Choosing wisely and randomly.

What leads me to write this post is the principle of using my own life as a human lab for social experiments and the fact that humans by definition are

7 years ago

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What leads me to write this post is the principle of using my own life as a human lab for social experiments and the fact that humans by definition are quite bad in choosing randomly when they need to. The level of bias is always very high, no matter how fair you believe your thoughts are on the matter. Below you find a bit of history about my social experiments and some software that I put together to reduce that bias in my walk the talk social experiments.


As in most families that raise their children with wisdom and common sense, mine brought me up with principles of respecting others and kick in the ass with no mercy to whom takes advantage of you beyond a particular bounding line.

Many years have gone under the bridge since that pillar was instilled in me and these days I feel that new technologies challenge those principles trading-in convenience aka mental laziness.

For instance, I used to meet my friends on a regular basis during the week, physically getting together and shoot the breeze with no regard for the status quo. Now with Facebook and other powerful means that are supposed to reduce the distance and increase the social aspect, I see year after year a new form of staying in touch that is less bounding and more disconnecting.

It’s not necessarily bad it is a transformation of our society, and it just happens that I am part of a transitional generation, I am confident that the new breeds will work this out just like our grandparents did when mobile phones were introduced. At the same time as an innovator and a social animal, I don’t want to sit and suffer the consequences of this transformation just like anybody else. Fuck it, I am going to find my workaround to strike the right balance.

All this philosophical thinking made me start my social experiment with the intent of publicly acknowledging the issue and leveraging the same tool that today as a side effect is distancing people, to some degree. As a matter of fact, I am leveraging the social media tools to do exactly what I used to do for slight groups in person toward way larger groups that I could never see or express my care or sentiments in one session.

My first post after my manifest using notes from the Facebook platform started in 2014 and the first of many was my friend Sonia. Basically,

I leveraged my Facebook cover to display for a certain number of days a hand-crafted collage of images of a friend or family associated to a crafted message like the one shown above.

I believe in the fact that what is left untold, it never happened.

It took time, dedication and a clear mind as what I wrote stays there for the rest of my life and to ensure that, once the year was completed, I took pictures of it and made an album out of it. Legacy is a big deal for me. That’s what my mom taught me, and as expected… she was right.

In 2015, I came up with another idea. Replace, every day a Christmas ball from our tree in the living room with a Facebook status update where one or more friends were involved with either me or my family in some gathering or conversation or event.

In all these attempts of displaying care and love, playing fair is super critical because you don’t want accidentally show more love for one group, culture or else unevenly unless that is the intention behind it.

In my head, it doesn’t matter how rich/poor/cool/crazy/religion/culture or else... you’re. It’s not that I was either raised or educated in that way, it makes logical sense in my head as I expected to be treated in the same fashion.

I made the choice of having you in my life for a global mix of reasons and that’s enough.

That was a particular concern of mine as an Italian expat I have plenty of Italians in my life, and I didn’t want the non-Italians to feel left out by unwanted bias.

So to make sure that tiredness, time available and other things would cloud my judgment on who I am going to pick for this effort I built an algorithm and some code that solves the problem for me.

Humans are very bad as random-numbers generators. A good example is when someone asks “what do we eat today?” your answer very likely will be the same or will have a very narrow pattern compared to all the actual options available.


In my 2014 experiment, I didn’t have enough weeks within the year to cover most of my friends, this time, I had to manage to hit more than 2 or 1 family and randomly to find the context of last time we had interacted. In-person or on the social network.

The reference that was going to be clipped from Facebook then printed on paper and then set up for the hanging had to be of any year with preference in the past rather just 2015.

I picture my friends distributed around the world (many are) and because they move, they come from different places, they speak different languages, the global aspect had to be taken in account for the creation of the algorithm.

The Math

With the principle that a sphere maps the planet full of people, a sphere is the best way to place all my Facebook interaction in some spatial distribution taking in account the geolocation of the post and the language spoken.

Consider the couple z = (u,v) defined as :

In this case, a theorem shows that z = (u , v) generates evenly distributed variables. It can be observed on the next graph. There is no irregularity in the distribution of the random variables.

I put the code to express that algorythm in this Gist, it’s in R language, but the principle can be converted in anything you might be more proficient. I use R for invention work regularly, so I picked that.

Facebook Friendship Graph

I extracted the graph of my friendship and layered over the sphere. Each friend’s event node (a status update of the past) is associated with a dot placed on the sphere with the same randomness used to generate the spherical distribution.

For fetching the graph and all other relationships I used R-Facebook and although slightly painfully (permissions and related things) worked greatly.

Every 2 days or so I run the script that using the same randomness hits the virtual finger on the globe for 5 or more extractions, the once taken are removed from the sphere (marked used). The script returns a facebook link (to status update) for each hit.

I put the links in the browser, screenshot the extracted post and print out. Victoria or the children prep the hoops for hanging the status post.

Until Christmas day, we keep populating the tree with more friends.

During the day, we walk in the living room and peek at some events of the past. Whoever comes to visit takes a peek and we might dig in the past together. It makes every day a little Christmas miracle of friendship lived in the latest version of the century.

When we hang the new cards we make a short video and share on our Facebook profiles and tag the people involved, wishing them all happy holidays.

My life is pretty busy at work and at home, however, I don’t want that to become the reason and the self-excuse to not getting together, to not acknowledge friendship, respect, and love. There’s always a way or something that can be done around it. It’s a matter of will power.

If it’s really important, you do find the time to make that to happen.

My Facebook friends list is extremely curated if I don’t like you or I don’t think we have spent enough quality time together you are not on it. If you are, then you deserve my time and my extra effort to figure out how to juggle work and family to go through all this to get you acknowledged and part of our life and family tree. Luv-ya-bunches folks.


Mario Esposito

Published 7 years ago