Showing all posts tagged culture:

#tweet2voice: Sociolinguistic Experiment on Tweets

The origin of idea

During the middle of the night, I had an idea where Twitter users can include a special hashtag to have their tweets be read out loud by strangers. While it started merely as a novel idea, I believe this could provide an interesting way to transform a vast amount of text feed into human speech and add additional layer of information (such as emotional intelligence) that was not present before. Before I describe the idea further, here is the thought process I followed as I was building this.

Role of speech

Traditionally, speech function helps convey information and expressing social relationships that are outlined below:
  1. Expressive - express speaker's feelings
  2. Directive - get others to do things
  3. Referential - provide information
  4. Metalinguistic - comments on language
  5. Poetic - aesthetic language
  6. Phatic - language for solidarity and empathy

Where the inspiration came from

This experiment was partially inspired by a project I worked on called Audil, an environmental system for the visually impaired. One of the frustrations that we empathized with is that the blind people have virtually no choice when it comes to how information is disseminated to them. For example, computer speech synthesis software is used frequently throughout the day to absorb information and interact with the world. However, this technology also creates social disparity between the visually impaired and the people who are not. We felt that we can design technology in a way that brings people together rather than to simply subtitute human presence with technology.

Another inspiration came from an app called Umano. It's essentially an audiobook player app for blogs and it's very useful when your hands are preoccupied with complex tasks such as driving. Umano is a bit different than its competitor, SoundGecko, which utilizes server-sided dictation software to read articles and documents. Instead, Umano relies on professional voice actors and announcers to read the articles out loud. In terms of listening experience, computer algorithms of today still cannot compete with human's ability to fine-tune tonality, speed and pitch to make the content seemingly more interesting to our brain.

How it works
  1. Amazon Mechanical Turk worker reads instructions below.
  2. Worker opens Google Spreadsheet with latest tweets with hashtag #tweet2voice.
  3. Worker then calls toll-free number (VoIP) and reads the tweet out loud.
  4. Line2 voicemail notification email with MP3 attachment is sent.
  5. ITTT identifies email with attachment, places MP3 into Dropbox folder and then uploads MP3 to SoundCloud and Tumblr.
  6. Admin tweets SoundCloud link to the original Twitter user.

Instructions for Amazon Mechanical Turk

Summary: You will be calling a toll-free number and reading a statement out loud for the voicemail.
  1. Go to this link.
  2. Find a statement next to "No."
  3. Call the toll-free number 888-707-2925.
  4. When the voicemail beeps, begin reading the statement out loud. Please be expressive when speaking. You can simply read, exaggerate a bit or be emotional, angry, happy, funny, weird, etc.
  5. When completed, type replace "No" with "Yes" next to the statement you just spoke.
  6. Insert the current date and time (in Pacific Time Standard) under "Date & Time Submitted."
  7. Finally, check the box below and submit.
I have called the number and left a voicemail according to the instructions.

How Foreign Languages are Perceived By Non Speakers

An interesting video showing how languages sound like to non speakers. Although this is quite amusing, there's something to be said about the influence of linguistics in interaction design, from both literal and perceived points of view. The sound designers who worked on Wall-E and The Sims knew this well and used sounds to carefully facilitate the interaction, emotion and mood of the experience. Definitely check out the videos below to learn more.

What Languages Sound Like

Private Space and Public Disconnect by NYT in 1981

Below is a simple experiment where I substituted the word “Walkman" with “Google Glass" in a New York Times article published in 1981 to see if the cultural reaction and fear towards new technology still apply today. The price mentioned below is based on the actual price of the Walkman at the time adjusted with inflation.

By Georgia Dullea and Edited by Jinsoo An
Originally Published on April 17, 1981 and Edited on July 27, 2013

In the beginning was the smartphone, and they were the center of our attention. So portable and smart that we've began externalizing all our memories - by being a permanent tenent in our pockets, everywhere we go. Meanwhile, smartphones that some who used it on subways and buses received dirty looks from fellow riders and once in a while a summons from the police.

Then, about a year ago, a civilized alternative to the smartphones began to be seen - but not heard - on city streets. It was a portable head mounted display whose screen was visible to no one but the wearer, and it was eerie. Suddenly, waves of people were walking about with head mount on their forehead and expressions of transport on their faces in a scene that was almost Orwellian.

