What’s So Funny, Twitter?

Some call it the “social media dopamine loop.” The short-attention-span jolt of Twitter is perfect for a few specialized things: breaking news, viral links – and presidential hissy fits. But it turns out, Twitter is perfect for jokes.

“A Twitter habit, like any other Internet addiction, is an endless dopamine loop. Your brain doesn’t have a satiety signal for social media updates. It just wants you to check your screen again and again for new content until you die. (NY Times, 7/29/18).”

Many want to opt out of the social media loop altogether. But their hedonic treadmills are turned up so fast that it’s hard to make the leap. Real life seems drab now, compared with the high-speed barrage of ironic banter online. It’s the dream of our sitcom-watching childhood come true: nothing but punch lines as far as the eye can see.

Ray Myers

P.S. I will be taking some time off during August. I will only be posting blog updates on Mondays of the month, but will resume M-W-F postings after Labor Day (no post), on September 3.

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Need a Hobby? Go Online!

On Monday, I posted a blog about one NY Times’ writer’s decision to stop “Tweeting” and spend time on other pursuits. Perhaps she would like to take up a new hobby? That seems to have been the solution for many other who have now found that the Internet can be a place to learn new skills by connecting with other “hobbyists.” Pottery, painting, cooking, you name it!

While much of this is not new, the way the Internet can help steer us toward something useful bears mentioning in the name of growing digital skepticism (see Monday’s blog). It is a reminder that the Internet’s most effective trick is connecting disparate individuals into a coherent whole. There may only be a small number of potters in any given city, but online there is a whole ceramics metropolis willing to help.

Art, for example, is an empowering thing. Most people think they can’t do it, and when they realize they can, it’s amazing – it opens up a whole new world, and that world doesn’t really have time for a lot of “fighting and fussing.”

Ray Myers

I Tweet, and So Does Everyone Else!

Way back during the early years of the Obama administration, government agencies were beginning to use social media as a means of “getting our message out.” I volunteered to be a part of this “outreach” then, as a staff member at the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. It was all new to me, and as one of the more “senior” staff, I was eager to learn some new tricks. Now I am older and so is Twitter, and it is certainly not the novelty that it once was.

I think that it still serves as a convenient “short-hand” stream of consciousness for many, but it may have become overloaded with everyone’s desire to be heard in the name of open and free expression (“TechtoExpress”). Maggie Haberman of the NY Times put it this way this past week: “To be clear, Twitter is a useful and important platform. It’s a good aggregator for breaking news. I still check my feed to see breaking news developments, and I will continue to. And it is democratic – everyone gets to have a voice, whether they work for a local paper, a small TV station or one of the biggest newspapers in the world, or are not in the media business at all. The downside is that everyone is treated equally expert on various topics.”

“Make America Great Again.” Just get a Twitter account, and tweet away. You may even be elected president?

Ray Myers

Political Messaging on Facebook

Trump is now the single biggest political advertiser on Facebook. So what’s your favorite addiction? Politics or social media? I think it is now safe to say after the last election, that if you like to get your “fake news” online, you were among those who were the most helpful in getting Trump elected. He may not have gotten the most individual Americans’ votes, but he certainly knew where the most counted and where to place his political ads, Facebook.

He still continues today and will probably continue to take the most advantage of Facebook’s hypnotic hold on those who believe that everything that they read or see online must be true! This is now the age of believing in your own opinions, regardless of what the facts may be. “If it’s online, it must be true.” As discussed on this blog on Monday, political consultants have said that Democrats who are running for election are spending a smaller percentage of their ad budgets on digital ads than their rivals, sometimes as little as 10 percent versus 40 percent for Republicans. That has spurred volunteer efforts in Silicon Valley, which is widely regarded as liberal, to help bring Democratic campaigns into the digital age.

The new digital political age? And if you can’t get enough followers, make them up.

Ray Myers

Screen Time as a Stress Reducer

“Device addiction is as likely a symptom of anxiety as a cause.”  Every teenager seems to have a device that is at their disposal any time of night or day.  It can help you to always be connected on your own terms with whomever you want to be, and feel you have established your own independence.

“But this may really be only an uncertain independence, many having been raised under the whirring of helicopter parents, over-involved and trying to fix every problem for their children. This suffocates independence at a time when teenagers should be exploring autonomy, limits the development of self-reliance and grit and may even directly produce anxiety and depression . . .

Yes, we should devote resources to making smartphones less addictive, but we should devote even more resources to address the public health crisis of anxiety that is causing teenagers so much suffering and driving them to seek relief in the ultimate escape machines (NY Times, 7/15/18).”

