Category Archives: Google/Blogs/Tech NEWS

The Inhumanity of Facebook

Facebooks users were in for a surprise as the year comes to an end. Facebook prepared a Year in Review photo album especially for you. It took all of the year’s most famous posts and put them together, put a bow on it, and gifted you with your very own special memories. While my photo album brought back some happy occasions, many could not share in the same happiness. In fact, many were forced to review some of the saddest parts of this year. In a recent blog post entitled “Inadvertent Algorithmic Cruelty,” Eric Meyer wrote about seeing a preview of his Year in Review that featured his six-year-old daughter who died of a brain tumor earlier this year.

“I didn’t go looking for grief this afternoon, but it found me anyway, and I have designers and programmers to thank for it … Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out.”a

Eric Meyer highlights the inhumanity of facebook. The most popular social media on planet earth failed to bring happiness to one of its users who likely most needed it at this time of the year. Meyers observes:

“Where the human aspect fell short, at least with Facebook, was in not providing a way to opt out. The Year in Review ad keeps coming up in my feed, rotating through different fun-and-fabulous backgrounds, as if celebrating a death, and there is no obvious way to stop it,” he wrote. “The design is for the ideal user, the happy, upbeat, good-life user. It doesn’t take other user cases into account.”b

Is facebook at fault here? The Facebook algorithm did what it does. It takes your likes and translates it into success and happiness.

This raises the question of how much we are expecting from such an outlet. Should we expect that they read into our grief and respond accordingly? Should Zuckerberg provide a human review of our year through an inhuman outlet? These questions have simple answers. Still, we long for a reality where our grief is treated as grief by everyone and everything. In our hope to find comfort we have blamed a faceless mathematical tool that cannot understand our grief.

I grieve for Mr. Meyers and the many others who are re-living moments of utter pain by looking once again at the faces of loved ones who have died.

The truth is facebook could have given a way to opt out, but that would be to assume that facebook knows and understands grief. It does not. It is not human, it simply, mechanically, responds to your humanity. And they have already responded:

The feature has already been tweaked following feedback: it initially ended the slideshow with the words “It’s been a great year! Thanks for being a part of it.” It now uses the more neutral language “See you next year!”c

Yes. Next year there will be an “opt out” option. But then there will be new frustrations. Our human expectations for an inhuman tool will continue to disappoint us.

  1. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/facebooks-inability-human-results-messy-year-review/  (back)
  2. http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/29/living/feat-facebook-year-in-review-tragedy-death/  (back)
  3. http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/dec/29/facebook-apologises-over-cruel-year-in-review-clips  (back)

The Death of Conversation

It was a simple test. I failed it. It was so simple that I was celebrating before I even started it. In futebol, this is always a bad idea. Anything can happen in the four extra minutes after stoppage time.  A certain victory can be taken away with a beautiful header after a corner kick or an unexpected long-distance shot. But enough with sport metaphors. Self-testing, I call it. I was coming back from the beach with my boys. My cell phone stays with me at all times. As a pastor, I have noble excuses to keep it close. Hospital emergencies, counseling matters, but I digress. I am addicted to that marvelous ringtone. Scientists recently made some comparison to heroine addiction. But I know it’s not that bad. I can stop at any time. Right?

Back to the test. I had a 25 minute ride back home. I even put the cell phone a bit distant from the driver’s seat. Being a good Calvinist I am quite aware of my depravity. Goal: to make it home without touching my cell phone. Test: to wait to answer those life or death calls when I got back to the comfort of my home. Further, to allow those rings to simply disappear into sound heaven. I confess the first five minutes were tough. I tried. I even made it past the first red light. I had two whole minutes alone. The kids were quiet in the back. The sound of silence hurts. Those rings kept coming like Screwtape was trying to get into my brain. I kept assuming that each ring came from the same person asking, nay, begging for help. Then it happened.

I reached back to reach it at another red light, typed my password and quickly checked my e-mail. It only took five seconds. The e-mails were important. I could tell by their titles, but not important enough that they couldn’t wait 20 more minutes, or 20 hours. But the moral of the story is I fell. And great was the fall. a

I am finishing a certification in counseling, which has made me quite reflective these past few months. Reflective enough that I took that lesson in eating the fruit…I mean, checking my cell phone, and made a couple of applications.

