Ethics in an Age of Tech
Ethics in an Age of Tech ECS 188
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This 7 page Class Notes was uploaded by Ashleigh Dare on Tuesday September 8, 2015. The Class Notes belongs to ECS 188 at University of California - Davis taught by Phillip Rogaway in Fall. Since its upload, it has received 51 views. For similar materials see /class/187708/ecs-188-university-of-california-davis in Engineering Computer Science at University of California - Davis.
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Date Created: 09/08/15
Kevin Huang Professor Rogaway ECS 188 Word Count 2840 The Effects of Popular Culture on Modern Society People of the current generation have come to a consensus that today39s popular culture is responsible for increasingly passive humans while simultaneously promoting human aggression and violent responses to conflict Other arguments include words like quotdumbquot and waste of timequot The primary culprits in this case are television and video games In his book titled Evervthinq Bad Is Good For You Steven Johnson attempts to refute the public perception of popular culture and to explain how it is actually making the current society smarter Johnson believes the current culture is more intellectually demanding and that society has begun to develop an increased level of social and cognitive complexity In the past when one wanted to find a rewarding source of entertainment to stimulate the mind people would turn to books However modern society has swerved in a different direction towards mediums that feed fastpaced images to television screens Improved technology has allowed creators of these mediums to include more content into their products thus raising the bar for the audiences that consume it Johnson believes this increase in consumer expectation in television and video games is the main reason for rising IQ scores and smarter sharper minds The Sleeper Curve Critics of popular culture often lament its tendency to regress to simpler pleasures and cheap thrills which are sending the people in society down a declining slope of intellect when in fact the opposite is true Johnson refers to this effect as the Sleeper Curve The most debased forms of mass diversion video games and violent television dramas turn out to be nutritional after allquot1 It is one of the most important forces in society today because it improves people39s mental development allowing them to grasp more complex concepts The Sleeper Curve is named after a sequence from Woody Allen39s mock scifi film where a team of scientists from 2173 are astounded that 20th century society failed to grasp the nutritional merits of cream pies and hot fudge sundaes2 We are taking a similar view with popular culture because people have focused so much on the negative aspects of popular culture that its positive merits are left unexplored and lost in the wilderness According toJohnson the Sleeper Curve is a force of good that maps an average upward trend in popular culture and after close examination we can see why media today is not only about violence and addiction The Lost Merits of Video Games People that argue against the merits of video games love to compare them to books because they are two forms of recreation that are polar opposites Before software developers created the first video games in the early 1980s many of people living in the United States found reading as one of the most rewarding recreational activities And why not Books promote active thinking and force people to create entire worlds in their head to understand the characters and their interactions with the environment However because human nature causes people to explore other forms of media when video games first came out people were curious After several years people began to prefer video games over books According to a survey done by USA Today on the decline in reading 30 of 13yearolds in 2004 said they read for fun almost every day which is down from 35 in 1984 Also 65 of college freshman in 2005 reported they did little to no outside reading3 Because of the negative stereotypes against gaming people assume that the more people play video games the faster society will deteriorate Johnson argues that while reading has it benefits video games hone different mental skills that are just as rewarding4 The secret to video games today is in the way they are structured They are fun and addicting because many people that play them spend most of their time not having fun This may sound strange but gamers often times feel frustrated and even confused when playing a level in a game such as Legend oneda or Splinter Cell It causes the human brain to adapt to changes in the game in an attempt to relieve the confusion Each of these titles features an overlying narrative that is completed in increments After each level a little more of the story is revealed to reward the player and to keep them coming back for more Often times story developers like to hold back elements of the narrative to keep people guessing about the consequences of their actions and what lies ahead It also allows gamers to explore and analyze the interactive environment to find the necessary steps to complete a level Unlike reading video games present an interactive environment to the player who can then actively explore it in depth A person is not constrained by someone else39s view of the world In video games the player is able to map his or her own version of what39s happening The desire to explore one39s surroundings is attributed to what neuroscientistJaak Panksepp refers to as the Dopamine System which is the brain seekingquot5 circuitry that triggers a desire to look around Video games give players more freedom allowing them to develop decision making skills in the short