Social networking word-of-the-day: “thinvisibility”

A new word for Facebookers and social networkers who cavalierly post embarrassing information about themselves to the web: thinvisibility:  Here’s a starting definition:

Thinvisibility: n.

  1. Being neither completely visible nor completely invisible.
  2. Being a tiny, shiny needle in a haystack of information overload.
  3. Being invisible to everyone except data aggregators and digital preservationists such as Google, the Wayback Machine, the NSA, and others.
  4. Being invisible to employers, colleges, police, neighbors, friends, exes, stalkers, acquaintances, and others, who are not interested in you, until they are.
  5. Being visible.

Boredom and information overload

There’s more to boredom than meets the eye.  In an article discussing research about the psychology of boredom, the New York Times writes that sometimes boredom can be a positive thing, allowing the brain time to work through things:

[B]oredom is more than a mere flagging of interest or a precursor to mischief.   Some experts say that people tune things out for good reasons, and that over time boredom becomes a tool for sorting information — an increasingly sensitive spam filter.  In various fields including neuroscience and education, research suggests that falling into a numbed trance allows the brain to recast the outside world in ways that can be productive and creative at least as often as they are disruptive.

Fascinating.  I’ve often felt that my mind processes information the best when I give it a chance to idle.  For instance, I’ll read complicated materials before bed and let my brain process things while I sleep.  When I awake, things often seem to have gelled.  Although the mental processes associated with sleep are likely quite different from those associated with boredom, it would seem that in both instances, the brain sometimes needs to detach in order to wade through information overload.

The privacy paradox and Google

At the New York Times BITS blog, Brad Stone reports on a study about to be released by George Loewenstein and several other Carnegie Mellon researchers about people’s parodoxical attitudes towards privacy and personal information.  In one experiment, some people were given express assurances of privacy whereas others were given none.  Strangely, the people given no assurances of privacy were twice as likely to admit to copying someone else’s homework.

In one sense, that’s paradoxical because assurances of privacy are intended to foster open communications, as with the attorney-client privilege.  But in another sense, the behavior is not paradoxical at all.  Express assurances of privacy may serve the socially useful prophylactic purpose — albeit sometimes unintended — of reminding people of the risks of volunteering personal information.  Even if people don’t really read privacy policies, seeing a conspicuous “privacy policy” link may serve as a cold glass of water to the face, reminding people that they are volunteering personal information, and that they should look before they leap.

That brings to mind the scrutiny Google has recently garnered for its refusal to put a conspicuous link to its privacy policy on its homepage.  Is Google concerned that a link will remind people of the implications of continually using the myriad Google services?  C’mon.  How many times did you use Google today?  And when, if ever, did you think about how much information Google may have about you?  As noted by The Register,

The company still indexes your email.  It still stores your IP address alongside your search history for at least 18 to 24 months.  And if it does “anonymize” your IP address after 24 months – and that’s a big if – it still refuses to anonymize the whole thing.

So if conspicuous reminders of privacy concerns are important, why won’t Google put a simple link on its homepage?  According to another post at BITS, a Google competitor stated that Google co-founder Larry Page “didn’t want a privacy link ‘on that beautiful clean home page.'”

I rather doubt that Page’s concerns are fueled by aesthetics.  One more link won’t change the site’s minimalistic look.  But the starkness of the Google homepage may largely explain why Google doesn’t want that link.  On most e-commerce sites, the visual clutter — think Yahoo — makes it unlikely that a privacy policy link will stand out.  But on Google’s “beautiful clean home page,” such a link would be significantly more conspicuous.

And paradoxically, perhaps more likely to serve its purpose.

New report coming on “How Much Information”

A new “How Much Information” study is being undertaken, to update previous reports done in 2000 and 2003.  The HMI study’s site states:

An updated and expanded study of information growth, conducted by a multi-disciplinary, multi-university team supported by corporate and foundation sponsorship, will complete an update of the 2003 Berkeley report by the end of the year.  The 2008 report will be the first in a three-year research program, sponsored by seven companies, AT&T, Cisco, IBM, LSI, Oracle, Seagate and the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), and spanning three research universities, UC San Diego, MIT and UC Berkeley.

Hat tip to Lockergnome’s Tech News Watch.

Tiger Woods, distractions, and laptops in the classroom

I was awe-struck during the recent U.S. Open Championship, where Tiger Woods won a nerve-wracking 19-hole playoff on the fifth day.  The whole time, Woods suffered from a torn ACL and a double-stress fracture in his leg.  Not only was he often in visible pain when taking a shot: he also had to walk a 7000+ yard course five times.  Yet he remained focused, tuning out everything, including his own considerable pain.

Around the same time, I read Maggie Jackson’s post at Nanci Alboher’s blog about Jackson’s new book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.  Citing an expert in the field of “interruption science,” Jackson states that knowledge workers switch tasks on average every three minutes.  Once distracted, they take a half-hour to return to their original task.  Jackson notes that “[in] meetings where everyone is checking e-mail, opportunities for collective creative energy and critical thinking are lost.”

Substitute “meetings” with “law school” and one sees a pretty accurate image of what can happen in classrooms with laptops.  I would imagine that Jackson would agree that banning laptops would enhance the classroom experience.  As she states in her posting (albeit not on the topic of laptops):

We are born interrupt-driven -– that’s how humans stay tuned to their environment. But if we jump on every e-mail or ping, we’ll have trouble pursuing our long-term goals. To make inroads on the deep, messy work of life, we need to stay focused, bringing the spotlight of our attention back again and again to the work at hand.