What They Are Saying...

"This book was a fast easy read, and a fun romp. All in all, the book charmed me."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Subject: Subjectivity

Subjectivity (definition) : when a person's emotions influence their judgment.

Something each and everyone of us is guilty: subjectivity. 

For example, when you're flying down almost any freeway in the United States you will come across the sign, “Slower Traffic Keep Right.” I'm here to tell you, friends, that the man who thought THAT was the right sign was an idiot. Because it's subjective. NO ONE believes they are slower traffic. Everyone is certain they are moving at exactly the right speed. And if you're going faster than me? Well, you're just an ________! (Insert your favorite hostile driving expletive here.) 

Compare that to the sign, “Keep Right Except To Pass.” No judgements, no labels. We don't care who you are or what you drive, keep right. Instructional.

Here's another example. When you visit a doctor in the great state of California – just a routine visit – you'll be asked to fill out a questionnaire. You know, do you exercise? Do you eat right? On it is the question:

How much do you drink?
   a) never
   b) 1 – 2 drinks a month
   c) 1 – 2 drinks a week
   d) 1 – 2 drinks a day
   e) more than 2 drinks a day

If you visit a doctor in the great state of Louisiana – just a routine visit – you'll fill out a similar questionnaire. On it is the question:

How much do you drink?
   a) I never drink
   b) I'm an occasional drinker
   c) I'm a social drinker
   d) I'm a steady drinker
   e) I'm a heavy drinker

Notice the difference? The first question is quantitative. No labels. No guess work. No “misunderstanding the question.” It's a number. The second question is subjective. You have to emotionally decide which label defines you accurately. Your friend might believe he's a “social drinker” and you might think, “Dude, I've never seen you without a beer in your hand – and we car pool together!”

Subjectivity can be used to validate almost anything. Stephen Colbert called this “truthiness”, when your gut tells you what's right. It's rarely fair.

Years ago, in another life, I trained to be a body builder. I pumped iron, I did the cardio, I did the diet ... but I never got onto the stage. Somewhere along the journey I realized that the competitions were (say it with me!) subjective.

If they wanted to see who was the strongest, they'd ask the competitors to do some simple exercises in a gym. If they wanted to see who was the leanest, they'd use calipers and do a pinch test, or dunk us in water tanks. If they wanted to see who had the most muscle, or who the most symmetric, they'd use tape measures and plug the numbers into a formula.

But they don't. You parade around in front of judges, wearing your speedo or bikini, greased and tanned, making Atlas poses, and they decide who of you is the best.

And if you're a friend of the judges, well, that doesn't hurt.

I'm not saying judges are mean or evil. On the contrary. They are empathetic. They know that guy. They were there when he walked into the gym four years ago, a massively obese man with one foot in the grave from a heart attack. They saw him work out. They saw him do the cardio. They saw him do the dieting required, and they saw him make that transformation. It was astonishing! He deserves some credit.

What those judges don't realize - because they just don't know – is that might be exactly the same story for every one of the contestants. All of them started from somewhere. None of them got to that contest with ease.

What to do? Well, we can try to lead by example. The next time you're on the freeway and passed for the third time on the right, think to yourself, “Hm, maybe I'm slower traffic.” Then, move over!

Perhaps the best thing to do is the most human thing to do. Know we're all human. Know we're all guilty of subjectivity. Know we're all flawed. 

And forgive.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tech Troubles. And there's still hope!

Most of us spend some amount of our daily, new-fangled lives dealing with technology. From smart phones, to websites, to the latest gadgets and gizmos, we peck and poke and prod our way through terabytes of data, music, videos, and pictures just so we can laugh at the latest lolcat. Is this the best we can do? There are times I spend hours thinking I'm catching up when, in the end, I've fallen behind in work, house cleaning, and living my life.

Today's tech falls short in a number of ways. One is that it requires my attention. I don't mean simply the alert “you've got mail.” I mean, to read that email I first have to pick up a device, look at it, and poke a bit. My eyes and hands have to do something other than what they were doing. Sometimes, having these devices is like having a sick pet; you stop everything to take care of it. They can distract as much as the help in your daily life. Sometimes they're productivity eliminators.

As if that weren't bad enough, they're not always reliable. A couple of years ago we took a vacation to Fort Myers Beach, FLA. For those who aren't familiar, it's an island, just off the coast by Fort Myers. One morning, driving around Sanibel Island, desperate for a latte, I navigated our rental car’s cumbersome GPS interface to find the nearest Starbucks.

As an aside, there's one flaw right there. I really didn't want a Starbucks. I wanted a latte. Why can't I ask, “Find me the closest latte?” But, I digress...

The handy GPS informed us the nearest Starbucks was three miles away (it even drew a clever little arrow pointing “that-a-way”). Cool. I press the navigate button. Fifteen miles later (yes, you read that right) we pulled into said Starbucks. In fact, on the route here, we passed two other Starbucks – yes, we could have been rational and stopped at either of those, but we were determined to see just where the GPS thought the CLOSEST Starbucks had actually been. It became a matter of stubbornness at that point.

Another aside, the GPS creators could have put in some intelligence that noted, “Hey, if any Starbucks will do, why not try this one?” But, I digress...

You see, the term “closest” was as the crow flies. We were on an island. Bridges, water... Guess it thought I had a flying car...

It shouldn’t work this way. Yet I keep hoping. And every now and then I find evidence we're moving in the right direction. For example, my husband recently purchased a new toy called the Amazon Echo. It’s  a voice activated speaker connected to  our WiFi. We put her (you give it commands by saying “Alexa, …”, and so “her”) in the kitchen. While making our morning coffees, my husband can say, “Alexa, play WWOZ” or “Play WWNO” and she does. I'll walk in later and while making biscuits say, “Alexa, shuffle my faves” and she'll randomly  play the songs from my Amazon playlist, “My Faves.” I don't have to look up. I don't have to press anything. It just happens.

Every glimmer of hope feeds my tech imagination. I envision a future where my fridge notices I've only got two eggs left and puts “eggs” on my shopping list. Where traffic tickets and car accidents are a thing of the past, because all of our cars are self driving – allowing me to sit back and write a book or watch a movie. Where the language barrier is torn down like the Berlin Wall, and we can just speak and be heard in whatever language people understand. Where they take a biopsy of a cancerous tumor, scan it, then inject little wee-little robots into the body that, find the cancer cells and destroy them.

Some believe that tech is getting in our way, that we have devolved back to our lizard brains, distracted by shiny objects and the status of the number of twitter followers we have. But I think we're just not there yet, and that technology will be its most useful when we hardly notice it at all.