It’s not about robust or even stable…
I’m trying to get my arms around this. I like the idea of benefiting from the difficulty of probability and causality. Talib winds up in the weeds a couple of times. Kahneman (why I’m watching) holds him accountable without being a jerk about it.
Lots of talk recently about the distinctions between Millennials, digital natives and their older generational counterparts. This is an insider tactic for leveraging fear the olds have about their technological skills. As most people in charge of things are olds, it makes sense that younger or more technically competent people would socially leverage their tech chops to level the playing field. I’ve seen it in full resolution over the past 15 years. It’s nothing new. People use coded terms and words to mark themselves and to suss out new acquaintances. Technical competency does this too.
Facebook has been a key tool in this social manipulation. I’m wondering if it has gone too far. While Kid-King Zuck does his best Steve Jobs impression introducing new features and functionality, KKZ and company has made what I believe to be a fatal UI/UX mistake by finally over-featuring Facebook.
Features that aren’t used are worse than waste. They are obstructions and confusions that cause frustration and internal dissonance in the user–alienating them from the technology. “why did I post that?” “who cares?” and “Ooh did I creepy over-share?” These are not pleasant thoughts. Our brain punishes us for them. As Facebook becomes more sophisticated, it becomes more complex and stressful. People have to budget their time. I’m a big believer that social media is a feature (a means) and not a platform (an end in itself). We don’t Facebook just to Facebook but KKZ&Co. seems intent on making that happen– even though they contend they are not. “Don’t just enjoy–share” seems like a good mantra until you consider the consequences (asymmetric surveillance). Its no “eureka moment” to understand the platform must self-generate useful data. People like things that are easy. The Open Graph does that just dandy.
The data-mining prospects for Facebook are now mindbogglingly rich. Pre-crime is no longer science fiction. It will be absolutely possible- given the size of the dataset- to begin to uncover “Lone Wolves” –to see anger, depression, persecution complexes, and delusions of grander emerge in digital behavior even before they manifest physically. That’s provided, of course, people stay on the platform. They may not but probably will. Sadly I expect to see people who don’t Facebook treated with more than just a little suspicion. That isn’t good. Facebook takes more than it gives.
RWW has pointed out that Facebook’s feature roll out seems a lot like AOLs in the bad ol’ days. Features become just so much bloated code. Isn’t that what happened to Microsoft? Isn’t that the single biggest risk to Apple? Apple’s case is particularly interesting given their success is tied directly to elegant simplicity. Ironically, making things simple is very hard. I think it was too hard for Facebook and it may be too frustrating for users.
That said, power users are building groups and spending a little extra time to shut out the prying eyes. Facebook allows that, and that may explain why IT folks are generally happier with the current changes than Facebook’s core audiences. Google+’s circles accomplish the same thing in fact its built on groups but Google+ demonstrates the high cost of switching. People just aren’t migrating. Yet.
All we need is an api that reports on the behavior we want to merchandise. Everyone has a dataset of behavior that we all would share if the social contract was more fair and more opt-in as opposed to opt out. I forecast an api that allows everyone to strip the interface (Google+ Facebook myspace etc.). The end game is really the sign-in and owning the authentication key. That’s actually the holy grail in all these efforts is and where MSFT and APPL are really missing the money train. Users want to make certain data available on a permissions basis – without the clunky and unnecessary middleman platform.
Personally my Facebook news stream looks more and more like my inbox did in 1999. A stream of business news with jokes and personal stories sprinkled in.
Honestly, it is far too easy to extend personal anecdotes about Facebook. It’s a dumb thing to do. People ALWAYS complain loudly when they change it . Still, more features do not make a better experience. Improvements that cause increased complexity are not really improvements as much as they are just changes.
Pre-crime and Gladys Kravitz as Big Brother aside, Facebook isn’t going anywhere. Marketers must adapt. Usage could fall an unimaginable 20-30 % and it wouldn’t matter much. I’m skeptical of more centralization on the web. It rarely works. Something is needed to thread or web presence together but I’m not sure an “entertainment sharing platform” is the thing that will do it. I still expect Yammer and Jive or a competitive equivalent yet to be named to come on strong (because of security) and pull us away from changing our settings on Facebook and put us in control of our communication again. Facebook is an enormous security risk and productivity suck for business. I just can’t see businesses of any size continuing to allow greater access as Facebook grows forward. All that aside, the cost of switching to Google+ is high because the Kid-King has your social record and he’s got no intention of ever giving it back. Migrating your data will be made very difficult. That’s the price of free.
