12/7 – Student Presentations II

Our last session runs from 7-10pm, our allotted final exam time, on Monday, December 7. Blog comments are due at 5pm, and can cover one or more of the assigned excerpts. Here is the schedule for the session, with assigned excerpts linked:

7:00 Kim Stolz, Unfriending My Ex

7:20 Whitney Phillips, This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

7:40 Lydia Bright, The Ugly Face of Facebook

8:00 Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg, Modern Romance [read excerpt from back to front]

8:20 BREAK

8:25 Daniel J. Levitin, The Organized Mind

8:45 Michael Lewis, Flash Boys  excerpt1  excerpt2

9:05 Kentaro Toyama, Geek Heresy

9:25 Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future  (footnotes)

9:45 WRAP-UP II (done at 10pm)

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “12/7 – Student Presentations II

  1. In Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari’s presentation of the idea that we basically have two selves now—“your real-world self and your phone self” is very powerful. It seems that the ‘phone self’ is not usually a reflection of our best self, yet we also seem to flock to it as a source of comfort. Aziz points out that, “the interesting thing about text is that, as a medium, it separates you from the person you are speaking with, so you can act differently from how you would in person or even on the phone” (44). This has profound negative effects in our practice of real-world interactions and conversation skills. Sherry Turkle argues that “the muscles in our brain that help us with spontaneous conversation are getting less exercise in the text-filled world, so our skills are declining” (41). Unfriending My Ex has a very similar take on the effect the smartphone world has had on our relationship and communication skills. The author goes as far as describing her iPhone as her “phantom limb.” It is evident that we are not going to get rid of our phones, but the question that arises from both of these books is: How do we ensure that a separate divide between our “real-world self” and our “phone-self” remains intact, and that we don’t conflate the phone world with real life? I think that there are a few easy steps to reach a solution. I think that society needs to first become aware of some of the detrimental effects our obsession with our phones can have. Then, people should make a conscious effort to stay off of their phones when in social settings with other people or at work. If people set some simple boundaries for themselves, I think it could make a huge difference.

  2. I laughed a fair amount while reading through the Facebook addiction article, because the excerpt seemed so absurd, yet it made me self reflect on how I use blocking extensions for Facebook constantly, after noticing that I spent way too much time scrolling mindlessly through my newsfeed a couple years ago, and wonder how many people would be clinically considered to have a Facebook addiction. I suppose this first requires having a clearer definition of what Facebook addiction is.

    I wonder when our society will take these sorts of addictions seriously (I suspect we’re all a little addicted and a little in denial), and when more research will be done in defining it in a more fine grained manner, especially accounting for the incredible speed at which certain apps and websites gain popularity. It reminds me of what Susan Greenfield wrote in Mind Change and how there is a paucity of research on how technology is affecting us and our social interactions (we see a little about this in Modern Romance, on how texting has changed romantic interactions). After all, these companies make money in having as many users spend as much time on their sites as possible; when (if it comes) will the time come when we see a shift in public sentiment to “escape” technology and its ability to amplify our time wasting?

  3. Jack Cook

    On “The Organized Mind”

    I was happy to find this book will be reviewed as this topic is often on my mind. Nowadays I feel perpetually overwhelmed by information, especially in situations where I’m trying to personally assess a system or entity. A lot of the time the problem stems from not knowing the provenance, reliability or context of the information provided. In the extract Levitin states that we prioritize our decision-making skills to focus only on “important” choices, but it is with important choices that I find informational overload is most detrimental to a layman’s understanding of something. Earlier in the course the point was raised that the fact that some of us in class were tempted to pull articles from the Internet critical of Greenfield’s arguments in Mind Change – before we had concluded reading the book – reinforced her point that informational overload can sometimes blind us to the ‘bigger picture’.

