Game theory in social media (1): Fate and power

Early dice made from knucklebone in Ancient Greece © British Museum

[Part 1 of 4: Game theory & social media: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4]

Humans love games. We just love playing them.

The earliest proof we have, so far, dates back to 3600BCE: Six-faced dice with coloured pebbles made from heel bones of sheep and deer have been found on archaeological digs in Assyria, Sumeria, and Egypt.

Today, a walk around the British Museum, one of my favourite places, (which you can now do on Google), shows us that places where guards sat, probably for hours, like the entrance to the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) at Nimrud, has a board and a tally scratched into the side of one of the enormous winged human-headed lions.

By the time of the birth of Christ, many types of random number generators, including dice, were common, and were used for betting on or with board games. They were often spoken of as the workers of the blind goddess of fate, fortune, or destiny. And, it says in the Bible, that they cast lots to decide how to divide up Jesus’s possessions (Matthew 27:35). Even nowadays we talk about the roll of the dice when we talk chance and the things which happen to us.

By 10th century Europe, cards were the most popular thing with which to play games. There might be some skill, but really, a lot of it is up to chance, and don’t we all know that cliche about playing the hand you were dealt?

Highs and lows on the roll of a dice

The first formal attempt at analysing games, especially of chance, was written in 1520 (but published in 1663) by Girolamo Cardano and has been recognised as the first step in probability theory. Cardano was a compulsive gambler, so would have felt the highs and lows of the roll of the dice more than most. He was foremost in the minds of Pascal and Fermat who published a book in 1654, continuing his work. And, it was Fermat’s last theorem which remained a phenomenon until it was solved in 1994. Imagine, it took three hundred and fifty years to solve a puzzle.

Later,  writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky described our love of excitement and chance when playing games and how our fortunes can flip in an instant. He wrote about it in letters to his sister and his short novel, The Gambler. He was convinced that you needed to detach and keep a clear head, but had difficulty doing either, for it is much easier said than done. Consequently, gambling and games are ubiquitous, from church bingo to nationwide lotteries. Life can really change with a roll of the dice – or so it seems.

Game theory not gamification

It was in 1928 that the first theory of game theory was first written about by (rock star) John von Neumann who amongst many things designed the first computer architecture in 1945.

But, it has to be said, game theory isn’t the same as gamification, at all. Please don’t mix them up. Gamification is about turning things into games such as business objectives and anything else we want to make more engaging and more fun. When gamification is well designed, it works really well. But game theory is much bigger, and much more than just games.

In 1944, von Neumann and Oscar Morgenstern translated and expanded von Neumann’s theories in order to produce: The theory of games and economic behaviour. For his 1928 paper was mainly about two people playing a game together with only one winner (known as: two person game-zero sum) but game theory is much bigger than this, and it is not just about games and game playing.

It might be based in mathematics, but game theory has people in it, of course, which is why it can be used to think about everything: economics, political science and psychology. And, it has the crazy assumption that people behave rationally, which if there is one thing I know about life, people never behave rationally, nor should you expect them to. The other thing is that, we can only partially model any prescription because the world is huge and constantly changing, and we can never model everything in a computer. It really doesn’t matter how clever computers get. We have a long way to go yet when modelling humans and behaviour, but game theory is a start.

That said, power is the name of the game: group voting, economic theory and how to influence people, especially in areas like interpersonal cooperation, competition,  conflict, labour negotiations, and economic duopolies, can all be understood in terms of game theory.

Game theory for explaining social media

Social media is the big new tool of the Internet, for business, politics, etc, and as of yet, no one knows how it works. So, this series is going to take a look at some of the big hitters of game theory: the prisoners dilemma, the Nash equilibrium, and so on, to see if these strategies can help us understand better how social media works. Are people cooperating or conflicting in ways these models describe on social media? If yes, can we understand and anticipate behaviour?  If not, what other theories could we come up with?

Let’s take a look.

[Part 2]

Yoga Lessons: A year in front of Bikram’s mirrors

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. – Lao Tzu

When I first turned up to Bikram, I couldn’t believe that I would have to look at myself in a mirror for 90 minutes whilst I got hot, sweaty, and contorted myself into various positions.

I have always preferred my yoga super quiet with the lights down low because that is the only way I thought I would be able to concentrate on me. However, nearly a year on, from when I first committed to doing Bikram yoga, I now see that having mirrors in the yoga studio is genius.


To stand in front of a mirror and to truly accept myself exactly as I am and not cringe, not feel embarrassed and not want to change anything about my own dear self, is the first step, and could well be the only step, to inner peace.

