Why Wouldn’t We Care As Much If Bill Gates Had Died?

October 7, 2011

Sadness is probably the most fortified of our emotions. So my point here is not to adjust it in anyone. Like many, I was somewhat surprised by how Steve Jobs’ passing moved me. Yet, considering this country’s current mood towards powerful CEO’s, I did find the general outpouring a little strange. I don’t say this to tear down Steve Jobs, disrespect those who knew him or even make a statement about business ethics. I’m just pointing out that while we’re occupying Wall Street, we’re also holding iPhone vigils.

One of Jobs’ first moves as CEO of Apple (the second time) was to abolish Apple’s charity programs. Even when he died, with a net worth of about $8 billion, he was still known for being tight-fisted. Then COO, now CEO, Tim Cook made over $59 million in 2010 and much of Apple’s senior management makes well over $10 million just in salary. Apple is the world’s richest company that doesn’t deal oil, and I don’t have to tell you that its products are slightly, shall we say, expensive. In any other industry, Apple and Jobs would be skewered for these practices.

To think of it another way, would we have shown such an outpouring for Jeff Bezos of Amazon or even Bill Gates. Obviously not. Bezos founded and navigated Amazon with the same steady ruthless vision everyone loved Jobs for. Gates has impacted – granted, arguably – the modern computing world as much as Jobs. Except image-wise, Gates sat in the front of the classroom, Jobs sat in the back.

In Steve Jobs’ own word’s, his “devices don’t change the world.” Yet Gates has set up one of the largest foundations in history whose stated goal is to do just that. And seems to be. Do we care less about Gates simply because his devices aren’t “cool” – and infuriate us sometimes?

Again, I’m not trying to adjust anyone’s sadness – just put it in perspective. Except for a couple of very touching stories, I honestly couldn’t put my finger on a pulse of the grief other than, “The guy who made my ridiculously slick phone/music player/computer just died.” If Jobs had ridden around the world tossing them out in town squares, this would make a little more sense. But you paid for that sucker. In fact, compared to their competitors, you really paid for that sucker. By most accounts, Jobs “wasn’t in it for the money” and by just eyeballing the guy, I believe that; he didn’t prance around on yachts or buy islands. But Apple shareholders sure were and the sole job of any CEO in America is to increase the company’s stock price. That’s why the board brought him back in. They knew he could do it. Call it vision, call it inspiration, call it dogged determination, Steve Jobs did that job better than any in history. But for all our capitalist leanings, that’s never been a reason to publicly mourn someone.

My first computer was a Apple IIGS. I practically had my first iPod installed in my eardrum. I’m going to get an iPhone 4S. I type this on a MacBook. I love Apple devices and I loved and was awe-struck by the way Jobs methodically changed computing. But yesterday, I finally had to stand back and ask myself whether if perhaps, almost unconsciously, the greatest product Steve Jobs ever marketed was himself.

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The Catch-22 of Online Identity

August 5, 2011

Google and Facebook have made waves with their policies on online identity: essentially, one person should have one identity. My name is “Caleb Garling” on Facebook and Google and that’s the extent to which I should be allowed to be “present” on Facebook and Google. Sure, I can register new ID’s with different email addresses but IP detection and switching recognition technology is getting good enough, along with comparing the friends and activities of the profiles, that social networks can suspend the more suspect account, or both, quite quickly. One person gets one online presence is the growing rule.

That makes a lot of sense, on some level. First, it keeps data in order. When someone says Facebook has 750 million users, you automatically think 750 million people (humans) are using Facebook. But really, 50 million of them could have two profiles. And that’s just at the marketing level; when you get into the revenue engine of these companies—targeted advertisements—it becomes imperative that they have a clear view of exactly who someone is. They don’t want obsessed-with-online-gaming-You and everyday-You living separate lives.

Also, this keeps people more accountable for what they say and do. Many large media and news websites have been requiring a Facebook, Twitter or Google login to comment on articles. If you want to say something, it’s going to be tied back to your bigger persona; you can’t hide behind the wall of a false account. As an Internet writer, I can tell you that I’ve received “feedback” from readers that I don’t necessarily appreciate—and there is a predictable correlation between viciousness and traceability of identity. The real world doesn’t usually work like that; if you want to get nasty, expect eye contact or at least to sign your name on a letter.

But is this sort of accountability really like real life? That you—YOU—exist online in one form, in one presence.

I’m not so sure that it is.

We may have one body, one brain, one set of eyes, ears and a single piehole, but I bet you don’t act the same at work as you do when you’re sharing a late-night bottle of wine with friends. I bet you pull back or unleash your politics depending on the company. I bet you don’t act the same in a job interview as you do on a road trip with your siblings.

Obviously.

People act differently by situation. So why should the Internet hold you hostage to a singular persona? Simply because we are a singular person? I’m not so sure if the mind and the body are that intricately linked.


