We have had a hard time thinking clearly about companies like Google and Facebook because we have never before had to deal with companies like Google and Facebook. They are something new in the world, and they don’t fit neatly into our existing legal and cultural templates. Because they operate at such unimaginable magnitude, carrying out millions of informational transactions every second, we’ve tended to think of them as vast, faceless, dispassionate computers — as information-processing machines that exist outside the realm of human intention and control. That’s a misperception, and a dangerous one.

Modern computers and computer networks enable human judgment to be automated, to be exercised on a vast scale and at a breathtaking pace. But it’s still human judgment. Algorithms are constructed by people, and they reflect the interests, biases, and flaws of their makers. As Google’s founders themselves pointed out many years ago, an information aggregator operated for commercial gain will inevitably be compromised and should always be treated with suspicion. That is certainly true of a search engine that mediates our intellectual explorations; it is even more true of a social network that mediates our personal associations and conversations.

Because algorithms impose on us the interests and biases of others, we have not only a right, but also an obligation to carefully examine and, when appropriate, judiciously regulate those algorithms. We have a right and an obligation to understand how we, and our information, are being manipulated. To ignore that responsibility, or to shirk it because it raises hard problems, is to grant a small group of people — the kind of people who carried out the Facebook and OKCupid experiments — the power to play with us at their whim.

Nicholas Carr, Los Angeles Review of Books. The Manipulators: Facebook’s Social Engineering Project.

FJP: For more on tech, media and algorithms, check our Algorithms Tag.

Too Many, Probably Way Too Many
An app that does a simple thing: tells you how often and where you check your phone. The results could be discouraging.
Via The Oracle:

A recent study released by Baylor University, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, examined 24 cellphone related activities from 164 college students and found that women spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cellphones while men spend about eight. Of the activities measured, applications such as Pinterest and Instagram were significantly associated with an addiction to cellphone use. 
The idea of cellphone addiction might seem melodramatic but evidence suggests it’s real and here to stay. Fitness magazine reports a recent survey found 84 percent of the world’s population said they couldn’t go a day without using their cellphone and two thirds of teens and adults checked their phones every 15 minutes. 

Interested in the Baylor study? It’s available here (PDF).
Filed under: Things we’re not sure we want to know.
Image: Partial screenshot, CheckyApp.

Too Many, Probably Way Too Many

An app that does a simple thing: tells you how often and where you check your phone. The results could be discouraging.

Via The Oracle:

A recent study released by Baylor University, published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, examined 24 cellphone related activities from 164 college students and found that women spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cellphones while men spend about eight. Of the activities measured, applications such as Pinterest and Instagram were significantly associated with an addiction to cellphone use. 

The idea of cellphone addiction might seem melodramatic but evidence suggests it’s real and here to stay. Fitness magazine reports a recent survey found 84 percent of the world’s population said they couldn’t go a day without using their cellphone and two thirds of teens and adults checked their phones every 15 minutes. 

Interested in the Baylor study? It’s available here (PDF).

Filed under: Things we’re not sure we want to know.

Image: Partial screenshot, CheckyApp.

To Be or Not To Be: Scotland Has a Decision to Make
Image: Map of countries that have declared independence from the United Kingdom, via Global Post. Select to embiggen.

To Be or Not To Be: Scotland Has a Decision to Make

Image: Map of countries that have declared independence from the United Kingdom, via Global Post. Select to embiggen.

Behind-the-Scenes GoPro

For those curious about what kind of GoPro rigs athletes use. Also, The New Yorker does make videos and some of them are kinda interesting.

This.
Because Girls Who Code.
If You Suddenly Find Yourself Covering Gender-Based Violence
Ray Rice’s assault on his wife put domestic violence front and center of the news where it’s being covered by many who have no experience reporting on the issue.
Enter WITNESS’ guide for conducting interviews with survivors of gender-based violence. It’s an important resource for those thinking of interviewing survivors about the issue, or reporting on gender-based violence more deeply.
Via the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma:

The Guide to Interviewing Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence is an illustrated how-to resource for documenting the stories of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence safely, effectively and ethically.
Designed for human rights activists, advocates, citizen journalists and filmmakers, the guide covers prep and planning for conducting and sharing interviews, and helps navigate the terrain of social stigma and shame, threats of retribution by perpetrators and/or institutions that may wish to bury the story and the imperative to ensure the emotional and physical safety of interview subjects.

The guide can be downloaded here. A companion video series can be viewed here.
Image: Cover detail, via WITNESS.

