2012 September 09 Sunday
TV War Images Bad For Mental Health

Um, TV watching is a bad idea anyway.

Repeated exposure to violent images from the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the Iraq War may have led to an increase in physical and psychological ailments in a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults, according to a new UC Irvine study.

The study sheds light on the lingering effects of “collective traumas” such as natural disasters, mass shootings and terrorist attacks. A steady diet of graphic media images may have long-lasting mental and physical health consequences, says study author Roxane Cohen Silver, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior, medicine and public health.

Probably some people can watch this stuff and be totally unaffected and others get stressed out.

A friend likes to call me up and ask what I think about some event she saw on TV. I point out (repeatedly) that I do not own a TV and am blissfully ignorant about assorted wars, revolutions, and terrorist attacks. Living in a heavily filtered cocoon and liking it. I want better filters. I want to be able to do minuses on stories on Google News so that once I minus (as distinct from plus) a story I never see articles about it. Just give me substantive analyses of patterns of data and cut out events and partisan political rhetoric. Remember, if you don't avoid the traumatic images on TV you could end up like Sharon on South Park, unable to stop watching a war (about 3:50 in).

Avoid pictures of trauma. They are bad for your mental health, maybe.

Seeing two particular kinds of images in the early days of the Iraq War was associated with post-traumatic stress symptoms over time: soldiers engaged in battle and dead U.S. and Allied soldiers.

We need much better filters for dealing with stimuli from the world. Online news filtering tools still seem very primitive to me. I also want better ways to cut noise from my local environment. Imagine software that heard the approach of a truck, predicted the truck's future sound pattern, and created noise cancellation waves. Or imagine sirens that turned off when sensors showed no humans were about to get in the way of a rescue vehicle.

By Randall Parker    2012 September 09 06:44 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2012 February 02 Thursday
Low Self Esteem Drives Alienating Facebook Posts

Self sabotage is just as easy and natural online as it is in real life. People with low self esteem drive people away with negativity.

In theory, the social networking website Facebook could be great for people with low self-esteem. Sharing is important for improving friendships. But in practice, people with low self-esteem seem to behave counterproductively, bombarding their friends with negative tidbits about their lives and making themselves less likeable, according to a new study which will be published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

People who are really negative are less likable. Few want to be around Debbie Downer or Ned Negative.

Each set of status updates was rated for how positive or negative it was. For each set of statements, a coder – an undergraduate Facebook user – rated how much they liked the person who wrote them.

People with low self-esteem were more negative than people with high self-esteem – and the coders liked them less. The coders were strangers, but that’s realistic, Forest says. In earlier research, Wood and Forest found that nearly half of Facebook friends are actually strangers or acquaintances, not close friends.

That part isn't surprising. Maybe people with low self-esteem need automated filtering software that rates each of their posts in draft stage to warn them when they are going to turn people off. Really negative posts could be blocked.

People who are positive the vast majority of the time actually get more responses when they post negative items. So if you want to get a lot of responses to negative posts first build up long streams of positive posts. Then slip in something really negative.

Forest and Wood also found that people with low self-esteem get more responses from their real Facebook friends when they post highly positive updates, compared to less positive ones. People with high self-esteem, on the other hand, get more responses when they post negative items, perhaps because these are rarer for them

Is there an audience for negative posts? If you could identify who among your friends and acquaintances want to read negativity (and I know such people) then at least on Google+ (not sure about Facebook) you could direct all your depressing downer thoughts to a circle of negativity. Think about it.

By Randall Parker    2012 February 02 11:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2011 June 28 Tuesday
More Borders And Lower Costs Boost War

In a nutshell: More borders lead to more war. The internet is creating more virtual borders and therefore more potential for conflict.

Is progress inevitable? It depends on what you categorize as progress. If you like war (and the sight of beautiful women can bring that out in men) then you can feel satisfied that lower war costs due to technological progress have combined with the breakdown of empires to make it easier to have more wars.

New research by the University of Warwick and Humboldt University shows that the frequency of wars between states increased steadily from 1870 to 2001 by 2% a year on average. The research argues that conflict is being fed by economic growth and the proliferation of new borders.

The internet creates new borders which leads to greater opportunity for conflict. The internet warfare between nations and even by private groups against governments can be viewed as a result of more borders created by the internet. The internet effectively has created huge numbers of virtual borders online where firewalls try to enforce sovereignty in protected zones while invaders from other zones try to invade and pillage.

More conflicts between states.

We may think the world enjoyed periods of relative freedom from war between the Cold War and 9/11 but the new research by Professor Mark Harrison from at the University of Warwick’s the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy, and Professor Nikolaus Wolf from Humboldt University, shows that the number of conflicts between pairs of states rose steadily from 6 per year on average between 1870 and 1913 to 17 per year in the period of the two World Wars, 31 per year in the Cold War, and 36 per year in the 1990s.

Professor Mark Harrison from the University of Warwick said:

“The number of conflicts has been rising on a stable trend. Because of two world wars, the pattern is obviously disturbed between 1914 and 1945 but remarkably, after 1945 the frequency of wars resumed its upward course on pretty much the same path as before 1913.”

One of the key drivers is the number of countries, which has risen dramatically – from 47 in 1870 to 187 in 2001.

The European Union is an attempt to avoid European wars by eliminating the borders that would have been fought over in previous eras. But in other parts of the world border formation has outpaced consolidation into larger political units. In the 21st century will the number of nations and borders go up? Can violence between nations decline globally by merger of nations into larger national entities?

The US government has recently warned it will treat cyber attacks as acts of war. The Chinese miltiary is warning the US military is preparing for cyberwarfare. This illustrates the extent to which existing sovereign governments view the internet as a source of new border formation.

If the 21st century turns into a bloody era then blame this turn of events on the rise of the internet.

By Randall Parker    2011 June 28 11:16 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2011 May 23 Monday
Computers Cut Reading Ability In Children?

Another "progress is not inevitable" story.

Sweden and the US are two countries in which increased leisure use of computers by children leads to poorer reading ability. This is the conclusion from research carried out at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Professor Monica Rosén of the Department of Education and Special Education has analysed differences between different countries over time in order to explain change in reading achievement among 9-10-year olds. Within the framework of the research project she and her colleagues have studied how pupils' reading skills have changed since 1970. Hungary, Italy, the US and Sweden have been included in all of the international comparisons. Reading ability has improved steadily in Italy and Hungary, while it has fallen rapidly since 1991 in both the US and Sweden.

During this period, many factors within the school system have changed, as have also society in general and the after-school activities of children in particular. The Swedish and American pupils described a large increase in the use of computers in their free time during this period, while a similar increase was not reported in Hungary or Italy.

The researchers argue that computer usage has displaced leisure time reading and the leisure time reading provided a richer experience with words that do computers. This seems plausible for a couple of reasons:

  • Computer games do not require much text reading.
  • Messaging with friends involves using words you all know and abbreviations of simple words.
  • The web has lots of porno and other content that isn't intellectually enriching.

Some really bright kids are probably enabled by the web to learn more and faster. But the for the masses of kids I doubt that computers play the same role. Friends and family members with kids have told me too many stories of fights with role playing game addictions, messaging addictions, and the like. Computers are used like distraction generators to relieve boredom.

Computers could serve more constructive roles for kids. Teaching software could enable kids to learn much faster all hours of the day and night. But parents mostly do not seem to try hard to make computers into more constructive influences.

By Randall Parker    2011 May 23 11:19 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
Facebook Peaked Already?

Razib Khan has been using Google Trends to watch the rise of Facebook and the fall of Myspace. Well, looks like Facebook finally hit a plateau. Well, that was a fast ride to a peak. He's not forecasting a Facebook decline. But not everyone wants to devote a substantial amount of their day to Facebook posting.

I found that on Razib's Twitter feed. That brings up a question: Has Twitter peaked yet? Facebook soared far above Twitter on Google Trends with about a 30:1 advantage if I read that page correctly. But looking at Twitter by itself still shows a strong up-trend, at least measured by search volume.

What might unseat Facebook or other current social media leaders: the shift to virtual reality. Or is there some other model of social interaction on the internet that can become the next hit even before virtual reality?

Also read Razib on why Paul Ewald thinks a lot of cancer is due to infection, especially due to sexual activity. Razib thinks some of the "cancer runs in families" story could be due to expressive kissing or sexual activity running in families due to upbringing and/or genes.

By Randall Parker    2011 May 23 10:31 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2011 April 10 Sunday
Political Book Burning To Become Impossible?

My deep thought for the day: In the future, when some group wants to burn some politically or religiously objectionable book, will physical books be so rare that they'll have to get the books specially printed just to burn them?

Or will protesters copy electronic books onto many hard drives and simultaneously all pull out magnets to pass over the hard drives in a mass demonstration of magnetic erasure?

Got any ideas on how book suppression will be done 50 years hence?

By Randall Parker    2011 April 10 11:58 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2011 April 04 Monday
Instant TV Political Debate Polls Influence Interpretations

A researcher paper in Plos One By researchers at University of London and University of Bristol finds that real time reporting of reactions of other viewers to political debates shifts the views of the TV audience and illustrates the tendency of human herd behavior. More automated herd view formation.

A recent innovation in televised election debates is a continuous response measure (commonly referred to as the “worm”) that allows viewers to track the response of a sample of undecided voters in real-time. A potential danger of presenting such data is that it may prevent people from making independent evaluations. We report an experiment with 150 participants in which we manipulated the worm and superimposed it on a live broadcast of a UK election debate. The majority of viewers were unaware that the worm had been manipulated, and yet we were able to influence their perception of who won the debate, their choice of preferred prime minister, and their voting intentions. We argue that there is an urgent need to reconsider the simultaneous broadcast of average response data with televised election debates.

What I wonder: Has the web done more to encourage independent thinking or herd following? Does all the information on the web increase the amount of well informed rational opinion formation by a greater or lesser amount than how much it enables some people to follow leaders?

Think about Twitter. You can follow people on Twitter. You can find out their opinions. In discussion forums you can find out opinions of others.

In the early days of blogging there were so few blogs that they linked to each other more across the political spectrum and between specialties. But the partisan warrior blogs ("Singing songs and carrying signs, Mostly say, hooray for our side") enable people to find confirmation for their views. It is not clear to me what's the net result.

By Randall Parker    2011 April 04 09:37 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2011 February 23 Wednesday
Pro-Anorexia Support Groups On Internet

Why pull back from self-destructive behaviors when you can join support groups that will egg you on? Of course, after you eat the egg you'll have to throw it up.

It can be a helpless and heartbreaking situation for families as they try to confront a family member with an eating disorder. What they may not know is that there’s a society on the Internet that is dedicated to thwarting any recovery from this dangerous and possibly fatal behavior.

University of Cincinnati communication researchers are reporting on a new type of social support group as social networks grow on the Web. This emerging Online Negative Enabling Support Group (ONESG) surrounding the pro-anorexia movement is reported in the current issue of the journal, New Media & Society.

Members of this society embrace anorexia as a choice rather than acknowledging it as an illness. The ONESG pro-anorexia movement reflects four themes and uses several communication strategies to encourage anorexics to embrace their harmful and dangerous impulses, writes lead author Stephen M. Haas, a UC associate professor of communication.

The internet has the very interesting quality that it allows all manner of outliers to meet each other and form support groups. Do you engage in any outlier support activity on the internet? If so, for what cause or interest?

Do you see the FuturePundit site as a place where you can communicate with other outliers? Do you want to see more coverage of any particular fringe belief that you think deserves greater support from blog posts that treat your favorite ideas as on the verge of mass acceptance?