The first one that comes to mind is that we live an age where communication has died a thousand deaths. In profoundly Shakespearan ways, it is dying and dying. There is that ring again. I have seen the videos portraying zombie-like teenagers engaged in the art of romacing their cell phones while their future wives are right there physically next to them (though she may possibly be romancing her new Note 4). Can we even talk anymore for five minutes without peeking at our ESPN NEWS app, or for the more sophisticated among us, the New Yok Times app. I am guilty. Mea Culpa. A counselor friend once told me that while he counseled a teenager for $75 an hour this young lady spent a near 45 of the 60 minutes carrying on a “conversation” with her boyfriend via text. She kept assuring the counselor that she was hearing everything he was saying. Doubtful.

It’s a strange age. The world is more engaging than ever, but we can’t engage ourselves consistently for a substantive period of time. Dostoyevsky once said: “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Our world is unhappy beacuse so many have been distracted for so long that they no longer have anything to say. Conversation depends on soul and body. To be present in the body in our culture means to be absent in our soul.

The second application is that if conversation dies in more ways than one we cease to be human. We speak and others speak back. This is how Yahweh God made us. If by giving priority to an inanimate object–sorry SIRI–we trivialize flesh to flesh interaction we are of all people most to be pitied. God forbid.

So, I will test my self again. I will probably fail a few more times. But I will keep trying. I am going to leave that cell phone in the car when I have an appointment. I have silenced my ringtones for virtually all notifications. And if someone complains that I did not answer their phone calls or texts soon enough I will just have to tell them that I am fighting for the survival of communication among homo sapiens. I know they will understand.

Protecting your Family from Pornography

I grew up in one of the most sexualized societies in the world. Brazil is known for its Carnival. And Carnival is synonymous with nudity. My evangelical family would usually take a three-day vacation with the Church to a camp near by. The majority of TV stations would air live Carnival coverage 24 hours a day. I am glad that as a little boy I was “sheltered” from such images on my screen.

But as I grew I quickly realized that escaping from those images are not as simple. A three-day vacation is only three days. Unless you were willing to do away with your television and other means of communication, you would be confronted with some level of nudity. This is not an option for the 21st century Christian. So what must a Christian do?

This is where blogger, Tim Challies, offers a tentative helpful plan of action for defending your family from pornography. But before he does this, he begins with a few acknowledgements.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

There are several things I should acknowledge.

Acknowledgement #1. I cannot completely protect my children. It is very nearly inevitable that at some point they will encounter dangerous or pornographic material online. This may be as a result of an unintentional click, it may be curiosity or deliberate desire, or it may be someone showing them something they do not want to see. Though I want to prevent them from ever seeing this material, realistically I also need to teach them how to act when they do.

Acknowledgement #2. Neither Aileen nor I struggle with a desire to look at pornography or to participate in dangerous or perverse online activities, so while many people wisely put measures in place to guard themselves from such sin, this is not an urgent concern for us. However, I will still attempt to address it as I go.

Acknowledgement #3. Aileen and I do not believe that, at least for now, our children have the right to privacy on their devices. We believe it is well within our rights as parents to inspect our children’s devices, to monitor the way they use them, and to take their devices away if they misuse them.

THE LAY OF THE LAND

Like so many families, we have accumulated an embarrassing number of Internet-enabled devices, some by purchase and some as gifts. None of them are the latest and greatest models, but none of them is quite obsolete either. As we build a solution to monitor and protect the family, we need it to account for a PC with Windows and both an iMac and MacBooks running OSX. Some of these are personal devices (e.g. my laptop) while some are shared by all the family members (e.g. the iMac and the PC). We also need a solution to account for smartphones, tablets and iPod Touches.

ACTION

Here are the initial actions I have taken.

Software
My plan is to rely, as much as possible, on Covenant Eyes. I will use it first, and if I find it disappointing, look elsewhere. I have installed it on all of our computers. I created an account for each of us with myself as the one who will receive weekly accountability reports. I set both the accountability and the filtering to the Teen (T) setting for each of the children. Aileen and I will have accountability but no filtering. As part of this plan, I had to make sure each computer was set to go to sleep quickly following use (since this will force the next person to log in to their own account).

Computers
I have created an account for each of us on the PC and for any of us who uses one of the Macs. Each account has a password known only to the account holder and to Aileen and me.

