The forward looking bias

Posted: May 6, 2014 in watching
Tags: , , ,

I have a blind spot in my thinking. It’s a blind spot that’s shared by many of us who are privileged in our access to education or technology. It’s a bias that skews our analysis and leaves glaring gaps in our worldview.

Malwen pointed out such a gap in my CURNBLOG piece on changes to film distribution, and I want to address that gap. But first, lets have a look at that bias.

A lesson in logic

Years ago, on the train back from my Grandma’s funeral, I got into a discussion about religion with a Baptist minister. I don’t remember his name, but he seemed like a Dave, so we’ll call him that.

It was an interesting conversation to have with a stranger, especially one who was well informed on his subject. I’d been reading Camus and Dawkins at the time and came out with a lot of well-reasoned arguments around evidence and human experience, explaining why I found the basis of so much faith unconvincing. I just couldn’t understand why people bought into it. I thought that if they just thought about it they’d realise it didn’t make sense.

Then Dave presented a point that completely blew my mind.

Most people don’t think like me.

I was a humanities graduate from a prestigious (read old-fashioned, arrogant but incredibly well staffed) university. I was a post-graduate student trained to dismantle the world through logic and reason. I had spent half my life ploughing through piles of books. I was surrounded by other people who spent their leisure time debating these issues.

The arguments I was deflating, Dave pointed out, weren’t intended for me. They were the way other people got into religion, people who didn’t approach the world the way I did. To them, those arguments made far more sense than my high-level logic. That was why so many people believed in a way that made no sense to me.

Mind. Blown.

This is your brain on logic

This is your brain on logic


So, cinema…

Skip forward 13 years, and I’ve just written what I consider an insightful peace on changes in the entertainment industry. I’m pretty proud of it. I’m getting some nice comments on the post.

Then Malwen says:

while very many people have access over the Internet to films, there are some who have no access and so are dependent on the old forms of distribution, and those, like me, who have access but with bandwidth too low to download or stream film’

And I’m right back in that train, slapping myself on the forehead for my narrow world view.

It’s not that my argument about where distribution is going is wrong. Hollywood’s most profitable audience is well-to-do westerners, and the ones with the latest toys pull the rest along with them. The changes I wrote about will happen, because the behaviour of people like me will allow certain forms of culture to prosper.

But what about everybody else?

Well, it depends how broad a picture you draw. There are plenty of people in the world with no access at all to the entertainment I’m privileged to have. They still won’t get my bright new future of online distribution, but that’s not a priority for them. Because lets not forget, while I’m watching the latest Joss Whedon film there are people starving. The world is amazing, and at the same time terrible.

For those who watch films but don’t have access to the new distribution technology, old approaches will remain. There will be cinemas. There will be DVD rental. There won’t be as many, and they’ll struggle, but they’ll survive by catering to their audiences, by giving them these same films as quickly as they can. People without suitable streaming technology will be at a disadvantage, there’s no doubting it. But they won’t be entirely abandoned.


Because there’s an ‘and’ to balance the ‘but’.

The technology that’s making all this available is speeding up the pace of change. It leads to people getting what they want sooner. It’s leading to cheaper and easier access to technology.

I’m an optimist. I really do believe that more and more people will get access to technology that lets them experience the whole sphere of human knowledge and culture. Some people are being left behind, but the human desires to know and to share, along with business’s desire to make money out of everyone, are starting to close the gap.

The internet empowers people to take the information they want. The businesses and organisations that succeed will be the ones that support that, not fight it. And so the signal gets shared.

Closing the logic gap

My article in CURNBLOG told half the story. Failing to acknowledge that was an ignorant, privileged way to tell it. But there’s hope in the other half of the story too. Because while not everything humans do is flawless, we are building a better world.


