What is the Role of Media in Creating Young Japanese Hermits?

Let me introduce you to a mini documentary about young Japanese hermits called hikikomori. Hikikomori live in seclusion stretching months, even years, without a proper occupation. Movies and video games comprise their daily life, and they do not have a social life outside of the Internet. How do they become like this? How can Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory help us to understand the inner world of hikikomori?

Hikikomori are people who have rejected the outside world or external reality. What Freud teaches us to think about “reality” is not really about whether something is subjective or objective, rather, he thinks reality as an “obstacle”. In his psychoanalytic theory, humans primarily seek pleasure and organize their activities around this goal. But in many moments in life pleasure isn’t readily available, so the individual must work his or her way around and has to directly manipulate the external environment in order to secure the source of pleasure. Following this thinking, we are all the time living in our own fantasies until a problem arises, that’s our point of contact with the world, which is reality.

Narcissism is another keyword in his theory. Let’s take narcissism as “love for oneself”, and define love as “an individual’s relationship with a source of pleasure”, that means the narcissist takes oneself as the source of pleasure. It is well-known that Freud is all about sexual pleasure, and I think he’s right about auto-eroticism of the human body. Auto-eroticism means we can generate sexual pleasure just by fiddling with our own bodies (e.g. masturbation or day-dreaming). And since our bodies are immediately available to ourselves, we don’t have to deal with the external environment at all to experience pleasure. This is why narcissism is dangerous because of the self-sufficiency of the body which grants “labour-free” pleasure to ourselves, causing us to lose incentive to come in contact with the outside world and other people.

I think there is a weighty element of narcissism in hikikomori. And the contemporary media environment supports this personality trait. When movies, video games, and convenient store foods can satisfy their need for pleasure, why take pains to deal with reality? Reality is painful, because work demands labour, just as walking strains our muscles. The documentary addresses this as well, attributing the cause of hikikomori to parental negligence or violence which is broadly tied to high society expectations and intense competition. Parents, who out of ignorance or pressure abuse their children to “succeed”, puts too much of a dose of reality to their children early on, and the intense amount of pain causes the children to avoid dealing with reality later on and become hikikomori. They prefer to live in a sheltered existence where all is pleasure and no pain, often out of fear.

Switching gears to McLuhan, if media technology is extension of the human body, then should we think movies and video games as auto-erotic, narcissism-inducing machines that ultimately have the effect of isolating individuals from the outside world?


Call for abstract: Media Education Summit 2018, Hong Kong

Date: November 1-2, 2018
Venue: Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), Hong Kong
Conference Website: https://cemp.ac.uk/summit/2018/

About the Conference:
Each year the Media Education Summit (MES) is held in a different country. It
brings together a global network of media educators and media literacy
practitioners to share research, pedagogy and innovation in all aspects of media
literacy education and media technology education. In 2018, the MES will be held
in Hong Kong. The School of Communication at HKBU will co-organize the
MES with the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice (CEMP) of Bournemouth
University, UK.
This international conference will be one of the key events to mark the 50 th
Anniversary of the School of Communication at HKBU.
MES is convened annually by the CEMP and now is a global event, hosted in
Prague in 2014, Boston in 2015, Rome in 2016 and Segovia in 2017. In 2018,
MES will be held in Asia for the first time.
Media and information literacy (MIL) and media technology education have
become essential life skills in the emerging knowledge society. Educators around
the world are developing innovative media education programs for the youth.
Moreover, the field of media literacy has become a distinct academic field of
study. This conference will provide an opportunity for media literacy and media
education researchers and practitioners to exchange views across disciplines and
cultures on the latest developments in the field.

Abstract submission: https://cemp.ac.uk/summit/2018/

Deadline of submission: April 30, 2018

Participatory media and change of teaching method

In the latest issue of Comunicar, a theme that has received intensive discussion in the recent decade leads a series of research articles: Shared science and knowledge, Open access, technology and education.

