A fully general manipulation

I have come across an interesting thought, and probably it is worth sharing. The thought occurred to me when I saw a link to a B**zF**d article that contained the usual mixture of 50% guilt-trip and 50% advanced rationalization (needless to say this is the right stoichiometry to skip the article and add the source into your personal blacklist), and then I read some ideas that went in a similar direction. So forgive me for not being very original.

How do you motivate people into doing something? I heard the opinion that fear and greed are pretty good, even more, they can be regarded as universal motivators. However, when it comes to practical issues, there is a shortcut, and this shortcut is guilt. The first step in the method is to convey the opinion that the listener is a worthless zombie who does not really live up to some expectations. Needless to say, as most people have their skeletons in the closet, you get an audience that is instantly motivated to do something to redeem itself. (If you ask yourself if this is the same mechanism as the one used by the original sin concept, welcome to the club. I suspect this, too.) And then the second step kicks in, where the author more or less discreetly asks the patient to do something to get rid of worthlessness. Like, buying the latest and greatest gadget. Or going to some raid (“Prove you’re not a slave, do what I say.”), political or not. Or donating to a cause.

If you look closely, you may find this pattern in ads, PSAs, and, least pleasantly, in clickbait pieces on society where the author tries to—yes, you guessed correctly—implant some behavioral pattern. However, the problem is that if you are the bad guy you are implied to be, you should not be prone to such manipulations, and if you are not, then the articles kinda miss the point. Then, there is the fully general aversion against manipulations; these mechanisms are on my big black list of Things Only Bad People Do. Your moral compass (or whatever navigation device you have instead) should not react to stimuli such as “Be a Morally Beautiful Person, do what I say”, since either you should know better what to do to be Morally Beautiful, or your decision rules work in a completely different fashion. In any case such advice from an unqualified author in some newspaper can be dismissed as a bad, off-limits manipulation attempt.

Ein Meta-Rant

(This post is gonna be in German.)

Eine lustige Geschichte zwingt mich, etwas länger wach zu bleiben.

Dies ist ein Blog-Post. Die Verfasserin ist mit einem Informatik-Schulbuch unglücklich, was weitgehend verständlich ist. Die Art, auf die sie dies äußert, ist es leider nicht.

Kurzgefasst scheint das wesentliche Problem zu sein, dass das Buch ziemlich alt ist und die Schule sich nicht darum gekümmert hat, neuere Lehrmaterialien zu besorgen. Folglich geht es im Buch um ein „A:”-Laufwerk, um PPP-Verbindungen, um Audio-CDs, um Objektorientierung (dies ist zugegebenermaßen ein Henne-Ei-Problem, und intuitiv ist Objektorientierung leider nicht immer) und darum, dass man sich im Internet mit Klarnamen vorzustellen hat (was je nach Subkultur okay oder nicht okay sein mag, aber die Art, es zu vermitteln, arg zweifelhaft ist). Wäre es dabei geblieben, gäbe es diesen Post nicht.

Allerdings geht die Verfasserin weiter und interpretiert das Geschriebene teilweise auf interessante Art und Weise. Zum Beispiel lesen wir: „Eine E-Mail wird im Allgemeinen innerhalb von Minuten übermittelt” und im Post „[…] brauchen E-Mail mehrere Minuten”. Das nennt sich Verwechseln des Perzentils mit dem Erwartungswert und ist Ketzerei. Ihr gefällt auch die Aussage „Ab 100 Folien pro Minute ist es ein Film” nicht, was ich dann auch nicht besonders gut nachvollziehen kann.

Teilweise ist es verständlich: Wenn man etwas generell (nicht) mag, sucht man Begründungen, und diese können sich auf Fakten basieren oder herrationalisiert werden. Passiert. Mir auch. Nicht immer verzeihbar, aber sei’s drum.

Am interessantesten ist die folgende Passage:

Und überhaupt: Wer braucht bitte ein Buch in der Informatik? Also: Ein Schulbuch? Gibt’s das denn im Sportunterricht? Oder in Kunst? Achso, an den Computer können die Kinder ja nicht gehen, gibt ja so wenige? Und da sind dann immer alle unruhig? Und der Lehrer kennt sich da auch nicht soo gut aus? Unterricht muss quasi mit dem Schulbuch stattfinden, weil es nicht anders geht – oder – wie?

Der Vergleich ist sogar besser, als die Autorin sich das gedacht hat. Gerade Sport. Ja, ausgerechnet Sport. Es gibt sehr, sehr viele Dinge, die man im Sportunterricht lieber in geschriebener Form übermitteln sollte. Aerobe/anaerobe Prozesse, Anatomie, Trainingstechniken, Sicherheit… Natürlich sollte man auch praktische Erfahrungen sammeln. Aber es gibt Grundlagen, und Grundlagen in konzentrierter Form kann und soll man lesen. Es gibt schon genug Menschen, deren Probleme dann gelöst werden würden, wenn sie sich die Mühe machen würden, die Anleitung zu lesen.

