Tying it all together

Facial Recognition Service Becomes a Weapon Against Russian Porn Actresses

Giggle that it’s used to target porn actresses, but facial recognition is a big threat to privacy in the coming future: I blogged in 2011 how when it reached the point where it can tie together social networks and websites (plus content, as in the actress’ case) and staying anonymous will be impossible. Tie in surveillance, CCTV, traffic light, and other cameras and – you can be tracked 24/7.


Authentic belongingness: Community, context and culture in a digital world

Belongingness: The human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers, or a sports team, humans have an inherent desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves. The motive to belong is the need for “strong, stable relationships with other people.”  

Birds flock, fish school, humans….? What do humans do? It’s something I’m always thinking about. What are we hardwired for? It’s relevant to technology opportunities since to tap into them requires understanding what the human animal needs/wants at a primal level and then servicing those needs.

And my conclusion is that – of all the animals in the kingdom we are most like (get ready for it): wolves. 

The similarities are interesting. We are both pack animals, with defined groups we belong to. Groups that have internal social heirarchies (alpha dogs, literally or metaphorically) and a constant struggle for some individuals to be that “alpha”. Groups that can be vicious to outsiders, or to those members who violate the “rules”.  Rules that are for the most part, completely (in the wolves’ case, totally) unwritten.

These rules and group norms are called “culture”. And although we don’t typically bite, both groups punish members who transgress those rules.

So I find it fascinating to watch how these hardwired behaviors impact on the evolution of virtual communities. Are the behaviors shown there really so different?

We seek out like minded people, with whom we share interests or values. On Facebook – are you “friends” similar to you? I always think of it as various circles I’m in. I have my techie friends, my political friends, etc etc. And within a few shades of gray, they align reasonably closely with my own interests, thinking and/or philosophy.

But occasionally someone will meander into a conversation, a friend of a friend from another circle, who doesn’t know the inherent “rules” (everyone here is an atheist, and a conservative christian with wander in, for example), and proceed to disagree. Wham! The group typically shuts down the conversation. They didn’t know the rules. How dare they enter. Tempers flare, words are written. It never ends up pretty. I regularly hear from a wide variety of people that the vitriol is  “getting” to them.

So let’s be honest, there’s not a huge amount of open minded learning-type discussions on Facebook. For the most part it’s either you’re “hanging out” with people who already have a fair amount of overlap with your own ideas (or you knew them in junior high and couldn’t turn down their friend request). Which contradicts what you probably THOUGHT a social place like Facebook would  (should?) be.

I wish it were a place of learning and expanding. Instead it’s interestingly becoming the opposite. Because human nature congregates and puts up walls, creating outsiders. The medium might champion (apparent) transparency, but human nature is doing exactly the opposite.

I use my own progression of involvement in social networking to illustrate. 

Initially, like many, I friended lots of people outside my comfort zone. I figured that – a  la a traditional cocktail party – I’d mix with lots of different types. After all, I consider myself fairly open minded; I might not agree with you, but I’m interested in why you think what you think, and thought I might learn something, hear a different point of view, expand my horizons, kumbayah kumbayah. I think many exuberantly flocked with the same excitement; even my dad (the original Mr. Magoo himself) had heard, and was curious to try, Facebook.

I hesitantly dipped my toes in the social water, tentatively, politely, diplomatically, in well-brought-up style not reacting, contradicting, or challenging – but found instead is that it’s virtually impossible to stay on the fence and be “myself”. As time went on (and one pugnacious twat interaction too many), I started culling the pack, so to speak. And have been left with circles (groups) of people who’s values – within a few shades of gray – fairly closely already align with my own.  

Which is a cop out, at least in my theoretical head. I’ve migrated to what is by my own definition being a bit close minded and occasionally (and I hate to admit it, but fair is fair) slightly (ok, I can’t admit to more) adversarial….and contradicts the way I *actually* like to think about myself. Perhaps it’s the subjects; social networking does seem to easily stray into subjects that were nary discussed with strangers until its advent (sex? politics? money? religion? how about all of the above?) – the transparency of the medium disallowing non engagement, perhaps. But for whatever reason, I’m clearly “there”.

I hesitate (nay, reject! don’t worry) to say that it’s possible to generalize entire humanity’s hardwiring based on looking only at myself as a petrie dish and am aware of the pitfalls in even mentioning myself as an example.

But I use it to illustrate what I’ve noticed going on all around me: from Facebook comments to online communities around a wide variety of interest / subjects / philosophies, people self form into groups where their own behaviors / morals / values are reflected, create a set of “rules” around behaviors there as naturally (and unthinkingly) as breathing, and gravitate towards situations where they do not feel their own inherent values are challenged.

