Replied to a tweet by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry (Twitter)
Without checking, I have to think that I carefully couched my wording there. For that audience, I did use the more famous example of Stonehenge, for which there is some pretty solid evidence for my claim. There are other examples in the archaeological record that certainly are older and in other cultural contexts. I can easily think of standing stones that are as old as 12,000 years old for which the same case could be made in borderline agricultural societies. The tough part is that would have required the definition of standing stones and a lot of other pieces which I didn’t feel I had the time to create the context for in that setting.

I imagine that there are potentially examples of this sort of behavior going back as far as 30-40,000 years or more, but there is is no direct (known) archaeological evidence left to make such cases. There are oral histories of indigenous peoples in Australia that indicate memories of things that do exist in the geological record to provide some evidence of this.

I’ll also point out that astronomical use is NOT equal to memory use. To make that claim you’d need a lot of additional evidence. In fact, I might suggest something stronger, particularly about Stonehenge. Stonehenge’s primary use was not an astronomical one. Its primary use was as a mnemonic device. The astronomical one was important for the ritual practice (we would call it spaced repetition in modern psychology and pedagogic contexts), but wholly tangential.

If you’re interested in the underlying evidence, Dr. Lynne Kelly has an excellent Ph.D. thesis on the topic, but you might find her book The Memory Code, which expands on the thesis, more accessible. She’s also got a great bibliography of these topics on her website.

Read A Harvard sociologist explains why we confide in strangers by Jenny AndersonJenny Anderson (Quartz)
Who did you last trust with some really personal information? 

Small says there are three reasons we might avoid those closest to us when we are grappling with problems about our health, relationships, work, or kids. 

Annotated on March 07, 2020 at 08:39PM

The first is that our closest relationships are our most complex ones. 

Annotated on March 07, 2020 at 08:39PM

The second reason is that when we are dealing with something difficult, we commonly prefer to confide in people who have been through what we are going through rather than those who know us, seeking “cognitive empathy” over guaranteed warmth or closeness. 

Annotated on March 07, 2020 at 08:40PM

The third reason is that in our moment of vulnerability, our need to talk is greater than our need to self-protect. 

Annotated on March 07, 2020 at 08:41PM

Adam Smith, writing in 1790, said we can only expect real sympathy from real friends, not from mere acquaintances. More recently, in 1973, Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter established as a bedrock of social network analysis the idea that we rely on “strong” ties (our inner circle) for support and weak ties (our acquaintances) for information. 

Annotated on March 07, 2020 at 08:43PM

Indicating Introversion / Extroversion at Conferences and Public Meeting Spaces

While I was at Innovate Pasadena’s Friday Morning Coffee Meetup on the topic of design this morning, I saw a woman wearing a large decorative flower in her hair. It reminded me of the social custom of Hawaiian women wearing flowers in their hair and what that indicates socially in terms of their wanting to be approached or not.

This made me begin wondering about the less gregarious or introverted people at meetings or conferences who can become overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and interactions that it becomes so burdensome that they need to take a break and get away for a bit. What if there were a way to easily indicate at conferences that one wanted to be approached, pitched, or engaged in conversation? While some are sure to still need quiet spaces or breaks, perhaps there’s a way to leverage external indicators to generally diminish the additional social, mental, and emotional burdens of interacting in large crowds of strangers?

I might suggest using the position of one’s name tag as the indicator, but in the United States, generally etiquette has been to wear the name tag on the right hand side and at many conferences it’s almost more common that one wears a lanyard which prevents explicit positioning of a name tag in any case. I might also suggest using different sides of a name tag or lanyard, but experience with the physics and design of these indicates they would be poorly suited for this.

The second method that comes to mind is to use the placement on the right/left of other conference paraphernalia? Perhaps pronoun badges might serve this secondary function? It’s a bit Western-oriented to suggest, but perhaps following the existing pattern of wedding rings on the left hand (or flowers above the left ear in Hawaiian culture) to indicate that one is “unavailable” or would prefer not to be bothered, pitched, or interacted with at the moment? Wearing them on the right indicates I’m open for conversation, pitches, or interaction. Using this also has the potential side benefit of encouraging more conferences to explicitly advertise pronouns and normalize these sorts of behaviors and cultural conventions.