Airbnb Is Latest Victim in Internet’s Quest to Rid the World of Personal Responsibility

August 2, 2011

Airbnb is a website designed to pair people searching for a vacation home with prospective vacation homes and owners, not unlike VRBO or even Craigslist. In case you’ve not heard by now (or do not track Bay Area drama, like 99.9% of the world), in June a woman named “EJ” rented her home via Airbnb to a psycho. While EJ was away and the psycho stayed at her place, they corresponded a few times; all was fine, the plants were being watered, the floors swept, etc. Nothing to worry about.

Turns out, the whole time, this psycho was destroying EJ’s home, smashing walls, tearing up couches, stealing things, you name it. Like I said, a psycho.

Like any Bay Area resident, EJ blogged about it and since then, the Internet-o-sphere has taken up her crusade. The psycho has since been arrested.

But what really caught fire on the wires was putting the screws to Airbnb: Not only had they responded slowly to EJ’s claims, but they should have been better about preventing the situation in the first place. Since then the CEO has written a letter to EJ and their entire customer base noting Airbnb dropped the ball, will be instituting far more protective measures and will now insure each rented house for up to $50,000 (which surely won’t be abused in the future).

Typically, I try to hedge my opinions; there are few absolute truths on this planet, but in this case, I’ll say it: That is bullshit. Airbnb is no more responsible than the phone company that supported EJ and this psycho’s communications, than the email servers that carried their messages, than the car company that made a car that transported this psycho to EJ’s home, than the grade school teachers that taught this psycho to “play nice.”

You know who is responsible for the destruction of EJ’s home? The psycho. And you know who is responsible for dealing with it? EJ. It’s that simple.

Sure, Airbnb should turn over all information to the police—which they did—and of course its nice to have a company on your side in these cases, but the notion that they are at fault is ridiculous. The argument of “Well, people should feel safe renting their home!” is bogus as well. Renting your home is not a right; it a luxury—like being able to camp or walk the city streets on a dark night. I don’t blame the National Park Service if a bear eats me; I don’t blame the cops if I get mugged. I put myself in that situation; it’s on the bear, the mugger and me.

There are bad people in this world. They’re going to slip past security now and then. And that’s just the way it works. If you choose to rent your home to someone, you’re taking a risk. Airbnb had measures in place that kept out 99 percent of the psychos, if you don’t like the potential danger of that remaining one percent, don’t rent your home. Airbnb makes claims to set you up with vacation homes. That is their stated job; they never purported to vouch for the integrity of everyone on their site. This is the Internet; is it a newsflash to anyone that there are bad people using it?

People are hot coffee. Most times delicious, but you do get burned occasionally.

Often at the hands of hyper-communication, I can’t help but notice that empathy becomes the enemy of responsibility. When we’re faced with strife, we call friends for advice—and if we’re honest, to hopefully hear, “It’s not your fault.” Sometimes this is correct and sometimes it isn’t. That the Internet took up torches and pitchforks (against a corporation!) in EJ’s case does not make her right. It simply indicates that there are plenty of people with torches and pitchforks that wouldn’t take responsibility in the same situation. These crowds reach such a critical mass that the idea that they’re wrong simply becomes impossible because so many people are in the crowd in the first place.

This is no different than the same idiots that can’t acknowledge we evolved from monkeys or that the globe is, regardless of reason, getting warmer. We gravitate towards beliefs which line up with our preconceived view of the world and make us feel safest. And no likes to believe that they’re at fault when the shit hits the fan.


When A Picture Says Way More Than A Thousand Words

July 15, 2011

There are often times when the phrase “A picture says a thousand words” can feel understated—like a thousand represents a gross underestimation. Yesterday evening New York Times columnist and perpetually embedded journalist Nick Kristoff posted a photo on his Facebook wall. Here were the words he used to describe it:

On the occasion of South Sudan gaining independence and joining the United Nations, I thought I’d post this photo from a trip I made to remote parts of South Sudan last year. In the middle of nowhere, I ran into this barefoot hunter who had just killed a huge wart-hog with nothing more than a spear. I have rarely felt so inadequate.

(Click on the picture for a bigger window)

That’s a nice sentiment. No doubt, the guy on the left could survive on a deserted island longer than the guy on the right. But a comparison of manhoods is not what’s speaking to me here.

Here is what I took from this picture: it is impossible for the west to understand much of Africa.

I’m not preaching. My experience with Africa consists of reading stories in yuppie publications and a safari with my dad when I was about three feet tall. That’s all. I just looked at this picture and had one of those overcoming moments where my brain was floored with: “Holy. Holy. Moly.”

The guy on the left killed a hog so he could eat.

