Technology and Mediation

Open source photography -- are you in or out?As I mentioned before, I recently took a level 1 mediation course and in doing that, I began looking at many things through a new lens. It’s a process, and since it’s my life, much of what I’ve looked at relates to technology.

Looking through such a lens, though, reveals a mess.

Nature, Tech and Mediation

When we think of technology these days, we tend to think of the Internet related technologies, technologies that through our lifetime have run through our lives like fire – seemingly unstoppable, without an ability to individually control them and how they impact our lives. This is because fire, like the wheel and other technologies like them, are based on natural laws. There is no control over natural laws, there is only an understanding of them and use of that understanding.

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.
– Richard P. Feynman, Appendix F of the Rogers Commission Report (on the Challenger disaster).

With Internet technologies, though, it’s not so much about nature because, while the platform is derived from natural laws, what is used on them is defined by human minds. By code, and what that code works on: our content.

The Code

Why does code work the way it does? It’s typically consensus of the group involved with writing it, which varies. The Open Source and Free Software communities have a meritocracy structure, and proprietary approaches tend to a more corporate structure. The ‘object oriented’ approach means code gets re-used, which means that it becomes something plugged into applications it may not originally be designed for – and because it works for the criteria of the project.

Just because something works for the criteria of a project, though, doesn’t mean it’s the best fit – something I’ve seen all too many times. And the criteria of the project are almost never complete; when you set code out in the wild of the world subject to users, their interactions can take projects down paths one never expected.

In this way, code and fire are similar. Software Engineers and companies like to think that they have everything thought out, but we typically miss something as we chase a deadline or the deadline chases us. And this is where that similarity with fire disappears: the code evolves, or the project dies.

In all of this, where does mediation happen? Absolutely nowhere. Any piece of code is a balance of negotiations between what the developers think the consumers want, the timeline, and whatever the company or open source community decides …and nowadays, what the company and the open source community decide.

The end users, the consumers, the majority of people, really don’t have too much of a say in any of this. There is one methodology that forces consumer interaction more than others (DevOps), but it’s only for more finite projects and even then is a negotiation with an opportunity of mediation that I have never seen or heard of happening.

“You get what we write.” – every software company, ever, til they get sold or closed.

The Content

The Internet evolved and continues to evolve because of the complexity of the platform allows it to. While we tend to think we have control over this, it has encircled smaller communities without it, raging like a wildfire. A lot of that has to do with content.

When it comes to content there’s no true mediation, either – my last entry on journalism and social media points to people deciding to mediate – to actively listen, to actively summarize, and to be neutral. Of course, that’s all silly because humans aren’t very good at that. As a society, we’re happier with 30 minutes of silly people screaming at each other over non-issues than we are with a 2 hour documentary on why silly people scream at each other. It boggles the rational mind, but there it is. Our technology has outstripped us in this regard.

A controversial blog post with a catchy title will be shared across social media even if it’s completely wrong. Statistically, the people who share actual scientific research is pretty slim – but the people who share opinions on such things is devastatingly large. There is a happiness people find in this conflict that baffles the calm mind.

So, all this content is out there – generating money, having political importance, allegedly influencing elections (another thing to have an opinion on) – and that drives the underlying technology, both hardware and software.

Hardware, for the most part, simply makes things possible and makes things faster. Software gets more and more bloated as software manufacturers make it easier to write code within their own frameworks – nothing beyond the box is encouraged. Thinking inside the box is where the majority of developers now live, depending on a framework to make a living.

There’s just no mediation here.

And the question arises whether there should be.

 

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Mediation, Media, Social Media, Journalism

El Mercurio newsroom
El Mercurio Newsroom, by JD Lasica.

We use language and communication so much that sometimes we take it for granted.

‘Media’, ‘mediation’ – when we look at these words, it’s all but impossible to note the exact first 5 letters. This is no coincidence. They both derive from the noun, ‘medium‘. Digging further gets you to a Proto-Indian root, ‘*medhyo‘, something you can drill further down into if you wish.

It’s an interesting history in not words, but concepts and thoughts. Medium has been used to describe, ‘intermediate agency, channel of communication’ since around 1600. The basis of ‘media’ and ‘mediate’ is medium. Are they so different in concept?

In theory, no. In practice these days, it’s hard to say.

Mediation

As mentioned before, I took the first level of training in Mediation at the Conflict Resolution and Media Center of Trinidad and Tobago, and after hours I began thinking about the common etymology of ‘media’ and ‘mediate’ which got us to where we are, here. Yet when I look at the two as they are now, through a fresh lens, that seems to be the only way in which they are linked other than through some serendipity.

Mediation is a confidential process that works toward resolution of conflict through communication facilitated by a neutral third party. I did learn a few things.

Media, on the other hand, has come to mean any communication over one or more mediums. Newspapers use paper and literacy, radio uses sound and radio frequencies, television uses sound, video technologies, and sometimes literacy, and the Internet combines all of these to varying extents. ‘Social Media’ is redundant, really, because all media is social – it’s really media that allows easier feedback, and these day, allows things to be shared faster than other forms of media, driven by interests of users.

From Media To Journalism

‘Media’ encapsulates entertainment, education, and news. However, these days, we hear it used in the context of ‘news’ a lot. The lines between entertainment, education and news have blurred with the ‘talking heads’ and the prevalence of bias to sell advertising or simply to keep it. So when we hear about ‘The Media’ in this context, it’s about a specific use of the media. It’s about what we are given as news. And journalism is where ‘news’ is supposed to come from, or where we say it’s supposed to come from.

