Monthly Archives: August 2006

youth and those crazy hormones

When discussing the plight of teenagers with adults, i’m often chastised for viewing teens as mature humans capable of making reasonable decisions. All too often, people point to all that psychological research that indicates that teens are experiencing extensive hormonal rushes that impair their judgment. And then i go home to my 30-something friends who see a baby and start cooing as their biological clock begs for attention. And then i talk to people my mom’s age going through menopause and being about as coo-coo as they come. And then i get calls from my older male friends who are experiencing their midlife crisis and think that trading in their wife for people my age is a good idea. I don’t think that teenagers are the only population facing impaired judgment. In fact, i’m curious at what age one’s judgment is really all that functional.

What fascinates me in watching teens is to see biology and culture at complete odds. Their bodies are screaming SEX! REPRODUCTION! NOW! while adults are screaming abstinence. Evolution does not think that waiting until you have your career settled before giving birth is a good idea regardless of what culture says. Personally, i think teens are doing an astounding job at quelching bodily urges in favor of societal norms. I think we should give them a lot of credit for their strength!

I’m not saying that teens are all-so-mature but as one of my colleagues points out, the best part of being a 30-something year old guy in today’s age is that it’s assumed that you still haven’t matured beyond fart jokes. Maturation is a progression – we build on things we’ve learned in the past in order to grow. Every significant experience teaches us something as we grow older. Hopefully, we won’t throw away those lessons and regress to bullying and gossip mongering but sadly, many do. The problem is that we need to face those challenges in order to learn from them. The more that we’re coddled, the less we learn. I have to admit that when it comes to teaching in a college classroom, i far prefer the street kids to the protected ones. At least the street kids know why they’re in school and it’s not simply to get away from their parents. Their experiences have been rough but they’ve learned a lot and it shows. Even worse than protected college students in the classrooms is spoiled ones in a foreign country. ::shudder:: That’s when it becomes painfully obvious how little freedom we’ve given our youth compared to other cultures.

As best as i can tell, the last big cognitive issue is the ability to think abstractly, negotiate social categories, and recognize that there are multiple possibilities to a situation based on your actions. Ideally, you should be able to get that there are multiple interpretations to a situation but i don’t think that most adults get this so i doubt that i can hold that as a standard for maturation even though it would be nice. Once you get this around adolescence/puberty, it’s building time from that point forward. Experience, risk-taking, and consequences matter. The crazy hormones surge at all different times to get in your way but like external crises, you gotta learn to recognize and deal with hormones. Locking up folks who are going through hormone rushes is never a good idea even if i had the urge to lock mom up for a few years.

There should be a list of things that youth should learn as young as possible to be a part of society. If i were to start a list, it would probably include:

  • Learn to manage your own money including situations where you don’t have enough money for something really important;
  • Work to make your own money;
  • Learn how to come up with money for monthly bills;
  • Learn how to cook, clean, and do laundry;
  • Learn how to take care of small children;
  • Learn how to handle sickness and doctors;
  • Learn how to travel (airplane, bus, etc.) on your own;
  • Learn to travel respectfully to foreign cultures;
  • Learn how to handle being drunk;
  • Experience being bullied, embarrassed, ridiculed, taunted, beaten up;
  • Be exposed to people really different than you and learn tolerance and respect;
  • Face failure and learn disappointment + face success and learn humility;
  • Experience heartbreak;
  • Manage significant emotional or physical pain;
  • Handle the death of someone close to you.

Obviously, some of these are taboo and others really shouldn’t be planned for but still, i have to say, this is what i’d want my child to know before being on their own. I have to give my mom props for making certain i knew many of these things. My favorite was the fact that she made me work in fast food to learn why i was getting a college education. Anyone else have favorite lessons that they wish all young people learned?

Henry Jenkins and Convergence Culture

While i was off playing this summer, one of my dear mentors (and a good friend) went off and started blogging. There are few people that i respect more than Henry Jenkins and i’m *sooo* stoked to get a daily dose of Henry insightfulness – i deeply miss that from my days at MIT. I feel bad for not being around to properly welcome him to the blogosphere. **WELCOME!** I strongly encourage everyone to check out Henry’s blog – i’m sure you’ll find it as mentally yummy as i do.

