Critical crap detection

First of all, a word about the moving parts in some of the images in this post. They are a take from the last session in #etmooc where I tried out different digital media tools. If you want to know how they were made please read this post


So, this week it is all about digital literacies. The above image was adapted from a slide shared by Doug Belshaw in another excellent #etmooc webinar this week. In his doctoral thesis, Doug identified 8 elements which he suggests we need to become fluent in digital literacy. He is continuing his work in this area by working on a Web Literacy standard with Mozilla. We were also treated to a presentation by Howard Rheingold. In particular, Howard refers to the need to be able to distinguish good and bad online information, which is closely related to the Critical element from Doug’s digital literacies, and it is this that I want to explore in this post.


Howard has borrowed the phrase ‘Crap Detection’ from a 1954 quote by Ernest Hemingway: ““Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him.” Clearly then, being able to distinguish good information from bad is nothing new. Indeed,, to my mind one of the great affordances of the internet is that it is possible to do a great deal more crap detection than we could when most of our information came from broadcast media.

Marshall McLuhan - The World is a Global Village (CBC T 001
Marshall Mcluhan The medium is the message – 1977

The medium is the message

I don’t have a television. The main reason is that I don”t like being force fed information from a single authority. Marshall Macluhan’s refers to this one-to-many relationship in his book Understanding Media: The extensions of Man. He suggests that when TV’s are a constant in our living rooms we cannot help but be influenced by the messages they contain. Here are some examples why those messages worry me:


I’m not sure why but from an early age I became aware that television news is presented in an ‘entertaining’ way. As an example of this, Alec Couros has recently expressed his concern about how the reporting of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was dangerously sensationalized.


Each Christmas in the UK, families are bombarded with advertisements exhorting them to buy a new sofa. No money? No worries, they are all available with interest free credit.

Once you have the sofa obviously you will want to invite all your friends and family and feed them food from Iceland
Each of these adverts depicts ‘perfect’ happy families, the implied message being that if you want your family to be perfect and happy this Christmas then get yourself a nice sofa (0n credit) and stock up on food of dubious quality.

Soap operas

These entertainment shows concern me the most. They are broadcast daily into millions of homes. This excerpt from a report commissioned by Ofcom into audience attitudes to British soap operas suggests:

soap opera

So, here’s a slice of appropriate or expected behavior which parallels surrounding society from Eastenders, a popular British soap opera.

Scary stuff! And I wonder which comes first, the message from the box in the corner, or the actual behaviours of the society the programme purports to represent.

So yes, while I agree with Doug Belshaw and Howard Rheingold that it is critical to be critical when accessing information online, in my opinion it is far less dangerous than passively consuming content from that box in the corner of the room.

Nevertheless, having been subjected for so long by the one-to-many relationship of broadcast media, filtering the abundance of information on the internet is likely to be a skill that for many will be a hard one to acquire.

Amy Burvall Embracing Participatory Culture

7 thoughts on “Critical crap detection

  1. No TV! I have felt “alien” so often when I tell people my children don’t watch TV during the week and that I never allowed commercial TV before they started school. I have been open with both my children about the role and motivations of media. My eldest is very critical of the push yet my youngest would go and buy the latest “AB DOER whatever” if he were to see the promo! I think it is critical to engage our kids, our students and our community in discussion about intent, whether that be online, commercial advertising, propaganda or authoritative (doctors/teachers/scientists/politicians etc). Thanks for an engaging post Deb 🙂


    1. I think I have to ‘fess up, Rhoni! Since broadband has become available I do watch catchup TV on my laptop, and whilst usually i make good choices, it is not unheard of for me to spend an afternoon choosing to watch rubbish! However, I do think that the argument still stands, in that I am making active choices rather than watching streamed content.

      @amyburvall recently posted a link to this video. It’s difficult to watch!

  2. Really like the idea here of the danger of the one-way stream of information. Same thing is true in traditional education (since the info goes from teacher to student, not student to teacher). I don’t think we were made to be passive recipients of anything, but creators of everything!

    1. I agree Angela. However, I think that power relationship of teacher to student, and one-to-many of media broadcast, will be a hard one to break on both sides.

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