Archive — Society
This interview with the civic tech leader Cyd Harrell covers interesting ground around user experience, including:
- the differences between the public and private sectors
- making privacy a priority
- avoiding “attention theft”, where we bombard users with more and more notifications
A very interesting-sounding study has analysed English language football commentary from seven broadcasters and 80 live matches.
RunRepeat ratio-adjusted its numbers to account for the fact there were 1,361 comments about lighter-skinned players and 713 about darker-skinned players and found the former group more widely praised for intelligence (62.60%), hard work (60.40%) and quality (62.79%). Commentators are also 6.59 times more likely to talk about the power of a player if he has darker skin and 3.38 times more likely to reference his pace.
The study also found that 63.33% of criticism from commentators in regards to the intelligence of a player is aimed at those with darker skin, while the figure for quality is 67.57%.
How a white woman discovered what it’s like to constantly be spuriously pulled over by the police, because she had a black dog.
One day, sitting at a restaurant having breakfast with my Dad; our old neighbor came in and said, “There’s a black man stealing your van. He’s behind the wheel right now.” I paused a minute and realized he was referring to Merlin. Bells went off.
My colleague Stewart Lamb Cromar has written about how a recent deterioration in his vision has impacted his work, and highlights the importance of our ongoing work around accessibility.
A fun analysis of the world’s banknotes, their colours and contents: who and what features on them, and where.
This is more than a month old. In terms of the coronavirus outbreak, that’s an eternity. But I still found this list of possible future scenarios interesting and thought-provoking.
It also comes with the major caveat that predicting the future is a mug’s game at the best of times, never mind during these times. This is inherently recognised in the fact that some of the predictions are contradictory.
I was particularly interested in the political, economic and sociocultural predictions. For instance, I have wondered if in the coming decades society will prioritise getting the basics right more over relentless innovation. This article suggests that may be the case, but that the shift may not last long.
The crisis may prompt a reappraisal of what society cares about most, with short-term attention focusing on the bottom of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. (This may have the effect of, for example, boosting relative status of health workers and farmers, and diminishing ‘luxury’ industries, including leisure, gaming, arts – although history suggests that this will be short-lived, and the luxury status of some goods and services may ultimately be reinforced.)
I have worried about the social and mental health effects of the lockdown measures being implemented. But even I hadn’t anticipated quite how much conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder appear to be common following quarantines.
According to a rapid review of the psychological effects of quarantines, published on March 14th in the Lancet, a British medical journal, some studies suggest that the impact of quarantines can be so severe as to result in a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder…
One study from 2009 looked at hospital employees in Beijing who in 2003 were exposed to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which, like covid-19, is caused by a coronavirus. The authors found that, three years later, having been quarantined was a predictor of post-traumatic-stress symptoms. Another study… found that the mean post-traumatic-stress scores were four times higher in children who had been isolated.
Elsewhere, the article highlights as a problem the fact that 67% of 18–34-year-olds are finding it hard to remain upbeat. But I’m more concerned about those who are managing to be upbeat among all this madness.
The effects of coronavirus and the lockdown on people with mental health conditions.
I fear that when this pandemic is over, the actual death toll will number far higher than those whose deaths were directly caused by Covid-19. I foresee a mental health crisis with no resources left to deal with it.
Note — 2020-03-18
I’m in Ikea, where lots of people are buying emergency desks.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the World Wide Web, so there’s been a lot of pixels spilled on “the initial promises of the web”—one of which was the idea that you could select “view source” on any page and easily teach yourself what went into making it display like that.
This article makes a great point about how this promise only truly works if you can speak English.
The process described above is exactly how I learned HTML. The fact that I would have to use “color” instead of “colour” is a mildly amusing inconvenience. I hadn’t really considered before how it must feel if you don’t speak any English.
I don’t speak Russian, and assuming you don’t either, does <заголовок> and <заглавие> and <тело> and <п> still feel like something you want to tinker with?
How Bart Simpson explains how we got into this mess.
