Monday, August 24, 2015

A Day at the Park

It is amazing how becoming a parent changes your outlook on things. Recently, the whole family went to a local park to take advantage of the pleasant weather. There were several other people with the same idea. A birthday party, a few other families, and then there was a group of young girls (I am guessing 4th grade) who were practicing a dance routine in the grassy area just beside the playground equipment. There was a male dance instructor and several teenage girls that appeared to be mentoring the young ladies. There were also several parents hanging out in the area watching the rehearsal.

Despite the volume of the music, they weren’t hindering our enjoyment of the park. In fact, the only thing that interrupted us was that the instructor kept blowing his whistle. This too would have gone unnoticed expect my son’s daycare experience has programmed a very specific response to that sound. He will immediately cease all recreational activities, exclaim “Uh-oh!”, and seek a place to line up. After several instances we finally convinced him that it was fine to continue playing, but I made a mental note to obtain a whistle for the house.

On a few occasions, he would wander toward the group while they practiced their routines. It was during one of these times that I started paying attention to the lyrics that accompanied the driving beat. I finally realized that the song was entreating the listener to “bend over and let your booty do that yoga” before warning would-be haters to “back up off my areola.” The first time I heard it, I was certain that I was mistaken. After all, no one would really rhyme “booty-yoga” with “areola.” After the second time she said it, I glanced back at my wife and, upon seeing the look on her face, realized that I had not misheard the song.

It turns out that the song was “Yoga” by Janelle Monae. The tune further proved my hypothesis that lyrical content is irrelevant to a dance song’s popularity. What in the world is booty yoga? Does it require a specialized mat? I am fairly certain that she could have changed the hook to “let me sell you a used Corolla” or “let me be your triscuit holder” and it would not have impacted sales one way or the other. Don’t believe me? Check out this song that has 160 Million views on YouTube and tell me what it is about.

At any rate, I would have always found such a scene funny, but before having a daughter I doubt it would have made me sad. Here was a group of impressionable young women gyrating to a song about bending over and asking people to remain clear of their collective nipples. I understand that an infectious beat is a requirement, but couldn’t they just get an instrumental track for the kids? It is sobering how comfortable we have become with the sexualization of young girls. We spend time teaching their bodies to entice attention that their minds are not yet equipped to process.

Perhaps fatherhood has made me overly sensitive. Perhaps I should simply be thankful that a group of young girls have a found a way to collectively pursue their passion. Or perhaps I believe that in America all children have the God-given right (cue slow motion flag montage and bald eagle fly-over) to communal outdoor dance without being subjected to melodies involving nonsensical fitness regimens and nipple encroachment.

Friday, August 21, 2015

In Google We Trust

While America reels from the shocking revelations concerning Subway Jared’s predilection for grade-school erotica and the unspeakable irony of Josh Duggar’s recent indiscretions, Google has officially surpassed democracy as the greatest force in American politics. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, recently published findings from a study of 4,500 undecided United States voters. Apparently, by displaying more favorable search results for particular candidate they could boost that candidate’s favorability ratings by up to 63%.

Given that the 2012 presidential election was decided by 3.9%, he believes that swinging the 2016 election (which is also expected to be close) would be well within the realm of possibility. This sort of large scale political dabbling is not without precedent. In the viciously contested 1876 presidential election, Western Union and the several members of the Associated Press utilized reliance on the telegraph system to disseminate misinformation.

In response to the study, Google issued a statement that rigging results to favor one view over another “would undermine the people’s trust in our results and company.” If there is one thing I enjoy, it is thoroughly-vetted yet meaningless public statements. Someone documented a scenario whereby Google could, theoretically, sway a Federal election and its response was to essentially say “people might not like that.” I have to get a job in PR. Can you imagine if that was the accepted standard?

Senator, how do you respond to accusations that you accepted money from ISIS to recruit pre-school children in your district?

Well. If I were guilty of such a thing, it would be inexcusable. No more questions!

That is not to say that Google would do such a thing and I am always leery of “undecided voter” studies. How do you find a group of people with enough of an interest in politics to take part in an uncompensated research study but not enough of interest to have already decided who they will vote for?

There is some truth to the fact that since Google still handles the majority of search traffic and someone might simply type in a candidate’s name and look at the title of the results; it is certainly possible to influence their views. When they say that they skewed some of the search results, I wonder how far they took it. There is a vast difference between the headline “Candidate A’s voting record may be cause for concern for some citizens with terminal illness” and “Is Candidate A pro-cancer?” I suppose that would have worked both ways. They may have tried “Candidate A finds charity work rewarding” against “Is Candidate A the protestant Mother Teresa?”

Even if enough people utilized Google search results to form their opinions in Federal elections, it would not be the worst outsourcing of independent human thought to the Internet. In 2012, I did some research on Google’s suggestions algorithm that was disturbing to say the least. We all better hope Skyrim has not become any more addictive since the last presidential election.

Taken to its extreme, perhaps Google would just cast votes for us. We could just hop on the Internet in November, type “Who will I vote for?” into the search box, and click I’m Feeling Lucky. Any votes cast through Yahoo and Bing would simply be disregarded since they must have originated from people who still have not figured out how to change the “default search provider” setting on their web browsers.