I recently set up a Facebook Group for our local village community and in doing so canvassed people's opinion as to their willingness to join the group. Our community is a mixture of all ages so this was quite a useful exercise to gauge opinion. The results are hardly scientific but it is probably fair to say that the younger generation (18-40) is more disposed to social media than its more senior counterpart. However, a regular comment made was one of concern about the dangers of social media in general and Facebook in particular.
I have often remarked that, in an age when you hear more about data privacy and invasion of personal information and rights than ever before, the majority of people are quite willing to expose themselves (metaphorically but sometimes literally) to world scrutiny. Sadly I feel that this majority does not appreciate quite what happens to their information once they click 'send'.
Firstly, anything they write or 'post' has the potential to be shared instantly around the world. You can quickly delete a post but, unless you are double quick, the chances are that it has already been shared either directly or indirectly and every share leads exponentially to more shares. There is NO WAY of deleting it entirely from the internet. But, even if people are wise to this risk and are still prepared to take a chance, very few are likely to be aware of the mass of other information about them that is automatically captured by social media. This data about you (called metadata) can include anything that Facebook knows about you from the day you joined. This includes all your friends and family, places you have visited, your likes and dislikes, your political and life style choices and so on.
Facebook and other forms of social media - typically Twitter, Google and You Tube - run what are called algorithms; bits of code that analyse all this metadata. The resultant huge databases about social media users are then exploited by advertisers to populate your personal Facebook stream with adverts tailored exclusively to you. This is what pays for 'free' social media.
But it is not just adverts that are a worry. Facebook (and others) use these algorithms to tailor everything that you see on your Facebook 'news feed'. Over time, you will only be presented with items in your feed that particularly play to your personal preferences or views. And how do they know your preferences and views? Easy. They determine these from the groups that you join, the people you follow, the other posts and comments that you 'like' and 'dislike' and so on. Again over time, any contrary view or opinion will be hidden or given far less prominence in material presented in your feed.
You might say 'Well, that's no worse than reading rubbish in the newspapers.' But think about it for a moment. You can choose what papers (and pages/articles) to read and what items to ignore. You can't with Facebook because your news is personally selected for you.
In a very recent book by Roger McNamee called 'Zucked. Waking up to the Facebook Catastrophe' (Mark Zuckerberg of course being the CEO of Facebook), these algorithms are called 'filter bubbles'. Now consider that Facebook (with its apps) controls the personal data of nearly 3 Billion people around the world. That is 40% of the world's population of 7.5 Billion. (figures corrected 25 Feb). Now you can see what influence social media has. The book goes on to say that the use of Facebook data (by outsiders NOT by Facebook themselves) probably contributed in large measure to the election of Donald Trump and to the result of our own Brexit referendum.
Have you woken up yet?????
We all know the limitations of the UK Post Code system. On average, a post code will cover about 15 premises although - dependent on density - it can be anything from 1 to 100. Delivery drivers for online shopping face problems daily in finding the right property. Is there a better system? Well potentially there is and it is positively mind-blowing. Most of us are familiar with the GPS system used for satellite navigation. Given a set of GPS coordinates it is possible to define an area of about 3 to 8 metres in size. Anyone who has experimented with Geo-Caching (finding objects hidden in a location by tracking their coordinates) will have experienced this. The trouble is that when a GPS system attempts to find a location relative to a particular post code the area covered can be anything up to half a mile.
Scientists and mathematicians have worked round this by working out the surface area of the world and dividing it into small squares of land (or sea) that measure about 3 metres by 3 metres - roughly the size of a small room. The number of such squares is 56 trillion or 56 followed by 12 zeros. But how do you make reference to an individual square other than by a complex set of number coordinates? Well, a UK company has come up with the answer in their system they call What 3 Words.
They have worked out that by using a 40,000 word dictionary (which can be in any language) and using 3 different words selected from this dictionary and using them separated by a dot they can create a unique reference readable by humans. For example: slurs.this.shark is the address of the front door of No 10 Downing Street. I promise I didn't make this up!
OK you say, how can just 40,000 words cover the whole world? Easy; the possible permutations using these words is 40,000 x 40,000 x 40,000 which is approximately 64 trillion. More than enough to cover 56 trillion squares on the surface of the world. Go and have a look at https://what3words.com/.
In my last post I introduced a number of present-day sayings and described their origins. I took items from a book called ‘Red Herrings and White Elephants - The Origins of the phrases we use every day.’
Judging by the number of hits on my blog these seemed to generate interest so here are a few more from that same book. I must acknowledge the author Albert Jack and his book published in 2004 (ISBN 1-84358-129-9) and hope he will forgive my use of extracts.
The White Elephant in the title originates from Siam (now Thailand) where the King was said to own all white elephants since they were rare and highly prized. It was strictly forbidden to ride them, put them to work or misuse them and they had to be kept well-housed, fed and watered. It was thus an expensive possession since you couldn't do anything with it. It is said that if anyone displeased the King he would give them a White Elephant, thus condemning them to a life of expense and trouble. Today a building (for example) is said to be a White Elephant if, despite the cost to build and maintain, it is of no use at all.
Pushed from Pillar to Post. Means to be hassled by others and generally to have one’s life made a misery. It comes from a time when criminals and wrong-doers would be taken to the Pillory (the Stocks) and then to the Whipping Post. This has become Pillar to Post.
To be Under the Weather. An old nautical term; when sailors were unwell and unable to function properly they were sent below decks (sheltered from (under) the weather) to recover.
Bob’s Your Uncle. In the 1886 Arthur Balfour was promoted to Secretary of State for Ireland even though he was considered to be singularly unsuitable for the job. When it became known that he was the nephew of the Prime Minister Robert Gascoyne-Cecil it was said that if Robert was your uncle a deed was as good as done.
Following my last post about books I am reading, this item concerns a book called 'Red Herrings & White Elephants' which explains the origin of many of our present day sayings. Here are some of interest:
'Having a Dekko'. Means to have a look and was introduced by troops returning from service in India in the 1800s. Dekko is Hindustani for 'look'.
'Given the sack'. From former times when workmen would travel from job to job carrying their tools in a sack. On being taken on they would hand their sack to their employer for safe keeping until their services were no longer needed whereupon they would be given the sack. If they were dishonest, the sack of tools would be burnt - thus 'Fired'.
'Gone Haywire'. In the early 20th Century in US they introduced a strong metal wire to bind hay bales. When snipped the taut haywire would spring dangerously through the air and be piled in the corner of the yard in a tangled mess.
'Red Herring'. In the early 1800s there were even hunt saboteurs then. They would drag a pungent smoked red/brown herring through the hunt area to lead foxes on a false trail.