IF all the hopes and hype are warranted, a nondescript third-floor loft in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan offers a glimpse of the future, for New York City and for Cornell University. In truth, it doesn’t look like much — just…
Most adults I know dismissed Twitter, with only 140 characters at their disposal, as a waste of time just a year ago. But after the Iranian revolts, the Arab Spring and the London riots in which Twitter played a key part, it is not so easily dismissed anymore. But its seemingly brief and trivial nature is now proving to be its key advantage: it provides a constant thermometer of public sentiment with a time stamp and tidy little packaging. Just as molecular biology has allowed us to reduce physical life to traceable and analyzable bits ready for computers to digest, so is Twitter creating those bits out of our social experience. And this is the realm of anthropology.
One recent article examines several Cornellsocial scientists who are doing just that, analyzing 509 million tweets, gathered between February 2008 and January 2010, using linguistic software to score their positivity based on word choices. The noted a mood timeline for 2.4 million individuals from 84 countries, and noted that happiness has a peak in the morning (see graph below from their website, http://timeu.se/) before the typical workday begins, and then fades as the day progresses, only to climb again late in the day. Rather be due to work (as one would expect) they suggest it is due to biology since it occurs on weekends as well (explaining our love of sleeping in, as it delays the high).
Recent articles have pointed to the shift in the view of computer science from “creating tools for scientists” to actually creating the science itself. It’s about oceans, stars, cancer cells, proteins and networks of friends. Ken Birman, a computer science professor at Cornell University , says his discipline is on the way to becoming “the universal science,” a framework underpinning all others, including the social sciences. An extravagant claim from someone with a vested interest? The essence of Birman’s assertion is that computers have gone from being a tool serving science — basically an improvement on the slide rule and abacus — to being part of the science.
This hilarious piece of social research suggests what I have observed in my own job repeatedly: the most loud, confident people who stand at your desk proclaiming things are often the least knowledgeable but in many cases the ones most likely to be promoted.