Health includes social and behavioral dimensions

There may be privacy concerns about the government having behavioral and social data as part of medical records but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t important factors when looking at health:

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) wants to require health care providers to include “social and behavioral” data in Electronic Health Records (EHR) and to link patient’s records to public health departments, it was announced last week.

Health care experts say the proposal raises additional privacy concerns over Americans’ personal health information, on top of worries that the Obamacare “data hub” could lead to abuse by bureaucrats and identify theft…

The “meaningful use” program already requires doctors and hospitals to report the demographics of a patient and if he smokes to qualify for its first step. The second stage, planned for 2014, will require recording a patient’s family health history.

The National Academy of Sciences will make recommendations for adding social and behavioral data for stage three, which will be unveiled in 2016.

Maybe these are separate concerns: one might argue such data is worthwhile but they don’t trust he government with it. But, I suspect there are some who don’t like the collection of social and behavioral data at all. They would argue it is too intrusive. People have made similar complaints about the Census: why exactly does the government need this data anyway?

However, we know that health is not just a physical outcome. You can’t separate health from behavior and social interactions. There is a lot of potential here for new understandings of health and its multidimensionality. Take something like stress. There are physical reactions to it but this is an issue strongly influenced by context. Solutions to it could include pills or medicine but that is only dealing with the physical outcomes rather than limiting or addressing stressful situations.

We’ll see how this plays out. I suspect, federal government involvement or not, medical professionals will be looking more at the whole person when addressing physical concerns.

Born into digital lives: average newborn online within an hour of birth

The newborns of today arrive online very quickly:

The poll found that parents were the most likely to upload pictures of the newborns (62 per cent), followed by other family members (22 per cent) and friends (16 per cent).

The most popular platform for displaying these first baby images was Facebook, followed by Instagram and Flickr…

Marc Phelps of baby photo agency http://www.posterista.co.uk, which commissioned the survey, said: “The fact that a picture of the average newborn is now online within an hour just goes to highlight the enormous impact social media has had on our lives in the past five years, and how prevalent these pages are in helping to keep loved ones informed on the special occasions in our lives, such as the birth of a new child.

Some more on the survey:

The poll by print site http://www.posterista.co.uk, which surveyed 2,367 parents of children aged five and under, aimed to discover the impact social media have had on the way new parents share information and images of their offspring…

The top five reasons cited for sharing these images online included keeping distant family and friends updated (56%), expressing love for their children (49%), describing it as an ideal location to store memories (34%), saying it is a great way to record children’s early years (28%), and to brag to and “better” other parents’ photos (22%).

It sounds like complete digital immersion. The most common reason given for this practice mirror the main reasons users give for participating in SNS like Facebook: to remain connected with others. But, the next four reasons differ. The second and fifth reasons suggest posting photos about newborns is about social interactions, first with the new baby (positive, though the baby doesn’t know it – plus, this could be part of a public performance of how love is shown in the 2010s) but then also in competition with others (negative). The third and fourth reasons are more about new digital tools; instead of developing film or printing pictures, SNS can be online repositories of life (offloading our memories online).

Thinking more broadly, what are the ethics of posting pictures of people online who haven’t given their permission or don’t know they are online? This could apply to children but this could also apply to friends or even strangers who end up in your photos. Some have suggested companies like Facebook have information on people who don’t have profiles through the information provided by others. Plus, if you don’t go online, others might think you are suspicious. So, perhaps the best way to protect your content online is not to withdraw and try to hide but rather to rigorously monitor all possible options…

Is YouTube a future “hub for national discourse”?

Online video has the potential to be social video:

Hurley’s launch comes as his prior startup YouTube itself becomes more collaborative under owner Google. YouTube this past fall opened a 41,000-square foot studio in a former Los Angeles aircraft hangar, where amateur video producers can work with one another and use professional-grade equipment. YouTube is also working to make its comment section more socially sophisticated, with more real names and higher-quality feedback.

Design software company Autodesk, meanwhile, placed a $60 million bet on social video last summer when it acquired mobile video startup Socialcam. And Amazon has roughly 45 projects in the pipeline at Amazon Studios, its 2-year-old effort at crowdsourced interactive filmmaking.

That’s not to say that every rising online video brand has bet on social. Netflix and Hulu, for example, have both invested heavily in polished, Hollywood-style content and offer only a minimal set of social features. Viddy, a Los Angeles-area startup, has struggled in its efforts to fuse content from mass media stars like Justin Bieber with social platforms like Facebook.

But with each passing year YouTube looks like a more crucial hub for national discourse — seedbed for potent political appeals, the hinge of effective Kickstarter fundraising campaigns, and fodder for much of the sharing that goes on within networks like Facebook and BuzzFeed. And there’s both poetry and logic in the notion that Hurley, having helped democratize television with YouTube, is now trying to turn the medium into a truly two-way affair.

