Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thoughts on the Future of Advertisement

The future of advertisement is virtual. This is because the future of technology is virtual. Currently, we are tethered to devices: smartphones, e-readers, tablets, gaming devices. However, technology has always evolved to make itself easier to use, smaller, lighter, less intrusive, less tangible. Surely, the future will take the Web out of our hands and homes and into our minds - ultimate portability.

As more and more people will choose to spend increasing amounts of time in virtual reality, the dichotomy between virtual reality and the real world will seemingly disappear. "Physical" technology is disappearing already, being replaced by cloud services and massive databases. Advertisement, therefore, will move into this new virtual realm. With most if not all our collective information moving from the physical to the digital, it moves from our hands into the hands of big corporations, those that own the cloud services, the social networking sites - the information technologies. These corporations, such as Amazon or Facebook, already use accumulated user information to target consumers more efficiently (i.e., get you to buy more). This might seem harmless. After all, you are provided with more relavent ads. However, with virtual reality, the danger is that because the lines between it and the real world will likely be blurred in the future, one's experience of the world can be substantially different than someone else's. In effect, big corporations will be in control, customizing what people hear and see. This kind of thing is already happening to a limited degree. Google, for example, displays different search results based on your search history. This means that two people would see different search results for the same search word or phrase. This future eventuality is actually a very subtle form of mind control. Perhaps it should be called mind influence. It will give big corporations the ability to "herd" people: make them do, or think, or buy, what the corporations want, within a certain, very real, probability, which will only  improve with time, as the corporations become more adept and experienced with such techniques.

No one wants to be controlled, but how can one avoid it without "unplugging" himself from what will be the lifeline of future society? That is the potential power of advertisement and big corporations that must be respectfully feared. Awareness of such techniques of information gathering should certainly be emphasized. Whenever you do anything online, it becomes information that is recorded, shared, and analyzed, information someone else could use. Be mindful of what you're sharing about yourself, explicitly or implicitly, voluntarily or involuntarily. Whether on social networking sites, shopping online, using a search engine, or just using a Web browser, think about all the information about you collected in one way or another over your lifetime by the technologies society has come to not even think about: all your locations and the time and date you're at them, all your calendars and events and anniversaries, all your friends and penpals and acquaintances, everything you've ever searched for online, every email you've ever sent, every forum post, every blog post, your voice, appearance, telephone conversations, etc. Now imagine someone with that information and an agenda.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Thoughts on Socialization Effect of Media

I'm no psychologist. However, it seems apparent that the media (TV, radio, the Internet) presents us with a picture of society, its norms, its mores, and what the landscape of society looks like – the biodiversity, if you will, of people: physical appearance, dress, and attitudes and beliefs; it's the source we use to figure out who we are. Saussure said there are no positive terms in linguistics, that we identify things by what they are not. Therefore, we need an external source to know who we are and what our values are - these things are not innate. That's what I believe.

Different cultures have different values, as is demonstrated by their respective media. Causality can be disputed here: is society reflecting values learned from the media or is the media simply reflecting innate social values? It has been shown via surveys that, say, Japanese children raised in the US tend to have the same values and attitudes as most US citizens despite coming from a culture with relatively disparate values. In less assimilated communities, say Chinatowns, the situation is more complex. On average, though, it's safe to say that many more in such places tend to speak their native tongues and keep their foreign values with a much greater prevalence. More to the point: our surroundings show us who we are by showing us what others are. Our relation to these others often dictate what we think. Society and the media socialize.

Then the question becomes: which one has a greater impact on socialization, the media or one’s own society? I don't think there's any right answer. Rather, I think it boils down to two key things. The first is whether society or the media is in a young mind's "Quality World," a phrase used by psychologist William Glasser in his Choice Theory to describe an individual's key sphere of influence and attention. The second is time, how much of it one spends with each influence. In this day and age, unfortunately, the media, especially TV and increasingly the Internet, is in many young kids' Quality Worlds, since this is how they know what the current trends are and can keep up with friends, and how most leisure time for them is spent.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Few Mini-Reviews

I've decided to compose a short list of a few  of my favorite books I've read over the past year or so and would like to share, with a few comments about what I think of them. I thought this would be the next best thing to giving full reviews on things I've read some time ago.