Ray Myers

How to Win an Election – Campaign Technology

Forget about your “hanging chads,” fake news and dirty tricks. Get some savvy technology tools to load onto your campaign bandwagon. And, of course, the right people to make it all work. Democrats obviously have the greater need.

“Democrats are often thought to be tech savvy, because the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 were celebrated for their online touch and because much of Silicon Valley backs the party’s candidates. In fact, . . . Democrats in congressional and state-level races have been out-matched by their Republican rivals, who benefitted from the heavy tech investments during the Obama years and their enthusiastic embrace of targeted ads on platforms like Facebook and Google.

People don’t understand how not far along we are as a party (Democratic). Obama was really good at tech, but it never trickled down to a Senate race, let alone the state-level stuff. (NY Times, 7/14/18).”

Ray Myers

Twitter to Purge Fake Followers – Back to the USSR

Timing is everything as the old saying goes. Trump may have been the recipient of some good timing in terms of his world travels next week when he visits with his good buddy Vladimir Putin.

“For Twitter, the reform comes at a critical moment. Though it is a smaller company with far fewer users than Facebook or Google, Twitter has been sharply criticized for allowing abuse and hate speech to flourish on its platform. And along with other social networks, Twitter was a critical tool for Russian influence during the 2016 election, when tens of thousands of accounts were used to spread propaganda and disinformation. Those troubles dampened Twitter’s prospects for acquisition by a bigger firm, and the company, which went public in 2013, did not turn a profit until the final quarter of last year.”

I wonder how many followers Trump will lose? Maybe his Russian followers will still find a way to “influence” him, and increase his number of (fake?) followers. He will be visiting with them next week?

Ray Myers

Twitter is Trump’s Song Bird

Twitter used to be an apolitical forum where you could type and hashtag away just about anything that seemed important or “interesting” to you. But times have changed as we all know, and the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has turned it into his most powerful propaganda tool. But can’t Twitter do something about that? A Washington Post reporter recently (Manjoo, 7/5/18) asked that same question to Vijaya Gadde, head of the legal policy and trust office at Twitter. “She declined to answer directly, pointing instead to a January statement in which the company stated that blocking a world leader’s tweets ‘would hide important information people should be able to see and delete.’ But what if that important information conflicts with Twitter’s mission to promote a healthy public conversation? Sooner or later, Twitter’s executives and employees are going to have to make a decision about which is more important, Mr. Trump’s tweets or the company’s desire to promote a healthy public conversation. It’s hard to see how both are tenable.” Ray Myers

Facebook in Your Face

“Facebook has filed thousands of patent applications since it went public in 2012. One of them describes using forward-facing cameras to analyze your expressions and detect whether you’re bored or surprised by what you see in your feed. Another contemplates using your phone’s microphone to determine which TV show you’re watching. Others imagine systems to guess whether you’re getting married soon, predict you socioeconomic status and track how much you are sleeping.”

But with more than two billion monthly active users, most of whom share their thoughts and feelings on the platform, Facebook is amassing our personal details on an unprecedented scale. That isn’t likely to change. “There is no indication that Facebook has changed its commitment to watch everything we do, record everything we do and exploit everything we do.” (NY Times, 6/24/18)

The social network has considered tracking almost every aspect of users’ lives. #ISTE2018

Ray Myers

IBM’s New Program Would Like to Have a Debate with You

“Understanding natural language is such a complex and difficult task, systems like IBM Debater lean on a wide range of systems, each handling a different part of the problem. One system will identify information that helps fuel an argument on one side of the debate. Another will generate the text of the argument. And so on.”

“But understanding language is far more complex. That means systems that perform fairly complex language tasks – like writing a Wikipedia article, let alone engaging in a serious debate on a random topic – may still be light years away.”

Let the debates begin – man vs. machine!

Ray Myers

P.S. Sorry about the late posting today.

Death by Twitter – a Cautionary Tale

The most popular show on ABC (American Broadcasting Company), Rosanne, was canceled last week because the star of the show, Roseanne Barr — known for saying and writing stuff that would get most of us fired — did exactly what she was known for doing and got fired. ABC now looks like it is run by idiots because, really, who didn’t see this coming?

The network now has to explain to its licensees, which deliver shows to you and me, why they no longer will be able to get the ad revenue that otherwise would have been coming to them. I guess Rosanne will still get paid, but I really don’t know, and truthfully, don’t care. Twitter has become our most popular and most abused form of social media. Oh yes, the current White House resident is very fond of using it as well.

Maybe he too will get fired some day?

Ray Myers

Limiting Use of Apps – Dark Side of Technology?

Is there a dark side to technology? I am sure we can all agree that technology can be addictive and can diminish the development of our interpersonal and social skills if it takes the place of real time exchanges with family and friends. But what is the best way to monitor or change behavior that may be harming us? At a recent conference Apple announced an iPhone tool that can limit the use of certain apps, if that is what the user really wants?

