community · design · play · Social


Public, collaborative art happening in Seattle. Go be a part of it!

Just Be Your Selfie Dylan Neuwirth
Just Be Your Selfie in Occidental Park, Seattle by Dylan Neuwirth

I am pleased to announce a new large-scale public work coming to Seattle in late May and on display in Occidental Park from June to September, 2014 as a part of ArtSparks.

“JUST BE YOUR SELFIE” is a monumental neon status update rendered in cursive.

Designed to initiate personal and shared, web-based experiences; this social sculpture is an iconic contemporary work of real-time internet art embedded into an urban environment. Not necessarily a solid structure, or a pure concept; this slippery expression bridges the gap between existing in both the analog and digital realities we now accept as inseparable.

The work will have its own Instagram account, associated hashtags, and is intended to take on a life of its own.


behavior · emotion · psychology

The ‘Mood Graph’: How Our Emotions Are Taking Over the Web | Wired Opinion

Happy face high res
Do emoticons box you in or set you free?


More analysis and research looking into how we interact with and effect the digital space, and how that space in turn effects us, emotionally and mentally.

[Facebook, Bitly, Google+]… all these interfaces are now focusing on the emotional aspects of our information diets. To put this development in a broader context: the mood graph has arrived, taking its place alongside the social graph (most commonly associated with Facebook), citation-link graph and knowledge graph (associated with Google), work graph (LinkedIn and others), taste graph and interest graph (Pinterest and others).

Like all these other graphs, the mood graph will enable relevance, customization, targeting; search, discovery, structuring; advertising, purchasing behaviors, and more. It also signals an important shift in computer-mediated communication.

But placing a digital mood ring on users also has the power to change us — how we express ourselves. Especially when one considers that the data populating mood graphs comes from our encounters with behavior-altering interfaces packaged as fun little emojis and innocuous, “handy-dandy buttons”…

…drop-down expression makes us one-dimensional, living caricatures of G-mail’s canned responses — a style of speech better suited to emotionless computers than flesh-and-blood humans. As Marshall McLuhan observed, just as we shape our tools, they shape us too. It’s a two-way street.

more via The ‘Mood Graph’: How Our Emotions Are Taking Over the Web | Wired Opinion |

The author of the opinion, Evan Selinger, is a Fellow at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technology who focuses on the collisions between technology, ethics, and law.

He seems hell bent against putting a happy face next to his Facebook post, and I hear what he’s saying about the dangers of trying to sum up a concept with a parenthesis or semicolon. And I agree that companies are offering these emoticon options often just so they can collect more data on their users, rather than be focused on helping their customers express themselves more fully.

But, as Selinger also points out, spoken language itself can be nuanced and tricky, in the digital or non-digital world, and it can be nice to have more tools to express yourself in the digital space. People also post songs or pictures in order to share their mood or sentiment with others.

I feel that these are enhancements for people to share more ideas, not have them boxed in. Sometimes creativity is aided with a few rules. All language has restrictions, whether you’re coding or signing or chatting. Yes these restrictions should be recognized, but not

Do you feel that a smiley face or frowny face limits your ability to communicate and express yourself with others online? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

anthropology · behavior · brain · community · emotion · happiness · mental health · Social

Social Media Isolates But Also Binds

Flickr friends
How many of your virtual friends would you actually invite over for lunch? (Photo credit: Meer)

Does social media make us feel more or less connected? How does connecting and communicating in a digital space impact us differently than connecting and communicating in a physical space?

There are mixed results from various studies, but recently more studies have come out finding that we actually feel less connected to each other the more we use social media like Facebook:

Kross found that the more people used Facebook, the less happy they felt—and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. The data, he argues, shows that Facebook was making them unhappy.Research into the alienating nature of the Internet—and Facebook in particular—supports Kross’s conclusion. In 1998, Robert Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, found that the more people used the Web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt. After people went online for the first time, their sense of happiness and social connectedness dropped, over one to two years, as a function of how often they used the Internet.Lonelier people weren’t inherently more likely to go online, either; a recent review of some seventy-five studies concluded that “users of Facebook do not differ in most personality traits from nonusers of Facebook.”