This is a big claim: YouTube as a “crucial hub for national discourse”? Videos do indeed become part of conversations today and there is potential here to make money but I question how often these videos lead to social or political action. What happened to Kony 2012? How about that recent video about wealth inequality in the United States? How many good conversations are had in comment sections of YouTube videos? In other words, I think there is a long way to go here.

Sad: creator of Diplomacy board game dies

I was not aware that the founder of the Diplomacy board game was a Chicago area resident but after his death last Monday, both Chicago newspapers ran interesting bits. Here is a little from the Chicago Tribune obituary about how the game came to be:

The final inspiration came when Mr. Calhamer was at Harvard and, in a class on 19th century Europe, taught by Sidney Bradshaw Fay, he read his professor’s book, “The Origins of the World War.”

“That brought everything together,” Mr. Calhamer told Chicago magazine in 2009. “I thought, ‘What a board game that would make!'”

After being rejected by several game companies, Mr. Calhamer in 1959 published on his own 500 copies of Diplomacy, and the game came to develop a relatively small but extremely devoted following…

Mr. Calhamer dropped out of law school after a year and a half, then took the foreign-service exam and spent three months on a temporary assignment in Africa. When he returned, he continued to work on perfecting the game and joined Sylvania’s Applied Research Laboratory in Waltham, Mass., where he did operations research, a scientific approach to military problem-solving.

“He was hired because of the game,” Richard Turyn, a mathematician who worked at Sylvania, told the Washington Post in a 2004 feature on Diplomacy.

And here is more from the Chicago Sun-Times:

With its shifting alliances, deception and backstabbing, Diplomacy resembled a Fortran-era version of TV’s “Survivor” — set in pre-World War I Europe. Reportedly, it was popular with President Kennedy, broadcaster Walter Cronkite, and Nixon-era Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. It’s in the Hall of Fame of both Games Magazine, and boardgamegeek.com, where fans worldwide are mourning his passing…

“In many ways, the hobby game industry as we know it owes its existence to Allan Calhamer,” Webb said. Diplomacy “moved away from pure strategy games like chess and from straightforward die rolls for conflict resolution, and introduced bluffing, lying and manipulation. . . . Diplomacy opened up entirely new dimensions to gaming, truly bringing a new level of social interaction into gaming, a legacy that can be seen today in hundreds of hobby games.”

“It sort of started a new genre of games, because you’re playing up to seven players, and making secret deals, and then coming back to the board and making your moves,” said Wayne Schmittberger, a game designer and editor in chief of Games Magazine, who used to stay up all night to play it at Yale University…

One fan, Jim Burgess, wrote about how he reconciled his religion and the game’s treachery in an article on diplomacy-archive.com: “Why I am a Christian” and a Diplomacy player.

My own thoughts:

1. Diplomacy is a fantastic game and superior to Risk because it relies on conversation and negotiation. Its biggest drawback is that it takes forever to play. There is something about the interaction that is unique; impression management means a lot.

2. I played a number of times in person during college and then multiple games by email (though not for some years now). Of course, the outcome was often not what I wanted. Inevitably, the game hinges on backstabbing moments where one player is able to gain an upper hand over another. This often requires just getting one center more than another player.

3. I still prefer playing as Russia, one of the seven powers at the start of the game, which to me still has the most risk and reward.

4. My favorite website for the game is diplomacy-archive.com.

5. This game has a sort of cult status. It is difficult to find in stores and is not a well-known board game. I think more people should learn how to play.

Can you design an attractive “third place” library if it has no books?

A journalist asks an interesting question about libraries: can it be an attractive space if it has no books?

Whether the public library has a digital-only collection, a hard-copy collection, or a combination of both, it is first and foremost a place for ideas. Sure, the spare, clean lines of an Apple store brilliantly focus attention on the excellence of Mac products available for sale, but a public library needs to foster community, inspire idea cross-pollination, and help us draw connections between our past and our future. A public library needs to be a place of comfort  –  a place where its community can come to explore thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Modern library designers are headed in the right direction when they reference sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s “third places.” A third place is an informal public space that’s neither work nor home where people can interact casually and exchange ideas. Third places are the oil that lubricates civic engagement, and Oldenburg believes they need to be physical, not digital. Physical third places bring people with different mind-sets and politics together, but virtual meeting places attract like-minded people, Oldenburg told JWT Intelligence in 2011.

In B.C., the West Vancouver Memorial Library, renovated some half a dozen years ago, did it right. The library is warm, friendly, modern and welcoming with many little nooks to foster human-scaled interaction.  The new Surrey City Centre Library, which opened just over a year ago, did it wrong. Its design might be architecturally stunning, but its large white expanses feel cold and uninviting. Perhaps this will improve when the library gets busier.