By Randall Parker    2011 February 23 12:14 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2011 January 04 Tuesday
Your Friends, Experts, And Search Results

Writing in Technology Review Paul Boutin reports on how a Microsoft Bing-Facebook alliance is allowing Facebook friends links to influence Bing search results.

Microsoft's alliance with Facebook could give it a key advantage over Google in the race to provide a better search experience. Google has also sought to improve its results by tapping information from users' social sphere, but its own social networking services have not been adopted anywhere near as widely as Facebook, so the information to which Google has access is relatively limited. In contrast, Facebook provides Bing with an ever-growing data mine of friends' links.

It is an interesting idea because, as the article points out, a lot of automated efforts to generate links to boost page rankings make the link indexing algorithms less satisfactory. The use of links to rank pages is, as the article points out, a social approach since it uses web page links m made by others (albeit mostly anonymous others).

But Facebook friends suffer a number of limitations as substitutes for links as guides to web page quality. First off, Facebook is also already suffering from the creation of basically fake identities who go around attempting to friend lots of people. Often they use pictures of pretty girls to lure suckers into accepting friends who then post assorted schemes to get you to spend your money - or they find out info about you to help in identity theft). which then try friending large numbers of people. Since I write a public blog using my real name I get readers friending me on Facebook and I do not always know whether they are real people. So do I have any fictional friends? Maybe.

But there's another problem with friends: Most friends of most people are not authorities in anything important. Okay, that sounds snobbish. But it is true. Plus, a lot of Facebook friends are just people from high school reconnecting. I've said yes to friend requests from people I probably never spoke with while I was in high school. Now their link preferences should influence my search results? I don't want the added intellectual burden of deciding whether to friend someone because their presence on my friend list might mess up my search results.

How I think social and search should go together: When we go out searching on a topic we need the ability to take on a persona where our "temporary friends" are experienced in an area we are interested in. So, for example, suppose you decided to take up mountain climbing. You'd get better results if experts in hiking seamlessly and automatically would get plugged into your "friends" network to feed into determining the rankings of search engine results for hiking tips and product recommendations.

To make this work far more of our history of life experiences, skills, accomplishments, and interests would need to be captured by social media and search engine server databases. That includes our history of purchases and what we liked and disliked. So, for example, our purchases and product rankings on Amazon.com should influence our general search results. If everyone reveals more about themselves and more of those pieces get connected up in data structures then search engines will be able to use these preferences to come up with results much more precisely aimed to individual needs and abilities.

We need the ability to tap into many different networks of influencers and experts as we go looking for answers for problems in many aspects of our lives. Facebook already has some of the building blocks that would allow search results to be influenced by more than just friends. One can "Like" people, books, and causes and others can too. So in theory if one has taken the time to "Like" enough authors or composers search engine results could be influenced by, for example, the fact that you like some author or composer and the results could include other authors or composers liked by other people (who aren't in your friends list) who share many of your likes. But I recently went thru looking at the Like lists of various smarter Facebook friends and some had filled in no Likes or Likes that were really esoteric and which I would not want to have influencing my search results.

Even if you have lots of friends with lots of Likes this does not help when you venture into areas where you've never expressed interests and neither have your friends. It also falls down if your friends are just running with the pack and like things they know little about. We really need a "use experts" feature when doing searches where we either specify the type of experts we want to have influence our results or the search engine tries to make a best guess on which experts are most relevant.

By Randall Parker    2011 January 04 11:02 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2011 January 03 Monday
Facebook Does Not Raise Limit On Friends Count?

Robin Dunbar, professor of evolutionary anthropology at Oxford, discoverer of Dunbar's Number (150 for the number of relationships people can handle on average), and author of How Many Friends Does One Person Need?: Dunbars Number and Other Evolutionary Quirks, says what Facebook accomplish in building relationships can is limited by the designs of our minds.

Instant messaging and social networking claim to solve that problem by allowing us to talk to as many people as we like, all at the same time. Like the proverbial lighthouse blinking on the horizon, our messages fan out into the dark night to every passing ship within reach of an Internet connection. We can broadcast, literally, to the world.

I use the word “broadcast” because, despite Facebook’s promise, that is the fundamental flaw in the logic of the social-networking revolution. The developers at Facebook overlooked one of the crucial components in the complicated business of how we create relationships: our minds.

A thought occurs to me: Some people probably develop bigger social circles and more friendships as a result of online forums, chat rooms, and Facebook. But most of the people who experience this change from using new media had, at the start, smaller networks of friends than their capacity to handle would allow. So for some Facebook and other newer media allow them to socialize closer to their potential.

Those who already have lots of friends Facebook probably just shifts around who they spend time with. Maybe Facebook reduces the number of friendships one maintains locally while increasing the number one has at greater distance. I would expect Facebook to essentially increase the number of competitors for who will be your friends since it makes it easier to reach more people. But we have finite mental resources and time for friends. So a new way to relate to people to some extent displaces other ways of relating and in the process it changes who we relate to.

Facebook (or blogs for that matter) allows one to speak to many more people at once. But not everyone you reach is necessarily a friend. You are just another source of commentary for some of them.

By Randall Parker    2011 January 03 12:57 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 December 25 Saturday
Commenting And Real Names

It is a continuing source of amazement to me just how few people use their full names when commenting on blog posts and on articles on news sites. I've asked people why on various sites and some claim to fear what would happen if their views became known (and not just about obviously taboo subjects like race). I've been insulted for telling people this hiding of identity is rarely necessary. I've insulted back by telling one guy he was a coward.

The trend appears to be away from anonymity mostly because of where people are doing more of their chatting. Note that on the soaring social networking site Facebook everyone uses their real names (unless they've gone out of their way to use a fake name - but few appear to do this). Yet they reveal their views about a large assortment of topics to not only their direct friends but to the friends of their friends. Well, speaking as someone who has a lot of Facebook friends due to my blogging I do not know most of them in real life. So Facebook isn't keeping discussions in secret closed discussion circles. Yet real names are used.

Just now I decided to register on the Wall Street Journal site and I noticed before registering that everyone in comment threads was using real names. So when I signed up the WSJ web page said (bold emphasis mine):

Commenting on articles requires a Community Profile and members agree to use their real name when participating in Journal Community. Why?

The Journal Community encourages thoughtful dialogue and meaningful connections between real people. We require the use of your full name to authenticate your identity. The quality of conversations can deteriorate when real identities are not provided.

Sounds right to me. I find the discussions there more civil than on many other sites. Anonymous posting seems like a recipe for easy degeneration into insult-fests.

In my own site I ask people to at least use unique pseudonyms (hence the message "No anon or anonymous"). Threads where anonymous is insulting anonymous who is being defended by anonymous are just too confusing. I will delete messages that do not use unique pseudonyms.

Update: To be clear: Some people have to post with pseudonyms. We live in a society where taboos are enforced by pretty strident segments of the political Left who make quite a few views taboo. But really, the vast majority of comments people make here and on most other blogs do not get near the really taboo topics. For most of what you say you are not at risk of being accused of secular blasphemy and stripped of career advancement opportunities. So my take is that the paranoia out there is excessive.

I can see that you might want to say anything controversial on blogs which are considered as sometimes posting content that violates taboos. But the use of pseudonyms and only first names has reached ridiculous portions. Like, I'm one of a small minority of people who use their whole names when posting a comment on the NY Times site. What's with that? You aren't marching into battle with real bullets whistling by when you post on the web. Don't be chicken.

By Randall Parker    2010 December 25 02:13 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (30)
2010 December 08 Wednesday
Is The Internet A Public Sphere?

The current flap about WikiLeaks and companies booting the site off their servers either due to government pressure, distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, or commercial pressures serves to remind that there's no guaranteed free speech on the internet because the internet is not a real public square.

Some internet experts say the situation highlights the complexities of free speech issues on the Internet, as grassroots Web companies evolve and take central control over what their users can make public. Clay Shirky, who studies the Internet and teaches at New York University, said that although the Web is the new public sphere, it is actually “a corporate sphere that tolerates public speech.”

Do we need a subset of the internet that is really guaranteed to allow free speech?

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “Any Internet user who cares about free speech or has a controversial or unpopular message should be concerned about the fact that intermediaries might not let them express it.”

She added, “Your free speech rights are only as strong as the weakest intermediary.”

Think about it: If you can't communicate via electronic means it is like you become silenced. Fewer people will read hard copy newspapers. Of course, relatively few people get to decide what goes in hard copy newspapers anyway.

Is the internet demonstrating that private property actually will protect speech rights fairly well? Does one have so many ways to transmit one's message that the private nature of the internet is not a problem? I'm not clear on this. Got any thoughts?

By Randall Parker    2010 December 08 11:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2010 October 19 Tuesday
Social Media To Produce More Entrepreneurs?

Facebook isn't as shallow and meaningless as it seems? Social media will drive more people to network with friends and business contacts and ultimately to start their own businesses? Social media will reduce the power of big corps and empower small businesses?

Superficial contacts on Facebook, apparently unnecessary comments, and banal status updates may be more worthwhile than we think. This is shown in a new report from the National IT User Center. The report also predicts the new social media will ultimately lead to more individual entrepreneurs.

Many people are critical of those who collect hundreds of so-called friends on Facebook. Often the majority of these "friends" are old classmates, acquaintances of acquaintances, and the like, relationships that are fundamentally weak. The comments and updates of relatively banal nature that appear on Facebook have also generated a great number of snide remarks, not least in the media, in recent times. But a report compiled by Håkan Selg, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Information Technology, Uppsala University, reveals that these contacts in fact constitute highly useful networks, networks that make use of the ostensibly meaningless comments and updates.

Just the sense of being well connected might give more people the confidence to start their own business. If they spend more time relating to others this might be social skills exercise and confidence-building that emboldens people to start businesses. Seem plausible?

"The portrait, comments, and updates provide constant reminders of the existence of 'friends.' The content is not all that important, but the effect is that we perceive our Facebook friends as closer than other acquaintances who are not on Facebook," says Håkan Selg.

What I wonder: Have Facebook and other social media made us perceive to be more closer to more people than was previously the case? The internet makes one virtually closer to a far larger number of people. So are more connections formed and more interactions happening as a result?

I am curious to know whether LinkedIn causes people to change jobs more often and to try harder to get ahead. Does the ability to maintain business contact links that persist beyond the time one leaves a company cause a person to move ahead faster and do more business deals?

By Randall Parker    2010 October 19 11:50 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2010 September 21 Tuesday
Cell Phone Conversations Lower Brain Performance

A “halfalogue” is much worse than a dialogue. People who want to use cell phones to talk need the equivalent of a smoker's area. Far better that they do texting or emailing.

“Yeah, I’m on my way home.” “That’s funny.” “Uh-huh.” “What? No! I thought you were – ” “Oh, ok.” Listening to someone talk on a cell phone is very annoying. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds out why: Hearing just one side of a conversation is much more distracting than hearing both sides and reduces our attention in other tasks. 

Lauren Emberson, a psychology Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, came up with the idea for the study when she was taking the bus as an undergraduate student at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. “I was commuting for 45 minutes by bus every day and I really felt like I couldn’t do anything else when someone was on a cell phone,” she says. “I couldn’t read. I couldn’t even listen to my music. I was just so distracted, and I started to wonder about why that could be.” 

I always watch for research on how cell phone one-side conversations distract people around a cell phone talker because I find it so true. Hearing one side of a conversation is very distracting, far more so than hearing the whole conversation.

