Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Cuttings: September 2014

Why Twitter beats Facebook for breaking news – article by John Naughton in The Observer. ”The discrepancies between the way the two services [Facebook and Twitter] handled the Brown killing [in Ferguson, Missouri] illustrate the ways in which social networks can highlight or downplay news stories or events. The idea that these technologies provide tabulae rasae on which events inscribe themselves is bunkum. And there's no smoking gun here, just a smoking algorithm. What you see on Twitter is determined by who you follow. In contrast, what you see in your Facebook newsfeed is 'curated' by the company's algorithms, which try to guess what will interest you (and induce you to buy something, perhaps). Having a frank discussion about the racism that disfigures America might not fit that bill. Which is why Facebook is for ice-bucket memes and Twitter is for what's actually going on."

Money talks - but we don't understand it (print edition title) - Review of John Lanchester How to Speak Money, by Larry Elliott in The Guardian. "The important question thrown up by the crisis, Lanchester says, is 'whether a society should arrange itself primarily for the convenience of its richest citizens and its richest, most powerful economic sector, irrespective of the consequences of that for everyone else'. He notes that a robber baron's castle can be full of sumptuous art, lavish food and drink and wonderful music but can only shine brightly because it destroys the landscape in which it sits. 'The City of London,' he writes, 'is a robber baron's castle.' Lanchester thinks the robber barons get away with it because of the big gap that exists between the people who understand money and the rest. And the reason there is a big gap, he says, is that the money folk speak their own esoteric language that sets them apart. That explains why economics feels so alienating to outsiders."

Why our faith in cramming is mistaken – article in MindHacks blog. "Cramming doesn’t work. Unfortunately, many of us ignore this rule.... Studies of memory suggest that we have a worrying tendency to rely on our familiarity with study items to guide our judgements of whether we know them. The problem is that familiarity is bad at predicting whether we can recall something....After six hours of looking at study material (and three cups of coffee and five chocolate bars) it’s easy to think we have it committed to memory. Every page, every important fact, evokes a comforting feeling of familiarity. The cramming has left a lingering glow of activity in our sensory and memory systems, a glow that allows our brain to swiftly tag our study notes as 'something that I’ve seen before'. But being able to recognise something isn’t the same as being able to recall it.... We need to be reminded of the benefits of spaced learning because it runs counter to our instinct to relying on a comforting feeling of familiarity when deciding how to study."

Gifts in the desert: the psychology of Burning Man – article in Headquarters column in The Guardian. "One of the most unique features of Burning Man, relative to other large festivals, is its economy. Nothing is for sale, with the exception of ice and coffee. Everything else is given freely as gifts.... Subtracting money from social interactions could be a key contributor to the spirit of generosity that permeates the atmosphere. An influential set of studies showed that even just thinking about money makes people less likely to help others and less interested in spending time with others.... So what exactly is it about money that dampens our taste for generosity? One possibility is that when we participate in financial transactions, we follow different social rules than when we share our resources communally....people will sometimes paradoxically expend more effort for no payment at all (in a social market) than for a small payment (in a monetary market)....The culture of generosity that defines Burning Man doesn’t simply appear out of thin air. Participants are urged to follow the Ten Principles, a code of conduct that includes gifting, communal effort, and civic responsibility....Countless studies have shown that humans are not blind altruists, cooperating regardless of what others do, but rather are conditional cooperators: we prefer to cooperate only when we are reasonably certain that others will too. So telling people that their peers are cooperating is one of the best ways to get people to cooperate themselves....the social structure of Burning Man, where everyone must work together to stay safe in the harsh desert and ‘leave no trace’ environmentally, and where people are organized into small camps, provides the optimal conditions for generalized reciprocity to take hold."

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