Saturday, November 7, 2020

Review of Education in the Digital Age: How We Get There by Nadav Zeimer

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Economics, Labor
Intriguing Connections = 1) War for Your Attention, 2) How to Teach? How to Learn?

Elaborate Description

This book is a celebration of human beings and diversity. Rather than having a job to earn an income, people are able to work, earn an income, and have productive lives without needing jobs. This is a departure from the industrial era when jobs meant standardization and meaningless work. This is about the value of work in the production of individualized digital content. For the digital economy, people need to learn the appropriate skills for this growing economy but the current educational institutions do not teach the skills needed. This book shows the paradigm shift from industrial era to the digital era with many epistemological lessons which express why the educational system needs to change. What is needed are skills that utilize attention without being manipulated through social engineering.

In the industrial economy, physical assets are valued. The more physical assets owned the better. In the digital era, it is followers and experiences which are valued. Changing production to suit new values takes time to accept as they are a departure from previous effective patterns of behavior. Many companies stuck to what they knew how to make rather than seeing new opportunities because what they have been doing was successful for them. The opportunities came about from changing scarcity, as scarce resources are more valued than abundant resources. Zeimer recognizes that as profit is increasingly being generated by capturing human attention, human attention becomes increasingly scarce. Fixed supply with increasing demand leads to increased market value. With the abundance of easily accessible content, the new scarcity is time and attention. Digital applications are vying for user attention.

Within the standardization of the industrial model, the things being measured are the things being valued rather than the things that actual have value. The value of monetary aspects negatively impacts everything that has no price attached. Extraction is better in an industrial economy. By focusing on the production of goods and services, it misses the values being created which are not counted towards production. Many products in the digital economy are free. The cost of zero to use app and platforms facilitates its common use. Charging a price for the product reduces its economic value. Free digital content would not be possible if developers had delivery download costs.

The digital economy enables quick feedback for customers rather than creating products which the customers did not ask for. Rather than pushing values onto users, the users are able to pull values using platforms. The user becomes the investor of the end product which reduces the costs of research and development. This also creates a shift to individualized products and away from standardized products.

Work and having a job are not the same. Having a job is prized in the industrial economy as it provides a source of income, but that does not mean that a job is needed for an income. People do work in producing content for platforms who do not pay them, or get an income from those who pay them to produce the work they want to. Jobs are being taken away from people, but work is not. Computers need human partners as there are many non-organic life limitations such as setting goals. Computers can outperform human within the boundaries of their limitations, which creates time for humans to do other tasks. This enables value to be derived from work being produced rather than valuing a person based on income. Computers are a hardware which can produce a myriad of functions and can easily be adapted to perform new tasks as the hardware and software infrastructure improve. It has become what Zeimer calls this a universal means of production.

Centralized authorities like corporation will exist to produce long term projects because their costs will be less in organizing coordinated efforts. In the industrial age, tax incentives for factories would incentive job creation to offset large investments. No large investments are needed to reproduce digital content in the networked digital economy. Digital decentralized tools are continuously reducing transactions cost between strangers and creating predictable behaviors between them. Decentralized systems often outperform centralized counterpart such as US economy outperforming Soviet economy. Crowd-driven internet platforms are increasingly outperforming centralized corporate powers.

In the digital economy, data and information are the key. Those who have access to the information gain a power asymmetry that can be used for intrusive purposes not only in how it is gathered, but also how it is used to obtain profit. Centralized platforms are repositories of information which attracts hackers who can obtain a mass quantity of data from a single breach. Decentralized applications such as distributed network of machines containing encrypted data which the owner cannot view maintains privacy while distributing massive amounts of data.

The digital economy can allow for platforms where individual developers hold the rights to their apps without giving a share of the profits to a platform which would require open source development. Within decentralized platforms, feedback provides information about counterparties behavior which establishes trust and reduces the transactions costs. Content is produced by a generalized sharing loop in which digital files are creates and shared, which generated feedback used to create the next file ad infinitum. Sharing products openly generated feedback which leads to more people sharing the product.

