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Choice: A Paradigm of Paralysis

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Most of us have been conditioned to believe that choice is a good thing in our lives, and that a wide breadth of choice will lead to greater personal freedom and therefore greater happiness.  To a limited extent this holds true.

Certainly the very core beliefs of Capitalism is that consumers should have the right to choose.  The result of this approach is that it creates a consumer driven democracy in which purchases are the ballots by which votes are cast.  In such a system a great responsibility lies in the hands of the consumers, though this power may be largely unrealized.

Social conscience, therefore, doesn’t rest in the hands of the companies.  This responsibility has also been downloaded onto the consumer–if the consumer didn’t agree, they wouldn’t vote for it.  At least this is what basic economic principles hold to be true.  (One must remember, however, that such theories also presuppose that consumers have “perfect knowledge” of the choices they are making, that is to say they are fully aware of all of the factors involved in their choice.  I dare say that is not the case)

Choice can be debilitating.

Consider chewing gum.  Likely we have all deliberated over the bevy of choices laid out near the cash register.  For discussion let’s say that there are 64 different flavours to choose from. Consider what choice you would make?  To make a truly informed decision, you would have to have tasted all 64 flavours.  Assuming you could distinctly recall what each one of those flavours was, you would now be in a position to decide.  It is likely, however, that you haven’t tried all the flavours and so can’t possibly know what you want.  So you guess.  After you have made your choice do you reconsider?  Do you wonder if there was another flavour which might have been even better?  How many other choices are made and then tinged by regret at the possibility that a different choice would have been more satisfying.

Consider the possibility that there were only three flavours of gum:  Blue, Green, and Red.  The choice would be much simpler and the likelihood of dissatisfaction would be drastically reduced, unless you’re like me and always choose blue despite the fact that green is a more pleasing mint flavour.

Chewing gum is a relatively simple task with only one variable: flavour.  Other decisions about more valuable purchases are much more complex with multiple variables and greater consequences for poor decisions.  It is overwhelming to try to make an informed decision about something like a camera and a computer if you are not already an expert in that area and fully understand all of the applications required for your use of the device.

Recently I bought a winter sleeping bag.  It took me nearly a month to reach a conclusion about the bag for me, and there were only three variables to consider: price, weight, temperature rating.  Agonizing over the decision consumed me.  How many hours did I spend pouring over websites and reviews?

This type of preoccupation with choices really inhibits our ability to act decisively.  It impairs our ability to move forward.  It is a modern mental paralysis.

 

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Sandy Hook Shooting Massacre and Political Agendas

January 17, 2013 1 comment

The tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting reached many of us in a very profound way.  What could be more tragic than a deranged gunman slaughtering innocent children?  It strikes a chord in all of us.

In the weeks since the incident there has been much speculation online about the events of that day, particularly the seeming lack of genuine emotion on the part of those interviewed about the shooting.   Perhaps most notably, the medical examiner appears to be a macabre figure who offers odd answers to the questions he is asked, and seems to guffaw and chuckle at bizarre  times while giving cryptic responses about how good photographers can make anything look real.  One might chalk this behaviour up to as a strange man in a morbid profession and think no more about it.  Further examples of the alleged actors used to portray mourning parents and others are widely available online, and many videos explore these possibilities.  Certainly there has been a recent push by Obama to reform gun legislation.  Allegations suggest that such an incident is quite useful in moulding public opinion in favour of such reforms.

Watching videos on Youtube is a dangerous thing.  What are their sources?  Where do they get their information?
One of the websites mentioned in several of the videos is CrisisActors.org.  Here is what they provide in their own words: “Visionbox Crisis Actors are trained in criminal and victim behavior, and bring intense realism to simulated mass casualty incidents in public places.”  While the website has posted a firmly worded rebuttal of the recent allegations of their involvement in the Sandy Hook Shooting, it does beg the question why anyone would want to hire crisis actors to enact a large scale crisis like the large shopping mall catastrophe, as they describe on their homepage.  If one would like more information they are encouraged to click on a Visionbox link which will take the viewer to an acting guild website offering information about classes one can enrol in, productions and much more.

Whether due to recent traffic on the site or not, all pages for CrisisActors require email verification to view.
One video suggested that CrisisActors was owned by a larger corporation called Vision-Box.  Spelling isn’t communicated through audio, so when I Googled “Vision Box” the site at the top of the search was not about actors at all, but rather about a company whose business was providing personal identification systems (biometrics).  The company’s mission is to “Be the market leader in the design, development, manufacturing and commercialization of computer vision, biometric and electronic security systems.”   This refers to the identification of people based on fingerprints, facial imaging, retinal scans and other such information.  Vision-box offers a kiosk for this purpose.

Is there a connection between the necessity of creating and portraying realistic crisis scenarios and selling equipment designed to track people and ‘secure’ areas?  Perhaps they are opposite sides of the same coin: fear.  One is used to create fear, while the other is used to assure people against the possibility of that fear.

January 16, 2013 Leave a comment

The Grumpy Giraffe

University has typically been referred to as a privilege. This is true, especially in the age where a girl can get shot for wanting to receive an education. The Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) of UCLA surveyed thousands of “college freshmen” (for those who are not American, “college” refers to both university and college students) on their perception of their own abilities.

Many described themselves as exceptional.

