L.S./M.F.T (Like Strike Means a Facebook Touch-up)

In the last couple of days, two individuals have written about experiments that they conducted at Facebook.

Mat Honan, at Wired, wrote about what happened to his Facebook feed when he “liked” absolutely everything he saw for two days.


At the same time, Elan Morgan was conducting a similar experiment… by not liking anything at all, and when she saw Honan’s post, was inspired to write about her experience.


Before you go on, I recommend you read both articles in their entirety. There are some good thoughts in each, addressing more than the facebook issue. I will quote this, from Schmutzie’s blog post:

The first thing I noticed was how difficult it was to not like things on Facebook. As I scrolled through updates, my finger instinctively gravitated towards the Like button on hundreds of posts and comments. It has become a gut-level, Pavlovian response. I saw updates I liked or wanted others to know I liked, and I found myself almost unconsciously clicking my approval.

The Like is the wordless nod of support in a loud room. It’s the easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos. I actually felt pangs of guilt over not liking some updates, as though the absence of my particular Like would translate as a disapproval or a withholding of affection. I felt as though my ability to communicate had been somehow hobbled. The Like function has saved me so much comment-typing over the years that I likely could have written a very quippy, War-and-Peace-length novel by now.

I have experienced much the same thing myself. Clicking that “like” button has become addictive, similar to the upvote/downvote arrows over at reddit. Both these articles made me think over the nature of my participation at Facebook.

A side note: my feed is full of other things, of course – lots of promotion from people running businesses, lots of politics, and – it goes without saying – lots of kittens and Pinterest shares. But, it is worth mentioning, no advertisements – I use FB Purity, which cleans up my Facebook feed in a way that makes it tolerable to use and much less noisy and chaotic. Social Fixer accomplishes the same thing. If you’re not using one of these, I highly recommend checking them out.

As for myself, I use Facebook to share things that are important to me; ideas, feelings, issues that I feel deserve attention, and to keep in touch with those people in my life who help me move forward. The “like” button has been a quick way of exchanging “strokes,” a concept introduced by transactional analysis and defined as “a unit of recognition.” As people, we need these strokes. Those who don’t get them on a regular basis end up feeling alone and isolated; even those who are introverted by nature and prefer solitude to social interaction need this kind of recognition and contrive to get it in other ways that serve them best, including self-stroking.¹

Mr. Honan noticed that by liking everything, he disovered that

“My News Feed took on an entirely new character in a surprisingly short amount of time. After checking in and liking a bunch of stuff over the course of an hour, there were no human beings in my feed anymore. It became about brands and messaging, rather than humans with messages.”

Contrariwise, Schmutzie (Elan Morgan’s alternate pseudonym) discovered that refusing to like anything and posting meaningful comments instead resulted in the exact opposite:

“Now that I am commenting more on Facebook and not clicking Like on anything at all, my feed has relaxed and become more conversational. It’s like all the shouty attention-getters were ushered out of the room as soon as I stopped incidentally asking for those kinds of updates by using the Like function. I have not seen a single repugnant image of animal torture, been exposed to much political wingnuttery, or continued to drown under the influx of über-cuteness that liking kitten posters can bring on. (I can’t quit the kittens.)”

Yeah, I enjoy the kittens, too. But what a contrast! By not using the “Like” button, one effectively short-circuits Facebooks ad-targeting algorithm and allows a more human environment to prevail.

I can’t tell you how much I like this concept… but I’m not going to click the button.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

¹That’s not what I meant and you know it. Get your mind out of the gutter.

False memory syndrome

I recently came across a fascinating article entitled “The Reykjavik Confessions: The mystery of why six people admitted roles in two murders – when they couldn’t remember anything about the crimes.” One of my facebook friends described this piece thusly:

“If you like Nordic noir, it doesn’t come much more Nordic or more noir than this. But it turns out to be a story of what interrogations can do to people, and why they may end up admitting to crimes they never committed.”

This article resonated strongly with me, due to two experiences in the days of my youth. I still think of them with discomfort.

Polygraph simpson

When I first moved out West from the East Coast, I stayed with my grandmother before starting university. My family knew I was interested in collecting coins; at some point a keychain which featured a Morgan dollar went missing from an aunt’s house and I was immediately accused of having taken it. The pressure from family members was so intense that I, at the tender and callow age of 19 actually began to wonder if I had committed a crime and suppressed the memory. Despite my sincere protestations, my grandmother used every possible emotional club in her arsenal, and she had heavy weaponry, to get me to confess to having taken this trinket. Naturally, I knew nothing about it. Some time later, the item in question turned up in the pocket of a nail apron used by my uncle (who by this time had passed away.) My aunt was profuse in her apologies, but my grandmother never even mentioned it again, going to her grave with the idea that I was still somehow guilty of a crime that had never been committed; nary the hint of acknowledgement or apology.

The second tale involved my work for a restaurant several years later. I was working for a concern run by a partnership of two gentlemen (term used very loosely, mind you.) Despite being in a management position I was never entrusted with any financial responsibility or authority, but at some point it was announced that some money had gone missing from a safe in the restaurant (and at no time was I ever privy to the combination thereof.) I was told that everyone on the staff was being asked to take a lie detector test at the local police station. Despite the fact that this was a blatant lie, as I found out later – I was the only one who ever had to go down – I remember the experience with such distaste that it has remained with me forever after. I was “interviewed” by a lieutenant of the local police force; I’m tempted to mention his name because he was an asshole, but he’s dead now and de mortuis nil nisi bonum and all that.

