2/13/2006

Does the Internet Make us Oblivious to Nuance?

One study says so, but I'm not so sure. The study
took 30 pairs of undergraduate students and gave each one a list of 20 statements about topics like campus food or the weather. Assuming either a serious or sarcastic tone, one member of each pair e-mailed the statements to his or her partner. The partners then guessed the intended tone and indicated how confident they were in their answers.

Those who sent the messages predicted that nearly 80 percent of the time their partners would correctly interpret the tone. In fact the recipients got it right just over 50 percent of the time.


Okay, but the expectation of correctness is also based on what fraction of messages the viewer reads that are usually sarcastic. I wouldn't be surprised if the study selected sarcasm or the lack thereof on a 50/50 basis -- so, unless half of what's said on the Internet is said ironically, they're skewing their experiment. The proportion is almost certainly lower, especially since many people already realize that the Internet is not a great medium for communicating shades of meaning that we typically convey through tone of voice or timing. So while we're prone to misunderstanding each other online, it's not nearly this bad.

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posted by Byrne Hobart at 9:00:00 PM

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2/02/2006

Good Intentions Misapplied

The governor of West Virginia probably has only the best of intentions when he directs his state's coal mines to shut down, but a little careful thought will reveal that in terms of human lives, American coal is far cheaper than several other sources (note that this news is only really 'news' because of what's happened in West Virginia). A little thought makes it obvious that mines are terribly unsafe, and that it's economically irrational to take such risks simply to generate power -- but a little more thought makes it clear that shutting down American mines is precisely the wrong solution.

This blog is no longer being updated. Visit ByrneHobart.com for more blogging, or pay a visit to my new Internet stock research and M&A due diligence company.


posted by Byrne Hobart at 3:18:00 PM

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