More Connected, but Further Apart: Growing Divides in the Age of Technology

New technology has dramatically changed how we communicate and interact, and Michael Bugeja says that in doing so, it may slowly be eroding some of our core principles.  Professor Bugeja of Iowa State University’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication joins host Ben Kieffer during this hour of River to River.

Bugeja talks about ideas presented in his latest book: Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine.  In it, he explores what might happen if we allow machines to dictate our lives, and he says it could mean a loss of empathy, compassion, truth-telling, fairness, and responsibility. In their place, we may adopt machine values.

VISIT THIS LINK TO HEAR THE DISCUSSION … and support Iowa Public Radio by clicking this link to donate.

The Nature of Mediumlessness

In his 1995 book, being digital, Nicholas Negroponte described the nature of technology, re-defining place, time and “mediumlessness.”

He noted the post information age removed the limitations of geography (there is no “there” there) and foresaw “Being Asynchronous,” removing the limitations of linear time so we could be at several virtual places at once, digitally.

He also spoke about “Mediumlessness,” of the ability of technology to morph into several platforms seamlessly.

All too often, these attributes end up being used for entertainment rather than information, as the illustration below indicates.


IPR Interview on Congressional Hearings on Russian Interference

Michael Bugeja speaks with Ben Kieffer on Iowa Public Radio’s “River to River” about this week’s Senate Intelligence Committee questioning representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

Click here for Ben Kieffer’s “River to River” program. Dr. Bugeja’s interview starts at 15:30-minute mark.

On Nov. 13, “River to River” will dedicate one hour to Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine.

Russian “Smart Mobs” Sowing Division in the United States

The term “Smart Mob” alludes to the 2003 best-selling technology book by Howard Rheingold, titled Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.

An Amazon blurb about the book heralds “super-efficient mobile communications-cellular phones, wireless-paging, and Internet-access devices-that will allow us to connect with anyone, anytime, anywhere” for the purpose of social activism.

You can read a summary of his prophecy at this link, which notes:

Some mobile telephones are already equipped with location-detection devices and digital cameras. Some inexpensive mobile devices already read barcodes and send and receive messages to radio-frequency identity tags. Some furnish wireless, always-on Internet connections. Large numbers of people in industrial nations will soon have a device with them most of the time that will enable them to link objects, places and people to online content and processes. Point your device at a street sign, announce where you want to go, and follow the animated map beamed to the box in your palm. …

Of course, in 2017, all of that is common knowledge.

Rheingold documents how mobile technology amassed anti WTO protests in 1999 in Seattle and elsewhere across the globe, resulting in positive social change.

The first edition of Interpersonal Divide, published one year after Rheingold’s book, saw dangers in such use, from the loss of privacy to the dissemination of false messages whose only aim was to foment dissent for the sake of some spurious political motive.

And that motive was in full display this week during Senate hearings on Facebook, Twitter and Google concerning Russian interference in U.S. elections.

A WIRED article on the hearings cited two Facebook advertisements from Russian operatives that sparked conflict on Houston streets “by drawing two groups of protesters to fake ‘rallies’ at the same place and time.” One “smart mob” post solicited a crowd to protest the “Islamization of Texas.” A second phony post promoted an event to save “Islamic knowledge.”

The utopian view of Rheingold’s social activist “Smart Mob” has devolved into a dystopian Russian mob that outsmarted Americans of opposite political views.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine delves into the phenomenon. In a chapter titled, “A World Without Why,” readers discover the true nature of technology, which tells us how, when, where, what and to whom something happened.

Without objective news reporting, we will never know why something happened.

Interpersonal Divide also emphasizes our responsibility to use technology wisely; otherwise, technology will use us.

The Russians counted on both traits to undermine our common bonds as citizens and residents in real place and time.

Ask yourself: What would you rather read on Facebook? A fake post that affirms your worst suspicions of Americans who hold opposite political views … or real news that dispels those suspicions.

Too often, we opt for the fake news. That’s the problem. Each of us has to be part of the solution.

Interpersonal Divide explains how.

Russia Relied on Social Media Algorithms to Influence US Election

Russian operatives knew one thing better than anyone suspected, including journalists, in the 2016 presidential election: how algorithms disseminate fake news the U.S. populace would embrace as gospel truth, not according to fact, but according to machine predictions.

We generate incredible amounts of data, simply by using our smartphones. Add to that the apps we use, the social media we frequent, and the friend networks we engage on any number of mundane topics during the day.

