3-24-12 Hodgepodge

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Two for Cultural Activists

I regard myself as a cultural activist and as such am always on the lookout for useful items regarding the matter of persuasion. I ran into a couple this week that pertain to the related matters of making a point clear and motivating people to consider one's differing point of view and follow up on its implications.

The first such item is a troubleshooting metaphor-cum-suggestion culled from the field of computer programming: Rubber Duck Debugging.

To use this process, a programmer meticulously explains code to an inanimate object, such as a rubber duck, in the expectation that upon reaching a piece of incorrect code and trying to explain it, the programmer will notice the error. The method exploits cognitive dissonance; the programmer will both describe what the code is supposed to be doing and observe what it actually does, and any mismatch between these two will become apparent. [footnote and links dropped]
While I don't think one could actually argue persuasively without making any assumptions about audience context, adopting the technique, perhaps with a reasonably intelligent person in lieu of a duck strikes me as worth doing on a regular basis.

The second such item is an article about how to complain effectively, which I discovered through a Lifehacker blog posting on the subject of making a "complaint sandwich".
Start with an ear-opener -- something that will help the recipient of the complaint become sympathetic.  Add the meat -- your actual request for redress of your grievances.  Finish it off with a digestive -- words that will increase the listener's motivation to help you.
In a manner of speaking, cultural activism is both troubleshooting and complaining. One must become effective at both to make a difference.

Weekend Reading

"Although Greece chose to over-borrow and then chose to default, it has gone un-criticized and un-punished. Why?" -- Richard Salsman, in "Greece's Disgraceful Debt Default -- and Calls to 'Euthanize' Bondholders" at Forbes

"It's an old market adage that winning trades are usually born right from the start." -- Jonathan Hoenig, in "When the Best Trade Is No Trade" at SmartMoney

"In Titan, the biography of John D. Rockefeller, the family patriarch required his kids to live for periods of time in relatively humble circumstances, away from the family mansion." -- Michael Hurd, in "Love Your Stuff!" at DrHurd.com

My Two Cents

The Hurd column touches on a problem I think exists nationwide, and that is greatly exacerbated by the entitlement state: people not "owning" or appreciating what they have. Hurd correctly notes that the problem can still exist without an entitlement state or pampering during childhood, because it relates to what a person knows about what material success requires.

Nostalgia for Simplicty

Via Alexis Madrigal, I ran into the following pithy critique of the "direction" Google has chosen to move with its flagship product:
[L]ately when using Google search I've found myself nostalgic for the old days, when Google was true to its own slightly aspy self. Google used to give me a page of the right answers, fast, with no clutter. Now the results seem inspired by the Scientologist principle that what's true is what's true for you. And the pages don't have the clean, sparse feel they used to. Google search results used to look like the output of a Unix utility. Now if I accidentally put the cursor in the wrong place, anything might happen.
The above comes from an article by venture capitalist Paul Graham titled, "Frighteningly Ambitious Startup Ideas", in which "a new search engine" appears and Graham further notes, "[F]or the first time in over a decade the idea of switching [search engines] seems thinkable to me."


-- CAV


Inspector said...

A lack of ownership of the trappings of one's lifestyle is a contributing cause to infantilization. Granted, it's by no means the primary cause, that being ideology. But it is a factor.

That's one of many reasons why I hate the urban lifestyle. So much less of your life is private, and, directly related, so much less of it is owned by you. No wonder cities are universally Leftist.

Frankly, I don't know how you stand Boston, Gus.

Gus Van Horn said...

How can I stand a place I probably would have called, "great to visit, but not a good one to live?

(1) Well, my wife's job took her to Boston, so the place has something no other can offer me: her.

(2) By chance, several old, close friends from grad school are here, so that's really nice, too. They're great people and help me feel young again when I'm around them.

(3) I manage a fairly private lifestyle in Boston. The wall-to-wall people sometimes drives me nuts, but that's mostly a problem only when I'm going from one place to another.