    I also found it interesting that Levitin used the Soviet bloc as an example of a place where consumers aren’t constantly bombarded with hundreds of barely distinguishable products and therefore have an easier time making choices that matter very little in their life. I often wonder whether this knee-jerk desire for more information, more choice, more variety is a symptom of capitalist democracies. Paul Krugman won his Nobel Prize, in part, for realizing that countries do not structure international trade strictly on the terms of comparative advantages. Rather, there is an enormous demand from consumers for variety of product that means, for example, Japan will sell Toyotas in Germany while Germany will export BMWs to Japan. Economically speaking, people prefer more variety no matter what, even if it comes at the cost of economic inefficiency, cognitive slowdown, etc.

  4. Texts such as Unfriending My Ex and The Ugly Face of Facebook encapsulate a phenomenon we all feel, as we get pulled slowly but surely into putting mental and emotional energy into creating a virtual persona. Life has become something of a performance, with the ability to obtain an audience at any point in which one chooses—and, of course, as inherently narcissistic beings who desire approval and affirmation, we default towards “posting” whenever we feel that we can capture the attention of those around us. This notion of continuous performance blurs our sense of reality. There are no more spaces—except when we are totally disconnected from technology, such as deep in nature—where we cannot connect to this universe in which we can play the role of the protagonist, assuming a primary role we yearn for in the human need to be individual and special. We ascribe meaning because we have the opportunity to feel loved.

    The lives and roles of celebrities have completely transformed within this structure of continuous gazes upon people—we know them as their characters, which then blend into everyday life. If celebrities break character, the world knows. Take, for example, Miley Cyrus, who proves an exceptional case in this identity-crisis-inducing phenomenon. She grew up playing the main character on the television program Hannah Montana, in which her character led a double life as an international pop star and a regular girl attending high school. Miley was propelled to stardom and then began to live a similarly double life, in which she had her own persona and the persona projected by the show. Figure this: Miley Cyrus led a double life in which she, in public, had to keep up a character persona that also led a double life.

  5. acamperi

    In his book Modern Romance, specifically the excerpt that Nico picked out for us, Aziz Ansari discusses how due to the advent of texting we, humans, are becoming less adept at spontaneous conversation. He says that these texts allow us to deliberate and draft our responses to people thoroughly before sending them, which is totally different from the way humans have interacted since we first differentiated from the great apes. In spoken conversation you don’t have time to think carefully about what you are going to say, but you can also backtrack, and express yourself using body language or visual cues, but texting is the exact opposite of this. What you express in these few simple words on the screen is so important because you can’t, for instance, soften harsh words with a smile, or use tone of voice to convey that what you are saying is sarcastic.

    Although there has not been any hard science yet to prove that this is a real effect, this relates to the concepts that Greenfield discusses in Mind Change. Many of the technologies that we, today, take for granted, are having unanticipated effects on every aspect of our life. The simplicity that is so attractive in texting somebody is altering the way we interact with people face-to-face, as opposed to just providing a more comfortable alternative to it.

    To me, this is very scary, as I do often interact via text rather than actually calling people. Hopefully, even just being aware of the problem will do something to mitigate its effects.

  6. Ansari’s “Modern Romance” hits a nerve. The bifurcation of personality that each and every one of us has to deal with on an hourly basis undoubtedly takes its toll on the modern psyche. While Ansari’s take on the matter is light-hearted – with discussion of Tinder pickup lines and so-called “Textiquette” – other class readings (notably, Greenfield’s “Mind Change”) have dug deeper into the psychological effects such constant performance place on the individual. Stolz writes on similar themes in the context of Facebook, writing that our bifurcation results in a “never-ending loop [that] feeds self-obsession”, that we constantly “stand in the sphere of social competition”.

    Having spent the quarter discussing the effects of technology on the human condition, I find myself stunned that there is so little research on the topic. By all accounts and as evidences in Ansari’s writing, US popular culture has become self-aware as to the communication barriers erected by digital innovation. Indeed, we are beginning to see a sort of sea change in the world of constant communication. Snapchat embodies ephemerality. Facebook places more emphasis, and engineering resources, building product that enables small-group and person-to-person messaging, backing away from its initial newsfeed product. Concerns about privacy and oversharing have lead to caution among millennials, worried that past transgressions might one day grace the cover of a newspaper, or be used against them. Ansari’s screenshots of poor Tinder lines – published in a best-selling book – could have just as easily featured uncensored names of the message sender.