For the experiment, Emberson recorded two pairs of female college roommates as they had a cell phone conversation. She recorded each conversation both as a dialogue, in which both women could be heard by a listener, and as a “halfalogue” in which only one side of the conversation could be heard, the same as overhearing a cell-phone conversation. She also recorded each woman recapping the conversation in a monologue. Then she played the recordings at volunteers as they did various tasks on the computer that require attention, such as tracking a moving dot using a computer mouse. 

The unpredictability of hearing only one side of a conversation taxes mental resources more heavily and makes it harder to filter out the conversation.

Sure enough, volunteers were much worse at the concentration tasks when they could only hear half of the conversation. Emberson thinks this is because our brains more or less ignore predictable things, while paying more attention to things that are unpredictable. When both sides of the conversation are audible, it flows predictably, but a cell phone conversation is quite unpredictable. Emberson conducted the study with Gary Lupyan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michael Goldstein of Cornell University, and Michael Spivey of the University of California-Merced.

So look, people carrying on cell phone conversations on buses, in airplanes before take-off and after landing (oh I hate that - better to just message), and in restaurants are stressing the brains of the people around them, ruining their peace of mind, cutting back on their already limited amount of time needed for mental rest and rejuvenation. Worse yet are the people who do not turn off their cell phones in theaters and at classical music concerts and operas.

Another pet peeve: Locking A Car With A Short Horn Blast Is Rude And Obnoxious.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 21 08:40 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 September 01 Wednesday
Airplanes, Telecomm Cut Optimal City Size

City size needed for successful industries has shrunk due to cheap air flights and low costs and high speeds for telecommunications and internet access.

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- A city’s size no longer is the key factor in building vibrant local economies, according to a study by a Michigan State University sociologist.

Zachary Neal found that although America's largest cities once had the most sophisticated economies, today that honor goes to cities with many connections to other places, regardless of their size. The study was published online Aug. 30 in the research journal City and Community.

The rise of commercial aviation, high-speed rail, the Internet and other technological advances have allowed smaller cities to compete with urban powers such as New York and Chicago, Neal said. The study identifies Denver, Phoenix and even Bentonville, Ark. – Wal-Mart’s corporate home – as some of the most well-connected and economically sophisticated communities.

Air travel started the trend. Low cost communications further accelerated it. What I wonder: How essential is the air travel? Will very high res teleconferencing substantially reduce the need for business air travel?

Neal examined the population and air-traffic data for 64 U.S. cities from 1900 to 2000. He found that a city’s population was the most important factor for its economy until the 1950s, when the spread of commercial air travel fostered more cross-country business networks. That trend continued with advances such as teleconferencing and the growth of the Internet.

To the extent that high speed internet and very high res 3-D video teleconferencing can reduce the need for air travel the communications technologies will also open up economic development to smaller cities and towns that are not near airports. Any place where enough brain power can concentrate will be sufficient to build up an industry.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 01 10:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (26)
2010 July 29 Thursday
Voice Phone Calls Are So 20th Century

Clive Thompson argues voice phone calls are dying and deserve to die.

According to Nielsen, the average number of mobile phone calls we make is dropping every year, after hitting a peak in 2007. And our calls are getting shorter: In 2005 they averaged three minutes in length; now they’re almost half that.

This jibes with my experience. I rarely use the phone for voice calls and then mostly for people who for some bizarre reason have phones that can't handle SMS or email messages.

One obvious problem with voice phone calls is the need for both sides to be available at the same time. As Thompson points out, voice calls are more emotionally demanding. They pull us away from what we have in front of us (whether physically or more abstractly in front of us) to focus on trying to emotionally read what someone else is saying, when to interrupt with our one responses (harder when you can't see the other person's face), and whether we are being understood.

I find that when someone reaches me on the phone and I answer in case it is important then the result is often awkward. Sometimes I find out the purpose of the call is not important, that the person calling is just trying to kill time, and the call is not worth interrupting a conversation I'm having with someone I'm with. The caller then feels slighted when I beg off and ask them to call later.

Then there is the inefficient caller. They talk slowly, pause, provide too much set-up for their key message. The same person could provide the same information much more compactly in an email or SMS message. Same happens with voice mails. I want a way to tell the voice mail program to speed up playback and cut out pauses.

Parenthetically, I'd like the same capability to speed up Google Tech Talks and other lectures on YouTube (e.g. the rate of delivery in this video lecture is too slow. I've come across occasional political video sites that let you speed up playback. So this is technically possible.

Will video phone calls with phones like the HTC Evo 4G reverse the trend away from phone calls? You going to be more inclined to call people once you can watch their faces during the phone call? Or will Android's messaging features such as GMail integration make you even less inclined to do voice calling?

By Randall Parker    2010 July 29 11:33 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2010 May 29 Saturday
Latest College Students Have Less Empathy

In the last 10 years the kids have shown a declining ability to understand the emotional state and viewpoint of others. The researchers for this study want to run down the causes of this trend in personality development.

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Today's college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and '90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

"We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000," said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."

Video games might be the cause.

"The increase in exposure to media during this time period could be one factor," Konrath said. "Compared to 30 years ago, the average American now is exposed to three times as much nonwork-related information. In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games, and a growing body of research, including work done by my colleagues at Michigan, is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others."

Social media Facebook and online discussion forums also might be a contributing factor.

The recent rise of social media may also play a role in the drop in empathy, suggests O'Brien.

"The ease of having 'friends' online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don't feel like responding to others' problems, a behavior that could carry over offline," he said.

Why hang out with people in real life who are less like you when you can hang out only with online people where you can be much more selective about what aspects of their lives you have to contend with?

Add in the hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success, borne of celebrity "reality shows," and you have a social environment that works against slowing down and listening to someone who needs a bit of sympathy, he says.

A large fraction of all video game playing doesn't even involve another human. The video game playing that does involve humans does so only in very abstracted fantasy contexts. Does online life allow us to escape from the suffering of others?

Will the kids with lower empathy eventually develop more empathy when they get out into the working world and are forced to spend less time playing video games and posting on Facebook?

This reminds me: Sometimes when I write posts about things going wrong with the world (e.g. habitat destruction, more species becoming endangered, pollution from developing countries) I've gotten complaints from a few commenters about how they didn't come to this site to read such news. They want and expect happy news about technological advance and a utopian future. Their ability to construct their own private internet channel of sites that fulfill their desires about the present and future seems like another aspect of how computer and communications technologies are allowing people to create personal micro-environments that isolate them.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 29 05:00 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2010 January 20 Wednesday
New Media Use By Children Up By Hours Per Week

A Kaiser Family Foundation study finds cell phones and other devices have increased the number of hours kids spend using entertainment media. Even though conventional TV consumption is down increased internet TV consumption more than makes up for that loss. Even more TV is being consumed.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – With technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

The amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes a day over the past five years, from 6:21 in 2004 to 7:38 today.  And because of media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during that period has increased from 8:33 in 2004 to 10:45 today.

Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds is the third in a series of large-scale, nationally representative surveys by the Foundation about young people’s media use.  It includes data from all three waves of the study (1999, 2004, and 2009), and is among the largest and most comprehensive publicly available sources of information about media use among American youth.

Mobile media driving increased consumption.  The increase in media use is driven in large part by ready access to mobile devices like cell phones and iPods.  Over the past five years, there has been a huge increase in ownership among 8- to 18-year-olds: from 39% to 66% for cell phones, and from 18% to 76% for iPods and other MP3 players.  During this period, cell phones and iPods have become true multi-media devices: in fact, young people now spend more time listening to music, playing games, and watching TV on their cell phones (a total of :49 daily) than they spend talking on them (:33).

Friends and relatives complain of kids who are game addicts and who get little accomplished due to their social networking, messaging, and games obsessions.

What I'd like to know: What are the net effects of iPods, Facebook, MySpace, video games, and the like? Are young males less physically violent because they can find an outlet for their aggressiveness in video games? Are kids more ignorant of political and economic news because they spend less time reading newspapers and magazines?

What are the effects of these new forms of media on smarter versus dumber kids? Do smarter kids use the media to learn faster? Or does it pull them away from studies? Do bright kids get more benefit from the new media while dumber kids are more likely to use it to waste more time? I would expect brighter kids to find ways to use it more adaptively.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 20 11:12 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2009 October 07 Wednesday
Video Games Threat To Nature?

Video game addicts get so little experience with nature that they do not develop a love and support for the great outdoors.

Serious hikers and backpackers tend to become supporters of environmental and conservation groups while casual woodland tourists do not, a new study says -- and a recent fall-off in strenuous outdoor endeavors portends a coming decline in the ranks of conservation backers.

Oliver Pergams, visiting research assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Patricia Zaradic, director of the Red Rock Institute in Pennsylvania, made headlines in early 2008 with a study showing that a steady decline in nature recreation since the late 1980s correlated strongly with a rise in playing video games, surfing the Internet and watching movies -- an unhealthy trend they called "videophilia."

Now Pergams and Zaradic, along with Peter Kareiva, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, have found that only people who engage in vigorous outdoor sports, like hiking and backpacking, tend later to become supporters of mainline conservation groups, while those who only go sightseeing or fishing do not. Their findings are reported Oct. 7 in PLoS ONE, an online publication of the Public Library of Science.

I notice with some commenters a greater love of the creations of humans than of the natural wonders. This probably partly explains the indifference some express to the plight of nature due to human population growth and industrialization.

Will humans in the long term become less and less interested in natural environments and more supportive of artificial managed ecologies?

By Randall Parker    2009 October 07 12:11 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2009 August 29 Saturday
Governments Use More Internet Political Filters

Battles are playing out on the internet over control of information about political events.

The latest evidence of these clampdowns comes in a report on the Middle East and north Africa by the OpenNet Initiative (ONI), a collaboration of researchers based in the UK and North America. Among the restrictions it reports are clampdowns on Facebook in Syria and the use of hidden cameras in Saudi Arabia's internet cafes.

Most of these actions are aimed at stifling political debate. "Political filtering is the common denominator," says Helmi Noman of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society in Boston, who compiled the report. "It's the main target."

I can see on a smaller scale how government controls will fail. Point to point communications via private wireless networks won't pass thru government filter and firewall boxes. But on a larger scale it looks to me that governments can control the routing nodes.

Larger governments should be especially efficacious at control because they've got efficiencies of scale working for them. So does China's government win in the info control game?

China has developed an extensive system of filters which it uses to block access to content about sensitive topics, such as the protests in 1989 in Tiananamen Square, Beijing. Other Asian nations, including Thailand and Vietnam, have taken action against blogs and news sites that host material critical of their leaders. The ONI found few restrictions of this kind in the Americas, with the notable exception of Cuba, where many people are unable to even access the internet.

The article describes software developed in the West to help people in more repressive countries defeat the filters and blockers. What I want to know: Which side in this battle will win in the long run? Will governments be able to exert increasingly powerful levels of control over internet communications? Or will powerful open source applications for encryption, proxies that hide the origin of web pages and emails, and other tools work around the government controls?

The war against email spam is in some ways analogous to government controls on web access. The spammers keep finding new ways to camouflage their messages and get thru email filters. Imagine software that converts a news report into text that reads like, say, personal relationship gossip. It could use different names and change verbs to make a story read like it is unrelated to political events. Software on the receiving side could translate the story back into a political news report.

Blocks on individual sites are defeatable with use of reflector sites with other URLs. This is analogous to spammers who register lots of URLs in order to stay ahead of filters that get more URLs added to them. But a government like China's can write bot software that visits web sites found in emails to check them for, say, containing the front page of the NY Times. If multiple URLs map to the same proxy site then governments can start blocking IP addresses. So many servers (meaning more money) would be needed to support many IP addresses.