But, as with most findings on Facebook, the opposite argument is equally prominent. In 2009, Sebastián Valenzuela and his colleagues came to the opposite conclusion of Kross: that using Facebook makes us happier. They also found that it increases social trust and engagement—and even encourages political participation. Valenzuela’s findings fit neatly with what social psychologists have long known about sociality: as Matthew Lieberman argues in his book “Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect,” social networks are a way to share, and the experience of successful sharing comes with a psychological and physiological rush that is often self-reinforcing. The prevalence of social media has, as a result, fundamentally changed the way we read and watch: we think about how we’ll share something, and whom we’ll share it with, as we consume it. The mere thought of successful sharing activates our reward-processing centers, even before we’ve actually shared a single thing.

Virtual social connection can even provide a buffer against stress and pain: in a 2009 study, Lieberman and his colleagues demonstrated that a painful stimulus hurt less when a woman either held her boyfriend’s hand or looked at his picture; the pain-dulling effects of the picture were, in fact, twice as powerful as physical contact.

more via How Facebook Makes Us Unhappy : The New Yorker.

So what does this all mean? That we are complicated. And so is how we use social media.

“What makes it complicated is that Facebook is for lots of different things—and different people use it for different subsets of those things. Not only that, but they are also changing things, because of people themselves changing,” said Gosling. A 2010 study from Carnegie Mellon found that, when people engaged in direct interaction with others—that is, posting on walls, messaging, or “liking” something—their feelings of bonding and general social capital increased, while their sense of loneliness decreased. But when participants simply consumed a lot of content passively, Facebook had the opposite effect, lowering their feelings of connection and increasing their sense of loneliness.

I have seen forums used to create physical communities (I don’t want to say “real world” because virtual is real, it’s really happening) and create friendships that crossed continents, but I have also heard of and seen virtual bullying that in some very sad cases led to a person’s death. We can be cruel to others by hiding behind that veil of anonymity, or even just by creating a lack of physical presence which also creates a mental separation which makes it easier for us to feel isolated or intentionally isolate others. But we also want to share and connect with others, even if we can’t be physically near them, and share very intimate details with people we may not otherwise have given the time of day, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the context and situation.

How do you use social media? Does it make you feel more connected to your tribe, or do you feel left out or perhaps even more isolated? Do you bridge the gap between your virtual world and physical world, or does the slogan “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” also apply to your social media and physical lives? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

community · happiness · Social · technology · youtube

Social Networks Can’t Replace Real Human Interaction

Virtual space, including friendships there, does not fully replace that real live human interaction we get in real world spaces. More and more studies are finding this out, and people are reacting to it, often on social media.

graphic designer Shimi Cohen, based in Tel Aviv, has provided “a fresh and subtly soul-wrenching reminder of the way our screens can become cells of solitary confinement.”

The animation was Cohen’s senior project at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. Based in part on MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together and Yair Amichai-Hamburger’s article “The Invention of Being Lonely,” inspiration also came from a personal place. “Like many others,” Cohen tells Co.Design, “I became addicted to socializing through my phone and social media. This started to bother me and intrigue me at the same time.”

Discovered at Co.Design.

This is a wonderful and simple reminder to get off the computer from time to time and actually go interact outside with real people.

anthropology · community · culture · happiness · Social

The Happiest States In America In One Map (INFOGRAPHIC)

Where you live apparently can influence your happiness – or maybe happy people just tend head west?

Which way to happy? Geographically speaking, it’s the route to Hawaii, Maine or one of the clusters of blissful cities in California and Colorado.