A large, fast migration is unlikely. I anticipate Facebooks demise as death by 1,000 cuts. Slowly, as kids deem Facebook uncool and pick up other tools that are faster, more relevant and more opaque to their parents. That is still at least 5 years away.
For now though, professionally and personally, we’ll suck it up– complain for a few days and then go back to our regularly scheduled posting. I’m looking forward to the next thing.
What does Amy Winehouse have to do with the Norway terror besides sad timing?
Authenticity. Extreme authenticity.
Sad, yes. Unrelated no. The Norway massacre is infinitely sadder and more tragic that the death of an over-privileged singer, but they are two sides of the same misunderstood coin.
Both people responsible for the tragedies were motivated–indeed obsessed– with authenticity.
For Winehouse it couldn’t be simpler than the confusion that one associates with a God-given gift: Why me? Am I a freak? How do I deserve it? Is It real? How can I test it? Sadly, drugs provided the insight at predatory pricing.
For Mass murderer Anders Breivik it is the his sense of an inauthentic Europe.
Authenticity gives things value, Value can be perverted into a proxy for meaning, and meaning matters. We are all–each of us– seeking meaning. But when acting as a proxy, authenticity becomes an illusory shortcut to meaning.
It is always dangerous and often deadly when authenticity becomes the end itself.
You can read the rants of Breivik and understand immediately that he is off the deep-end. It just happens to be the same deep-end that Amy Winehouse jumped into, confused by the meaning of her talent, I think Amy’s obsession with authenticity is identical to Brevik’s. She expressed it in a lifestyle driven slow suicide. He expressed his obsession with unimaginable horror.
Authenticity is at the root of radical Islam too. That’s why the papers got the Oslo tragedy so wrong in the beginning. In the West we immediately associate death for authenticity most with radical Islamists, even though that is a prejudice that doesn’t hold up to any scrutiny.
Like Charles Manson, Breivik thought his insanity would spark a revolution. My suspicion is that he surrendered so that he could further work to express is mad interpretations of his faith and political ideals. We’ll also likely learn that he left the Norwegian right-wing Progress Party, because he felt it wasn’t authentic enough–not true enough to its principals.
On a twitter page associated with Breivik the following quote was found:
“One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.”
The irony, too, is tragic: The quote is paraphrase of John Stuart Mill the 19th Century utilitarian Libertarian. Strange bedfellows indeed.
John Lennon died from the gunshot of an insane person obsessed with authenticity: Mark David Chapman. Chapman had just finished “Catcher In The Rye” whose protagonist is driven insane trying to reconcile the authenticity of the inner life with the utility of social compromise.
Interestingly even the recent banal budget entanglements are stalled by the same problem. Signed pledges to ideology, purity tests, and blind allegiances lock negotiations and keep our political representatives from finding utilitarian solutions to very real problems.
I sometimes get criticized for connecting trivial entertainment news with serious tragic historic events but they help us understand the simple conflicts that drive power and attention. We seek meaning and reliability, continuity and trust.
Attributes so rare they can lead to obsession and tragedy.
Dick Hardt explains digital identity.
‘Easy’ is the key to disruptive innovation.
Kristof has an intersting piece in today’s NYT about Negroponte’s “Daily Me” This is the future that we see in front of us today. All Newspapers aren’t dying BTW– the super small hyper-local ones are doing just fine. Newspaper reading has changed forever.
What concerns Kristof is Confirmation Bias–reading only the things that support your beliefs. This is dangerous–but only for those who won’t admit its a threat to their understanding.
Here’s a hunk from my book– it’s been awhile. Seemed relevant.
The Emperor’s New Prose
In 1996, New York University physics professor Allan Sokol wrote an article forbiddingly titled, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” published in Social Text, an esteemed academic journal of cultural studies. Among other things, Sokol claimed, “physical ‘reality’ is at the bottom of a social and linguistic construct,” and that the concept of an external world subject to laws of nature is a mistaken piece of post-Enlightenment dogma.
Still with me? Sokol utilized scientific and mathematic principles to back up his argument. He threw around imposing concepts like the “morphogenetic field,” which he called “a cutting edge theory of quantum gravity.” Sokol’s article was so steeped in the language of rigorous academic inquiry that the magazine’s editors didn’t realize it was all a hoax.
Sokol later cheerfully admitted that he purposely wrote the article “so that any competent physicist or mathematician, or undergraduate physics or math major, would realize it was a spoof.” Why? To see if the journal would run an article “liberally salted with nonsense if it sounded good and flattered the editors’ ideological pre-conceptions.” In short, Sokol wanted to test the confirmation bias of the editors of Social Text.
