“The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like, and do what you’d rather not.” – Mark Twain
In the fall of 2011 there was a New York Times Editorial bashing Roommate Matching technology (like RoomSync) as one of the many new technologies that take the randomness out of life.
In particular, the author highlighted that Roommate Matching via social networks was a pie-to-the-face of his biggest growing experience as a young adult – having a roommate that was markedly different than him.
Technology and Randomness
The premise of the article is that social technology can only introduce self-similar people, but that’s not true. Designers and developers make things people are motivated to use – like ways to make new friends and go on dates and to help find fun stuff to do with these friends and dates. If people want to read Yelp reviews before going to a restaurant (as mentioned in the article), then Yelp is simply providing a service that users want. Does that really take the randomness out of life?
If you think about it, under what circumstances would a tech company build something that users didn’t really want to use? The answer – if it was uncomfortable at first, but ultimately good for you.
Helping you do what you don’t want to
Colleges and Universities – Schools – like very few other institutions, engage in the practice of making people do things they’d rather not because it’s good for them. They create structures which people do insufferable things, like making a Humanities major take Statistics, or requiring a Business major to take European History. Technology can actually do this too, but only if there’s an economy for it.
When looking at our Schools App’s friend matching algorithms, we were asked from a few schools “You’re introducing people based on similarities. Could you introduce people based on diversity?” Why yes, yes we could. But then we’d have to figure out something else entirely different – how to make users want to do it. We see a potential in these requests as an idea we’ve called the Diversity Algorithm.
Diversity and Social Media
Research shows students want to meet similar people before they feel comfortable meeting different people. Meeting markedly different people right away can lead to a sense of isolation and even rejection (which is, to a teenager, the most painful experience imaginable.) If we do introduce The Diversity Algorithm, we’d have to do it methodically and in a way both students and administrators get benefit from.
What did you think of the Nytimes Op-Ed on roommate matching? Is social media taking the randomness out of life, or are these new technologies simply meeting student and institutional needs?