I have a lot of grey hair which I have been covering up for years, but six months into my practice I stood on my mat one day and looked at my hair and asked myself why. Why am I pretending my hair isn’t grey? I am not 20 years old – well I had grey hair then too (but that’s another story). Why do I need to look the way I did when I was 20?

Then, a couple of months ago I swapped my t-shirt for a yoga bra which allowed me to gaze upon my midriff in an act of unbelievable not me-ness, because I have always thought of myself and my midriff as an Egyptian scribe.

In Egyptian times, only scribes could write and were well paid for their services, consequently they had prosperous rolls which would be on display in the market place as they sat doing their job. Nowadays we tend not to admire prosperous rolls so much, which is one thing, so to get them out in public and look at them without judgement, well that is another thing altogether.

It has also been a good way of seeing whether I really am following the script’s command of suck in that stomach which one teacher then followed up with basically forever, which makes me laugh even now. And, I have learnt to take that off the mat and do it wherever I go. It is a way of standing up taller and taking up the space that I am entitled to, which us women sometimes are unable to do (and is a whole blog in itself, coming soon). Of course, now that I have engaged with that part of my body, admired my prosperous roles, sucked it in (or mula bandha-ed it), my core is stronger, which makes me admire that strength and that part of my body in a way I never did before.

Letting go

At certain points in class the teacher might advise me, and everyone else, to let go of the mirrors, because sometimes I need to bend right back and trust my body. Also, sometimes when I am trying to attain a position, I am striking a pose instead of feeling what is going on in my body. And, some of the 26 poses especially in the standing series are very cool and very dramatic, and getting into them and doing them well is pretty fantastic. However, it is not about the glory of the pose, as one fabulous teacher puts it, it is about the shift taking place inside and it is about going to my edge – the area just outside my comfort zone – these things are not reflected in the mirror at all, so I have to let go of the mirrors to look inside.

Sometimes, a teacher might tell us to just let go, which is all powerful, all encompassing. I might have done a great pose, or I might have not quite managed it, but either way it is over now. I have to let it go to give myself the mental space and energy to do the next thing. In the same way off the mat, I have to let go of the thing I wish I had said, or hadn’t said, or the kindness or unkindness I did or didn’t do. That moment has gone. I have to let it all go. I am in a brand new moment which is the only moment I have. I only have the now.

Only what you are not giving can be lacking in any situation – A course in miracles

One day I was doing my usual thing of what I now call mental bartering, which sounds like this: If I do this pose, then I can have a rest, and miss the next one out, and do the one after and then I will a lie down and I will look like I am trying. It was a long monologue in my mind mainly about how hot, how tired, and how I wished I was anywhere else but in the studio. Then the teacher said: Pick up your foot, which I am guessing no one did, who knows for sure, I was busy talking to myself. And then she said: Just pick it up. Don’t think about it, just pick it up, and, she made us practice picking up the foot. It was a revelation. I became free. I had not been giving my full attention to the script and that was what was missing, I was busy mentally hoarding my energy, but by giving it up – the energy, the thoughts, the bartering – and giving my all to that moment, instead of spending all my energy, the act of giving up seemed to free up infinite energy. I picked up my foot in that moment, and every moment afterwards and I was and I remain gloriously free. When I am spent and have nothing else to give, I lean in, and trust that the momentum of picking up my foot will carry me further and create anything I desire.

I picked up my foot: Dandayamana Janushirasana (Standing Head to Knee)

Taking this off the mat, in the moments when I feel afraid, when it feels, for example, like someone not giving me what I need, instead of getting angry and aggressive, I can lean in, and listen to that person, or to myself and ask: What is missing? It is not easy, and I am not always successful. However, this is what I have learnt: If I am looking to someone else for something, it is that I believe that I will feel better in the having of the something that someone has to offer. But that is just not be true. I have everything I need. I don’t need anyone else to make anything better for me. No one else is in charge of my happiness.

No one else can pick up my foot. No one else can stop the monologue in my head. No one else can listen to the script for me.  It’s me who needs to give that which is missing, either to the situation, to the other person, or to myself, and then let the momentum of the giving create the very thing I desire.

To stand in someone else’s shoes you have to stand in your own shoes first – Pema Chödrön

Bikram’s mirrors are like life itself, it mirrors me. I am embodied so I see and interpret the world in terms of myself and my past experiences. I thought I needed silence and the lights down low to do yoga to concentrate on myself, because that was how I had learnt to do yoga, and where I got the best results. However, I have since learnt that there is nowhere better than when the heat is on and the lights are bright to connect with myself. To look at myself openly and honestly, with compassion and acceptance, and to take that off the mat and into my daily life, well that has been the greatest gift that practising Bikram yoga has given me, and I know, I have only scratched the surface.


