TEDxZurichSalon – The Future of Media

At the last TEDxZurichSalon, 80 people came together to discuss the future of media. Their thoughts were stimulated by a screening of Clay Shirky’s talk ‘How the internet will (one day) transform government’, and two live talks by Juliane Leopold and Hansi Voigt. These are some of the issues that were raised and questions that were asked.

News used to be curated by newspaper editors or television boards and hosts. Today, everyone can contribute, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, on blogs or through eye-witness accounts, mixing facts and opinion. Some newspapers and TV channels are disappearing, while others are being bought by the same few people. So, while more people are finding their voice, only a select few are heard particularly loudly. How can we guarantee the quality of information that reaches us? And how do we pick relevant news without culling so fervently that our bubble becomes smaller and smaller, creating ever greater discord among us?

With the revelations of Cambridge Analytica and the role of facebook’s algorithm in distributing news that plays into our confirmation bias and may even affect election outcomes, it’s easy to blame technology. But technology is not going to go away. With the rise in popularity of virtual assistants like Alexa, it’s algorithms that will dictate the flow of information that reaches us, filtering out everything that it judges to be not relevant to our interests. Some would argue that therein lies the problem. In order to burst the bubble – or perhaps just gently stretch it – we need information that resides outside of our preexisting interests.

Some called on technology to provide us with solutions. But technology can only solve technological problems, and this is not a technological problem. We have plenty of tools, more perhaps than we could wish for. What we need is to take responsibility. We need to stop being passive recipients of information and instead actively take control. We need to understand and be able to tweak algorithms. We need to remember the ideational value of news in a functioning democracy and pass this on to future generations. We need more media education. We need to scrutinize information, check its origins and implied biases. No news is free of bias, but when we recognize its bias, we can get a fuller picture.

Granted, that sounds like a whole lot of work, and you might be wondering who among us has the time to check every article and research every author. Perhaps this is what media outlets can offer us. More transparency. For every article, to declare their own bias and that of the author. And who knows, in time, as we recognize certain brands as a seal of quality, we might once again learn to trust media.

Do you want to be a part of the conversation? Sign up to our email list and join us at the next TEDxZurichSalon.

Sarah Ebling

          Sarah Ebling holds a professorship in Accessibility Studies at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and is a senior researcher at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on natural language processing in the context of disabilities and special needs, specifically, sign language technology and automatic text simplification. Her groups’ contributions involve artificial intelligence techniques with a strong emphasis on user involvement. She is involved in various international and national projects and leads a large-scale Swiss innovation initiative entitled „Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies“ (2022-2026; https://www.iict.uzh.ch/).