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2D: Social media

Social media websites pervade a good slice of society these days, yet their novelty means that effect on society is relatively poorly understood. Today, I’ve chosen two articles that use to very different cases to explore two different social media websites in two different ways.

My first chosen article is “Why do we hate Facebook?”, written by Luke Allnutt for RFE/RL’s Tangled Web. With a headline like that, you’ll be relieved to hear that Allnutt does explore the premise of the questions as well as the question itself.

The hook Allnutt uses to discuss our relationship with Facebook is the story that circulated a few years ago about Facebook making private messages public. It was demonstrably untrue, and yet still spread quickly and widely. Many reasons are explored in Allnutt’s detailed yet readable article, but the following passage about the complexity of our relationship with Facebook stood out for resonating with so many discussions I’ve had with others about Facebook over the last few years:

Characters revert to type on social media, but their attributes are turbo-charged. The annual family update (“Chloe has had an impressive first term at Brown and seems to enjoy the social life as much as the academic!”) has become the hourly update. The whiny friend we once met now and again outside the grocery store is now a daily occurrence. Of course, we can hide these people on our feeds, but this is information we love to hate. That is the dichotomy of Facebook.

My second chosen article is rather shorter. “The fate of Sally Bercow suggests it’s all too easy to side with the baying mob” (the argument really is in the headline here) was written by Graeme Archer, and published in The Telegraph. He says

I think that the case exemplifies a problem for humans that is ancient and universal, but which, thanks to technology, is more dangerous than ever. The tendency to rush to judgment, and the desire to be part of the crowd.

After all, Mrs Bercow was hardly alone in casting aspersions on Lord McAlpine: the Twittersphere had decided it knew who was the subject of the BBC’s sensational report. Why not join in? The temptation is hard to resist (it’s one reason I gave up on Twitter for a while; I’m not immune to the phenomenon).

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that, actually, I am pretty resistant to the phenomenon, and often finding “Twitterstorms” like the one in the Sally Bercow case more than a little tiresome: If anything makes me stop reading Twitter, it’s a Twitterstorm. But, regardless, I think Archer has a point, and I think he makes it pretty well in this article.

So, taking those two articles together: we distrust Facebook, and Twitter makes it easy for us to do bad things. Yet, by bringing these two articles together, my intention wasn’t really to criticise social media, but rather to point out that our relationship with these sites is complex and multilayered. That’s perhaps brought out more by the Allnutt article than the Archer one, but I hope you find the cominbation of the two as interesting as I did.

2D posts appear on alternate Wednesdays. For 2D, I pick two interesting articles that look at an issue from two different – though not necessarily opposing – perspectives. I hope you enjoy them!

This 2,046th post was filed under: 2D, , , , .

Just putting the finishing touches on this week’s newsletter

I’m just putting the finishing touches on this week’s sjhoward.co.uk news; I’ll be sending it out in the next half hour or so. If you haven’t yet signed up and don’t want to miss this week’s edition, you’d better get your skates on!

This 2,045th post was filed under: Diary Style Notes.

Weekend read: The other mile-high club

Lift

My relatively short recommended read this weekend is from The Economist a few weeks ago: it’s a great article about the slightly esoteric subject of carbon fibre lift cables. Until I read this article, it never occurred to me that the weight of steel ropes was an important limiting factor on the operating height of a lift, and the effect that had on the height of modern buildings. It’s an eye-opening piece.

The picture of a lift above is one of my own, taken during my trip to the Tyne Pedestrian and Cycle Tunnels in May last year. Of course, it’s an underground lift, and so of questionable relevance to this post…!

This 2,044th post was filed under: Weekend Reads, .

Reviewing my own book reviews

Yesterday, I published a review of A Series of Unrelated Events by Richard Bacon. A year ago today, I published a review of The Truth about Cruise Ships by Jay Herring. And in between the two, I’ve published some 39 other book reviews. Writing the book review section has become one of the real pleasures of maintaining this blog – I think it’s my favourite regular column.

Yet, I struggle each week to summarise my review in a star-rating out of five. I often write about struggling to do this, and if you are wondering why on earth I bother, it’s because I republish versions of my book reviews in various other places, for some of which a star rating is mandatory.

So, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the last year of reviews and look at the distribution of ratings. I’d expect the distribution to be skewed – I generally choose to read books that appeal to me, rather than ones I hate. Yet, I also try not to give out too many five-star reviews. Taking these factors into account, I’d expect the mean to come out at about 3.5.

Bar Chart

If you look very closely, you’ll notice that this doesn’t add up to the promised 41 – that’s because there were two reviews where I declined to give a star-rating, despite my self-imposed rules.

It isn’t surprising to me that four-stars is the modal figure, but I am a little surprised – despite what I said earlier – that I’ve only given two one-star reviews in a whole year. I’m also surprised to have given eight five-star reviews.

The mean figure is 3.4 stars, which is pretty much where I thought it would be.

So what do I take away from this exercise? I’m pretty much coming up with the balance of star-ratings that I thought I would be, despite struggling every week. I am perhaps a touch too generous with five-star reviews, but, then again, the mean is where I thought it would be. I’ll repeat this in July 2014, and see if things have changed.

This 2,043rd post was filed under: Diary Style Notes.


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