Then there are online subscriptions, purchases and travel plans. The list goes on. Because almost every interaction is digital, including now our appliances throughout the home, data about us is just about everywhere and nowhere at the same time. That’s because Internet is an asynchronous facsimile of reality–so much so–that others can tap into that information, analyze it and manipulate us.

In an article titled, Our Machines Now Have Knowledge We’ll Never Understand,” WIRED writes:

We are increasingly relying on machines that derive conclusions from models that they themselves have created, models that are often beyond human comprehension, models that “think” about the world differently than we do. … We thought knowledge was about finding the order hidden in the chaos. We thought it was about simplifying the world. It looks like we were wrong. Knowing the world may require giving up on understanding it.

Ask yourself: Have you, too, given up understanding the world? There could be a reason. Machines are programmed to know how, what, when, where and who, but not why.

Combine that with social media substituting now for objective journalism, and you have a prescription for Russian machine meddling.

According to Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch, some 29 million people viewed content from Russian sources, sharing it with friends, to the extent that a total of 126 million people–half the voting populace of the United States–may have seen it.

Twitter identified 36,746 accounts associated with Russia with content about the US presidential election, generating 1.4 million tweets.

The goal was to sow division in the electorate, using algorithms to affirm our worst beliefs about each other or, more specifically, about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine investigates this phenomenon in depth.  It discusses the rise of social media at the expense of objective news reporting, citing social scientists and their thought-provoking studies. There is an entire chapter titled, “The World Without Why.”

Interpersonal Divide brings this and other revelations to light so that you can make informed decisions on how you use technology so that it doesn’t use you.

The Russians counted on the latter.

Advance Reviews of Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine



“The book is an important, useful, and well-researched exploration of the ways in which modern electronic technologies are influencing, in troubling fashion, the development of machine ethics in our culture that threaten the ongoing development and preservation of universal, fundamental human ethics.” Michael Larkin, University of California, Berkeley

“The text offers an extensive overview of the literature concerning the interaction of media and audience and the ability of media to shape audience.” Daniel de Roulet, Irvine Valley College

The Interpersonal Divide approaches the complex landscape of media’s impact on society from a sophisticated and cultural perspective. The book approaches media’s place in our daily lives from three pillars of contemporary society: the home, the school and work. This provides an in-depth look at not only the technological impacts of media on our lives, but how those are embedded in our approaches to daily life, and the ethical choices we make on a regular basis.” Paul Mihailidis, Emerson College

“This book is an interesting look at the intertwining of our cultural, technological, and ethical histories. Considering the scope of the project, it’s extremely readable for undergraduate students.” Ben S. Bunting, Jr., Oregon Institute of Technology

“Thought-provoking discussion; timely; classroom friendly text with stimulating exercises.” Chandra Commuri, California State University, Bakersfield

“This book does a good job of working from a Journalistic approach to media studies. The scope of reference points and currency of the material commends it greatly for presentation to students.” Calvin L. Troup, Duquesne University

Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine builds on the work of Postman, Turkle, and Carr to clarify what is at stake if we don’t recognize how the media we use may be affecting more than individuals and culture. It may be changing who we are as human beings.” Janet McMullen,University of North Alabama


Irony of Cars with Navigation Systems and Internet Access

University of Utah researchers just released findings of a distracted driver study using cars with Internet access allowing watching of videos, texting and emailing.

According to an article about the study in the Chicago Tribune, the study found drivers remain distracted up to 27 seconds after sending an email or text.

The article notes the irony of navigation systems making travel safer while featuring technology that makes it much more dangerous.

Corporations reportedly will lead the charge against using these technologies by having employees pledge not to use them while driving on company business.

The first edition of Interpersonal Divide was among the first books to note the dangers of distracted driving due to cell phone use.

The new edition goes into depth about the phenomenon, as this excerpt illustrates:

Users steeped in virtual environments become immune to the dangers of the real world, as evidenced by statistics associated with distracted driving. Between the years 2010-2012, the number of people killed in automobile crashes due to distracted driving averaged about 3,300 per year. In particular, 10 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 who died in crashes were distracted at the time of the crash.  The official government site,, also reports that at any given moment in America, some 660,000 drivers “are using cell phones or manipulating electronic devices while driving, a number that has held steady since 2010.”

Ironically, the prospect of driver-less cars may be the only solution to the addiction that so many face, using Internet  in vehicles with navigational systems mapping destinations never reached–not by intention–but by accidents.