YouTube is a garbage fire. Google is mean. We are victims.

New Scientist magazine has named YouTube a garbage fire that is best shut down for the public good. It claims that Google, which owns YouTube, is using special algorithms to get viewers hooked on YouTube, allowing Google to rake in more money for ads:

It is working hard to sculpt its users into the ideal audience for video adverts. And the ideal audience is one that can’t look away. Ever.

I don’t know why NS is upset about this situation. Regular TV has been doing this for decades. Big studios spend millions of dollars on huge departments whose job it is to keep you glued to that chair in front of your TV.

NS claims that the random selection/suggestion of YouTube videos expose viewers to ever more extreme content. That may be true but it is the user who must click on the thumbnail to view the video. Sure, some people can get lost in a rabbit hole by following the suggested videos but using common sense will prevent this from happening to you.

NS is portraying viewers as hapless victims, unable to withstand the lure of click bait videos or extreme content, thus repeating the lament du jour: we are all victims and the Big Bad Tech Companies are making us do things we don’t want to. Google is mean and robbing me of my safe space.

Your freedom is just a mouse click away. Close that window if you think Google is manipulating you. Shut down your Komputer and settle down in front of your TV and binge-watch the latest, highest rated (by Rotten Tomatoes) TV show instead. Or play with your smartphone, or your tablet, or your video game, or your digital camera, or your web-aware microwave oven, or your digital pet/spouse/sex doll/pizza/garden hose/fridge/watch/shower or whatever gadget is lit/dope/in/hot at that particular moment. Just make sure your alternate activity includes interacting with electronic gadgets and precludes interacting with real humans in real time and in real physical space. That’ll show Google who’s boss.

Or read a book. Oh, wait, I have a Kindle for that.

Think before you share!

Misinformation, that is.

Purveyors of disinformation—content that is intentionally false and designed to cause harm—are motivated by three distinct goals: to make money; to have political influence, either foreign or domestic; and to cause trouble for the sake of it.

Those who spread misinformation—false content shared by a person who does not realize it is false or misleading—are driven by sociopsychological factors. People are performing their identities on social platforms to feel connected to others, whether the “others” are a political party, parents who do not vaccinate their children, activists who are concerned about climate change, or those who belong to a certain religion, race or ethnic group. Crucially, disinformation can turn into misinformation when people share disinformation without realizing it is false.

Tatler report: The rise in class A drug usage at British schools

In an exceptional report, British Tatler magazine writes about the rise of class A drug use in British boarding schools. The report is exceptional for two reasons: first, the topic is the complete opposite of the usual Tatler menu of snippets about Britain’s high society, royalty, fashion, lifestyle, and where to summer, and, second, it openly and unabashedly describes the drug scene at British boarding schools. Again, very unusual for Tatler.

As a long time subscriber to the print issue (one of my small vices, being a secret royalist) I was at first slightly taken aback at the “affront” of having a real world issue rear its ugly head in my escapism window, but then applauded Tatler for its audacity. You might think that audacity it too strong a word for a report that in its style and topic appears almost weekly in magazines like Rolling Stone, Pacific Standard or Quartz, but you have to understand that Tatler, a more than 300 year old publication, is supposed to be all about gossip and having fun and parties. Writing about how the offspring of its upper-middle-class readership is wasting its youth on drugs (some drug users start at age 13) is startling and extraordinaire.

As interesting and informative as the report is, I have my misgivings about it appearing in Tatler. It soiled my happy vicarious dreamlettes of hobnobbing with Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, or the the best rosés to drink this summer, and how the Royal Family are spending their summer holidays.

To each his own. I prefer my British Tatler bubbly and lighthearted, as served at the Royal Champagne hotel and spa. Leave the grunge to those who wallow in it.

Tatler, 1709

You Should Be Using Emojis at Work

The trend of using emojis is much bigger than the latest thing the youths are foisting on their crusty elders. It’s happening for deep neurological reasons, according to recent research, and can lead to better cooperation. In a just-published paper, researchers from Colombia describe how electrical activity in the brain indicates that we process emojis in the same areas of the brain where we process faces. The key is that emojis often include the most salient features for visually conveying human emotion—eyes, mouths, sometimes eyebrows. Emojis also make messaging more efficient by conveying the intent and context that’s otherwise missing from a message. (See also World Emoji Day)

Is there a difference between hikikomori and shut-ins?

Hikikomori is a Japanese term that describes people who stay holed up in their homes, or even just their bedrooms, isolated from everyone except their family, for many months or years. The condition was first described in Japan, but cases have since been reported in countries as far apart as Oman, Indian, the US and Brazil.

Now, where I come from these (unfortunate?) people are called shut-ins or a “recluse; a person who abnormally avoids any social contact by staying indoors most of the time” as in “an example of a shut in is an elderly lady who hasn’t left her house for a month because she is afraid to see people.”

In 1998, Carnegie Mellon researchers warned that the internet could make us into hermits. They released a study monitoring the social behavior of 169 people making their first forays online. The web-surfers started talking less with family and friends, and grew more isolated and depressed.

Is calling these people hikikomori instead of shut-ins just pop-culture-induced orientalism or is there really a difference between the two conditions?

I am reminded of an refreshing article by Amy Olberding, a presidential professor of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma, with the title: “Tidying up is not joyful but another misuse of Eastern ideas.” She describes the susceptibility of Americans to plain good sense if it can but be infused with a quasi-mystical ‘oriental’ aura. She cites Kondo mania, from the “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” show on Netflix, as a typical example of this affliction. Folding clothes as an organisational strategy is boring. But folding clothes as a mystically infused plan of life is alluring.

The professor goes on to explain how the words of Confucius and Sun Tzu have been leveraged into self-help advice on all kinds of subjects, from coaching your kid’s football team to improving your marriage. Wisdom from the ‘East’ has long been marketed to Westerners hoping to escape their existential maladies by seeking what is exotic, what promises to be more meaningful than what they have or can find locally.

The same goes for the “tiny house movement”, which used to be called living in trailers, and self driving cars, which used to be called taxis.