social commentary tech gripes

Daring or Dangerous?

This is the last lost draft I’m dredging up to publish. (it’s not that old)

I’ve been involved with computers for a long time. And have picked up a lot of bits of knowledge about a lot of things along the way. Human psychology seems to pervade most industries and affect how they work – computers are similar in that every industry that adopts them changes forever in ways incomprehensible to those who were in it before.

I’ve been in the position of deciding whether or not I wanted to allow public postings on sites I manage and am therefore legally responsible for. And I’ve watched as sites such as Napster, YouTube, and Facebook took decisions opposite to what I’d make regarding open-ness and allowing the public to decide on the content.

It appears that the credo of ‘move fast and break things’ that Facebook had works to grow your business enormously. Leaving the inevitable work to rein in rampant abuse to a time down the road when you’re better equipped financially and experiential-ly to deal with it.

It also appears that the problem with (not) actually doing it that way is also a human psychology one – by the time you’re in a position to need to do something about it you’re focused on other things like growth, marketing, trying to please the investors, trying to appear your best for your IPO.

So the hard work on these issues that needs to get done gets short shrift.

Being tech companies they all seem to think that they can throw tech resources at it to manage the problem better. Better Data to make Better Decisions and Plans. Meaning more code to monitor and analyze human / system interactions. And lately that means an AI.

If you become embroiled in a dispute on YouTube or Amazon you find yourself in a system that doesn’t appear to care that you’re an honest producer / seller / broker because you almost never get to hear from a human. The system can be gamed by those who know how its done and that can be painful for those victims who don’t.

For some reason they seem to be averse to actually deploying more people to handling people problems. Possibly because they are technology oriented rather than people oriented. Even the vanguard ‘social network’ Facebook appears to be using humans in ways that make them appear like replaceable modules. By that I mean they took a while to get around to deploying more humans to monitor content and then didn’t back those staff up with proper support for when they suffered repercussions from what they were exposed to in their jobs.

This article in the Verge “Prime and Punishment” shows how the online marketplace that is Amazon has evolved into a nasty jungle rife with dirty dealing denizens if you’re a seller.

Rivals can engage in dirty tricks, various versions of identity theft of your trademark, product or company name and it can cost you lots of time, money and anguish to fix something that a half hour conversation with a human being could solve.

Considering that this anguish might entail a number of people who work for you losing their jobs and you losing your company this behaviour is problematic at best and dangerous at worst.

If this was a government people could petition to get things changed. They could express their displeasure at the voting booths. Politicians would be bending over backwards to let voters know that they will not stand for this and will do their best to fix it.

Because it’s a commercial concern there’s not much that can be done. You can bitch and complain to Amazon but until a human being hears your plea nothing will get done. Just having reached a human is still not enough to get things changed however. To do that you’d have to get someone high up, like Jeff Bezos, to make changes happen. From everything I’ve heard about Jeff he’s not all that inclined to get involved with human beings with problems. And that’s not likely to change until something comes along that does listen to humans and threatens Amazon’s monopolistic position in the online marketplace.

So don’t hold your breath . . . until that happens you have to daring to bet your future on the dangerous marketplace that Amazon has become. And if you’re thinking of ever running for public office you have to be wary of being daring in your public postings and comments because those have a dangerous way of coming home to roost later on when you least expect them.

social commentary

Maybe Clothes Make The Cop

I came across this interesting article in ScienceDaily today.

It appears that simply putting on a Police Uniform (the type that they wear in most places in the USA and Canada) changes your perception of others at a level you have no control over.

Your psychological makeup and experience affects your perception of other people. Negative experiences with members of visually identifiable groups will leave you with a bad feeling and that will be associated with members of that group. Exposure to negative stereotypes without counter examples or counter experiences will also likely taint your feelings about whatever group it is. That’s life.

But what happens when your role, your job, requires that you actively partition those you see into ‘threats’ and ‘non-threats’ to society? There’s implied and explicit commitments and responsibilities to evaluate others in a way you wouldn’t if you didn’t have that job.

The study showed that once you don the uniform of a police officer there’s an automatic shift in bias towards individuals who appear to be from one of the lower social status groups. And it’s not the way many would expect. Given pictures of people from two racial groups, blacks and whites, in two types of clothing, business attire and hoodies, they found that it’s people’s clothing, the hoody, that distracts the people wearing the police uniforms the most. Not their skin colour. Of course the study was done at a Canadian university and they aren’t sure if the results would be different in an American university.

It leaves me wondering about follow on studies of people wearing different garb from different social status levels and how their perceptions of others, especially uniformed police, is affected. But knowing if there’s a detectable effect in perceived class differences would also be interesting to know.

One easy take away: If you’re doing the journalist job and going to cover what may turn into a protest DO NOT wear a hoody. Or whatever you think the cops will think the ‘problem individuals in the crowd’ look like.