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

Inspiring. Lightman looks at time and creates a new world in each chapter based on a different interpretation of it. There's, also, some biographical information about Einstein. I read this book a chapter a night - before I would go to bed. Every chapter was inspirational and made me look at the world and life in a different way. That's what (good) science fiction is supposed to do: awe and inspire. It was recommended to me by a creative writing professor of mine at Fordham U. I highly recommend it to all lovers of science, Einstein, or time.

Physics of the Impossible by Michio Kaku

This is like the hard SF writer's Bible - for real. Not only that, but it's really a great read: tons and tons of information and detail about the laws of physics and how they apply to all the classical science fiction technologies (ray guns, starships, invisibility, time travel, teleportation) and whether they are possible or impossible. It's all told in a readily readable and comprehensible fashion, which, given the subject matter, is a testament to Kaku's expertise.

Brainiac by Ken Jennings

A trivia nerd's delight and a must for Jeopardy! fans. (I'm one.) Ken Jennings, the biggest winner (via winning streak) in Jeopardy! history, talks about his journey on the show and about trivia and its history and importance in society. My favorite quote from the book: "Trivia is the marijuana of knowledge."

Sex on the Brain by Daniel Amen

Dr. Amen is famous for his emphasis on brain scanning and brain abnormalities to explain psychological and interrelational issues. Amen's books are very readable and educational (though somewhat repetitive), packed with lots interesting factoids. It's a great read for couples or anyone interested in improving their love lives - warning: Amen does not approve of "unloving sex," so don't expect a guide for casual sex. Not that I did - I'm just saying.

That's about it. I've read some other books - but these are my favorites from the past year or so. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Creationist Craziness

I saw this (unintentionally) funny Web page the other day, saved the URL, and put it here so you all can have a good laugh. It's obviously promoting some creationist (or intelligent design - whatever they're calling it these days) video on the supposedly secret truth about life. The first paragraph is hilarious.

First two sentences: "What does modern DNA research now prove about the theory that simple cells evolved into all life on earth? Simply that evolution is impossible."

Modern DNA research proves evolution is impossible, huh? Damn, I guess all those biological scientists are out of jobs since everything they know is based on an impossibility. Notice, also, how creationists love to talk about "all life on earth" (i.e., its biodiversity) as something that is impossible to achieve by any natural process. This demonstrates a complete incomprehension of both the concept of just how large a timescale billions of years is and the exponential factor of evolution. (That is, as biology evolves, like technology, it utilizes what is available to build ever-increasingly complex and new structures - therefore, life first evolved on the earth after about a billion years of the earth's formation, but it only took a couple million for our ape-like ancestors to evolve to us.) Anyway, I can't really attack the claim because it isn't one: there's no study or research that is being pointed at.

The following sentence: "So why is this information being kept from the general public?"

It's a conspiracy - duh! Teachers and scientists are conspiring to keep the truth away from the public. Why? They'll be out of a job, of course. Teachers and scientists don't give a crap about truth, as if that's relevant to them.

Concluding sentence, meant as a probing question: "Should Darwins theories still be taught as facts in our educational institutions?"

I like this not only because of the missing apostrophe or the fact that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is pluralized (it's one collective theory - that's the point), but because it attempts to say that what we are all taught universally in school is completely wrong. Ok, that has happened on occasion (e.g., heliocentrism - long time ago, though), but to attempt to replace evolution with or even to give equal emphasis in schools to a philosophical position (intelligent design) when evolution has well over a century of corroborating research and refinement, ever-improving fossil and DNA evidence, and acceptance by the vast majority of world scientists is absurd. Period.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Vegan Misconceptions

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about veganism. I address some of the most common ones here. I'm not a doctor. I'm actually not even a vegan - I'm vegetarian. However, I was, for a time, vegan and will perhaps become one again. This post is not necessarily to promote the diet but to dispel some common misconceptions about vegans.

Vegetarianism and veganism are the same thing, right?

A lot of people don't even know what veganism means - yet there never seems to be such a dearth of people who are critical about it.

