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What Your Facebook Photo Tells About You

Different cultures create different profile ideals

2 min read
What Your Facebook Photo Tells About You

Your Facebook photo may not be revealing, but it could be showing more than you think -- specifically, where you come from. A new study on online self-representation (which photo of yourself you choose to show the world) found that Americans are more likely to focus on themselves in photographs, while East Asians are more likely to put themselves into the context of the world around them. 

The study, published in the International Journal of Psychology, compared Facebook profile photos of American undergraduate students to East Asian undergrads. By measuring the ratio of faces to the overall size of the photos, psychologists tried to compare cultural influences. The results indicate that Americans tend to put themselves in the forefront, apparently reflecting a cultural attitude that is “individualistic, independent, and self-based.” The East Asian students were more inclined to choose pictures in which they were a part of a contextual scene, representing cultures in which individuals see themselves as part of larger whole.

The results were statistically significant, but maybe not as telling as the researchers represent. Their work covers two experiments. The first, a study of 200 Facebook profiles, found an average face-to-photo ratio of 8.8 percent for East Asian students, all from Taiwan, and 12.7 percent for the Americans. For the second experiment the researchers gathered new data, expanding to 312 students from six different universities, two schools in California, and one school each in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Texas. 

The broader experiment examined more factors, including the intensity of smiles. (Americans smiled more.) For the face-to-photo ratio, the difference increased slightly. The East Asian ratios ranged from 6.4 to 9.4 percent, with an average ratio of 7.5 percent from the students. The American students had an average ratio of 12.4 percent, with a range from 11.8 to 13.4 percent. 

The researchers' methods raise a few questions to my mind. After a Facebook search by hometown, current location and school, the authors narrowed down the subjects. They rejected low-resolution images and any profiles featuring “non-human” photos – any images of animals, scenery, animations, and, presumably, celebrities. As the researchers point out, this is one place where we can control our first impressions absolutely. And, while necessary for the focus of this particular study, the exclusion of non-personal photos prevents a broader look at how people identify themselves pictorially. Do more Americans show themselves as their pets or favorite superstars? If East Asians prefer to put themselves into context, are they more likely to show a landscape? Or does everyone just love to display vacation photos?

Still, the results do support the hypothesis that ingrained cultural ideals would transfer from the real world to online identities. 

A correction to this article was made on 7 June, 2012.

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Metamaterials Could Solve One of 6G’s Big Problems

There’s plenty of bandwidth available if we use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces

12 min read
An illustration depicting cellphone users at street level in a city, with wireless signals reaching them via reflecting surfaces.

Ground level in a typical urban canyon, shielded by tall buildings, will be inaccessible to some 6G frequencies. Deft placement of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces [yellow] will enable the signals to pervade these areas.

Chris Philpot

For all the tumultuous revolution in wireless technology over the past several decades, there have been a couple of constants. One is the overcrowding of radio bands, and the other is the move to escape that congestion by exploiting higher and higher frequencies. And today, as engineers roll out 5G and plan for 6G wireless, they find themselves at a crossroads: After years of designing superefficient transmitters and receivers, and of compensating for the signal losses at the end points of a radio channel, they’re beginning to realize that they are approaching the practical limits of transmitter and receiver efficiency. From now on, to get high performance as we go to higher frequencies, we will need to engineer the wireless channel itself. But how can we possibly engineer and control a wireless environment, which is determined by a host of factors, many of them random and therefore unpredictable?

Perhaps the most promising solution, right now, is to use reconfigurable intelligent surfaces. These are planar structures typically ranging in size from about 100 square centimeters to about 5 square meters or more, depending on the frequency and other factors. These surfaces use advanced substances called metamaterials to reflect and refract electromagnetic waves. Thin two-dimensional metamaterials, known as metasurfaces, can be designed to sense the local electromagnetic environment and tune the wave’s key properties, such as its amplitude, phase, and polarization, as the wave is reflected or refracted by the surface. So as the waves fall on such a surface, it can alter the incident waves’ direction so as to strengthen the channel. In fact, these metasurfaces can be programmed to make these changes dynamically, reconfiguring the signal in real time in response to changes in the wireless channel. Think of reconfigurable intelligent surfaces as the next evolution of the repeater concept.

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