What is Technology Doing to Us?

I highly recommend The Waking Up podcast, and particularly episode #71, in which the host, Sam Harris, holds a conversation with Tristan Harris an ethicist for design. If you’ve ever gone to Facebook to look up something quickly and then wondered how you found yourself caught in a vortex of wasted time, this conversation will surely enlighten you. Recommended listening for everyone that uses technology and especially those that build it.

From Tristan’s bio page:

Called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” by The Atlantic magazine, Tristan Harris was previously a Design Ethicist at Google and left the company to lead Time Well Spent, a non-profit movement to align technology with our humanity. Time Well Spent aims to transform the race for attention by revealing how technology hijacks our minds, and to demonstrate how better incentives and design practices will create a world that helps us spend our time well.

Tristan is an avid researcher of what persuades our minds, drawing on insights from sleight of hand magic, linguistics, persuasive technology, cult psychology and behavioral economics. Currently he is developing a framework for ethical persuasion, especially as it relates to the moral responsibility of technology companies.

His work has been featured on 60 Minutes, PBS NewsHour, The Atlantic Magazine, ReCode, TED, 1843 Economist Magazine, Wired, NYTimes, Der Spiegel, NY Review of Books, Rue89 and more.

Previously, Tristan was CEO of Apture, which Google acquired in 2011. Apture enabled millions of users to get instant, on-the-fly explanations across a vast publisher network.

Listen to the conversation as Sam and Tristan talk about the arms race for human attention, the ethics of persuasion, the consequences of having an ad-based economy, the dynamics of regret, and other topics.

http://wakingup.libsyn.com/71-what-is-technology-doing-to-us

(or use Overcast to listen at a faster speed — that’s what I do)

Here’s a taste of what Tristan’s all about:

Ok Cupid Is Not Facebook

In a blog post published yesterday, OkCupid revealed it’s been lying to some of its users just to see how manipulating their experience could make the site better at matchmaking.

The public’s reaction to OK Cupid’s admission of the kind of A/B testing that Facebook caught hell for has been much more muted. It turns out, treating your users like guinea pigs is ok as long as people already like your website (nobody really likes Facebook — they’re just trapped by the network effect).

So what exactly did they do? From the blog post:

The ultimate question at OkCupid is, does this thing even work? By all our internal measures, the “match percentage” we calculate for users is very good at predicting relationships. It correlates with message success, conversation length, whether people actually exchange contact information, and so on. But in the back of our minds, there’s always been the possibility: maybe it works just because we tell people it does. Maybe people just like each other because they think they’re supposed to? Like how Jay-Z still sells albums?

To test this, we took pairs of bad matches (actual 30% match) and told them they were exceptionally good for each other (displaying a 90% match.)† Not surprisingly, the users sent more first messages when we said they were compatible. After all, that’s what the site teaches you to do.

† Once the experiment was concluded, the users were notified of the correct match percentage.

Lethbridge Woman’s Space Funding Cuts

For the first time in 25 years, The Lethbridge Women’s Space was denied funding by the federal department for the Status of Women.

The CBC has the story.

We were status of woman funded for the last 25 years and we were very shocked when our application was denied because we have a very good relationship with Status of Women. We were [continuing] a previous project where we had served so many women with financial literacy services and we were shocked that it was denied because financial literacy has been identified as such a priority by this particular government.

A friend of mine, Shannon Phillips was interviewed on CBC regarding the loss of funding.

If you’d like to learn more about Womanspace, visit the Womanspace website. If you’d like to help, their site also links to those you could contact.

Navigable Waters Protection Act

I received an email this morning outlining the Canadian Governments efforts to overturn the protection of free flowing rivers in Canada. As it stands now, the law in Canada protects the public right of navigation in Canadian waters and has done so since 1882—the right to navigate waterways in Canada is a tradition that pre-dates the beginning of our country.

