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    nmw 13:58:37 on 2016/06/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , Gustav Le Bon, impression, impressionability, impressions, influence, Law of large numbers, , , , , , , , , repitition, , , , success, ,   

    The Rationality of Large Numbers 

    This is a huge topic – I will not be able to cover it in a single post, not even in just a few posts. What I want to do here and now is to introduce the topic, and to describe why I feel it is so immensely important.

    First: What do I mean by „large numbers“. Oddly, I am not even exactly sure myself. I think I mean at least two things. Most directly and obviously, I mean the statistical and research methodology that is a cornerstone of the scientific method which has been used with such resounding success for hundreds of years already. Basically, this has to do with large populations (whether of people, of atoms or of other things), and how there seem to be quite predictable relationships between characteristics of populations and characteristics of individual members of such populations. Although I do not mean to diminish the importance of the insights gained from such statistical analysis, one point that often seems to get overlooked is that it is nonetheless a belief system – much like a religion, we believe that atoms (and similar properties of phenomena we refer to collectively as „the hard sciences“) behave in accordance to such laws (as „the law of large numbers“) throughout the universe. Nonetheless, to call the entire scientific method into question because of this one intriguing point would be to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Let me turn to a much more disconcerting issue with respect to the notion of large numbers. In the scientific approach, it seems quite clear that the aim is to be able to make predictions about populations which basically result from the way a large number of individual members of these populations function. There is, however, also a much more controversial matter – namely, that large populations may also have an impact on individual members. Although this may not be obvious when talking about atoms or similar „inanimate“ phenomena, one would be quite hard pressed to maintain that one single bird is not influenced by actions of the flock, or that one single human is not affected by actions of a mob of people which he or she is a member of.

    Beyond that, over the past century or so it has become blatantly obvious that individuals are not only influenced by actual mobs, but that are even prone to change their behavior on the basis of merely a percieved influence of mobs. The groundbreaking insights of Gustav Lebon at the close of the 19th Century were used with amazing „success“ throughout the 20th Century, and they are still being used today. In many – no: in the vast majority of – countries today, the vast majority of the population believe that the „top result“ for any search using google.com are validated by the vast majority of the population worldwide. Similarly, advertisements shown on facebook.com or on the screens of smartphones are assumed to be backed „by the numbers“.

    In this sense, one can quite reasonably argue that „belief in Google“, „belief in Facebook“, etc. are on par with belief in other religious organizations and/or belief in some kind of infallible oracle.

    At the same time (over the past century or so), there have been significant advances in the scientific approaches used to measure and improve the effectivity of propaganda and manipulation. Today advertising has become something akin to the gold standard of validation with respect to new ideas, innovation and anything modern, successful and/or technologically advanced. I remember seeing billboards advertising apple products nearly everywhere about 10 years ago, and such overwheming repitition was a nearly everpresent and constant reminder that apple was „where it’s at“, plain and simple because apple was everywhere. Today, „everywhere“ has also even eradicated the traditional distinction between „editorial“ and „advertising“ once used in „traditional“ publishing. Today, the „newsfeed“ is populated with many advertisements and product placements, and the vast majority of news consumers view this as a sign of success.

     
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    nmw 18:37:25 on 2015/09/06 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , cultures, , , , , , , , , , societies, , sociological, , , success,   

    Delusions of Grandeur 

    Wikipedia.org has two articles that seem somewhat related — one is about “delusions of grandeur”, the other is about “grandiosity”. From the latter:

    A distinction is made between individuals exhibiting grandiosity, which includes a degree of insight into their unrealistic thoughts (they are aware that their behavior is considered unusual), in contrast to those experiencing grandiose delusions, who lack this capability for reality-testing. Some individuals may transition between these two states, with grandiose ideas initially developing as “daydreams” that the patient recognises as untrue, but which can subsequently turn into full delusions that the patient becomes convinced reflect reality.

    In this post, I hope to describe how my own world view is strongly shaped by sociological thought, rather than such psychological approaches. The way I see it, psychology tries to explain the behavior of individuals without any reference to the groups, communities, cultures or societies they are a “part” of. In my opinion such a perspective is wrong on many grounds — perhaps the most significant one is the nearly ridiculous view that the psychologist apparently considers himself/herself able to make observations regarding people that might pass muster as “scientific” or “objective”; a close second is the quite obvious observation almost anyone with even a minimal education could make, namely that people are indeed very strongly affected by other people. As psychology and psychiatry are normally considered to fall within the discipline of medicine, their focus is nearly exclusively on biological organs. This very parochial approach is not always and everywhere followed by each and every psychologist / psychiatrist (indeed, just a single exception would suffice to discredit such a hypothesis), but one can hardly deny that the more any psychologist / psychiatrist pays attention to sociological factors, the less likely they will be considered to be bona fide  medical professionals.

