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attention-spanFALSE! Alas, even though Microsoft has popularized this notion of a shrinking attention span—it is simply not true. Or at least, there is no proof it is true. And the study the falsehood was based on was not even looking at attention span—it was looking at multi-tasking while browsing the web. To add insult to injury for the authors (who actually are academics), they do not even use the word goldfish in their article. Academics who’ve been misquoted or misinterpreted by the media are shaking their heads around the globe. This distorting of research by the popular press for the sake of sensational stories isn’t new, but for those who do the work, it is pretty disturbing. Reporters often do little back-checking with the geeks that make the world go ‘round, because it’s hard, and it often takes the edge out of a catchy story. Once the first misinterpretation is published, the skewed reports drift farther and farther from the research they purportedly rely on. Alas…

Okay. So what happened here? Microsoft apparently commissioned a 2015 non-peer-reviewed study to examine how internet browsing had changed over time—that is, how long do surfers look at a page prior to moving on? Then it was misinterpreted (really misinterpreted) with spurious comparison information added about how adult attention spans were shrinking—an assertion unsupported and unaddressed even by the Microsoft study. This misinformation was picked up by the New York Times and Time Magazine as well as numerous other mainstream media sites. Each site represented the data as a scientific truth stemming from a paper commissioned by Microsoft. The only problem was, it wasn’t true.

The table following is another example of how the work was misinterpreted—it misrepresents the human (and goldfish) attention span as the real focus of the paper, which could barely be farther from the truth. The last half of the below table (Internet Browsing Statistics) is actually taken from the article Microsoft commissioned to look at how browsing patterns on the internet have changed over time. The top half however (Attention Span Statistics) is not and is totally unrelated to the study they commissioned. And, none of it has been validated or otherwise proved to mean anything at all.

Microsoft study

(If you have trouble reading this table, here is the original source.)

You can find the text of the complete article commissioned by Microsoft here. Open it as a pdf file and search it for “goldfish”. You won’t find it. Nada. The study was not designed to look at the human attention span nor was it designed to compare human attention spans to that of a goldfish. It was designed to look at how advances in web technology had changed how we surf the web. Because, Microsoft wants to figure out how to make the most out of web surfing.

We are fortunate to have fact-checkers on the web — particularly when it comes to topics like data visualization. PolicyViz does a thorough job of debunking this myth as does a writer posting on  LinkedIn. They both want everyone to STOP comparing people to goldfish! We would concur. We would also love to see people using their common sense and questioning sensational claims–“the average attention span of a goldfish”? Really? Or, what is the significance of any of those memory lapse statistics? Has that always been the case? Is it different? Why should we care?

From a litigation advocacy perspective, there are two key lessons here: First, pay no attention to comparisons of your jurors to goldfish. Instead use things like chunking your information into 10 minute segments—that factoid is actually supported by research on learning and not just drummed up by a marketing representative. If jurors do not pay attention, it likely isn’t their declining attention spans, but rather that your presentation did not speak to their values, attitudes and beliefs. Test your presentations pretrial and make sure real people pay attention and understand.

And second, be very aware of how easily seduced people are by unproven, but juicy, factoids based on data that is unproven or false, just because it is amusing or it seems to support some preexisting but uninformed suspicion. Cleverness often sells.


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creole-jambalaya-2If you have not guessed by the title, it’s another installment of ‘things you want to know’. As we go through many articles to blog about, we discard many, keep a few, and collect tidbits we don’t want to expend an entire post on but also don’t want to toss. That is how you are gifted with these tidbits—interesting things you want (maybe) to know. Think of it as a jambalaya where you creatively incorporate leftovers from the refrigerator.

What do you know about science?

We’ve blogged before about the disturbing lack of knowledge we see in our mock jurors when it comes to science and technology. A new examination suggests that adults in the US are improving in science knowledge in over the past two decades. But (naturally) there is a catch. The study of American adults knowledge on general science is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and summarized here with correct answers to the questions courtesy of the Business Insider. Apparently, getting correct answers on the science quiz depends on how the question is worded. Let that be a lesson to you as you craft your next case narrative.