The definitions are (via Wikipedia):

Vegetaranism: "the practice of following plant-based diets (fruits, vegetables, etc.), with or without the inclusion of dairy products or eggs, and with the exclusion of meat (red meat, poultry, and seafood). Abstention from by-products of animal slaughter, such as animal-derived rennet and gelatin, may also be practiced".

Veganism: "the personal practice of eliminating the use of non-human animal products for any purpose (including food and food processing, clothing, medications, and personal care products) for ethical reasons".

Veganism is stupid because we are animals and animals eat animals.

This is a non-sequitor. Simply put: just because it is natural (i.e., animals do it), does not mean it's morally right or even makes any sense. Animals kill each other, have incest, rape, and, let's not forget, eat their own poop. We can reason abstractly and otherwise change the course of our primitive drives to more productive and/or socially acceptable activities (such as going out clubbing instead of clubbing a woman in the head and dragging her back to a cave). 

Christians can't be vegans.

Beliefs are personal. Religion is not.

I'm not religious; I'm agnostic. I believe that religion is a static institution that subverts progress in thought (How long did it take the Church to accept heliocentricism? Or evolution as a legitimate theory?) and promotes ancient and wrong ideals (think Old Testament: homosexuality is wrong/evil, women aren't as good as men, an eye for an eye, etc). That's a separate issue, though. I believe it is up to the individual to interpret what he or she believes. If one cannot find a reason outside of "God says so" to do or believe in something, then it indicates that one is being, by definition, unreasonable. Besides, I can't argue against the Infallible One if He says it's OK, so you have to give me a break and be a little reasonable if you want to debate.

Veganism is unhealthy.

Now, this is a reason. It's wrong, but it's a reason, at least.

Health is derived from several factors. Key among these are a varied diet, exercise, and adequate sleep. This is well known. It is easy to see, then, why so many Americans are unhealthy. Variety is not eating at five different fast food restaurants a week. Exercise is not taking the stairs instead of the elevator and sitting on the couch watching TV for hours a day. Adequate sleep is not three hours of shuteye in between partying and work. Most Americans are meat-eaters, and most are unhealthy.

Vegans, on the other hand, tend to be much healthier as a whole. The reason is not just diet - which, abstaining from red meat entirely and eating plenty of nutritious fruits and vegetables, is healthier by itself. However, vegans, in addition, tend to be much more health conscious and more knowledgeable about nutrition and health in general. (They have to be to avoid eating animal products and by-products involuntarily, and perhaps they're, also, concerned or cautious given all the misunderstandings and tall tales about veganism.)

Now, no one is exactly the same; we have differing needs and predispositions biologically. For some, it may indeed be that veganism is not entirely salubrious. This is especially unfortunate if one's ethical beliefs are forced to be compromised. In such a situation, one must play the cards one is dealt. (By the way: Daniel Negreanu? Vegan.)

You'll get a B12 deficiency as a vegan.

Vitamin B12, which helps maintain a healthy central nervous system, is derived from bacteria. This is how (via ingestion) animals (including herbivores) obtain B12. Therefore, B12 is found in animal products: beef, fish, shellfish, milk, cheese, eggs, etc. A deficiency in this vitamin can cause damage to the nervous system, such as myelin decay, fibric sclerosis, as well as other symptoms, such as anemia, impaired sense of touch, etc.[1]

Nevertheless, B12 is capable of being synthesized and is easily obtainable from vegan sources, such as fortified breakfast cereals, soy products, energy bars, yeast, and via supplementation.

You need calcium and protein, which you call only get from animal products.

Not true. You can get calcium from leafy greens (such as spinach, turnip greens, and collard greens), lentils, orange juice and other fortified foods (such as soy or almond milk) and through supplementation. [2] You can get protein from beans, including tofu and soy milk; lentils; whole grains; and many nuts and seeds. [3]

You can't get all you're essential ammino acids without eating animal products.

Actually, a simple meal containing beans and corn contain all the essential amino acids. [4] There are, also, other plant sources that contain substantial levels of all eight essential amino acids, such as soy, hempseed, buckwheat, and quinoa. [5] Vegans need not worry about getting complete proteins. [6]

Veganism isn't manly.

I can't think of anything manlier than standing up and sacrificing for one's beliefs. Being an unhealthy, eat-what-tastes-good non-ethicist is not manly to me.

