I Think the Written Word Can Take Care of Itself June 14, 2016Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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Facebook thinks that the written word is dead, to be replaced in its entirety by videos. It claims that videos convey more information.
Well, maybe. I am no longer willing to bet against Facebook, even as it gets even more asinine every year. I am a mere human, while it is an unstoppable force. And it is correct from a simple number-of-bits standpoint.
But information is more than bits and bytes. Video is art, too, but blending words in the right ways lets people use their imagination to build alternative realities. It exercises our minds in ways that video cannot.
To be fair, I am the one that laughs at people who still cling desperately to the printed word on paper. I have heard “I just like the feel of paper in my hands,” which seems to me nonsensical. But the written word, apart from defining in world history what is means to be human, is something that stimulates us to imagine very different things, something that video is ill-equipped to do.
We may go all the way to a video society, although I hope not. I am reminded of an old speculative fiction story by the late great Isaac Asimov that envisions a future society in which mathematics is done entirely by calculator, and pencil and paper (or mental) mathematics is a long forgotten art. So when someone brings it back, that person is looked upon with both wonder and suspicion.
It frightens me, though, to think that Facebook actually has the wherewithal to make this happens, if it furthers the company’s business goals. We should not give up the written word just because Facebook says we should.
I don’t think this comes as any surprise to anyone, but Facebook is shallow. Its fundamental problem is that it also promotes shallowness as communication. If we succumb to Facebook, we fail to connect as humans.
Tags: Facebook, psychology
By now most of us are familiar with the study done by Facebook in 2012 in which about 700,000 users were unwittingly subject to more emotionally negative content in order to determine if that content had any influence on their moods (based on the published results, the answer seems to be “no”). This became public when Facebook published an academic paper on the topic, and the principal researcher expressed misgivings in a blog post.
One of the more notorious psychological experiments was conducted by Stanley Milgram, circa 1963. Milgram described it as a learning experiment in which purported subjects (actually confederates) were given fake electrical shocks by the actual subjects as punishment for incorrect answers. Under the urging of the experimenter, many of those administering the electric shock applied the maximum amount of voltage.
I would like to think I know something of psychology, with a couple of university degrees in the subject and my own (very modest) human experiments during that time. Many psychology studies use deception in order to measure aspects of behavior that the subject isn’t cognizant of. If subjects were aware of the true purpose of an experiment, that knowledge would almost certainly influence their behaviors, rendering any results useless.
This means that at any time you are on Facebook, you are subject to being, well, a subject. Will that change how you interact with Facebook or other social media site? Well, maybe, and that could once again render any results useless.
Universities have ethics committees that evaluate prospective studies and determine whether or not they meet published ethics guidelines. While I won’t say that such committees make appropriate decisions in all cases, these processes are relatively transparent and well understood. It’s difficult to make the same case for any ethics decisions made by Facebook (my snark causes me to add “if any”).
Moreover, I have to ask what the purpose of such a study was. In academia (I was also a tenure-track academic for five years), researchers conduct experiments to generally advance the human body of knowledge (yes, and to get published, and obtain tenure, etc.). At Facebook, these studies must out of necessity be viewed with much more of a profit motive. Now there is truly an arresting thought.
Just what the heck is Facebook up to?