Tag Archives: technology

Mid-90s Quotes from Wired

Kevin Kelly, editor of Wired, found an old file containing a selection of quotes from the first five years of Wired. This is a nice wander down memory lane, with Wired‘s trademark embracing of technology in the face of huge change quite evident (as well as some mid-90s prophesying, positivism, and–dare I say it–fear-mongering).

Some of my favourites:

Roadkill on the information highway will be the billions who will forget there are offramps to destinations other than Hollywood, Las Vegas, the local bingo parlor, or shiny beads from a shopping network.
Alan Kay, Wired 2.05, May 1994, p. 77

The very distinction between original and copy becomes meaningless in a digital world — there the work exists only as a copy.
Daniel Pierehbech, Wired 2.12, Dec 1994, p. 158

For a long time now, America has seemed like a country where most people watch television most of the time. But only recently are we beginning to notice that it is also a country where television watches us.
Phil Petton, Wired 3.01, Jan 1995, p. 126

The future won’t be 500 channels — it will be one channel, your channel.
Scott Sassa, Wired 3.03, Mar 1995, p. 113

Isn’t it odd how parents grieve if their child spends six hours a day on the Net but delight if those same hours are spent reading books?
Nicholas Negroponte, Wired 3.09, Sep 1995, p. 206

The most successful innovators are the creative imitators, the Number Two.
Peter Drucker, Wired 4.08, Aug 1996, p. 118

It is the arrogance of every age to believe that yesterday was calm.
Tom Peters, Wired 5.12, Dec 1997

Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion and the Importance of Recognising “Enforced Compliance”

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book discussing what he calls the six fundamental psychological principles of compliance: consistency, reciprocation, social proof, authority, liking and scarcity.

The conclusion to Cialdini’s book points out why, in this increasingly complex world, resisting attempts at “enforced compliance” (deception) through these key principles is as important as recognising and responding to truthful instances of their implementation:

Because technology can evolve much faster than we can, our natural capacity to process information is likely to be increasingly inadequate to handle the surfeit of change, choice, and challenge that is characteristic of modern life. More and more frequently, we will find ourselves in the position of the lower animals—with a mental apparatus that is unequipped to deal thoroughly with the intricacy and richness of the outside environment. Unlike the animals, whose cognitive powers have always been relatively deficient, we have created our own deficiency by constructing a radically more complex world. But the consequence of our new deficiency is the same as that of the animals’ long-standing one. When making a decision, we will less frequently enjoy the luxury of a fully considered analysis of the total situation but will revert increasingly to a focus on a single, usually reliable feature of it.

When those single features are truly reliable, there is nothing inherently wrong with the shortcut approach of narrowed attention and automatic response to a particular piece of information. The problem comes when something causes the normally trustworthy cues to counsel us poorly, to lead us to erroneous actions and wrongheaded decisions.

Contextual Writing (Telescopic and Responsive Text)

How can a writer cater to an audience with diverse preferences and needs (particularly, how much detail they want and how much time they have)? One way is to use telescopic or responsive text.

Telescopic text is a method of iteratively displaying more and more textual detail on request (I suppose the reader becomes the user). Joe Davis’ brilliant example of telescopic text starts with the phrase “I made tea” before progressing to a 198-word short story through 45-or-so iterations. Wonderful.

Responsive text is similar in some regards and vastly different in others. Like a responsive design, responsive text ‘scales’ in response to the user’s screen size in order to display an appropriate amount of textual detail. If viewed on a larger screen, Frankie Roberto’s responsive text example points out:

It’s a bit of an experiment, and I’m not really sure how useful it really is, but I think it’s an interesting idea.

It could also perhaps be combined with some form of a user interface that allows you to control how much text you want to read. This might be really useful for news articles, for instance – you could decide whether to read full quotes and a detailed backstory, or just the gist.