Sokol’s prank shows that often things are not as they appear. That principle applies as much to popular culture as it does to scientific inquiry. While there is likely such a thing as objective reality, any two people in the universe will look at objective reality and see entirely different things. And they could both be right. A dollar may be a dollar, but its value varies around the world on a daily basis.
We don’t all experience the same event or the same picture and draw the same conclusions. Each of us tends to cherry-pick objective events that make it easy for us to “prove” the logic of our opinions. Get used to it. Embrace it. Love it. Considering and accepting your confirmation bias will free you to face it and start to change how often you are trapped by it. Each of us uses the greater events that make up our worldview to prove our confirmation bias. Heck, I’ve done it writing this book. I’ve chosen to count on readers to challenge the examples I’ve described and to which I ascribe meaning to manage my confirmation biases.
Anyone who considers himself immune to this kind of biased thinking should look at mean annual temperatures in Cheraw, South Carolina, where between 1930 and 2000, it cooled by 1.5 degrees. The temperature drop could be seen as an open-and-shut debunking of the concept of global warming, and that might be right if we were talking only about Cheraw, South Carolina. Globally, the last dozen years have yielded the highest temperatures in recorded history. To a dedicated Greenpeace warrior, that fact would underscore the core theme of Al Gore’s messianic film road show, An Inconvenient Truth. Global warming is here, it exists, and we’d better do several things about it, now.
For purposes of this chapter, it doesn’t really matter if the adherents of either viewpoint could be proved right or wrong. What both sides in the global warming debate are doing with their respective scientific facts is exhibiting confirmation bias.
Wason, Come Here…We Need You
Confirmation bias is the brainchild of British psychologist Peter Wason, who observed like many before him that people use information to support their view of the world. Wason distinguished himself by testing the idea that people attach a tremendous amount of subconscious importance to proving a cherished assumption. They seize on examples that back up their ideas and ignore the rest. A sports fan may remember statistics that put his team in a favorable light while ignoring or even forgetting anything that casts doubt on his team’s lauded status.
According to Wikipedians, Wason conducted experiments in which he asked subjects to look at a numerical sequence, such as 2-4-6. He then asked subjects to devise numerical triplets of their own until they could correctly guess the rule behind the original progression of numbers. Most people were wrong at least once or never right at all. But instead of admitting their error, they kept devising triplets to prove their own erroneous hypotheses. Here’s the amazing part: Participants avoided triplets that could eliminate incorrect rules, and resisted coming up with variable hypotheses! Paging Adam Smith.
The responses proved to Wason that people would go to great lengths to avoid considering that they might be wrong. “In the real world, the fixated, obsessive behavior of some of the subjects would be analogous to that of a person who is thinking in a closed system, a system which defies refutation such as existentialism or the majority of religions,” he wrote. “These experiments demonstrate how dogmatic thinking and the refusal to entertain the possibility of alternatives can easily result in error.” Even when staring at facts that contradict their positions, people tend to concede much less of an inconvenient truth than the facts would otherwise support.
Now recall Kahneman, the Nobel Prize winner who showed that what people choose is determined mostly by the way the choice is framed. People will look for an anchor point to cling to, so that any opinion adjustments they make in the direction of truth will be severely limited. The anchor might be as mobile as Tony Hawk’s skateboard, but folks will hew to it nonetheless. Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams has made a killing caricaturing confirmation bias through the bizarro-world ravings of characters like Wally, Dogbert, and especially his comic strips’ pointy-haired CEO. “The irrational part of your brain reinterprets reality in a way that lets you keep your dumb viewpoint against all common sense and evidence,” Adams writes succinctly in his blog.
Go Along to Get Along
No one is immune to seeking validation for their views from their peers. This is true at all levels of the Diffusion of Innovation model, innovators included. The vulnerability exists for everyone; it just differs by degrees. Confirmation bias isn’t just for individuals; it is essential for tribes too. Reinforcing bias often helps build and sustain them.
The innovator is the one who tribe members look to for clues about what should interest them. The innovators themselves don’t often get reciprocal feedback from the tribe. Instead, for validation, they refer to external media and other tribes. The world is often a cold and lonely place for innovators, who constitute less than three percent of any tribe. Confirmation is hard to come by. All of the innovators’ contact with outside influences is indirect, not personal. This may make confirmation bias rarer, but it makes it much stronger. Being lonely causes one to question reality a bit more, but the need to anchor onto something reliable becomes very attractive.
