Honest Signals: How they Shape Our World

Published By: The MIT Press

Book Category: Non-Fiction,

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Reviewed by Connie Anderson

Author Sandy Pentland directs MIT’s Media Lab’s Digital Life Consortium, a group of more than 20 multinational corporations exploring new ways to innovate. In 1997 “Newsweek” named him one of the 100 Americans likely to shape the 21st Century.

Today’s communication technology seems to be at war with human society. We don’t write letters; we email. We don’t even talk on the phone; we text message.

Pentland and his students have built a sociometer, using cell phones and electronic badges with integrated sensors. These methods give them the ability to these things, and more:

— Capture face-to-face interaction.

— Analyze speech features to measure social signals.

— Measure body movement of daily activity.

What are these human signals? They can measure four types of social signaling: activity level, influence, consistency and mimicry. The patterns of signaling within the social network by individuals and the group as a whole both strongly influence behavior.

The author tells this story to show how the human factors affect decisions:

Seasoned business executives gathered at MIT. Each presented a business plan and the group would choose the business idea to recommend to a team of venture finance experts. The uniqueness was that a special device—a sociometer—was monitoring each presentation, not measuring WHAT they said, but HOW they said it. This included speech variables, gestures, body movement (nods, smiles), and our social sense.

The executives picked the idea they agreed would sell. However when the venture finance experts received the plans, only on paper, no live presentation, their opinion varied greatly.

Why? That’s the question this book is built around: The social channel of spoken word and human interaction.

If you are a business owner, manager or consultant, you will find that our social channel, based on social relations, profoundly influence major decisions—even though we are largely unaware of it.

As one who loves face-to-face meetings, technology allows me to write and edit for clients around the world, but I will never met them. I miss the social interaction/relationships with my clients, and thus must fill my “personal interaction cup” locally.

Armchair Interviews says: Very, very interesting.

Author’s Web site: http://web.media.mit.edu/~sandy

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