Unlike the smartphone users, the people in Google Glass did not engender instant hostility. (That came later.) Unlike The smartphone users, their popular image was - still is - a peaceful one.

''We're totally nonthreatening,'' said an engineer named Ralph Kagan, who was tethered to Phyllis Stein on a stroll down Columbus Avenue the other day, wearing the Google Glass on his head. ''Absolutely,'' Miss Stein agreed. ''I've even worn them to work and I'm a research librarian.''

Rich Look, who writes music for film scores and commercials (''Brush your breath with Dentyne''), plans to take his Google Glass to the beach this summer. ''Smartphones are banned at the beach club I belong to but there's no way anyone can complain about this,'' he said, patting his Google Glass.

''Commuting on Conrail is almost tolerable,'' said Amanda Wilkerson, who was listening to country western while sprinting across Grand Central Terminal for a train to White Plains. ''I've gotten a lot of comment on my Google Glass. Most people are fascinated by them.''

But some people are not. Some see the growing Google Glass movement as ''socially alienating'' and ''destructive of relationships'' and its members as ''status seekers'' and ''elitists.''

It is true that, when the Google Glass was first introduced here in December 1979, the $799 price tag made it more of a middle-class indulgence. But several other electronics manufacturers - Panasonic, Aiwa and Toshiba among them - have entered the market and prices are dropping steadily. Today the same Google Glass is widely advertised at $599 and discounted at below $500. Google alone sold 500,000 units in this country last year and projects sales of 1.5 million for this year.

Obviously, not all buyers are stockbrokers. As Martin Sloane, who is in the investment business himself, points out, some are stock clerks. Mr. Sloane bases this observation on something he saw in Bloomingdale's not long ago, something he says confirms his theory that the Google Glass is a great leveler.

A customer wearing the latest in Italian sportswear and a Google Glass was strolling through the men's department. A rack of clothes rolled by and behind it came a stock clerk, also in Google Glass. The two exchanged smiles and then, for a brief moment, Google Glass.

''Not a word was spoken,'' Mr. Sloane said. ''It seemed to be completely spontaneous. I can well see where Google Glass wearing will replace dog-walking as a means of social interaction.''

December Cole doubts that. Miss Cole, who is known as D.C., says she has yet to recover from a trip to Atlantic City last year with ''a basically rude'' man who spent the weekend in Google Glass ''bopping around to his own music.''

''Every once in a while, he'd say, 'You gotta see this.' He'd put them on my head for a second and I'd say, 'Yeah, yeah, great,' and then he'd take them back. He even kept them on at a floor show.''

''That was our last date,'' Miss Cole, a sales executive with a beauty magazine, said icily. ''Now he's dating a girlfriend of mine and I understand Google Glass is off.'' 'He's Out of This World'

''He's out of this world,'' Josephine DeMarco said, pointing to her husband, Vincent, a retired barber, who sat beside her on a bench in Washington Square Park nodding to an ''Otello'' aria. ''I haven't been able to communicate with him since he put those things on his forehead. He doesn't even know we're talking about him.''

''Oh, I know,'' protested Mr. DeMarco, who had pressed the ''hot line'' button on his Google Glass, which mutes the sound and activates a built-in microphone bringing in voices from the outside. Then handing over his Google Glass, he said: ''The is indescribable. Don't talk about it - just see and listen!''

People who wear Google Glass are like that. You may have to flap your arms and move your mouth for a while, but once you get through to them, they are mostly eager to share their electronic toy.

''What it boils down to,'' said Mr. DeMarco, reclaiming his Google Glass and fixing an eye on his wife. ''is some people appreciate information and some people don't appreciate information.''

''And some people don't appreciate people,'' Mrs. DeMarco said.

Trend of Self-Focused & Emotionally-Detached Culture

It should be no brainer to realize that the Internet has become a new breeding ground for the “me" culture — from selfies to pointless tweets and so forth. In fact, the growing number of research studies continue to indicate that Americans are emphasizing individualism more than ever before. Meanwhile, a new study reveals that contemporary English books have been becoming less emotionally expressive since 1960s. The researchers note that the results also coincide with studies finding an apparent increase in narcissism over the decades.