Dazu kommt ein ideologischer Aspekt. Lernen anhand von praktischer Erfahrung ist gut. Den Lernprozess nur an praktische Erfahrung und digitale offene Werkstätten zu binden führt zu Lehr- und Lernprozessen, die unformalisierbar, unmessbar und nicht als Ziel formulierbar sind. Ich habe ein inhärentes Problem damit, Bildung und Ergebnisse der Bildung direkt von Anfang an als unmessbar zu deklarieren.

Es ist etwas erschreckend, zu lesen, dass die Autorin an didaktischen Projekten beteiligt ist. Eine (falsche) Dichotomie Buch vs. praktische Erfahrung zu konstruieren, hallo, geht’s noch?

On being excited

Birthday time, confession time.

I have a curious feature of personality which manifests itself in being extremely suspicious around overly excited people. Examples include political ideologists, but also tech evangelists and other self-declared prophets. I am not sure if I want it to stay this way, but it feels right.

Familiar? Alienating? Let me explain, and decide.

As usual in these cases, and even more applicable than normal, I’m probably going to rationalize my personal views, so feel free to comment.

I am of course extremely curious why I behave this way, so I thought about it for a while, and I think I have a half-baked answer. No, a couple of half-baked answers.

So, first and foremost, a lot of over-excited people are telling that something great or awful is going to happen, like, tomorrow and everything is going to be great and for free (or awful and expensive). Let me just say that in most cases, being skeptical is pretty much okay as most technical or social things are very unlikely to change radically over the course of days and the last simple, effective and cheap construction I can remember is an AK-74 (or an M-16, depending on your religion) and the same trick is not that simple to perform in other applications.

Second, radical positive changes are pretty unlikely to happen as such, and even less so if some self-proclaimed prophets are furiously promoting them. I furthermore have very strong negative feelings towards the “radical change is due TOMORROW” attitude as it devalues the work of everybody not directly involved. Surely, some people do useless things, but nearly every little feature of human life now relies on megatons of infrastructure and people doing their daily jobs. Sure, there are geniuses and extremely good ideas, but the bulk of what we call “civilization” is the work of large organizations.

Third, there are some personal issues. I have been a fanboy once, and for a while I have been seriously reconsidering the attitude. Thus, it is hard to take people seriously that are falling in the same pattern now. Sure, there are cool interesting, even exciting things, but running around and furiously promoting them is like advertisement, but without being paid. It does not help if journalism is currently in a state of an arms race in the hunt for clicks, which means that any form except the superlative is unused. “Why X is worse than Hitler”, “Unrivaled”, etc.

Together it all may taint issues for me. Any issue, actually. Science? Even science, if people are screaming “go team science!”. Even if it’s nice if people are your fans, they seem to have no idea what science does, and, worse, why science does it. This does not help. No, it makes things worse, because it opens more room for misunderstanding, strawmen, very random and very strange people with strange impressions of what is good, and just unneeded publicity.

It all does not really make my life worse. However, there are some limitations, for instance, I have serious troubles joining any political (or even ideological) movement. Too many ideologists, too many memes, too many simple, wrong solutions. I may even change my color, like phenolphthalein, if someone tries to tell me how exciting %thing% is because all the exciting people are very excited about it. Especially if %thing% is one of, but not limited to: ground effect vehicles, any tech startup, political ideology.

A motivational quote

I have found myself confronted with lots of “inspirational quotes” and inspirational texts, so I decided to go with the flow and write one, too. Main writing criteria were nonzero non-trivial content and avoidance of first person plural. So, here it goes.

Forget whatever you have been told about your life. It is not yours, and never has been. You ride, together with a lot of other human beings, on this immense carousel called Earth. Your behavior influences their lives as their actions influence yours. You are not done, you have not destroyed the One Ring and living happily ever after. Actually, you are never done. Life is scary and unjust, and good things tend not to happen magically all by themselves. Whatever happens, ask yourself about your role in it, because you could have influenced the process a tiny bit, even though your influence is small compared to existing systemic factors. You personally can make this place a better one.

Not deciding anything and not wanting to decide anything is a decision, too, almost always the worst one. You are responsible. Always. For everything.

Enjoy the ride.

Being offline

TL;DR: I have been offline for a week, talking to people, and it was a good thing.