If you give someone a joke option, they will take it.
This articulates something I’ve been pondering for a while. Is the current political climate the result of a gradual erosion of the unwritten rules of civil society?
It turns out that the Civil Society in Britain is built on very shaky foundations. In the past few months we have seen the illegal suspension of Parliament, an act that carried no consequences whatsoever; we have seen Civil Servants bullied out of their jobs by politicians who were then rewarded for their harassment by promotion and increased status; we have seen the government spend £100s of millions on trying to deny the consequences of its own policy on Brexit and, in doing so, do possibly irreparable damage to the global reputation of the UK.
The post also makes an interesting point about how the BBC covers the UK in a way that assumes it is a stable democracy, and turns a blind eye to developments that would see other countries being scrutinised heavily.
Leaders in the past were guided by a strong sense of right and wrong — doing what’s right in the name of stability. Those days are now gone.
Town planners in the mid-20th century faced a big problem. The advent of the motor car brought increased congestion and safety risks. Planners wrongly thought that separating pedestrians and vehicles on different levels was the solution. If you know where to look, you can still see remnants of this thinking. Read full articleComment
It has long been known that being kind to others makes you feel good and can improve your mental health. Now it seems there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that it can increase your life expectancy.
“Living with people who treat you, at best, with disregard or a lack of concern, and at worst with open hostility, is bad for you. It shortens your life, quite literally,” [Daniel Fessler] says.
“Conversely, both receiving kindness from others, and providing kindness, both of those things are the antithesis of this toxic stress situation. And they’re good for you.”
In the wake of Johann Zarco’s request to be released from his contract with KTM, Mat Oxley uncovers a side of MotoGP riders not often talked about.
Do MotoGP riders — surely some of the strongest people on Earth — get depressed? Of course they do! Motorcycle racing may be a macho game, but machismo never stopped anyone getting depressed, quite the opposite, in fact.
It’s also fascinating to see Valentino Rossi talking so openly about his mental health issues when he raced for Ducati.
On the campaign to remove — or make less prominent — walls of portraits of old white men from academia’s past.
“It just sends the message, every day when you walk by it, that science consists of old white men,” says [neuroscientist Leslie] Vosshall. “I think every institution needs to go out into the hallway and ask, ‘What kind of message are we sending with these oil portraits and dusty old photographs?'”
While defenders of dude walls warn of erasing history, the counterpoint is powerful:
…some argue that the old portraits themselves have erased history, by glorifying white men who hold power while ignoring the contributions to science and medicine made by women and people of colour.
Celebrations of individuals in this way always make me wary. It seems to be particularly common in higher education, where awards and buildings are routinely named after white males.
But very few breakthroughs are truly the work of a single individual. The people honoured in this way are likely the people most adept at taking all the credit for other people’s work.
This piece builds on the idea that there is no such thing as neutral data, and combines it with the fact that humans are naturally drawn towards stories.
The problem is, data isn’t simple or neutral or even factual. The best data needs explanatory stories. The human mind is a story processor, and to understand something is to know a good story about it.
An excellent piece on the damage caused by conflating bad behaviour with mental ill health.
Conflating mental illness with cruelty adds to the stigma of mental illness…
Excusing horrible behaviour for a mental disorder makes it seem as though being horrible is the norm for people with mental illness. And that’s not okay.
A song I heard on the radio this week that made my ears prick up. I wasn’t previously aware of Richard Dawson. But this is a brilliant song — dark, funny, meaningful, relatable, of our time. Once again I’m beginning to think that the most interesting music is actually coming from rock music for a change. Consider the album pre-ordered.
A very good piece about why fears around grade inflation and the like are spurious. Even if everyone meets high standards, people continue to call for the standards to be made higher still. Moreover, people exhibit a damaging compulsion to rank.