“We aim to put the customer at the center of everything we do,” Timothy D.Cook, Apple’s Chief Executive, said several times on Monday. That seemed like a promise as well as a backhanded defense. Apple will give you the world. What you do with it is your problem.

Fair enough, but didn’t we use to talk about corporate responsibility? Or is that an outdated term in our technology-driven world?

Ray Myers

Tweeting for Freedom with Russia Watching

Bill Browder, a London-based investor who has styled himself as a nemesis to Vladimir Putin of Russia, documented the latest episode in his thirteen year game of cat and mouse with the Russian government, live-tweeting his brief arrest by the Spanish police on Wednesday.

Mr. Browder who was once the largest foreign investor in the Russian stock market ran afoul of Mr. Putin in 2005 and was kicked out of Russia. He was convicted of tax fraud in absentia and sentenced to nine years in prison. He documented Russia’s efforts to arrest him in a 2015 book, “Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice.”

Unfortunately, our current White House resident who likes to tweet, but has not read a book since who knows when, will probably not benefit from knowing his story. Too busy tweeting lies that promote his agenda. So sad!

Ray Myers

iPads and Bedtime Reading

Bedtime reading with a tablet or smartphone can interfere with a good night’s sleep, some studies and many anecdotal reports suggest. Now researchers have conducted a small experiment to test the idea. Volunteers in this study reported less sleepy in the evening , and less alert in the morning after using the electronic device.

One of the co-authors of this study concluded that these devices are not benign. They have biological effects on us. I recently blogged about the social (or antisocial) effects of these “handy” devices on our interpersonal relationships. Now we discover that we may be losing physiological energy as well. Our digital tools may be our new “best,” and most demanding friends.

Where would we be without them?

Ray Myers

Not a Twitter Matter, Mr. Trump

Someone please tell the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington , D.C., that he is not an Emperor.  He can not decree or demand that things be done to his liking simply because he wants them.  Or, in his case, simply “tweet” out his demands.  It’s time to tell him “he has no clothes” when he refuses to recognize that any power he has comes from the citizens of this democratic republic.  No number of petulant tweets can supersede that!

On Sunday, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter: “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for political purposes – any of any such demands or request were made by people within the Obama administration.

FYI, former President Barack Obama wrote a piece in the Harvard Law Review last year in which he stated: “The president does not and should not decide who or what to investigate or prosecute or when an investigation or prosecution should happen.”  Good advice, I think.

Ray Myers

P.S. Happy Memorial Day. Enjoy the holiday. Back on Wednesday, May 30.

Technology and Friendships – the New Social Network (continued)

“Your available social time is limited, and you can either spend it face to face or on the Internet. If it is spent with people who are ‘remote,’ whether geographically or just because they’re represented digitally, you don’t have time to invest in new relationships where you are.” As with many millennials, talking on the phone is not a big part of social interaction and is now reserved for the rarest of occasions.

“If a high school friend posts frequently about her life, it’s almost like celebrity gossip, or it’s akin to watching a reality show about her. Our brains get confused about whether we know celebrities; if we see someone a lot, our brain thinks we know them.” There are physiological benefits to face-to-face encounters, however, that do not accrue to digital interactions or the phone. “Your blood pressure goes down, you have synchrony, you mimic your friend’s posture posture unconsciously.”

Maybe we call them “cyber friends.”

Ray Myers

Technology and Friendships – the New Social Network?

My net is cast wider” nwow than in the past, said Lucy Schiller, 29, a recent graduate of the nonfiction writing program at the University of Iowa. “It’s a lot easier for me to engage casually with a greater number of people. I don’t know if this is a byproduct of aging, but it seems like the parameters of friendships have changed. I’d like to think they involve long walks and talking at length in person and involving yourself in shared activities, but at this point it feels like those structures have been relegated to the past and we’re skating along through very fun but very lightweight interactions.”

Two statistics from the General Social Survey in 1985 and 2004 are often invoked regarding the influence of new technology on close friendships and social isolation. The average number of confidants people said they had dropped from 2.94 to 2.08 over that time, and the number of those who had none at all went from one-tenth to nearly one-quarter.

More about “Are My Friends Really My Friends” on Friday. Thanks for following “TechtoExpress.”

Ray Myers

 

 

Inside Washington Tech Policy Stories – a Reporter’s View

I (Cecilia Kang) feel like everyone is hunched over their phones in Washington even more than other places. This is a news-obsessed town that is texting and e-mailing at all hours. There seems to be a bit of a generational divide on the use of communications apps. Younger staffers on Capitol Hill often use encrypted apps and direct messages on Twitter. But even some of my older sources (my peers, really) can sometimes text me at all hours. It feels totally appropriate to call, text or Signal late at night or on weekends. Many an interview is done with children heard in the background at a park.

