How Facebook Takes Your Emotional Temperature

If you actually look at Facebook's effect on our brains, it’s like taking a drug. The problem, according to Jonathan Harris, is that with software that makes you come back over and over again, you become the product.

One of the graphics that’s in my project The Human Face of Big Data was created by Nigel Holmes. It is about Facebook, and it describes how the company finds correlations between the things that you’re passionate about and finding other people that share the same passions as you.  


One of the essays I also love in the book is by a young guy named Jonathan Harris.  And he talks about the fact that when they have meetings at Facebook in the morning to talk about new features or ways that they can create new tools, they talk about what’s the serotonin in this feature.  And he said it’s like how do you give people a little endorphin hit by something that’s very pleasurable, something that’s delightful about Facebook.

His concern is that he thinks that there’s two different kinds of software.  There's software that solves the problem and get’s out of the way, where the software is the product.  And then there’s software that makes you want to come back for more and more and more and more, to the point where it’s almost addictive.  Harris says if you actually look at the effect on our brains, it’s like taking a drug.  And the problem in his mind -- this is his opinion -- is that with software that makes you come back over and over again, you become the product.

So instead of the software being the product, you’re the product that's being sold to advertisers. 

So it’s one of the cautionary notes that we've shared in this Human Face of Big Data project, which is about technology that we use for good or bad. Some people think that Facebook is fantastic, other people are very worried about it.  I find Facebook absolutely fascinating because I don’t think there’s ever been any one source that had so much information about each of us -- who we talk to, who our friends are, what books we read, what we're buying, what movies we saw, what our travel is.

I actually think that Facebook has been very restrained in terms of how they've used that.  I think they’ve been very cautious about not alienating the billion people on Earth that are using it.  But in terms of future potential, I’m a Mac fanatic, so I like the ads in MacWorld.  If you took the ads out, the magazine wouldn’t be nearly as interesting to me.  Targeted ads, I think, are useful because I don’t want to see all the crap.  I’m not interested in buying a Mercedes Benz, but I am interested in buying a new MacBook Air.  So if organizations like Facebook can actually make the ads more relevant to me, if they know what I am interested in, I have no problem with that.

I don’t necessarily agree with Jonathan - Jonathan's criticism - but I think it's something we should be thinking about because if it is having the same effect on our brains as an addictive drug, no one’s regulating this, nobody's even thinking about it that way.

Infographic:

© Nigel Holmes 2012 / from The Human Face of Big Data

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
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A map of America’s most famous – and infamous

The 'People Map of the United States' zooms in on America's obsession with celebrity

Image: The Pudding
Strange Maps
  • Replace city names with those of their most famous residents
  • And you get a peculiar map of America's obsession with celebrity
  • If you seek fame, become an actor, musician or athlete rather than a politician, entrepreneur or scientist

Chicagoland is Obamaland

Image: The Pudding

Chicagoland's celebrity constellation: dominated by Barack, but with plenty of room for the Belushis, Brandos and Capones of this world.

Seen from among the satellites, this map of the United States is populated by a remarkably diverse bunch of athletes, entertainers, entrepreneurs and other persons of repute (and disrepute).

The multitalented Dwayne Johnson, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dominate the West Coast. Right down the middle, we find actors Chris Pratt and Jason Momoa, singer Elvis Presley and basketball player Shaquille O'Neal. The East Coast crew include wrestler John Cena, whistle-blower Edward Snowden, mass murderer Ted Bundy… and Dwayne Johnson, again.

The Rock pops up in both Hayward, CA and Southwest Ranches, FL, but he's not the only one to appear twice on the map. Wild West legend Wyatt Earp makes an appearance in both Deadwood, SD and Dodge City, KS.

How is that? This 'People's Map of the United States' replaces the names of cities with those of "their most Wikipedia'ed resident: people born in, lived in, or connected to a place."

‘Cincinnati, Birthplace of Charles Manson'

Image: The Pudding

Keys to the city, or lock 'em up and throw away the key? A city's most famous sons and daughters of a city aren't always the most favoured ones.

That definition allows people to appear in more than one locality. Dwayne Johnson was born in Hayward, has one of his houses in Southwest Ranches, and is famous enough to be the 'most Wikipedia'ed resident' for both localities.

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth, IL, but his reputation is closely associated with both Deadwood and Dodge City – although he's most famous for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which took place in Tombstone, AZ. And yes, if you zoom in on that town in southern Arizona, there's Mr Earp again.

The data for this map was collected via the Wikipedia API (application programming interface) from the English-language Wikipedia for the period from July 2015 to May 2019.

The thousands of 'Notable People' sections in Wikipedia entries for cities and other places in the U.S. were scrubbed for the person with the most pageviews. No distinction was made between places of birth, residence or death. As the developers note, "people can 'be from' multiple places".

Pageviews are an impartial indicator of interest – it doesn't matter whether your claim to fame is horrific or honorific. As a result, this map provides a non-judgmental overview of America's obsession with celebrity.

Royals and (other) mortals

Image: The Pudding

There's also a UK version of the People Map – filled with last names like Neeson, Sheeran, Darwin and Churchill – and a few first names of monarchs.

Celebrity, it is often argued, is our age's version of the Greek pantheon, populated by dozens of major gods and thousands of minor ones, each an example of behaviours to emulate or avoid. This constellation of stars, famous and infamous, is more than a map of names. It's a window into America's soul.

But don't let that put you off. Zooming in on the map is entertaining enough: celebrities floating around in the ether are suddenly tied down to a pedestrian level, and to real geography. And it's fun to see the famous and the infamous rub shoulders, as it were.

Barack Obama owns Chicago, but the suburbs to the west of the city are dotted with a panoply of personalities, ranging from the criminal (Al Capone, Cicero) and the musical (John Prine, Maywood) to figures literary (Jonathan Franzen, Western Springs) and painterly (Ivan Albright, Warrenville), actorial (Harrison Ford, Park Ridge) and political (Eugene V. Debs, Elmhurst).

Freaks and angels

Image: Dorothy

The People Map of the U.S. was inspired by the U.S.A. Song Map, substituting song titles for place names.

It would be interesting to compare 'the most Wikipedia'ed' sons and daughters of America's cities with the ones advertised at the city limits. When you're entering Aberdeen, WA, a sign invites you to 'come as you are', in homage to its most famous son, Kurt Cobain. It's a safe bet that Indian Hill, OH will make sure you know Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon, was one of theirs. But it's highly unlikely that Cincinnati, a bit further south, will make any noise about Charles Manson, local boy done bad.

Inevitably, the map also reveals some bitterly ironic neighbours, such as Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, captured near Oroville, CA. He died in 1916 as "the last wild Indian in North America". The most 'pageviewed' resident of nearby Colusa, CA is Byron de la Beckwith, Jr., the white supremacist convicted for the murder of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.

As a sampling of America's interests, this map teaches that those aiming for fame would do better to become actors, musicians or athletes rather than politicians, entrepreneurs or scientists. But also that celebrity is not limited to the big city lights of LA or New York. Even in deepest Dakota or flattest Kansas, the footlights of fame will find you. Whether that's good or bad? The pageviews don't judge...

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Thumbs up? Map shows Europe’s hitchhiking landscape

Average waiting time for hitchhikers in Ireland: Less than 30 minutes. In southern Spain: More than 90 minutes.

Image: Abel Suyok
Strange Maps
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  • However, as this map shows, thumbing a ride still occupies a thriving niche – if at great geographic variance.
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Michio Kaku: Genetic and digital immortality are within reach

Technology may soon grant us immortality, in a sense. Here's how.

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