    The readings for this session – and for the class in general – highlight new problems we are faced with in the digital era. Some – like choosing MySpace “top friends” – will go with time. Others represent more systematic sea changes in human interaction. Food for thought.

  7. The introduction to Flash Boys is quite simply unnerving. Lewis tells the capturing story of Spread Networks, a company that decided to lay down a more direct fiber optic route between Chicago and New York in order for data to travel faster. This way, financial institutions could leverage this speed as a competitive advantage to make profits off of market discrepancies between the two locations. What gripped me most about the story was how interested the financial firms were in paying for this advantage and making sure no one else could attain it. Reading the excerpt reminded me about our discussion of The Black Box Society and the fears that came out of Pasquale’s argument. What can we do?

    I am no expert in financial regulation or law, but what Spread Networks was selling seems murkish to me. Nonetheless, it truly highlights that we do not know what is going on with our financial institutions. We have no control. And that thought is extremely scary when we consider that our livelihood depends on it. However, I feel hopeless that much can change. Pasquale calls for more regulation and I’m sure Lewis offers his own solution. Yet, it remains true that the political system is controlled by the influence of money. As such, we can place little hope that the status quo will change without a massive demonstration of public insatisfaction. All in all, I would like to know a little more about actual viable solutions to solving the issue of black boxes in our financial system.

    • The introduction to Flash Boys is quite simply unnerving. Lewis tells the capturing story of Spread Networks, a company that decided to lay down a more direct fiber optic route between Chicago and New York in order for data to travel faster. This way, financial institutions could leverage this speed as a competitive advantage to make profits off of market discrepancies between the two locations. What gripped me most about the story was how interested the financial firms were in paying for this advantage and making sure no one else could attain it. Reading the excerpt reminded me about our discussion of The Black Box Society and the fears that came out of Pasquale’s argument. What can we do?

      I am no expert in financial regulation or law, but what Spread Networks was selling seems murky to me. Nonetheless, it truly highlights that we do not know what is going on with our financial institutions. We have no control. And that thought is extremely scary when we consider that our livelihood depends on it. However, I feel hopeless that much can change. Pasquale calls for more regulation and I’m sure Lewis offers his own solution. Yet, it remains true that the political system is controlled by the influence of money. As such, we can place little hope that the status quo will change without a massive demonstration of public dissatisfaction. All in all, I would like to know a little more about actual viable solutions to solving the issue of black boxes in our financial system.

  8. ccibils

    I can’t help but feel shocked at how the social lives of our generation are so affected by their multimedia nature. In both “Unfriending My Ex” and “Modern Romance”, communication platforms take the central stage and become a key part of the conversation. As Marshall McLuhan said it, “The Medium is the Message”. Multimedia then means multimessage.

    One thing I noticed recently was that there are distinct linguistic patterns that come about when texting via a computer vs texting via a phone. It seems to me that people are more permissive with the lack of capitalization when using a computer! Or rather, when texting with someone and there’s no capitalization, you immediately assume they’re texting from a computer. A simple glance at the capitalization structure of your Facebook Messages and your iMessage texts should make that obvious.

    When overlaying “Modern Romance” on “Unfriending My Ex”, we find that we are addicted to attention (or at least, the feeling of attention), and that we’re feeding that attention to our digital (or phone) selves. I don’t personally mind that there are two selves, but I do think that there’s a chance for stress increase because of a lack of attention to our physical selves.

  9. Levintin’s chapter really highlights the cultural and social relativity of attention and focus. His Romanian student, Ionia, is defeated by the range of products she can buy at the school bookstore, though most people who are brought up with this culture of broad commercialism have no problem with filtering out the many pros and cons of each possibility. In Romania, however, Ionia would have been much less cognitively distraught at the (sometimes exceedingly) narrower variations on a certain product. The HSPs, as Levintin calls them, are faced with an even broader set of options for any one decision space than the average American consumer, and would probably face more decisions in general were it not for their assistants. And yet, with this extra help, they enjoy the same type of zen that Ionia might back in Romania.