The guy on the right had to lead a camera crew, via Land Cruiser, through the brush so he could capture footage for his piece on Sudanese separatists for the office back in New York, all the while remembering a couple extra pens to keep notes and, of course, being extra careful not to get caught by prickers as they might damage the microphone attached to his polo shirt’s collar.

And here they are staring at the camera together—perhaps the difference in their facial expressions saying it all. And I have no idea what “it” is. Maybe the ridiculous spear splitting them into two halves is part of “it”. Maybe that they’re not standing on-plane together makes “it” just right. Maybe the fact that in his recap Kristoff makes the story about himself and gives no mention of the hunter’s name makes “it” a little more stark. I don’t know. I just know that when I look at these two, “it” is being said.

And that’s all I’ve got.

Here are some things I’ve written recently elsewhere:

Categorizing Each NFL Coach: Are His Best Years Ahead or Behind Him?

3D Technology For Mobile Devices: Avatar brought 3D technology back from the dead—will we keep it alive?

The Top 30 New Gmail Innovations

(Photo credit: Nicholas Kristoff’s Facebook Page)


Why Internet Deals Makes You Act All Irrational

July 8, 2011

Pretend I sent you an email saying the following: “At some point today, stop what you’re doing for 90 seconds and sit in front of your computer. Just 90 seconds. If you do this before the end of the day—whenever you’ve got a free moment—I’ll give you $20. No joke. I’ll send you the cash the instant you hit second 90.”

You’d probably start counting to 90 right then. No one in their right mind would turn down an offer like that.

Yet a few weeks ago I sent an email to about forty friends and only one of them took me up on the offer. Just one person out of forty was willing to take 90 seconds to earn $20.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. What I emailed was a promotion from Fandango: a voucher for two movie tickets for $9. No strings attached. No survey to fill out. No weird conditions. Businesses occasionally do extreme customer engagement promotions—Starbucks has free coffee days, Ben and Jerry’s gives out a free cone on their birthday—and this was one of them.

If you’re doing the math, you’ll realize that this is about a $20 dollar savings over typical movie prices ($12-15). To complete this deal would have taken everyone about 90 seconds of entering personal and payment details. The only rational reason you wouldn’t take the time was 1) you never go to the movies or 2) you were involved in some sort of medical emergency. Otherwise, no one in their right mind would shirk $20 for 90 seconds of their time.

So why didn’t everyone jump at the chance?

Jonah Lehrer of Wired wrote an interesting article about this quirk of perception a few months ago. Economists call the phenomenon “mental accounting.” Our brains tend to think of numbers and financials in buckets of social context, not necessarily for the raw values they indicate. The decisions that mental accounting produces tends to throw cold water on the bedrock economic notion of “rational behavior” and probably means the rule should read, “people always behave in a manner they perceive to be rational and in their best interests.”

Richard Thayer, a University of Chicago economist, strangely, did another movie theater experiment.

Imagine that you have decided to see a movie and have paid the admission price of $10 per ticket. As you enter the theater, you discover that you have lost the ticket. The seat was not marked, and the ticket cannot be recovered. Would you pay $10 for another ticket?”

So, would you? 46% of his respondents said they would.

But then Thayer asked:

“Imagine that you have decided to see a movie where admission is $10 per ticket. As you enter the theater, you discover that you have lost a $10 bill. Would you still pay $10 for a ticket to the movie?”

Now 88% of respondents said they would.

But in either scenario, you’re out an extra $10 on a night you wanted to see a movie. Why would roughly twice as many people be okay with the second scenario and not the first?

Strangely, our brain constructs finances and numbers by association. The first scenario is viewed as paying $20 for a movie ticket. The second scenario is viewed as losing $10 bucks and then buying a $10 movie ticket. The latter situation sucks, we say, but oh well, the movie still costs the same.

So why didn’t anyone take up the Fandango offer I sent around? Maybe a couple people didn’t check their email that day, perhaps a few thought it was some sort of scam or just hate Fandango, but those that read the message likely—subconsciously—thought, “I’m at work/busy/on the run and I don’t have time to get out my credit card or think about the movies. And, honestly, I don’t really feel like spending $9 right now.”

Delete.

But if I’d said, “Stop what you’re doing for 90 seconds and I’ll give you $20!”

1…2…3…4…5…


A Rant: A Secret Love of Boston History and Sarah Palin Made Me Do It

June 3, 2011

I didn’t think that I was going to have time to squeeze out a Garling File today but here I am.

Now, I had once made the resolution within my soul that I would ignore Sarah Palin. I don’t mind that she stands for the right to use machine guns while hunting or that she thinks of foreign policy like neighbors keeping sturdy fences. I don’t mind that she opposes stem cell research while cradling her retarded son or that she thinks the world popped out of God’s ass four thousand years ago. I don’t mind that she has basically cultivated a personality that subsides on catch phrases no longer than eight words and wouldn’t critically think about the implications of a social or economic issue any deeper than how best they could manipulate the audiences of Fox News into believing that whatever the Democrats say about the solution surely means that we’re all damned to Auschwitz or Hoovertowns.

