Saturday, November 22, 2014

Food Porn

Many of my friends on Facebook frequently indulge in food porn.  When they have an interesting eating experience, whether something they have cooked, invented, or ordered in a restaurant, they post a photo and talk about it.  Not extensively, but enough to exhibit and share their indulgence.  I am sure there are a variety of motivations underlying this behavior.  It is something new to the world, since it really wasn’t feasible until easy/quick/cheap photography through smart phones and easy/quick/sharing through social media channels because prevalent. 

But I want to bring up another issue.  The user experience designed into much of the food porn that I see.  It seems that people who post food porn consider the photo to be the central feature of the post.  That makes sense because photos take advantage of the most visceral aspect of human experience – vision.  Visual experience is the simplest way to evoke emotional connection.  This is particularly true through the Internet when odor and taste are not feasible, at least until we have better smell-o-vision or taste-o-vision.  And because our visual experience is so rich, it easily activates the associated smells and tastes of the food in the photo. 

Except that is precisely the reason I question this food porn.  Many of the photos do not really capture the nuance of the food that excited the poster to share it.  It just looks like a bowl of soup or a stew or a cake or a . . . .   It is really the information in the text description that matters.  But these often fall down on the job. It is just a recipe or a very generic description – working on the mistaken assumption that the photo will do it.

I don’t engage in food porn largely for this reason.  The other day I made the most amazing skirt steak with a Dijon horseradish mustard sauce and freshly cracked ground pepper.  But looking at it, it just looked like a steak.  So a photo wouldn’t do it.  And most people following my Facebook or Twitter feeds would see the photo and just skim the text, if even that.  They would not be able to appreciate the great experience of my steak.  So why waste their time posting it? 

What is the solution?  Food porn is clearly an experience that has sizable demand behind it.  But the current version is inadequate.  Any ideas to improve it?

This Week in EID - Episode 30

For those of you who don’t know how the EID site is managed, I write the pieces and Keith manages the backend by formatting, scheduling, cueing, and maintaining our metadata.  We share the responsibility for content marketing.  He wants to focus more on the content marketing piece, so we are looking for something to replace his back end duties.  We are putting together the official job description, but if you are interested in human factors, ergonomics, product design, user experience, cognitive and behavioral psychology, and so on, let us know and we would be happy to consider you for the position.

I also wanted to mention that Keith does the scheduling because it was up to him which topic to schedule for my birthday last week. He didn’t know it was my birthday, so it wasn’t skewed by that knowledge.  My favorite topic of the week came out on Monday, when we had the post on immersive play in education.  The day before my birthday.  Doh !!! 

Then on Tuesday, we had a topic that I have done considerable research and consulting, innovations in reputation management.  So I guess I can’t complain.

On Wednesday we had my official article on media literacy, following from my ranting post on this blog the week before.  That was also a really good topic.  Well, a really bad topic because the general consumer has such lame media literacy.  But a good topic for the site.

Then the last day of the week was the post on Boston Attention Learning Lab.  They are doing some ground breaking work in another domain that I really love – augmented cognition.  If you have trouble focusing, take a gander at what they are working on.  It is still early, but who knows.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Putinism v Populism

This contrast came to me while listening to Open Source on NPR last weekend.

Populism – Promote policies that people clamor for.  It gets you elected.  We know that the general public in many countries don’t really understand the complexities of modern economies, policy implications, and so on.  So what they clamor for might not really result in what is best for the country.  Venezuela is a good example of this. 

Putinism – Promote policies that people really want, regardless of what they say in public.  In Russia, there are many people who say they want empowerment, freedom, even democracy.  But Putin knows better.  Deep down, a large majority want a strongman to show the world that the Russian Bear is a force to be contended with.  Many people protest now and again, but most of the time they just roll over because they feel better having a President who wrestles bears, rides horses shirtless, and talks tough to the West.  An interesting form of self-delusion I think.  Make the social statement that you are for liberal democracy, but unconsciously feel satisfied by a strongman ruler.

Or am I just a cynic?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Willpower and Self-Efficacy

There is a virtuous self-reinforcing cycle between willpower and self-efficacy.  If you exert some willpower to accomplish something with personal value, you feel really good about it.  Not just about the success itself, but also your ability to get it done using your own power.  Your willpower.  Your grit and sticktuitiveness. (That was one of my dad’s favorite words growing up).  This second part leads to an increase in self-efficacy.  The increase in self-efficacy makes you more confident that you can achieve other activities that require willpower.  You have more confidence in yourself.  Unlike feeling more skilled at the activity itself, the increase in self-efficacy is more generalizable to other activities that depend on willpower. 

Having this self-efficacy makes you more likely to attempt activities that require willpower and more likely to succeed at them.  Which then leads to more self-efficacy and more willpower and on it goes.  Gretchen Rubin over at the Happiness Project has some good thoughts on this.

So the message of the story is to try some small things that demand willpower today.  And then watch it grow.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Social Science lenses on religion

Some random thoughts before getting to work.  It is amazing how religion looks when evaluated through anthropological, sociological, and historical lenses.  That is why I minored in Religious Philosophy as an undergrad.

  • ·         There is a Hebrew phrase that is often mistranslated.  The real meaning is “a smart pupil of a great scholar.”  It is often mistranslated as “a smart person.”  As a professor who has taught hundreds of students over the past 25 years, I find this intriguing.  Many of my students think of themselves as smart for various reasons.  Sometimes because they get good grades (which BTW doesn’t always mean you are smart).  Sometimes because they are surrounding by smart people and deep thoughts, regardless of how they are engaged themselves.  Sometimes because they sit at the feet of brilliant scholars (the Talmudic analogy that the phrase in question comes from).  Sometimes just pure self-delusion.  So I wonder if the mistranslation occurred over time because of the preponderance of students who assume that studying from a smart teacher makes you a smart person by osmosis.

  • ·         In the Talmud, the discourse (and sometimes vigorous argument) reveals as much about the personalities of the scholars as it does about the laws.  Kind of like oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court, I think.  Different scholars have been described as “a store stocked with everything,” “a peddler’s box,” a pile of walnuts,” “a secret treasure,” and “one who knows more when he doesn’t answer your question.” I think these metaphors are great examples of the different kinds of scholars. I have many colleagues that could easily be described in these same terms.

  • ·         The terms for “teacher” and “scholar” in everyday usage became synonymous over the thousand years between the Romans and the modern era.  It happened faster in the Middle East, where civilization was a lot more advanced during those centuries.  In Middle Ages Europe, teachers were the village level rabbis who were more engaged with the common folk.  Scholars were the few who had the opportunity to dedicate their lives to study.  In the Middle East, both lived in the big cities where their roles blended together.