My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Autistic Social Software

At Supernova, i gave a talk entitled “Autistic Social Software.” For those who couldn’t attend, i uploaded a crib of my talk. The premise of this talk emerged from my post from MPD to Asperger’s.

I reflected on the connection between sociable media, science fiction’s human psychology and the mainstream media discussion around mental illness. I also discuss why it is essential for developers to understand what their (potential) users do. Finally, i channel Douglas Adams’ How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet.

It’s an imperfect talk, but i’d love feedback.

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14 comments to Autistic Social Software

  • stefanos

    problem is that persons who have autism, have autism from birth: i do not believe the media, nor social software can cause this illness. that the brain may change in its architecture and synapse connectivity patterns,this has been shown with antidepressents (elizabeth gould’s work down in princton {there is a great new yorker article on this from june 24 2001 or 2002). Brains that are socially stimulated are more robust: in my patient cohort, it is stimulation that prevents mental deteriation. Autism is a more complex illess and is just the way the brain is wired. kana vs kanji language comes to mind. patients with autism, can converse via characters on a page or screen and create syntax ( these are the more severe cases.) that the brain can hypertrophy in the visual cortext with light stimulation is steve mann’s life experiment and validation of the stratton experiments. also there is interesting insights from Hubel and Weisel (nobel prize winners for work in neuroanatomy/physiology.)

    danah, your work also hits on the gender gap in perception: and hence the hormonal influence on how the brain is wired.

    but can we cause people to have multi personality disorder?

    let me sleep on this question and re read your lecture notes.

    stef

  • stefanos

    its kind of like what McCluhan wrote about how the media changes us without realizing: its just now that language is becoming part of extended selves

  • Furniture that smarts

    Everytime I wait for my luggage at an airport, I wonder about the ubiquitous Smarte Cartes. What makes them so

  • stefanos

    i agree with s… from the prior blog entries: MPD is kind of a post traumatic stress disorder.

    does technology cause psychic trauma?

    ergonomically, it can cause depression which in turn can cause mild depression and hence, lack of ability to focus. some persons can have a seizure from looking at any type of oscillating screen.

    ADD disorder is not a real illness: it is a spectum of behavioural disorders that are influenced by overload on suger and stimulation. Ritalin works for depression: it also causes the frontal lobe to work more effieciently: that steve mann has rerouted his frontal lobe fuction to his visual cortex is an interesting hypothesis that one can prove with a PET scan: but steve is steve up in canada. i do not think we will get him to a petscan soon, though if i can academically prove this statement, he would blog his brain images as well as all of his cyborg informatics.

    too much LSD, an overdose of serotonin receptor uptake inhibitors (like prozac or zoloft) can cause an odd “serotonin syndrome.” but this is an extreme situation and persons look like they have mad cow disease. most persons have a type of psychomotor retardation with depresion: does this happen from overdose on computers? no, but people do get fat.

    I guess these are rough notes for my final synthesis and critique: i guess my thesis statement may have something to do with the importance of defining clinical illness from societal consequences of technology. Autism like, or MPD like conditions can evolve, but these are correctable behavioural things: the increase cases of ADD and autism is complex and may have to do with a epidemiologic virus, as well as ubiquitous computing.

    that cellphones and computer persons have put out products prior to testing as needed for pharmaceuticals is true: we will never see such research sponsered: look at the devaul/pentland memory prosthetic idea: no IRB will approave such human research for the elderly, but yet, if a product comes out, it will be a product and not as a drug: a kind of device that one buys, like one buys a cellphone. but noone will ever really first check and see if cellpones, or wi fi, or whatever wireless technology, will do to one over a prolonged period of time.

    stef

  • stefanos

    steve mann asked me about autism: he commented that most persons at MIT have some form of autism

    I think geek culture of engineering schools is autism like, but not real autism, though there may be one or two real cases mixed in with the crowd as the demographics point out.

    when popular culture starts to highjack clinical judgement, we set ourselves up for emotional terrorism.

    again, add was not a problem in the sixties or seventies, now the 90s and new millineum, we are defining tuancy and the “lockkey” phenomena as ADD. just give a pill to ensure success in what we set out to do. There is a social danger here: yes Ritalin helps in academic settings.

    there is a new product being developed by pfizer that upgrades a protein that has been isolated in the brains of engineering professors in the boston area. so imagine if everyone had an enhanced math iq, and mix that in with all the performance meds, such as antidepressents, nootropics, and yes, viagra, into a chemical/techno/genetically clean society?

    maybe we are really going to engineer how we come into being afterall.

    what did you think of the movie, gattaca?