Yes, there are occasions when women like to be sexually objectified

In December 2014, we blogged about a video of a woman being harassed and whistled at that was presented as “research” and getting a lot of attention but was not particularly well done when looked at more closely by observers. So when we saw this article (citation at the bottom of the post), we thought of that video and the idea that for some reason, some men think that “cat-calling” a woman they do not know is going to be a good thing. These researchers note the conflicting literature in this area: on one hand there are articles that say women do not like being sexually objectified, but on the other hand, women spend a lot time of appearance (according to these researchers) that is meant to “enhance their sexual appeal”. Naturally, these academics wanted to clear this up for all of us. What they found was that when women were in a committed relationship, they enjoyed a little objectification as long as it was from the person to whom they were committed. From other people? Not so much. Perhaps the cat-calling video makers should revisit those streets and hand out this article to all those cat-callers. We are quite sure that would stop the behavior altogether.

Who earns less money and is it all in your genes? 

New research from the University of Exeter says if you are a short man or an overweight women—you earn less than those who are taller or slimmer. Is it due to discrimination? Perhaps, but the researchers looked at genetic data from almost 120,000 people between 40 and 70 years of age. Specifically, they examined “400 genetic variants” associated with height and “70 genetic variants” associated with body mass index (BMI). They compared these genetic variants (along with the actual height and weight of the people involved) to participant-provided information on their living situations and income. They found that shorter men and heavier women earned less than their taller and slimmer peers—and that was regardless of all other factors. The study is open-access and published in the British Medical Journal.

Are you green with Facebook envy or red with Twitter rage?

You’ve likely seen the studies that say spending a lot of time on Facebook decreases your overall well-being. A new article in Scientific American looks at some of the literature and says that when you react to Facebook posts, it is often with envy (especially if you read but do not comment or post yourself). The authors recommend that if you are going to spend time on Facebook, you do so by actively commenting and posting which will allegedly reduce your experience of Facebook envy.

After solving Facebook issues, the writers move on to Twitter (which we’ve also blogged about) and say that Twitter users who rant online often see it as cathartic even though those who read their angry tweets may simply see them as “Twitter ragers”—so common there are even self-help lists for surviving the attack of the ragers. The writers also comment that Twitter ragers are also likely to be angry and aggressive offline as well. That doesn’t really come as a surprise to us at all.

Do you have a unibrow, gray hair or a bushy beard?

You can rest easier knowing it is all in your genes and product developers (as well as forensic scientists) are paying very, very close attention. While many genes are being discovered, the genes for the rate at which your hair goes gray, how bushy your beard or eyebrows are, or whether your eyebrows form a unibrow—have only just now been discovered. Apparently, forensic scientists want to use this information to figure out how to create images of criminal suspects when all they have is the suspect’s DNA. Product developers are expected to use the genetic information to aid in new product development. And, believe it or not, hair growth patterns are related to some diseases so it is believed medical researchers can learn from this seemingly frivolous study as well.

Meltzer, AL McNulty, JK Maner, JK (2016) Women like being valued for sex, as long as it is by a committed partner. Archives of Sexual Behavior.


Comments Off on Science knowledge, objectifying women, earning  power, and social media colors

ecommerceIn addition to use of the internet in general, we also often want to know the prevalence of online shopping and product research. This information is actually harder to find as much of it is collected by companies who sell the information. There is a very nice infographic at this e-commerce site and we use just a single element of it to illustrate this post. You will likely be surprised at just how much money there is in online shopping and how fast income from this activity is growing around the world.

Business Insider also offers an opinion on online shopping.

“In the first quarter of 2014, 198 million U.S. consumers bought something online, according to comScore’s quarterly State Of Retail report. That translates to 78% of the U.S. population age 15 and above.”

