Friday, 18 January 2008

Where We Get What We Need!

The latest hoopla about the United States political elections has raised my eyebrows. Not so much because I am an American and this stands to be an election of greater historical significance than most -- first African American or woman president -- but because so many of my non-American friends, here in Hong Kong, are fascinated by it. Like a soap opera on crack it has a ferocious grip on their attention. I am curious where and how they get this constant fodder that feeds their rabid speculation. Surprise! -- Social network sites on the internet.

Social Network sites and news aggregators, bookmarks and feeds have all made the gossip mill a powerful machine. It is long past the days of exchanging gossip over the back fence. Now legions of pundits can rapidly access, summarise and trivialise immense amounts of data and send it to all of their friends with an emoticon and embedded video in the blink of an eye.

I find this amazing in many ways. I have a degree in statistics and though I have always been terrible with numbers, I have found the pollsters an amusing past time. Historically they have sent out questionnaires or conducted phone interviews of a “representative sample” to get the real dope. This all made sense when people more or less received the same news feeds, either through the newspaper or evening news. However with the internet everyone can, and does, receive an individually select feed of information. Uniformity of content delivery is not there. How do people make decisions now, how is opinion influenced? The puzzle has become much more complex – this is so fun!

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