Among the serial articles, one of them draws my special attention: Soler-Adillon, J., Pavlovic, D. & Freixa, P. (2018). Wikipedia in higher education: Changes in perceived value through content contribution. Comunicar, 54, 39-48. Given to the prevalence of wikipedia in our daily internet use as well as in academia practice, the authors conducted experiments that compared how students perceive the reliability and usefulness, and of likeliness of finding false information on Wikipedia. A significant change of perception on the above aspects was found before and after students got a chance to edit contents on wikipedia. Their appreciation of the task of writing Wikipedia articles, in terms of it being interesting and challenge also increased.

This article stimulates my further contemplation on one of the latest fashion in teaching method: flipped classroom. Recently, I attended a workshop organized by universities in Hong Kong. In the workshop, concepts and practical experience regarding this teaching method was introduced. Basically, the rationale behind is that, students in today’s digital age have mastered various means of knowledge acquisition, especially with the assistance of the internet. Therefore, the role of teacher shall be transformed from instructor to coach/tutor. And the function of classroom shall be more for discussion than for one-way lecturing. Participatory platforms such as MOOC, Moodle and to name a few should play a leading role in the process of education because students living in the digital age shall be more interested in and inclined to interactive two-way communication. Wikipedia, in this regard, is a vivid example and exemplar of participatory media. Shall it be a primary means in university teaching? Or, when students are told to search information on their own, how to guarantee the quality of knowledge they have “acquired”?

Besides the primary and ultimate issue of “how to stimulate students’ self-learning motivation”, media and information is of particular importance in this regard. In the previous blog entry, Prof. Alice Lee addressed: media and Information Literacy (MIL) are the combined capabilities of Media Literacy, Information Literacy and ICT. It means to search, evaluate, use and create media messages and information efficiently from any platform (Internet, media, library, museum, database, etc.).

Teaching is never a problem of teaching method, in my view. In the old days, as long as students are highly self-motivated, traditional teaching methods such as one-way lecturing or multi-way communication in seminar, deliver knowledge and stimulate new thoughts effectively. Great thinkers learn in libraries, classrooms, reading clubs and on their owns, instead of on MOOC or Moodle. Vice versa, without strong and critical media and information literacy and embracing little self-motivation, students, even given a large variety of learning options, will fail to receive high-quality education.

flipped classroom的圖片搜尋結果

Media and Information Literacy: Critical Minds for Critical Times

     The Internet and digital technologies have rapidly developed in recent years. The cutting-edge communications technologies have brought a lot of convenience to human societies, but in the past few years they have fueled misinformation, fake news, political propaganda, hate speech and commercial fraudulent manipulation. Social networking sites have trapped Netizens in the echo chamber, causing polarization in public opinion and creating social rips. The world has rapidly marched into the so-called “post-truth era.” If these problems are not solved, the situation may deteriorate further as we step into the “all Internet world.”

     It is no wonder that UNESCO raised the emergency slogan “Critical Minds for Critical Times,” urging the media to play a role of building a peaceful, just and inclusive society and holding the “Media and Information Literacy and Cross-Strait Initiative (MILID) on the theme “Media and Information Literacy in Critical Times: Re-Imagining Ways of Learning and Information Environments” (UNESCO, 2017). Global media educators need to explore ways to use different approaches to media and information literacy education (MIL Education) in a variety of settings. About 200 media literacy and information literacy experts, coming from 40 countries, gathered in Jamaica by the end of 2017 to exchange views on this important issue.

At present, all walks of life have tried their best to prevent the false news from spreading. In some countries, the government considered legislation and criminalized the delivery of false news. However, some scholars worry that doing so would undermine freedom of speech. The other is to call for media and social networking sites to step up self-regulation, with Facebook and Google promising to take counter-measures on counterfeit news, but seeming no success and their sincerity being questioned. Some news agencies set up a verification team to verify the news, but need to use a lot of human resources. It is then believed that the more effective way to fight against fake news is to educate the audiences. MIL education should be able to cultivate media-and-information-literate citizens and contribute to the battle against misinformation and fake news.

