Yellow Milk, Yellow Snow, and the biases we hold

by | May 22, 2020 | ICT4D |

‘My milk is yellow.’

It’s not the phrase a parent of young children wants to hear soon after a puppy joins the family. So I jumped up, raced over to the kids – the only thing in my head was the Canadian childhood mantra ‘never eat yellow snow!’ My daughter was staring into her cup marvelling at how the sun shining on her yellow cup changed the appearance of her milk. ‘Dad, look my milk has gone yellow!’

Relieved, the puppy had not wee-d in the milk, my racing heartbeat slowed as I smiled saying ‘why, yes it has. How interesting. Is it lemon milk now?’ To which the response was, ‘Don’t be silly Dad milk doesn’t come from lemons.’

The narratives in our head matter. They shape our assumptions. They shape our view and experience of the world. Most of us ‘know’ this theoretically, but forgot it practically. This (long-ish) article from Rob Walker gives numerous short examples of how to ‘see’ your everyday differently. The art, no the skill, of learning to see differently, to see different perspectives is critical now more than ever.

As algorithms got ‘smarter’, we embraced and applauded them. How often do you ever go to page 2 of the search results on google or your favourite search engine? Going digital has allowed us more easily to ‘find the others’ who think like us. There is great benefits to this, but it also comes with its down sides. Our assumptions and views of the world are challenged less and confirmed more. And thus, we become polarised.

Polarised is another way of saying biased. And this one of the many reasons we need to ensure diversity of opinion, of assumptions, of perspectives when we view data, design and choose technology. And yes, this means there will be disagreement, but we can still listen. Celeste Headlee gives us a few ideas in this Ted Talk. Patrick Lencioni talks about it in his “Death by Meeting” book.

No, we don’t need to curate for sensationalist conflict, the media have that market covered. We do need to curate for listening though, for debate. It’s time we embrace our stories and assumptions openly. Holding them lightly as on an open palm, not a closed fist. When we do this, we will more easily see who we are excluding, the potential long term harms, and we give ourselves the opportunity to make wiser choices.

Photo by Waldemar Brandt

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