  • Furniture that smarts

    Everytime I wait for my luggage at an airport, I wonder about the ubiquitous Smarte Cartes. What makes them so

  • I was all riled up to write a response, pointing out how this talk is a little too simplistic, although I liked the points at the end. (Oh, also, it would help to give more specific examples of what you’re gesturing at with “sci-fi.” Star Wars? Bruce Sterling? Samuel Delany? Matt Ruff?) Then I saw this livejournal meme

    “My Best Friend”
    http://macoto.t4kumi.net/php/

    Determines who your “best friend” is by intersecting your interests with those of each person on your friends list. The lexicographically first person among the people with largest cardinality wins. Jesus Christ on a pogo stick.

    Maybe I’ll come back and write that response, but right now I just don’t have the strength.

  • DavidM

    Oh, before I forget — I suspect there are at least two major reasons Turkle was so quick to use the discourse of fragmentation to describe online behavior. Perhaps that talk wasn’t the best place to bring them up, but I think they are worth discussing.

    1) The specific terms Turkle uses in her analysis are tied up with Lacanian psychoanalysis, which is an area she is initmately familiar with. Her _Psychoanalytic Politics: Jacques Lacan and Freud’s French Revolution_ is still the book I recommend to people who want to know what the hell this “theory” thing is all about. I think part of what made the discourse you identify with MPD attractive was that it shows how online phenomena offer concrete applications of Lacanian tools.

    Later, of course, there was some discussion about whether this was the right framework. You have probably already seen it, but the article that brought home the point most forcefully for me was

    “Hyperbole over Cyberspace: Self-presentation & Social Boundaries in Internet Home Pages and Discourse”
    Wynn & Katz, _The Information Society_
    http://www.indiana.edu/~tisj/readers/full-text/13-4%20Wynn.html

    The authors suggest, as you do, that the notion of fragmented self does not match up with what is really going on. Instead, they draw on Erving Goffman and a variety of examples to argue that we really have a single authentic self undergoing complex/nuanced differences in presentation.

    2) The discourse of fragmentation had worked well before. In _The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit_, she applies these tools to child psychological development in the presence of thinking machines. The effect is startling…we end up with plausible explanations of some data that seems at first quite strange. While she does extend her theories to adults in part of the book, that isn’t the main part of her argument. (IIRC, anyway. It’s been a while.)

    In fact, I think Turkle is at her best when discussing child psychology and psychoanalysis. Note that after _Life on the Screen_ she returned to child development, this time in the area of Furbies and emotional attachment. It’s less clear to me that these tools work outside child development.

    My overall point here is that there seem to have been larger reasons for the adoption of the MPD discourse. Part of what makes your talk interesting is that it enumerates possible such reasons why the Asperger’s discourse works for people — and I think it may be worth foregrounding that.

  • Marketing: Living In A Plastic Bubble?

    If you want to understand how a lion hunts, don’t go to the zoo, go to the jungle. …Most businesses gather information about consumers by going to the zoo. They put respondents in a “viewing room”, feed them snacks, and

  • stefanos

    david, danah, how many cases of real MPD or asperger’s either of you diagnosed?

    i think we need to draw a line here: i do not believe that cyberspace is causing these illnesses. That the classic piagetian stages are being challenged because of the media is obvious. what effect will come of this replacement of physical play with increasingly given scripts of imagination? I think we are changing culturally because of this: spirituality develops in conjuncture with frontal lobe metacognition: that we enter a cyberworld that necessitates multiple roles is not the same thing as having a multiple personality disorder. Teens are just going through phases with the medium just as teens used to read comics, or moby dick. one reads liturature, and one internalizes characters. same thing in song or poetry. this is not multiple personality disorder. most persons understand what good internet behavior is and what is not. much of this role playing is kind of a new era of “dating.” we go through phases to discover what it is that we like in our friends and in our selves. we may seem more distant as well. but this is not the same thing as autism.

  • I am not interested in it *causing* it – i am interested in the fact that people are asked to engage as though they have it.