But boy, do we love to rank. Worse, we create artificial scarcity such as awards — distinctions manufactured out of thin air specifically so that some cannot get them. Every contest involves the invention of a desired status where none existed before and none needs to exist. This creates an adversarial mentality that makes productive collaboration less likely, encourages gaming the system, and leads all concerned to focus not on meaningful improvement but on trying to outdo (and perhaps undermine) everyone else.
It has been found that having a conscientious spouse helps lead to an increase in income, number of promotions and job satisfaction. Why?
First, conscientious spouses handle a lot of household tasks, freeing employees to concentrate on work (“When you can depend on someone, it takes pressure off of you,” Solomon told me).
Or, put another way, if someone else is doing all the dirty work at home, it gives you the privilege to focus on your career.
I wonder if there’s research to say what the effect is if both people in a relationship share household duties equally. Hopefully if both partners are conscientious, both feel the benefits in their careers.
Support each other. Teamwork! 🐌🐢
You can support your spouse in supporting you. If you depend on his or her reliability, diligence, and goal orientation, don’t take those traits for granted. Maybe you’ve been standing heroically at the bow for so long that you’ve forgotten how much effort it takes to row. So sit down and row for a while.
Photo — 2019-07-31
Narrator: These toilets are not regularly inspected.
Dries Buytaert makes a very good point here. Time is the scarcest resource we have. This is making open source a closed shop.
Today, I’ve come to understand that inequality makes it difficult for underrepresented groups to have the “free time” it takes to contribute to Open Source.
He suggests some ways open source communities could take action on this.
Overall, being kinder, more patient and more supportive to others could go a long way in welcoming more people to Open Source.
The culture of coding seems nasty generally. I’m not sure if it’s specifically a problem with open source as opposed to developers generally.
But I always found it odd how unwelcoming, patronising and generally unhelpful people in open source communities (such as WordPress support forums) can sometimes be. Sometimes it doesn’t seem very open at all.
An interesting experiment to place pedestrian crossing signals on the ground, “where everyone is already looking”. The Netherlands seems to be the place for experimental road safety design (see also: the squareabout).
This has got to be an improvement on the modern fad of placing pedestrian crossing signals at chest height to the side, where they simply get blocked by other people, rather than across the road where everyone can see it.
An incredible set of photographs documenting life around Birmingham’s Bull Ring shopping centre, its decline, demolition, and rebirth.
Stop talking about testosterone — there’s no such thing as a ‘true sex’ — Katrina Karkazis, the Guardian
A reminder that this is way more complicated than many people would like you to believe.
Note — 2019-01-06
It’s 10 years since Woolworths closed down. I worked there at the time. To this day, the whole experience is among the most surreal of my life.
At the time, I wrote a lengthy series of blog posts detailing my own story of the goings-on around the failure of one of Britain’s most iconic businesses.
Being on the shop floor while a British institution collapsed around me taught me a bit about business. But it taught me a lot about people. Enjoy this look back.
(These used to be linked to each other using a WordPress plugin, but these were lost during a migration — so here they all are.)
- Woolworths: The curiously British US-based company
- Woolworths as it was known and loved, and neglected
- Woolworths: Childhood memories and adult gripes
- It wasn’t just the credit crunch
- The blunder of Woolworths
- Identity crisis
- The beginning of the end
- The nasty side of human nature
- Woolworths: Final thoughts and wrapping up
For more on Woolworths 10 years on from its collapse, check out Graham Soult’s excellent report.
I’ve become obsessed with this song. It contains an important message that is beginning to be heard, but still needs to be heard more widely. This is a song for now.
Discovering Idles has felt a bit like discovering Pulp when they released Common People. Although 9-year-old me didn’t really understand what appealed to me about Pulp, now I think I do. Distinctive-sounding music, yes. But also lyrics that are interesting (a rarity in and of itself), and important, and for right now.
The first time I knowingly heard Idles it was when another song was played on the radio in the morning, Great. I remember sitting up in my bed, astonished at the lyrics. You don’t often hear songs that are so political, especially ones that actually hit the nail on the head — and say what I would want to say, but so much better.