So how does this battle settle out in the long run? Do the controllers win? Do the controllers scale up to using artificial intelligence to monitor and filter communications? Will one of AI's early uses be for political repression via control of internet traffic?

By Randall Parker    2009 August 29 11:04 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2009 August 26 Wednesday
People Narcissistic And Boring On Facebook?

Elizabeth Bernstein sees Facebook as harmful to friendships.

Like many people, I'm experiencing Facebook Fatigue. I'm tired of loved ones—you know who you are—who claim they are too busy to pick up the phone, or even write a decent email, yet spend hours on social-media sites, uploading photos of their children or parties, forwarding inane quizzes, posting quirky, sometimes nonsensical one-liners or tweeting their latest whereabouts. ("Anyone know a good restaurant in Berlin?")

I've noticed great differences in the quality of the posting various Facebook friends make. Some people just go on and decide this is their first time to really perform in front of people and they think posting about the trivial of their lives will be as appealing to others as it is to them. A smaller number of others post only thoughtful links to interesting articles or insightful comments. Most rarely post at all and probably rarely read Facebook. I suspect the prolific commenters have far smaller audiences than they think they do.

Since the heaviest posters make the posts of less frequent commenters scroll out of site quickly the most boring drown out the most interesting.

Ever notice how Facebook has a Like link but not a Dislike link on each post?

But let's face it, the problem is much greater than which tools we use to communicate. It's what we are actually saying that's really mucking up our relationships. "Oh my God, a college friend just updated her Facebook status to say that her 'teeth are itching for a flossing!'" shrieked a friend of mine recently. "That's gross. I don't want to hear about what's going on inside her mouth."

Facebook needs easier ways to set whether to show each person as part of your main page list of recent friend posts. As things stand, the more friends you have the less valuable it is to look at the list of recent comments of friends.

I get much more out of reading my favorite blogs.

The long turn trend in social networking seems to be more people talking and fewer listening.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 26 10:40 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2009 July 25 Saturday
Automated Blog Tracking Measures Happiness?

Can the emotional state of the populace be tracked by measuring phrase frequencies in blog postings?

Their methods show that Election Day, November 4, 2008, was the happiest day in four years. The day of Michael Jackson's death, one of the unhappiest.

A methodology that reports the day of Michael Jackson's death as one of the most unhappy seems suspect. I do not know anyone who seemed unhappy over his passing. Mostly people were indifferent. I suspect that people who emote on blogs are not typical of the population as a whole. Not all people are bloggers and not all bloggers spend much time expressing emotions.

Their results are reported this week in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

"The proliferation of personal online writing such as blogs gives us the opportunity to measure emotional levels in real time," they write in their study, "Measuring the Happiness of Large-Scale Written Expression: Songs, Blogs, and Presidents,3" now available in an early online edition of the journal.

Okay, they search for people saying "I feel". Well, I've written about 3000 FuturePundit posts and I just did a search on the entry text for "I feel" in all those posts. Turns out that "I feel" occurs only 14 times. I'm obviously not a big emoter. In one of those cases I was quoting Sting singing "I feel lonely". In another case I was quoting the president of China who said "I feel worried" due to the SARS disease threat. All told, about 5 of my 14 uses of "I feel" were quotes of other people. In another case I used "feel" when I should have used "think" to refer to a belief I had. In another case I said "I feel compelled" (and I'm probably always compelled since I doubt free will exists - and I'm probably compelled to doubt and to write this long run-on sentence). Does a compelled person feel happy or unhappy? I guess it depends on what they feel compelled to do. Those of us who feel compelled to eat chocolate no doubt are happier.

My guess is that my own pattern of rare usage of "I feel" makes my own emotional state pretty hard to read using the methodology of these researchers. Am I happy? What do you think?

My take on this methodology: Us stoics remain invisible to these researchers. Their methodology probably gets more feelings measured from women since women express their emotions more. They also probably get more feelings measured from less rational people who place more value on their feelings as indicators for telling them what is true.

Their answer to Edgeworth's daydream begins with a website, www.wefeelfine.org4 that mines through some 2.3 million blogs, looking for sentences beginning with "I feel" or "I am feeling."

"We gathered nearly 10 million sentences from their site," Dodds says. Then, drawing on a standardized "psychological valence" of words established by the Affective Norms for English Words (ANEW) study, each sentence receives a happiness score. In the ANEW study, a large pool of participants graded their reaction to 1,034 words, forming a kind of "happy-unhappy" scale from 1 to 9. For example, "triumphant" averaged 8.87, "paradise" 8.72, "pancakes" 6.08, "vanity" 4.30, "hostage" 2.20, and "suicide" 1.25.

The sentence "I feel lazy" would receive a score of 4.38. "Our method is only reasonable for large-scale texts, like what's available on the Web," Dodds says. "Any one sentence might not show much. There's too much variability in individual expression." But that's the beauty of big data sets and statistics.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 25 11:14 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2009 July 06 Monday
Threat To Personal Identity Numbers Highlighted

CMU researchers find it too easy to figure out US national identity numbers of individuals.

The nation’s Social Security numbering system has left millions of citizens vulnerable to privacy breaches, according to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, who for the first time have used statistical techniques to predict Social Security numbers solely from an individual’s date and location of birth.

I have become a lot more wary about publishing info about details of my identity. I don't put my birth date on Facebook and similar venues just because I want to reduce my risks of identity theft.

Online credit card application forms make it easier to guess credit cards.

“A botnet can be programmed to try variations of a Social Security number to apply for an instant credit card,” Acquisti said. “In 60 seconds, these services tell you whether you are approved or not, so they can be abused to tell whether you’ve hit the right social security number.”

I get annoyed at financial institutions that use too few password recovery standard questions and that use questions that have answers that are too easy for others to figure out from public sources. Plus, asking a person's favorite pet's name is dumb for two reasons. First off, some names are more popular for dogs. Second, lots of people know the names of current and previous dogs of others.

Some online financial institutions ask user name and password on the same page. A smaller number of others (and I'm not going to mention by name one I use that is better) first ask your user name and then show you a separate password form personalized to you that does a better job of telling you that you really are dealing with that institution. More should do this.

Also, when typing in a password more financial institutions should show you a password quality measure. A few I deal with do. But most provide no indication whether your password will be easy to guess.

By Randall Parker    2009 July 06 11:46 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2009 June 01 Monday
Cell Phone Ringing Lowers Brain Peformance

I like research that demonstrates that which I already believe.

A flurry of recent research has documented that talking on a cell phone poses a dangerous distraction for drivers and others whose attention should be focused elsewhere. Now, a new study in the Journal of Environmental Psychology finds that just the ring of a cell phone may be equally distracting, especially when it comes in a classroom setting or includes a familiar song as a ringtone.

"In any setting where people are trying to acquire knowledge and trying to retain that information in some way, a distraction that may just seem like a common annoyance to people may have a really disruptive effect on their later retention of that information," said the study's lead author, Jill Shelton, a postdoctoral psychology fellow in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis.

The study includes an experiment in which Shelton poses as a student seated in the middle of a crowded undergraduate psychology lecture and allows a cell phone in her handbag to continue ringing loudly for about 30 seconds.

Students exposed to a briefly ringing cell phone scored 25 percent worse on a test of material presented before the distraction.

Students tested later scored about 25 percent worse for recall of course content presented during the distraction, even though the same information was covered by the professor just prior to the phone ring and projected as text in a slide show shown throughout the distraction. Students scored even worse when Shelton added to the disturbance by frantically searching her handbag as if attempting to find and silence her ringing phone.

"Many of us consider a cell phone ringing in a public place to be an annoying disruption, but this study confirms that these nuisance noises also have real-life impacts," Shelton said. "These seemingly innocuous events are not only a distraction, but they have a real influence on learning."

They found song ring tones even more distracting than ringing sounds.

Big complaint: People in office settings should switch their phones to vibrate. If they do have the ringer on it should be turned way down. Also, when they get a call they should walk outside. The noise pollution is a big problem.

While I'm at it: allowing cell phone use on airplanes is an argument for driving. We really need sound deadening technology that will protect us from the noise pollution generated by others around us.

Any reader ever used a device that blocks cell phone frequencies? Such devices would be useful to turn on at the beginning of meetings and at symphony, opera, and ballet performances. Some places should be licensed to be allowed to turn on cell phone frequency jammers.

Are there any sociopaths among my readers who think it is okay to subject class mates and co-workers to your loud ringing cell phone?

By Randall Parker    2009 June 01 11:24 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 May 30 Saturday
Text Messaging Excesses A Growing Problem

75 text messages a day is not healthy.

Spurred by the unlimited texting plans offered by carriers like AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless, American teenagers sent and received an average of 2,272 text messages per month in the fourth quarter of 2008, according to the Nielsen Company — almost 80 messages a day, more than double the average of a year earlier.

Humans weren't designed to handle the electronic environment we've created.

Even worse, putting others in danger while you text message in your car. Do any of my readers do this? Why?

In a survey released last week by Vlingo Corp., a Cambridge, Mass., company that develops speech-recognition technology for mobile phones (and so, of course with a vested interest in the survey’s outcome, so keep that in mind), more than 26 percent of some 4,800 cellphone users surveyed across the United States admitted they had sent text messages while driving. The worst state was Tennessee, where 42 percent of those surveyed said they had done DWT. But here is the kicker: While more than 26 percent of those surveyed said they texted while driving, 83 percent said the practice should be illegal. (Currently seven states and the District of Columbia outlaw it.) So if my math is correct, this means that at least 9 percent of those surveyed text even though they think it’s a bad thing.

I saw a lady just yesterday pulling up to a stop light in an SUV while messing with her cell phone. I was tempted to shout at her. She was looking the phone more than she was looking ahead.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 30 07:03 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2009 April 18 Saturday
Wearable SixthSense Computers For Immersive Internet

MIT postdoc Pranav Mistry has created a wearable computer called Sixth Sense that is connected to the internet and which, among other things, will do web searches on products you pick up.

Say the wearer goes to the grocery store and picks up a box of cereal from the shelf. The camera sees this action and identifies the product. An Internet search automatically finds its exact specifications, such as the brand or nutrition facts. Then, the projector beams a green or red light onto the item, letting the wearer know if the cereal meets user-defined criteria. A consumer, for instance, might only want to buy a brand that is American-made, packaged in recyclable materials, or high in fiber.

You can already get an iPhone app that'll read product codes on products in stores and look up information about them. So this isn't so much a new function as a slightly different way to carry the functionality. But a device that constantly takes in local environment information will in the future do much more.

When outside conditions aren’t enough to prompt the Internet search, Sixth Sense makes use of gestures. Tracing a circle on your wrist tells the device to project a digital clock on your arm – the world’s lightest wristwatch, a fan joked. And the most natural function of all might be the way the camera snaps a picture when the wearer frames something with his fingers.

In this early stage, Mistry wraps colored tape around his thumbs and pointer fingers, markers that make them easier for the Web cam to spot.

This immersive real-time approach to integrating the internet with your life looks like the future. You'll have processes running on servers taking data feeds from your cell phone and from computer sensor networks built into your clothing. Software on your worn computers and on the servers will constantly analyse your surroundings and provide you with useful information.

Imagine looking at another person and having a computer camera in your glasses take a picture of their irises to to do a look-up on who they are. If they show up as dangerous on a police database you could be warned about the sorts of dangers they pose. If they are really dangerous they might be wearing a computer that not only allows the police to track their real-time movements but also to alert people around them of prior convictions for rape, pedophilia, car theft, and other charges.

