Tag Archives: facebook

Unbaby Almost

About a month ago I was tickled to discover Unbaby.me, a plugin for Facebook that attempts to detect pictures of babies and replace them with an image feed of your choosing. It’s a neat idea, but the system fails on two accounts:

1) It traces words and phrases like “OMG SO CUTE!!! 🙂 🙂 :)” to determine if a picture is likely a baby. This takes out small furry animals as collateral damage, which I’m actually okay with, and also sometimes pictures of people. Sorry Ashley Bradarich, you’re still a celebrity but I love you for it. Your devil-angel photo is certainly TOO CUTE FOR WORDS HOLY GAWDS!!1!.

2) I set mine to relay the amazing website designs image feed on DeviantArt but since people there don’t understand what categories are I get results like the following:

See, this is my kind of information science. IR can be so much more fun than convoluted math equations.

Common First Names

Many people have noticed I sometimes give people (or characters) strange (occasionally funny) nicknames. Well here’s to some justification, straight from Wolfram Alpha’s analysis of several thousand Facebook friends – common names:

Laura/Lauren 26
Sarah 19
Liz/Elizabeth 17
Katie/Katherine 16
Emily 13

Chris/Christopher 19
Mike/Michael 19
John 16
Matt/Matthew 16
Ben/Benjamin 14
Dan/Daniel 14
Dave/David 13
Brian 13

So, chances are if you have one of these names I’m probably going to have to make something more unique up for you. Sorry!

Excitment Refresh (Facebook has ruined romance)

So I had the chance to go visit an amazing childhood friend tonight and we hung out talking… he’s probably one of only 3 or 4 people in the Universe that I can do that with – sit down without food or activity at hand and talk with endlessly, it’s a comfort I’ve learned to cherish. Anyway as we were talking the topic came to his excited interest in a girl he’s met in the Quaker group he belongs to who sounds unreasonably cool (she wrote a book! and has a had a really interesting and deviant life). He was thinking about telling her that he’d like to see her outside of a Quaker meeting sometime, etc… effectively ask her out. As we were talking I brought up the possibility that she could be seeing someone already, and Tom had thought about it but didn’t know. But what I remember most is just how joyful he was about the excited possibility of a person he likes – an opportunity, a connection, a thrill, the prospect of so much happiness!

I didn’t know this sort of thing still happened these days. First off, I really, really (and I mean really) miss the days when I could actually ask a girl out. Not that I’m afraid to or unable to (well okay I’m seeing someone so it’d be downright unethical, but that’s not the point here), it’s that I’ve learned to get better at it. I liked the days when it would be the moment where you felt as if you had just jumped off the high dive (or off the 40 ft ledge canyoning) and didn’t know what was going to happen. Pure concentrate excitement, anxiety, thrill, joy, all mixed together.

Now-a-days the procedure is different. First off, directly asking a girl out is against the rules. I know not literally but there does seem to be a social norm established, it’s creepy to be that up front with someone, unless you’re some dashing lad who plays basketball or sings acappella. I’ve had individual women argue that this is different for them but my observation is that on the whole it’s not cool by most women’s standards. Most girls will shit a brick and desperately find an excuse to dodge you, quite visibly so if you do it in person. So what do we do? Trickery, step-by-step:

1) Find the person on Facebook, see if they’re single. No mystery in this regard anymore, and in fact I miss it so because it gives a false sense of permanency. People are no longer a questionable option – if you see they’re dating on Facebook then you’re ethically obligated to stay the fuck away.
2) Invite them to an event with mutual friends or a large scale public activity that’s little 1-on-1 face time or pressure. Talk to them a little more than might be out of the ordinary at this event but without really revealing your interest, for if you do they will shit a brick and you’ll be back to square one.
3) Find them on AIM (or Facebook or Gchat or whatever) and start talking to them about a common subject (question about class, their opinion on something non-political, etc…) and eventually evolve the conversation into something more meaningful.
4) Ask them out to a non-threatening activity, most common is lunch or coffee, but more creative versions in my past have been skating around with Inline Insomniacs or going to build a puzzle together at the library.
5) Rince and repeat the above until you’re fairly brick-proof and then you might think about actually asking them out on a real date. Maybe.