Thoughts on vulnerability
This is a really enlightening and enjoyable article about how vulnerability can sometimes be a strength.
What I’ve realized is that sometimes being vulnerable is a really powerful feeling, like being bilingual: being present and making clear decisions in a meeting while rocking a baby, or confidently stopping someone mid-presentation to ask what an acronym means. Or having my waters break and calmly finishing a meeting. Like, that’s bad-ass, right?
But what struck me most about this article was the point about how a thoughtless office space design in a less-than-diverse workplace created an unforeseen problem for a woman who needed a little privacy.
Adding value, by adding values
Ben Terrett from Public Digital has written something similar to I tried to write last week about designing for society, not just for individuals. Of course, this is much clearer and more succinct than (and written before) mine.
To illustrate the point, the article uses the example of an electric scooter hire scheme in San Francisco:
This is a service where every detail has been designed for the user. It’s unbelievably convenient—for the user alone, and no-one else.
The downside is streets swamped with dumped scooters. There’s nowhere “official” to put them, so like me, no-one knows what to do with a scooter once they’ve finished using it. They just get dumped anywhere.
These scooters are absolutely meeting a user need, but at the expense of a societal need.
Keeping it weird
Or, more accurately, stopping it being weird. This refers to the problem that most psychology research is conducted on people that are western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic.
Tim Kadlec considers the implication this has on our understanding of how people use the web.
We’ve known for a while that the worldwide web was becoming increasingly that: worldwide. As we try to reach people in different parts of the globe with very different daily realities, we have to be willing to rethink our assumptions. We have to be willing to revisit our research and findings with fresh eyes so that we can see what holds true, what doesn’t, and where.
Tim Wu wonders why some people say they don’t have any hobbies.
Yes, I know: We are all so very busy. Between work and family and social obligations, where are we supposed to find the time?
But there’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time.
It’s a fascinating point, although I’m not sure what I think of it yet. I don’t derive much enjoyment out of being bad at something. Why would I pursue it?
If anything, I probably think the opposite to Tim Wu. There are many people out there struggling away at hobbies, perhaps dreaming big, only to be ultimately frustrated. These people might be better off quitting.
About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32%) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44% correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26% among those ages 50 and older.
I find this a bit weird, because knowing a fact from an opinion is quite a basic and fundamental concept that was drilled into us at school. Perhaps older generations were not taught this. That would certainly explain a few things.
Lottery math is human math
The BBC Domesday Project
A fascinating long article on the BBC Domesday Project from 1986. This huge project celebrated the 900th anniversary of the Domesday book, with an ambitious modern-day take on documenting all of Britain.
The technology was so unique that became obsolete almost immediately. It required a special LaserDisc player connected to a BBC Master computer with a special controller. The price tag put it out of reach of almost everyone, even schools and libraries.
It’s a prime example of the challenges of digital preservation.
Moreover, copyright issues — as well as the sheer volume of content — have raised questions over whether some the content could ever be used again. It is certainly difficult to replicate the original experience (although a few YouTube videos give a flavour).
This article goes into some of the thinking behind the technology decisions, and makes a valiant case that the Domesday Project is not a failure, as some like to think of it.
Distracted driving — UX’s responsibility to do no harm
More on the need for (UX) designers to consider ethics in everything they do.
I urge you to consider your own design priorities and choices in the same way that responsible physicians do when they take the Hippocratic Oath, saying “first, do no harm.” So, I ask the UX community at large: what is an equivalent code of ethics for our discipline?
How good is “good”?
YouGov asked people to rate how positive and negative certain expressions are.
Warning: Contains pretty charts.
As it turns out, “good” and “bad” are not exactly mirrors of one another on the scale. Bad has an average score of 2.60, meaning its mirror equivalent on the scale ought to score 7.40. “Good”, by contrast, scores a 6.92.
This situation remains the case for the other examples where “good” and “bad” are used: “pretty good”, “really good” and “very good” are seen less positively than they should be to truly mirror “pretty bad”, “really bad” and “very bad”.
