15 May Weekly Brain Food – May 15, 2016
A selection of stories shaping our brains this week
Of Course Facebook is Biased. That’s How Tech Works Today
Facebook found itself in hot water this week, as the US Senate Commerce Committee, responding to a Gizmodo article alleging political bias, asked the social network to explain the process behind its Trending Topics. The company denies any explicit bias, but as these Trending Topics have been revealed to be curated by journalists and not (just) the company’s algorithms.
It sparked a wide-ranging debate, related to the company and its practices, but also the broader tech and news industry. Large media and tech companies like Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Apple have founders and large shareholders that are politically active much like their corporate titan predecessors.
The companies are also Silicon Valley/San Francisco-based, drawing their talent from highly liberal environs. Every company run by humans will have its set of biases. But as Facebook moves more into news publishing, calls for it to have public editorial guidelines will intensify. One thing it does have going for it is an organizational commitment to understanding and managing bias, and in true Facebook fashion, they’ve opened up this discussion for all to contribute.
Full story here
Pixar’s Secret to Nailing It
KaptainKristian, a film essayist, dissects the reason animation studio Pixar has had so many hits. Yes, the studio is full of immensely talented animators, and the detail with which they execute keeps getting better with every subsequent hit release. But the fundamental reason behind its exceptional movies is answering a simple set of questions that can be boiled down to: Why must we tell this story?
What Makes a Story Relatable? is KaptainKristian’s take on Pixar’s strategy, and in just five minutes, he does a wonderful job of encapsulating the differences between a Disney story and a Pixar story, particularly in the articulation of what makes a relatable villain. It’s likely to change your mind about Toy Story, and further acknowledge the brilliance of Pixar.
Full story here
Film essay here
Why You Secretly Hate Cool Bars
Cover charges, queues, muscling your way to get a drink only to have the crowd collectively elbow it all over you – “cool bars” are mostly terrible. So why do we continue to frequent them?
Without explicitly saying so, the author of this funny article points to the importance of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias in this continued behaviour. Cognitive dissonance refers to a state of having inconsistent thoughts beliefs or attitudes, particularly pertaining to behaviours or decisions. We say we hate cool bars, but go anyway. Confirmation bias is the tendency to view new facts as supporting one’s existing beliefs “there’s a line up outside, it must be cool and desirable” (popular brunch spots feature the same bias).
A more contemporary behavioural trait, a sort of combination of the two – FOMO – contends that only by involvement can we truly understand what we would have missed out on.
Remember these the next time popular brunch spots or “cool bars” are on the table. And dazzle your friends with your expert behavioural science knowledge while you secretly wonder how great a time everyone’s having at the club without you.
Full story here
Press Amazon’s IRL Button To Call a Cab, Brew Coffee or Whatever
The objective of tech companies for many years has been collapsing the time and distance between demand and satiation of that demand. Mobile wallets, one-click check outs, and on-demand everything – from transportation to entertainment – are all steps in this direction.
A huge driver of this has been Amazon. The e-tailer conquered web commerce, and continues to revolutionize the industry with drone delivery and even a recently launched video service that pundits are calling a competitive threat to Youtube.
In that same vein, behold the Amazon IRL button. For the uninitiated, IRL (In Real Life) button is Amazon’s means to ensure you’re never out of stock for anything. Ever. It’s a web-connected button that you’d stick anywhere you store a given product (say, toilet paper, rice, or beer). When the product is running low, you press the button and a re-up is automatically ordered.
One thing Amazon haven’t quite figured out, though, is how to work the IRL button on their IRL buttons – just 4 hours after this Wired article was published, Amazon had removed the pricing and availability date of their button, with their CTO tweeting that they’d already sold out.
Full story here
Image cred: Pixar