her anxious, but since starting the weekly tutorials in Year 5, she has started enjoying it. “When they give you horrible sums, they help you,” she said. “I was scared to do it, but it was actually fun.”

If we focus on the who and how of learning, we will hear more stories that end like this.

I expected that STonline would lead with a headline like Video games linked to aggressive behaviour in kids says Singapore study.

But I found it interesting that when tweeted it read:

An editor might argue that there is only so much space for a headline. But the tweet was so much more informative.

The non-paywall and longer article is at Reuters and it is titled Violent video games may be tied to aggressive thoughts.

STonline cites the findings as aggressive behaviour while Reuters choose aggressive thoughts. STonline leaves much of the critique of the study out while Reuters leaves more of it intact.

So why the difference? If you do not read widely or critically, what conclusions are you likely to draw?


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