San Antonio’s $1.5 million library will have tablets, e-readers and computers, but no physical books. Word is the 5,000 square-foot library will have 100 e-readers to loan out,  plus 50 onsite computer stations, 25 laptops and 25 tablets. Borrowers will be able to check out e-readers for two weeks or simply load books onto their own devices, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The argument here seems to be that libraries are sterile places without physical books. While the San Antonio library branch referenced here seems to be more progressive in terms of technology, a trend I assume many libraries are trying to follow, it still does have e-readers. What exactly is it about books that makes a space less sterile, particularly if the writer above also suggests the best part of the library in British Columbia is that it has “many little nooks to foster human-scaled interaction”? Can’t a technologically advanced library have a lot of little nooks? Perhaps books give off a sense of stateliness or learning.

I wonder if the opposite argument could be made: having lots of books might foster less social interaction and therefore make a library a less inviting place. Do people necessarily go to find books to read and have social interaction? Some people do indeed go to bookstores for conversations about books (and other media like magazines) but libraries have not traditionally been places for social interaction in the same sense as bookstores or coffee shops.

Even chimpanzees can play the Ultimatum game

One of the most famous experiments of recent decades, the Ultimatum game, was recently extended to chimpanzees:

This modified game, in which two chimps decided how to divide a portion of banana slices, seems to have revealed the primates’ generous side.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was part of an effort to uncover the evolutionary routes of why we share, even when it does not make economic sense.

Scientists say this innate fairness is an important foundation of co-operative societies like ours…

She added though that is was not clear that the chimps completely understood the design of the game and that, with just six chimps involved in the study, further evidence would be needed to show clearly that chimps had a natural tendency towards fairness.

It sounds like there is more work to be done to demonstrate consistent effects among chimpanzees. The way to do this is to replicate the game with a variety of chimpanzees in a variety of contexts. There may be two obstacles to this. First, it sounds like it took some time to train the chimps to understand the game, especially since the chimps were not directly offered food as a reward as this had skewed a similar 2007 study. Second, replicating the study elsewhere might lead to different results – kind of like what happens when an experiment changes from involving American undergraduates to other populations in the world.

Study finds significant overlap of online Facebook friends and offline friendships

A new study reinforces a consistent finding about Facebook friendships: people tend to associate online with people they know offline.

On Facebook, all of these complex and differentiated relationships get collapsed — flattened — under the label “friend.” But researchers at UC San Diego wanted to see whether it could figure out — just from people’s Facebook activity — who their closest friends were. They asked a survey group to list their close friends and then, using a model based on comments, messages, wall posts, likes, photo tags, etc. tried to see if they could say whether any given pair of people were close. They could do so accurately 84 percent of the time. These Facebook clues are “successful proxies for such real-world tie strength.”

Jason J. Jones, one of the study’s lead authors, say the findings contradict the common belief that people use Facebook to keep in touch with those whom they would otherwise lose touch with and use other means of communication (such as the phone) for their closest relationships. Rather, Facebook is just another space in which our social lives take place. The researchers found that comments were the most revealing of a friendship’s strength, followed by messages, wall posts, and likes. Least revealing were demographic information, such as having had the same employer or gone to the same school, and being invited to join the same Facebook groups. Additionally, the study’s authors found that public interactions such as comments and wall posts were just as revealing as private messages.

“This is a useful study even if it comes from the ‘duh’ department,” writes social-media theorist Nathan Jurgenson over email. “The notion that the Internet is, or ever really was, some other, cyber, space, is wrong headed.” In other words, of course our Facebook interactions reveal the reality of our friendships — they are part and parcel to our friendships. There aren’t two separate spheres of online and offline, but one continuous reality, which is at various points augmented by technology — the phone or Facebook, for examples — or the tools of the voice, gestures, and facial expressions. Terms like “real world,” “virtual world,” and “IRL,” which the study’s authors rely on heavily, undermine a better understanding of this integration.

This corroborates a consistent finding in academic work about Facebook and social networking sites: users don’t go out and meet a bunch of “random” other users. Rather, they tend to reproduce existing friendship and social networks in the online world. Some of these relationships might have faded away in the past, like making friends with people from grade school or past jobs, but much of the online interaction is a continuation of the interaction that is taking place offline.

The article does contain an interesting ending:

This is all follows pretty neatly from Jurgenson’s point that Facebook is a tool that augments our one reality, not a separate reality altogether. If we understand that Facebook is a space where our friendships occur and develop, we can begin to think about what the contours of that space do to us.

In other words, putting existing relationships in the online sphere can shape these relationships in unique ways. Thus, there is a two-way interaction going on: Facebook allows people to interact but it also shapes that interaction and what might be possible down the road in that relationship.