Friday, September 9, 2016

The Internet is Making You a Not Nice Person (Part 1)

Let’s say you are into Pokemon Go, Knitting, and Sushi.  So you post about those things, and Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest show you stuff about those things.  Great.  Cool. That’s exactly what I wanted from my social media experience.  Or at least that’s what they are betting on and cashing in on in terms of advertising dollars. That’s business.  These companies are not non-profits with the well-being of everyone in mind.  That are for-profits, lest we forget. 

So they inadvertently, or intentionally, depending on the shade of your rose colored glasses, create a system whereby you only see information that supports your current beliefs.  

Here’s what studies say about this and why this makes you a “not nice person” (even though that’s the last thing you want),  in the following ways:
  1. Media changes how you think about yourself
  2. Media changes how you think about others
  3. Media changes your ability to assimilate new information about things you don’t know - ghettoization, balkanization, self-selection
Regarding point 1, the media portrays your standard human as skinny, fit, with perfect skin.  Depending on where you are in the world, this might mean closer to caucasian in appearance, with perfectly symmetrical features, flawless pore-less features, a good butt but not too big, etc. Eyebrows just so. The list is a long one and it varies accordingly by race, culture, and nation. But the one unifying element is that “you are not it”.  And this is rampant, not only because we love to compare ourselves to others, but that companies want you to buy things that make you feel like this “thing” will finally make you better and make you fit in.  If you are a scholarly-minded person and want to research this, the terms you want to look for are social comparison, self-perception and self-esteem (Dohnt and Tiggeman, 2006; Wilcox and Laird, 2000; Fernandez and Pritchard, 2012).  And for those who think that only women and girls are affected by this trend, research has found that men and boys are also at risk, with some resorting to bulimia and other dangerous health practices to be fit and thin.

On to point 2: the media changes how we think about others.  The scholarly term is polarization.  Right now ….

by Christine Rosakranse

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Empathy Technology

Whenever my father would ask me what I did in my graduate studies, I would answer, “Empathy technology.” I would then explicitly explain to him what I meant.  When he would then relate my research interest to other people, he would explain it as follows: I was designing computer therapists that could read your mind and help you out.  This was not what I meant by empathy technology and this fact was something that I reiterated to him every time we talked about my research, but somehow I could never quite get that point across.  
It wasn’t that my dad was a dumb guy.  He was very smart and well accomplished. In fact, he ran a company that made both hardware and software for toll collection equipment.  In business, he could haggle, affirm his position, and wrangle the best deal in his sleep.  But he never understood the social aspect of digital media.  
One day he asked me about Facebook.  It was something that he had heard of from his employees and wanted to know more of. So I thought the best way to show him what Facebook was would be to open an account for him. He had an e-mail account through him company.  It was one that he never checked, but he had it. So, we started, filled out all the forms, and then the step came to add friends, people he might know.  “Hey, dad, ok, let’s add your friends.” And he refused.  He didn’t want to. He just wanted to see what Facebook was about without adding old friends from high school or from the neighborhood.  He already knew about his friends.  He was seventy-something at the time and he figured if he hadn’t kept in contact, well there was no mystery to be discovered in that which he had left behind.  I didn’t argue with him.  Maybe he was right.
Figure 1. Father and daughter (1980)

However, in this day and age, with millennials and gen-exers posting everything online, we have lost something very intimate in the way we now engage with our fellow human beings.  And that is what I study.    
Empathy technology, despite the technology part of the term, exists as a channel between people. I conceptualize it as: technology that helps people feel empathy for other people.  The difficult part of the definition comes in when we try to define empathy in terms of technology and specifically in terms of computer-mediated communication (CMC). What is empathy when you are talking about a chatroom?  What does empathy mean when you are talking about a YouTube video viewed by a stranger?  We don’t know yet.  Some researchers have looked at what it means from a narrow perspective, but, of course, researchers have to look at empathy from a narrow perspective or they would never be able to complete their data analysis.  Except for certain circumstances that allow for following a group of people around for their entire lives, we can’t know the full depths of how people connect online in an empirical way. We have anecdotes about people connecting with others online and becoming fast friends, but the N is small in these cases.