We know the rules, the culture – the unwritten language – and drift to where we are comfortable. And I do think we are hardwired to do this; throughout history, humans have clumped together into (wolf like) communities, either physically or interest-based (or both), and are now adding virtually to the list of ways to connect.

So if each virtual group is creating it’s own “culture”, and we humans tend to reject what isn’t part of our “group”, how do you get your brand message heard? Or more to the point, how do you get people to interact with you?

Particularly if (as I believe) traditional “push” advertising as we currently know it will increasingly fail in this new world, as people become more and more spoiled used to streaming whatever they want on demand, sitting through enforced messaging will become less and less palatable – plus technology will enable them to choose what they want, when they want it, not on a predetermined schedule. 

So they’ll be ignoring your messaging, if done the traditional way. No more commercial break during your regularly scheduled programming. Other than, perhaps, live sports events.

It means that brands will have to become “friends” so to speak. They have to be responsive. They have to have 3D personalities, much like taking a brand and creating a restaurant “experience” requires re-imagining what the brands feels like, and translating that to interior decor.

But it will have to feel “authentic” to the person who’s group you’re trying to woo; you’ll have to use their language, their timing, their norms, their rhythms; you’ll have create the kind of interaction they expect, and to do that requires constant learning and feedback loops.

Because otherwise, just like wolves, you’ll be snapped at and kicked out. Which will require a new way to analyze and learn the nuances of how we’re talking to each other (along with how we talked (channel), where, when, etc – see my previous entry The Borogoves are a’ Mimsying for a deeper explanation).

Traditional database analysis – where columns and rows are predetermined and the data fits neatly into the categories you set up – won’t work anymore. Because the data will be people talking, using their own, private jargon with their own, group context/frame of reference (culture). The things that go unspoken that everyone just knows – a common frame of reference. These things lubricate our every interaction, seamlessly, without even a moment’s notice for the most part. Even when you interact with someone from a really different culture – because you’re both so trained to only think from your own frame of reference, that usually you don’t even think to ask what their assumptions are (even if they could articulate them). It’s the water we swim in, either unknowingly, or by choice.

And as each group has their own jargon and context, it become impossible to standardize…and add even another layer on top, language itself is so imprecise, imagine trying to explain to a logical, linear computer how to identify sarcasm (you look GREAT!) or indeed, slang “fat!” – at least, I think that’s slang lol. But my own peeps grok me fine.

Our new gadgets create so much information as to make analysis fruitless, and indeed, back to that linear model – these need to be set up properly in the beginning, so if it’s structured around apples and pears, what do you do when a kumquat walks in? We need ways to have computers that learn from experience and apply that intelligently to a new situation, because programming by anticipating precisely each potential variation when there’s so much data, is impossible.

Starting to understand just how complex this all is?? Particularly since people are member of multiple groups, both real and virtual, and you’ll have to get the timing right too. No good talking sports appropriate language when your customer is in helping his kids with homework mode.

I’m hearing all over the place that this kind of insight analysis (based on learning algorithms – some call it “artificial intelligence”, or heuristic learning) vs linear analysis is indeed the next frontier; the limits of how far we can push the way data and analytics has always been done. And many are trying; there are fortunes to be made here.

So Skynet, here we come. Although I’d argue sentience is a far cry from learning abilities (I know not all agree…that’s for another day). So I wouldn’t be worried about those computer overlords just yet (Geek humor! – my group will “get” it!).

The island of “me”: Digital narcissism, personalization, and ego

I’m intrigued by a pet observation that’s been swirling and coalescing in my little head lately: namely, the internet – an instant platform for all our own little opinions and soapboxes – has made us all think we’re important. Way too important, actually. The digital world has given us our proverbial “15 minutes of fame” – except, when everyone have a loud opinion, perversely none count, and the soapbox isn’t 15 minutes, but forever.

It used to be that you knew your relative importance in the world – possibly you shared your opinion with friends, family, some co-workers (probably not), you might have been a big fish in your own teeny weeny pond, and indeed, some managed to develop extraordinary egos just on that alone. But on the whole there was a small audience and you knew you weren’t all that important. For better or worse, people believed in authority and respected it.

But now, with a built in “audience” (x number of facebook/twitter “friends”!) you start to believe in your own importance. You imagine that your audience gives a rat’s patooty about what you think, and all of a sudden that ego that your parents worked so hard to quelch, train, and curb, has been given a venue to run wild.

People are commenting on every article being published; they have to share their opinions, because in their mind, it’s important that other people hear them. They are sharing their music lists, their favorite entertainment sources, their political advice – all of their proverbial intellectual DNA. Somehow, people are starting to believe that their <fill in the blank> is important. Drinking their own Kool-Aid.

