After getting back to school this week, it was nice to have a Saturday to spend with my son again. My wife works on the weekends so that we can switch off with my son, and while I missed her, it was great to get some father son time.
While we were spending time together, I did try to relax as well, so I spent some time playing on our Nintendo Switch with him. Now, I hadn’t planned on playing with him, but as soon as I picked up the remote to play, he would stop what he was doing and walk over to me and grab the controller. So I’d let him drive around in Mario Kart, and it was fun to watch. While he was playing I decided to check my email on my phone, so he immediately lost interest in the game and grabbed my phone. I’m sure this is a common enough occurrence between parents and their children.
I began to think as I watched my son trying to take pictures or talk to Siri on my phone. I know he does enjoy playing with the objects, but I’m sure his primary motivation for doing so is because he wants to copy me; however, how much of his interest can be attributed to each of these factors?
Then of course I thought about this question in different contexts as well. How much of what we do is because we get something useful out of doing it and how much of it is because of the social pressure caused by other people doing it?
This question is particularly interesting for me and other bloggers starting off. When initially starting, it is difficult to get traffic to your page. In fact, over this first week of blogging for me, I’ve often felt as if I was simply talking to myself as I write these posts. When people start to notice blogs, however, the following tends to grow quickly because as people begin to follow the page, it leads to more hits in Google, in social media or in other places. This then leads to the question, why not just artificially start a following so that real followers will come?
Let’s try to answer that question then. This in fact is something that happens in various ways, either through companies that do this for you or through botting techniques. In particular, it is a problem that YouTube has had to tackle. There is a great video, How Buying Views Can Ruin Your Channel, discussing the ethical dilemma and giving anecdotal evidence that this isn’t something you should do by Tim Schmoyer on his channel Video Creators.
As a mathematician or scientist, we should, however, know that anecdotal evidence is the least reliable and should be wary of any such claims. So, is there hope for finding an objective answer. With regard to my son, since there is a sample size of one, there is little hope of actually determining objective values. I have a feeling that since he is a year old, his primary motivation is to copy me as it is part of child development and learning to do just that. However, with regard to larger numbers of people there are has been research done on this topic. In particular, a colleague I worked with at Carthage College, Dr. Haley Yaple, wrote her dissertation on just such a topic. She constructed a model concerning the situation where there are two groups that a set of people can fall into, that is they either do something or they don’t. Using this model, she could then use the data to determine an objective value for the utility of falling into one group compared to the objective value that people chose to be in such a group because of social pressure. Her dissertation focus on why people are religious, but she has also used the her work with students to talk about whether or not people are politically active, decide to smile and various other things. Perhaps, if given the data, we could find an objective value for how much social pressure causes people to follow different mediums.
If you’d like to learn more, you can find her dissertation here. Yaple, H. (2013). Mathematical models for the dynamics of competitive systems, with applications to religious shift and ferromagnetism.