This is a free country and the beauty is that you’re entitled to your opinion.

But Sarah Palin, as you did in your interview yesterday, don’t disrespect Boston, or it’s history.

I’ll disregard the fact that your tone, when discussing Paul Revere’s ride, the flashpoint that began the United States of America, sounds an awful lot like a drunk trophy wife regaling her husband’s bedroom disasters. I’ll even disregard that your first instinct was to turn the moment America’s water broke into an arms issue, a second amendment jab, that the British “couldn’t take our guns” and that we’d be “secure” and “free.” I’ll even disregard that you make it sound like Paul Revere warned the British; I get what your brain was trying to accomplish.

But Sarah Palin, Paul Revere didn’t ring bells, he hung lanterns.

That’s part of the beauty of the poem and the prideful history of American ingenuity; the Mechanics had devised this intelligence and communication system well ahead of time. You may have been confused because he hung lanterns in bell towers. But if we think about this logically, Sarah, ringing church bells in the middle of the night at an off hour probably would have alerted the encroaching British troops that something was up. I know you’re a big student of history, with all your talk about violating the constitution, but there is a difference, Sarah.

Yet perhaps this silly little interview—that of course implicates that the mainstream media is picking on you, not that you’re simply a moron and unfit to lead the most powerful country in the world—is a perfect little microcosm. Perhaps, that’s the beauty of the way you roll, Sarah: nuance is unimportant, the details don’t matter. As long as we can say it to the public in under a dozen words, we’re golden.

I get that the flub was not like thinking Abraham Lincoln was a Founding Father, but the job of President makes it your job to note the finer points, to just to dig a litttttttle deeper.

Because if we’re deciding whether we should default on our national debt, you’ll need to dig a litttttttle deeper than what cheer makes the Tea Party go wild. If we’re deciding whether we’re going to continue with our farm and oil subsidy programs and we need to formulate a plan for a logical transition, you’ll have to dig a littttttle deeper than a wink and thumbs up. If we’re going to intervene in a violent Middle Eastern nation and we need to figure out these crazy words, “How” and “Why,” you’ll need to dig a litttttle deeper than monosyllabic sentences. And you’ll need to do all that in higher pressure situations than a local reporter interviewing you in a cafeteria.

So head down Route 2 to the end of Paul Revere’s ride and enjoy Concord. I love it there. Get a slice of pizza at Sorrento’s and have a walk around Walden Pond.

Then hop on your tour bus and get the hell out of town, and out of our face.


The Flimsy Logic of Group Perception

May 27, 2011

Recently I perused Andrew Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood,” a site by the famed liberal-provoker and documenter. The articles are sort of fascinating in a car crash sense; and if you read the comments you’ll certainly get your fill of angry America. One of the recurring villains, besides “the Commander and Thief,” is the “MSM” or mainstream media. Railing against media isn’t new; the battle cries against a complicit liberal media have been ringing in everyone’s ears for some time.

But the logic behind the idea is curious: that not hundreds, or thousands, but tens of thousands of journalists have tacitly agreed to hide the failings of the Obama administration; that even though journalism is a fledgling field and any good story is seized upon for personal and eventually financial gain, this MSM has all decided that the ideals of Barack Obama and his administration are too pure; we must keep secret all the bad things that happen. No money or career should be made off investigative reporting, they’ve all agreed; the MSM—all of them—are just going to take a nap for the next two or six years, because…that’s what’s best for them…somehow.

The logic is, um, flimsy.

But you know what logic rings similarly? That Republicans don’t care about the poor—yes, all of them. That the Tea Party is nothing but angry white racists—yes, all of them. That Wall Street is greedy—yes, all of them.

Research has shown that we, as humans, can only “know” about 150 people at one time. We can only have about four to six “close friends,” depending if we’re committed or single. To step back from the numbers and theorize in an anthropological sort of way: we are constructed to know our village and our family. For thousands of years, that’s how our brains were built. We lived in our little town, we had our family, we died. That was life on earth until about two centuries ago.

So maybe comprehending an entire media or an entire social movement is simply… impossible. They are each comprised of thousands upon thousands of people. We have to see them as an individual. The Mainstream Media versus Republicans. Family Values versus the Gays. Christianity versus Islam. America versus China. Wall Street versus Main Street. Liberals versus Conservatives.

Yes, all of them. We make them a citizen of our village, whether the mayor or the idiot.

Not that there isn’t interaction, whatever it may be, between facets of these groups. But the discussion casts them in the same way we’d talk about two neighbors fighting over a property line. One is wronging, outmaneuvering, dismissing, [verb typically enacted by human] the other, somehow.

Is the situation that simple, or are we?