Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Big news!… that I can’t talk about right now

Hi, everyone.  I have some big deal, hot shit, life-altering news that I’d like to talk about, but it’s in my best interests not to go postin’ all over the interwebs about it.  Alas, this is a teaser post.  Individual inquiries about said news, addressed directly to me via email or face to face, are welcomed.

Since the news hit, I’ve been indulging in two of the biggest technology-enabled time wasters in existence: Facebook and Twitter.  Neither of these fads really caught on with me until I started desperately seeking distractions.  Boy, do I ever understand them now.

I also got my hands on Final Fantasy XII for PlayStation 2 – or rather, it got its hands on me.  It sucks me in for 3- or 4-hour stretches from which I emerge bleary-eyed and delirious.  I’m filled with shame at the amount of time I’m investing in an activity that provides me with no value.  It’s not even like I find it very entertaining, which should be the sole motivating factor for playing a video game.  I’m simply driven by a sick compulsion to complete the game’s assigned tasks one at a time, to enjoy that gratification of achieving something.  The hardcore role playing gamer in me just loves watching my characters’ numbers (strength, vitality, etc.) go up.

My whole point in starting a game of FFXII was to indulge myself for a little while, but I’m not enjoying it the way that I’d hoped.  Hard to say if this is due to the caliber of the game or to my inability to let myself enjoy something that doesn’t make me a better person – and God, what a lame person I’d be if the cause turned out to be the latter.  Enjoying something for enjoyment’s sake is what indulging is all about.

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Hey, I’m going to be in Pittsburgh this weekend.  What should I do there?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The burden of choice

Lately I’ve been mining the archives of presentations at the annual TED conference.  Each 20-minute talk addresses a subject from the field of technology, entertainment, or design, and many are presented by geniuses: Stephen Hawking and Frank Gehry’s talks are lined up in my downloads right now.  Three of the talks that I watched recently share a common theme: choice.  Their juxtaposition in my queue was coincidental, but maybe I selected them through a subconscious desire to excuse my occasionally lousy decision-making skills.  (I tend to vacillate endlessly and research exhaustively when presented with an important decision, such as which new brand of toothpaste to try.)

Barry Schwartz – The paradox of choice

More options don’t always result in greater satisfaction.  In this talk, Schwartz discusses the hidden costs that come with freedom of choice.  In his words, they are:

  1. Regret and anticipated regret
  2. Opportunity costs
  3. Escalation of expectations
  4. Self-blame
There’s an excellent anecdote in there about buying jeans that illustrates his point perfectly.

Malcolm Gladwell – What we can learn from spaghetti sauce

Gladwell explains how experimental psychologist Howard Moskowitz handles the difficult task of figuring out what we want when we don’t really know what we want, and how companies use the results to provide us with choices that didn’t previously exist.

If I asked all of you, for example, in this room what you want in a coffee, you know what you’d say?  Every one of you would say, “I want a dark, rich, hearty roast.” … What percentage of you actually like a dark, rich, hearty roast?  According to Howard, somewhere between 25 and 27 percent.  Most of you like milky, wheat coffee.  But you will never ever say to someone who asks you what you want that I want a milky, wheat coffee.

David Pogue – When it comes to tech, simplicity sells

Pogue argues convincingly that extra features commonly hurt tech products.  I agree wholeheartedly, as this idea has fueled my recent interest in interaction design.  My favorite part comes at the end, when Pogue praises the latest version of his favorite speech recognition software.  The new version added no new features; the company just greatly improved the speech recognition accuracy and made the software much more enjoyable to use.

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PS – Our houseguests this week are Lucy’s comics friend Erika Moen (who does the fabulous webcomic DAR, please check it out) and her husband, Matt Nolan.  To see Erika interview Lucy, check out The Erika Moen Show on Ustream.