Monthly Archives: February 2009

Social Networking Done Right and Wrong

Seth Godin talks about the right way and the wrong way to do social networking.


Most Americans Don’t Like to Live in Cities

David Brooks reflects on the recent research by the Pew Foundation regarding Americans’ preferences for an ideal living arrangement.  From this research it is apparent that there are many different trends at work in establishing what makes the “good life” for the typical American.  Apparently, the big older cities don’t come out ahead in the hopes of most Americans.   Instead, many Americans are still looking for the new frontier.

Do City Kids Have Fewer Problems?

At a lunch meeting this past week I was struck by the comments of one of my colleagues at work who grew up in a smaller town in Ontario.  He said that in his experience and from conversations with people who grew up as kids in Toronto, the kids in Toronto got into less trouble and have fewer problems than the kids who grew up in smaller towns and communities.   Other colleagues seated around the table seemed to agree.  I have never previously considered this issue.  Does my colleagues’ observation have validity?


I grew up in a culture where there was very little to no memory of slavery.   However, in speaking with some of my friends, in some other cultures around the world there is a still a strong lingering aftermath from the effects of slavery.   Apparently, it takes decades if not centuries for healing and reversal of the effects of cruelty and mistreatment of other people – these are passed on via culture and attitudes and psychology from generation to generation.

It’s been 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin (and Abraham Lincoln) this past week, and media has been full of this coverage.

I was struck by these quotes from Charles Darwin regarding his observations of slavery-condoning societies of his time.

I thank God, I shall never again visit a slave country. To this day, if I hear a distant scream, it recalls with painful vividness my feelings, when passing a house near Pernambuco, Brazil, I heard the most pitiful screams, and could not suspect that some poor slave was being tortured…. Near Rio de Janeiro I lived opposite to an old lady, who kept screws to crush the fingers of her female slaves. I have stayed in a house where a young household mulatto, daily and hourly, was reviled, beaten and persecuted enough to break the spirit of the lowest animal …. I have seen a boy, six or seven years old, struck thrice with a horse whip (before I could interfere) on his naked head, for having handed me a glass of water not quite clean. It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble, to think that we Englishmen and our American descendants, with their boastful cry of liberty, have been and are so guilty.

The uses of profanity

Most days I hear a lot of profanity being spoken.   Too much…way too much.  However, the funny thing is that I don’t have anything against profanity per se.  In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with profanity, when used appropriately at the right times.    Back in 1965 the novelist Wallace Stegner said something similar to what I would want to say about the matter.

As someone involved in the housing industry I particularly appreciated this unique analogy:

Some acts, like some words, were never meant to be casual. That is why houses contain bedrooms and bathrooms.

Does Money Equal Happiness?

In analyzing consumerist society there’s always the looming question in the background:  Does money equal happiness?  You would think that social researchers would have answered this question and we could put the matter to rest.

In my opinion, using money to acquire more “stuff” is not a pathway to happiness.   However, Renee M. Grinnell writes that some recent research indicates that indeed money does equal happiness, but only in a limited way.

What does psychology have to say on the subject? According to a new San Francisco State University study, both camps are partially right: money can lead to greater happiness for the person possessing it and those around them, if it is used to buy experiences, not possessions.

According to SFU’s February 7 press release, the study by Ryan Howell, an assistant professor of psychology at SFU, “demonstrates that experiential purchases, such as a meal out or theater tickets, result in increased well-being because they satisfy higher order needs, specifically the need for social connectedness and vitality — a feeling of being alive.”

Is Distraction In Our Consumerist Culture Leading to a “Dark Age”

Maggie Jackson implies a bleak scenario in her new book Distracted.   Its subtitle (The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age)  implies that our technological distractions are leading to a shallowness and loss of vital elements of our culture and education.  (However, it must be noted that not everyone agrees with this point of view.  For example, this blogger “Vaughan” feels that non-technological socities had a much larger array of significant distractions than the ones we face today.)

Here’s an excerpt from a Wired interview with Maggie:

We are programmed to be interrupted. We get an adrenalin jolt when orienting to new stimuli: Our body actually rewards us for paying attention to the new. So in this very fast-paced world, it’s easy and tempting to always react to the new thing. But when we live in a reactive way, we minimize our capacity to pursue goals. What does it mean to be distracted?

Jackson: Literally, it means to be pulled away to something secondary. There’s also an a interesting, archaic definition that fell out of favor in the 18th century: being pulled to pieces, being scattered. I think that’s a lovely term.

Our society right now is filled with lovely distractions — we have so much portable escapism and mediated fantasy — but that’s just one issue. The other is interruption — multitasking, the fragmentation of thought and time. We’re living in highly interrupted ways. Studies show that information workers now switch tasks an average of every three minutes throughout the day. Of course that’s what we have to do to live in this complicated world. How do these interruptions affect us?

Jackson: This degree of interruption is correlated with stress and frustration and lowered creativity. That makes sense. When you’re scattered and diffuse, you’re less creative. When your times of reflection are always punctured, it’s hard to go deeply into problem-solving, into relating, into thinking.

These are the problems of attention in our new world. Gadgets and technologies give us extraordinary opportunities, the potential to connect and to learn. At the same time, we’ve created a culture, and are making choices, that undermine our powers of attention.

The other important thing is to discuss interruption as an environmental question and collective social issue. In our country, stillness and reflection are not especially valued in the workplace. The image of success is the frenetic multitasker who doesn’t have time and is constantly interrupted. By striving towards this model of inattention, we’re doing ourselves a tremendous injustice. The subtitle of your book predicts a “coming dark age.” Do you really believe this?

Jackson: Dark ages are times of forgetting, when the advancements of the past are underutilized. If we forget how to use our powers of deep focus, we’ll depend more on black-and-white thinking, on surface ideas, on surface relationships. That breeds a tremendous potential for tyranny and misunderstanding. The possibility of an attention-deficient future society is very sobering.