Another useful function: name recall. You run into someone you haven't seen for a long time and your computer takes a picture, passes it to a server, compares it to everyone you've ever known, and comes back and tells you that's Jill Smith from your high school graduating class and that she's got a last name of Clark but is legally separated.

From Mistry's web site:

'SixthSense' is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information. By using a camera and a tiny projector mounted in a pendant like wearable device, 'SixthSense' sees what you see and visually augments any surfaces or objects we are interacting with. It projects information onto surfaces, walls, and physical objects around us, and lets us interact with the projected information through natural hand gestures, arm movements, or our interaction with the object itself. 'SixthSense' attempts to free information from its confines by seamlessly integrating it with reality, and thus making the entire world your computer.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 18 07:42 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
Facebook Lowering College Student Performance?

Are losers attracted to Facebook or does Facebook addiction turn people into losers?

Typically, Facebook users in the study had GPAs between 3.0 and 3.5, while non-users had GPAs between 3.5 and 4.0.

In addition, users said they averaged one to five hours a week studying, while non-users studied 11 to 15 hours per week.

Of course the third possibility is that learning less in college doesn't hurt one's ultimate career prospects. Maybe being more social even better equips one to use networking to advance in one's career.

How much are technological addictions lowering people's performance at productive work? I know women who describe to me the huge amount of time their teenage sons spend in virtual reality games and other online addictions. They see their kids accomplishing less toward setting themselves up to succeed in the job market.

Different media (blogs, discussion forums, social networking sites, phone messaging, etc) encourage and discourage different kinds of intellectual activity. My own writing of web logs has made me do a lot more reading of material to give me more accurate and informed opinions. The web logs end up serving as an extended memory bank on many topics and I understand far more about a variety of topics as a result. But from what I've been reading in Facebook posts so far what I see is that media form seems to discourage deeper intellectual development. A larger number of less informed people speak to each other in smaller groups about trivial things.

There are probably corners of Facebook that have more substantial discussions. But the format gives you so much coming from your old childhood friends that it seems defocusing and shallow. People writing higher quality material are better off writing blogs.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 18 03:54 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2009 April 02 Thursday
Voice Communication Increasingly Obsolete?

Hey, I'd rather get an SMS text message or an email than a phone call to, say, remind me of a dentist's appointment or tell me I was late sending in a Census survey. Voice is so slow. People leave meandering voice mails that they think thru while they are recording their message. Written communication saves time and it is easier to back up in to review a particular point. Turns out a lot of people prefer to read text messages over listening to voice mails. Will future trans-humans use genetic engineering to remove our genes for vocal chords? Better to just implant text messaging computer chips in our brains.

Research shows that people take longer to reply to voice messages than other types of communication. Data from uReach Technologies, which operates the voice messaging systems of Verizon Wireless and other cellphone carriers, shows that over 30 percent of voice messages linger unheard for three days or longer and that more than 20 percent of people with messages in their mailboxes "rarely even dial in" to check them, said Saul Einbinder, senior vice president for marketing and business development for uReach, in an e-mail message.

By contrast, 91 percent of people under 30 respond to text messages within an hour, and they are four times more likely to respond to texts than to voice messages within minutes, according to a 2008 study for Sprint conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation.

I hear anecdotes like sisters who text message each other at the dinner table with their parents sitting there. It is a way to make conversations more private. I'd like to know how the text messaging addicts, TV watching addicts, and electronic game playing addicts differ in personality and intelligence and testosterone levels.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 02 11:53 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2009 March 03 Tuesday
Over Half Of Humanity Use Cell Phones

Cellular telephone infrastructure is a lot easier to build than ground phone lines to every dwelling. So countries that are still too underdeveloped to have widespread land line phone service are getting mobile phone networks. Cellular phone technology has now spread so far and gotten so cheap that likely more than half of humanity use cell phones.

There are now 4.1 billion mobile subscriptions in the world, a global penetration rate of 61.1 percent: This compares to 1.270 billion fixed line subscribers, corresponding to a penetration rate of 18.9 percent.

Since some people have multiple mobile phone subscriptions (e.g. one for one and one for home) probably less than 61% of the world's people have phones. By contrast, in poorer countries mobile phones are shared and rented out. Also, people on pay-for-use plans can end up using their phones very little.

Even Africa has widespread cellular phone use. One has to wonder how many hungry people have cell phones. Also, how hard is to for them to keep the phones charged?

While just 1 in 50 Africans had a mobile in the year 2000, now 28 percent have a cellular subscription, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

What's the net effect of all this phone usage? It must enable more trading and organizing of business activity. But what else does it do to society?

Internet usage still hasn't quite reached a quarter of the world's population.

The survey, by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an agency of the UN, also found that nearly a quarter of the world's 6.7 billion people use the internet.

Only 5% have broadband at home. I've already decided that living some place that is out of reach of broadband is a total nonstarter. I'm more tied to the internet than to TV. If I had to give up either internet or TV then bye bye TV.

My guess is that going forward human-to-human interaction won't grow as fast as human-to-machine interaction. People will increasingly find machines providing them with the information and entertainment they seek.

By Randall Parker    2009 March 03 12:05 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2009 February 20 Friday
Smart Phones Change How We See Our Surroundings

Unaugmented reality is just so passe.

Indeed, a new generation of smartphones like the G1, with Android software developed by Google, and a range of Japanese phones now “augment” reality by painting a map over a phone-screen image of the user’s surroundings produced by the phone’s camera.

Why experience reality without enhancements? I see phone reality augmentation as a transitory step. We really need glasses that do heads-up display overlaying information about what is in front of us or what we want to know about.

Using a hand to manipulate the phone is a waste of a valuable extremity. We need to be able to think what we want the phone to do. The "Phone Company" in the Cold War classic paranoid movie The President's Analyst tried to convince James Coburn's character to recommend to the US President to embed phones in everyone's brain. Then just think a phone number and the phone would dial it. Well, we need something like that.

Phones that know where you are and tell your friends and associates take away privacy but provide greater connectivity. Phones can also tell you things about your immediate surroundings.

Increasingly, phones will allow users to look at an image of what is around them. You could be surrounded by skyscrapers but have an immediate reference map showing your destination and features of the landscape, along with your progress in real time. Part of what drives the emergence of map-based services is the vast marketing potential of analyzing consumers’ travel patterns. For example, it is now possible for marketers to identify users who are shopping for cars because they have traveled to multiple car dealerships.

Imagine databases of criminals. Your "phone" could tell you when it sees a criminal near you and show you the list of convictions for that criminal. Or how about a phone that watches what you buy in a grocery store and warns you when you pick up something that violates your diet?

By Randall Parker    2009 February 20 12:41 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2008 August 02 Saturday
Voicemail To Leave Your Lover

There are a lot more than 50 ways to leave your lover and technological advances produce yet more ways to do the deed.

When Alexis Gorman, 26, wanted to tell a man she had been dating that the courtship was over, she felt sending a Dear John text message was too impersonal. But she worried that if she called the man, she would face an awkward conversation or a confrontation.

Alexis, did you really want to achieve your first real fame in life by getting described in the New York Times as someone who used Slydial to ditch some guy? Also, did you do this as a way to make him hear it twice?

If you get bad news from a romantic interest in email, well, they didn't want to tell you directly.

So she found a middle ground. She broke it off in a voice mail message, using new technology that allowed her to jump directly to the suitor’s voice mail, without ever having to talk to the man — or risk his actually answering the phone.

The technology, called Slydial, lets callers dial a mobile phone but avoid an unwanted conversation — or unwanted intimacy — on the other end. The incoming call goes undetected by the recipient, who simply receives the traditional blinking light or ping that indicates that a voice mail message has been received.

That is what I like: Technological ways to avoid undesired intimacies.

More ways to avoid intimacy might make people more willing to engage in it in the first place. If you can back out of a relationship more easily it is less risky to start one in the first place. Perhaps Ms. Gorman sees voice mails as a more humane way that text messaging to stop after a couple of dates. This option cuts the emotional cost of dating. With an easier exit ramp you are more likely to get on the highway in the first place.

“If it’s some jerk I went out on a couple of dates with, I can do without that drama,” she said.

“Text messaging someone ‘I would prefer not to see you again’ is really not my style,” she added. “But at the same time, I wanted to avoid an awkward conversation.”

I think the bigger problem with phone conversations is that they can be hard to end even with people you know you will speak with again. You might feel assorted obligations to the other person and don't want to signal that you are uninterested in hearing yet more of what they have to say. I didn't get a cell phone until last year for just this reason.

BTW, the New York Times picture of Ms. Gorman doesn't look as good as this Facebook picture which seems like it is her.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 02 10:45 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2008 July 26 Saturday
Message Texting Addicts Breaking Bones

Crackberry addicts are walking into cars, telephone poles, and everything else in their way as they type away walking.

But most of the time the victims are the texters, who wind up with bumps and bruises. Northwestern Memorial Hospital's emergency room has been ground zero in Chicago for texting goofs. Located downtown near shopper-clogged Michigan Avenue, the emergency room is also close to the exceptionally busy lakefront path, where pedestrians and joggers share a lane with bikers.

James Adams, Northwestern's chairman of emergency medicine, says he has treated patients involved in texting incidents nearly every day this summer. He says fallen texters are more prone to facial injuries: They tend to hold their devices close to their faces, so their hands are less likely to break their fall. "By the time their hands hit, their face immediately hits and they smash to the ground," Dr. Adams says. The common outcomes are scraped chins, noses and foreheads, along with broken glasses.

We are not in the environments where we evolved to be adaptive. So we get addicted to drugs, alcohol, video games, Blackberries, and other new things in our environments that we are not genetically designed to handle.

The texters would be less dangerous to themselves and others if they didn't have to look down to see the screen. What is needed: Head Up Display Glasses tied to a cell phone. Then one could look ahead and see the text mixed in with sidewalk or whatever else is in front of you.

But how to type when walking? Avoid the need to type with voice recognition software. Except, people can hear you then. How to maintain the privacy that typing provides? The in-brain implant cell phone that "The Phone Company" tried to convince The President's Analyst (1967 with James Coburn) to tell the US President to allow transplanted into everyone's brain.

Another alternative: develop a drug that breaks down the text messaging addiction.

By Randall Parker    2008 July 26 12:26 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2008 June 19 Thursday
Electronic Distractions Cutting Worker Productivity

These companies are just figuring this out? Slow learners anyone?

Some of the biggest technology firms, including Microsoft, Intel, Google and I.B.M., are banding together to fight information overload. Last week they formed a nonprofit group to study the problem, publicize it and devise ways to help workers — theirs and others — cope with the digital deluge.

Their effort comes as statistical and anecdotal evidence mounts that the same technology tools that have led to improvements in productivity can be counterproductive if overused.

The big chip maker Intel found in an eight-month internal study that some employees who were encouraged to limit digital interruptions said they were more productive and creative as a result.

Intel and other companies are already experimenting with solutions. Small units at some companies are encouraging workers to check e-mail messages less frequently, to send group messages more judiciously and to avoid letting the drumbeat of digital missives constantly shake up and reorder to-do lists.

Tom DeMarco and Anthony Lister explained this problem back in the 1980s in their book Peopleware. Yes, interruptions are costly because it takes a while to get the mind refocused with all the mental chess pieces back where they were. Yes, people get addicted to their email. But partly that's because bosses will call meetings in email for meetings that are supposed to start in 45 minutes (and I hate that). How you going to know that unless you are checking your email every half hour?

By Randall Parker    2008 June 19 11:06 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2007 November 03 Saturday
Cellphone Jammers Grow In Popularity

The New York Times reports on the growing use of illegal cellphone jammers by people who do not want to hear one side of many different phone conversations.

