Sunday, October 3, 2010

Technology Fidelity: A preamble

This is the first of several articles explaining why I think technology is rarely represented correctly in places other than the internet. This article focuses on the news.

About a year ago I wrote a research paper about watching the nightly news, which I promptly got a C- on. The reason? I decided to do the paper on the misrepresentation of video games and technology in the media.

While my professor deemed this a totally unimportant topic, I venture that the 500 million people who use facebook would disagree, as would anyone under the age of 30. But alas, I got a C-.

So, after watching the news for a couple of days, a story about video game sales to minors was featured. It also featured out of date and incorrect information. The story made it appear as though restricting the sales of violent video games to minors was a new thing, which it isn't, this particular practice began occurring during the mid 90's with the release of ECW Anarchy Rulz*. The piece displayed games that are an upwards of 12 years old and even ones that weren't sold anymore. There are plenty of modern violent video games to show, so why not show those?

If I was doing a story on current media sexism and showed you a documentary about ads from the 1980's, wouldn't you be confused and less likely to take the information presented to you seriously? Unless of course you're an interested viewer who trusts the news to bring you up to date accurate information.

It just shows that the media is sometimes out of touch. So out of touch, in fact, that this particular story featured the far right organization “The Parents Television Council”. This organization often cites (false) studies by the Family Research Council, run by Ken Blackwell. The FRC often times comes out with studies like “80 percent of video gamers addicted to games!” and so on.

The story also somehow manages to make the assumption that children are allowed to go to R-rated movies and buy CDs with curse words on them without being carded. In the end it was a special kind of news story, that manages to outrage and annoy the tech savy, all the while having enough misinformation and sloppiness to scare the masses.

The problem was that this story didn't give us the details. It didn't tell us about how the PTC are a buncha crazies who specialize in boycotting for attention, it didn't tell us about how many developers say games aren't for children, or how the majority of people who buy games are adults. To an uninformed viewer, they'd take it to be true. They'd believe everything that was said, and think how dastardly the video game industry must be to sell these terrible games to minors. And worse, they'd think GTA: VICE CITY, is the hit new video game of 2010. The worst part of this entire story, is that it played it as if there was a conflict between society and the video game corporations, when in fact, the video game industry has self policed itself into restricting the sale of violent games to minors via the ESRB, since 1999. It's Similar to the MPAA, but more open in it's rating process.

Let's play a game. How many times have you watched the news and stumbled upon a story about facebook, or myspace, or some other thing you may be interested in because you're a youth, only to scream at the TV for getting the facts wrong, missing the pieces that were important in order to fit a sound-byte or get people to come back after the break.

In regards to another story on Internet technology, specifically one about Facebook privacy. This particular media darling comes from the fact that certain websites will be able to access your Facebook, see what kinds of music, movies, and Television shows you're into, and then recommend ads tailor made to your tastes. So if, for example, notices you like Steely Dan and Dire Straits on your Facebook profile, it will probably try and recommend you some Neil Young.

The issue is that this kind of information transfers to the website passively. Essentially allowing a website to access information you make freely available to the public, and use it to make your web going experience easier and personalized.

But instead, the news reports it along the lines of “Popular Social Networking website Facebook is giving YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION to the Internet, is your privacy at risk!?”. This is one of those stories that gets teased throughout the show, the story that makes you come back from the commercials, so of course they have to deliver on their big scary message. This happens routinely with stories about the big, scary, Internet. Always about privacy, or how your kids could be under attack by predators, or viruses, or bullies pretending to be interested suitors.

What about the fact I don't need to wait 45 minutes on the phone to hear movie times anymore? That doesn't get enough credit.

The best part of this story was how the reporter fellow had to have a younger person use the computer for him, because he had no idea. Literally, it was some young guy teaching the reporter what to do to turn off the privacy settings. It's like teaching your grandmother how to upload a photo. Why would this be on the news? Doesn't this subject deserve a little more respect than the equivalent of tabloid headline? But the reality is far less entertaining than hysteria, this is why so many people like football.

Surely this is going to be a thing of the past, eventually news producers will retire and newer younger people will take over and been brought up with the internet and violent games and be able to separate fact from fiction and craziness.

So of course they'll work in cable.

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