The newness of something is especially compelling to innovators who pride themselves on discovering and embracing things before anybody else. Their personal identity is established by recognizing innovation at its most pristine, so proof of newness or novelty is essential. But the attraction to that which is new can become a trap for innovators. They risk credibility and their own cultural currency by making quick attachments to things simply because they are new. If the phenomenon doesn’t live up to expectations (as it often doesn’t), the innovator may lose influence. To paraphrase the old saying, “No one remembers when you’re right, but everyone remembers when you’re wrong.”
By comparison, early adopters bring confirmation bias from inside the tribe. They are leaders in their own right, with a lot of influence, but unlike innovators, they run their preferences by their friends because they care how other members of the tribe view them. Their credibility for taking a position on a new idea or product comes from their ability to channel (think like) their friends and associates.
Both innovators and early adopters have power to confirm their own opinions. People relinquish this power the further down the diffusion scale they reside, such that early and late majorities seek stronger confirmation from their friends, while laggards essentially can’t approve anything on their own. Laggard behavior confirms tastes and opinions through the affirmation of the peer group.
It may be tough for a nation with a pioneer mentality like that of the United States to accept this concept, but “the vision thing” that has become a litmus test for presidential candidates eludes a lot of people. Studies have shown that only about 16 percent of people have a self-generated vision of what they want. For the rest, peers within the tribe inevitably color and drive their choices.
The less logical and more visceral one’s allegiance is to a tribe’s core purpose, the greater the degree to which peer consensus will be a factor. Fans of college and pro sports teams in America can be very insular in their opinions about opposing teams and players. Fans will even project their own unresolved real-life conflicts onto those rivalries—for instance, sitting with their faces painted in their team’s colors—to attempt to validate their views. Tribal reinforcement of confirmation bias can get really heavy-handed. You wouldn’t dare walk into the Dog Pound at a Cleveland Browns game wearing a John Elway jersey. Likewise, there weren’t many vocal Yankees fans in the South before major league baseball expanded beyond two 16-team leagues in 1961 (and before northeasterners began their southward migration in the ’70s).
From The Last.fm blog:
On Friday night a technology blog called Techcrunch posted a vicious and completely false rumour about us: that Last.fm handed data to the RIAA so they could track who’s been listening to the “leaked” U2 album.
I denied it vehemently on the Techcrunch article, as did several other Last.fm staffers. We denied it in the Last.fm forums, on twitter, via email – basically we denied it to anyone that would listen, and now we’re denying it on our blog.
So it appears that overly-excited bloggers go a little too far out in front of the story. Sad for Last.fm as these stories die hard. A number of people told me they thought Last.fm was fine and that Techcrunch got a little out front of it. Seems reasonable. Here’s hoping. I love Last.fm. I’ve invested a ton of my meta data in it. I even pay for premium service. Good luck guys. We need you. You too Techcrunch.
I hate it when my friends fight.
Jane Curtin: Well, the 1970’s are in their final month, and with some thoughts on this decade and the one we’re about to enter, here’s Weekend Update’s Social Sciences Editor Al Franken.
Al Franken: Thank you, Jane. Well, the “me” decade is almost over, and good riddance, and far as I’m concerned. The 70’s were simply 10 years of people thinking of nothing but themselves. No wonder we were unable to get together and solve any of the many serious problems facing our nation. Oh sure, some people did do some positive things in the 70’s – like jogging – but always for the wrong reasons, for their own selfish, personal benefit. Well, I believe the 80’s are gonna have to be different. I think that people are going to stop thinking about themselves, and start thinking about me, Al Franken. That’s right. I believe we’re entering what I like to call the Al Franken Decade. Oh, for me, Al Franken, the 80’s will be pretty much the same as the 70’s. I’ll still be thinking of me, Al Franken. But for you, you’ll be thinking more about how things affect me, Al Franken. When you see a news report, you’ll be thinking, “I wonder what Al Franken thinks about this thing?”, “I wonder how this inflation thing is hurting Al Franken?” And you women will be thinking, “What can I wear that will please Al Franken?”, or “What can I not wear?” You know, I know a lot of you out there are thinking, “Why Al Franken?” Well, because I thought of it, and I’m on TV, so I’ve already gotten the jump on you. So, I say let’s leave behind the fragmented, selfish 70’s, and go into the 80’s with a unity and purpose. That’s what I think. I’m Al Franken. Jane?
Jane Curtin: Thank you, Al. That’s the news. Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.