Explosion picture by Maxwell Hamilton via Flickr creative commons

  1. beetleypete says:

    Andrew, don’t beat yourself up mate! You do speak for the majority, but it is so easy to neglect the small minority that don’t have the access you take for granted. Your point is completely valid for most people, but some of us don’t have the benefits you enjoy. That’s all. It is a small thing, and definitely not your fault. It was a good piece, and you should be proud of its publication.
    Regards from Norfolk, Pete.

  2. malwen says:

    I did not mean to make you feel uncomfortable, Andy, but thank you for following up my earlier point. I didn’t there write about the people I know who are denied access to the wide new world of online media because they do not trust the Internet enough to ever pay for anything online – they have technology access but not confidence. Me, I buy stuff ponline all too often, and am just eagerly awaiting the option to have fast Internet access by a means that does not force me to change my email address. Meanwhile, I am very much looking forward to watching the DVD of the RSC’s “Richard II”, which arrived yesterday, and will keep hoping I can see that Joss Whedon film you praised highly before too long.

    • Feeling a little uncomfortable’s not a bad thing if it encourages us to think, and trust me, I got a lot of useful reflection out of this compared with the very mild discomfort of spotting a gap in my previous post.

  3. To wave the library flag, what you just said about access is one of the reasons libraries are so important — and so busy — these days. Lots of people don’t have internet access on their own, or the money to purchase their own media, so we supply those for them. Us internet denizens can’t really understand that unless we see it first-hand, but I can tell you that we have 30+ computers just in my branch that are in use all day long, every day that we’re open, with people queuing up for the next open spot. Some folks watch movies from our collection on them; some access their email the only way they can; some need our help to do even that.

    As for technology trickling out across the world, the fact that cellphones are such a huge thing in low-income countries is one of those great new developments. You can do a lot on a cellphone that would otherwise take you a few days’ trip down a dusty road to do in the nearest town. Maybe you can’t stream a Joss Whedon movie just yet, but you can stay in contact, pay your bills, send and receive micro-lending funds, et cetera… Every little step is important.

    • Having been reliant on libraries myself at some points in the past, I can relate to that. The computers in my local library are always busy, and it’s great to see the logic behind that public service – access to information – being the focus instead of just the old delivery mechanism – books.

      I think it’s also fascinating that the smartphone companies are starting to focus on those poorer markets. Some of Apple’s ‘problems’ last year (and by problems I mean there profits weren’t as many billions as expected) came from unexpected behaviour in America around a ‘cheaper’ (again, by Apple standards) model phone aimed at customers in Asia. And there’s a whole style of phone being developed that’s a cheaper halfway house between modern smartphones and old style mobiles. This is part of what makes me optimistic about access to information.

      Oh, and in case some of that looked like Apple bashing that’s not my intention – I like their products, love that they’re trying to put ethical considerations above profits. It’s just that what investors consider an Apple success or failure bears very little relationship to anyone else’s reality.

  4. skudssister says:

    only a few years ago (maybe 3) I was talking to a lecturer at my local University. He had done a straw poll of his first year cohort for Biomedical Sciences. Out of a group of maybe 40 only half had access to a computer at home (a large proportion of our students are from the immediate area and live at home with parents). Of those only about 30% had broadband. The rest could make no use of online teaching materials except when they were on campus – if you are saving money you only get the bus onto campus when you need to, is library time to use the computer an effective use of your money?
    I’m sure things have improved – even the rise of smart phones will have helped a bit – but probably only for the fun, non-essential things like downloading films and music. And, as Andy points out, in many parts of the world even food and clean water is scarce. When we are considering who is privileged most of us – even if we have to rely on dial-up – are part of the elite…

  5. […] us. Big social institutions like how we’re employed can be slow to change, and so just as living in a first world city lets me make the most of technology’s potential for entertainmen…, so too working freelance through the internet lets me make the most of this flexibility. But over […]

  6. […] get them from a library, a charity shop, an online e-book store. In the UK, even those without my privileged access to technology can get hold of these books cheaply and […]

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