Saturday, November 29, 2014

This week in EID - Episode 31

We had a short week in EID to take a well-deserved Thanksgiving break and enjoy some time with our families.  I hope you all did the same.  Even so, we had some good posts in the early half of the week.  All of them have a positive, holiday feel to them.

We started with a story about wearable computers for blue collar workers.  It is amazing how some ingenuity and user centered design can take a traditionally low tech job and apply some technology to make it better, faster, and safer. 

Tuesday focused on intractable conflicts, not exactly a happy topic on the surface.  But if we can learn more about them, perhaps we can overcome them.  That alone would be a holiday gift worth giving.

And then of course, we capped the week off with a humorous take on human factors applied to Thanksgiving dinner, backyard sports, and driving home.  But of course because safety is the outcome, it is not just funny, it is also important.  

Friday, November 28, 2014

Drunk Ethics

Anyone who has been drunk, been in the company of people who are drunk, or even seen some good drunk acting in the movies, will know that your ability to think clearly is not at its best. 

There are some possible silver linings of thinking while drunk though, aren’t there?  It makes your mother-in-law easier to deal with (I can only say that because I don’t have one :-)).  It makes you more confident – perhaps with good and bad consequences depending on the situation. 

A new study out of Grenoble France by Aaron Duke finds another possible silver lining of thinking while drunk.  If you are familiar with the classic trolley problem, you know that people are hesitant to take any active steps to harm someone, even if this action could save several other people.  But if you can create enough psychological distance between the person and the harm, they can do it.  There are a lot of nuances to this finding and no clear choice that is universally the most ethical.  That’s what makes it such a rich research area in ethics.

So Dr. Duke and his colleagues wanted to know what happens with drunk people.  Does the psychological distance created by blurred thinking have this same effect?  Turns out, it seems so.  The more drunk that people (who they recruited in bars) were, the more willing they were to save the larger number of people at the expense of the one person, even if it required the direct action of pushing the person onto the tracks.  They were more utilitarian.  (The researchers say “rational,” but you know how much I dislike that term).

The researchers admit that there is an alternative explanation.  It could be that drunker people don't take a hypothetical in a bar too seriously and so they have less of an emotional aversion to thinking about actively harming the one person.  Their greater rationality isn’t real.  

But it is an interesting case to imagine the possibilities.  If drunk people make more utilitarian ethical decisions, perhaps we want jurors to be drunk when deliberating?  What other applications can you think of?

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?