Friday, November 27, 2015

Don't Be A Grinning Idiot

Via Engadget, the MIT Technology Review has a. . . review of a revealing study in which researchers applied data-mining techniques to yearbook photographs from as far back as the early 1900s. Isolating the frontal portraits, the researchers:
...grouped the portraits by decade and superimposed the images to produce an 'average' face for each period. This process revealed other 'average features for each period such as hairstyle, clothing, style of glasses, and even average facial expressions. The image above shows these averages for each decade for men and women.
The researchers gloss over–and fairly enough, they're only collecting data–what seems to me the most interesting part of the study: people didn't smile in pictures so much back then. Maybe it was more than just "etiquette," though, which curtailed photographed joviality at the turn of that century. Maybe, just maybe, people didn't want to be remembered like grinning idiots.

Looking at those composites, just maybe Mr. Smith of the class of '05 was a predominately serious fellow because his parents taught him that life is tough and that you need to cultivate some serious virtues and talents to withstand the storm and prosper. Perhaps he laughed–even often–but felt that such a look was perhaps not the most representative of his life. The result? He–aka the men which that composite represents–are remembered as serious men. Not a bad way to go.

Now let's isolate the first and last composites:

Mr. Smith looks like he blistered his fingers writing out Latin and got bruised playing football without cushy helmets and pads. He looks like he could have gone on to run a steel mill, teach at Cambridge, and fly bombing missions.

On the other side, the ridiculous rictus of hilarity ironed onto Ms. Madison Kaylee Rainbows inspires no such confidence and admiration. She looks like she just walked out of the Vagina Monologues and instagramed a picture of her latte. After another ten years in school, she'll use her degree in human resources to increase the workplace diversity of a major charitable organization dedicated to providing accessibility ramps for disabled pets.

Let's complete the picture with a look at the 1900s woman composite and that of the modern male graduate:

She'd have him for breakfast.

Naturally, these speculations about lives antique and modern are just that, speculations, but my conjectures stem from the pictures themselves, for those idealized portraits represent an ideal of man. The antique of a sober adult, the modern of an untested adolescent. Maybe neither of these groups were serious adults when their pictures were taken, but if you start acting like an adult, you might just become one. Life will still hit you like a ton of bricks, but at least you'll be able to get up and start swinging back.

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