Legal Research Blog
“The cultural changes wrought by the Internet are not yet done, because our understanding as a society of exactly what information is on the Internet is not complete” says Kevin Gold of Slate magazine. What if all the Facebook privacy settings in the world couldn’t stop someone from prying into the details of your life which aren’t even written down, never mind posted on Facebook for the world to see? Kevin Gold’s recent article explores how simple statistical analysis can reveal more than a typical Facebook user would care to actively share in their own profile. While you may not feel comfortable sharing sensitive aspects of your personal life some of your friends might not mind, if only indirectly. A study out of Northeastern University, “has shown that it takes only a 20 percent participation rate among college students in filling out profile information to deduce facts—such as major, year, and dorm—about the nonresponders who simply friended others.” When you consider the similarities between those who you associate with it’s not surprising that researchers can deduce an uncomfortable amount of information about one person simply by learning about their digital peers. This fact has even made some give up on the notion of privacy all together. The choice seems reasonable especially when we consider the alternative of living with the headaches or dropping the digital social lifestyle all together.
Don’t relax just yet, with our increased visual presence online there exists another opportunity to unknowingly pass along private information. Research by Ming-Zher Poh, Daniel J. Mcdug, and Rosalind Picard found that pulse information can be taken from a basic webcam. This technology would theoretically allow a savvy individual to deduce one’s mental and/or emotional state by simply analyzing a grainy headshot. Well, I guess it’s time to start working on that poker face.
Forget about the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC), the U.S. Geological Survey, and for that matter, the animals at the Smithsonian National Zoo. In the wake of the East Coast earthquake and as we wait for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, we have turned to social media for answers and to share our personal experiences with the world. The value of social media has been rising for some time with even the naysayers starting to get on board. This summer we have seen the true value of social media, Twitter in particular, come to life with communication about natural disasters. While cell phones refused to send messages or make calls for many following the rare quake in Virginia on Tuesday, there seemed to be little issue connecting to Twitter, Facebook, and the like. Reuters reported that in the minute following the earthquake, 40,000 tweets were released in relation to the occurrence. If you’re anything like me, it took you a few minutes longer to tweet yourself as you first checked your local meteorologist’s account to see if that strange rumbling was indeed an earthquake.
Of even greater value is the ability to receive apt warning for anticipated natural disasters. With Hurricane Irene threatening the Eastern Seaboard over the next several days, meterologists, politicians, and government agencies are all turning to their social media accounts, more aware now than ever that this is perhaps the most effective way to reach the masses. In an effort to make foresight as close to 20/20 as possible, FEMA has created a public list on Twitter that allows you to simultaneously follow a variety of resources from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the American Red Cross. So maybe don’t “forget” about the anyone in the future but instead, find, follow, and get prepared.
Our friends at Rocket Matter brought our attention to an interesting story about the future of algorithms. Ah yes, the algorithm. Defined by Merriam-Webster quite simply as “a procedure for solving a mathematical problem…in a finite number of steps that frequently involves repetition of an operation”, algorithms are purportedly the very phenomenon that may lead to that often repeated Sci-Fi movie scene when humans realize they are no longer in control of their surroundings. The BBC reported this week that algorithms have taken over a tremendous amount of work that humans used to do on their own, and we don’t even know it. From search engines of all kinds (yes, even Fastcase uses algorithms) to social networking capabilities, stock market transactions to daily household chores, algorithms determine a great deal of our day to day functionality.
Seeing as the average person has probably never given algorithms a second thought, experts in the field are concerned that this lack of awareness can and already has led to some problems. While many speculate over the possibilities of more major catastrophes, stock market crashes, hackers obtaining access to personal data, etc., perhaps even more disturbing is the shift in human reliance.
Psychologists have launched studies showing that our brains have stopped remembering things because they know we can get access to the information easily elsewhere. Whether it’s a quick definition that you Google (guilty, see definition above), or directions to dinner, humans are relying less on their own knowledge and more on the artificial knowledge handed to them. It seems unlikely that “Revenge of the Algorithms” will hit theaters anytime soon – although they could easily predict box office success – but it’s an interesting thought.
Making Poor Decisions? Well, it might be because you’ve been making too many. John Tierney’s recent column in the New York Times examines a study by Jonathan Levav of Stanford and Shai Danziger of Ben-Gurion University that takes a clinical look at our ability to make decisions. As it turns out our ability to perform mental tasks wears thin when repeatedly exerted and the harder choice, or the severity of the consequences, the greater the toll on our mental energy. Decision Fatigue, coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, helps explain, “why ordinarily sensible people get angry at colleagues and families, splurge on clothes, buy junk food at the supermarket and can’t resist the dealer’s offer to rustproof their new cars” says Tierney.
The study by Levav and Danziger took data from prisoners being granted parole in an Israeli prison and found that the time of day at which a prisoner faced a parole board gave the greatest indication of the board’s decision. After analyzing more than 1,100 decisions the researchers concluded that prisoners judged early in the morning received parole 70 percent of the time while prisoners who were judged late in the day received parole less than 10 percent of the time.
The study found that when your brain gets tired it begins to look for shortcuts in two distinct ways. One shortcut our brains take to avoid a thorough assessment of available choices is to act impulsively. The other is to simply opt out of the decision making process all together. The parole judges in the study were likely guilty of the latter. By denying a prisoner parole the judge avoided the energy intensive process of weighing the pros and cons of potentially releasing a known criminal. The study seems to suggest what many may have already suspected: legal professionals work a lot.
It’s often helpful to have your comments and analysis in one place for easy reference. To create such a document using Fastcase, follow the simple steps below:
Identify the relevant cases and save them as one file using the batch printing feature so that you can easily maneuver from one case to the next. Open the case either as a document in Microsoft Word or as a PDF in Adobe Acrobat.
Go through the document and identify key issues, facts, and legal points. Then if you’re using Adobe, highlight the passages or words of interest and annotate with sticky notes. If you’re using Word, highlight the passages and annotate using Review New Comment.
To view all your notes in a concise format, hit “comments” (if you’re using Adobe) in the upper right-hand corner and they will appear in a side tab. In Word, go to Review Reviewing Pane and they will appear in a side tab.
To print just the notes, go to Print Summarize Comments in Adobe, or Print List of Markup in Word. This way you’ll have all your comments at hand, labeled with the page and paragraph they refer to. This is an easy way to create a master document that you can use to dictate your brief, statement of facts, statement of the law, or argument.
Hat tip to J. Burton Hunter III who shares this tip on his blog “A Small Town Lawyer.”