Media and Information Literacy (MIL) are the combined capabilities of Media Literacy, Information Literacy and ICT. It means to search, evaluate, use and create media messages and information efficiently from any platform (Internet, media, library, museum, database, etc.).

In the post-truth era, MIL educators encourages young people to be responsible global citizens. New technologies have improved human livelihood and built smart cities. But there are also many negative effects that threaten the well-being of humankind and bring modern society to a “critical time.” How could we free the “all Internet world” from chaos in information in the future? It is believed that MIL advocates need to continue their efforts globally.

Composed by

Prof. Alice Lee, Professor and Department Head

Department of Journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University

Jamaica conference

Reflections on the talks by Prof Ikhlaq Sidhu on Artificial Intelligence

Reflections on the talk by Prof Ikhlaq Sidhu on Artificial Intelligence

“Will AI help the film directors to make better movies? – Yes! But will AI replace the film directors and become directors? – No!” – Prof Ikhlaq Sidhu.

Thus responded by Prof Sidhu when I asked, “do you think AI will replace film directors?” Fortunately, our dialogue was far wider than the above. Prof Ikhlaq Sidhu, Professor & Chief Scientist, UC Berkeley, and the Founding Director, Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology, offered a University-wide “Distinguished Lecture” on “How to Achieve Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence in X” and a two-full-day masterclass on Big Data Analytics in Hong Kong Baptist University.

In the 1.5-hour of talk, Prof Sidhu reviewed the traditional applications of AI (for example, classification and scoring/prediction). He then reviewed the future directions of AI. Thirdly, he pinpointed several limitations of AI vis-à-vis human (which I will offer some of my humble reflections on this blog), and how to understand the future development of this field (another key point I’d like to address further here). Lastly, some strategies options were offered to HKBU. During the four-day visit of Prof Sidhu to HKBU (thanks to the Knowledge Transfer Office, especially Alfred), we got a chance to have more in-depth discussion on this theme. My three quick and immature reflections are indicated below.


# Reflection 1: AI and human

When the whole world is charmed (and feeling threatened perhaps) about the AlphaGo (and still remembering the perplexed look of Ke Jie), Prof Sidhu raised a question: “does this mean AI can do everything better than humans?” When the expected answer from the mass (as humans) might be “no” (but I have a large circle of tech-geek friends who would say yes, loudly and clearly), the mechanisms worth further explication. Prof Sidhu holds a very prudent and cautious view. AI can handle tasks that having certain outcomes (winning the GO); in a limited, in discrete conditions; where the human world may not always have the luxury of having certain outcomes (I wish I could know the path to become a billionaire), in unlimited and continuous conditions. Hence, one tentative statement here is, there will be more and more “specific AI” applications, focusing on one domain, handling one very specific type of tasks (AI-assisted financial planning, AlphaGo, auto-drivers, among others); but there are not “comprehensive AI” (do we have Blade Runner 2049 or Ghost in the Shell). That repeats the dialogue in the opening when I asked: “since AI can self-learn, and AI has been quite successful in many fields, will it success as well in creative industries, such as painting, music, poetics, and film making?”


# Reflection 2: Data and theory

The end of theory.” We all still remember the Chris Anderson’s 2008 essay on Wired. One primary argument is that, with the huge amount of data, we don’t need theory any more, because the patterns, regulations, and insights will emerge from the data. Neither Prof Sidhu and other audiences directly mention this piece, but Sidhu raised the cautious in seeking ground truth (if my interpretation is correct): if the truth of a certain parameter is 12; but all the top-ranked Google pages say it should be 11, then people will believe the parameter to be 11.

So how to deal with the relationship between data and “theory?” Prof Sidhu raised three critical reflections: a. data is more valuable than algorithm; b. Algorithm is more important than the system; and c. algorithms, data, and computing data is growing faster than computing.

