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Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice

2013/07/08 Leave a comment

Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice

Barry Schwartz recounts a trip to the department store to buy a new pair of jeans, something he had not done in about a decade. The situation he encounters is different from what he recalls from his past: “All this choice made it possible for me to do better, but I felt worse. Why? I wrote a whole book to try to explain this to myself.”

He later concludes that an increase in choices meant an increase in expectations. When combined with his assertion that the best way to increase happiness is to decrease expectations, the abundance of choice paradoxically yielded a decrease in happiness.

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Living in the future

2013/07/06 Leave a comment

Sometimes, when I have difficulty relating to other people, I stop to wonder if it’s because I live in the future.

bttf

Steps forward
As I was leaving my office last night, I realized that I’m currently living at least a few years into the future. As I flipped the switches for the office lights, I watched our robotic vacuum cleaner meander around the carpeted floors. It may not have the personality of Rosie from the Jetsons, but our Roomba is a part of my daily life nonetheless. When I walked out the door, I wanted to listen to some music on the ride home, so I spoke to my cell phone to instruct it to launch Pandora and start playing some Daft Punk. Not only was the voice command process futuristic, but the music’s eclectic mix of old-school funk and modern electronica is filled with progressive undertones. I listened to a slightly dated Country music song last week, which professed that, “…these bills won’t pay themselves…”. This prompted my snarky internal reply that the songwriter must not have discovered the auto-billpay systems that have mostly automated my finances. As a member of the Quantified Self movement, I have collected more data on my diet, sleep patterns, and physical performance than did most Olympic athletes a generation ago. This provides me with early warning signs when I’m not getting enough sleep, when I’m eating too much sugar, and when my efficiency as a runner or cyclist increases as desired. Everywhere I go, there’s an internet connection, unless I choose to avoid it. With that connection, I can instantly communicate with any person I’ve ever met, on continents around the world, at a net cost of free. For my birthday next year, I’ll be asking for a personal genome assessment – which will cost $99.

Steps back
There are problems that we have yet to solve. Love vs Hatred. Self-Control vs Addiction. Disease. And there are whole new problems that we have created. The economy. Happiness vs GDP. Texting while driving. Obesity.

Caught in the middle: Anachronisms
The other day at a coffee shop, I watched an employee with a wireless biometric sensor on his wrist walking around the store doing a quality control inspection…on a clipboard. While I’m a huge fan of paper and pencil for creative tasks, it doesn’t seem to make sense for data collection that will eventually be digitized. At a meeting recently, an advisor of mine told me that her (technology) company still operates like it’s the 1980s, but her job is to bring her clients forward from the 1950s. It’s possible that my perspective as an early-adopter of new technology actually puts me at an empathetic disadvantage, especially when trying to sell technology products to enterprise customers.

A destination
What is our goal of technological progress? What are we working toward? I have some opinions on this, but there are a few concepts that I think we’re really struggling to deal with. The most prominent is abundance vs scarcity. Food technology has advanced to the point that we have more sustenance than we need to sustain ourselves. Now the Western world has crested the summit of hunger and is sliding down the slope of obesity. The same goes for our advances in information technology. We have no shortage of ways to communicate with each other, yet we waste this on cat pictures. The content of an Ivy League education is freely available on the web, yet the cost of attending public universities continues to rise. We’re at a transition where our skills of acquisition and storage are becoming less important than those of curation and discipline. Imposing a shift like this, so quickly and without the benefit of multi-generational transition time, yields a towering task.

Further reading
This post was only meant to be a stub. It was a brief mention of a few themes that I’d like to explore in a much longer form. If you’d like to follow along as I begin writing my first book, check out this Google Doc. It’s entirely possible that this will end up not as a novel (as I intend), but as a short story (acceptable), or just an abandoned document (most likely).

