Why is there not a way for the browser to pass to a website whether certain features are available? Or to run a test on certain features? That way new browsers might work before being officially approved by every bank and site you might need to pay a bill on individually.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he explains one of the reasons New Coke failed. New Coke was conceived after Pepsi launched the Pepsi Challenge, a blind taste test where Pepsi really did trounce Coke by a fair margin. New Coke was designed (successfully) to win that taste test. The result was total failure. And why?
A sip is very different from sitting and drinking a whole beverage on your own. Sometimes a sip tastes good and the whole bottle doesn’t.
Pepsi (and then New Coke) won tastes tests because it was sweeter, which gives you an advantage if you’re testing a small amount. But the “raisiny-vanilla” taste of Coca-Cola Classic is better over the long haul. So Pepsi beat Coke in tastes tests but was never able to run away with the cola market and Coca-Cola’s response to Pepsi was a total failure.
Welcome to a world run on taste tests. We still buy food based on a free sample or a nationwide challenge. But we also vote based on sound bytes. We form opinions based on headlines. We don’t read, we scan. We don’t have lasting relationship, we have lists of avatars that are our friends.
If this was just a case of people making ill-informed decisions, that would be bad enough. It’s not the case that more information always leads to a better decision, but it’s often enough that “Decide Now!” can’t be the permanent default.
Rather, the practical implication is not just that many of the decisions we make could be better, but may potentially be flat out wrong. The issue is not that we might have come up with a more refined choice had we learned more, rather we might have gone in the complete opposite direction.
It’s tempting to blame the public (for their short attention spans) or the system (for dumbing things down) but really everyone is an equal partner here. A politician may make a claim, but a person makes the decision to not look into it further.
A website provider may put the Re-Tweet button on the website (and maybe right under the headline so you might hit it before reading the article) but the person reading decides whether to hit it.
Really the problem is much like what happens when you start drinking saltwater. Sure, the salt water dehydrates you, but you’re the one who drank it in the first places and you’re the one who keeps drinking it until you die.
The problem’s roots lie in ignorance. Or rather, the connotation that ignorance has picked up.
Ignorance means, according to the dictionary on my computer a “lack of knowledge or information”. According to the dictionary definition, I am ignorant of everything in the world except for a tiny slice of information and experience.
But in popular usage, ignorance means something much different. If someone calls you ignorant, it means you are willfully uninformed on a topic. This is generally a negative but can be a positive. Plenty of people are proudly ignorant of anything they don’t agree with be other religions, opposing political thought, or just movies they think don’t look entertaining.
The result for people who don’t like being ignorant is to consume the content equivalent of a suicide (soda version). We take a little bit from as many spigots as possible, mix it all up in a cup, swallow it down, then puff out are chests about how informed we are. But you have no idea what each soda tastes like and that concoction is pretty disgusting going down.
It would be fine if we all knew we were just getting trail mix rather than a full meal. But so many people want to believe something else. A lot of people want to believe that hitting every lever on the soda fountain makes them an expert on all soda. Or that drinking Coke and loving it makes them an expert on why Sprite sucks.
These people have many names. “Single issues voters,” “dilettantes,” “posers.” These all describe people who believe that showing interest and gaining a bit of knowledge makes you an expert.
What it actually makes you is an “advanced beginner” according to the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition. In the “advanced beginner” phase you’ve moved beyond being a novice where you are essentially only able to follow directions and into the realm of being able to problem-solve. But you’ve only just begun to make that move. Far too many people get from novice to advanced beginner, can finally make a decision, and think that makes them an expert.
But as Merlin Mann so succinctly puts in this video, there is no trick that will let you get from novice to expert. The only thing you can do is put in the work. And if the thing you want to be an expert on is being an informed member of society, that means:
Getting your news and information from more than one source.
Surrounding yourself with people that don’t agree with you.
Learning to lurk and listen before contributing and commenting.
Knowing the difference between fact and opinion.
These are all difficult lessons to learn. When you ignore them, as I did recently, they smack you in the face pretty hard. While a culture that allows and promotes everyone commenting on everything immediately all the time is ultimately a good thing, it comes with a certain responsibility to know when to comment, when to listen, and when to think. Or put another way, it means knowing that you need to eat the whole meal and let it digest before deciding whether to compliment the chef.
“As the world becomes more addictive, the two senses in which one can live a normal life will be driven ever further apart. One sense of “normal” is statistically normal: what everyone else does. The other is the sense we mean when we talk about the normal operating range of a piece of machinery: what works best.”—
Great article on how the higher prices that result from credit card interchange fees results in people who use cash paying more to subsidize credit card use. And how this disproportionately affects lower-income households.
I watch a lot of television. House and Burn Notice are must sees and back episodes are good alternatives when nothing new is on. Deadliest Catch, Dirty Jobs, and Mythbusters are the height of reality television as a serious genre. All that gets watched when I’m not tuning into a live sporting event. And if I want to see the worst of reality television, there’s always The Soup.
I didn’t come to a realization that any of this was less “necessary” to me than it was before. Rather, I came to the realization that a $125 cable bill was less necessary (i.e. not at all) to get it.
Availability of Alternatives
I had dabbled in internet television increasingly, starting with the occasional night watch Hulu instead of cable. Then came the epiphany that I wasn’t watching The Daily Show any sooner than when it was available online if I recorded it. Finally, ABC’s decision to put the entire series of Lost on Hulu, for free, prior to the final season enticed me to get involved, a binge that lasted a couple of months, three or four episodes a night.
But it wasn’t until I finally maximized my use of Netflix that I really got it. The availability of back episodes of TV shows, movies, and documentaries both instantly and overnight approaches magic. Combine it all with my status as a university employee (meaning I have access to ESPN3.com) and there’s virtually no need to pay for cable.
The Lack of a Water Cooler
For the record, my office does in fact have a water cooler. And it does in fact draw people into conversations about topics outside of work, including television shows. But the notional water cooler, the place where something as mundane and repeatable as a television show is elevated to an event no longer exists.
Our tastes are too varied now. You can’t count on one television show to captivate even an entire office, no matter how many people it seems watch American Idol. The same people who might have all watched Dallas now might be split between Celebrity Fit Club, Desperate Housewives, or a web series.
The practical effect of all this is to make more feasible what DVR made possible. You can now consume media on your own terms, at your own pace. The VCR first made it technically possible, but until you could be confident that passing a group of people on the way to the bathroom wasn’t going to ruin a show for you, it wasn’t as appealing.
Support What You Love
Not only would I argue that giving up cable is a better viewing experience, I believe it’s better for the content producers. The more swiftly we move to online distribution, the less pain will be felt by networks. If everyone switched tomorrow, I believe only the cable companies would suffer greatly.
Contrary to popular belief, I’m more likely to support my favorite shows now. Online streaming forces you to watch a palatable set of adds (two 30-second spots) rather than compelling you to skip through three minutes of commercials. All in an environment that offers better tools (although not properly used yet) to target and test the effectiveness of advertising.
The Pitter Patter of Little Hard Drives
It would be disingenuous to suggest that my apartment does not feel quieter or less “cluttered” without a fire hose of instant-on content. And it would be false to say that in the first few hours, that isn’t liberating, calming, and eerie all at the same time. Not having the clock under my TV is a big change as it is.
But that’s not the reason I did it. I plan to watch every show I watched before. I plan to consume as much if not more media than before. It will just be on my terms, from more diverse sources, with less of a hit to my wallet.