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9 Ways Facebook Is Changing People's Lives

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Pan Xunbin / Shutterstock

Facebook has over 800 million users, and researchers and pollsters have been busy studying them. Here are some of the ways the site is impacting people's lives and changing their behavior.

1. You Might Be Addicted

If you're on Facebook, could you go 24 hours without checking your page? According to polls, 80% of users couldn’t. And for a little over a third of the site’s users, it's even worse. One study found that the need to check your Facebook page is more powerful than an addiction to alcohol or cigarettes, and says many of the site's users suffer from "Facebook Addiction Disorder." One psychiatrist says symptoms include letting Facebook interfere with your sleep or work, spending more than one hour a day on the site, and being filled with fear or panic at the thought of deleting your account.

2. It Makes You Jealous

When polled, a majority of people admit to snooping on their significant other through social media. And while there is nothing wrong with checking out your partner’s page, easy access to what he or she is saying—and to whom—has been shown to lead to increased jealousy in relationships. In one study, 35% of the people surveyed said that Facebook directly contributed to their feelings of jealousy. And it’s not all paranoia, sometimes users are finding things to get jealous about: 1 in 5 American divorce petitions and 1 in 3 in the UK now cite Facebook as contributing to the end of the relationship. In fact, it is so common that according to various reports divorce lawyers now request access to a client’s estranged spouse’s Facebook page as a matter of course.

3. It Makes You a Better Employee

While many employers are blocking their workers’ access to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, studies have shown that people who use Facebook at work are actually up to 9% more productive than people who don't. Short breaks to do what you want online allow your brain to zone out for a little bit, making you better able to concentrate afterwards.

4. It Can Make You Unhappy...

Most people use social networks to talk about the positives in their lives. And that’s fine, but it is leaving out a large part of their day-to-day reality. So when you are constantly viewing pictures of your friends happy and smiling (as someone usually does when a camera is pointed at them), Facebook users start to feel that others feel this sense of happiness all the time.

Since you are only seeing the good part of a hundred or more people’s lives, you may end up feeling increasingly upset about the problems in your own life, which, at least according to their pages, none of your friends have. Over the long term, studies have shown this makes Facebook users feel that life is unfair. In some extreme cases, Facebook use has been directly tied to depression.

5. ...or it Can Boost Your Self Esteem

But wait, didn’t we just say using Facebook makes you unhappy? It turns out it depends which part of the site you are visiting at the time. While looking at other people's Facebook pages can make you depressed, looking at your own can actually boost your self-esteem, at least in the short term. Having all the best information about you in one place increases your self-assurance, and actually editing your profile makes you even happier.

6. It Makes Your Friends Not Like You

While many people post only the good things in their life, everyone has a friend or two who posts about how their world is falling apart numerous times a day. Hey, we all go through bad times, and Facebook is a legitimate way to share those feelings. But be warned: studies show those people who do post unhappy statuses regularly are more likely to be seen as whiny and annoying by their Facebook friends. Since less secure people tend to be the ones posting negative status updates, this annoyed response from others just contributes to the problem.

7. It Makes You Feel Fat

It's probably no surprise that 75% of Facebook users say they are unhappy with their body since most people have something they don’t like about themselves, but 51% of those people say that their body image issues worsened thanks to Facebook. It seems that seeing photos of yourself posted by others, photos that might not be as flattering as the ones you would post yourself, makes those flaws you try to hide seem magnified. Knowing your friends are always on the verge of whipping out their phone and taking a picture also leads to some people feeling that they need to be "camera ready" at all times, or just avoiding cameras altogether.

8. It Stresses You Out

The point of Facebook is to connect with friends, but friend requests stress people out, no matter which side of the request you are on. One study found that 63% of people delay replying to friend requests. More than three in 10 said rejecting friend requests made them feel guilty, while 12% disliked receiving any friend requests at all. For people whose requests are rejected, another study found that they felt just as much pain and sadness from the snub as they would in a real life situation even though it was "only" online.

9. It’s Replacing a Time-Honored Tradition

For decades it’s been a trope for TV and movies: after having, ahem, relations with someone, you share a cigarette. Even if you don’t smoke, you’d expect to spoon for a while, but these post-coital rituals are being replaced with updating Facebook. Not about what you just did (we hope), but 36% of people under the age of 35 polled admit that they post something on Facebook or Twitter right after sex. Men and iPhone users are the most likely to exhibit this behavior.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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