While there’s no proof that this is more than a correlation (not causality), designers of all background should be aware of these implications and practice their work in both appropriate and ethical fashion. Merely copying and executing design trends without thinking through the consequences is a sure way to undo our progress as designers.

Here are the summaries of four articles that describe the trends occurring in music, literature and social media.

1. Music

According to a research team at University of Kentukcly led by C. Nathan DeWall, “popular music lyrics now include more words related to a focus on the self." By analyzing keywords in lyrics of the top ten songs in the US from 1980 to 2007, the research team found that the use of first-person singular pronouns such as I, me and mine have increased over third-person plural pronouns such as we, us and our declined. Furthermore, the frequency of terms depicting social interactions and positive emotions went down.

2. Books

Another research team led by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge reported that the "language in American books has become increasingly focused on the self and uniqueness in the decades since 1960s." The frequency of words and phrases that convey individualism such as “independent," “all about me," “I am special" and “I get what I want" went up while the frequency of communal words and phrases such as “teamwork," “band together" and “common good" went down. The findings also suggest that words that connote hyper-individualism such as “identity," “personalized," “self," “standout" and “unique" experienced the largest increase in usage.

3. Social Media

"Self-esteem and narcissism are often interrelated but don’t always go hand in hand. Some psychologists believe that narcissists—those who have a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, a need for admiration, as well as a lack of empathy—unconsciously inflate their sense of self-importance as a defense against feeling inadequate. Not enough empirical research has been produced to confirm that link, although Mehdizadeh’s study seems to support it. Because narcissists have less capacity to sustain intimate or long-term relationships, Mehdizadeh thinks that they would be more drawn to the online world of virtual friends and emotionally detached communication."

"Although it seems that Facebook can be used by narcissists to fuel their inflated egos, Mehdizadeh stops short of proclaiming that excessive time spent on Facebook can turn regular users into narcissists. She also notes that social-networking sites might ultimately be found to have positive effects when used by people with low self-esteem or depression."

“If individuals with lower self-esteem are more prone to using Facebook," she says, “the question becomes, ‘Can Facebook help raise self-esteem by allowing patients to talk to each other and help each other in a socially interactive environment?’ I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that people with low self-esteem use Facebook."

via Pacific Standard, Pacific Standard, Salon and Scientific American

Family Gastronomic Voyeurism

It's fascinating to see many single households in South Korea turning to gastronomic voyeurism to substitute family dinner time. The activities/topics of this "virtual family dinner" - other than eating - include telling life stories, sharing philosophical perspectives, instructing how to make the perfect fertilizer with leftover food and reduce waste, mixing random foods together, discussing current events, feeding pet, etc. Just like how a real family would; but with a bit of personality and humor.

Relevant Article:

Conditioning of Capsule Toy Vending Machines

Even with the most attention-grabbing toys, video games and apps available in the market today, the nostalgia of capsule toys still manages to live on. First introduced in Japan, capsule toy vending machines (as known as Gashapon in Japan) were strategically placed near every school corner in Asia. In fact, it was not only a public utility for consumption, but it also served as ubiquitous placemark that signifies presence of school children near by.

I first encountered a capsule toy vending machine when I was in a grade school in Seoul, Korea — in front of the “usual" place of course. For me and many of my friends at the time, these vending machines (as known as Capsule Bbopki in Korea) represented a part of the daily ritual on the way to school and home. Or perhaps a true testament of self control. After all, these machines look and work much like Pachinko, from sensorial conditioning (utilizing gratifying sounds and haptic feedbacks generated by the mechanical lever and plastic capsule) to the desire to keep playing in order to win the prize you want.

While both Gashapon and Pachinko sharing their ancestry with a children’s toy "Corinth game" is no coincidence, my hypothesis is that Gashapon have gradually encouraged kids to develop a knack for Pachinko later in life. Why do I believe this? Well, the very companies that produce Gashapon also happen to design and license Pachinko machines. Similar to how American brands made coffee popular in Japan by selling coffee-flavored candies to kids after the war.

The culture code for Pachinko is Gashapon.


Japan had a similar conditioning in the past that involved by selling coffee-flavored candy to kids to encourage coffee consumption later in their life.