    To me, it seems the important point here is that decision overload can be split into two factors: the numbers of decisions demanded over a period of time, and one’s faculties for making those decisions. These include cognitive faculties as well as other resources, like secretaries or software. It seems that humankind as a whole is forced to deal with an ever-increasing number of decisions per person over time, as this is at the center of economic expansion. This means that the more likely path toward avoiding decision overload, and the cognitive stress that it entails, is automating or streamlining these decisions by boosting individuals’ own decision-making faculties. For example, I think the management of groups will more often be outsourced to weak AI, and decisions about meeting with people will be made algorithmically.

  10. One thing that struck me about a couple of the excerpts (particularly “Modern Love” and “Unfriending my Ex”) is the apparent double standard between how people treat others and how they expect to be treated with texting and other popular media. When someone gives you a compliment in the real world, it seems likely that it would make you happy and you’d be willing to reciprocate or, at minimum, be nicer to this person down the road because there’s some notion of reciprocity. On Facebook and with texting, however, things don’t always happen in the same way. The act of deciding what we want to like and/or respond to is compared to that of “judging” or “superiority”, while people still highly value the reaction that their own photos get (sometimes enough to do ridiculous things like take pictures of themselves drinking and driving in order to get a reaction) (Unfriending my Ex 169).

    Based on my personal experience, I think there is at least some sense that you should respond to the people who like/comment on your stuff on Facebook, so I’m not sure that there’s absolutely no notion of a “do unto others” mindset. However, it is interesting if people use more of a critical lens to issue these lighthearted compliments and minor actions that make people feel good about themselves than in traditional conversation and offline interaction. This could cause people to feel like they have to “earn” shallow complements rather than just receiving them more or less automatically, which may be another one of the reasons why people have become obsessed with constantly checking their followings and optimally curating their social media.

  11. Betsy Alegria

    My blog comment is going to focus on “Unfriending My Ex” and “The Ugly Face of Facebook.” Specifically, I want to focus on the addiction of social media and how mental health professionals address the role of social media in our lives.

    In “Unfriending My Ex,” the author wrote that “we are now more consumed with how the online world will view us than we are with the opinions of those whom we spend time with in person” (171). This directly connects to the idea of self pleasure from the attention we receive or the narcissistic tendencies described in the excerpt. In “The Ugly Face of Facebook,” the author talks about how this addiction might be connected to or correlated with anxiety, stress, depression, etc. My question is, are researchers focusing on the rise of social media technologies with mental health as much as other things? If not, why? If so, why do we not see big changes happening if companies like Facebook know they might be harming their users in some way?

    If we aren’t changing how we interact with such technologies, we face the repercussions. We have people who are stressed over self-worth or depressed, and that is either caused/heightened by social media platforms. I wonder what mental health professionals are doing to address these huge changes in the rise of technology and how it affects us. For example, before social media platforms, when you would end a relationship, you could stop talking and potentially never see that person again. Now, you have their digital persona online through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. How do professionals address the challenge a person might have coping with a relationship that ended but they still see that person’s life all over media? Do professionals handle Facebook stalking the same way as physical stalking?

  12. aselvan2012

    I really enjoyed reading the piece by Aziz Ansari, but I have a few perspectives of my own. I completely agree with Ansari’s story about calling grandparents to cancel a visit rather than texting them. A text is far more impersonal and you seemingly get to hide behind a wall, enabling you to get away with flakiness or rudeness. I believe that it is for this same reason that setting up a date via text can be so hard, as also shown in the excerpt. However, I disagree that young people have anxiety or struggle with the courage to talk to someone. I believe that our generation has a far more casual attitude towards dating and hooking up than previous ones. The rise in getting to know people via text first is a reflection of this attitude change.