And honestly, I think this system flat-out sucks. I used to say fuck it and was bold and asked girls out and tried not to be dodgy. But it resulted in an endless stream of rejections and let-downs and a lot of depression. So after a while of that I tried various remixes of the misdirection bullshit game above and had a lot of success. My current relationship is actually as a result of this sort of thing, and I’m not particularly proud of it.

As happy as I am for Tom to have found a girl mystery and a new source of hope, I’m still sick and tired of a world where only guys ask out girls and being forward and honest with one another is considered creepy, not compassionate.

I really do like Facebook – on the whole – I like that it presents us a whole new level of information. But really I think it’s inadvertently helped to perpetuate this potentially sexist norm and a lot of passive or indirect type behavior. The thrill of discovering someone through asking them out on a date is immediately diminished from the get-go simply because you already start off knowing if they’re available. Sure you avoid the embarrassment of asking someone out that is in a relationship, but you also avoid the flattery, the excitement and dammit I fucking like getting reamed once a while it helps me remember I’m alive. It makes the times that it does work out all the more worth it and I’ve learned to respect the people who can look you in the eye and actually say no. We don’t feel comfortable asking a person out until we check them out on this twisted social ecology. Girls use it as a defensive mechanism to keep guys away from them, in fact – mark their relationship status and suddenly they can feel safe. I mean hell we even somehow declare a relationship real when it’s hetero and on Facebook (nevermind the LGBT discrimination here, or the age-plurality complex).

So a lot of complaining about passive women and gender roles, I know, my usual, right? This might be my best unsung argument for denouncing Facebook yet, is that it helped to keep dating dishonest, indirect and introvert.

Maybe someday we’ll see a gender-equality universe where women are just as likely to ask out men as vice versa and Facebook won’t be the biggest cock-block in town… I’ll hedge my bets with the LGBT rights movement.

Signing out for the night, positivity will return later, I swear.

Facebook Friends, False Connections and Social Norms

I noticed a friend ‘defriended’ me the other day on Facebook, which normally wouldn’t be a hugely new or life-shattering event… except that this person happened to be someone who I really like and used to be really close to. It’s not uncommon to lose weak contacts like people I knew in classes or back in high school (with a friends list as big as mine I’ve actually noticed if I make small changes to my profile like politics or relationship status I can lose friends), but this one was different. We had some falling out somewhere over the digital medium in semi-recent history and it got me all upset and thinking about how the act of severing a connection on Facebook could really be a strong statement, especially when they’re far away and FB might be the only viable connection you have to them anymore.

I mean we talk about stalking and whatnot on Facebook but I’ve noticed that many people have a small group of people that they like to watch from afar on Facebook. Maybe that person doesn’t really know them very well or they’re afraid of being confrontational or they don’t even like them that much but they’re interesting – it’s nice to follow their life without having to become directly involved in it. It’s a fake connection though, created by the technology and not by the actual relationship you have with the person.

Anyway a friend of mine noticed and empathized with me because she had been recently defriended too – but by someone she sees occasionally in person. She had no idea why but was worried if there was some sort of problem she didn’t know about. It’s an awfully passive-aggressive way to indicate to someone that you don’t like them. We got to talking about the messages such an action might send and I concluded that hers wasn’t a legitimate concern because the person who defriended her was older (think 40’s) and not a ‘Facebook native’ and therefore couldn’t possibly understand what message he sent her with such an action. My friend, however, I felt definitely knew what kind of damage she would do.

But as I later came to understand, that may not actually be all that accurate. As more people from different countries, generations, and life experiences join Facebook they bring with them new ways of understanding it as a social environment and communication tool. And that includes the meaning of ‘defriending’ – just like society at large Facebook is probably developing a plurality of social norms. Some people take it more seriously and find it more meaningful than others and there may be some variance in immerse (everyday cognizant) use. I still do think that this correlates with age closely but much like the notion of digital natives it’s probably much more of a population than a generation.