I think making this behaviour user-controllable is key and an interface variable/bookmarklet is an interesting concept to follow. One issue I envisage is that adoption of this will come from authors and making this easy-to-implement on the producer-side will take some skill.

via @foomandoonian

Retreating to Study Technology’s Cognitive Impact

Five neuroscientists travelled into deepest Glen Canyon, Utah, to contemplate how technology has changes their behaviour. Some were sceptics and some were believers, and by taking this forced break from their computers and gadgets (there was no mobile phone reception or power) they were determined to find out whether or not modern technology inhibits their “deep thought” and can cause them anxiety.

This bit of self-experimentation and cognitive reflection is a bit too light on the conclusions for my liking, but this article, from The New York Times‘ Unplugged series that examines “how a deluge of data can affect the way people think and behave”, does have this that’s worth thinking about:

[By day three] the group has become more reflective, quieter, more focused on the surroundings. […]
The others are more relaxed too. Mr. Braver decides against coffee, bypassing his usual ritual. The next day, he neglects to put on his watch, though he cautions against reading too much into it. […]

Mr. Strayer, the believer, says the travelers are experiencing a stage of relaxation he calls “third-day syndrome.” Its symptoms may be unsurprising. But even the more skeptical of the scientists say something is happening to their brains that reinforces their scientific discussions — something that could be important to helping people cope in a world of constant electronic noise.

“If we can find out that people are walking around fatigued and not realizing their cognitive potential,” Mr. Braver says, then pauses and adds: “What can we do to get us back to our full potential?”

“Third-day syndrome”. I like that, and it rings true. Weekends away to nearby cities don’t do it for me in terms of disengaging and allowing free thought; I need at least four days.

One more comment that was a bit too close for comfort:

Technology has redefined the notion of what is “urgent.” How soon do people need to get information and respond to it? The believers in the group say the drumbeat of incoming data has created a false sense of urgency that can affect people’s ability to focus.

Inventive Ways to Control Trolls

To keep the peace on the ever-expanding Stack Exchange Network of online communities, owners Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood introduced the timed suspension of disruptive users’ accounts. Over time the transparency of the timed suspension process proved to be occasionally inefficient when discussions arose regarding the merits of certain suspensions. This led the administrators of the communities to investigate other ways of moderating problematic users.

What they found were three fantastically devious secret ways to effectively control trolls and other abusive users on online communities: the hellban, slowban, and errorban:

A hellbanned user is invisible to all other users, but crucially, not himself. From their perspective, they are participating normally in the community but nobody ever responds to them. They can no longer disrupt the community because they are effectively a ghost. It’s a clever way of enforcing the “don’t feed the troll” rule in the community. When nothing they post ever gets a response, a hellbanned user is likely to get bored or frustrated and leave. I believe it, too; if I learned anything from reading The Great Brain as a child, it’s that the silent treatment is the cruelest punishment of them all. […]

(There is one additional form of hellbanning that I feel compelled to mention because it is particularly cruel – when hellbanned users can see only themselves and other hellbanned users. Brrr. I’m pretty sure Dante wrote a chapter about that, somewhere.)

A slowbanned user has delays forcibly introduced into every page they visit. From their perspective, your site has just gotten terribly, horribly slow. And stays that way. They can hardly disrupt the community when they’re struggling to get web pages to load. There’s also science behind this one, because per research from Google and Amazon, every page load delay directly reduces participation. Get slow enough, for long enough, and a slowbanned user is likely to seek out greener and speedier pastures elsewhere on the internet.

An errorbanned user has errors inserted at random into pages they visit. You might consider this a more severe extension of slowbanning – instead of pages loading slowly, they might not load at all, return cryptic HTTP errors, return the wrong page altogether, fail to load key dependencies like JavaScript and images and CSS, and so forth. I’m sure your devious little brains can imagine dozens of ways things could go “wrong” for an errorbanned user. This one is a bit more esoteric, but it isn’t theoretical; an existing implementation exists in the form of the Drupal Misery module.