Personally I have a strong resonance from point (a). Tycho, the 16th century Danish astronomer, who reached the human’s limitation to document decades-long astronomical and planetary observations. With the huge amount of data from Tycho, could later scientists, namely Kepler and Newton, accomplish scientific leap-forwards and raise new insights and propose new theories. In the big data era, we badly need more empirical data and observations that enabled by the accurate and comprehensive documentations of human behaviors, just like what Tycho did in several centuries ago. “Exactly! We still need theories and scientific methods: from observation to building up hypothesis and to make further inferences.” Thus responded Sidhu when I mentioned Tycho. (Credit should also be given to my high school geography teacher, when he told us the story of scientific progress in the human history).


# Reflection 3: AI, job losses, lifestyle, and beyond 

The final reflection started from an audience’s question, which was also a commonly-discussed one: how to respond to the job losses because of AI? The first half of Prof Sidhu’s response to the question echoed some economists’ observation: while AI may lead to some job losses, but new job positions will emerge at the same time. Secondly, Prof Sidhu used the example of sewing industry in the history. When the sewing machine was invented, about 50 workers could be replaced by one machine (50:1). Further, the cost of the clothes was also dropped; and sequentially, people’s lifestyle was also changed (buying two clothes vs having a full closet of clothes – far more than one’s needs). Hence, my humble thought is that, more studies are needed to examine the long-term impacts of AI on social change. Topics may include lifestyle, fashion, aesthetics, culture values, social values, and ideologies.


Critical Citizenship and Social Empowerment

The latest issue of Comunicar (Vol. XXV, n. 53, 4th quarter, October 1 2017) (https://www.revistacomunicar.com/index.php?contenido=revista&numero=53) sheds lights on one of the most popular topics in nowadays academia – cyber activism and empowerment. A meta-analysis leads four specific empirical studies based in different nations and regions.

In the past decade, along with the global uprising cases is the blossom of research on social activism that is inevitably intertwined with communication studies. Obviously, the prevalence of digital-aided communication tools has played an essential role not only in protesting activities, but in most areas of human social life. Use of digital media enlarges scale and transforms essence of social occurrences: the speed and scale of mass communication has been significantly heightened so that attentions on certain events have been broadened from local to global range; the breaking-out, mobilization and sustaining of social protests have been changed by people’s use of digital media. “Connective action” suggested by Lance Bennett and Alexandra Segerberg offers an innovative paradigm to refresh our understanding on how human actions could be connected with each other. (https://www.amazon.com/Logic-Connective-Action-Personalization-Contentious/dp/1107642728)

In this current issue, papers such as “Cyberactivisim in the Process of Political and Social Change in Arab Countries” and “Protesting on Twitter: Citizenship and Empowerment from Public Education” prove the prevalence and importance of digital-aided communication in protests that are both contentious and on everyday bases. The former one highlights the sustaining of movement networks that allied citizens from contentious moments to the ever longer period of “movement awaited” – the ebbs and flows of protests. The latter one offers a mapping of how anonymous citizens reacted to governmental decisions on the online platform.

That said, the spectrum ranged from connective action and collective action spans from one end of human-organization based to another anonymity end that is fraught with uncertainties. In  “Cyberactivisim in the Process of Political and Social Change in Arab Countries“, human networks still contribute greatly in terms of protest mobilization and more importantly, bonding the morale when external stimulus demise. “Protesting on Twitter: Citizenship and Empowerment from Public Education” pointed out that, while the online platform is free from a lot of restrictions which hinder people’s participation in previous age, the citizenship, by all means, is actualized through people’s active social conscious and empowerment that is educated and practiced in everyday life in the real world.

New challenges such as human’s substitute AI (artificial intelligent) produce puzzles which are unsolvable at this stage, among which a crucial question goes to whether AI can really think. Perhaps AI can help with household chords while there is still a long way to go before AI can take an active role in the world – the learning, practicing and reflecting what do human mean to the society, and vice versa.