For those who work in the tech or media industry and don’t know Henry, shame on you. Henry is the expert on participatory culture and really gets “user generated content” because he studies how fans create content and culture around their favorite artifacts. Over the years, he’s looked at everything from fan fiction to WWF, gaming to Columbine, children’s culture to media consumption. His work is seminal and uber-relevant to folks interested in media and tech.

His latest work is particularly relevant to those interested in what’s going on with YouTube and MySpace, Lost and American Idol. Henry just published a book called Convergence Culture which provides a set of case studies where media is converging in interesting ways. Video games are telling the backstories to movies. TV has become participatory. Etc. This is precisely why i find LA fascinating – old media and new media are converging because the consumers are making them. This is a must-read book for folks trying to understand why and how people are engaging in all sorts of new media practices.

PS: Henry also has a really good article on Four Ways to Kill MySpace for you MySpace folks…

PPS: In case you missed it before, Henry and i co-authored a piece on MySpace and DOPA

passwords through favorites = bad idea

My credit union decided to change their password recovery system today. Now, you have to choose three questions and answer them. The problem is that they are all “What is your favorite n” where n is restaurant, band, movie, song, actor, book, drink, food, place, past-time…

Uhh… have we not learned anything? People’s favorites change over time. This is not something that a customer will remember and if it is stable, it is probably all over the web on their profiles for dating and social network sites. So not only is this not a reliable way to help customers, it’s about as insecure as you can get. Furthermore, the likelihood of a person writing this down is *huge* because it’s not something that they know by heart (like “where were you born” or “what’s your first pet’s name”).

Can people please stop using favorites in the password recovery process? Pretty please with a cherry on top??

pick me! sxsw voting is open

If you are going to SXSW this year (which you should), voting for panels is now open. I’m telling you this in part for selfish reasons. I want you to pick me! More specifically, i want you to pick the panel that Andrea Forte is moderating entitled “Under 18: Blogs, Wikis, and Online Social Networks for Youth.” It’s near the bottom so make sure you read till the end. Andrea rocks and it’s her idea but it will involve my big mouth so if you love me, you’ll pick this, right?? ::wink::

crazy radio stations

I swear that everytime i turn on the radio i hear Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” If you’ve managed to miss this song this summer, you’re living in a black hole cuz the song is catchy as hell. The problem with my feeling of being inundated is that there is no way to test this. Is it really being played that frequently? Or is it just that catchy? And then i found which lists the Top 10 of different radio stations. Sure enough, “Crazy” is in the Top 10 of every radio station i listen to in SF and LA. Of course, it’s never #1 which makes me think that there are many songs that i don’t even recognize are being played all the time. I guess they’re not as catchy. But the best part about is that the front page shows a visualization of songs as they come on the radio all around the country. It’s totally mesmerizing.

number games and social software

Over the last month, i’ve been driving Mimi’s Hybrid on and off. One of my favorite things about the Hybrid is that it tells you how many MPG you’re averaging over time. I find myself driving around town trying to maximize that number, getting uber excited when it goes up and super sad when it goes down. It reminds me of when i used to try to maximize my miles per hour when going from Boston to New York only this is more environmental. Yet, it’s not the environment that i’m concerning myself with – it’s all about number games in the same way that people obsess over every pound on the scale or the calories in every bite.

Then i was thinking about Tantek and Jason raving about Consumating. I love the fact that it’s a lot of cool geeky people but i can never get over the lameness that i feel when i log in and look at my score. And yet, i can’t be bothered to answer the questions that make me feel all uncomfortable in the hopes that someone will like my answers and rate me higher. It’s a catch-22 for me. Yet, i totally understand why Tantek and Jason and others absolutely love it and why they go back for more.

And then i was thinking about the people on Yahoo! Answers who spend hours every day answering questions to get high ranks. It’s very similar to Consumating only it’s not all embarassing because it’s not really about you – it’s about the answers. There’s no real gain from getting points but still, it’s like a mouse in a cage determined to do well just cuz they can.

This all reminds me of a scene in some movie. I can’t recall what movie it was but it was about how you just want to be the best at *something*, anything… to have something to point at and say look, i’m #1! The validation, the proof of greatness! Even if that something is problematic attention getting like being the #1 serial killer. (Was it Bowling for Columbine?)

I started wondering about these number games… They’re all over social software – Neopets, friends on social network sites, blog visitors, etc. Who is motivated by what number games? Who is demotivated? Does it make a difference if the number game is about the group vs. the individual, about one’s self directly vs. about some abstract capability?

