These guineafowl have tiny brains and elaborate social networks — Sound familiar?


James Klarevas

❝ A new study published this week in the journal Current Biology about an East African bird species with a pretty small brain reveals that animals may not necessarily necessarily need to be smart to be social…

❝ Farine and his colleagues decided to study the gorgeous blue-feathered, turkey-like species in depth…They found that the local population was divided into 18 distinct social groups numbering between 18 and 65 birds each…

The groups were remarkably stable, anchored by several breeding pairs. They also found that certain groups liked hanging out with one another, meeting up at certain times of the day and around certain features in the landscape. Some groups would also spend most of the day off on their own, then meet up with another pack of bird friends to roost at night. In other words, they exhibit the same type of multilevel society as big-brained mammals…

❝ Farine (says)…these particular birds aren’t particularly intelligent.

“They don’t only have small brains relative to mammals,” he says. “They also have quite small brains relative to other birds.”

Social networking may be more of an elemental survival skill than something requiring smarts. RTFA. Reflect on critters who dash around trying to be recognized as members of the “correct” group.

Smart people are better off with fewer friends


James Cridland/Flickr

Hell might actually be other people — at least if you’re really smart.

That’s the implication of fascinating new research published last month in the British Journal of Psychology. Evolutionary psychologists Satoshi Kanazawa of the London School of Economics and Norman Li of Singapore Management University dig in to the question of what makes a life well-lived. While traditionally the domain of priests, philosophers and novelists, in recent years survey researchers, economists, biologists and scientists have been tackling that question.

Which makes more sense to me. At least, leaving out the priests.

Kanazawa and Li theorize that the hunter-gatherer lifestyles of our ancient ancestors form the foundation for what make us happy now. “Situations and circumstances that would have increased our ancestors’ life satisfaction in the ancestral environment may still increase our life satisfaction today,” they write…

First, they find that people who live in more densely populated areas tend to report less satisfaction with their life overall. “The higher the population density of the immediate environment, the less happy” the survey respondents said they were. Second, they find that the more social interactions with close friends a person has, the greater their self-reported happiness…

But there was one big exception. For more intelligent people, these correlations were diminished or even reversed.

“The effect of population density on life satisfaction was therefore more than twice as large for low-IQ individuals than for high-IQ individuals,” they found. And “more intelligent individuals were actually less satisfied with life if they socialized with their friends more frequently…”

Why would high population density cause a person to be less happy? There’s a whole body of sociological research addressing this question. But for the most visceral demonstration of the effect, simply take a 45-minute ride on a crowded rush-hour Red Line train and tell me how you feel afterward.

Kanazawa and Li’s second finding is a little more interesting. It’s no surprise that friend and family connections are generally seen as a foundational component of happiness and well-being. But why would this relationship get turned on its head for really smart people?

I posed this question to Carol Graham, a Brookings Institution researcher who studies the economics of happiness. “The findings in here suggest (and it is no surprise) that those with more intelligence and the capacity to use it … are less likely to spend so much time socializing because they are focused on some other longer term objective,” she said…

But Kanazawa and Li’s savanna theory of happiness offers a different explanation. The idea starts with the premise that the human brain evolved to meet the demands of our ancestral environment on the African savanna, where the population density was akin to what you’d find today in, say, rural Alaska (less than one person per square kilometer). Take a brain evolved for that environment, plop it into today’s Manhattan (population density: 27,685 people per square kilometer), and you can see how you’d get some evolutionary friction.

Similarly with friendship: “Our ancestors lived as hunter–gatherers in small bands of about 150 individuals,” Kanazawa and Li explain…The typical human life has changed rapidly since then — back on the savanna we didn’t have cars or iPhones or processed food…and it’s quite possible that our biology hasn’t been able to evolve fast enough to keep up. As such, there may be a “mismatch” between what our brains and bodies are designed for, and the world most of us live in now…

There’s a twist, though, at least as Kanazawa and Li see it. Smarter people may be better equipped to deal with the new (at least from an evolutionary perspective) challenges present-day life throws at us. “More intelligent individuals, who possess higher levels of general intelligence and thus greater ability to solve evolutionarily novel problems, may face less difficulty in comprehending and dealing with evolutionarily novel entities and situations,” they write.