My top 10 blogs 2016

My most used words on facebook in 2016
My most used words on facebook in 2016

It’s that time of year when we look backwards and forwards, rather like Janus, in order to reflect on the three usability questions of life: Where are am? Where have I been? Where am I going? And then armed with new data, and feeling older and wiser, we can give thanks and do it all again in 2017.

My top 10 blogs of 2016

  1. Maslow’s hierarchy of social media
  2. User motivation: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
  3. Katie Hopkins #fatstory one year on
  4. Storytelling: Narrative, Databases, and Big Data
  5. Fifty shades of my grey hair
  6. Conformity: The social animal on social media (2)
  7. Prejudice: The social animal on social media (7)
  8. Why my coffee machine is so sexy
  9. Storytelling and embodiment: The stories we tell ourselves
  10. Social Cognition: The social animal on social media (4)

In 2016, I had a mind map of all the blogs I wanted to write in order to put together a book. So, it is nice to see that some of these topics are in my Top 10:  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and social media, which describes our motivations for doing what we do. And, storytelling and databases, which is basically humans doing what we do with computers, online in a digital landscape.

Occasionally, I feel compelled to write about other subjects, like Katie Hopkins being mean and shouty, or me not wanting to dye my hair anymore and what does it mean to be grey. As it turns out, these are subjects that other people want to think about too, sometimes more so than computers (What? I don’t believe it!).

Online or off, we are all the same: human and sometimes in need of a bit of a me too, yes I feel that way too, it’s ok.  On top of that, we all like a good story well told, especially if it will help us clarify something about ourselves.

I love blogging, it helps me understand myself and figure out how I feel about life and I have loved writing every single blog this year (all 39 of them). I just can’t wait to do it all again in 2017.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Fifty shades of my grey hair

Source: via pinterest

I found my first grey hair aged 18 at university, which quickly turned into a Mallen Streak that my brother and I giggled about.

After a dodgy haircut which cost me £3 and my mates named the Toxteth Barnet, I left my hair to grow and wore it super long, brunette and curly, for years. I was a student too for years, so only got my hair cut when I was flush with cash (err never) or just fancied getting pampered.

By my late twenties though, hairdressers would point out the mass of grey and say that I should get a colour over it, to tidy things up, as if it was somehow failing me or I was failing my hair. It never occurred to me to ask why I felt the need to pretend my hair was not going grey. Nor, did it occur to me to challenge the hairdressers who suggested that I should keep on top of my grey hair: You have such a young face, it seems a shame to age it with grey hair. So, I dyed my grey roots whenever they showed. It didn’t seem like a big deal, just a thing I did.

Five years ago, I was hospitalised after my first round of chemotherapy, and as I lay in the cancer ward with absolutely no immune system, I wailed as my beautiful long black hair fell out in big clumps – big fistfuls all over the bed – as if that was the only problem in my life. The nurse who had to do my blood pressure every half hour spent a lot of his time holding my hand assuring me that I would still be beautiful with no hair, he needed my blood pressure to come down, so I needed to come to terms with the loss of what I had always considered was my crowning glory. As soon as it grew back the first thing I did was dye it, to be normal, and to hide my grey hair. And, let me tell you the WHOLE THING was grey! Not just a strand or two.

Then the real fun began, I had to cover my roots every two weeks, and even then, it didn’t occur to me to ask myself why.

It was Nora Ephron who said that hair dye is the most powerful weapon older women have against the youth culture. But, why do we need a weapon? What is our obsession with youth? Why do us intelligent, wonderful women have to do anything else but be ourselves at whatever age we are? It is so entrenched in our society and reflected in those backhanded compliments we give and get because we really all don’t know any better. A student: You look really young until you get up close. A mum on the playground: You are holding up well.

The subtext seems to be that I have to preserve myself, for if I let myself go with a grey hair here or wrinkle there, then life is over. This is confirmed by therapist Iris Fodor who says that women worry about becoming disposable objects. If we are not childbearing, or looking sexy – because traditionally they have been our roles in society – then we won’t be loved or have any adventures as we age. Fodor goes on to say that therapists need to help clients to identify less with our culture’s view of attractiveness, and embrace the wisdom we have knowing full well that only youth counts.

In her TED talk on vulnerability (filmed in 2010) social scientist, Brene Brown quotes a fellow researcher who asked: What do women need to do to conform to female norms? The top answers in the USA were be nice, thin, modest and use all available resources for appearance.