Marching into the new frontier of “data and media communication”

DMC IDay 2017

Earlier this month on 7 Oct, the Hong Kong Baptist University held a university-level Information Day, introducing undergraduate programmes (see this news issued by the University). The Department of Journalism is a part of this exciting event. This year the Department is joining hands with the Department of Computer Science (COMP) to launch a new interdisciplinary concentration eneitled “Data and Media Communication” (DMC), starting from 2018/19. Here is a simple official webpage. Basically, the new concentration – being added to the existing counterparts in the department – Chinese Journalism, International Journalism, and Financial Journalism – aiming at providing both data analytics training and journalistic education to students.  It is an effort for the department to meet the challenge of the transitioning news industry, as well as the willingness to march into the frontier of the interplay of data science and humanities/social sciences in general.

The event sailed through, with the great help from the six hard-working student helpers from other programmes, especially when we do NOT have any student to cheer for us! Mr Pili Hu, the newly appointed lecturer in our department, formerly the data manager at Inituim, offered an array of excellent data-driven journalism works, so that we could demonstrate and show the visitors the power of the combination of journalistic sensitivity, design, infographic, and data analytics. We also owe big favors to Melody, Hung Gor, Chung Gor, and not to mention the strong support from Alice, our Dept. Head, as well as Dean Prof Huang.

Well I guess it is not appropriate – also not the intention of this blog – for me to further promote and explicate this new concentration. But may I – as a humble associate director of this infant programme – share several observations and reflections from the information day and Q&As with the visitors.

First, the visitors’ enthusiasm and interests in data-driven journalism were far beyond our expectation. A simple indicator is that all the pamphlets and souvenirs were out of supply. High school students, parents, year 2 AD students, and faculty members from other academic units, gathered around our booth, asking questions. They were not just passers-by. Secondly, it seems that most students are intimidated by the term of “data” – they regarded “data” as “high math skills.” Actually, for the application of data science in journalism, “math skills” is not the most important ability, instead, it is the “data sense” that one should be cultivated – where to find data, how to interpret data, how to make sense of data, and “how to lie with statistics.” All these are not about “science” and “math,” but the same keen attention to the “misfortune of human beings” and the willingness to contribute to the public goods. Thirdly, it seems that there is an overlapping of the interests of “data-driven journalism” and “financial journalism.” Common-sensically, both are focusing on “data.” But I would say these two areas are distinct. To me, it appears that financial journalism is more specialized and having demanding requirements on specific domain knowledge, whereas data-driven journalism is more like a “telescope” (or microscope, a tool, a lens) to uncover the myths of the social realities. Finally, my humble understanding on the interplay between journalism and data science shares with the quotation of Prof Jonathan Zhu at CityU: “Students from humanities are worried about [how to compute]; whereas those who with science backgrounds are worried about [what to compute].” That’s the long-lasting and enduring challenge facing both clusters of students.

Does news objectivity matter in the age of digital era?

Survey found that many people under 30 do not read news on newspapers or TV. For example, a study found that 80% of individual do not read newspapers daily, while 70% of older generation does in the United States. This phenomenon happens all over the world. It doesn’t mean that they are not interested in news, but they prefer other consumption patterns.

People worry that young people are no longer interested in public affairs and take it as the decline in a healthy democracy. Others argue that young people are still interested in news, but they would like to read the news that is more relevant to their lives. They found that the conventional newspaper is boring. They do not like to get news from traditional media. Instead, recent research found that they like to learn the current news story form social network sites, such as Facebook, MySpace.

What will happen when professional journalists cannot function as gatekeepers? Friends and family in social media now serve as gatekeepers that bring news stories to the young people.  Online activities make the teenagers engaging with news in a far more complex way than in traditional media. They are not only learning the news event by reading the article itself, but at the same time exposed to the link embedded in the article, read the comments and opinions written by their friends or relatives. It means they are used to expose to a variety of opinion when they read news story. What is the impact on young people’s news consumption?

“Objectivity” is the golden rules of professional journalism. When young people can get news via social media, they inevitably get access to opinionated comments, rather than objective reports alone. Recent study found that young people prefer opinionated report, rather than object news story. It is therefore important to foster a critical mind for young people, so that they can how to make judgement on the news story.Presentation1

Transnational family, temporality and media

On September 7-8, I attended a thematic research workshop at the University of Portsmouth (UK). The theme of the workshop, quite vividly corresponding to the urban life in many global cities, especially in Asia, is transnationalism. A seemingly grandiose topic while very much down-to-earth, “transnationalism in the global world – contested state, society, border, people in between” takes place among a large number of families in Asian cities: Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Patterns of transnationalism vary: the bread-winner travels more than stays with the family; housemaids from another country living together with the employer family; family members scatter around the globe and are connected via media tools, and to name a few.