The map below is based on results from a study of geotagged tweets published earlier this year in PLoS ONE by researchers at the University of Vermont. The team scored more than 10,000 words on a positive-negative scale and measured their frequency in millions of tweets across the country, deliberately ignoring context to eliminate experimental bias. What emerged was significant regional variation in happiness by this calculation, which correlates with other lifestyle measures such as gun violence, obesity and Gallup‘s traditional wellbeing survey. A sadness belt across the South includes states that have high levels of poverty and the shortest life expectancies.

Huffington Post, Happy, United States Map

more via The Happiest States In America In One Map (INFOGRAPHIC).

anthropology · behavior · community · psychology · Social · technology

Crowdsourcing the locals for travel recommendations

Uptake helps you ask locals what to do in different locations

On a recent roadtrip, my husband and I stopped in a medium-sized town out in the middle of nowhere, tired, dirty, and famished. Neither one of us are McDonalds or Subway types, but we definitely needed meat, and fast. What to do? My husband spent 10 minutes on my smartphone trying to read Yelp for a decently reviewed restaurant, which turned out to be a real dive but had somewhat tolerable pizza. Long story short, I bet this app would have helped us out a lot:

is set up to have a web community of people passionate about their local bars, hotels, and restaurants, but the key is that they let you ask questions of your Facebook friends who are local in the city you’re interested in.

When you ask questions in an open community, you’re not guaranteed to get an answer. If you’re looking at reviews on Yelp, you don’t really know who are behind them [Editor’s note: Yeah, tell me about it!]. Your friends are usually the people you trust the most with picking a great bar or pub to eat at, so Uptake takes the extra step of drilling down to the friends who are relevant to your question.

A lot of apps and services like Nomad for iPad and Trazzler let you ask for travel recommendations, but Uptake helps you ask the people who probably know best.

Local destinations still need technology, as sites like Yelp have become a stomping ground for trolls sounding off about bad experiences. Social is the key to a good recommendation, but not many services have nailed the experience yet. When I see a recommendation from a name or avatar that I recognize, it instantly has more value to me.

Uptake is in beta right now and promises a few features that aren’t available yet.

Read more at: Uptake helps you ask locals all of your travel questions (The Next Web)

One interesting trend of crowd-sourcing apps is an attempt to reach out to pre-established tribes and communities (see yesterday’s post about creating tribes through community) and trying to tap into that local’s knowledge. As the author of the article mentioned, people trust other people they know, and getting “local” knowledge is very important to us humans. We want to feel like we’re an insider, included, and not some dumb tourist who gets taken advantage of or just looks silly.

We also trust other tribe members and their knowledge more than anything else. It’s been shown we trust word of mouth and let it influence us more than advertising, and our peers are hugely influential on what we buy, use, and spend time doing. As we travel, we will also trust our peers over guidebooks on what to do, what to see, and where to eat.

I’ll be interested to see how these social peer-sourcing apps continue to evolve over time. Visit Uptake‘s website to find out more about the app.

behavior · emotion · happiness

Moods on Twitter Follow Biological Rhythms, Study Finds –

social media
Image by Sean MacEntee via Flickr

It’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to the weekend, and apparently so is the rest of the online world. A team of sociologists measured the amount of “happy” tweets people put out around the world, and found it matched previously known patterns of happiness trends:

Drawing on messages posted by more than two million people in 84 countries, researchers discovered that the emotional tone of people’s messages followed a similar pattern not only through the day but also through the week and the changing seasons. The new analysis suggests that our moods are driven in part by a shared underlying biological rhythm that transcends culture and environment.