Multi-colored pronoun buttons for she (orange), he (yellow), they (green), and ask (red) as well as an IndieWebCamp button
Image courtesy of the IndieWeb.org wiki via Aaron Parecki (with a CC0 license)

Have other event organizers considered this sort of system before? Are there other examples of it occurring in the wild? What other external indicators could one use and simultaneously be easy for both organizers and participants?

Listened to Episode 9: Make 'Em Laugh by Dr Laurie SantosDr Laurie Santos from The Happiness Lab

The world's greatest expert on canned TV laugh tracks helps Dr Laurie Santos demonstrate how the emotions of those around us can make us feel happier or more sad. If happiness is so contagious... can we use them to bring joy to ourselves and our loved ones?

Jeff’s research showed that participants pick up other people’s emotions through text— in say, a quick email note or an online comment— just as easily as they do in face-to-face real world interaction.”

Hancock, J. T., Landrigan, C., & Silver, C. (2007, April). Expressing emotion in text-based communication. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 929-932). ACM.

The social media giant allowed Jeff to run an experiment to figure out the emotional impact of Facebook posts.

Kramer, A. D., Guillory, J. E., & Hancock, J. T. (2014). Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(24), 8788-8790.

This is particularly an interesting listen for web developers and designers who could be thinking about the emotional contagion that their products may have on others.

The original link has some additional references and research, but I’ve excerpted some small portions of the ethically questionable research Facebook allowed on emotional contagion several years back. 

This research reminds me of things like Tantek Çelik‘s 100 Days of Positive Posts.

Listened to Episode 8: Choice Overload by Dr Laurie SantosDr Laurie Santos from The Happiness Lab

We all make thousands of choices each day. But making even trivial decisions can sap our energy and cause anxiety. Dr Laurie Santos examines why our society wrongly prioritises choice over happiness, and meets a woman who junked her wardrobe in a bid to improve her life.

Limiting one’s choice can be an important thing in life.

There’s some discussion of limiting one’s wardrobe choices as a way of freeing one’s life up a bit. They didn’t mention the oft-heard example of Einstein wearing the same thing every day, but did catch the possibly better example of Obama cycling through the small handful of choices in his wardrobe to limit the yet another decision of many he had to make each day.

Listened to Episode 7: Don't Accentuate the Positive by Dr Laurie SantosDr Laurie Santos from The Happiness Lab

We often think positive thinking is the best way to achieve our ambitions - but the science shows it holds us all back. Dr Laurie Santos hears how champion swimmer Michael Phelps imagined the worst to help make his Olympic dreams come true.

Bob Bowman’s book

Kristin Beck | Wikipedia

Gabriele Oettingen’s website

Dr. Santos mentions Norman Vincent Peale and his book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) as one of the earliest in this space. I might suggest that Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich (1937) was a natural precursor to this and these ideas of visualizing what you want as a means of helping to get it. His work assuredly influenced Peale’s and probably sells as well today.


 It takes what it takes. 

–Bob Bowman, swimming coach of 23-time Olympic medal winning swimmer Michael Phelps


On planning:

Hope is not a course of action.

–Kristin Beck, Senior chief petty officer, United States Navy SEAL, ret.


Gabriele Oettingen’s work and the Woop concept  (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan) sound interesting. Perhaps worth reading some of her work: 

Oettingen, G. (2015). Rethinking positive thinking: Inside the new science of motivation. Current.

“You name the goal, and research shows that positive thinking makes it less likely you’ll reach it.”

Oettingen, G., & Mayer, D. (2002). The motivating function of thinking about the future: Expectations versus fantasies. Journal of personality and social psychology, 83(5), 1198

Oettingen, G., & Wadden, T. A. (1991). Expectation, fantasy, and weight loss: Is the impact of positive thinking always positive?. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 15(2), 167-175

Oettingen, G., Mayer, D., & Portnow, S. (2016). Pleasure now, pain later: Positive fantasies about the future predict symptoms of depression. Psychological Science, 27(3), 345-353.

