The algorithmic medium and the new literacy of data curation

The course ‘Thèmes choisis en études des médias‘, which I have taken as a Ph.D course was held under a peculiar pedagogical style: traditional classroom lectures and continuing dialogues via social media platforms are blended to enable students to experience hybrid form which can be beneficial for participating in collaborative learning.

The course book ‘Cognition’ written by the professor Pierre Lévy suggests the philosophical comprehension about human beings’ symbolic communication system which is differentiated from all other animals’. Throughout the book, we can reflectively follow the way from which we are originated and to where we are facing in terms of cognitive path within the shaping and being shaped (1) relation with media. Key notions argue that the human being’s symbolic system based on social convention allows us to be capable of creating meanings through concepts, ideas, and intelligence. Consequently, different eras of culture (i.e. oral, scribal, literate, typographic, algorithmic) are produced and different capitals are formulated (i.e. predator, agriculture, finance, industry, and information) as each dominant medium stimulates the human’s cognitive capacity to think along. The culmination of human societal development reaches the digital era since 2000 in which the algorithmic medium via the automatization of symbolic activities through digital technologies organizes (or at least strongly influences) all aspects of human life.

Three main theoretical frameworks are presented: Firstly, the symbolic system is constituted by discursive consciousness (2) and semantic layers (3) by which only humans can own culture integrating all characteristics from the most basic to the most complex that life bestows. Secondly, the historical and epistemological evolution of human culture is influenced by different media. The remarkable change happens when the writing system became popularized due to print technology (4). Since this revolutionary landmark, knowledge could be significantly developed for the first time in collective dimension and also human-centered philosophy, science, and mathematics have been unprecedentedly advanced. Finally, algorithmic medium, which is characterized by stigmergic principle (5) enables the second stage of collective intelligence (since popularization of literacy by invention of print) and it changes radically relations and structures of all societies at the global level, so that it necessitates the competence of new literacy allowing collectively stimulated cognitive capacity: Cogitamus (6). In this sense, the future of human society is expected to be developed through auto-generated and auto-reflected intellectual capacity which is supported by specific semantic language: IEML (7), for example, will allow reflective AI (Artificial Intelligence) to help people to master their routes of auto-formation dealing with semantic level. People can observe their cognitive activities in ‘measurable, observable and explorable’ (p. 185) collective intelligence. This ecosystem of ideas becomes a new public sphere allowing real democratic participation.

Book presentations in the class also allowed us to compare other authors’ ideas of media communication studies: the socially constructed human consciousness through verbal thought by Vygotsky, the stimulation of human cognitive capacity depending on different communication media by Goody, the language and produced actions under performative speech acts by Austin, and new power and meaning production through media network by Castells. These theoretical views are learnt collaboratively overarching actual and virtual space; our divers viewpoints are shared via Twitter#uoam18, which allowed us to take notes and to discuss in and outside of the class. This experience was novel for me to observe how individual and collective cognitive resources can be richer through learner’s engagement for collaborative learning.

I can’t miss to share things that I’ve never learnt before this class. Firstly, the pattern that evolutionary integration of layers from the bottom-up (this pattern is repeated throughout the book), which illuminates that symbolic system of human cognition (culture) is an accumulated result of previous outcomes so each stage becomes an indispensable basis for the following stage. Each stage of culture and media is inter-connected with each other: ‘la pyramide culturelle est une couche de médias après l’autre, pour étudier le développement historique de nos capacités de connaître’ (p. 125).

„Pyramid culture large
Cultural pyramid: oral, scribal, literal, typographic, and algorithmic (chapter 7, p. 69).

Secondly, I could grasp the clear definition of the symbol. This crystallization allows to distinguish symbols from general signs, applying appropriately signifier (signifiant) and signified (signifié). For example, if smoke is an expression of SOS, this sign becomes a symbol because it is based on a convention. The smoke (signifier) is meant to ask a help (signified), which forms a message. If a smoke is just a natural sign (i.e. barbecue), it is not conventional; therefore it is not a symbol (neither signifier, nor signified); there is just a understanding (être) to recognize fire (chose).

Finally, but most importantly, the role of communication via algorithmic medium in our everyday life is emphasized: this medium can mark the transformation in the way we think, produce, and share knowledge. Each individual through networked technologies has to be aware of his participation for the collective intelligence. In this sense, it is urgent to acquire the new literacy, data curation (8), which is the indispensable competence for upcoming generations. Institutions should reflect the change of cycle of creation of value in information society (9) and remind students of inevitable interdependence between different disciplines in 21st century global society. Especially, having an ethical mind to have great power and responsibility should be emphasized through promoting the learner-centered learning in order that ethical communicative practices (signification) can be settled as a culture.

Competences-curation<Cognition, chapter 15, p. 172>

I’d like to conclude that in algorithmic era, want it or not, we are simultaneously powerful and responsible for guiding our collective life. But this is fascinating because it creates the collective intelligence which will promote the most democratic form of society in human history. This course was a journey for me to discover human cognition observing how media accompany our way of thinking and emotions. A mission should be followed: enlightening people to realize their power and responsibility.

Notes: Taking a consideration of abstract concept of terms, French in original text is adopted to deliver the best understanding.

  1. Daniel Chandler (1996). engagement with media: shaping and being shaped.
  2. Conscience discursive: présente un organe mental à six opérateurs coordonnés. L’opposition du virtuel et de l’actuel commande la réflexion de l’action. Celle du signe, de l’être et de la chose prend en  charge la réflexion de la représentation. Celle de l’action (virtuel/actuel) et de la représentation (signe/être/chose) saisit le récit ou l’image en mouvement, c’est-à-dire la plénitude du sens. Enfin le dernier pli oppose un contenu plein et un contenant vide : il ouvre l’espace mental à l’interrogation (p. 35) .
  3. La cognition symbolique par le plateau sémantique: la conscience discursive génère la cognition symbolique à travers de différents niveaux: symbole, concept, idée, et intelligence (p. 53).
  4. It refers to invention of printing by Gutenberg of 15th century; the beginning of mass media.
  5. Stigmergie: il s’agit d’un mode de communication dans lequel les agents se coordonnent et s’informent mutuellement en modifiant un environnement ou une mémoire commune (p. 174).
  6. Cogitamus – l’intelligence rassemble les idées dans un continuum de consciences personnelles en communication (chapter 6, p. 66)
  7. IEML ( le MétaLangage de l’Economie de l’Information): IEML est une langue complète qui peut être parlée librement par ses locuteurs, elle ne peut être débarassée de toute ambiguité pragmatique. Les données ont alors des adresses sur une grille qui calcule automatiquement leurs relations sémantiques. Cet univers d’information est indéfiniment explorable par des algorithmes ouverts et communs, qui favorisent les dialogues et les comparaisons (p. 140).
  8. La littéracie en curation de données : Il s’agit des savoirs, savoir-faire et et savoir-être qui supportent l’augmentation de l’intelligence collective en ligne. Il y a trois niveaux: personnel, sens critique, collective. Les colonnes évoquent trois dimensions complémentaires de la cognition : la conscience réflexive, la production de signification et la mémoire (Chapitre 15 : pp. 172-173)
  9. Les principaux moments du cycle de création de valeur : Les machines matérielles sont des calculatrices numériques programmables. Elles se distribuent commodément en deux grandes catégories : les centres de mémoire et de calcul et les dispositifs d’interfaçage avec les utilisateurs (Chapitre 14 : p. 152)