Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Are Online Recommendations a Form of Digital Peer Pressure?

Facebook's reminder that the new profile is here.

It started with Twitter's move to the version. The message that would appear on the top of the screen went something to the effect of "Psst, there's a new version of Twitter available. Why not try a sneak peek?" It was a bit coercive, but I clicked and tried my sneak peek. I also promptly opted to switch back. Similarly Facebook tried to entice me to try the new profile. I took a look at the preview and decided I would wait for the mandatory change. It seems that I have been resistant for longer than anticipated because the messages by both of these services has become a bit more direct. On Twitter, the message at the top of the screen informs me matter-of-factly that "You're using an older version of Twitter that won't be around much longer. Switch to the New Twitter!" Facebook is using a slightly different tactic as you can see from the image above: the application wants me to know that I'm trailing behind 99 of my connections in delaying the move to a newer version. In both cases, the message is clear, I'm lagging behind in adopting the latest digital tools.

Monday, December 27, 2010

What Does the Nutcracker Have to do With Christmas?

In this age of commercialization, it can be difficult to find true symbols of the season. After all, Santa himself is a spokesman for one of the largest department stores in the United States. And Rudolph, that iconic red-nosed reindeer, was created by Montgomery Ward, another large American retailer. A closer look at the Nutcracker and his battalion of wooden soldiers suggest that the figures and symbols that seem to get closest to the meaning of the holiday are those that are somewhat peripheral.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On My Shelf: Written in Stone (Review)

Brian Switek's Written in Stone is a quiet testament to the power of the fossil record. Page after page, Switek takes the reader through a deftly narrated tale of evolution as told by fossilized remains that have been interpreted, reinterpreted, manipulated, marketed, destroyed, and ultimately preserved. This is a journey not just through natural history, but through science. The real impact of Written in Stone is that it highlights the cast of characters who shaped our understanding of evolution—allowing readers share firsthand with the frustrations, ambitions, conflicts, and successes of the scientists. It's certainly an interesting approach to a history that has the potential to be dry and unappealing.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sharing to Communicate Is Here to Stay

The Pew Research Center's most recent internet study suggests that the popularity of blogging is shifting between generations: declining among Millenials and younger users, and increasing among Gen-Xers and older cohorts.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Degrees of Tolerance

A few months ago, I wrote about the response to a crying child on the subway. Yesterday in a packed subway car, a young mom struggled with a crying toddler and the response from the other riders was decidedly different from that other instance. Why?

Monday, December 13, 2010

At a Loss for Words: Modern Lessons From a Lost Language

The back side of the Magdalena document shows
translations for numbers from Spanish to a lost language.
Photo by Jeffrey Quilter.

In a public-friendly article, Jeffrey Quilter and colleagues (2010) announced in September that they had uncovered a remarkable find at an archaeological dig in Northern Peru: It wasn't a funerary mask or ornate pottery or even a mummy, but a page. A letter actually, dating to 17th-century and detailing a minor trade event in the church complex where it was found. It is an interesting artifact by itself that could offer a glimpse into the life of the colonial community being uncovered. However, on the back of the letter someone had scribbled a number list in a previously unknown language, making the page more than just a record of church concerns. Though the list is short, it is enough to help researchers understand that they have in their hands the details of a number system that has not been previously recorded. As the researchers note, the history of the document itself—how and why it was created and then discarded—is tied to larger aspects of Peruvian history. And this history can help us understand the linguistic dynamics of cultural contact—which may be extended in some ways to the digital age.

Friday, December 10, 2010

No Substitute for IRL Relationships for Adolescents

It's no secret that the Internet is a black hole when it comes to time. Fifteen minutes on Twitter spirals into an hour or two of witty banter. A quick stop on Facebook to read statuses or water crops becomes three hours looking at photos from someone's vacation or wedding. It's easy to be online—simple and almost instantaneous access to all your friends and connections, and none of them need to know you're in your pajamas. And you can reinvent yourself online, which is handy for those of us with histories of awkwardness (or present awkwardness for that matter). The Internet is always with us. It's in our pockets and bags on our phones, and wherever free WiFi can be found for those with netbooks, tablets, and laptops, which provides us with a handy way to escape uncomfortable situations—how many of your with smart phones have checked (or pretended to check) email, Facebook, or Twitter at a party where the conversation wasn't going quite right? 

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Evolutionary Roots of Talking With Our Hands

New Yorkers are hand talkers—we often use gestures to add emphasis to our conversations. Whether we're pointing to direct tourists, or waving to demonstrate our exasperation with traffic, drivers, or pedestrians, or trying to interject (New Yorkers don't interrupt!) we're gesticulating. We're not the only ones to do this, of course, but in my experience we do tend to employ this element of communication fairly frequently.