I want to study how we can help people empathize with out-group members and I want to study this in an empirical manner.  There should be no question as to why.  But in case there is, I have three answers: War, racism, and narcissism.  If I can help to end any of those occurrences and save lives, both metaphorical and actually, by inducing empathy for others, including members of marginalized groups, than I would hope that my father would understand that empathy technology, as I see it, may be more powerful than computer therapists. Though, of course, they would be pretty cool, too.  


Friday, April 18, 2014

What I’ve learned about empathy

After researching empathy, the most important thing that I have learned is that emotion recognition, from a cognitive perspective, is not the most important part of bonding with another human being.  For the most part, we can recognize when someone else is suffering.  Even across cultures the face of suffering is the same.  Granted, in some cultures the norm is to hide negative emotions, especially in deference to social harmony.  But we can usually tell from faces whether or not someone is in pain, physically or emotionally.  The true obstacle to bonding, bridging, or compassion is the feeling of caring about the other.  Two big obstacles come to mind when considering the dilemma in a modern, urbanized world.  One is the distractions that we self-inflict, including multitasking, that removes us from here-and-now, face-to-face connection.  The second is the guilt or ignorance associated with not knowing what to do after one does bond or recognize the humanity of another person who is suffering, distraught, or could use assistance.  We think we have to do something and we fear it is something we don’t want to do.  We feel guilty because of the disparity between our income level or race or “privileged” status in comparison to the “other” person.  It doesn’t occur to most people that just recognizing and approving of another person as a person is a radical step towards helping.  Of course, this enters into another debate about taking action versus doing nothing, but I would argue that recognition and approval would help people out in many ways, if only pertaining to a sense of belonging and perceived normalcy.  

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Dangers of Multitasking

Here is a video that talks about the dangers of multitasking, with yours truly:

Monday, March 17, 2014

At the ISPR Conference in Vienna

The concept of presence deals with a vast collection of attributes and style preferences.  Right now, as I sit at the University of Vienna, I wonder how presence is involved in online bonding.  In order for both people to be able to interact on an emotional level during an interpersonal interaction, they must both feel that they "see" the other and that they are "seen" by the other.  Presence, in this context, acts to constrain their interaction and shape how they feel about each other.  A feedback loop between the two interacts can either lead to a great deal of connection or it can lead to feeling a deficit of emotion.   Both outcomes are equally likely unless previous knowledge or active cognition changes the dynamic.  For social networking, if one "sees" the other, but is not "seen", as we have in the case of unequal power dynamics, then true empathy cannot exist between the two parties.  Due to the reciprocal nature an empathic interaction, it can be said that presence in this sense only occurs when both interactants are considered "present."

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"I am a Burner!" said the researcher.

Short foray into the topic:

Standing in front of an online crowd and saying it out load makes me feel a bit like a recovering alcoholic, but I’ll say it anyway, “I’m a burner.”

A burner, in this context, simply put, is someone who attends Burning Man, also called That Thing in the Desert. This means that they have some acquaintance with the ten “principles” of the organization, written in 2004 by Larry Harvey for the Regional Network.  These include radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation and immediacy. 

The term burner means different things to non-burners, depending on how many burner friends they have and how they view things they don’t have experience with. Do they judge or are they curious? 

For those who are prone to judgment.  There are many meditation classes available that can help you with this kind of automaticity.  

For those who are curious, there are two things I would like to debunk.  Burning Man does not automatically make you a better person.  You will necessarily be changed in some way, but it is no guarantee that this change will make you more compassionate, giving, and kind.  BM simply provides an opportunity to utterly change how you interact with others, the universe, and yourself.  But it is always part fate and part choice as to how you are affected.

One problem that I have with any “utopian” perspective is that it often ignores the default world, the world outside of Burning Man and the Black Rock Desert, concatenating our psychological development into one short week.   

For some people who love the event, the other 51 weeks of the year are spent yearning for that space where you can be free to express yourself, where there is no money changing hands (except for coffee and ice), and where you can interact with some lovely souls in very provocative ways.   Plans are made for grand yurts fill with air conditioning.  Faux fur is bought to line the seat of your second-hand tricycle.  

But, there are a few who internalize the principles, or their understanding of them, and take that as a guide for doing good in the world, the default world.  One of the most direct examples we can see of this is where burners volunteer to help struggling communities in any way that they can or when they help underserved populations gain skills.  

One such organization is called Burners without Borders. Burners without Borders has two broad categories of volunteering: Disaster Relief and Community Initiatives.