No wonder so many brick and mortar retailers are going out of business. Here are some of Business Insider’s most important takeaways about who shops online:

The conventional wisdom is that women drive shopping trends, since they control up to 80% of household spending. However, when it comes to e-commerce, men drive nearly as much spending online in the U.S. as women.

Men are more likely to make purchases on mobile devices. Fifty-seven percent of women made a purchase online in 2013, compared to 52% of men, according to a study conducted by SeeWhy (a data-crunching company which offers information to businesses). But 22% of men made a purchase on their smartphones last year, compared to 18% of women.

Millennials, those consumers aged 18 to 34, remain the key age demographic for online commerce, spending more money online in a given year than any other age group. They spend around $2,000 annually on e-commerce. This, despite having lower incomes than older adults. Boomers and seniors have adopted mobile commerce. One in four mobile shoppers in the U.S. is over the age of 55. That’s about even with their share of the overall U.S. population.

Online shoppers tend to live in households with higher-than-typical incomes. An Experian survey found that 55% of e-commerce shoppers in the U.S. live in households with incomes above $75,000 (40% were in households earning $100,000 and above). The median household income in the U.S. is around $50,000, according to the Census.

And here is a graphic from Business Insider offering a visually familiar summary of online shopping by age.
Business Insider Generations and Online ShoppingThe widespread use of the internet for shopping and product research is pretty amazing when you think of how recently the internet became user-friendly. There is big money to be made in e-commerce and being aware of just how much money and just how common internet shopping is will serve you well in cases involving this theme. This is often a big consideration in the valuation of trademark infringement, “grey market” sales, and licensing disputes.


Comments Off on What proportion of people in the US do internet shopping or product research?

internet_usage_statisticsWe work in venues from major metropolitan centers to counties with less than 20,000 people. Rural areas used to be where internet access and use was almost nonexistent in the past, but that is rarely the case any more. We’ve written about the reaction of our high-tech clients as they hear what rural mock jurors have to say about them, but we also think it’s important to remain aware of just how omnipresent the internet is among Americans. In truth, any case that may be influenced by internet issues needs to be examined carefully if the trial is set in rural America. The data on internet penetration and usage is changing so quickly that the profile changes dramatically from one year to the next.

“As part of the 2008 Broadband Data Improvement Act, the U.S. Census Bureau began asking about computer and Internet use in the 2013 American Community Survey (ACS). Federal agencies use these statistics to measure and monitor the nationwide development of broadband networks and to allocate resources intended to increase access to broadband technologies, particularly among groups with traditionally low levels of access. State and local governments can use these statistics for similar purposes.”

According to multiple sources (based on data that is at least a couple of years old), current computer ownership in the US is at 88.4% of all households. Internet use is at 78.1% across the US. They included this graphic in their report to illustrate the frequency of internet use by demographics.

Figure 2 internet use

Here are some narrative highlights from the most recent Census Bureau report on internet use in the US:

In 2013, 83.8 percent of U.S. households reported computer ownership, with 78.5 percent of all households having a desktop or laptop computer, and 63.6 percent having a handheld computer.

In 2013, 74.4 percent of all households reported Internet use, with 73.4 percent reporting a high-speed connection.

Household computer ownership and Internet use were most common in homes with relatively young householders, in households with Asian or White householders, in households with high incomes, in metropolitan areas, and in homes where house- holders reported relatively high levels of educational attainment.

Patterns for individuals were similar to those observed for households with computer ownership and Internet use tending to be highest among the young, Whites or Asians, the affluent, and the highly educated.

The Census Bureau report contains multiple facts and graphics on internet use and computer ownership across the country. This summary covers most of them but if you want additional information, look at the report itself.

Note:  The glaring omission in this study is cellular data. It is based on household computer use. For those under 30 (especially), smart phones and gaming consoles are major points of access for the internet. Some cable and satellite “television” providers are more accurately viewed as data streaming services, and offer direct access to the internet through their streaming platform.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, we think it’s important to always be aware of how different life (and the perspective of those living that life) is when the internet is not a daily part of your existence.