term as well as in the long term when a player develops the best strategy for completing objectives It also teaches people how to think James Paul Gee a professor at the University of WisconsinMadison believes that when kids play video games they can experience a much more powerful form of learning than when they39re in the classroomquot and that video games are teaching kids how to learnquot5Johnson would agree with Gee39s assessment because he observed that phenomenon with his 7year old nephew while playing SimCity 2000 Johnson tried without success to revive a section of a largely abandoned Industrial sector in his city After observing his uncle for an hour the 7year old suggested lowering the industrial tax rates in his city to re generate interest in the area What surprised Johnson was that in a little over an hour his nephew was able to grasp the concept of taxes and its effect on the social environment whereas in a classroom the concept would seem convoluted and probably confusing to a child so young Unless a game39s story or objective is obvious players often find themselves stuck at particular points in a game These situations usually occur when the player is expected to make a discovery in between checkpoints about some aspect of their environment and use that discovery to help them solve a puzzle or to manipulate certain objects to trigger another event In the PC games Myst and its successor Riven players explore a a realisticlooking fantasy world where they are confronted with a series of puzzles to solve Beating the game involves gaining insight on the macro view of the narrative and then solving the individual puzzles that fit in with that view Solving these puzzles usually involves noticing specific details while navigating through the environment Some of these details come in the forms of journals that are hidden behind a bush or perhaps the noticing shapes and the orientations in which certain objects lie For example in Myst when players enter the Channelwood Age they must explore a primitive world where humans live in huts amongst the trees To navigate through the flooded island the player must use the bridges between the huts or a series of manmade boardwalks below Next to these walkways are a series of interconnected pipes with spigots at certain choke points that run to different destination throughout the island Players are later supposed to realize that the island runs on a mechanical water system after discovering a windmill and that he must manipulate the different spigots to power certain areas of the island as part of an elaborate puzzle To make this discovery a player must quotprobequot for certain patterns James Paul Gee defines probing as a series of four steps7 1 Probe Looking around the current environment 2 Hypothesis formed to explain what an event or sequence of events means 3 Reprobe Explore with the hypothesis in mind 4 Rethink The reprobe39s effect on the earlier hypothesis This sequence isn39t only limited to games like Myst One can easily find this pattern with people that play the muchmaligned game Grand TheftAuto Vice City as well as Halo and Prince of Persia The reward with solving these puzzles is the development of problem solving skills that are valuable to academic disciplines like engineering which is touted as a major for people who like to problem solve According to Mitch Wade an informant consultant for firms like Google and Rand Corporation developing these skills is also helpful after college quotIt39s the problemsolving And we saw that when we surveyed professionals who grew up playing video games What39s a surprise is that they39re better at things you need in business like team play and careful risktakingquot8 Games also promote better observation skills and the skill that corporate firms love attention to detail If a gamer still cannot figure out a particular problem there are guide books available for games that offer hints and even complete walkthroughs Gaming guides are the Cliff Notes of video games and it has done well in sales The Grand Theft Auto game guide has sold more than 16 million copies9 A biological benefit to modern video games is the human eye39s ability to adapt to fast paced images that flash on screen This seismic increase of images per second lets the eye tolerate chaos and to experience disorder as an aesthetic appearance10 New research also supports the argument that video games improve eyesight A group of 10 male nongamers were given 30 hours of training on a first person shooter game and researchers found that the group showed a substantial increase in their ability to see objects accurately in a cluttered spacequot11 The study also showed that first person shooting games improves a person39s spatial resolution and their ability to see letters that are closer together Readers that love to use the sniper rifle for head shots in the Halo series can certainly relate to this The benefits of video games are not immediately obvious but a little research into the subject shows that video games do have positive qualities However Johnson is not trying to convince you to stop reading books Each has their own merits and he believes the two mediums are incomparable Instead one should realize that video games have come a long way since they first came out and they cater to an audience that has slowly become smarter due to its increasing complexity Looking back I can hardly imagine that a guide book for Pacman would sell very well these days Television Television is another form of popular media that critics love to hate Television dramas and sitcoms today are built upon repeatability Television studios make most of their money off syndication which is selling the rights to show a particular television program on a different channel Writers are using