The result of all this can be seen with the furor over the Wikileaks scandal. The point is not whether you agree this is a good thing or not, but what’s interesting to me is that we’ve moved as a society to a point where everyone feels they have a “right” to know everything. Which is a direct result of the move towards a seemingly egalitarian society, because everyone has a say (dammit!) and an audience, inflating their sense of importance.

Just another example of how the digital world is impacting on our “real” society and human psychology. Entitled might be the best word of all.

What’s going to happen as we increasingly all feel so important? => Combined with increasing personalization, and how spoiled we are getting from getting everything delivered immediately, I’m predicting a world of individual narcissists all operating on their own little self regulated “islands”. Which raises all sorts of interesting thought “vectors”…mostly around individual serving sized food right now (I’m hungry).

But also around the challenges brands and products (two different things) will have in reaching people, and influencing them; we are truly moving from a “push” marketing model to an engagement one, and the companies that don’t understand how to be invited and embed themselves in consumers’ lives will fail. Seamless operating integration between various technologies (hardware, connectivity, content) will be imperative to ensure that consumers keep you permanently in their lives. And then partnering with synergistic content, to deliver “package” experiences to consumers receptive to your product/service. I definitely think the era of the stand alone brand is ending.

But ironically, all this partnering and invisible web weaving will reduce your actual choices. Which is why I previously said “seemingly” egalitarian. But you won’t know it, because you’ll be feeling very important.

Disparity and consequences: How technology will create an opportunity divide

Technology – particularly the Internet – was hailed as “the great leveler” in the early days, and indeed it many ways it has been.

But I was struck by a comment on someone’s post today, that both of his grandchildren – 4½ and 7½ – were getting iPads in their xmas stockings. “Really?” I thought. Those things are not cheap, and I don’t believe childproof.

But what struck me wasn’t the obvious display of disposable income (shocking to my thoroughly calvinist upbringing lol – still working on that), but that those kids are being handed – handed– the future keys to success: technical aptitude. And what that means is increasingly society will be delineated by the “haves” and “have nots”, since the kids in the “haves” group will have such a clear, relevant advantage.

Now I’m not a social crusader. I get that “life isn’t fair” and that there have always been inequities between the rich and poor, with all the associated privileges, be it access to better food, medicine, investment opportunities, recreation, etc. But it just seems that there’s never been something with quite as much power to create so much disparity. The kids with early access and education using it will thrive in the future, the rest will not.

We need to make sure that the kids in the “have not” group have at least a chance of success in the future where technical savvy is a requirement. Moral obligations aside (I’m not a fan of using morals to make an argument), but from a pragmatic perspective: among the ranks of those underprivileged kids could be the next brilliant programmer, leader, designer who makes life better for us all.

I’m sure all of this has been dicussed and anticipated many times, one of the results being the “One laptop per child” program. But we need to ensure that in the US as well, we provide a system that supports the training and development tools to all the kids in our country. How else are we as a nation going to stay competitive on a global basis?

Pugnacious twats: Anger issues in an interactive world

I’ve had a few unsavory run-ins (and yes, that’s the right word) with people on other people’s Facebook discussions lately. You know, the kind when you’re innocuously commenting on someone’s post and then “bam!” someone who feels the need to aggressively disagree shows up. The kind of interaction that frankly just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Typically these run-ins are followed by a private message from the original poster, who’s connected to both of you (and is now in the middle) explaining that while this person is indeed resembling nothing more than a total argumentative a-hole on Facebook, in person they’re wonderful and kind while butterflies and rainbows just stream forth from every orifice of their bodies (ok maybe I exaggerate a bit there…).

Why am I mentioning all this on a blog dedicated to technology you ask? Well it’s also a blog about how people interact with technology, and I am interested in the barriers that technology is lowering – and in this case, it’s interesting to me that all those social norms that exist between real interactions seemingly have little hold once the interaction is through a screen. Why it’s acceptable to be an absolute aggressive jerk to a complete stranger – even though there’s a mutual connection in between.

I know there are the subjects that your mother always taught should be avoided in polite company: I believe it was politics, sex and religion – so Facebook conversations definitely fail on that rule. We’re discussing (arguing about?) subjects that typically you would have never have had with strangers, and probably not with friends either.

But at the same time, there’s not a lot of discussion happening. It seems that somehow it’s become even more important to “put your stake in the ground” about your beliefs/opinions, and then defend them vehemently, as opposed to listening.

Which is where I have an issue with the people who tend towards the “pugnacious”. All this anger they clearly have now has an outlet, where they can exhibit it with complete anonymity or fear of retribution. I (or anyone) have been depersonalized. The barriers to civility are eliminated, allowing for basic personality flaws to be magnified.

And I think that inevitably this elimination of social behavioral norms will spill over into real life: once you’ve gotten used to being able to be aggressive virtually, it’s easier to be it in person.

So while I love technology and how it’s changing our lives, I fear for something that seems to be disappearing: basic courtesy.