KETC TV Social Media Experience Part Four: How Does Darwin Help Clarify Complex Issues?
This is the fourth in a five part series covering the efforts of the PBS affiliate in St. Louis, KETC, to align social media and traditional television. I am interviewing Rob Paterson who is part of the team supporting the KETC efforts.
Bill: How is the Darwin Awareness Engine™ being used to help with the KETC social media immigration project?
Rob: One of the things that I am doing is looking at what is being said and done related to immigration in the wider world. What I have found incredibly helpful about Darwin is the uncovering of emerging trends and gaining clarity on the issues. Immigration is a complex issue and you cannot start out with an understanding. You can have beliefs but not real understanding. Nor can you in any complex situation.
The value of Darwin is that on a daily basis it starts to reveal patterns of content on the Web. It could be immigration but it could be anything. What I am finding is that by spending an hour or two on Darwin a day looking at what is happening with immigration through a series of filters that allow me to inspect various parts, I can begin to see the patterns. I look at employment issues. I look at the food system. I look at the refuges. I look at the politics. I am looking at all the components, all the different facets.
What I have discovered is that I now actually have a very good picture of the issues. I have a synthesized overview of what this complex issue and how the bits have interact with each other. It has led me to the following conclusion. The main metaphor that we all use for immigration is fortress America. You are either in or out. There may be a small door in or a large one but it does not matter what the motivations are for getting in. All that matters is whether the wall is up or down. Is the door open or shut and this is how the debate is conducted.
What I have learned as a result of using Darwin is a different metaphor. Immigration is more like a human body. There is a porous nature. It has portals and most importantly, it has an immune system. The things that want to get in have their own life cycle. This works differently than a fortress. For example, if you live in West Africa and you do not want to get malaria there are a number of things you can do. You can sleep under a net. You can spray with DDT. Or you can take a preventive pill. So there are a number of things you can do that you have control over. You can control how the disease gets to you or you can control the disease if you get it. This sense of control is missing in the debate on immigration.
Now there are all these people from Mexico here. Using Darwin there is a picture that starts to accumulate as to why are they coming which more important for the debate than how they got in. The answer was NAFTA. It allowed cheap American food into Mexico and this has destroyed the Mexican agricultural economy. All the people that used to work in it come to America for survival. Ironically they now work in the American food industry that killed their old jobs in their home country. I was never able to see this before.
Bill: How did Darwin enable you to see this?
Rob: Darwin showed me all these impressions and relationships every day. The human brain is a pattern seeker. Darwin gives me chunky patterns. I had made some bets on the issues so I looked at things like jobs, food, and economy. Like any scientist I had some hunches. Then by presenting me the data in a patterned way it allowed me to chunk the data. I could see the comparisons and this picture began to emerge.
I see that the economy has become central. I see that the number one worry is that they are taking our jobs. However, the best and brightest immigrants are our best chance at creating new jobs. We have to reinvent the economy. The refugee issue is entirely different. They are here. We have to work on assimilation. However, the rhetoric never talks about this and it sees the issue as one dimensional. For example, the best and brightest are subject to the same Visa requirements as the Mexican lettuce picker. It does not make any sense.
Darwin helps me unpack the complexity by showing me these patterns. Now I see that the food system is an area that you could work on to improve the push pull issue and the drive to come here illegally. The best and the brightest is an area we can work on to improve the prospects for everyone. But you have to separate them out from the broad term of immigration.
This is where Darwin can help to clarify the components of a complex issue. Any tool can help you deal with simple issues but you need a tool like Darwin to deal with complex issues because complex issues can only be seen clearly in their emergent form. Immigration is a complex problem that has been treated by the media and politicians as a simple one.
Bill: I am familiar with Darwin’s ability to help you see emerging themes. Can you take it down another level of detail as to exactly how you used it to come to these conclusions. Let’s discuss the concrete and tactical steps.
Rob: What Darwin enables you to do is to see a pattern. To see a pattern you must be ready to see it so you must have a hypothesis on any topic that is complex. Darwin enables me to set up the feeds to reach deeply into the various components of my hypothesis. So step one there is a hypothesis, Step two set up feeds to reach deeply into its components to test the hypothesis.