The whole attitude toward the tech industry has changed in Washington, with every growing calls for privacy regulation and antitrust enforcement of giants like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The biggest stories coming up will be the lawsuits to restore net neutrality, which should begin late this summer. The Trump administration and the F.C.C. have focused on the race for the 5G networks and have acted to thwart competition from China, citing national security concerns. And privacy is the big wild card. Even if stricter privacy rules aren’t introduced in the United States, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation set to take effect next month will most likely spill over in some way into American policy.

Faster is better?

Ray Myers

Digital Revolution Is Leaving Black Americans Behind

Black Americans are frequent users of technology, and have helped build social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram into the giants they are today. But they aren’t reaping the same economic benefits of the tech boom as white Americans, and low rates of black employment in the tech industry are a large part of the reason why.

A new study released on Friday sheds light on this issue. The State of Black America 2018, a report published annually by the National Urban League, compares how black and white people fare in a number of areas, including housing, economics, education, social justice, and civic engagement.

This year’s report pays particular attention to black Americans’ access Digital Revolution is Leaving Black People Behind to jobs in the tech industry and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. The study reveals that while black people are one of the racial groups most likely to use smartphones and have created thriving communities on platforms like Twitter, those high rates of usage haven’t translated into employment.

“And this is largely because the tech industry has failed to hire black STEM grads and transition them into careers in Silicon Valley, where many of these jobs are basedIn the vast majority of [social media and tech] companies, fewer than five percent of the workforce is African American,” the authors of the report note. “By contrast, at least half of the workforce in these companies is white.Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, notes that this isn’t new — black Americans have repeatedly been left behind when America’s technology makes a leap forward, be it when slavery and Reconstruction blocked black people from the benefits of farming technology, or when technological revolutions in the North were less accessible to poor black people fleeing the South. Over generations, the effect of this lack of inclusion has compounded, leading us to the disparities that exist today.

And, as the report indicates, none of this happens in a vacuum. When black workers are shut out of higher-income jobs, like in tech, it adds to the already significant income gap — the median income for white households is $63,155, while it’s only $38,555 for black households. There’s a persistent wealth gap as well, which hasn’t improved much since the 1960s.

“We’re trying to shine a spotlight on the fact that this is an area where the country has to improve,” Morial says.

Silicon Valley has faced mounting criticism for its lack of diversity

Unfortunately, the tech world’s lack of diversity is a stubborn problem that doesn’t seem to be going away. Despite media attention and criticism, top companies continue to hire small numbers of black employees. At companies like Uber, Twitter, Google, and Facebook, fewer than 3 percent of tech workers identify as black.

In 2015, the Congressional Black Caucus launched an extended effort to press Silicon Valley to boost its black employment numbers, with several members of Congress traveling to meet with various tech industry leaders. The efforts have led to some change — the 3 percent figure above actually reflects slight growth at places like Facebook.

The caucus has continued to pressure tech companies to improve further. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill last month about Facebook’s ability to protect users’ privacy, black lawmakers took him to task for his company’s persistent lack of diversity, saying that Facebook “does not reflect America.”

And on April 30, lawmakers traveled to Silicon Valley for a third time to engage in a series of discussions with tech companies. Some members, including Rep. Maxine Waters, have threatened that lawmakers could introduce stricter measures to regulate the industry if companies can’t improve on their own.

The CBC members argue that efforts to increase black employment are not simply due to the economic opportunities presented by a high-paying tech job but are also about increasing protections for minority users. Black people are often targeted on social media and other internet-based platforms, facing racism on Twitter, discrimination from Airbnb hosts, or exploitation from fake Facebook pages.

Morial argues that while the tech industry has said promising things about improving diversity, it needs to do more — in hiring as well as in increasing training and investment in black students and improving educational pipelines.

Perhaps another “Inconvenient Truth” as Al Gore would say!

Ray Myers

Goodbye Cambridge Analytica, Your Work is Done (for now?)

The London based firm blamed “unfairly negative media coverage” and said it has been “vilified” for actions it says both legal and widely accepted as part of online advertising. As most Americans know by now, its actions included the spreading of false news in support of the election of Mr. Trump, and to the denigration of Hilary Clinton’s campaign.

Cambridge Analytica said it has filed papers to begin insolvency proceedings in the U.K. And will seek bankruptcy protection in a federal court in New York. “The siege of media coverage has driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers.”

“So sad” as Mr. Trump would say.

Ray Myers