Why UK’s Loss Is A Good Thing For Kentucky

2010/03/28 Leave a comment

Basketball does not equal Happiness

The mood was very somber as I watched the Cats fall to West Virginia with a few dozen UK fans in a downtown Nashville sports bar. This was the basketball season that induced feelings of regret that my graduation (and lost access to $5 lower-level tickets) may have been premature. After half a decade of lackluster basketball seasons, this team full of Diaper Dandies was supposed to be the one that led Kentucky back to the Final Four. I have noticed a markedly positive hue added to the demeanor of Kentuckians during the past few months, and have attributed it to the success of our most prominent sports team.

But tonight signaled the deterioration of our happiness crutch. And that is far from being a bad thing. A crutch is an artificial support. It holds us up when we are too weak to do so on our own. But in this case, we are NOT too weak. In fact, we Lexingtonians are strong beyond our own belief, but we have become accustomed to relying on the success of five guys with numbers on their backs as the source of our happiness. The problem with this situation does not lie with the players or coaches of UK’s basketball team. They have worked their tails off, augmenting athletic ability with creative approaches to defeating varying opponents. The problem lies in us, the fans. Our energetic cheers and free-throw hand-signage rituals have ZERO cause-effect relationship to the game. Because of this, we as fans have no right to fully relish in the joy of victory or agony of defeat at the same carnal level as those players directly involved in the game. If we continue to derive our happiness from the actions of others, the disappointment felt now by Cat Nation will continue to proliferate. But there is a solution, and that is to create.

Sitting on page 182 of Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class“, my opinions of the effects of individual creativity on local economies are likely quite skewed. Yet, the recent athletic disappointment seems to be an excellent application for the empowering nature of human creativity. Whether or not we make use of it, all people are privileged with the ability to innovate, to bring into being useful and beautiful ideas that had not previously existed. Just as John Wall’s paint brush is a basketball, I have several friends who produce their artwork with soldering irons or Objective-C computer code. As every individual is capable of exercising creativity, we no longer have to outsource the production of our happiness. Following a few basic assumptions (that people prefer to be happy, and that they have free will), I am excited that UK’s earlier-than-expected exit from the NCAA tournament will mark the elimination of one distraction from my self-production of happiness. Are you willing to join me, Lexington?

Following Saturday’s MobileX conference in Nashville, I had the chance to converse with a presenter from the event who is a somewhat recent transplant from Kentucky to Texas. This has afforded him a newly external perspective to the ecosystem of the Commonwealth, and the familiarity with a few Midwest locales for use as benchmarks. I was intrigued when he noted, “Everyone feels like they’re second-best. Dallas is a huge city, and the tech community there wishes they could be as good as Austin. When I lived in Oklahoma City, their tech community was really starting to flourish, but they still felt inferior to Dallas.”

The quote endowed to us by Eleanor Roosevelt might have been more insightful than I have previously realized. “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” While frequently used to exemplify strength in the face of an opressor, in these cases, the inferiority complex is not necessarily pushed by the Austins, Bostons, Seattles, or San Franciscos. We “uncreative cities” pull this veil of inadequacy over ourselves. We deem ourselves to be second cities, when in fact we are just other cities.

Nashville is a perfect example of how to avoid this self-loathing slope. While the city’s skyline might not be laced with the logos of Microsoft, Apple, and Google, it is THE Music City. I met several seemingly small-name developers who have created hugely popular applications for country music superstars and massive events like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. No, they aren’t creating the next overhyped location-based game or laggy augmented reality demo. They are writing apps that appropriately serve a market that Nashville knows very well: music fans. This is an excellent model for “the third coast” to understand: build what you know.

By embracing the unique character held by our own regions, residents of cities like Lexington, Omaha, and Oklahoma City can tap into existing networks of expertise to achieve success in long-tail innovation. This will enable us to control our own destiny, and to create our own happiness. Once this is achieved, we fans can enjoy spectator sports as intended: a supplemental source of entertainment,  not a solitary source of happiness.