Time, in this setting, is polysemic and multi-layered. While the material bonds of collective life are dispersed, the shared imaginary of belonging to a community/family transcends spatial borders and also encompasses past trajectories and future continuities. In this regard, media tools play an essential role to sustain and realize such trajectories and continuities. The advancement of mass transportation facilitates the border-crossing travel which enables transnational experience in business, academics and a wide range of social life. The invention of optical cable and the internet blurs these borders by bringing in temporal simultaneity as family members could still share the Christmas together via Skype group chatting and collectively make important decisions via instant conversation tools.

However, the advantageous conditions above provided by media tools, to a large extent, benefit more on those enjoying social-economic privileges while unskilled labors (migrant labors) suffer from “time” – the mis-matching of temporalities in their lives. To put it simple, the simultaneous daily life of the transnational housemaids (e.g. Filipinos and Indonesians) is with their employers instead of their own families. The simultaneity of their family members far away in the home countries, in forms such as children’s entering of college, marriage events and even sickness and death, is out of control from the housemaids. A mis-matching of time in their life could hardly be solved by media tools but curbed by the cruel social conditions – the globalization of capital and manpower.


During this workshop, the critical topic of “transnationalism” could no longer be a simple illusion of optimism in terms of world travel or monetary flow. A bloody reality is at the door step, urging us to re-think and to re-tell of “fairy tale”.

How cultural identity outweigh​ partisan​ identity in election: A response to Iyengar

maxresdefaultPartisan polarisation has long been studied by communication scholars, from conflict displacement to ideological realignment and to social identity. Individuals tend to act according to group norms if they are identified to a group, sometimes even ignore scientific facts and support policy decisions as long as the majority in the party do so. Iyengar describes this phenomenon as affective polarisation and argues partisan tend to have a hostile feeling, if not discriminate out-group members, i.e. those in other parties.To what extent can this proposition be generalized to other places or is it America-centric?
Using the 2017 Hong Kong Chief Executive Election as an example, I believe cultural identity sometimes are more important than partisan identity, and hostile feelings not only exists in mass but also elite level.
Unlike America, Hong Kong is a battlefield between two cultures. On one side it is the colony that left Hong Kong with British system and turned a small village into an international financial center, on the other is the rising Authoritarian regime. Facing the tightening grip of Beijing, many worries Hong Kong will be turned into just another ordinary city in China. The uniqueness of Hong Kong, for instance, freedom of speech and fairness of elections, are diminishing as Beijing abducted Hong Kong booksellers and interfere elections in Hong Kong.
Chief executive candidate must gain support from 1200 election committee members, where pan-democrats have less than 350 seats and pro-Beijing own a majority. Carrie Lam and John Tsang were the front runners in the election, and they have extremely similar background: both were the former members of the government (i.e. mostly support Beijing’s decision). The only difference between them is Lam had support from Beijing while Tsang did not. Pan-democrats abandoned their underlying ideological difference and supported John Tsang, who is the member of pro-Beijing.Both partisan group and cultural group exists in the city.
John Tsang was supported by pan-democrats, not because of his political identity but cultural identity: he remains British humor and unlike Chinese officials, is willing to open to (or at least to create a perception) public examination. These cultural characteristics allowed Tsang to get support from pan-democrats.While Iyengar’s framework works well in America, more discussion and study are needed to extend it to other cultural contexts, especially contest with two conflicting cultures.
Iyengar, S., Sood, G., & Lelkes, Y. (2012). Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization. Public Opinion Quarterly, 76(3), 405–431. https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfs038
Iyengar, S., & Westwood, S. J. (2015). Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization. American Journal of Political Science, 59(3), 690–707. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12152