As cellphone use has skyrocketed, making it hard to avoid hearing half a conversation in many public places, a small but growing band of rebels is turning to a blunt countermeasure: the cellphone jammer, a gadget that renders nearby mobile devices impotent.

The technology is not new, but overseas exporters of jammers say demand is rising and they are sending hundreds of them a month into the United States — prompting scrutiny from federal regulators and new concern last week from the cellphone industry. The buyers include owners of cafes and hair salons, hoteliers, public speakers, theater operators, bus drivers and, increasingly, commuters on public transportation.

The development is creating a battle for control of the airspace within earshot. And the damage is collateral. Insensitive talkers impose their racket on the defenseless, while jammers punish not just the offender, but also more discreet chatterers.

My sympathy is with the jammers. I'd love to see jammers used during concert, movie, and opera performances. We need a political movement in support of the legalization of jammers under at least some conditions.

Cellphones are not just a hazard while driving. Cellphones make many otherwise peaceful settings into irritations. Restaurants become less enjoyable. Meetings of people get interrupted by cellphone ringtones. Why don't people put their phones on vibrate? Given that a substantial fraction of humanity has no problem with imposing themselves on others we need technological counters to these impositions.

Hearing half of a phone conversation is more distracting than hearing both sides. The brain can't make sense of it and that causes greater distraction (and I can't find a report on a study that showed this result - anyone know the study I'm referring to?). If you are sitting somewhere trying to think it sure is handy to have a way to block out electronic sources of distraction.

The article above reports that the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and cellphone companies such as Verizon try to catch the people who use jammers. Business owners who are trying to jam continuously in a fixed location are most likely to get caught since a place that consistently has no reception gets reported and investigated.

Also see my posts Work Distractions Lower Effective IQ and Brain Limits Ability To Multitask Interruptions. Oh, and don't forget Locking A Car With A Short Horn Blast Is Rude And Obnoxious.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 03 06:04 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2007 September 28 Friday
Employers Using LinkedIn To Check Out Prospects Before Hiring

Rather than check out provided references after interviewing some employers are using social networking sites to find work acquaintances to ask about prospective employees even before calling them in for interviews.

Job interviewees, beware: Your prospective boss may have called your references before you walk through the door -- and they may not be the contacts you provided.

Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn Corp. and Jobster Inc. are making it easier for employers to get in touch with people who have worked with job candidates in the past or know them personally. Recruiters say they use such sites -- where people create online profiles and then link to professional colleagues who are also members -- to find mutual connections they can hit up for information. Many hiring managers say they even check to see if they have mutual connections with a candidate on Facebook and MySpace, the popular social-networking sites.

Companies are even trolling social networking webs to find job candidates. So you can get your references checked out before you even know about a job opening.

This is an automation of what has gone on informally and less efficiently for years. A person who has previously worked at companies Y and Z gets a job at company X and tells people in company X who the big talents are in former employers Y and Z. Then company X personnel call up these talents and try to recruit them. This is great fun when you are the person who gets asked to come in and interview for a position in a company you never heard of before. Well, the web is going to make this so9rt of thing happen more often. Want to find out who is good at company W? Find connections between current and former employees and then start trying to email and call them. In many cases just one or two names will be enough to start the process of finding lots of connections.

This ability to find out the appraisals of more former colleagues will increase the value of working hard wherever you are. Each job becomes more of an audition for other jobs.

This phenomenon is part of a larger trend: the death of privacy. Communications and computing advances mean that more about us gets recorded and knowable by electronic means.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 28 11:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
2007 September 13 Thursday
MP3 Usage Drives Lousier Musical Recordings?

An article in the Wall Street Journal relays the claim that changes to recordings to make them sound better when played from MP3 format causes the pre-MP3 original releases to sound worse.

"Right now, when you are done recording a track, the first thing the band does is to load it onto an iPod and give it a listen," said Alan Douches, who has worked with Fleetwood Mac and others. "Years ago, we might have checked the sound of a track on a Walkman, but no one believed that was the best it could sound. Today, young artists think MP3s are a high-quality medium and the iPod is state-of-the-art sound."

It isn't. Producers and engineers say there are many ways they might change a track to accommodate an iPod MP3. Sometimes, the changes are for the worse.

Is this claim true?

Eventually storage will become so cheap that compression of recordings will become less desirable. Also, newer formats will support more bits of resolution than CD offers and so especially at the lower frequencies sound quality should improve.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 13 10:19 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2007 September 05 Wednesday
Brain Computer Interface Games Coming

There'll be no need to force people to undergo Borg assimilation. The hive mind can take over by getting people addicted to computer games with brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

Several makers of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs -- devices that facilitate operating a computer by thought alone -- claim the technology is poised to jump from the medical sector into the consumer gaming world in 2008.

Companies including Emotiv Systems and NeuroSky say they've released BCI-based software-development kits. Gaming companies may release BCI games next year, but many scientists worry that users brains' might be subject to negative effects.

For example, the devices sometimes force users to slow down their brain waves. Afterward, users have reported trouble focusing their attention.

Trouble focusing their attention afterward? Maybe the games are so mentally demanding that playing them is akin to doing a physical work-out on one's muscles. The game work-out leaves the mind fatigued just like gym work-outs leave muscles fatigued.

Biofeedback was developed for medical purposes. Such serious technology shouldn't get treated like just another toy! Toys are undignified and medical technology should only be doled out by licensed doctors. Okay, I admit I'm exaggerating - there's a role for nurse practitioners in deciding how many hours a day Johnny can be jacked into the world wide head.

"Most biofeedback is used for clearly defined clinical purposes, specifically to try and eliminate or ameliorate a problem," says Alan Garos, president of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. "Using feedback of brain activity for non-therapeutic purposes is something that we have to look at carefully."

When LSD hit the streets of San Francisco that's kind of like what computers did when they became available for home use. The difference is that parents applauded the computer addiction craze. Therefore we can not expect a cautious approach toward BCI by electronic game playing addicts. BCI game playing will be seen as training for upscale jobs done through BCI devices.

Yet BCI poses problems We didn't evolve to handle computers. Therefore we aren't well adapted to their presence in our environments. We can either use genetic engineering to adapt ourselves to computers or let natural selection run its course. Eventually those who can't resist their addiction to brain-computer interfaces will die out due to failure to reproduce. Natural selection will spread genetic alleles that make people less susceptible to malfunction when connected to brain-computer interfaces.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 05 10:27 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2007 July 15 Sunday
Web Site Readers Most Knowledgeable About Politics

It could be that more knowledgeable people are more likely to read the web. But I say down with TV and up with link-rich news sites.

As candidates and pundits look to the Internet in the 2008 presidential campaign, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study shows that Web users during the last election cycle had a more thorough understanding of presidential politics than users of other media.

"We did not find significant links between television news use and factual knowledge, but we did find significant links from both print and online use to factual knowledge in 2004," says the study by graduate student Kajsa Dalrymple and Dietram Scheufele, a UW-Madison journalism professor.

More importantly, however, online newspapers were the only medium that had significant effects on integrated knowledge - the ability of readers to "connect the dots" by combining bits and pieces of knowledge into a meaningful understanding of politics.

Writing web logs and connecting up the dots from newer posts back to older posts and to other sites has changed my mental model of many subjects very substantially. Reading 3 different dead tree newspapers a day would not have done that. I've discarded many incorrect opinions and moved on to better ones. I've been able to get answers to many questions I've had for years (and thanks to those readers who posted some of the answers in comments). So I'm mighty inclined to agree with the conclusions of this report.

Also, TV worthless for news? You bet. TV is there for the Sci Fi channel, the Comedy Channel, and the occasional good show or old movie on other channels. Don't try to treat TV seriously as a news source. You are likely to hurt your brain trying to do that.

People who are engaged in building web logs or cruising through news sites, web logs, policy analysis sites, and other web sources of information are able to find out answers and connect up the dots in ways that readers of the dead tree formats just can't do. The quality and quantity of data on the web keeps improving. Plus, the web provides a way for many specialists to tell us how to think through subjects that otherwise would be hard to navigate. Great voices that would never make it into the public square in the dead tree era find places to reach us on the internet. This is great.

The electronic access to data on web pages is a stepping stone. I treat my blog posts as an extended external memory bank. This extended memory bank makes me think that some day people will sign up to get cybernetic implants of nanodevice memory devices and network connections. The implants will provide people with instant access to large volumes of reference data and analytical tools for chomping through and formatting the data for viewing in their minds.

If we get implants that contain memory then we'll probably put different globs of data into our memory implants depending on what job we are doing. Change jobs or change work tasks at a job and suddenly it becomes time to update the contents of one's memory implant.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 15 01:07 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2006 October 23 Monday
Cellphones Boosting Incomes Of Poorest In India

Cellphones are enabling poor fisherman in India to get far more market information so that they can sell their catches for much higher prices.

"Hallo!" he shouted, struggling to hear over the big diesel engines of his 74-foot boat, Andavan. "Medium sized! Medium sized!" he said, estimating the haul for a wholesale agent calling from port, who had heard by cellphone from other skippers that Rajan had just set his nets.

Minutes later Rajan's phone rang again -- another agent at a different port.

...

"One element of poverty is the lack of information," Prahalad said. "The cellphone gives poor people as much information as the middleman."

The fisherman Rajan says his income has at least tripled since 2000 to $150 per month and that cellphones have enabled him to get the information he needs to make the middlemen who buy his fish to pay much more for them.

Poor people in India use cellphones in many occupations.

For less than a penny a minute -- the world's cheapest cellphone call rates -- farmers in remote areas can check prices for their produce. They call around to local markets to find the best deal. They also track global trends using cellphone-based Internet services that show the price of pumpkins or bananas in London or Chicago.

Indian farmers use camera-phones to snap pictures of crop pests, then send the photos by cellphone to biologists who can identify the bug and suggest ways to combat it. In cities, painters, carpenters and plumbers who once begged for work door-to-door say they now have all the work they can handle because customers can reach them instantly by cellphone.

Computer networks are going to enable small numbers of sharp experts and smart software to boost the productivity of billions of people around the world. What we are seeing now with cellphones and search engines such as Google is just the beginning of what is coming. Computers will provide much more useful answers than we can get from looking at pages dug up by current generation search engines.

While I think search engines and the growing size of the internet are an enormous boon current search technology still seems crude. I spend many hours every week doing searches looking for answers to questions. But the ways that searches can be phrased are much too crude. I want to say things like "Only show me pages with tables of information that have have entries which are names of foods and a column which is potassium or magnesium". I end up having to look at lots of pages that do not have the format I'm looking for before finally finding a couple that do.

This stage of search technology is going to give way to much smarter methods of looking for answers. The smarter search methods are going to enable non-experts to do tasks that currently only experts can do. If you can get very quick answers to questions you can do many more tasks. Getting answers is going to become much easier and quicker. As the answers become easier to come by labor productivity will rise dramatically.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 23 11:02 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2006 September 14 Thursday
One In Six Cell Phone Users Addicted?

If the findings of a British researcher are correct then obsessive compulsive mobile cell phone users have a substance abuse problem where the substance is a cell phone.

Psychologist Dr David Sheffield asked to group of students to fill in a survey based on one used to diagnose gambling addiction.

The volunteers, who were aged between 18 and 25, were asked questions such as whether relatives had ever asked them to cut down on their mobile use and if they became bad tempered when denied access to their phone.

Analysis of the results showed one in seven became restless and irritable when they couldn't make phone calls and had no qualms about would lying to cover up the amount of time they spent on their handset.