If you’re smarter and more able to adapt to things, you may have an easier time reconciling your evolutionary predispositions with the modern world. So living in a high-population area may have a smaller effect on your overall well-being — that’s what Kanazawa and Li found in their survey analysis. Similarly, smarter people may be better-equipped to jettison that whole hunter-gatherer social network — especially if they’re pursuing some loftier ambition.

RTFA. Interesting. I haven’t included all the details. And I haven’t found free access to the complete study.

Reflexive and positive response to the article in my household was as expected. My wife and I live as two hermits interacting with an enlarged world online. People in general, rarely. Everyone in our community knows us. We walk a lot. We wave at everyone as they drive by. They are our neighbors.

Dunkin’ Donuts Releases iPhone App

dunkinrun

Dunkin’ Donuts, the popular fast food chain famous for its coffee and baked goods, has released Dunkin’ Run, a free app for the iPhone and iPod touch. It’s designed to make it easier for Dunkin’ Donuts customers to make group orders — a social application, according to the press release.

I’m making a run to Dunkin’ — does anyone want anything?” is a refrain heard in workplaces near where Dunkin’ Donuts are common. The Dunkin’ Run app and its companion Web site help to make it easier for Dunkin’ customers to solicit and place those group orders.

“Runners” initiate the group order, then interactive alerts are sent to the Runner’s friends and co-workers, informing them when a trip is planned and inviting them to place an order online. The Runner can then print the order or use their iPhone to produce a checklist, to make sure everyone gets what they wanted.

Makes sense to me.

Median number of tweets per user is, um, rather low

It’s not just relatively low retention rates that Twitter has to deal with. Turns out, according to a Harvard Business School study, that the median number of messages a Twitter user sends—ever—is one.

The researchers found that a small group is sending out most of the tweets on the service. Ten percent of Twitter users account for more than 90 percent of messages. That’s more than on the typical social network or on Wikipedia, where 15 percent account for 90 percent of entries.

The implication, according to the Harvard researchers: Twitter “resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.”

Twitter executives have said they working to keep Tweeters engaged with the service. Last month, a study found that 60 percent of new Tweeters abandon Twitter.com after a month.

Anymore news like this you’d think the moneyboys would stop offering all their geedus to Twitter!

MySpace declines as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo grab users


Courtney Holt, head of MySpace Music
Daylife/AP Photo

The “Place for Friends” is starting to feel lonely. MySpace, the Rupert Murdoch-owned website once synonymous with social networking, is losing popularity and key staff in its biggest troubles since launching five years ago…

MySpace’s loss of status as the cool place to be is an object lesson in the notoriously fickle internet, where today’s cultural icon is tomorrow’s passing fad. From humble origins in 2003, the site led the so-called “Web 2.0” revolution in which users could create their own profile pages and share content with friends. Murdoch’s purchase of MySpace for $580m was seen as a masterstroke as membership continued to soar, with celebrities and politicians joining the craze.

But then came Facebook, founded by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg, which soon snowballed with an older and apparently more affluent demographic to steal MySpace’s crown. Gradually newspaper coverage of social networks switched from references to “MySpace and Facebook” to “Facebook and MySpace”. The rise of Bebo also undermined MySpace’s dominance, while Twitter is among the latest novelties eating into users’ attention spans…

There are clues behind the scenes that all is not well at Murdoch’s Fox Interactive Media, which runs the site.

Amit Kapur, MySpace’s chief operating officer, resigned after little more than a year in the post to set up a new company. He will be joined by Jim Benedetto and Steve Pearman, senior vice-presidents of engineering and product strategy.

