Thursday News: Unrealistic fiction, television v. the internet, and the worst rating app ever
Now Is Not The Time For Realistic Fiction, Says Margaret Atwood – In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood wrote one of the most terrifying dystopian novels I’ve ever read. Terrifying because it feels so real, especially as the backlash against women’s reproductive rights continues to grow. So in reading NPR’s piece on her new book, The Heart Goes Last, it was interesting to hear Atwood’s perspective on the relationship between any given moment in history and the way fiction responds. I don’t know if you could apply her ideas to Romance, but her insights about how social stability provides a foundation for realistic fiction is interesting to ponder relative to the way different genres represent social realities.
For her part, Atwood says this is not the time for realistic fiction — and it’s no coincidence that dystopia and fantasy are on the rise now. “I think they’re coming out of people’s feeling that things are going haywire, and you cannot depend on a stable background for ‘realistic fiction.’ And when there’s perceived instability that’s happening you can’t write that kind of novel and have people believe it.” —NPR
TV vs. the Internet: Who Will Win? – Although technically a review of two books on the competition between television and the Internet, this piece contemplates a number of issues relevant to issues from advertising to the future of cable conglomerates. For example, the fact that television is offering such rich storytelling right now is connected in part to advertising dollars. However, ads are pitched to younger viewers who do not pay the cable TV bill, so while advertisers are willing to pay to get their message to younger viewers, those viewers are not necessarily driving content. Which makes the question of how quickly and in what numbers that advertising money is also shifting to online venues, and how those venues might be poised to disrupt the television model, even though that model has persisted despite outdated technologies (remind you of any other industry?):
Never underestimate the durability of a monopoly, but the cable companies, with their anachronistic two-thousand- channel grids and 1990s-era set-top boxes, face real vulnerabilities as well. Here the disruption might come through an alternative way of receiving high-speed Internet, such as national or municipal Wi-Fi networks that would transmit the same materials now delivered by cable. Alternatively, the government could force the cable companies to open, for use by competitors, the “last mile” of wiring that brings high-speed Internet into the home. The 1982 breakup of AT&T’s “natural monopoly” on phone service provides a precedent here. A legislative fight on this issue would pit unlovable Comcast and Time Warner Cable against GAFA—Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. The gafa companies would like to be able to sell pay TV through cables of their own. Or, before any of that happens, the balance of power in the industry may simply shift more dramatically to the GAFA companies, whose long-rumored entry into the TV market is already taking place in the form of original shows available only online, such as the Amazon series Transparent. These tech companies also have the financial resources to compete for exclusive rights to stream live sports events, another shift that could sound the death knell of live TV. — The New York Review of Books
The Evolving Landscape Of Recommendation Systems – An article on the ways in which ratings systems like those at Amazon are working to become more and more accurate, in large part through the collection of more and more personal and customizable information. Which, of course, requires trust, something that is in relatively short supply at the moment. Still, we tend to provide informative both actively and passively, and as systems evolve, they may be able to derive meaning from purchasing and viewing patters that we are not even aware of communicating
Recommendation systems are quickly becoming the new way users are exposed to the whole digital world through a prism of their own experiences, habits and interests. They are quickly evolving to be less obvious, more persuasive and far more useful, for both business and users. . . .
Still, in our current landscape, RS models predominantly follow a generic algorithm, bucketing users into consumer sets rather than a fully tailored approach. The future space for RS looks to be headed toward a totally customized environment for each user, which will be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced. Real-time factors such as mood, time of day, location, sleep cycle and energy output will be weighted. Depending on the information the individual is willing to provide, our social media history and offline purchases can also be added to the equation. – Tech Crunch
Everyone you know will be able to rate you on the terrifying ‘Yelp for people’ — whether you want them to or not – From the department of ‘What the F*** Were They Thinking?!’ comes what has to be one of the worst ideas on the Internet: a rating app called Peeple that allows you to rate . . . wait for it . . . people! Because we don’t have enough problems with revenge porn and the stalking and harassment of women online and some of those disgusting reddit forums and let’s not forget sites like “People of Walmart.” Now we can actively cultivate people’s basest impulses by allowing them to write anything they want about other people. And the best part? The object of such admiration (because of course that’s what it’s going to be, right?!) has the responsibility of submitting an objection (how many lawsuits do you think will be filed week one?). It sounds kind of like The Dirty, except worse (which I wasn’t sure was even possible). The two women who have created the app claim they are all about happiness and good vibrations, but after a few hours of criticism and questions regarding their project, they went private on Twitter. Because, apparently, you can rate anyone but them.
To borrow from the technologist and philosopher Jaron Lanier, Peeple is indicative of a sort of technology that values “the information content of the web over individuals;” it’s so obsessed with the perceived magic of crowd-sourced data that it fails to see the harms to ordinary people.
Where to even begin with those harms? There’s no way such a rating could ever accurately reflect the person in question: Even putting issues of personality and subjectivity aside, all rating apps, from Yelp to Rate My Professor, have a demonstrated problem with self-selection. (The only people who leave reviews are the ones who love or hate the subject.) In fact, as repeat studies of Rate My Professor have shown, ratings typically reflect the biases of the reviewer more than they do the actual skills of the teacher: On RMP, professors whom students consider attractive are way more likely to be given high ratings, and men and women are evaluated on totally different traits. – The Washington Post