I don’t really want to propagate all the stuff you can read in your favourite online medium on the topic of “living offline”, but I have to say that being offline for a while really helps people who are addicted to some online news sources. The general idea is to substitute content consumption by content creation, or at least by fruitful discussions with interesting people. At some point you can just ask yourself: Will something change if you do not follow the latest news from $SOURCE? In the most cases, the honest answer is a “no”, and you can happily go interact with real life people.

I’m aware that this post is getting somewhat chaotic. What I’d like to begin with – and there is not much more, really – is that the whole “Web 2.0” hype did not lead to real “user generated content”, as the marketing department tells you. What I observe is that the most popular platforms are being used mostly to repost, retweet, and share, not to create content. Surely, something is being created. But generally, the use case is “hey, look at this nice item”, which is not bad in itself, but I feel that this is considered to be the only use case. Just think of pictures with the only information being text on it. Seriously, guys and gals?

This is also one reason why I am somewhat irritated by (also my own) internet dependency. Ideally, one should create content as well as consume some, but in fact, the trend seems to show towards consuming more than creating. Which brings me to the original question: if the only thing you can do with internet content is to consider it as entertainment, then why not consider an alternative world where you create some entertainment for yourself just by talking to real, living people? Not even face to face, online communication is sufficient.

Public discussions on the Internet

I generally try to avoid public discussions. There are some reasons (partly emotional), but there is one thing in public discussions that puts me off and makes me uncomfortable. In general, the point of a discussion should be, funny enough, to make a point, ideally in such a way that you both agree on some conclusion. In the best-effort case, which is the best you can hope for in most situations, at least the audience shall have the chance to understand the topic, its complexity and come to a conclusion (which may be “I am not qualified”, “Not enough data”, “X is the right way to do”).

However, in most public discussions this contradicts the goals of the participating parties. On the Internet, nobody knows you are a cat the audience is virtually infinite and this is something that makes discussions harder as they devolve into virtual dominance competitions, because the parties at some point (the bigger the audience, the sooner) decide that losing would mean actually taking reputation damage and losing face. No matter how often you say “This is not about dominance”, the results seem to be the same.

I fear, this is an inherent problem. Though, there are spaces where these effects are not observable, and in general, they are characterized with

  • limited number of benevolent participants
  • a more or less strict intolerance towards any kind of superiority attitudes

Is this the final solution of the shitstorm question? I don’t know.

Games, rules, cooperation

Disclaimer: This is to be read as a personal position, not a hardcore philosophic work (For hardcore philosophic works, read Kant, he seems to say the same, but in a different way). Thus, the text may contain simplifications, logical shortcuts and things derived from personal or second-hand experiences and may not be generalizable to everyone.

Let’s talk about rules. Even in the age of Enlightenment, it is customary to consider rules as something holy and unalterable, like the Ten Commandments. Examples include the infamous “dating rules”, laws, and the (un)written social code. However, it is important to remember that rules have a purpose: they constrain everyone’s actions and thus impose a bound on entropy. Rules are a good thing, because they enable you to limit the diverse possibilities and allow you to concentrate more on the “allowed” alternatives; rules allow to expect behavior.

Continue reading “Games, rules, cooperation”

Reality strikes back

I somewhat suddenly realized that several tendencies in this world can be generalized to the concept of “constructing reality”. You probably have heard of the phrase “social construct” and (less probably) have been confronted with “creators of meanings”. So let me tell you my understanding of it, and then what I think of it.

As I perceive a strain of modern philosophic thought, the observations of a human or of a group of humans are mostly meaningless. So humans create “narratives”, stories that imbue facts with coherent meanings, making the world a more sensible place to live in. This is most certainly a logically consistent viewpoint, but it yields some worrisome implications.
Continue reading “Reality strikes back”

You are a monster

I have noticed a pattern in the media and I’d like to share it. Earlier, the simplest way to get an audience and sell your story was a sensation or a scandal. In the worst case, one could invent those. Now, it seems that we have arrived at a point where reader attention can be generated by a new kind of scandal: your own enragement about anything.

How does this work? First, you have to know that humans have no or little sense of scale. And negative things tend to influence humans more than positive. So, you find a cause that seems very important (say, THE CHILDREN) and find people who do (or can do) some atrocity that demeans THE CHILDREN. This obviously makes you rage (no, RAGE!!!111). But there is a problem: there are not that many people who terrorize children. So you’ll have to invent a story why this new car (and everyone who is driving it) is an enemy of THE CHILDREN. No problem with that: the car can be too noisy, too silent (the poor guy/gal won’t hear it coming), too big (POLLUTION!!11), too small (no kids can fit) etc. So, well, we should probably get rid of all drivers of this certain car model before they get rid of children.