If you talk to anyone with a point of view, they will say that there is bias in published journalism – be it published in print, on radio, on television, or on the Internet – and that’s where things can get fuzzy. And so does what a journalist actually is. As Mark Lyndersay points out in , “What Is A Journalist?“:

…Paul Richards asked, “Who or what constitutes a journalist and should be protected by this?”

“And more importantly, who should not be considered a journalist?”

The American Press Institute notes, “Asking who is a journalist is the wrong question, because journalism can be produced by anyone.”

As the Institute explains on a series of pages on its website dedicated to considering the role of journalism professionals (report here), the journalist is a “committed observer.”

In 2011, “We Are All Journalists Now” by Scott Gant covered the same issue. It’s 7 years later, and I’m not sure society has changed enough to deal with it sensibly. And if we get into the etymology of ‘journalist’, we find this:

1690s, “one whose work is to write or edit public journals or newspapers,” from French journaliste.

As A.J. Liebling wrote, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” The Internet gave everyone with access to the Internet access to such a press. To publish publicly without a media organization, potentially publishing things less biased by advertisers – but then, to make money, advertising became necessary, and all that happened was the atomizing of the same business model.

What all of this really gets to, though, is an phrase attributed to Edmund Burke, supposedly used in a debate in 1787  when the House of Commons of Great Britain was opened to the press.

Indirect But Significant Influence

There are 2 definitions of the Fourth Estate defined on Dictionary.com:

  1. the journalistic profession or its members; the press.
  2. a group other than the usual powers, as the three estates of France, that wields influence in the politics of a country.

The first definition fit better before the Internet, where there was a more substantial difference between journalists and the general public. The second definition fits better in modern times, where we can all publish. And there you have the link between journalism and the public as it shifts in one definition.

These days, the more popular what you share is, the more influence you have – for better or worse. What others share that you have demonstrates how much influence you have as well – a closed circuit.

Thus, if we can get past definitions of ‘journalist’ and ‘journalism’, words doomed to a period when journalists broadcast instead of interacted, we get back to us all being a part of the Fourth Estate.

But what does this all have to do with mediation? Not that much right now, it seems, and yet, maybe it should. The Fourth Estate is necessarily not confidential, but maybe it could be more neutral. Maybe that’s what they should have in common. Maybe that ‘neutral third party’ should be everyone publishing to some metaphorical public journal. Maybe we should all be facilitating facts instead of regurgitating hearsay – after all, hearsay is heresy.

An informed public, after all, is what I expect from journalism. What I get, on the other hand, hardly seems to fit Journalistic Ethics and Standards. I can’t criticize what happens in the industry, because all I know is hearsay – but I can make a few distinctions that I believe can accepted and agreed upon as truths in the context of journalism aspect of the media:

  • When it comes to the media in the context of news, people need to be informed. They want to be entertained. The two are separate.
  • Publishers are the ‘media’, journalists are not the media unless they self-publish. If they don’t self-publish, they just work for the media.
  • With the atomization of the Fourth Estate, anyone who publishes has a greater responsibility when using their influence.

In these ways and more, we might get ‘media’ and ‘mediation’ to make more sense together when we see those common five letters.

 

On Mediation

Inland Storm Meets The Atlantic at New Smyrna Beach (B&W)
A Storm On New Smyrna Beach, FL, by Taran Rampersad. All rights reserved.

I recently took the level one course on Mediation at the Conflict Resolution and Mediation Centre of Trinidad and Tobago. This by no means makes me an expert on mediation (yet?), but it makes me more informed than others.

Conflict is something we deal with every day. Conflict is not something we’re always good at dealing with, either, no matter how well we think we do. Therefore, sometimes we need that catalyst to move things forward – and mediation has many advantages over other ways of dealing with conflict. You can learn that in the courses.

How we deal with conflict varies from person to person, from organization to organization, from incident to incident, and is biased by things as simple as having a good night of sleep or not – or being triggered by things that may or may not have a bearing on the situation.

Right or wrong, conflict changes us just as a storm does. This leads to a quote I use often – and here I’ll give it in it’s entirety:

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

An you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.

Haruki Murakami, Kafka On The Shore.

Mediation is one way out of the storm that facilitates the communication necessary to resolve conflict. It’s about being neutral, about being confidential and thus allowing trust between parties. It’s about actual communication beyond the dueling monologues we encounter all too often. It’s about facilitating resolution. And, it’s a process.

Mediation happens all around us every day, and it’s the sort of thing you don’t read or hear about – it’s necessarily confidential. From family disputes to business disputes, it facilitates the resolutions. And, through what I expect were relatively simple vignettes, I can tell you that it’s not easy to do and that not everyone can mediate.

Because of all of that, because of training I hope I will not waste, and because of my own background I saw other things not covered by the course. It gave me new tools to look at things, a new lens through which I could focus my mind. In that way and other ways, I highly recommend the training at the Conflict Resolution and Mediation Centre of Trinidad and Tobago. Check out the CRMC Facebook page as well. 

Like any good training, you get out of it what you put in. More than that, though, is that lens through which we can look at other things.

I’ll be writing more about these things over the course of the next few entries – new ways of looking at things that have been on my mind that may not relate directly to mediation itself.