Ninety per cent said they took their mobiles wherever they went and third used phone calls to lift their mood. Seven per cent even said they would rather lose a job or relationship than give up their mobile.

They have to have their mobile cell phone fixes.

People who gave up mobile phones experienced a drop in blood pressure.

People are becoming addicted to mobile phones, causing them to become stressed and irritable, work suggests.

Dr David Sheffield, of the University of Staffordshire, found problem behaviour linked to using a mobile in 16% of 106 users who were studied.

In a separate study, to be presented at a conference in Essex later, he found blood pressure was lower in those who had given up using mobile phones.

I know people who excessively use their cell phones. So this report rings true. Humans are not evolved to live in the technological societies we've created. They are not adapted to use the technologies they encounter in their environments.

By Randall Parker    2006 September 14 10:34 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2006 May 21 Sunday
Misunderstandings Common In Email

Do not expect your written communications to be understood.

In effect, e-mail cannot adequately convey emotion. A recent study by Profs. Justin Kruger of New York University and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago focused on how well sarcasm is detected in electronic messages. Their conclusion: Not only do e-mail senders overestimate their ability to communicate feelings, but e-mail recipients also overestimate their ability to correctly decode those feelings.

One reason for this, the business-school professors say, is that people are egocentric. They assume others experience stimuli the same way they do. Also, e-mail lacks body language, tone of voice, and other cues - making it difficult to interpret emotion.

"A typical e-mail has this feature of seeming like face-to-face communication," Professor Epley says. "It's informal and it's rapid, so you assume you're getting the same paralinguistic cues you get from spoken communication."

I see the same thing all the time in post comment discussions here and all over the blogosphere and in various discussion forum venues and the Usenet. People misinterpret my posts. They misinterpret each other. They get morally indignant and insulting. Things descend from there. I try to read my writings for alternative explanations to reduce the extent of the problem but still expect to be misunderstood some of the time.

Peope think they are just as clear in email as they are on the phone. How can humans be that foolish? (er, never mind, we are that foolish all the time)

Frequency that..EmailPhone
Communicator believes he is clearly communicating78%78%
Receiver believes he is correctly interpreting89%91%
Receiver correctly interprets message56%73%

So then the internet is automating the process of producing misunderstandings! We internet dwellers have more communications misunderstandings than those who still restrict their lives to the real world.

By Randall Parker    2006 May 21 12:27 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2006 January 09 Monday
Cell Phones Increase Home And Work Stress

Cell phones eliminate home as a refuge from work and work as a refuge from home.

MILWAUKEE — Are the electronic gadgets designed to make us accessible anytime, anywhere making the lives of dual-income families easier? Maybe not. A study by a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) indicates that use of cell phones and pagers by one large sample of married or partnered couples is adding stress to family life – especially for women.

The study finds a link between use of cell phones and pagers and increased psychological distress and lower family satisfaction among the sample, says Noelle Chesley, an assistant professor of sociology, because it allows yet another way to bring job worries home after work.

Women in the study were doubly affected because they indicated that the greater access also allowed home concerns to spill over into the work day, something the men did not experience.

"What we found was that it was a negative experience for both men and women, but women had the added problem of home life invading work," Chesley says. For women, the consequences of cell phone access may be increased calls from children or elderly family members, calls that are usually placed because a problem has arisen at home.

The survey sample included 1,367 people who were employed at one of seven organizations in upstate New York. To be eligible for the study, respondents had to be married or partnered with someone who also worked outside the home.

"We wanted to get a sense of the trends or patterns for a larger group," she says, "but it was by no means a national or random sample. You can, however, get a sense of – ‘is this more of a blessing or more of a curse?' – among a large group of workers."

I watch people in offices scramble to run back to their desk when they hear their cell phone ringing and think that surely if they weren't within hearing range of the cell phone the vast bulk of the time no damage would be done. Their spouses call up and unload on them about some worry or problem that the spouse could handle or wait to tell them later. So the results of the study above sound very plausible to me.

People need time to relax and an absence of interruptions at both work and home. There ought to be way for people to call up with differing levels of urgency signalled by how they dial the number they are calling. That way a person could set their interrupt level higher when they need to avoid interrupts while still being available for emergencies. Granted, some would abuse the ability to signal an emergency. But others would respect the priority levels and not abuse the top priorities except when necessary.

I've yet to get a cell phone and some people act surprised when I say this. But I see it as a productivity degrader and stress enhancer. I get too many phone calls as it is and I have no spare time. Why make the problem worse?

By Randall Parker    2006 January 09 10:12 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2006 January 08 Sunday
Coming To End Of Era For Appointment-Based Television?

W.R. Hearst III would have us believe that we are coming to the end of the era of simultaneous watching of new TV show episodes.

"Appointment-based television is dead," said William Randolph Hearst III, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm. "The cable industry is really in danger of becoming commoditized."

Mr. Hearst sits on the board of Akimbo, a provider of an Internet service that permits users to download video content via the Internet to a set-top box digital video player. This week, Akimbo announced its first mainstream content deal to enable its customers to download Hollywood movies for later viewing on their televisions.

The "appointment-based television" does have one big advantage in popular culture: It allows a large group of people to simultaneously have the same experience and then to share their reactions to it at work or at play the next day. Part of the pleasure that many people derive from viewing some popular show is the ability to react to it together when socializing. I can recall guys at work discussing a new X Files episode and I've certainly heard women discuss a Desperate Housewives episode. Will all TV shows continue to have synchronised first viewings before becoming available for download?

Every year broadband connections get faster and cheaper and that trend looks set to continue for some years to come. Video on demand is now reaching the point where the download times are getting reasonable. Also, lots of other enabling technologies such has hard drive capacities, video browsing software, and display device improvements make the availability of TV shows and movies by download offer a lot of advantages. There's no need to stick to a single broadcast standard for resolution of shows. Every show could get downloaded at whatever resolution your display device reports itself as supporting.

Experience with downloadable music web stores has probably helped warm up the entertainment industry to the idea of downloading video for sale as well. CD recordings can already be copied illegally. The video downloads for sale do not make the pirating problem much worse. But they do open up the possibility of a lot more impulsive purchases by customers who can instantly order something without going to a video store.

Google has just announced their own service for selling video on the internet.

The Google video service will allow content providers to post videos for downloading on the company's online store. Providers will decide on pricing and levels of copy protection, but all video would be viewed via Google's own media player.

"It lets anyone sell video," Mr Page said. "The content producers decide what to charge."

Google sees their service as allowing a far larger number of people to get into the video content production biz.

"Google video will let you watch lots of high quality video on the web for the first time. You can search and browse, and we make it fast and easy for you to watch," said Larry Page, Google's co-founder and president, Products. "For video producers and anyone with a video camera, Google Video will give you a platform to publish to the entire Google audience in a fast, free and seamless way."

I expect this technology will allow independents to get distribution for things that large companies won't want to bother with. So more niche video will get made.

Google has already lined up some big media players including CBS for TV shows and a Sony music division that will provide music videos of many big names such as Alicia Keys and Christina Aguilera (whose impressive vocal range unfortunately comes combined by her attempt to be as tasteless as possible).

"This is yet another exciting platform in which CBS can leverage its market-leading content to a whole new audience," said Leslie Moonves, President and CEO, CBS Corporation. "Making our programming accessible to the Google Video Store guarantees our shows significant new exposure to millions of users who are likely to access this Web service and who may not be traditional TV viewers. As the industry's most prolific generator of popular TV content, it's only natural that CBS would partner with Google on this service, which is destined to become one of the web's most popular destinations."

Google is such a heavyweight with so many web site visitors each day that they have an enormous ability to launch a new web service.

Both cable TV companies and satellite TV companies stand to lose marketshare to internet video. But the satellite people have it worse since they can not provide separate feeds to millions of people. At least the cable TV companies can compete against phone companies to provide broadband services.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 08 10:39 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2005 May 24 Tuesday
Will Automated News Writers Violate Copyright Law?

Lawyer, novelist, and aspiring screen writer Julie Hilden writing in FindLaw analyses a hypothetical not very distant future created by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson where a hypothetical merger of Amazon and Google produces sophisticated software which reads all the news stories on the web and writes personalized news articles that synthesize the knowledge from many news sources.

In 2010, Googlezon wins its fight with Newsbotser by inventing a clever new technique that further tailors content to the user: "Googlezon's computers construct news stories dynamically, stripping sentences and facts from all content sources and recombining them. The computer writes a [personalized] news story for every user."

For the copyright holders who funded the writing of the original stories the problem arises when increasing numbers of readers no longer read the original stories. The New York Times or Washington Post get fewer visitors to their site or fewer subscribers for home delivery and hence less revenue from ads and subscribers.

So to give an example - mine, not Sloan and Thompson's - suppose the knowledge that Googlezon uses to customize content indicates that a particular user is very interested in international news. In putting together a news story even on a domestic happening, Googlezon could emphasize the international aspects - stripping from other sites (including blogs), say, only five sentences on the domestic happening, and twenty sentences on its international implications, to make a story.

Returning to Sloan and Thompson's predictions, in 2011, the New York Times and other media whose content is not customized to the user go the Supreme Court, "claiming that [Googlezon's] fact-stripping robots are a violation of copyright law."

But - according to Sloan and Thompson - the old media lose. As a result, they disappear - relegated to the status of newsletters for the elite and the elderly!)

Read the full article for Julie's discussion of the legal angles and how the hypothetical future legal case might turn out.

Consider how media firms might respond if no legal remedies are available. One response would be to reduce what gets put on the web. But even if the New York Times reduced how many articles it put on its web site the mythical future Googlezon company could still buy hard copies of daily NY Times newspapers, scan them into their computers, and use optical character recognition technology to convert the articles to text. Then their software could parse that text just as search engines read text on web pages. The knowledge extracted by the sophisticated parsing along with the knowledge extracted from all the other newspapers in the world could still be used to write news stories.

In one sense the Googlezon automated news story writer is not qualitiatively different from what already goes on. Talk show hosts read newspapers and then tell their listeners about what is going on. Have you ever watched C-SPAN where they read local newspapers from around the country? Or look at web logs which excerpt from various newspapers and other news sources.

The problem with the Googlezon idea is that once it becomes possible (and I think it is a matter of when, not if) this future tool will very efficiently separate the original gathering of information from the writing about it so thoroughly that news organizations that pay news gatherers (a.k.a. reporters) to go into the field to collect information will have a hard time generating much revenue to pay for their information gathering efforts.

I see this as part of a wider problem. Movie makers, music makers, software writers, and other content providers suffer economic losses from bootleggers who make copies of work which is copyrighted or in some other way owned as intellectual property. New technological developments continue to make copying easier. Faster internet connections make downloads easier. Cheap internet hosting services and the spread of the internet to countries with less intellectual property protection provide easy ways for bootleggers to make copyrighted material accessible for copying in violation of laws in many jurisdictions. Mass storage device capacities keep going up while their sizes shrink.

As the Googlezon example demonstrates, not all undermining of the value of legally protected material takes the form of violation of copyright law or of violation of other existing intellectual property law. Here is the root problem: New methods of information processing and information distribution effectively undermine old models for funding knowledge gathering and content production. The new methods of information processing, transmission, and storage may not - at least initially - provide a different set of incentives and mechanisms for doing as much content generation as is done today.

