As a part of my “Cultural Evolution in the Digital Age” exploration (see some previous posts, and here a preprint), I’ve recently read some non-academic books about the topic. This is not intended as a review and clearly not as an exhaustive list, but I decided to make a quick blog post as it may be of some interest. Also, I’d be certainly happy to receive other reading suggestions in the comments.
I’ve just uploaded on SocArXiv a new preprint, A cultural evolution approach to digital media, where I suggest (surprise!) that cultural evolution provides some interesting tools to analyse digital media.
Almost three years ago I programmed a simple twitterbot (see here), namely a Python script that was posting every hour, when available, news or blog posts related to cultural evolution – hence the name @CultEvoBot. While the goal of the endeavour was mainly to see how difficult was to build something like that (it was easy!), and to use potentially what I learnt for other projects (I never did, but who knows!), @CultEvoBot was relatively useful and posted links to interesting sources, the majority of the time.
One of the articles of my holiday-accumulated reading list was, given my current interest in the effects of digital media on cultural transmission and evolution (see here), Katherine Viner’s How technology disrupted the truth, a long read of the Guardian. The piece got extensive – and almost exclusively positive – attention (there are, when I write, 1,589 comments and around 64,000 shares). In fact, I found it quite hideous, and I believe it also embodies a widespread common-sense attitude towards digital technologies, and social media in particular, so I decided to write here some comments.
In the last few days, for independent reasons (i) I was told the Horse_ebooks story (in short, an “artistic” project where humans pretended to be a Twitterbot and gained around 200K followers – but if you don’t know anything about it please read the Wikipedia page and the links cited in the References there, it is quite interesting), (ii) I stumbled upon this page with a few example of Twitterbots worth to follow (at least according to digitaltrends.com), and, finally (iii) I was pointed to this NYTimes article (from August 2013) on social-bots (claiming, among other things, that only 35% of twitter users are humans). This seemed enough to me to try and see how difficult was to set up a Twitterbot.
A Twitterbot is a program that produces automated posts via Twitter (surprise!). In my case, @CultEvoBot is a short python script that every hour – when my laptop is on – uses google news search or google blogs search (after having flipped a coin to decide) and search there for “cultural evolution”. It then goes trough the links proposed and, if one is not in its log file of past links, posts it in twitter with the title provided by google (and adds it in its log file). That’s all (it also follows its followers, which is completely useless at the moment – among other things because I am the only follower – but might be useful in the future).
So basically, @CultEvoBot does not do much more than providing links to potentially interesting sources, still I am pretty satisfied of the result. Programming a Twitterbot – also with more elaborate functions (like answering to specific users or posts, re-tweeting, etc.) – seems quite straightforward, and I can imagine that I will be able to use them in the future for scientific (or artsy) projects, even though at the moment I don’t have any specific idea (suggestions welcome).