The skills needed for the digital age are different than those which were needed for the industrial age yet educational institutions still focus on the industrial age skills. Different economic systems require different educational experiences. Hunting and gathering societies educated their students into procuring food. Industrial era capitalism required educating their students how to operate machinery and keep records by learning how to read, write, and do math. The need to change education to foster an understanding of the digital economics comes from the fear that those who do not know how to value their data and attention which would result in them being misused. Those who can control user’s data and their attention would have the power to change views on a global scale. Research shows that an emotional sense of scarcity and identity tend to overwrite beliefs and logic. Research also shows that depending on who is presenting a policy influences whether it is accepted or rejected by the individual as the individual tends to reject contradictory evidence rather than adjust. Within the digital economic system, there is a need to develop skills to differentiate between human virtue and virtue signaling to prevent manipulation.

The author presents the case of Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) and shifting academic accreditation to Digital Native Academic skills (DNA), with an incentive of BIG being attached to DNA. Political policies have reduced the worth of high school credit system as the system does not represent reliable learning. Providing the alternative for students to opt into digitally-relevant credit ecosystem facilitates an alignment between greed and self-interest. High schools can become incubators of independent thinking, self-expression, and fact-checking. DNA would bring back credibility to reliable learning by focusing on quality of work completed. Under DNA, there would be collaboration between creators of content (students), catalysts who facilitate creation of the content (teachers working with students), and gatekeepers who evaluate work (teachers who anonymously evaluate work). Teachers listening and empowering students rather than just providing instruction on scripted lessons. Depending on the incentives available to students will shape which issues the students find meaningful. Student source of power is their willingness to engage with issues that have no clear solution. There is no conclusive mastery of skills. Skills must focus on awareness and ongoing improvement.

Isolated metrics create perverse incentives in order to meet their requirements. Limited scope of evaluations creates blind spots to other measurements. Perverse incentives facilitate dependence on myopic term choices which generate highly disadvantageous outcomes later. Government is supposed to impose regulation which enables appropriate coordination between individuals for social benefits but this is also limited by perverse political incentives. It is not possible to design a system that is inclusive of all measurements which tries to obtain the best outcomes no matter how sophisticated the weighting systems. The best way to proceed is to accept fallibility in the system and to seek to continually adjust for improvement.

There is no single set of choices which are best for any community, while imposing a set of choices on a community is antithetical to existence of human beings. Human beings derive meaning through the choices being made. It is social engineering which compels peoples to a particular outcome. The problem is not government or media, the problem is the capture of individual attention which threatens democracy. Capturing attention and manipulating choice is the problem. People can learn to be responsible and prevent the inadvertent spread of harmful information. Rather than focus on supporting in-group ideas, contact with diversity facilitates reduced tensions between groups.

The book is generally well written but it overreaches its content by providing too many ideas with too little background. The ideas are related and are discussed in detail, but not there is not enough content to properly grapple with the ideas and understand how to articulate them. Further elaboration and expressing the contentious areas of the ideas would have made for greater understanding. A major lesson from this book is that the digital economy allows for greater user/consumer feedback than the industrial economy, but it is only expressed as providing appropriate value. What is not mentioned is that there are many products for which user feedback would have made impossible to produce, such as cars, and many ways that products would have been made worse if user feedback would have been implemented. As digital content is how people will obtain value and an income from, the author does not discuss the distribution of that income as there are many cases were attention goes to content that has already received a lot of attention rather than looking for diverse content. Another problem comes from the tool being used most, software, is assumed to be used without issue but software is very litigious as there are currently no clear boundaries. In general, there appears to be an assumption that open source software lacks intellectual property rights problems.

This book has a plethora of ideas which can enables a more meaningful working life and an educational system that supports individualization and critical thinking. Within the digital are, collaboration between the content providers is superior than competition. The author recognizes that it the digital economy provides content feedback rather than knowledge feedback. Knowing how to use attention and information properly can reduce benefits of social engineering. This book is not rewriting the core rules of economics and human incentives, it is embracing them for the new means of economic institutions based on digital frameworks.

Questions to Consider while Reading the Book

•What is the raison d’etre of the book? For what purpose did the author write the book?
•Why the need for education to change?
•What is the difference between having a job and doing work?
•Why provide products for free? How do the developers earn their income?
•How does the digital economy work?
•What does education look like now? How should education look like?
•What does it mean to be a critical thinker?
•How can attention be manipulated? Why does knowing how to control attention matter?

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780578661414
Pages to read:   258
Publication:     2020
1st Edition:      2020
Format:            eBook

Ratings out of 5:
Readability    5
Content          5
Overall           5