In particular, Merv Tweeds of Brandon-Souris has headed up the cause for selling out on Canada’s natural resources. From his website:

Tweed leads the way to change waterway act

BRANDON — March 13, 2008 – Merv Tweed, Member of Parliament for Brandon-Souris, is leading the review to make critical and long-overdue changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

“This act controls every waterway in Canada, no matter how small, and has caused significant delay in the approval of new infrastructure,” said Tweed.

The Transport, Infrastructure, and Communities Committee, which Tweed chairs, will review the act and will be tabling a report on the findings and recommendations for change in June.

“I believe that refocusing the act will provide a more timely and predictable process for the review and approval of critical infrastructure projects,” said Tweed.

The Navigable Waters Protection Act was written in 1882 to protect the public right of navigation in Canadian waters. Unfortunately, this act does not allow for the ability to exclude anything “constructed or placed on, under, over, through or across” a navigable water, as everything may interfere with navigation to some degree.

Industry and provincial, territorial and municipal governments have, for years, been requesting changes to the NWPA to reflect current needs and respond to the increased volume and variety of uses of Canada’s waterways.

The existing backlog of approvals is impeding economic growth and the timely development and refurbishment of critical transportation infrastructure that, in turn, has the potential of creating a backlog for the implementation of projects under “Building Canada Plan”.

My favourite paragraph deserves some dissection: “Unfortunately, this act does not allow for the ability to exclude anything ‘constructed or placed on, under, over, through or across’ a navigable water, as everything may interfere with navigation to some degree.” So what he’s trying to say is, it’s unfortunate that the law protects the public right of navigation because we want to imped that right.
Continue reading “Navigable Waters Protection Act”

UK Photography: Is it a crime?

photography is not a crime

A security officer in Middlesbrough did not seem to realise it is legal to take pictures of people when on public land.

Flickr user i didn’t mean to go to Stoke posted his photo and story about this security guard in the process of detaining him and a friend for taking photos in the outdoor, pedestrianized area of Middlesbrough, UK.

I don’t know how traumatized the guy was after being detained but I hope some good comes out of it as people learn that there is nothing illegal or unethical about street photography.

His friend captured some video coverage of the incident.

Moments later as i walked away this goon jumped in front of me and demanded to know what i was doing. i explained that i was taking photos and it was my legal right to do so, he tried to stop me by shoulder charging me, my friend started taking photos of this, he then tried to detain us both. I refused to stand still so he grabbed my jacket and said i was breaking the law. Quickly a woman and a guy wearing BARGAIN MADNESS shirts joined in the melee and forcibly grabbed my friend and held him against his will. We were both informed that street photography was illegal in the town.

Larry Lessig on TED

This summer, while working at a camera/photography store in Lethbridge, one of the jobs I did was Photoshop work and printing photos.

One day a middle-aged woman came into the store carrying an old 8×10 of her deceased parents. She explained that the photo had been damaged when it fell off the wall and the glass protecting it, broke and cut into the image. She asked if we would be able to photoshop the damage out and make a new copy.

Before I could speak, the manager of the store pulled the image from my hand and inspected the photograph.

“Who took the photo?”

There was no stamp on the back and she didn’t know. She explained, “It was taken about 30 years ago by a photographer that their pastor hired to take family photos at their church”.

He told her due to copyright laws, he would not print her a new image. (Nevermind the illegally copied Photoshop program he was using to charge $45/hour to make other’s copies).

Should it be illegal to recover the woman’s photo? Common sense revolts at the idea.

But she never did get it fixed.

Update: I’ve since learned the manager has been “let go”.

See this great TED talk by Larry Lessig speaking about the shortcomings of our dusty, pre-digital intellectual property laws.

Columbine Massacre Video Game

Super Columbine Massacre RPG screenshot

I just finished reading an interesting piece on watercoolergames.org about the Super Columbine Massacre RPG, a video game in which you take the role of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers, on that fateful day in the Denver suburb of Littleton. How many people they kill is ultimately up to the player.

Judging from some of the harsh comments and some of the news articles written about the game from journalists that never even bothered to play the game it seems to me that a lot of people can’t comprehend the possibility that a video game could be a potential medium for provoking thought or education. Not that playing the game is a particularly enjoyable endeavour, but as compared with the documentary, the movie, or the multiple number of books written on the subject, why is it assumed that “the game” would automatically be something that condones their behavior whereas these other mediums get a pass?