“It’s a strategy Gabrielle calls “mental contrasting.”

Oettingen, G., Mayer, D., Timur Sevincer, A., Stephens, E. J., Pak, H. J., & Hagenah, M. (2009). Mental contrasting and goal commitment: The mediating role of energization. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35(5), 608-622.

“In addition to simulating the obstacles, Gabrielle also recommends taking time to imagine— very intentionally— what it would feel like to implement our plan whenever the obstacle comes up.”

Oettingen, G., & Gollwitzer, P. (2010). Strategies of setting and implementing goals: Mental contrasting and implementation intentions (pp. 114-135).

Some of the ideas behind the WOOP concept remind me of some tangential sounding philosophy and framing that Matt Maldre wrote about in his recent posts about New Year’s resolutions. [1] [2]

WOOP also seems tangential to some areas of memory research as the visualization can tend to create “false” memories that one can look back on as experience when moving toward a particular goal. I often found that in my diving practices in college I did significantly better on new dives when I visualized them or practiced them in my mind several days and even the night before practices.

Listened to Episode 3: A Silver Lining from The Happiness Lab

You can't win 'em all - but you'll only beat unhappiness when you stop comparing yourself so harshly to others.

Ice skater Michelle Kwan was all set to win Olympic Gold... but in a major sporting upset came second. Sharing her story with Dr Laurie Santos, Michelle lets us in on a key secret to achieving happiness when life doesn't go to plan.

Bookmarked The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion by John R. Zaller (Cambridge University Press)
In this book John Zaller develops a comprehensive theory to explain how people acquire political information from the mass media and convert it into political preferences. Using numerous specific examples, Zaller applies this theory in order to explain the dynamics of public opinion on a broad range of subjects, including both domestic and foreign policy, trust in government, racial equality, and presidential approval, as well as voting behavior in U.S. House, Senate and Presidential elections. Particularly perplexing characteristics of public opinion are also examined, such as the high degree of random fluctuations in political attitudes observed in opinion surveys and the changes in attitudes due to minor changes in the wording of survey questions.
Hat tip: Strong recommendation by Vicki Boykis (#)
Read Eliminating the Human by David ByrneDavid Byrne (MIT Technology Review)
We are beset by—and immersed in—apps and devices that are quietly reducing the amount of meaningful interaction we have with each other.
This piece makes a fascinating point about people and interactions. It’s the sort of thing that many in the design and IndieWeb communities should read and think about as they work.

I came to it via an episode of the podcast The Happiness Lab.

The consumer technology I am talking about doesn’t claim or acknowledge that eliminating the need to deal with humans directly is its primary goal, but it is the outcome in a surprising number of cases. I’m sort of thinking maybe it is the primary goal, even if it was not aimed at consciously.

Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:35AM

Most of the tech news we get barraged with is about algorithms, AI, robots, and self-driving cars, all of which fit this pattern. I am not saying that such developments are not efficient and convenient; this is not a judgment. I am simply noticing a pattern and wondering if, in recognizing that pattern, we might realize that it is only one trajectory of many. There are other possible roads we could be going down, and the one we’re on is not inevitable or the only one; it has been (possibly unconsciously) chosen.

Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:36AM

What I’m seeing here is the consistent “eliminating the human” pattern.

This seems as apt a name as any.
Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:39AM

“Social” media: This is social interaction that isn’t really social. While Facebook and others frequently claim to offer connection, and do offer the appearance of it, the fact is a lot of social media is a simulation of real connection.

Perhaps this is one of the things I like most about the older blogosphere and it’s more recent renaissance with the IndieWeb idea of Webmentions, a W3C recommendation spec for online interactions? While many of the interactions I get are small nods in the vein of likes, favorites, or reposts, some of them are longer, more visceral interactions.

My favorite just this past week was a piece that I’d worked on for a few days that elicited a short burst of excitement from someone who just a few minutes later wrote a reply that was almost as long as my piece itself.