If You Suddenly Find Yourself Covering Gender-Based Violence

Ray Rice’s assault on his wife put domestic violence front and center of the news where it’s being covered by many who have no experience reporting on the issue.

Enter WITNESS’ guide for conducting interviews with survivors of gender-based violence. It’s an important resource for those thinking of interviewing survivors about the issue, or reporting on gender-based violence more deeply.

Via the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma:

The Guide to Interviewing Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence is an illustrated how-to resource for documenting the stories of survivors of sexual and gender-based violence safely, effectively and ethically.

Designed for human rights activists, advocates, citizen journalists and filmmakers, the guide covers prep and planning for conducting and sharing interviews, and helps navigate the terrain of social stigma and shame, threats of retribution by perpetrators and/or institutions that may wish to bury the story and the imperative to ensure the emotional and physical safety of interview subjects.

The guide can be downloaded here. A companion video series can be viewed here.

Image: Cover detail, via WITNESS.

David Rees Goes Even Deeper

The same (former political cartoonist) David Rees who taught us how to properly sharpen a pencil has his own How-To show on National Geographic called Going Deep with David Rees, and the first season is now free to watch on Hulu

Rees is fun to watch because of his undying enthusiasm and curiosity for otherwise ordinary subject matter, but also because the show is educational and inspiring without trying to hard to be. And it’s refreshing to see someone in search of the simple yet rewarding things in life (see: How to Climb a Tree). I would say it might be the new show to contend with MythBusters, but it’s got an entirely different sense of humor and an original premise that lends itself to more and more great episodes. 

But seriously: Go watch this video first, and you’ll understand Rees pretty well. In case you’re still not convinced, he’s also good friends with the brilliant John Hodgman. —Mariana

I would love it if transparency truly allayed anxiety in an informed, nonexplosive way,” Mr. Rudder told me. But in practice, he said, “it might increase anxiety.

Natasha Singer (writing in the Times) about Christian Rudder, president of OkCupid and the guy who wrote this, whose new book: Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) just came out.

Singer writes:

Mr. Rudder says he carefully considers the potential risks of OkCupid’s observational and product research on its members. But his dual role as the approver of company research and its chief interpreter is complicated.

“The people who are making the minimal risk decisions are the same people conducting the experiments,” he acknowledges. “It is a conflict of interest.”

Now Mr. Rudder is weighing the possibility of even greater research transparency. His book certainly urges companies to share more of their behavioral research findings with the public. But the outcry over his recent blog post suggests that many consumers are not aware of the extent to which companies already scrutinize and manipulate their online activities.

FJP: While the issues around social manipulation and the need for transparency make themselves pretty apparent, Rudder’s comment, quoted above, points to something perplexing. Maybe greater transparency about both data-gathering practices and interpretations of it (especially on networks where people have social and emotional investments) would increase our anxiety about what the data says about us. It echoes (in sentiment) something Kate Crawford wrote in The New Inquiry in May called The Anxieties of Big Data that’s also really worth reading. In it, she deconstructs the myth that more data means greater accuracy and also points this out: 

If we take these twinned anxieties — those of the surveillers and the surveilled — and push them to their natural extension, we reach an epistemological end point: on one hand, the fear that there can never be enough data, and on the other, the fear that one is standing out in the data.

More Reading: A pretty interesting long-form profile on Rudder. A fantastic essay from danah boyd on ethics and oversight in data manipulation. And, from the FJP archives, a reading list on the social, cultural and political issues/possibilities surrounding big data.

Meet the Lady Taxi Force of NYC

NY Times reports:

A new livery service starting Sept. 16 in New York City, Westchester County and Long Island will offer female drivers exclusively, for female riders, according to its founder. It will take requests for rides through an app, and dispatch drivers sporting hot pink pashmina scarves.

The service will be called SheTaxis — SheRides in New York City because of regulations barring it from using “taxi” in its name — and aims to serve women who may feel uncomfortable being driven by men, or who simply prefer the company of other women. The app will ask potential riders if there is a woman in their party. If not, they will be automatically redirected to other car services.

Related & Worth Watching: (posted above) is a really wonderful short doc produced by my dear friend Diana Diroy about what it’s like to be a female taxi driver in NYC. —Jihii

Global Literacy

Today’s International Literacy Day and UNESCO reports that “there are still 781 million adults and 126 million youth who cannot read or write a simple sentence.”