The report, by sociologists at Cornell University and appearing in the journal Science, is the first cross-cultural study of daily mood rhythms in the average person using such text analysis. Previous studies have also mined the mountains of data pouring into social media sites, chat rooms, blogs and elsewhere on the Internet, but looked at collective moods over broader periods of time, in different time zones or during holidays.

via Moods on Twitter Follow Biological Rhythms, Study Finds –

Studying emotions through Twitter and other social media can always be a little tricky (for example, most algorithms don’t get sarcasm). But, that aside, I am very intrigued to see the results that market researchers and sociologists are finding using social media, and seeing how much our “real” lives are accurately reflected in our online worlds as well.

behavior · brain · community · emotion · happiness · mental health · Social

Yes, you can now be addicted to social media

Illustration of Facebook mobile interface
Social media keeps us connected with friends, but for some can be detrimental to everyday life. Image via Wikipedia

I love being able to connect to old friends, classmates, and coworkers via social media, as well as share thoughts, ideas, and new developments. But some people can take it too far, and while I have my weaknesses as much as the next gal, I don’t think I’d consider myself addicted as they describe it. Apparently people can receive intense highs from the social interactions and feel like they need a “fix” if they go on too long without checking in to one of their social media networks.

When you hear the word ‘addiction’ perhaps you think of alcohol, drugs and sex. But what about social media? Over recent years there’s been an emergence of studies into social media as a new form of addiction.

Research by Retrevo Gadgetology looked into how people use social networking sites. Out of those asked, 45% said they check Facebook or Twitter after getting into bed. People under the age of 25 were the more extreme with 19% saying they log on any time they wake up during the night, 27% said they sometimes check when they wake up during the night and 32% check in first thing in a morning.

via Social Media: The Pursuit of Happiness.

To me this indicates just how detached and isolated many of us are, that instead of going to a local gathering or even a bar or club when we’re feeling lonely, we go online. It’s been shown that Americans feel more isolated and alone than at any other time in our history (or at least history of checking for this kind of thing), and I would hypothesize we’re turning to these social media networks as some way to retain communities we’ve established in other physical locales, or create new ones that are entirely virtual. I also wonder if the meta-interaction makes people feel less fulfilled than dealing with people in real, physical life and make them anxious to get more. I believe social media networks are useful, no doubt, but I do wonder if we are using them as a crutch rather than actually meeting people in person. Granted a lot of social media sites encourage actual in-person meetings, from online dating sites to the new GrubwithUs startup that acts as matchmaker for hungry social types in various cities across the U.S.

What are your thoughts about social media networks and people who can’t seem to unplug from them? Leave your thoughts and/or experiences in the comments below.

Social · technology · youtube

Lunar eclipse: YouTube to broadcast today’s astronomical event live –

May 2002 lunar eclipse chart of moon's penumbr...
Image via Wikipedia

Lunar Eclipse on YouTube right now! Go see!

YouTube will be broadcasting on the Web a red-glowing lunar eclipse today at 11:20 a.m. PDT that otherwise will only be visible in the skies of South America, Africa, Asia, Australia and Europe. Sorry, North America.

The lunar event will last about 100 minutes and be live-streamed in video to Google’s official YouTube channel.

more via Lunar eclipse: YouTube to broadcast today’s astronomical event live –

community · Social · technology

Social Media Powers Medical Research

An interesting social experiment as well as clinical study, from the Wall Street Journal; while the study itself, which looked at using Lithium to treat ASL (Lou Gehrigs disease) found the treatment didn’t work, they DID find that using social networks to recruit people for the study turned out to be incredibly effective.

The new study, published online in the journal Nature Biotechnology, represents an early example of how social networking could play a role in clinical trials, an area of medical science with strict procedures that many would consider especially difficult to apply in the online world.

“The approach has tremendous potential,” said Lee Hartwell, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist now at Arizona State University, and formerly president of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Standard clinical trials play a central role in the research enterprise of both of those institutions.

Dr. Hartwell, who wasn’t involved in the study, said social-network trials aren’t likely to replace conventional randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials, the gold-standard for generating medical evidence. But such trials have become so complicated and time-consuming that new models are needed, he said.

Read more about the study

I think this is a great example of the power of communities, whether they exist online or are geographically-based, or both. People with illnesses and their families need support networks, which they find online. I think this is great that doctors and clinicians are also able to tap into these communities and ask for their input and insight into the treatment. Not only is it a great instant resource for the doctors, it loops the patients back into the whole treatment process.