Are there some number games that work better than others in attracting a broader audience? I’m thinking about Orkut here… if the game is to get as many Brazillians on the site as possible, you only need a few obsessives to be the rallying forces; everyone else is part of the number game simply by signing up. So there are tons competing in the number games but only a few invested.

Does anyone know anything about how these number games work as incentives?

customized MP3s: alternatives to DRM

In the midst of all of my movement, i forgot to highlight the fact that Jessica Simpson released her latest single “A Public Affair” as an MP3 for $1.99 via Yahoo! Music. This may not mean much to you but it’s actually quite significant… Here is a pop star releasing a single without DRM. And she’s still making money off of it. How? It’s a personalized MP3 so that you can get one that’s meant for you. In this way, Yahoo! and Jessica Simpson are trying to show that DRM is not the only way to make a profit when it comes to music. What is required is some innovative thinking about how to serve consumers as well as artists. Anyhow, if this is of particular interest to you, you defeinitely should check out Ian Roger’s blog post about it. He describes the details far better than i do (and there’s an intense conversation in the comments).

For those who aren’t aware, my move to Venice also means a move within Yahoo! I am no longer at Yahoo! Research Berkeley but have instead moved to Yahoo! Media Group. I am still a Social Media Researcher but i’m focusing more on the relationship between new media and old skool media of all sorts. Personally, this is a very welcome change. I have to admit that i got a little burnt out by the tech industry proper. I have a hard time engaging in yet-another of anything and that was swirling all around the Valley. I’m not particularly interested in the technology of knock-offs although i will continue to follow user patterns. To shake myself up a bit, i decided i needed to dive into something new. In reflecting on this, i realized that i kept getting sidetracked by Henry Jenkin’s arguments concerning Convergence Culture. Although this relates to my dissertation, i don’t know shit about Hollywood or the culture around movies, music, gaming, TV… I certainly don’t understand why user-generated content is such a big deal. But i’m learning. And Yahoo! Media is the perfect place to think through the relationship between old and new media. I’m quite excited to see what i can learn and how i can help YMG. Maybe if i’m really well behaved, i’ll even get to meet Lloyd Braun… cuz one has to give respect to the man who got fired for standing behind Lost.

moving update

Moving has been unbelievably chaotic. The packing process took more out of me than i could’ve imagined and i managed to re-injure my elbow. Then i lived in an empty apartment while people came and cleaned and painted and Marbellio screamed. Then i took her to a friend’s house for the night where she screamed most of the way through the night. Then there was the painful car ride down to LA where i landed in the midst of them painting my house for two days. The first night, i slept in my sleeping bag on top of plastic in the middle of the paint zone. The next morning, Marbellio ran out the back door when the cable guy appeared. We searched everywhere but couldn’t find her. Just as all of this was happening, the nice man from the Financial Times landed at LAX to come interview me. After four hours of searching (while telling the FT guy all about social media), we put up flyers all around the neighborhood. The Kinkos guy was super cool – once he realized what we needed copying, he gave us half off and made us promise to report back. Around 5:30PM, while i was getting photographed, she walked in the back door and meowed. I nearly fainted. She was filthy but home.

In the midst of all of this, i got to meet many of my neighbors and tour my neighborhood. I’m *so* excited by my neighborhood. It’s unbelievably diverse. There are families and hipsters, churches and swank restaurants, modern uberpricy houses and shacks. There are people of all ages, races, cultures. And everyone is unbelievably nice. It’s kinda surreal really.

Today the movers come. Let’s just hope that this is the last of the true chaos and we can settle in and make it home.

drug dangerousness ranking

Folks over at Mind Hacks found a UK report ranking drug dangerous. The rank is based on a combination of physical damage, social harm and addictive properties. The order is quite fascinating given the legal status of each one listed:

1. Heroin
2. Cocaine
3. Barbituates
4. Street methadone
5. Alcohol
6. Ketamine
7. Benzodiazepines (e.g. Valium)
8. Amphetamines
9. Tobacco
10. Buprenorphine
11. Cannabis
12. Solvents
13. 4-MTA
14. LSD
15. Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
16. Anabolic steroids
17. GHB
18. Ecstasy
19. Alkyl Nitrites (poppers)
20. Khat