I got asked all sorts of embarrassing, probing questions, many of which had nothing to do with the event they were investigating. There is no more unsettling feeling than to sit and be told that you’re a criminal, and that they know you’re a criminal, and that they’re going to find the truth no matter what it takes… when you know for certain that you are innocent and uninvolved. At the end of the procedure, Lieutenant Douchebag told me that my results were “highly deceptive,” and I went away wondering if I was going to be thrown in the clink for something I had neither done nor even ever considered. But I got a small taste of what it must be like to be interrogated in this way; I cannot imagine the emotional distress felt by the people in the above-mentioned article. A lot of them were clearly petty criminals, but they didn’t deserve to have their lives scarred and/or ruined for something they never did.

Relevant: Do Lie Detectors Work?

The lie detector can be considered a modern variant of the old technique of trial by ordeal. A suspected witch was thrown into a raging river on the premise that if she floated she was harnessing demonic powers.

The takeaway for me is that it is far too easy to put people in a situation where they feel vulnerable and powerless, and hammer away at them until they begin to doubt things they know for certain and accept things that they know nothing about. I suspect that with training, one could inoculate oneself against such techniques to a certain extent, but really, what’s the payoff for the average person who will not find themselves in such a position? Whatever the case, it’s disturbing.

The Old Wolf has spoken. Maybe.


Something Smells Rotten in Denmark… Oh Wait, it’s Danish Pastry

(Cross-posted from Livejournal entry of Oct. 12th, 2010)

♬ The sense of sight
Is what guides us right
When we go out on walks.
The sense of smell’s
The way you tell
That you need to change your socks. ♬
-Animaniacs, “The Senses”

Smell and taste are funny things. As anyone familiar with my Banquet from Hell could tell you, one man’s sweet savour is another woman’s “Jayzus Bejayzus Keep It Away!”

A lot of it’s chemical. How this molecule fits into that olfactory receptor or that taste bud. And how it all works is beyond me, given that some living creatures have noses jillionty-three times more sensitive than ours.

But it’s not all chemical. A lot of it goes on in our minds.

A case in point. One day in several years ago I walked into our bedroom, which we were keeping closed as we try to maintain it cooler than the rest of the house; at that time my mother, go ndéanai Día trocaire uirthi, was living with us, and at 94 she liked a warmer environment. I said to myself, “It smells like cat’s piss in here.” Impossible – while we now have three cats, at the time we had none, and we had been in the home for a month and a half. I racked my brain trying to figure out what was smelling so bad – it was making me ill.

And then it struck me. We had two large basil plants in the windowsill, and they were getting the benefit of full Southern exposure. The room was filled with the odor of basil. And I love basil. And as soon as my mind had identified the odor, it no longer smelled like cat pee, or repulsive in any way. Same molecules. Same smell. Just a different frame of reference, and my room smelled like an herb garden.

Pesto waiting to happen

Would it be possible to re-frame one’s mindset so that evil humours are less offensive? Butyric acid is found in puke, but it’s also found in many cheeses. Nobody appreciates a technicolor yawn in public, but if you happen to be an honest to goodness turophile, the smell of a good, authentic European cheese shop is like unto ambrosia, and the smells are astonishingly familiar.

Mind you, some things are not worth the experiment. One of the last times I drove across the country in the spring, I passed through miles and miles of the most fragrant apple orchards in bloom that I have ever seen, followed by the most pungent – and literally lung-searing – stockyards I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. I don’t think I’d like to hang around and see if I could learn to appreciate that evil miasma.

Still, it was an interesting subject to think about. And now I’m craving a portion of gamalost.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Fuchsia, Mauve, Puce, and Teal: Ain’t nobody got time for that.

… Well, at least not if you’re a guy. That’s the conventional wisdom, right?


So, conventional wisdom would dictate that if you’re a guy, you’ll score very poorly on this test:


Try it if you’re curious – it’s an interesting experiment.

I expected to fail miserably; my wife is always telling me I can’t tell the difference between red, maroon, magenta, and… what was the name of that color?

Well, as it turns out, I’m on the very high end of the perception scale. Here’s what I managed to do:


My score was 8 – the lower your score, the better you did. The highest (worst) score for my gender and age range was 1970.


And this chart shows where my weaknesses lie:


So in terms of actually being able to see differences in colors, my skills are relatively good. However, in terms of being able to name them, I think that I probably fall squarely into my wife’s expectations. Except for a few odd colors, like fuchsia,


which I happen to know because I love this particular plant, I don’t have a lot of names for colors that you don’t see in the office.

There’s not only some psychology at work here, but also some linguistic theory. The languages of some simple cultures, such as Dani, only distinguish two colors: mili for cool/dark hues such as blue, green, and black, and mola for warm/light colors such as red, yellow, and white. Now, that doesn’t mean the Dani peoples can’t see these colors, but only that they don’t have specific words for them. The sky might be “sky mili”, grass might be “soft mili,” etc.

The first color to actually break out as languages increase in sophistication is red, followed by a green/blue (grue) blend, followed by the separation of grue into green and blue. There’s a whole spectrum. One could draw some rather rude conclusions about the relative sophistication of the male brain, but I think that socially, it’s more a case of need and experience. Guys don’t need to know what color that mammoth is to bring it down; as long as you can describe the jerseys of opposing football teams, you’re golden. Ladies, on the other hand… well, you would never wear a mauve top with teal shoes, now would you? These things are important.

The Old Wolf has spoken.