Social Turkers

Lauren McCarthy:

What if we could receive real-time feedback on our social interactions? Would unbiased third party monitors be better suited to interpret situations and make decisions for the parties involved? How might augmenting our experience help us become more aware in our relationships, shift us out of normal patterns, and open us to unexpected possibilities? I am developing a system like this for myself using Amazon Mechanical Turk. During a series of dates with new people I meet on the internet, I will stream the interaction to the web using an iPhone app. Turk workers will be paid to watch the stream, interpret what is happening, and offer feedback as to what I should do or say next. This feedback will be communicated to me via text message. [...]

The guy is all over the map and difficult to carry on a conversation with, and I feel relief in knowing I have help and don't have to handle this on my own. However, I quickly notice that the instructions aren't coming in with the same frequency as normal. I realize too late that weekend nights require higher pay to attract workers and I hadn't offered enough to keep them constantly working for me tonight. I suddenly feel very alone. It is just me and him sitting awkwardly in this bar surrounded by people that know each other well, laughing together and carrying on casual conversation. I hadn't realized how much I had begun to rely on this system for a sense of security and as a guide for my actions and words.

Giving your love life to the hive mind:

As it turns out, outsourcing your personality can seriously mess you up. To turn over your decisions to the crowd is to encounter questions about what it means to be an individual or to be part of a hive mind.

"At first I felt really uncomfortable not having complete control over myself, it was hard to say and do things that felt like they weren't 'me'," McCarthy says. "Over time though, as I surrendered to the system and tweaked some of the technical details of the user experience, I started to really embrace the collective consciousness and naturally incorporate it into my concept of who I was."

It's strange enough to talk to someone not knowing whether you are talking to them or them + crowdsourced overseer, but McCarthy says it was even stranger to live as that person. She says it began to provoke a profound identity crisis. "Who am I? Am I Lauren or Lauren + The Turk Hive? And which do I like better?" [...]

When January ended, McCarthy returned to the East Coast in a "pretty confused state." She ended up on a date recently, unplanned and with no Turk workers to back her up. "When he tried to kiss me, I believe my exact phrase was 'I really don't have any grasp on my basis for making decisions about this stuff right now, so ok?'"


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3 Responses:

  1. Or you could just ask your mother.

    • James says:

      Your mother wants payments for advice too, but they aren't so micro and usually involve arbitrary fiat contracts for fulfilling parental expectations. If you can't support your personality validation services with ads, see if you can buy some virtual goods from Zynga or whomever and give away 1,000 cow clicks per third date peer review form completion.

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