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I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad
This week: why how you speak is as important as what you say, how Russia uses Facebook, and the maddest story you've ever heard.
I love this study of US Supreme Court judges which suggests that you can tell which way they're going to vote on a case by listening not to what they say during an oral argument, but how they say it. I'm fascinated by the non-verbal properties of speech, which have so much invisible influence. When we listen to someone talk we think we're responding what they say, and perhaps we know we're being influenced by how they look, but we usually under-estimate how powerfully we're being affected by the acoustic qualities of their voice. The simplest example is pitch. People with deep voices are perceived as more authoritative and higher status. There's evidence that voters prefer political candidates, male or female, who have lower voices (I've often wondered how much of Barack Obama's success was down to that reassuring baritone). At some level we know this, which is why we instinctively adjust the pitch of our own voice according to who we're talking to. We can get misled by these signals, since there's no actual correlation between low voice and intelligence or sagacity, but it's true that the pitch of a voice conveys a lot of information - for instance, the pitch of a tennis player's grunt can tell you if they're winning or losing a match. The researchers in the Supreme Court study are not studying the pitch of the judges' voices but at the various inflections of tone that signal their emotional investment in what they're saying. As we move into a world in which we will use our voice to get more and more done, these questions become even more important to study.
The cull of Jamie Oliver's restaurants made headlines last week. It's part of a broader trend: mid-market chains are collapsing all over the place. Byron, Strada, and the wretched Prezzo are all closing branches. This is a really interesting piece on what's happening and why. In short, it's less about Brexit than it is about a kind of regression to the mean. The industry went through a boom 2010-2016 and these chains expanded too far, too fast. A focus on short term profit came at the expense of longer term planning and product quality and now the bill has arrived. Fact: Jamie's Italian gets its meat from the same supplier as Wetherspoons.
THE ANSWER TO ALL POLITICAL QUESTIONS
Talking about regression to the mean...
This 20 minutes from NYT Daily is a skilfully told, concise overview of how Russia has used Facebook and how Facebook has reacted. If you've been vaguely aware of this story this is a good place to catch up with the basics of what happened. The reporting on Russia's political influence campaign in the US has been so dominated by the Trump collusion story that we've lost sight of what this is about. Russia is engaged in a systematic attempt to undermine democracy by inflaming tensions wherever they may be, using social media, including Twitter and, above all, Facebook. It's not interested in picking political sides or candidates. It's as likely to back Black Lives Matter as the NRA. It hitched itself to Trump because he was the most divisive candidate out there; if he'd lost they wouldn't have counted it as a defeat. Mark Zuckerberg, who started out with high ideals about improving humanity (and by the way I think he really did have them) has been forced, gradually and painfully, to come to terms with the way his service has put to work by bad guys. Maybe it's a really terrible idea for humans to be able to connect to each other so easily.
I promise you, readers, this real life story is so insane - and so well told - that it will blow your head off.
Global smartphone sales fell in the fourth quarter of 2017, the first ever year-on-year decline, because people aren't upgrading as quickly. Maybe we just don't need more pixels.
WEIRD WORLD II
Whenever I start losing faith in humanity I return to this video of a man demonstrating how medieval people used to walk and for some reason I feel better again.
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