Then, as step three, Darwin presents me with layers of results every day based on these feeds. Now I can adjust the feeds, which I do give me more refinement. I can break down simple ideas such as the economy into components such as food services. As I start to see patterns I can adjust the feeds to give me even more information. Then by looking daily at the incoming data I can start to make sense of it. It happens over time. After six weeks I started to have some real breakthroughs.
Bill: I am taking a brief break from the conversation with Rob to show you the Darwin interface and explain some of its components. Below is a sample screen form the KETC instance of Darwin. The black banner running like a stock ticker near the top provides results from the Buzz Tape™. The topics that have gained accelerated attention in the target content sources are displayed in real time. You can click on a topic to make it the focus of the Scan Could™ shown below the images. This Scan Cloud provides the 100 most correlated themes with the topic of interest, the attracter in Chaos Theory terms.
As you mouse over the themes the other themes related to the particular theme are highlighted so you can see relationships as shown in the close up of the Scan Cloud™ below. If you select a topic, the content that related that theme with the main topic of interest is displayed in the right column. If you click on one of these content titles, you go directly to actual content on the Web. This scanning allows you to quickly see relationships between content discover patterns before you look into the actual content.
You can see a close up of the right column that provides links to the content below.
Clicking on one of the titles in the right column will take you to an actual site such as the one shown below.
Below is a close up of the buzz tape.
Now we will return to the conversation with Rob.
Bill: Can you summarize how Darwin has helped with this first phase of the immigration project?
Rob: We use Darwin to test our ideas in the larger ecosystem. Darwin is a new kind of search engine. Old search is like fly fishing - one fly for one fish in a known pool. Darwin is like a series of nets in the ocean currents - depending on where you set them and how fine the mesh is - you will find all sorts of fish that you never knew about! I use it to look at the broad set of issues within the immigration debate. If you are following this topic - you know how the public debate is all about labels - the border - illegals - DREAM Act - racists - etc. Traditional searching here just gets me the same old stuff. With Darwin I have been able to "set my nets" more deeply and broadly. I have been able to "see" the underlying deeper patterns. I have discovered what I think are the forces behind what we see on the surface.
Your simple observation is that the Sun moves around the Earth. Once you see the patterns, you can act upon them because they are bound by rules. The Copernican view of the universe empowered the early world navigators. They could use the pattern of the universe to make consistent decisions that would tell them where they were.
Conventional search will only allow you to "see" what you ask for or expect. The world is not a simple but is a complex system. Complexity can only be understood by "seeing" the underlying patterns. These patterns are not visible to the simple observer or observation.
With Darwin I am now able to see a number of patterns that drive immigration that could enable people to make predictable decisions that would then enable predictable outcomes. This same concept applies to most issues and markets today as we now live in a complex and interconnected world. Nothing is simple any more.
Every problem that a business or a government faces today is complex because there are so many variables interacting with each other. Finding a solution is impossible unless you use the rules of complexity. If you take a simple approach you must fail. In complex situations there are patterns and they repeat. If you look closely you will start to see the patterns and this is where Darwin helps.
Google is simple search. You have to know what you are looking for in advance. To find the underlying patterns you have to put out broader nets and see what comes in and discover the relationships between variables. Regardless of whether you are the CEO of a large company or running small business, you are living in a complex hyper connected world. You cannot know what is going on by simple observation. You will fall off the end of the world.
There are three steps to using Darwin to deal with complexity. First you need an hypothesis that certain things are going to be important. Even if this turns out wrong you need a starting point. Then you create attractors and build feeds around these topics. Next you start looking over several weeks. You adjust the feeds. Sometimes you need to expand your net and sometimes you need to make it smaller. If you keep doing this, patterns will emerge. Your brain will make new connections to uncover these patterns and refine them.
Bill: Thanks Rob. In our next conversation we will look at your next steps and the role that Darwin can play in this effort.