The bigger question is what to do about the people who don’t agree to the social contracts and norms established by the youth population who made Facebook huge. How do we get everyone on the same page?

My friend, by the way, did eventually talk to the person who defriended her and figured out it was more done on accident and not intended as an aggressive move. I probably won’t ever hear from the person who dropped me again…

Real Research, Silly Statistics, and an Enabler

So I suppose it’s a sign that I’ve managed to get myself knee deep in graduate school: I’m starting to do my own research.  It’s funny, despite the fact I teach a class on research methods I’m quickly finding out how little I really know about real research process.  Two methods courses and a statistics class notwithstanding none of my experience has been literal real world graduate caliber research.  I learn so much by application – I wish I could see how professors do their own research.  So as it stands I’m doing a lot of mimicking what books tell me and what I can discern are proper methods.  In less classier words, fake it until you [hope to] make it.  Thank God I found some help in an unexpected place: Survey Methods instructor Jane Burris.

I’ve begun to gather my own data for the Facebook project, with a formal DMI 1100 student random sampling and IRB’s blessing and all that jazz, and like any good researcher I of course find a couple hundred million questions I want to ask after my survey is released into the wild.  I made an ultimate newbie mistake too – turns out the ambiguous category on the form builder labeled “number of responses allowed” doesn’t pertain to individual respondents but how many people can respond to your survey period.  Cleared that one up this past week, I’m praying it doesn’t mar my response rate too badly.  The UIUC form builder is insufficient to perform real survey functions – it doesn’t support skip logic, use of visual aids, or partial response records.  In order to perform research at UIUC we have to use it, though.  The 20$ subscription to Survey Monkey for my convenience sample my senior year was leagues better, you’d think the university could afford something superior.  I know, I know, it’s probably like one LAS social science IT guy who gets tasked with that and 1800 other things.  So make it an assignment in a CS class, problem solved.

Here’s the interesting part to me, though.  I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this research if I didn’t happen to take a flexible methods course this semester with an amazingly helpful instructor: Jane Burris.  Not only is Jane not officially in sociology, but she doesn’t have any formal professorship standing – and she’s the best methods instructor I’ve had to date.  Why?  She guides the advanced students through whatever research they wish to do.  No contrived artificial projects on far away unrelated countries or pretend ethnographies on environments we all know too well – I was told to design my own survey, collect my own data, and work to analyze it for an eventual publication!  No other class in Sociology (that I know of) offers that kind of opportunity.  Thanks to Jane I’ve been able to not only start the Facebook Project, but start it with a little confidence about my methods.

There are drawbacks though.  I never really learned statistics. I mean sure, I can tell you about how to use and interpret a few statistical significance tests or even a little bit about linear or logarithmic regression.  But I have absolutely no idea how to employ which statistical tests to my own data.  In class we were taught the mechanics of a test, how to interpret the results – but not how and when to use it!  I’ve picked up some basics from the crosstabs and Pearon’s Chi-square material I teach in 380, but I want to know when I should isolate specific variables to determine a causal factor.  If I’m studying social capital and have all of these substantively defined concepts and conceptualized variables to represent this, how then do I take a statistics test and say something about them?  I’m not just talking oh look the median number of friends on Facebook – I’m talking about controlling for race and year in school to identify if gender alone significantly impacts the ways Facebook is used as a supplement to social capital!  We’re talking many variables that all intersect that I don’t know how to relate to one another with statistics in meaningful ways.  So enough complaining, I just wanted to give examples.  I’m hoping I can find a class or an individual who can tell me that Cronbach’s alpha would best illustrate the connections between my matrix of Facebook usage variables to say, perceptions on digital privacy.  So that is, designing a plan of analysis for my data.  I can coax a computer into doing the thuckethead statistics for me and check with a book to see what the results mean in technical terms.

A happy conclusion?  Jane has offered to help me sort through my data this summer.  I’m looking forward to seeing what results!