Archive for July, 2014

We all Need the Eggs…

July 27, 2014 Leave a comment

My parent’s have been here for the last couple of weeks. It’s nice to see them after about a year. Not because there is so much to talk about but even in silence, there is a sense of belonging. The house feels like a home…

There’s an interesting Woody Allen quote from Annie Hall, that’s been bouncing around my head for a while now… It’s about relationships, and applies to a whole bunch of them. Anything I say is not going to be as good. So I’m just going to leave that here.

I, I thought of that old joke, y’know, the, this… this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, “Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.” And, uh, the doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” The guy says, “I would, but I need the eggs.” Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y’know, they’re totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and… but, uh, I guess we keep goin’ through it because, uh, most of us… need the eggs.

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The Facebook Experiment

July 16, 2014 Leave a comment

An interesting tidbit about Facebook was in the news recently. Apparently, Facebook played around with newsfeeds to make them more positive / negative. They were trying to determine if mood of the timeline affects the mood of the user. Evidently it does.

Predictably, the pitchforks have come out at the supposed audacity of Facebook to manipulate people like that. I am not completely sure what I feel about it, because I haven’t really given it a whole lot of thought.

But there are a lot of different aspects to this story, that I am not sure how to reconcile… Besides, thinking takes time, which I have limited of. And it’s not like you pay me for high-quality journalism. So, dear reader, I am just going to subject you to a laundry list of the initial unstructured mess that is my brain, on the subject:

  • I am scared… Are we really sheeple, people? Does the mood of a series of posts on Facebook really cause our mood to be changed? Are we THAT easily manipulated? As a corollary, how much misplaced confidence do we have in ourselves, that we walk through life thinking that we are immune to the ways of the world, when all it takes to influence us are a few written words on the screen?
  • How does this help Facebook? Will Facebook try now, to be “your happy place”? Is Facebook’s business model going to be to keep you happy, so that you keep coming back. I wrote a post, earlier, on the  “Like” button. Is that just an extension of the “keep people happy” philosophy?
  • Will this philosophy work for Facebook? Or is it going to backfire for them, spectacularly? At what point will the constant stream of “happiness” attributed to others, start making us jealous and negative instead of happy, as intended, so we “flip the tables” so to speak, and never return to Facebook again?
  • Are we increasingly becoming swathes of data, in the eyes of these companies that have our personal information? At what point is the company obligated (if at all) to view us as human beings, and consider that manipulation of our feelings is not “just another experiment”?
  • On the other hand, what cause do we have for outrage? Facebook never promised that we will see the truth. They provide us one way to view our relationships and they’ve never said it is the truth. Besides, A/B testing is a reality for most internet companies. Isn’t this just another form of A/B testing? Why, then, do we expect to be told about it?
  • If Facebook as a service, has a goal of seeing us happy, then isn’t Facebook within its rights to make changes to it’s “product” to gauge customer reaction? Do we have a right to demand that we be told about it?
  • What is the unwritten set of expectations that Facebook is fulfilling, and that we expect them to fulfil? At what point do the “ethics of humankind” supercede the “nature of Facebook’s business”? Are people just angry because we’re scared of how easily we are manipulated? Do we see this as an invasion of privacy (which I don’t think it is)? Are we just mad at Facebook because we don’t like being guinea pigs without knowing about it?
  • Does it warrant this amount of outrage? We don’t really think of all the ramifications of giving up our personal data and information to services as long as we get some value out of it. Every new shiny feature on Google of Facebook comes at the cost of our information. Privacy, in this day and age, is just dead. Why then, should it matter at all what Facebook does?
  • Is this indicative of the general distrust of Facebook vis-a-vis other large tech companies? I mean, I doubt there would’ve been such a big hue-and-cry if Google had done this…
  • If this is indeed how Facebook can influence us, how much about our relationships is defined by Facebook? If Facebook doesn’t show me status updates by certain people or businesses, how does that impact my actual relationship with them? Do I forget about some people because I never see updates? If so, how much power does Facebook really have over not only individuals, but also groups and indeed, corporations (by dint of wielding this power over individuals)?

