Friday, January 28, 2011

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 25: Sexual Selection, Woolly Mammoths, Food, and Elevators

Some blog business first: Since I've started sharing my ResearchBlogging editor's selections here on  Thursdays, I've been thinking that back-to-back roundups may be a bit much for readers. So I'm moving The Anthro Reader to a monthly schedule. Beginning in February, the Anthro Reader will be featured on the last Friday of the month. This will allow me to both bring you a greater variety of content in the Reader and to share more original writing here on AiP. That being said ...

There are some great reads at Evolving Economics. Jason Collin's recent discussion of consumption explained via sexual selection provides much food for thought. Collins explores a model using biological signals as handicaps:
The choosiness of women is with good reason, as men vary in quality and with a mate of higher quality, the female can expect more of her children to survive to adulthood. Females do not vary in quality, but they face a chance of death in each period. In the first period, men and women are matched one-to-one. Given the varying quality of the men, the women need to decide whether the man they are paired with is of high enough quality to mate with, or whether they should take their chances and wait until the next period in the hope of finding a better mate. If their chance of death is high, the woman may drop her standards.

This choice is complicated, however, as male quality is not directly observable. What women can see is the man’s level of conspicuous consumption. Putting this in terms of choices we face today, and ignoring the possible approach of bringing your bank statement or pay slip to the dinner date, total wealth is unobservable. Instead it is conspicuous consumption on the car you drive to the date, your clothes, your watch and the cost of the restaurant that will show one’s wealth. The question the woman must address is whether the signal from the man as to his wealth is reliable. Has he arrived in a BMW that he will also have to sleep in tonight as he has no resources left for accommodation? Or is he actually wealthy?
The subsequent discussion makes an interesting case for understanding the rise of conspicuous consumption.

Janelle Ward has a quick post up on her research blog about causes and Facebook—specifically, the importance of the causes you choose to "like" and support. As we have spent some time on AiP considering the impact of groups and recommendations, the information shared by Janelle offers some additional insights into the group psychology behind Facebook.

Selena of Anthropologist in the Attic shares news tat scientists are planning to resurrect a woolly mammoth. I wonder if any of these folks have actually seen the movie Jurassic Park—in other words, this could end very badly. The scientists are hoping to recover undamaged cells from the baby mammoth uncovered in Siberia and insert a nucleus into an elephant egg cell. I'm intrigued but concerned—we can barely keep the polar bears alive, and yet we want to resurrect extinct species?
The Society for Anthropology of Food and Nutrition (SAFN) discusses the relationship between food prices and uprisings:
There is unrest in Egypt. And Tunisia. These uprisings are being partly fueled by rising food costs, especially bread. The price of bread is driven, in part, by the price of wheat. And, the price of wheat and other crops has been soaring. This has made investors happy but some governments very nervous.
It's a short post, but a good reminder that this is a connected world, and our actions can reach far.

And finally, a bit on elevators from the group blog Savage Minds. A guest post from  Jenny Cool investigates the social learning experience of riders in the elevators at the 2010 AAA's:
For those who haven’t seen the lifts at the New Orleans Sheraton, they run a under centralized system. Rather than traditional “up” and “down” buttons, would-be riders are presented with a keypad and small display. A sign instructs you to enter the floor you wish to go, and step to the car whose number appears on the read-out. Inside, the elevator car offers no controls other than an alarm, door open and close buttons. Floor numbers showing where your elevator will stop light up on inset LED panels that run down the left and right of the doors.

“This is a very totalitarian system,” said a woman in an accent I took to be Brazilian as we stood waiting for an elevator. In terms of user-interaction design, she was right. The system was optimized to do one thing as efficiently as possible—get people to the floors they key in. Yet in doing so, it ignores other practices and possibilities of elevator riding to which people have become accustomed since the introduction of the hydraulic elevator in the mid-19th century. There are other systems for optimizing elevator traffic that don’t require algorithms, that aren’t “smart.” For example, having cars go to different sets of floors (e.g. 1-11 and 12-24), like express trains. While these merely divide the menu, the “smart” system constrains riders’ communication and control more profoundly, in a manner one might well call totalitarian.
In contrast to my discussion on the discomfort of the confined space we find ourselves in, the post investigates how temporary communities can result from this shared space.

The next Anthro Reader will run on Feb. 25th.


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