From the collection: Blissymbolics
The story of a utopian attempt to introduce a universal pictographic writing system, Blissymbolics.
It is a noble but unrealistic idea that seems typically mid-century, and it’s unimaginable that it would fly today. Not that Blissymbolics flew either. It reminds me of Esperanto.
Even in this brief article that contains a few examples of Blissymbolics, many of the explanations seem rather tenuous. My favourite is stick (“linear thing + tree”). Or perhaps branch, which is a division symbol next to the tree symbol (“part (of) + tree”).
I also wonder how skewed by western culture Blissymbolics is, and if it could genuinely be said to be universal.
Somehow we missed it
More on the hard work designers need to do to ensure they have a positive impact on society.
To create a platform designed to connect millions of people and not imagine its potential misuses is wilful blindness. When we imagine and design and build tools and technologies and platforms and services it’s as important, perhaps more important to ask ‘how might this be misused’ as it is to ask ‘how might this be used’.
The carrot is not important — Chasing it is
Two related posts from Jason Kottke.
I think I fall into the camp of people who don’t want or need a goal. Alex once astutely pointed out that I will set myself a goal, then work towards it, and once I reach my goal, I stop.
I tell myself that it’s harder to cycle in winter, and Pedal for Scotland happens to fall at the point in the year where it’s getting darker in the evenings. But perhaps that’s just an excuse. I plan to start running and doing other forms of exercise to make sure I keep fit in winter as well.
Anyway, the point is, perhaps a goal is useless if you think of it as the only point. I love this idea — that chasing the carrot is more important than the carrot itself.
5 thoughts on self-help
I have never read what I would think of as a self-help book. I’m sceptical of them. But at the same time I am interested in self-improvement. Or at least, keeping check on yourself and learning generally, which I guess is a form of self-help.
In this article, Austin Kleon points out that:
…the problem with self-help today is that it has returned to the very quick-fix pseudoscientific snake-oil cures that [the first self-help book, written by Samuel] Smiles (what a perfect name) was reacting to…
I would argue that this isn’t necessarily just a problem for the self-help genre either. I am inherently wary of anything that claims to provide a one-size-fits-all silver bullet solution. Because it’s bound to be more complicated than that.
One of the worst things that self-help can do is convince you that you as an individual are to blame for all of your problems, and that if you’re struggling it’s just because you aren’t making the right moves.
Worst of all, some self-help books imply that if the book fails to help you, it’s not the book’s fault, it’s yours.
Designers are defining usability too narrowly
Another call on designers to think more widely when they are working on digital products. Khoi Vinh saw a Nielsen Norman Group report on best practice on websites aimed at children — but he felt the report focused too narrowly on usability.
I don’t dispute the findings at all. But it’s disturbing that the report focuses exclusively on usability recommendations, on the executional aspect of creating digital products for kids. There’s not a single line, much less a section, that cares to examine how design impacts the well-being of children…
We’re moving past the stage in the evolution of our craft when we can safely consider its practice to be neutral, to be without inherent virtue or without inherent vice. At some point, making it easier and easier to pull the handle on a slot machine reflects on the intentions of the designer of that experience.
It’s not just you, everything looks the same on Instagram
If it seems when you scroll through your feed that everything looks similar, that’s probably because it is. That artfully constructed shot of your latté and avocado toast brunch? The shot of your feet dangling over the edge of a waterfall? You in the back of a canoe?
It’s been done before. To death.
I’m still not missing Instagram.
Designing Google Maps for motorbikes
Some nice work from Google Maps on how they immersed themselves in their users’ world to understand how to improve Google Maps for motorbike users in places like Delhi and Jakarta.
The research team included engineers, UX designers, product managers, and marketing leads, all from different parts of the world. We met with two-wheeler drivers from Jaipur, Delhi, Bangalore, and Jakarta, in environments from bustling transportation hubs to kitchen tables in people’s homes. Our intention was to understand and relate to people in a way that felt authentic — we wanted to learn through immersion.