10 January 2009

Does Facebook Help?


More and more invitations to join political causes (Groups) appear in my Facebook inbox. I wonder: Does joining a political cause on Facebook do anything? And if not, why do we join them?

I decided to look into three of the Groups friends have joined and invited me to join, and see if any change might happen because of them.

Three Groups

Let's collect 500,000 signatures to support the Palestinians in Gaza currently has under 500,000 members. This site promises "In the upcoming days, we will provide more information about how YOU can make a real difference."So I don't have a lot to go on here but it seems a valid site with officers from all over the (mostly Arab) world, for example, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Indonesia.

I read the most recently posted 3 bulletin board posts: The first one was a guy called John pointing out what pussies the people are who care about this war, and then people calling him names. One response began, "Actually you worthless little piece of shit..."

The second one was a very long post by an Israeli claiming many things including that the Palestinians joining Hamas is what caused the war.

The third one is called I AM WILLING TO GO AND FIGHT FOR MY MUSLIM BROTHER IN GAZA....ARE YOU READY// and is an interesting conversation between Muslims all over the world for and against violence.

Support the Monks' protest in Burma currently has around 400,000 members. They have a "Five Things you can do to help free Burma" list, a way to donate, sign up, get the latest articles, post links and photos, look at a BBC video, and get more information.

On the discussion board, the usual cocktail of intelligent questions, answers, discussion, obnoxious name-calling, and random unrelated or tangentially related posts.

Wow, My Middle Name is Hussein, also! currently has under 200 members. I imagine memberships in this group has dropped off considerably since Obama won. On the other hand you could change your Facebook middle name without joining the group. I don't know of a way to tell whether this group was useful...perhaps it is the reason Obama got elected...

Conclusion (not really)

An obvious benefit of inviting friends to Groups and joining them, even if there is no other, is educational. Assuming that knowing about things, even if you're doing nothing about them, is better than not knowing.

But my main conclusion is that Facebook Groups are helpful as long as you do more than just click "Join." You have to go back to the Group and see what's what, and do something. They hopefully send out calls to action to their members, at least some of whom act on them. Otherwise, being a member of a Group is a hollow gesture (unless just a Group's size somehow affects things, which is unlikely.)

Is clicking "Join" the new "I care, but not so much"?

If you have any thoughts on this, please comment on this post.

More on This Subject

2008 Facebook Statistics on American Politics (InsideFacebook.com, January 2009)

Party Crashing: How the Facebook Generation Does Politics(Alternet.org, June 2008)

Will Facebook Change Politics? (PickledPolitics.com, July 2007)

'Open-Source Politics' Taps Facebook for Myanmar Protests (Wired Magazine, June 2007)

05 January 2009

Mushrooms and Meditation

Not an obvious connection you might say. But being on a nine day meditation retreat in a rainy redwood and madrone forest with some sunny weather for venturing outside, these became a few of my favorite things.

I think I paid more attention and saw more things--on the ground anyway--because I was looking for mushrooms. It was really fun. There weren't many animals about but saw a couple of salamanders and a banana slug.

I really wanted to cook and eat some of the mushrooms--some of which look like baked bread, waffles, or just the kind of mushroom you buy in the grocery store--but of course I refrained. Because like most Americans the first thing I think of when I think of wild mushrooms is dead people. The story we hear is of Sam or Sally from Mexico or Vietnam who ate something that seemed identical to an edible mushroom where they came from - and died.

So I'm not going to go around popping every attractive mushroom into my mouth, even I think it may be a chanterelle. I did order a guide, listed below, and want to go out with people who know. My friend Trebor said Germans go out in droves looking for mushrooms, it's practically a national past time.

My mushroom slideshow

I just ordered: All That the Rain Promises, and More: A Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms

Edible California Mushrooms from mykoweb.com

Mycological Society of San Francisco

01 January 2009

Addiction to Computers and Other Screens

A quotation from The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge:
"To say that a cultural medium, such as television, radio, or the internet, alters the balance of senses does not prove it is harmful. Much of the harm from television and other electronic media, such as music videos and computer games, comes from their effect on attention. Children and teenagers who sit in front of fighting games are engaged in massed practice and are incrementally rewarded. Video games, like Internet porm, meet all the conditions for plastic brain map changes. A team at the Hammersmith Hospital in London designed a typical video game in which a tank commander shoots the enemy and dodges enemy fire. The experiment showed that dopamine--the reward neurotransmitter, also triggered by addictive drugs--is released in the brain during these games. People who are addicted to computer games show all the signs of other addictions: cravings when they stop, neglect of other activities, euphoria when on the computer, and a tendency to deny or minimize their actual involvement.

"Television, music videos, and video games, all of which use television techniques, unfold at a much faster pace than real life, and they are getting faster, which causes people to develop an increased appetite for high-speed transitions in those media. It is the form of the television medium--cuts, edits, zoons, pans, and sudden noises--that alters the brain, by activating what Pavlov called the "orienting response," which occurs whenever we sense a sudden change in the world around us, especially a sudden movement. We instinctively interrupt whatever we are doing to turn, pay attention, and get our bearings. The orientation response evolved, no doubt, because our forebears were both predators and prey and needed to react to situations that could be dangerous or could provide sudden opportunities for such things as food or sex, or simply to novel situations. The response is physiological: the heart rate decreases for four to six seconds. Television triggers this response at a far more rapid rate than we experience it in life, which is why we can't keep our eyes off the TV screen, even in the middle of an intimate conversation, and why people watch TV a lot longer than they intend. Because typical music videos, action sequences, and commercials trigger orientation responses at a rate of one per second, watching them puts us into continuous orienting response with no recovery. No wonder people report feeling drained from watching TV. Yet we acquire a taste for it and find slower changes boring. The cost is that such activities as reading, complex conversation, and listening to lectures become more difficult."

See Also
Crackberry [on this blog]
How the City Hurts Your Brain [Boston.com]
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