    In an age where dates are set up via a right-swipe on Tinder I believe is proof that we don’t suffer from anxiety – how else would we be ok with meeting with total strangers? However, I believe we also do live in a 140 character society, where conciseness is key – and this spills over into SMS. Given that the only cues to go off when interacting via SMS is the text that comes through (versus looks, sound of voice, expressions etc in real life), it is crucial to get that text just right. This, I believe, is why intro texts and SMS conversations can be so bland as “Hey”. People want to minimize their downside risk in a text, but still leave open some upside risk from their conversation partner. Hence no one is too forward in his or her messages, and rather stay ultra conservative. It is almost a sort of game theory scenario.

  13. Jamison Elizabeth Searles

    Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance was as entertaining as it was depressing. It is difficult to deny the stunting effect the digital age has had on the communication skills of our generation (as seems to be subject/audience). His distinction between ‘your real-world self’ and ‘your phone self’ echoed Greenfield’s three possible selves model (true self, real self, possible self). Though Greenfield characterizes the online self as desperate for attention and constrained by social norms, Aziz Ansari generally makes the ‘phone self’ out to be confused, awkward, and out of control.
    Although I found the anecdotes and general tone amusing, I was a bit bothered by the general representation of relationships and gender roles. Few of the featured stories departed from the same three plot points: boy meets girl, boy pursues girl with texts or social media messages, and girl finds herself disappointed by boy’s online efforts. This frame of mind casting men as the chasers and initiators and women as the frustrated, passive audience to their advances is inaccurate, prehistoric, and surprising from Ansari. The imbalanced focus on women’s dating horror stories promoted the idea that modern romance fumbles mainly afflict men and that women must ‘deal with this.’ In reality, both parties struggle to communicate, cross the line, and text ‘your great.’ Furthermore, (and perhaps this can be found elsewhere in the text) I would have liked to hear testimonies from dating scenes other than heterosexual ones. Again, I haven’t read the entire book and it’s very likely a variety of dynamics and relationships are referenced in other sections.

  14. sgussman

    After reading the excerpt from Modern Romance, I was struck by how much texting and other forms of instant communication have changed the “procedure” of human interactions. Our generation has abandoned old formalities and quickly developed our own new ones. Every digital conversation starts according to the same formula: hey, hey, what’s up?, nothing much– you?, bout the same. Just chillin . . . These digital ‘procedures’ also shackle our online personas. They standardize everything from how much time we spend online to what we are willing to say. This idea has popped up throughout the quarter as Greenfield’s possible selves, as our data-footprints in Black Box Society, and according to Aziz as our phone selves.

    I’m surprised, but I’m becoming more sympathetic to Susan Greenfield’s fears. We spend drastically more time online on websites like Facebook, and are constantly under pressure to interact. We’re so addicted to forms of mass communication like Facebook and Twitter that we use them in the bathroom (yeah, I agree it’s gross). We also hyper-coordinate our lives– prearranging them via SMS or email. Greenfield laments how this causes a lack of spontaneity– and I’m beginning to understand why she would think that.

  15. In The Organized Mind, Daniel Levitin illustrates the complexity of everyday life and points out that “our brains evolved to help us deal with life during the hunter-gatherer phase of human history, a time when we might encounter no more than a thousand people across the entire span of our lifetime” (7). He describes highly successful persons (HSPs) as able to manage this complexity by delegating tasks and attention to subordinates who can act as extensions of their brains. They are thus able to live modern life in the moment without having to worry about remembering anything or tracking things they need to do. This sounds nice. My friend told me a few days ago that humans are not evolved to handle constant low to medium stress, and I think that fits right into Levitin’s narrative. We have way too many obligations and things to keep track of to live life carefree, and even with digital organizational tools and good time management many people I know are constantly thinking about all the work they need to do and people they need to reconnect with. I don’t think HSPs should be the only ones who can live complex lives without constant low to medium stress, but we don’t all have a staff to handle organization of our lives. Maybe we should find ways to simplify our lives. We can make fewer time commitments, follow different social conventions for email responses and interactions of that sort, and take jobs that don’t demand attention outside of work. But unfortunately some of these constraints on our lives are difficult to avoid, and information overload may be a necessary evil that we have to train ourselves to handle.

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