  • stefanos

    Finally a reaction ;-) (I wrote that last post hoping for a reaction: perhaps i shifted my writing style towards getting you to comment back, so thus, i did conduct a bit of “personality” shifting in writing style to get to that end while simultanously trying to understand what the talk’s purpose was and is from where i am sitting from off into the aftermath of it being given: mindful of prior posts, debates, emails, and then imagining the actual backchannel conference discussions}

    there is something confusing me about your talk: I think by over focusing on the details of human reaction, both the process of inventing new systems, and then imposing upon persons systems that are creating autism like, or multiple personality like behaviours will effect persons in different ways. there are some persons in the extremes that may be autistic or have MPD, or ADD. So will the reactions in such persons be predictably better management and adaptation to these systems. NO. Persons with these psychiatric and neurologic illnesses cannot adapt to such systems in my opinion { i do not think anyone would conduct such a study anyway so its a guess: someone reading this, please disagree}

    But do these system really cause persons to “engage” as if they have these illnesses. I think you have found different reactions to friendster: the cultural anthropology of different persons contributes to how persons interact and form identities on friendster. can systems come into being that can take different personality types and cultures into consideration in developing the building blocks of what persons will integrate into their personal communcation devices/system?

    I know from doctors, that some like to use the beeper and answering service: others rely heavily on the cellphone: others are brave enough to do the email thing. its personal preference.

    I checked out Tom Erickson’s world jam/Loop/babble ideas. also looked at some pdf files from ibm regarding the auction metaphore to the “babble chat room” I think thats how i learned about your research with J Donath. I had the opportunity to ask Tom about diffent types of persons using this type of invention. I got the answer that things changed over history from the ancient to the present, that inventions changed societies…ect…ect…ect.

    I do not think we can use this analogy (barf Hegel vs. Schopenhouer) That is that whole historical determinism thing, synthesis after thesis vs antithesis. Nor the Socratic irony and paradox toward understanding some vague abstract forms. “The World as Representation and Will” begins with the phenomenology of specific events within the brain: be it acoustics, or optics, or smell and touch, this has been the traditional interface with the world as representation.

    But is all of meaning semiotic and representative of a “structuralist” construct of the world. (hey, this comic book introduction to semiotics is really cool)

    What i feel is a conscioussness is not tangible and is fleeting: the medium is huge and affects each social group in a very different manners: world hegemony is not coming into being, even though more and more persons speak a “universal” english. Each group integrates the tools that are a evolving language standard, and deals with the disorientation, and the MPS/austism/ADD technoforce and subjegation as they deal with having to learn a universal english: each group creates a different and distinct community language.

    let me think some more in bringing together foucault, saussure, lacan…and how that relates to Husserl. eventually i think i’ll give up some information that is helpful…but i have to go through my ruminations…Piaget i think is more key than you realize in how persons use these tools to communicate; and hence how persons engage will have to do with human development in terms of cognitive and social milestones. Eric Erickson and Maslow are also key.

    i guess it was perplexing during a hospice case of mine that a lady dying thought that frank sinatra was her husband and replaced her real life with that of the media at the end of her life: she had alzheimers, but this is an interestin phenomena: how persons die is very telling about how they communcated though out their lives. Kind of the sprituality found in “The Death of Ivan Ilyvich” by Tolstoy. I think there is more about the future in Tolstoy’s novels then there is the sci fi stuff:

    will think some more and re read your notes again

    stef

  • Furniture that smarts

    Everytime I wait for my luggage at an airport, I wonder about the ubiquitous Smarte Cartes. What makes them so

  • stefanos

    ok: thoughts regarding socialization and mental health in the elderly: this is a contrast to the work you are doing with a younger cohort and the idea of social context software research. I had a couple see me today in consultation. they are living in Rochester of all places and need to move to teaneck nj to be closer to family.

    the wife has mild memory problems: the husband has a more severe memory problem. the husband always seems less depressed when the grandchildren and great grand children are around. it seems the degree of memory impairment is less intense when there is socialization: person to person, all within the family “group”.

    What i was thinking about was how the socialization itself seems to bring forth the contextualization of memory within the act of story telling, which often is connected with funny stories. So it seems aspects of the given memory test are better remembered, and hence the score, when we tell stories and socialize with our family/friend group, improves.

    so the thoughts i am trying to bring together are: what can we learn from dealing with different generations so that we can predict how humanity will respond to the current software designs that you find problematic?