Posts Tagged ‘ culture ’

I sold my soul to Twitter

In a more elegant time I might have made a pact with the devil so that I could play a mean slide guitar riff. In our world I have to choose between facebook or twitter, both of which have the devil licked when it comes to controlling your soul.

Endless dialogue rages on in both places, people post, and post, and comment and star, and like, and retweet and post irritatingly positive quotes from dead people who never had accounts on either service.

“Why do we do all this?” you might reflexively ask yourself. Or if you are one of the few who stand in the sidelines, you might be screaming “What are you narcissistic morons doing?”

The truth is it is more probable than not that you are actually already on facebook now, playing in the walled garden, and you only stumbled on this because someone posted it. That is the big ugly fact of facebook, it won, it has done what AOL tried and failed, it has created a curated internet. And we use it simply because experiencing the web through the lens of our friendship network is either more useful or fun, I am not yet sure which. Will we ever know which of these is the truth?

If facebook is still here in 10 years then I would err on the side of usefulness, otherwise,… well it was an entertaining way to spend 100 billion dollars.

As for me I have walked over to the twitter side, it is even more shallow and narcissistic than facebook, with a cult of personality culture, and frivolous follow and unfollow ethic.

But there is a certain kind of honesty to the open shallowness of twitter. No one on twitter thinks it is anything other than narcissism, and they still read things that don’t exist only inside twitter. People come back to twitter for a moment of entertainment, but they are not trapped there, it is a game, it doesn’t have your photo albums, or your videos, or your friend’s birthdays or farmville. It is just people talking, joking, bullshitting, flirting, and desperately trying to be famous or sell stuff.

So I sold them my soul, I don’t need friends, I need followers.

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Cats and Dogs

I was a little disappointed with the absence of dog and cat on the menu while I was in china. I did eat a donkey sandwich though, it tasted nothing like chicken.

After making some inquiries I discovered that these things are very regional. In different parts of the country I might have seen dog or cat on the menu. You might be squirming in your seat right now or assuming that I am joking, which means unless you are a vegetarian I consider you to be a bigoted, western centric hypocrite. The ethical value of killing and eating animals, however moral it is, or isn’t, is not decided by which animals we choose to kill. Aside from Peter Singer’s attempts to weigh the moral costs of eating different kinds of creatures (which the rest of the world seems to be ignoring), there is no reasonable way in which one animal’s life can be weighed against another. Killing something conscious is just plain killing, regardless of whether it is fluffy, feathered or scaly. There is no absolute hierarchy in which some animals deserve to be farmed and others not, only ones we invented for our own convenience. If you are prepared to kill things to eat them, do not pretend that you have a morally superior position to someone who chooses to eat dogs.

I myself can’t decide which I would prefer to eat: dogs or cats. If I stopped to consider the number of dogs that have bitten me over the years, then I should think that they owe me a few sandwiches. In no particular order I have bitten been by : a German shepard, several kelpies, a cattle dog, a doberman, a saint Bernard, a corgi, and more mongrels than I can remember. Yet I still find myself aligned with dogs in the great cats versus dogs dichotomy, hence I think I would prefer to eat a cat. Sadly, I will have to wait until my next trip to try a cat stir fry.

Memetic Schadenfreude

There are some interesting lessons about viral marketing that can be learnt from statistics. Essentially, viral success comes only at the very tails of the quality distribution, or the ‘bell curve of awesomeness’. Even so, success is not guaranteed. The author of the post goes on to criticize the generic marketing entities that churn out material in the center of the distribution and sell it with the viral buzz word.

In reality, the observation that ideas can behave like virii is not something limited to our new ultra-connected world. Richard Dawkins popularized the idea when he coined the term Meme in his book The Selfish Gene. In fact the were many intellectual precedents to this idea, coming from the field of Evolutionary Epistemology, the proponents of which had observed that ideas seem to evolve in populations according to something like the fundamental Variation, Selection, Retention (VSR) model of Darwinian evolution. Ideas that fit the environment in some sense are retained, e.g. good theories, good spear building practices or knowledge of poisonousness berries. On the other hand poor performers are weeded out by the community.

There are of course many Kinds Of Minds in the world, and humans do not seem to be alone in their use of evolution to improve their ideas and pass them to the next generation. Birds and dolphins imitate sounds and the Chaffinch has been shown to evolve its song in a manner eerily similar to human cultural evolution.

However, I am not aware of anyone having made the observation that ideas of extremely poor value are imitated and shared by other animals. I suspect that the human propensity for viral spread of poor quality content is a memetic version of Schadenfreude, in which we take pleasure from some one else’s complete lack of talent. I think it is would be very interesting to know more about this behavior. A simple experiment could be done to determine if material from either end of the ‘bell curve of awesomeness’ is more likely to produce a viral outcome. We could take a sample of things that went viral and then get a bunch of people to rank them as either ‘awesome’ or ‘so shit it might actually be good’. We average the rankings and then see if either end is statistically over represented.

My suspicion is that the two are probably very close to being equally likely, but if I had to say which would be more likely, I would say the stuff at the bottom.