Do Emoticons Have Value?

I don’t like emoticons. I understand why people use them, but I don’t like them.  And right now, they have little value.  Writing “sorry your boyfriend dumped you” and then putting a sad face next to it doesn’t add much.

However, the future descendants of emoticons have the potential to change the way we communicate in writing.  Imagine if instead of the limited set of vague emoticons we have now, we had thousands of them.  And imagine if they were personalized so that you essentially had an image library containing hundreds of your own facial expressions. A person would effectively be able to see your face as you communicated via writing.   Assuming we eventually figure out a way to seamlessly add “expression images” without slowing down the writing process, these future emoticons could transform written communication (that is, if written communication is still necessary.)


The Value of Socio-Emotional Skills

Allow Minnesota governor Mark Dayton to demonstrate:

Yes, there have always been protests — sometimes loud, but not in this formal room. In this room, governors traditionally have held news conferences in front of the media and with only invited guests. Security people traditionally had kept all others out.

But not this day. Angry people — some very angry people — were in the room. Dozens more were trying to enter.  Dayton couldn’t have expected this.

Not even the organizer of the protest, Twila Brase, who heads an organization called the Citzens’ Council for Health Freedom, expected this turnout of passionate protesters. She had started emailing people — Tea Partiers and other “Obama-care” foes last Friday.

“I didn’t have any idea how many would come,” she said.

The new governor then silenced the crowd with a most extraordinary invitation. He invited those protesting to come forward and share his podium. He would allow representatives from their group to speak, after he had spoken.

Why Do We Treat Sexism Different From Racism?

Julian Sanchez:

We can point out sexist remarks or attitudes without getting derailed by pointless discussion of whether a particular person “is a sexist.” It even sounds a bit weird to pose the question as though it were a simple matter of “yes” or “no,” with the world neatly divided into sexists and non-sexists. Rather, we all get that, the culture being what it is, basically decent people—and occasionally even level-seven gender studies Jedi—will have imbibed unexamined sexist presuppositions or adopted mistaken empirical beliefs about gender differences.

This is, presumably, because for all that our society may have historically denied women full equality, even at its worst it stopped short of denying their humanity. “Racism” is associated, in its practical consequences, with a system of violence and repression so irredeemably evil that we want to think of it not as a species of error, but as something so monstrously “other” that it creates a chasm between those contaminated by it and those free of its influence.

I would say there’s an even simpler explanation.  In some situations — for example, a refrigerator lifting contest — there are clear, observable differences between men and women.  This makes it easy for our minds to accept a “sexist remark does not a sexist make” type of attitude. But when it comes to issues of race, it is much less acceptable to claim there is a legitimate difference between two groups. Because it’s harder for our minds to recall legitimate racial differences, we tend to interpret a single racist claim as evidence of a deeper racist attitude.


1. Don’t snack in front of the TV.

2. This is why you’re reading this.

3. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution.

4. Where do Bad Ideas Come From?

5. Is this evidence that this is plausible?

6. The value of arbitrary dates.

Should We Use Heuristics?

In psychology, heuristics became associated with errors and contrasted with logical and statistical rules that were believed to define rational thinking in all situations. Yet this view has been questioned for uncertain, large worlds where the assumptions of rational models are not met. We reviewed studies on decisions by individuals and institutions, including business, medical, and legal decision making, that show that heuristics can often be more accurate than complex “rational” strategies. This puts heuristic on a par with statistical methods and emphasizes a new ecological question: In what environment does a given strategy (heuristic or otherwise) succeed?

That’s Gerd Gigerenzer and Wolfgang Gaissmaier in the most recent issue of the Annual Review of Psychology.

What Makes a Good Vacation?

I’ve been thinking a lot about vacation lately — specifically what makes a vacation feel like it was a real vacation. Jonah Lehrer makes some interesting points about distance, both physical or symbolic, and I tend to agree that all good vacations allow you to view your non-vacation life from a new perspective. However, simply going to the Caribbean isn’t enough to gain that new perspective. If you wake up every morning in sunny Jamaica and proceed to frantically check your Blackberry for work updates, it is doubtful you will reap the mental benefits of vacation.

That’s why I think a good vacation boils down to a change in priorities.  Successfully changing your priorities (e.g. choosing a movie to watch instead of checking your Blackberry upon first waking up) will not only make you forget your old concerns and feel like you’re living a new life, but you’ll gain insight into your “old” life by being able to analyze it from a viewpoint that’s not consumed by the importance of your old priorities.

My advice to those who are desperate for a real mental vacation is to download an entire television series or a new computer game. Take a week and completely lose yourself in another world .  Make conquering a fictional planet tor bringing Avon Barksdale to justice your new top priority.  Eventually your working-life concerns will fade away and your brain will get the break it needs.

Games For the 21st Century: Find Your Least-Liked Facebook Friend

Need to kill and hour with some buddies or entertain a date? Just pore through your list of Facebook friends and decide which one you like the least (or hate the most).

Who will it be? Will you even know them? What’s the amazing story behind why you’re friends with them?

No matter the time nor the place, “Find Your Least-Liked Facebook Friend” is a guaranteed good time.