In Bodies and Buildings, I will be writing weekly posts this semester as responses to our readings. This is a response to Donella Meadows article: “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.”
The introduction of mobile phones into our lives has increased the speed, constancy and ubiquity of information on a personal level and throughout our society. Mobile applications leverage these advances in various ways to achieve the goals of the people who create them. Leverage points 9, 8 and 7, as described in Meadows’ article are some of the places where mobile applications cause changes in systems we interact with.
One of the most common ways in which mobile applications affect leverage points is by decreasing the length of delays in communication and distribution of information. Before the creation of social media applications, social interaction required people to initiate communication via a phone call, text message, computer, or physical interaction. Now, information about our friends, acquaintances and family members is available by simply opening Facebook, Foursquare or Twitter. Of course, the news industry has been greatly affected by the ability of people to use mobile internet applications to report details about events as they occur. Instead of events being reported on with a twenty four hour delay for paper publications and shorter, but still significant delays for news websites, reporting is done immediately. In a struggle to keep up with online news resources, official news outlets have sped up their reporting, with largely negative effects. As discussed by Meadows, this extremely short delay often causes wild oscillations within the system of news distribution. The stock of that system is public opinion and the immediacy of data created by mobile access to the internet creates dramatic increases and decreases in the opinions of the public surrounding particular events. One important example is coverage of elections. During recent elections, the results have been reported as they come in, which sometimes leads to mis-reporting results to an attentive public.
The relationship between mobile applications and leverage point 8, “The strength of negative feedback loops, relative to impacts they are trying to correct against” is a more complex one. At this point, applications can’t physically stop users from doing anything. They don’t cut off your funds if you’re spending too much money or defend you from attackers. They can only provide information, so instead of cutting off your funds, they constantly monitor them, and keep you aware of how much money you’re spending and send you warnings if you’re going off budget. From my understanding, this is more aligned with leverage point 6, the structure of information flows. The ubiquity of recording devices though, can strengthen the negative feedback loops of the justice system. I’ve gotten in two car accidents in recent years that were not caused by me. Having mobile camera applications allowed me to easily record the other driver’s insurance and contact information, identity, the condition of both cars. Documentation of events like this can reduce occurrences of fraud or provide evidence for crimes.
The gain around positive feedback loops is leveraged by mobile applications like Pandora Radio and Foursquare. Pandora users benefit from interacting with the application as much as possible through the thumbs up, thumbs down system. When a user likes a song, they give it a thumbs up, and that radio station will now play more songs like that one, and vice versa when the user gives a song a thumbs-down. Foursquare allows the user to benefit even more from increased use, with an even simpler system. When users check into a location, they feed information into the system, which then allows Foursquare to provide more informed suggestions for other locations that the user may want to check into. As the user continues to check into more similar establishments, their gains increase, as they receive badges as rewards for their use of the system. More check-ins also means more points, increasing the user’s rank among their friends, and consistency pays off, since points are only allocated based on the past 7 days.