This wider problem extends even to the point of reducing the economic incentives for governments to fund basic research. When information flowed much more slowly basic research funded in one country which yielded economically valuable discoveries was most likely to go through commercialization where the basic discoveries were made. The value of propinquity between researchers and start-up companies was so high that, say, a Stanford professor who made a commercially valuable discovery most likely caused the formation of a company near Stanford to commercialize the knowledge from the discovery. But in the future the odds of a discovery in America first being commercialized in China or other countries will become much higher as the details about scientific discoveries propagate around the world more quickly via the web. When that happens many governments will see fewer incentives to pay for basic research. The resulting decrease in funding will be a loss for us all.

These problems are market failures. The concept of property has been extended from land and physical things into ideas, designs, and other intellectual creations that basically amount to patterns. This extension of property into the intellectual realm has caused a boom in efforts to generate useful knowledge and other products of the mind. But technological advances are increasing the cost of protecting existing intellectual property. The market for intellectual property increasingly fails due to the ease with which people can benefit from knowledge without financially contributing to its creation. Those technological trends in computing and communications show no sign of running out of steam. The solutions to this problem are not obvious to me.

Update: On the bright side advances in computing and communications technologies also lower the cost of knowledge creation and other forms of content creation. For each type of content we need to ask what is happening more quickly: Is "stealabilty" (for lack of a better term) going up faster or slower than costs of patterns production are dropping? Even if "stealability" is not advancing more rapidly than technological advances lower production costs we still suffer losses from a reduction in the amount of content generated as compared to an environment where more content use must be paid for.

Business models can be adjusted to respond to the new environment of rampant intellectual property theft. For example, rather than sell a shrinkwrap piece of software that does some function a business can sell the service of actually doing that function. Then the software can be loaded only on a server controlled by the business and customers can send in data to be transformed by the software or interact with the software over the web and pay per use. However, these adjustments will not restore all the incentives for knowledge production which are being lost due to easy copying and uncompensated reuse.

By Randall Parker    2005 May 24 09:02 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2004 October 04 Monday
Study Participants Go Without Internet Access, Experience Withdrawal

Yahoo! Inc. and the OMD media agency sponsored a study of how 28 people reacted to being deprived of the internet for two weeks. People reported feelings of withdrawal and isolation.

It's a sign of the times that to get people to agree to the deprivation in the first place, researchers paid as much as $950 per household. In video diaries, participants talked about feeling "withdrawal" as they resisted the temptation to log on.

Neighbors? Such things exist in the physical world? But our virtual neighborhoods are so much more interesting. I can't find real neighbors nearly as interesting as my virtual neighbors.

Could a study like this be done as a reality TV show? Picture people being interviewed about their feelings of withdrawal from the internet. Picture some guy flipping between TV channels to try to recreate the experience of changing web pages. Or a girl could go by and see her girlfriend to ask her what topics are being discussed in instant messaging chats with their other friends. Take away phone use and really watch the girl beg for information.

At least three-fourths said they spent more time talking on the phone, watching TV or movies, and reading newspapers. Some reported visiting their neighbors, playing games, and exercising more.

The internet makes people feel more secure and powerful. (same article here)

Internet users feel confident, secure and empowered. The Internet has become, to some, the ultimate symbol of modernity to the point that participants were hobbled without convenient access to routine information like maps and telephone numbers. The pervasive nature of the Internet is such that participants often forgot or lost the desire to use "old fashioned tools" like the phone book, newspapers and telephone-based customer service.

The loss of communications ability was felt more keenly than the loss of the ability to do research, look up information, or engage in commercial transactions.

"I haven't talked to people I usually talk to and have been tempted to go on instant-messenger because I feel out of the loop," said study participant Kristin S.

"I'm starting to miss emailing my friends -- I feel out of the loop," said study participant Penny C.

According to the research, communications figured most prominently in the withdrawal process, demonstrating a new social network paradigm. The study shows that the Internet affords people the ability to overcome time and distance and to manage communications with a larger social circle, thereby creating an effortless community. Participants in the study found they missed the ability to exercise control over the pace and content of communication with different layers of friends and families. As a result, during the deprivation period, participants' outer circle of relationships suffered.

One can end an online work break faster than a physical work break. That makes sense. It is probably harder to politely end a conversation in the hallway at work as compared to ending a messaging session.

"I miss the private space the Internet creates for me at work." Kim V.

"I've been taking physical breaks instead of online breaks at work. The difference is that I can't get right back into what I was doing," said Ryan V.

Have you tried kicking the internet for a few weeks? Do you feel an emptiness if you go on vacation without it?

By Randall Parker    2004 October 04 01:10 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2004 June 13 Sunday
MIT Serendipity Automates Chance Encounters

Serendipity will help find people you want to meet.

Serendipity, a form of next-generation networking, was developed by Nathan Eagle, a graduate student and Media Lab Europe Fellow working with Alex (Sandy) Pentland, the Toshiba Professor of Media Arts and Sciences in the Media Lab’s Human Dynamics group.

The system uses Bluetooth, an RF (radio frequency) protocol that works like a low-power radio in most cell phones, sending out a short-range beacon. “Think of it as each person having a 16-foot bubble around them, blinking out a unique ID," Eagle said. “When two or more people running Serendipity come into the same ‘bubble,' their IDs are sent to our server, which looks for their profiles. If there’s a match, each gets the other’s name, thumbnail photo and common interests on his or her cell phone." Then it’s only a matter of introductions.

And it’s quick. The server scans for IDs every 60 seconds and only takes about five seconds to find a match, so the whole sequence takes about a minute at the most.

How does the server know about your interests? Just like web-based social network systems like Friendster or match.com, Serendipity depends on profiles that users write about themselves. But Serendipity is unique because it allows the user to “weight” his or her profile to emphasize interests that are of greatest importance to the user’s current social situation.

This reminds me of a proposal I made a few months ago:

Another possible interesting application would be to manage affinity groups. Imagine a traveller who is cruising down a road trying to decide which night club to try out. If people registered with an affinity tracking service then a traveller could choose a club or restaurant whose currently present patrons fit some desired demographic profile. One obvious problem with such a service is that just because one person likes a particular type of person doesn't mean that most who fit a desired profile will like that person in return. Look at celebrities for example. They are loved by all sorts of people who the celebrities would very much like to avoid. So a service would need to develop eligibility criteria that require matching of preferences in both directions before that person driving down the street would get a flashing light on their car LCD pointing them to a particular bar or night club.

Now I'm actually expecting to see this sort of thing to really be implemented and to become widely used. For bar scenes one of the difficult challenges will be the development of image processing software that can analyse the image of a person you haven't even seen yet to decide whether you might find that person attractive. You could just drive through downtown and be told where to stop. In a bar situation the algorithm would have to be fairly sophisticated and use not just images of a person and background info but also your degree of inebriation (higher levels mean lower standards - imagine an embedded nanotech sensor reporting blood alcohol to your cell phone), the time of night (later means lower standards), how long it has been since you last hooked up, and perhaps similar information from the other person to factor in whether you both ought to be told by your avatars to seek each other out.

Heck, the avatar might even tell you how many drinks you'll have to drink to be able to feel that your realistic choices are acceptable. In the longer term as neurobiology and neurochemistry become more advanced you will be able to have embedded implants installed that will release compounds to make you find many more people attractive than you would naturally. Of course in the longer term gene therapies, stem cell therapies, and other therapies will raise average attractiveness that this will be far less of a problem anyhow. As I've argued previously, the female desire for high status males is going to be harder to solve than the male desire for more attractive females.

Of course, some statistical outliers will actually use this technology to meet more interesting people. I'm not trying to argue that the only application for this technology is meeting people for sexual hook-ups. But my guess is it will find wider use for sexual purposes than for intellectual ones.

By Randall Parker    2004 June 13 06:05 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2003 August 03 Sunday
How Are New Media Causing Minds To Develop?

Writing for the MIT Technology Review Henry Jenkins, director of the MIT Program in Comparative Media Studies, argues that the new media technologies are causing human minds to develop to more easily switch between and process multiple information sources.

Contemporary aesthetic choices—the fragmented, MTV-style editing, the dense layering of techno music, the more visually complex pages of some contemporary comic books—reflect consumers' desires for new forms of perceptual play and their capacity to take in more information at once than previous generations. Think for a moment about the scrawl—the layering of informational windows—in today's TV news. Like Arcadia’s minigames, there is a trick: any given bit of text is simplified compared to previous news discourse. Such graphical busyness also has an advantage—we can see the interrelationship between stories and pay attention to simultaneous developments. We probably don't read everything on screen, but we monitor and flit between different media flows.

This kind of argument is frequently given a negative spin with the argument that younger people have shorter attention spans. Is that really true? Or is that just another case of older generations always seeing decay in the younger generations?

My guess is that the effect of the modern forms of media is not uniform. At one extreme there are most for whom the web, hundreds of satellite TV channels, XM Radio or Sirius satellite radio, video games, MP3s loaded into Walkmans, and like technologies just fragment their minds and media become something akin to a drug that stimulates and provides a thrill. The mind just reacts, learns little, and is mostly in a state of continuous distraction. A poorly trained mind that is innately easily distracted may well suffer from the easy availability of so many forms of media in the same way that a drug abuser suffers from easy availability of recreational drugs.

But consider the limitations of the pre-internet era. The older information sources take more time and money to access. We do not all live right next to a huge university library. Any physical library of books and other hardcopy publications will not have many of the kinds of information that are now available on the Internet. For minds equipped to handle the modern media the many media sources become something akin to a symphony of sources that can be creatively orchestrated to provide convenient combinations of information that provide the raw material for analysis to reach a larger number of new syntheses and insights than otherwise would have been possible.

We certainly have different information contents in our minds as a result of the new media. For some people that means that they know more about their favorite celebrities. But for others (e.g. people who spend way too many hours per day searching for content to post about on their blogs) they know more about political and economic developments or discoveries in science or how demographic and technological trends are interacting to cause social changes both harmful and beneficial. Generally speaking, people are more likely to look up and know things that would have been too much troulbe for them to look up previously.

The interesting question is whether the experience of the internet and other modern media is causing minds to develop in a different fashion. If youth really are able to handle more media feeds at once is it simply because their minds are younger and more energetic? Or by first encountering the modern media at a younger age with minds that have more malleability are their minds being more reshaped by the experience? Is this experience with modern media making their cognitive processes qualitatively different from the minds of older generations?

By Randall Parker    2003 August 03 10:29 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2002 October 06 Sunday
Henry Jenkins: Love Online

Henry Jenkins, director of the Program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT, has written an essay in Technology Review about his son's experiences as an adolescent developing relationships with girls he has met online:

They may have met online but they communicated through every available channel. Their initial exchange of photographs produced enormous anxiety as they struggled to decide what frozen image or images should anchor their more fluid online identities. In choosing, my son attempted to negotiate between what he thought would be desirable to another 15 year old and what wouldn’t alienate her conservative parents.

The photographs were followed by other tangible objects, shipped between Nebraska and Massachusetts. These objects were cherished because they had achieved the physical intimacy still denied the geographically isolated teens. Henry sent her, for example, the imprint of his lips, stained in red wine on stationery. In some cases, they individually staged rituals they could not perform together. Henry preserved a red rose he purchased for himself the day she first agreed to go steady. Even in an age of instant communication, they still sent handwritten notes. These two teens longed for the concrete, for being together in the same space, for things materially passed from person to person.

Of course, as technology advances the distance that a relationship can progress online will similarly advance. Next stop will be live video feeds. Even that is possible already, albeit limited by a rather low frame rate and/or resolution. Remotely controlled prosthetic sex toys can't be very far behind. Anyone know whether primitive remote controlled prosthetics have reached the consumer market yet?

By Randall Parker    2002 October 06 06:31 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
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