All vegans are skinny pierced, tattooed punkers. 

There are a lot of these, I admit. I live in New York and see a lot of straight edge vegans around. Yes, most vegans I've seen or met are very skinny, as well. (For some reason, a lot of them, also, have cats, lots of cats - weird.) However, this is more indicative of the type of people that find veganism appealing than anything else; many turn to veganism who are also into punk rock or old hippie music. There are many that do not fall into the usual category, however.

Here are just a few famous vegans (via Wikipedia):
  • Natalie Portman (who recently switched to vegetarianism while pregnant - see next misconception) 
  • Peter Singer (ethicist, philosopher)
  • Gillian Anderson 
  • Kenneth G. Williams (a vegan bodybuilder - and so not skinny)
  • Robert Cheeke (another vegan bodybuilder!)
  • Brian Greene (famed theoretical physicist - suck on that!)
  • Steve-O (a Jackass - suck on ...)
  • Brad Pitt
  • Mac Danzig (a professional MMA fighter - imagine that!)
A vegan pregnancy is irresponsible. You can't raise a healthy vegan child.

There are many reasons why many feel that pregnant women shouldn't be vegan or raise their children as vegans. I think principally it comes from a good place; people, especially mothers, are afraid of doing something wrong and unintentionally hurting their children. The emotion of fear is often more persuasive, especially in the absence of real facts, than reason - look at politics. Veganism is a subset of a minority (vegetarianism) in the diet world and, therefore, is little known and often misunderstood. A series of studies have shown that there is nothing wrong with raising children to be vegan or a vegan pregnancy, and in fact show certain benefits in doing so, such as decreased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some forms of cancer. [7] Like all diets, supplementation, healthy cooking strategies, and plenty of variety are key. In practice, this is often difficult for vegans because, being such a minority, there are not as many adequate accommodations or alternatives (grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, food items) as there are for non-vegans.

There's nothing to eat if you're a vegan.

There is more in the world to eat than meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, honey, and gelatin. Also, there are vegan alternatives for all these things - seek them out; Google.

A few vegan and vegetarian restaurants:
Check out: The Vegan Guide to New York City.

You can't buy dress shoes, nice belts, boots, or ties as a vegan. WTF?!

Nope. Alternatives for these exist, too. 

Some useful links:
Veganism is too hard.

How difficult veganism is as a philosophy and diet to follow depends on several factors, such as where you are (a big city vs. a rural town) and what your diet has been growing up.

If you live in a big city, you will obviously have more resources: vegan restaurants, clothing stores, etc. There will, also, most likely, be more vegans there - a support network, if you will. In a rural town it may be near impossible if there are no vegan restaurants or health food stores around. In such a case, I would consider maintaining a vegetarian diet, for health reasons, until you are able to adapt the vegan diet safely; if you can't do it right, don't.

If one grows up eating meat, especially fast food, then it will almost certainly be difficult to convert to vegetarianism. I speak from personal experience, having been raised a "meat-eater" like most people in the U.S. However, after becoming agnostic and seeing shocking and disturbing videos from a friend of animal slaughter, slowly but surely, I began to question my eating ethics and adapt reform accordingly. The initial transformation to vegetarian was quite difficult. In fact, several friends and even family doubted me. This was not helpful. It took several years and much contemplation, but I became a vegetarian and never looked back. I remember the last meat meal I ate: a hamburger pizza. I'm proud of my sacrifice for my beliefs. 

Big food corporations have been known to manipulate levels of salt, fat, and sugar to develop what David Kessler, MD, calls "hyper-palatable" foods, foods that we want more and more of and change the way we eat.[8] The nature of addiction is that addictive substances make you feel good, releasing endorphins in the brain, while not having them makes you feel bad. [9] In brief, it's only hard to be vegan if switching from a fast food consuming diet, which, one could say, is difficult to abstain from, given billions of dollars spent on advertisement.

Veganism is impossible; animal products are everywhere and in everything.

You have keep your eyes open, yes, look at food labels and all of the ingredients, and learn the tricks of the big food corporations to disguise animal products in plain sight (such as E120 and gelatin, which is not labeled as an animal product, though it's something vegans would obviously object to). An internet connection, savvy, and access to alternatives is all the modern vegan needs.