We really need to rethink our culture’s values and view of attractiveness.

So, this year in May, I looked in the mirror and noted that it was that time again and a new thought: Who am I kidding? – popped into my head instead. The regime of covering my grey hair was over, just like that. My dyed hair was no longer looking good to me, and when I let a hairdresser dye my roots, I was in there for THREE hours. In June, I went to the hairdressers, had my hair cut short and blonde highlights throughout my hair (I wanted grey but then that’s another story).

Transitioning into grey it is not straightforward. I have to use a purple shampoo once a week on my hair to stop the brassiness, and style it when I wash it, because it is short and fraggly and not in great condition due to the bleach, and I am currently going to the hairdressers every six weeks to get a gloss on it. However, the freedom from no roots is wonderful.

So, it has been six months, I hate the blonde hair and want to lop it off but can’t face growing my hair again. But, I love the grey, it really suits me, and vain as I am, I have been thrilled to hear compliments about my hair. However, the shift inside has been even better. Instead of wondering about my appearance and what people think, I spend my time wondering about me. Why do I feel such a way? What on earth made me say that?

I no longer get a shock looking in the mirror like I did before – I seem to have adapted to my new hair. Just the other day, I was flicking back through some photos and came across a picture of me with short dark hair from earlier this year before the blonde, and it looked odd – dyed, a bit fake, no longer me.

So I am definitely committed to my grey, another plus is that it’s a steely grey, so I don’t have to change my wardrobe (mainly red and black). Here are some pictures of my grey growth, and I will add more, once I get more:

The Connection Economy: Memail, mixtapes and fortune cookies

Me, me, me, me. My favourite person — me. I don’t want to get email from anybody; I want to get memail– Seth Godin

Yesterday, I got my very first memail. Finally! It was magic.

It was from Spotify entitled: Your 2016 in music: personalised stats and playlist, and it jumped right out of my inbox at me amongst all the other stuff I keep getting in this commercial festive frenzy period we have now entered: Save on this, 50% off that, Free delivery, Last chance for Christmas blah blah blah.

I might be slightly biased because I like to talk about data and I like playlists; but I think I am like everyone else, in that, when you think about me, just me, and say or do something for me and me alone: You’ve got me.

My email said this:

You have listened for 1,827 minutes to 107 artists, and 162 unique tracks.

And then, *drumroll* ta daa, it gave me a link to my very own playlist – my very own mixtape – which I am listening to right now. It’s fantastic. It contains 78 of my current favourite tunes and I love it. And, if you want to hear them for yourself (because let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?), then I can share it with you via Spotify or Whatsapp or any other social media platform of your choice. How cool is that?

This is a perfect demonstration of the connection economy in action.

The connection economy

It was marketer Seth Godin who coined the phrase Connection Economy to talk about how marketers could do their jobs differently in the landscape of digital culture.

Now, I am not always a huge fan of Seth Godin, his blogs can be like fortune cookies because, brilliant marketer that he is, he likes to communicate in soundbites. I will never be his target market because I like to ponder anything you say for a very LONG time and come back at least three weeks later to let you know what I think and feel, and whether it is working for me. Yesterday thanks to Spotify sending me memail and a mixtape, I understood for the first time what Godin means by creating something extraordinary and making a connection with your customer. It was no longer just noisy marketing talk.

Create the extraordinary

For, the world has changed and we are overwhelmed with advertising. Everyday we get a million email, and those dreadful impersonal Twitter DMs saying Thanks for the follow please can you do this for me. (Err, no I can’t!), and 10 bajillion adverts on Facebook and everywhere else telling me to buy this, read this, feel this. I am exhausted.

So, to have Spotify send me this was so refreshing. I have said over and over on this site that at the heart of any interaction is our fundamental need to matter. We all want to be heard and we all want to feel like someone is listening to us.  When a person or business, ignores you, or changes the way they interact with you, for no apparent reason, it is painful. And, being talked at, like the emails in my inbox which threaten me with scarcity, deadlines and missed opportunities, is dreadful. The subtext is that you don’t count, you are not special, and you will have to fight for everything you want.

Yesterday, I got memail and a playlist, without even knowing I wanted them. Bottom line: I counted. Someone (well, software) took the time to understand what I liked and then created something for me – my story in song, my soundtrack of 2016 – just for me. I was recognised as having likes, dislikes, preferences. I was seen as me. How often does that happen in life?

Thank you, Spotify, I am thrilled. Merry Christmas!