I think I’m a little bemused, and quite a bit scared… What do you think?

Categories: facebook, technology

To Like or Not to Like…

July 10, 2014 1 comment

I’ve been getting back on to social media after a fairly long hiatus. And most social media services have changed a little bit in that time. What hasn’t changed however, is how stuff get’s shared around these places.

Google has +1, Tumblr has “reblogging”, Twitter has “retweet” and Facebook has the “like”… And they rely on these nifty sharing mechanisms to decide what you see.. what bubbles to the top, so to speak.

Out of the four, however, only Facebook has something that is a known word with a known meaning. And that makes things interesting…

Linguistically speaking, liking something is to inherently tag it as “good”. In Facebook’s context therefore, there’s likely to be a cognitive bias towards “liking” only stuff that is actually worth liking. That means, that status update someone made about cancer, or losing a loved one, or losing their dog isn’t going to get “likes” . and is therefore not really going to be on your timeline for a long time.

On other platforms, it’s easier for those kind of things to bubble up, A +1, or a reblog isn’t as “emotional” …

I wonder which is better? Personally, I think a true representation of what your friends are interested in is served by something like +1, or “Share” or “Retweet” or “Reblog” because it doesn’t have a positive or negative connotation attached to it. It just indicates your “support” toward the content. With like, however, you’re likely to not get a balanced picture.

Is this a flaw, then, on Facebook’s part? Did they miss an opportunity to be “truer” to the world? Or is “like” by design and they WANT only other people’s happiness to show through in your timelines, because they know that’s what we want to see? Is Facebook banking on the fact that a lot of us are voyeurs who live through others – either sharing in people’s happiness, or being jealous of it.. which is why we keep coming back to Facebook?

Or is “Like” just such a “brand” in itself now, that changing it to “Share” or “Support” just doesn’t make any sense any more?

Perhaps only Mark Zuckerburg knows..

Categories: facebook, technology

The Power of Stories…

July 1, 2014 Leave a comment

I have been reading The Story Bible by Pearl Buck. It is The Bible, but without (most of) the “religious stuff”. What it does is recount the stories in the Bible in short 10-12 page chapters. And as I read, I realize that as a story, the Bible is quite interesting.

And in that, it is not alone. The Quran, at its heart, is a story. The Bhagawad Gita, is just a small part of an epic called the Mahabharata. And most religions are underpinned stories about key figures and their deeds.

And that says something about the power of stories. Most of what we remember has a good story behind it. A good movie, a good book, an incident you remember in vivid detail – there’s a good story behind it. Want to preach – Tell a story. The best adverts – tell a story. A successful sales proposal – dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that it chronicles a journey, draws a picture, tells a story. Customer satisfaction, brand recognition, are all about stories. Have you ever got tips on how to improve your memory? Chances are you’ve been told to connect disparate elements together with the wackiest story imaginable for the strongest recall.

I don’t know why. Maybe the human brain likes to fill in the blanks between disparate facts. Maybe connections between neurons are analogous to connections between facts. Maybe it’s that and the fact that human brains are the best pattern-recognition machines. If a certain group of “connected pieces” in a story are similar to something that we’ve experienced before, the brain just groups them together and invokes similar feelings to what we’ve previously experienced, making the feeling stronger.

Whatever be the reason – Plain simple facts are forgotten. A story endures.

And the best stories reinforce already existing emotional structures, enhance experiences. They need an “investment” from the consumer of the story, so they feel a part of it.

But as we move towards a world with limited attention spans and overload of stimuli, the window of this “investment” becomes shorter and shorter. What we end up with is a world of instant gratification – one that does not allow time to build “connections”, the one that isn’t built to endure. I wonder if the world seems a lot more ephemeral, the pace of change so fast, BECAUSE there is no time to stop and listen to stories. I wonder if life seems “incomplete” because we’re not part of a story or narrative – living life instead, as a series of transactions. I wonder if the lack of stories is what has caused this to happen.

Perhaps, what the world needs, is more connections, in more ways than one.

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