TRANSFORMING DIGITAL EDUCATION, TOGETHER

Pizza Scores and Critical Thinking

Millions of people looking at a pizza slice

In an era where digital dominance intersects with the societal fabric, the act of critiquing a pizza has transformed into a powerful force that can shape destinies. At the forefront of this culinary phenomenon is Dave Portnoy, a media mogul whose pizza reviews, distilled into a summative score from 0.0 to 9.9, possess an unparalleled ability to transcend the realm of reality. The current technology landscape and social dynamics has facilitated an environment where one man, with one bite (pun Intended) and two numbers, can potentially dismantle generations of hard work within a family-run business or on the other hand create literal fortunes[1].

Dave Portnoy’s influence as a pizza critic transcends mere food appraisal, emerging as a cultural phenomenon within the digital realm. His “two numbers” on social media, marked by an ‘everyman’ appeal, inadvertently become a study in ethical and critical thinking in our digital society. They challenge us to consider how digital tools affect our content consumption and judgment. Beyond impacting real-world businesses these reviews highlight a broader concern: our readiness to accept influential opinions without scrutiny of both person and situation. This pervasive, uncritical acceptance of Portnoy’s viewpoints, which he astutely exploits, reflects a concerning trend in our digital society: a marked decline in independent critical analysis. This phenomenon has significant implications, notably in its capacity to shape public discourse and alter economic landscapes, thus challenging the fundamental principles of informed decision-making and democratic engagement in the digital era.

In the blurred lines between digital entertainment and reality, the ethical stakes are alarmingly high, yet often neglected. Witnessing the genuine fear in the eyes of long-standing business owners confronted by figures like Portnoy is not just emotionally stirring; it’s a stark depiction of the power imbalance in the digital age. This dynamic is not only about the personal toll on individuals but reflects a societal trend where life-altering events are consumed as entertainment. Beneath this lies a perverse fascination with extreme scores, revealing our inherent understanding of their consequential weight. This obsession illustrates a troubling aspect of digital voyeurism, transforming real struggles and triumphs into sources of entertainment.

This also reveals a concerning trend – the dilution of complex human experiences to numerical scores, readily digested and accepted without critical scrutiny. It’s a glaring example of how the ethical nuances of real lives and livelihoods are overshadowed by the pursuit of digitised influence. The crux of this issue lies in recognising and addressing the ethical dilemma: how can we, as a society, balance the entertainment value of digital content with the necessity for ethical responsibility and critical analysis? This calls for a shift in perspective, urging a more thoughtful, ethically informed engagement with digital content, where critical thinking prevails over the passive consumption of digitised narratives.

In our current landscape, where multi-billion dollar technology companies often self-regulate, the underlying motives of this governance model has to start inviting critical scrutiny. These entities, driven by the imperative to capture clicks and maintain user engagement, often operate within a paradigm that sidelines ethical standards. How can a model that financially supports unethical behaviour ever be in the interest of the public? This lack of clarity, especially in the functioning of AI algorithms and information bubbles, raises concerns about transparency and accountability in the digital domain. We must stop auditing only the financial aspect of these companies. We are confronted by a sea of instances where ethical frameworks enhanced by the lack of critical thinking led to severe real-world consequences. Take, for instance the Cambridge Analytica scandal, where personal data was manipulated to influence political decisions, showcasing a glaring disregard for ethical considerations in the digital realm. These cases, much like the Portnoy phenomenon, exemplify a growing trend: the simplification of complex issues into bite-sized, easily digestible content that allows little room for critical analysis or ethical consideration. In a world increasingly driven by algorithms and quick clicks, the necessity for a vigilant, critical, and ethically-minded approach to digital content and platforms has never been more urgent.

These companies have the power to dissuade and persuade entire swaths of people, surgically targeting users based on thousands of demographic metrics. Their absolute, divine like, control over algorithms can perpetuate prejudices and normalise discriminatory behaviours, even lending credence to unfounded notions as fact. This immense power, concentrated in the hands of the few, necessitates rigorous immediate ethical oversight. It is imperative that nations, especially the United States start demanding and putting into law that these companies once they reach a certain purview must succumb to external ethical auditors.

Additionally, it’s crucial for international entities, particularly the European Union, to intensify their demands for such ethical oversight. There’s a pressing need to hold countries like the United States accountable for sheltering these corporations under lax regulatory frameworks. The EU and other global powers should assertively challenge the U.S. to enforce stringent ethical standards on these companies, ensuring global digital practices adhere to universally accepted ethical norms.

It’s vital to recognise the nuanced challenge here: on one hand, there is a need to avoid censorship, yet on the other, the near-opacity of AI-driven content selection and presentation demands attention. This sinister veil of secrecy often suggests that profit motives and user engagement overshadow clear ethical guidelines. The audience, placing significant trust in these platforms, may be unaware of the inherent biases at play.

Considering the ethical quandaries and the erosion of critical thinking highlighted in this article, it’s crucial to foster a more discerning approach to digital content. We must actively challenge the narratives presented in the digital realm, questioning their origin, intent, and impact. This is a call to engage critically with digital media, to seek out diverse perspectives, and to uphold a standard of ethical discernment. Let this article serve as a catalyst for a broader conversation and action toward cultivating a digitally literate society that values and practices critical thinking.

Authored by James Catania
MSc.CS;MBA.Is;IHDCs;IDCs;A.C.E.
James has over 25 years of experience in the IT industry, starting from writing his first computer program in BASIC at age 8. He is currently working as an Education Officer for ICT at MEYR and is the lead consultant at EdQuanta. His career includes a number of senior consulting roles and international research presentations. James’s expertise spans Blockchain, IoT, Robotics, and early AI research. His recent research focuses on the digital landscape and ethical issues in AI.

For speaking slots and international engagements, James can be reached by email on james@edquanta.com / https://www.linkedin.com/in/jamescatania/

https://www.wdbj7.com/2022/10/17/five-star-fakes-small-business-owners-feel-big-impact-fake-online-reviews/

A shifting paradigm: An evaluation of the pervasive effects of digital technologies on language expression, creativity, critical thinking, political discourse, and interactive processes of human communications
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2042753017752583


[1] https://www.sfgate.com/la/article/ozzys-apizza-dave-portnoy-one-bite-pizza-reviews-18631157.php

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