For attorneys presenting in those areas, the examples and analogies they use have to resonate with the lives of their audience and when you are an attorney representing a high-tech client—you don’t want to find out just how different those lives are when you are actually in the courtroom at trial.

Most of the time though, you will likely be presenting cases in venues where the internet ranges from commonplace to ubiquitous. Access to the internet is so widespread in the vast majority of trial venues that the question of internet access is often more a question of economics (with relatively poor people not having as much access to smart phones or computers) than age, gender, or race. Use this report to maintain awareness of how the internet is used differently by different people at different times.

Do not assume that all younger people are internet savvy or that all older people are not internet savvy. It is highly dependent on the individual (as well as their income and education) although, as seen in this report, the vast majority of Americans are internet users.


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smartphone 2015Most of us don’t know how much we rely on smartphone use and this is likely a very important piece of information to help us understand why it’s so very hard for many jurors to stay away from their phones while serving jury duty. While only a small study (29 participants between the ages of 18 and 33 years all using Android smartphones), the disconnect between how much we think we use our smartphones and how much we actually use our smartphones is striking.

Here are just a few of the findings from the study:

Young people in this study used their smartphones for an average of five hours a day (which is 1/3 of the time they are awake).

The average time participants thought they used their phones was actually only about half the time they actually spent on their phones.

During their waking hours, on average they checked their phones 85 times a day.

They used their phones for internet searches, to check the time, to look at email and social media and to listen to music.

The duration of smartphone use was highly skewed with 55% of all uses less than 30 seconds in duration.

The researchers comment that research often relies on individual estimates of mobile phone use but this finding suggests those estimates should be interpreted with caution (and are likely very wrong). The researchers placed an app on each person’s phone so they could compare estimated use with actual use. The app simply calculated the duration the phone was active (using screen on/off as the indicator). In addition, the researchers asked participants to complete the Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale (MPPUS, a 27 item questionnaire that has “positive correlations with self-reported mobile phone use”). One of the issues we see with use of this scale is that it was developed in 2005 (before the current smartphone usage level) but the questions seem to still resonate with what we know of smartphone use in the current day.

Here are a few of the questions from the MPPUS:

When out of range for some time, I become preoccupied with the thought of missing a call.

Sometimes, when I am on the mobile phone and I am doing other things, I get carried away with the conversation and I don’t pay attention to what I am doing.

I have used my mobile phone to talk to others when I was feeling isolated.

I find it difficult to switch off my mobile phone.

The researchers say that, when compared to smartphone use from six years ago—the amount of time we spend on our phones has not increased. They also, like us, express concern with using the MPPUS in the current day as a measure of “problem” use since there is a difference between “heavy” use and “problem” use. Additionally, there was no correlation between scores on the MPPUS and either actual or estimated use of smartphones. It may be that the MPPUS has been outgrown as the technology changes. The researchers report, for example, that all but one of the participants in their study used their phone as an alarm clock and many indicated that they use their phone last thing before sleeping. As smartphones have added additional tools, many people are using them for the new functions.

Overall, the lesson from this research is that our estimated use of our smartphones is likely quite different from our actual use of them and that a measure developed in 2005 has a very different outcome today than it did in 2005 when mobile phone use was relatively new and researchers wanted to see when it might cause a problem for those who loved their phones too much. And from the perspective of litigation advocacy, we need to understand that for many of us, our own acknowledgement of just how much we depend on the ubiquitous smartphone severely underestimates our usage.

Andrews, S., Ellis, D., Shaw, H., & Piwek, L. (2015). Beyond Self-Report: Tools to Compare Estimated and Real-World Smartphone Use. PLosOne, 10 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139004


Comments Off on The Mobile Phone Problem Use Scale and how much you really  use your smartphone