complex methods of storytelling and are keeping out specific details to allow viewers to come up with their own theories to explain what happened Sometimes viewers find themselves watching the episode over again to see if they missed anything TV shows that keeps people interested in watching episodes more than once integrate three elements multiple threading flashing arrows and social networks12 Obviously this argument applies more towards TV dramas and sitcoms and less towards modern masterpieces likejudge judy Multiple threading refers to shows that have more than one active storyline that the audience must follow Simple shows in the 1980s like Dragnet and Starsky amp Hutch were mainly single threaded from the start of the crime scene to the investigation to the eventual solving of the case13 TV writers today have begun to use multiple threads in their episodes that cause viewers to follow more than one story in the same episode ER and 24 currently follow this model where the audience has to keep track of about ten different threads some a continuation from previous episodes A flashing arrow is more aptly described as a signpost a gimmick TV writers used in the past to pass important information to the audience so they could understand the developing story or the importance of an important moment Imagine if a show starts off with two robbers breaking into a museum and they are getting ready to steal a priceless artifact A simple example of sign posting would be JIMMY So what are we doing here Bob BOB Gosh darn itJimmy we39re here to steal the heavily guarded 3500yearold shovel from the Shang Dynasty It39s priceless C39mon lets go JIMMY I hope we don39t get caught It39s seems overly simplistic to our standards but TV shows of the 1970s would include such dialogue to set up the story and to introduce the new characters TV writers today would most likely leave out the last part of Bob39s statement In fact they would probably remove that dialogue altogether choosing instead to show the action with some mischievous music in the background This leaves the audience to decipher the action on their own as well as wonder about the character39s motives TV shows are more complex today because writers are adding to the drama and suspense by subtraction They intentionally leave out details to let the audience figure out the action a strategy also employed by video games TV viewers from the 1970s would be at a lost if they were to follow the action on complex shows like Lost 24 and Heroes because they would expect the show to explain the action Now we expect shows to challenge our minds and to let us make sense of what39s happening This is a prime example of the Sleeper Curve because the ability of humans to follow multiple threads evolved slowly over a period of twenty years One can only realize the cognitive development by comparing shows in different decades and realize how far society has progressed and the amount of information we can now process Finally a social network refers to the number of characters that make up a show and their relationships with each other Relationships often build up in long running shows and keeping track of them requires a very good memory because future episodes often refer back to an events in past episodes Compared to a show from an older generation 24 presents at least three times as complex a network as Dallasquot as far as the number of characters the connections between characters and the number of relationships that are central to the episode39s narrative 1 There is more to keep track of and thus stimulates a desire to rewatch old episodes if one forgot some details Writers have also changed their storytelling methods with an emphasis on keeping the audience involved with the action and to get them thinking about character motivations and potential twists in the stories According to a study done on the human brain39s response to television they found that it depends more upon the subject39s involvement with the material than with the medium itself Interesting more complex concepts elicited fast brain activity while simple uninteresting material induced slow alpha activityquot15 Keeping audiences involved makes it more likely for viewers think about shows even after the it is over The viewer starts to break down the story and forms theories about the future narrative This keeps the viewer interested in watching future episodes while simultaneously building a person39s analytical skills Writers have recognized the upward trend in the amount of information the human brain can now process They understand that we don39t just crave for them to challenge our minds we expect it Conclusion One of the most interesting aspects of the Sleeper Curve is how little we are aware of its effect It is similar to the purchasing power of a dollar Over a span of two or three years we hardly notice that it takes close to a dollar to purchase a hamburger but when compared over a longer range more people start to comment about how much more a person could buy for that dollar The evolution of popular culture follows a similar track Part of the reason for the rising complexity of video games and television is attributed to improved technology which allows game developers create richer fantasy worlds with more intricate narratives The point of this article was not to discount some of the negatives found in playing video games such as addiction and violence because those effects are are still very real It was to show that despite the negatives the positive effects of popular culture on cognitive human development are not ignorable Hopefully when you decide to pick up that controller or to turn on the TV you won39t feel as guilty for not picking up a book instead
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