Tablets
I have an iPad I use primarily for preaching and speaking; it has a password known only to Aileen and me. We also have an old, first generation iPad (left over from my contractor days) which has only very old games and apps. We disabled the browser and the ability to install new software without a password.

iPods & Cell Phones
The children’s iPods Touches (which they bought with paper route money) have a password known to that child and to mom and dad. Mom and dad maintain the “system” password which controls the security settings. We disabled the browser, the YouTube app, and the ability to install new software without a password.

I considered disabling the camera, but have not yet done that. I also considered using the Covenant Eyes web browser which would then apply filtering and accountability, but I see no reason (at least for now) that the kids need to browse the Web through their devices.

TV
We do not have cable TV, so do not need to account for that.

COST

Covenant Eyes is not free software, so there is some cost involved. This plan, as it stands, costs $22.99 per month which seems reasonable enough. a

Obviously these may not be the perfect strategy, but it is a strategy nevertheless, and most parents don’t have any. Pornography is a violent cancer that brings about a slow and terrifying death to the addict and to those around them. Pornography is an enemy and to attack it you need a plan. Behold, a plan!

  1. Tim is in Canada, but in the U.S., Covenant Eyes is cheaper  (back)

Responding to E-mails

Here is a thoughtful analysis by Sarah Green on the responsiveness trap of e-mails. This is the e-mail equivalent of “Amusing Ourselves to Death.” Sarah concludes that there is no neutrality on this issue:

We have confused responding with reacting. Responding involves thinking, and thinking takes time. Taking time means we can’t possibly answer all the email we get in anything like a sensible time frame — and that we might not really be able to answer all of it, period. And while it can sometimes feel good to have people react to you — dance, monkey, dance! — it is ultimately a false victory. Because what you want isn’t a dancing monkey (unless you’re in the circus business). What you want is an answer.

And so all of us will have to decide: am I going to be “responsive,” rapidly reacting to every email, with my thumbs, choosing to make more work for other people and giving myself the attention span of a goldfish? Or am I going to answer email in my own time, when I can actually provide a thoughtful reply, and either spend my life apologizing or decide it’s okay if people think I’m an arrogant so-and-so?

This is the choice. There is no middle ground. At least, as long as the vacation-email-answering, no-punctuating-using, smartphone-sleeping-with people are in charge.

If that describes you, please: Cease. Desist. Get a hobby. And please stop asking if I got your email.

Amazon Selling More Kindle Books than Print

This is what the Atlantic reports. The central reason for it is best summarized in this paragraph:

And like many Kindle owners, I’ve found that I buy more books than I used to.  The impulse purchases are now completely irresistible: I can have the new memoir about someone’s dead tax cheat of a husband right this instant, rather than waiting two whole days . . . by which time, I’ll have forgotten about the Washingtonian excerpt that made me want to read it.

Would you pay for on-line news?

eBook Newser reports:

A recent survey conducted by Adweek/Harris Poll found that 4 out of 5 Americans would refuse to pay for online news. of those who’d pay, most (14%) would only pay less than $10 a month and only 2 out of a hundred would pay over $20 a month.

This data is based on pull of 2,105 adults in the US, which was conducted between March 29 and 31 of this year. These results are similar to a similar poll conducted in Canada, which found that 81% would not pay for news. This does not bode well for paywalls.

These numbers also reflect a drop in those willing to pay; a similar poll conducted in late 2009 found 23% willing to open their wallets.

Can the Kindle be Corrupted?

From eBook Newser:

Earlier this week a ZDNET blogger discovered links to what seemed like spam sites within an eBook that he had purchased in the Kindle store.

This made us wonder if an eReader could get corrupted if you downloaded an eBook with bad links. We went to Q&A social networking site Quora and posed the question to software engineer Guido Bartolucci, who spent almost a decade as Senior Software Engineer at Amazon.com. We asked: “Is there any risk of an eReader getting corrupted if a Kindle file contained malicious links?”

Bartolucci responded: “Yes, it is certainly possibly, just like it’s possible for your computer getting corrupted from following a malicious link. But it’s very unlikely as the Kindle is running a locked down version of Linux and the reader software doesn’t do much.”

So while it doesn’t seem like it is likely to happen, the possibility still exists.