technology and the social mind


A couple of interesting articles about our interactions with technology that I don’t have time to do justice to:

first, one about how how online personalization services begin to skew our access to information:

I found this bit telling:

If you want to test your own views on personalization, you could try a party trick Mr. Pariser demonstrated earlier this year during a talk at the TED conference: ask some friends to simultaneously search Google for a controversial term like gun control or abortion. Then compare results.

“It’s totally creepy if you think about it,” said Tze Chun, a filmmaker who agreed to participate in a similar experiment at a recent dinner party we both attended in Brooklyn. Five of us used our phones to search for “Is Osama really dead?,” a phrase Mr. Chun suggested.

Although our top 10 results included the same link — to Yahoo Canada answers — in first place, two of us also received a link to a post on, a newspaper site. Meanwhile, Mr. Chun and two other filmmakers had links to more conspiratorial sites like

For Mr. Chun, who visits a variety of true-crime Web sites as part of his screenplay research but tends to favor sites that sell vintage T-shirts in his private life, the personalization felt a little too, well, personal.

“You are used to looking at the Internet voyeuristically,” he said. “It’s weird to have the Internet looking back at you and saying, ‘Yeah, I remember things about what you have done’ and gearing the searches to those sites.”

I had noticed that my google results were odd at times…


Second, social influences kill the wisdom of the crowd. Essentially, collectively we know stuff, but when we get feedback about what others think (eg through social networks), conformity effects make us dumber.


(Oh, and unrelatedly, for those of you who have houses, Jez talks about earthquake-learnings from Chch for your house, which I had been meaning to point at)


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