To me this was completely worth the effort and the work, not because of the many other smaller interactions, but because of the human interaction that resulted. Not to mention that I’m still thinking out a reply still several days later.

This sort of human social interaction also seems to be at the heart of what Manton Reece is doing with micro.blog. By leaving out things like reposts and traditional “likes”, he’s really creating a human connection network to fix what traditional corporate social media silos have done to us. This past week’s episode of Micro Monday underlines this for us. (#)
Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:52AM

Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at USC wrote about a patient he called Elliot, who had damage to his frontal lobe that made him unemotional. In all other respects he was fine—intelligent, healthy—but emotionally he was Spock. Elliot couldn’t make decisions. He’d waffle endlessly over details. ­Damasio concluded that although we think decision-­making is rational and machinelike, it’s our emotions that enable us to actually decide.

Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:56AM

And in the meantime, if less human interaction enables us to forget how to cooperate, then we lose our advantage.

It may seem odd, but I think a lot of the success of the IndieWeb movement and community is exactly this: a group of people has come together to work and interact and increase our abilities to cooperate to make something much bigger, more diverse, and more interesting than any of us could have done separately.
Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:58AM

Remove humans from the equation, and we are less complete as people and as a society.

Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 10:59AM

A version of this piece originally appeared on his website, davidbyrne.com.

This piece seems so philosophical, it seems oddly trivial that I see this note here and can’t help but think about POSSE and syndication.
Annotated on January 22, 2020 at 11:01AM

Listened to Episode 4: Mistakenly Seeking Solitude from The Happiness Lab

Technology allows us to bank, shop and dine without talking to another human, but what toll is this taking on our happiness? The inventor of the ATM and the Talking Heads singer David Byrne join Dr Laurie Santos to explore the ways in which talking to strangers can bring us all genuine joy.

This episode makes me think a bit about Mike Monteiro’s book Ruined by Design. 

I’ll have to read the MIT Technology Review article by David Byrne. The idea of designing humanity out of things is such a sad one, but there’s definitely a lot of evidence for it.

There is a great example in here of people not knowing what they really want or need or what is healthy for themselves. In particular, the story of the psychologist that did research on trains and came across their survey that they were creating a “solitude car” because that’s what people said they wanted in surveys. Sadly the research shows people will be happier if they’re interacting. When he asked the train company why they didn’t make an “interaction car”, they said they used to have that, but they discontinued it because it was so crowded. Maybe they should have added an extra car instead?

Dr. Lynne Kelly’s research on history, indigenous people, and memory, and a dovetail with Big History

David Christian, Fred Spier, Bill Gates, Big History Institute, and other Big History researchers and thinkers, if you’re not already aware of her, allow me to introduce you to researcher Dr. Lynne Kelly. Her work dramatically expands our understanding of pre-literate societies’ learning, memory, and particularly collective learning. Further, it makes for a strong and fascinating story that could not only be integrated into Big History; it provides links between modern and pre-modern humans and ties deeply into ideas of origin stories, mythology, and early religion; and it provides actual methods for improving student’s memories and particularly that for history.

I think her work has some profound impact on the arc of Big History, particularly with respect to Threshold 6, well into Threshold 7, and continuing into the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution. In true big history fashion, her thesis also touches heavily on a broad array of topics including anthropology, archaeology, psychology, neuroscience, history, and education.

A broad, reasonable introduction to her work can be had in CalTech physicist Sean Carroll’s  recent podcast interview.

Another short introduction is her TEDx Melbourne talk:

A solid popular science encapsulation of her work can be found in her book The Memory Code: The Secrets of Stonehenge, Easter Island and Other Ancient Monuments (Pegasus Books, 2017).

A more thorough academic treatment of her work can naturally be found in:

With some work, I think her research could become a better foundational basis for a stronger bridge from threshold 6 into threshold 7 with dramatic impact on how we view origin stories, mythology, religion. It also has some spectacular implications for improving pedagogy and memory within our educational systems and how we view and use collective memory and even innovation in the modern world.