One commenter had the nerve to go so far as to say,

“If your purpose in this game is to ‘understand’, my question is why do we need to understand? Understanding evil is not important—knowledge is not power. Evil is present and does great harm in our world. A better choice is to empower through ministry that heals. It’s my thought that your game doesn’t minister or provoke healing discussion—rather, it fuels the negative impact, divides people from Truth rather than lead them toward it.”

To me, a comment like this is so out-of-touch that it’s shocking. I can understand that at first appearance the idea of making that fateful day’s events into a game may seem trivilizing, but after having taken a few minutes to try it myself, I can say it allows for an interesting perspective that isn’t exactly possible in other forms.

If you’re not convinced, then I recommend checking out the fascinating interview about the game with a Columbine survivor and another one with the game’s creator which, after reading, may cause you to adjust your preconceived notions about the game.

Wired Magazine on Click Fraud

Wired has an intriguing article on the state of online advertising and the use of click spam to defraud advertisers.

Pay-per-click is the fastest-growing segment of all advertising, reports the Interactive Advertising Bureau. Last year, Yahoo! alone ran more than 250 million individual listings, according to Michael Egan, the company’s search-marketing director of content strategy. Yahoo! doesn’t break out PPC earnings separately in its financial statements, but Goldman Sachs analyst Anthony Noto believes that keyword advertising accounted for about half of the company’s estimated $3.7 billion in revenue for 2005. PPC is even more lucrative for Google. According to Noto, Google will end 2005 with $6.1 billion in revenue. About 99 percent of that revenue comes from keyword ads (over 56 percent from AdWords, according to the company’s most recent quarterly financial statement, and 43 percent from AdSense), making Google a bigger recipient of ad dollars than any television network or newspaper chain. All of which is to say that little blue text links, a type of advertising that barely existed five years ago, are poised to become the single most important form of marketing in the US — unless click fraud ruins it.

How Click Fraud Could Swallow the Internet

T I Double Geh Errrrrr

There is a mother that is suing a Walt Disney World worker accused of groping her 13-year-old daughter while dressed as Tigger.

I asked Anna-Maria what she thought about the possibility it was an accident since she has actually tried on some of the Disney costumes.

She says that, “[While wearing the costume] your vision is greatly, greatly reduced. Furthermore, the suit is not just one layer. You have, generally, an under layer of padding followed up by a fur costume with large mittens on your hands that are often three times your regular hand size.

I tried out many costumes. One was a cat costume, the cat from Pinochio and the sleeves go almost all the way to the ground on them so your hands are covered.

Your feet are the same, you have shoes on followed up with a big fur boot, or depending on the costume a giant rubber shoe or boot.

Also it’s so hot in there you don’t function properly. You’re biggest concern is getting enough oxygen. Definitely not groping someone — although I could be wrong. But I don’t think you could even think about that in that costume. It’s like a pure mental exercise just to stand wearing the costume.

If it was one of the face characters, Santa Claus, Aladdin I could see it. But those other costumes are just unbearable.

I danced for half an hour in one and I was gasping for oxygen. Even when I just tried it on I began to sweat and breath heavily as if I had just run a marathon completely untrained.”

So when I asked her one more time if she thought the accused was truly innocent she replied, “Do you think a fat kid with asthma being chased by a pack of wild dogs could think about that? Because that’s what it’s like being in one of those costumes with parents and kids trying to run you down. You are in survival mode.”

Oh and about a second after publishing this post I discovered this. It turns out he was acquitted earlier today.

The acquittal came less than an hour following a three-day trial during which the defense attorney for Michael Chartrand donned a Tigger costume in an effort to show jurors how difficult it is to maneuver and see in the outfit.

[…]

Chartrand’s defense attorney has contended that the girl’s mother was merely after money and planned to sue Disney. The mother also claimed Tigger touched her breast during the visit to Disney World last February, although no criminal charges followed her allegation.