Here’s a piece that does a pretty good job responding to the criticism of that Facebook study. The argument is as follows: Facebook already manipulates what you see in your news feed; Facebook users are well aware of that; therefore, manipulating users’ Facebook feeds in this new way (to display less positive or negative content) isn’t an ethical violation.
The thing I don’t get here, though, is that, if Facebook already alters users’ Facebook feeds, why didn’t the researchers use this existing manipulations as a kind of “natural experiment”? After all, surely the existing Facebook algorithm already produces news feeds that have different emotional valences, and a researcher that had access to the full set of Facebook data could use those instances to test a hypothesis. It wouldn’t have been too hard: just find two people that share, say, 95% of the same friends, look for instances when those two people saw different posts in their news feed, assess the emotional valence of each news feed, and look for differences in the posts they then produce. Sure, that’s a slightly different design (paired-subjects v. pretest/posttest) but it would have entirely gotten around the ethical issues. Why not use this far more unobtrusive method?
Robyn & Royksöpp @ Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA, 6/26/14
Is Robyn consciously pulling a “Soon as they like you make ‘em unlike you” move with the influx of new American fans bestowed upon her by Girls? At the very least, her set last night focused on a particular range of sounds that would have been just at home on her 1997 debut Robyn is Here as they are on her current collaboration with Royksöpp: dark, throbbing electro and post-rave bang-ups. In practice, though, that meant leading with her more obscure tracks, like “Stars 4-Ever” and ending the night with “None of Dem,” her previous collaboration with Royksöpp—not surprising, given the collaborative nature of the concert, but not exactly a high note to go out on. Even some initial nods to more well-known tracks seemed like provocations, like starting her set off with “Be Mine!” (still maybe her best song) to a decidedly muted crowd response. (Did people go back and listen to Robyn after getting Body Talk?) While the songs from the EP with Royksöpp were done well, with an appropriately overwhelming light show, and she eventually brought out the biggest of the guns (“Dancing,” “Call,” “Heartbeat”), the night seemed low-energy for an artist that left a capacity crowd breathless when I saw her four years back. Maybe it was the venue: Marymoor Park, an outdoor space in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, was a fantastic place to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs last summer, but happening less than a week after solstice and with a curfew of 10 pm, the majority of Robyn’s show took place with the sun still up, a nearly fatal blow for a dance show. Nevertheless, it was hard not to detect some provocation in her choice to avoid her more crowd-pleasing album cuts, and to perform “Call Your Girlfriend” as a remix that ditched the rousing sixteenth-note pulse for an eighth-note stomp. (Plus a bunch of new tracks.) Robyn clearly wanted the mainstream success she’s managed to achieve here (no one solicits a Snoop guest verse for artistic purposes), but now it seems like she’s pursuing the dance-pop artist’s version of going back to her roots. Does she mean to test her audience? Regardless, that seemed to be the effect last night.
Photo by Jennifer Mortensen/@ttuesdayy
After a day of exploring we came back to the pool to swim and have a few drinks before dinner. There was this kid with Justin Bieber hair and I said he looked like an asshole. We found an inflatable ball floating in the deep end and tried to keep it in the air for as long as possible, which wasn’t very long.
After a while the kid came over to us. He was 13 years old and from Texas and on vacation with his grandparents and so he didn’t have anyone to play with. My wife asked if he wanted to hit the ball around with us and he said sure, so this barely post-tween spent his time on vacation hitting an inflatable ball around the pool with two thirtysomethings.
He had trouble in the water, not just moving through it but staying afloat, so my wife taught him the three basic strokes: the crawl, the backstroke, the breaststroke . He took to then quickly, but they seemed utterly new to him, like pushing through water with your hands cupped was something he’d never even heard of before. “How did you learn this stuff?” he asked.
"I took swim classes. Didn’t you ever take swim classes?"
His head dipped under the water and he gulped and spat. “I have a lot to do for school. I’m too busy to take swim classes.”
I tossed the ball to my wife, she set it to the kid, and he slammed it back at me, way too hard, over my head and onto the deck. Maybe he didn’t understand how the game worked.
I enjoyed the WWI focus in the Arts section of the Sunday Times. This piece, by Ed Rothstein, wonders why people reacted so negatively to the carnage of WWI when they hadn’t done so to almost equally horrific carnages, like that of the US Civil War. It seems to me that one of the biggest changes in cultural attitudes over the last 200 years involves not only the value but the meaning of a human life. Before modern medicine, death is so frequent, arbitrary, and unavoidable that a life must mean less, or else we would have spent all our time in grief; there must be life after life, or else we have surely been shortchanged by our meager lifespans. As medicine and standards of living improve, a cult of mourning emerges that gives more meaning to life by extending it past death in the lives of the still-living, while at the same time recognizing the inevitability of death. Death has meaning, even if life does not. And then the Great War provides the first widespread example of technology being used to end life at the same time technology has the capacity to safe life. This was not the case during the Civil War: if you didn’t die on the battlefield, you were almost equally likely to die at home. Now, no more. If a human life becomes something we can preserve, it becomes something we must preserve. The idea that we have a duty to prevent all death (seen, for instance, in calls to prevent mass shootings by making it easier to involuntarily commit people with mental health problems) seems like a moral inevitability, but it is very much a historical development.