And, no, I really don’t care. But, some of you do.

Turns out online danger to children is overblown. Surprised?


Mister Morality brags about forcing Craigslist to monitor hookers
Daylife/AP Photo by Bob Child

A task force created by 49 state attorneys general to look into the problem of sexual solicitation of children online has concluded that there really is not a significant problem.

Did they count the honey pots run by local coppers as dangerous sites?

The findings ran counter to popular perceptions of online dangers as reinforced by depictions in the news media like NBC’s “To Catch a Predator” series. One attorney general was quick to criticize the group’s report…

The report concluded that the problem of bullying among children, both online and offline, poses a far more serious challenge than the sexual solicitation of minors by adults.

“This shows that social networks are not these horribly bad neighborhoods on the Internet,” said John Cardillo, chief executive of Sentinel Tech Holding, which maintains a sex offender database and was part of the task force. “Social networks are very much like real-world communities that are comprised mostly of good people who are there for the right reasons.”

Not everyone was happy with the conclusions. Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut attorney general, who has forcefully pursued the issue and helped to create the task force, said he disagreed with the report. Mr. Blumenthal said it “downplayed the predator threat,” relied on outdated research and failed to provide a specific plan for improving the safety of social networking.

And it may get in the way of Blumenthal’s plans to run for the Senate and, eventually, president.

Then, there’s all the crap legislation already trundling around the political dance floor. Congress and state legislators waste an incredible amount of time patting themselves on the back for corrosive attempts to oversee speech and thought on the Web – in the name of “we’re protecting the children”. What a crock!

Papers repossessing home served via Facebook

Daylife/Reuters Pictures

An Australian couple have been served with legal documents via the popular social networking site Facebook.

Mark McCormack, a lawyer in Canberra, persuaded a court to allow him to use the unusual method after other attempts to reach them failed.

The couple’s home is being repossessed after they reportedly missed payments on a loan of over A$100,000.

It is believed to be the first time Facebook has been used in this way.

In granting permission to use the social networking site, the judge stipulated that the papers be sent via a private email so that other people visiting the page could not read their contents.

We’re getting to where the only place some people exist is online. Sad.

Tracking Vaseline through an Alaskan town

Companies have been trying to create their own social networks ever since Friendster became popular. It was part fad and part marketer’s hope that customers were so devoted that they were dying to discuss shampoo or tires online.

With a campaign beginning this month, Vaseline is testing a more conceptual approach. Rather than creating an online social network, it is aiming to map the social network of a small town in Alaska.

The idea is to show that a new Vaseline lotion, Clinical Therapy, is so effective that the residents of Kodiak, Alaska, passed the word around. It was partly of their own accord, and partly because Vaseline was pushing it: Vaseline representatives set up shop in a storefront in Kodiak and gave away free bottles. The residents had to pinpoint which of their fellow townspeople had recommended it.

Vaseline representatives began mapping who was suggesting the lotion to whom. It was not curiosity that drove them, but commercialism. They were trying to find a plugged-in Kodiak resident who had widely recommended the lotion, to be featured in commercials.

Har. Any other suggestions?

Cripes! Facebook for the kindergarten set

It would be easy to assume that the first month of Cameron Chase’s life followed the monotonous cycle of eat-sleep-poop familiar to any new parent. But anyone who has read his oft-updated profile on Totspot, a site billed as Facebook for children, knows better. Cameron, of Winter Garden, Florida, has lounged poolside in a bouncy seat with his grandparents, noted that Tropical Storm Fay passed by his hometown, and proclaimed that he finds the abstract Kandinsky print above his parents’ bed “very stimulating!”

Of course, these busy social networkers don’t actually post journal entries or befriend playground acquaintances themselves. Their sleep-deprived parents are behind the curtain, shaping their children’s online identities even before they are diaper-free…
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