Via UNESCO (PDF): 

The lowest literacy rates are observed in sub-Saharan Africa and in South and West Asia. Adult literacy rates were below 50% in the following 14 countries: Afghanistan, Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Sierra Leone… It is important to note that regional averages can mask disparities at the country level. This is most apparent in sub-Saharan Africa, where the adult literacy rate ranges from 15% in Niger to 95% in Equatorial Guinea. 

The UN group has an “eAtlas of Literacy" that lets visitors browse and export maps and data to explore global literacy rates and regional indicators.

Images: Adult and Youth literacy rates, via UNESCO (PDF). Select to embiggen.

3D Printing Tactile Picture Books for Visually Impaired Children

A team from the University of Colorado Boulder is creating 3D printed tactile books for children with visual impairments.

Information about the Tactile Picture Books Project is here. Have a 3D printer? You can download the source files from MakerBot’s Thingiverse.

Images: Tactile Goodnight Moon, via Thingiverse. Select to embiggen.

Start Your Remix Engines: Millions of New Public Domain Images Now on Flickr
Over 2.6 million images from books published between 1500 and 1922 are now on Flickr thanks to a Yahoo! fellow who, in a sense, reverse scanned 600 million pages from the Internet Archive.
Via Open Culture:

Thanks to Kalev Leetaru, a Yahoo! Fellow in Residence at Georgetown University, you can now head over to a new collection at Flickr and search through an archive of 2.6 million public domain images, all extracted from books, magazines and newspapers published over a 500 year period. Eventually this archive will grow to 14.6 million images.

Via The BBC:

Mr Leetaru said digitisation projects had so far focused on words and ignored pictures.
"For all these years all the libraries have been digitising their books, but they have been putting them up as PDFs or text searchable works," he told the BBC.
"They have been focusing on the books as a collection of words. This inverts that.
"Stretching half a millennium, it’s amazing to see the total range of images and how the portrayals of things have changed over time.

Geek Speak: Traditional book scanning uses optical character recognition to extract text from books but, in doing so, more or less ignores images. Leetaru wrote a program that went back through the scans and reversed the process, favoring images over text.
Back to The BBC:

The software also copied the caption for each image and the text from the paragraphs immediately preceding and following it in the book.
Each Jpeg and its associated text was then posted to a new Flickr page, allowing the public to hunt through the vast catalogue using the site’s search tool.

Read through to the BBC to learn more about how it was done.
Image: Partial screenshot, page 26,198 of the collection.

Start Your Remix Engines: Millions of New Public Domain Images Now on Flickr

Over 2.6 million images from books published between 1500 and 1922 are now on Flickr thanks to a Yahoo! fellow who, in a sense, reverse scanned 600 million pages from the Internet Archive.

Via Open Culture:

Thanks to Kalev Leetaru, a Yahoo! Fellow in Residence at Georgetown University, you can now head over to a new collection at Flickr and search through an archive of 2.6 million public domain images, all extracted from books, magazines and newspapers published over a 500 year period. Eventually this archive will grow to 14.6 million images.

Via The BBC:

Mr Leetaru said digitisation projects had so far focused on words and ignored pictures.

"For all these years all the libraries have been digitising their books, but they have been putting them up as PDFs or text searchable works," he told the BBC.

"They have been focusing on the books as a collection of words. This inverts that.

"Stretching half a millennium, it’s amazing to see the total range of images and how the portrayals of things have changed over time.

Geek Speak: Traditional book scanning uses optical character recognition to extract text from books but, in doing so, more or less ignores images. Leetaru wrote a program that went back through the scans and reversed the process, favoring images over text.

Back to The BBC:

The software also copied the caption for each image and the text from the paragraphs immediately preceding and following it in the book.

Each Jpeg and its associated text was then posted to a new Flickr page, allowing the public to hunt through the vast catalogue using the site’s search tool.

Read through to the BBC to learn more about how it was done.

Image: Partial screenshot, page 26,198 of the collection.

Unfortunately, Green’s victim-blaming beliefs about sexual assault aren’t surprising, because they aren’t new. From celebrities who sing about supposed “blurred lines” to politicians like Todd Akin who use language like “legitimate rape” to lawyers like the one in Steubenville, Ohio, who claimed that a victim’s silence implies consent, it’s clear that Green’s comments are the rule rather than the exception in our cultural reality. They point to a profound misunderstanding at every level of society of what consent actually looks like.
nprfreshair:

It has been a slow week of reruns, so this happened. 

FJP: Looks familiar but we love your questions so ask away.

nprfreshair:

It has been a slow week of reruns, so this happened. 

FJP: Looks familiar but we love your questions so ask away.

(via npr)