A 2006 study from CIRP showed that modern college students are more ambitious, leading to an “ambition inflation”. This is a more eloquent way of saying “the bigger something is, the harder they’ll fall”. A quick example can be drawn from some American Idol contestants and the shock registered when a judge says that the contestant isn’t their cup of tea.

To be fair, going to post-secondary education (PSE) does require ambition. When I applied to university, I was ambitious to embark on…

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Driving Fallacies and Traffic

January 10, 2013 1 comment

Many of us commute to work via highways or freeways–supposedly uninterrupted channels of traffic flowing smoothly to their destination.  The reality, however, is a often a nauseatingly congested, stop-go-stop sweaty barnyard of honking maniacs trying to make time on their morning commute.

There seem to be a couple of presuppositions that contribute in a big way to these flutserclucks.

FALLACIES:
1.  You are in direct competition with other drivers. Don’t pad your wilting ego with the disillusioned idea that you have ‘beaten’ someone who wasn’t racing you.  It’s not a race. There are no winners.
2.  Preventing 1 car, 2 cars or 15 cars from merging in front of you will get you to your end destination faster.  Once moving at proper highway speeds, the distance of 20 cars (let’s say 400 feet) will take only seconds.  Keeping one or two people from merging ahead of you can only save you tenths of a second.

TRUTHS:
1.  Slow downs (accidents aside) happen most often at points where two streams of traffic are forced to merge. 
2.  Your actions can affect the column of traffic behind you.  Slamming on your breaks or coming to a stop will cause the driver behind you to act accordingly.  This reaction can echo back through the column indefinitely (unless there is a gap large enough to buffer the following cars).  This is reason YOU have found yourself in an infuriating gas-beak-honk scenario for the last 15 minutes.

RETHINKING OUR GOALS WHILE DRIVING:
The goal of driving is to propel the vehicle forward.  Instead of measuring the distance to the traffic ahead, think about keeping the vehicle rolling forward.  Isn’t that what we pay those high fuel costs for?  Preserve that forward movement instead of rushing ahead to stop.  (Laws of Physics and Inertia teach us that starting the motion of an object is most difficult–maintaining motion, comparatively easy)  Maintaining a steady flow can be achieved by creating space between you and the traffic ahead.  This space will ‘soak up’ the erratic starts and stops of other drivers and allow you to travel at a constant speed.
These gaps in traffic will inevitably be filled by others, which is not upsetting once you realize that their action doesn’t impact you arrival time by more than a couple of seconds.

BENEFITS:
1.  Wear and tear on your car:  Stopping and starting is hard on your brakes and your vehicle, not to mention the fuel savings of maintaining momentum. 
2.  Wear and tear on your patience:  Changing your focus will do wonders for your mood and level of stress and road rage, making the quality of your experience that much better.  If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
3.  Space to accelerate:  When you have space ahead of you it makes changing lanes much easier; you have room to accelerate so you can catch those gaps in traffic. 
Drive with an understanding of the fact that we are all connected. Our actions impact those around us.
Not convinced?  Consider the impact on traffic if you were just to stop in your lane, get out and walk away.

The importance of books and the complete experience

January 4, 2013 Leave a comment

Being a purist in many ways, I have resisted the convenience of e-readers and tablets as the medium I prefer to consume books.  Certainly toting around Ken Follett’s latest tome Winter of the World around has its downsides–falling asleep being crushed beneath a massive hard cover is not a pleasurable experience.  However, reading an a book and the whole tactile experience that goes along with it is something not matched in screen form.

While reading a recent post on Mindful Stew, I was reminded of a The Globe and Mail article I read which recounted Margaret Atwood having defended the internet and social media as “a great driver of literacy” as it caused people to read and thereby stimulate their brain in a variety of ways.  The point of the article, however, was that the brain of screen readers develops in a vastly different way; the neurological networks of an “expert reader” are vastly different and more developed than those of an over stimulated screen reader.  The article went on to say that the kind of reading done in a hyper linked, hyper stimulating environment fosters a brain that is unable to focus in a deep and meaningful way, something that they termed “Twitter brain”, causing the mind to work in an infantilized mode.

Likewise, a recent article in The Toronto Star points out that old fashioned text books are more effective at conveying information than e-books.  It points out that the physical cues that trigger links to memories and information simply aren’t the same in the e-reader, and thus the pathway to those memories is less likely to be located.  Also the ability to fan through pages of a textbook to find the information you’re looking for is no longer possible.  Now one must laboriously scroll to find their spot.

There are lots of students who would gladly not lug their back breaking Science and Math textbooks home at the end of the day, but it seems that replacing books with virtual copies has its drawbacks too.

Certainly a book has never run out of batteries in the middle of a canoe trip, and for that I will gladly haul them over many portages on my back.

Celloboxed

January 3, 2013 Leave a comment

This video caught me off gaurd. I absolutely did not expect this dapper young cellist (Kevin Olusola) to go where he did with this song.

Yet another example of my preconceived notions of classical instruments being challenged.

Aloe Blacc blurs lines of conventions

January 3, 2013 Leave a comment

This is a great version of Aloe Blacc’s “I need a dollar” that incorporates a number of beautiful elements. The sonorous classical arrangement further complimented by the artwork prominantly backgrounded.

Another example of classical instruments beautifully thrust into contemporary.

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