    Let me try to make all of this a little more concrete with an example. Sometimes people say to me: “You can only change yourself — you cannot change others”, several ideas occur to me (but most of these ideas are not exactly in my direct consciousness — I have to reflect on them in order to bring them fully into my awareness). First of all: Why does this person say this to me? If we cannot change other people, are they not wasting their breath in talking to me at all? Indeed: Following this thinking, it is completely absurd that humans developed language, that we send our children to school, that we pay people to do jobs, and so on.

    Secondly, even if this were not a completely absurd thing to say, I think: “Does this person actually consider me to be such a narcissistic idiot, that I might think I could say ‘X’ and then expect other people to simply ‘fall in line’?” What image do they have of me, to suppose that I would think this way? Although I do admit that I am happy when someone shares my opinion, I do not expect that other people will always accept my way of thinking. It is merely my opinion — and even if I strongly defend it, that certainly doesn’t mean I consider it to be an indisputable truth.

    Here is another example, perhaps even a little more extreme than the previous one: There is a so-called “Law of Attraction”, a quasi theory which wikipedia.org declares has no scientific basis — “the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life”. In other words: merely by thinking something — nothing more than a mental state — people might be able to cause such events to happen … no, indeed even it is more fantastic than that: The supposition is that there is some sort of natural law, which will force these things to come about. Apparently, there must be a lot of people who think too much about cancer, or maybe they can’t help themselves from constantly thinking about car accidents. I do admit to having thought about sunny days before, but that doesn’t mean these thoughts actually brought about sunny days, does it?

    In contrast, I feel that a large part of the world we live in is socially constructed. No one can succeed on their own. Every success is a matter that is sanctioned by some group, some community, some culture, some society, etc. People who feel they are able to succeed on their own are deluding themselves. They apparently do not wish to accept the role that other people have played in achieving their status, their privileges and/or their awesomeness.

     

     
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    nmw 11:45:40 on 2015/01/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , success, usability, , , , , ,   

    People as Content: Virtual Content vs. “In Real Life” (IRL) Content 

    Whenever we look through a kaleidoscope and make even the smallest of adjustments, the new picture that results can become very different from the one we were just looking at a moment ago (this is a favorite metaphor my mother sometimes likes to invoke). Here, I see a similarity with how even a small amount of feedback can jar the world in such a way that many of our long-held views can seem “new” (and hopefully also “improved” ;) ).

    My friend who raised the question in the previous post also gave much more feedback, including what might be called “positive” or “constrictive” criticism, suggestions and so on. Although I don’t see a clear line to what I want to write about now, I could see that many of the “positive” vs. “negative” value judgements we often make are not helpful in order to “move forward” — and this aspect is also something my friend mentioned directly.

    Regardless of how (or who) came up with this idea, I now feel I have made a significant observation with respect to a long-held truism that is bandied about all around any industry that has anything to do with the Internet: “the most important thing is content” — that’s what “theysay.

    When they say this, it is usually implied that they are referring to words on the page, graphic design, images, photos, logos, videos, audios, … any of a wide range of what is usually now collectively referred to as “media” (and note how this use of the term “media” is very different from the way Marshall McLuhan might have used the term — and this is yet another good example of why jargon matters [as I mentioned just a few days ago]). That may all be good and fine from the perspective of “search engine optimization” (SEO) … as I also mentioned just yesterday. So if you want to impress a machine, and if you want some newbie monkey to click on your link, then this is definitely the way to go.

    Note, however, that many of the peoplein real life” (IRL) have already moved on. They no longer spend time playing Google games, they no longer tinker and toy around with image tags, keyword density, … they have already given Google the “nofollow” card. That train has already left the station — if you are still trying to catch it, then you are trying to board an outdated technology (and I refer to all such outdated technologies collectively as “retard media”).

    Where have all the “IRL” people gone? For the past several years, they went to Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook. These days, they may very well “hang out” at websites like Pinterest, Instagram, and “instant messaging” services like Whatsapp. Increasingly, these are the same “suckers” who were willing to click on almost any link — now they are willing to install almost any app… and thereby be tracked by almost any data mining / business intelligence organization. Since they have not become more literate in the meantime, they are just as naive as they have been since pretty much the first days of the Internet.

    IRL people are more important than virtual content. Virtual content doesn’t pay the bills — IRL people do.

    Any good webdesigner will tell you what is the most important webdesign feature: White space. If you clutter a page with useless links and/or useless content, the user you are trying to reach with your multitasking messages will probably simply opt out and leave the page. If you look at most of the web 2.0 success stories, they will have this one thing in common: a lack of virtual content (on the page). All of the “ands, ifs or buts” are cleanly hidden in never-read documents named “user policy”, “terms of service” and so on.

    Knowledgeable people analyze such documents, but newbies generally don’t. They will be amazed when they figure out that they have been sold down the river, but by that time the people who created these “most successful” services will have already cashed out. Expect many more tombstones to join Geocities, Friendster, Myspace, and litter the web 2.0 graveyard in the not-too-distant future.

    Which companies will survive the second crash? I am not sure if any will, but I think those companies who put less emphasis on more content and more emphasis on real people with real qualifications will not only reduce their data transmission costs but also increase the likelihood of their own survival.

     
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