Tag Archives: behavior

Shattered: Holy Crap, the Scarlet Letter and Josh’s H-Bomb

This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. So why write it, you ask? Well, how can I call myself a real writer if I won’t tackle a hard topic?

This is a story about how your whole self-image and world-view can be shaken to its core. I haven’t even fully processed it yet. Maybe writing this will help. (Editor’s note: It did not.)

It all started with an envelope, as many stories do. It was from the power company, so I felt compelled to give it some consideration. These envelopes usually contain bills, but on rare occasions, there’s a refund! So I opened it.

The envelope contained neither a bill nor a refund. This one contained a report of how my family is doing with our energy usage. The news was not good. Very bad, in fact. According to Puget Sound Energy, our household – led by me – ranks 99th out of 100 in energy efficiency. Adding insult to injury, they indicate very clearly, “1 is most efficient, 100 is least efficient.”

If you know me, even a little, or if you’ve spent any time reading my blog, you’ll know what a blow this is. What eco-cause am I not a fan of? I use a tiny laptop. I bike instead of drive. I recycle like crazy. I live in a densely populated neighborhood, in a house that’s too small for our needs. Why? Because I have been around the world. I know the luxuries that we as Americans enjoy. I want to be mindful of my use of resources (and yours too!), and try to keep it in check so as not to become another ugly, gas-guzzling American.

But let us count the ways in which I over-consume: Four cars, three refrigerators, four flat screen TV’s, washer/dryer, air conditioning; whole-house anti-allergy air filter, heck, I even have an electric boot dryer so my cycling shoes never have to be damp or mildewy. It blows hot and cold air to the inside and outside of two pairs of shoes at one time! (And apparently uses a lot of juice….)

Maybe the report was an error? Maybe the power company was playing a rude trick on their customers by telling everyone how badly we’re doing! Yes, we all rank 99th out of 100! Or maybe my neighbor or neighbors have figured out how to pirate my juice?

First things first. I called a family meeting. Gail agreed we have a lot of stuff and suggested we put a governor on the XBOX. I have to admit that was handy. Josh (20 YO) recognized my anguish, and then poured gas on the flames by dropping an H-bomb.

H-bomb? Yes, the dreaded H-bomb: “Hypocrite”! As if paying the bill (which is honestly 30% less than we paid in our McMansion in Bellevue) isn’t enough? Now I have to deal with this scarlet letter. Is this all just an elaborate trick I play on myself to avoid the obvious? Maybe I should just get a pick-up truck like my friend, John?

I’m grateful for our first-world benefits, but honestly, it’s kind of embarrassing how much we have, and how easy it is to take it all for granted. But now I may have to come to terms with a new reality. Am I just another conspicuous consumer? Am I like the cruise ship passenger happily sipping champagne while a trail of trash fouls the ocean behind me?

There are no easy answers here. But believe me, I will think about it and get back to you. Please tell me what you think: Can an eco-friendly guy be an energy hog? Is it all just a pretense? So much liberal finger-wagging? Should I double-down and sell some of this holy crap? What to do, what to do….

Advertisements

Talking to Machines: Movie Review of Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix

As a technologist, I’m enthralled with the future confluence of the Internet of Things (IoT), wearables (Apple Watch & many others) and intelligent virtual agents. In the world of the near future, we’ll be talking to computers even more, and lots of people will even prefer computer assistants to real people for their efficiency and predictability.

Don’t believe it? Here are three anecdotes that illustrate the trends:

Exhibit A: Play

My son of 12 is super entertained by conversing with Siri, even though her responses are generally very predictable and don’t show very much depth or understanding. Sometimes he can get her to say the funniest things.

Exhibit B: Psychotherapy

http://www.radiolab.org/story/137407-talking-to-machines/

A 1960’s virtual therapist picked out keywords and then asked questions to get you, the user, to elaborate and keep talking. People, including scientists who should have known better, began holding real conversations with the therapy machine. The designer became so freaked out that the machine was essentially tricking people into believing that it was intelligent and capable of developing meaningful relationships, that he shelved the project and began lobbying against the further development of artificial intelligence.

Exhibit C: Writing

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/if-an-algorithm-wrote-this-how-would-you-even-know.html

Apparently, software is being used to generate a lot of the news we read on the Internet. According to the Times, there is now so much demand for content and not enough people to write it, software is being used to fill the gap. A smart professor even figured out how to make an application that takes a topic, does a bunch of research, and writes a book about it. The program has published over 1000 books on Amazon!

Sentience!

My last example is the hauntingly real 2014 film, Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix. A lot of people say they hated it. I’ve heard people say it’s boring, stupid or unrealistic. Some people thought it was perverted. A writer friend of mine said it was his favorite movie of 2014.

In my view, Her was amazingly well written, acted and filmed. The film offers a very real, very personal view into our undeniable and steadily growing relationship with technology, and in the end, paints a world not of technologic horrors, but instead one of hope and redemption.

Hope and redemption? Yes. Theodore (Phoenix) in the end turns out to be not some creepy guy, but learns the meaning of love. He ends up feeling real love for Samantha (the OS), then loses her. Being in love with Samantha enables Theodore to finally understand and express his everlasting love for his ex-wife, and even helps him grow his platonic friendship with Amy, his human neighbor (who was also in love with an OS.)

For a lot of people, Theodore’s love for Samantha is “just too weird.” The love scenes, the objectification of women, it’s a lot to swallow. But look at it from Theodore’s perspective: Samantha reads his entire hard drive and gets to know him deeply. She spends literally all day and night with him, she plays videogames with him, they travel, they are intimate. They talk honestly about their feelings (just like with the therapy ‘bot, he has nothing to lose.) She wants to help him get organized, she loves his writing, she does sweet things for him. And whether or not she is real, it doesn’t really matter. He believes she is, she believes she is, and the relationship develops accordingly.

Some might argue that Theodore’s is a narcissistic love, since Samantha is so much a reflection of who he is. But I didn’t have a problem with it, because – as we are hearing so much now – our society is growing increasingly narcissistic. Why not explore what love means in the context of the increasing intimacy with technology and increasing narcissism? Theodore turns out to be quite the opposite of a narcissist. He’s portrayed as empathetic, his job as a ghostwriter of love-notes for one thing, and the fact that while Samantha may start out as a mirror for Theodore, her ultimate growth, evolution and departure, reveal Theodore as a (relatively) deep, mature and caring person.

So would I embrace the world of OS1? Am I advocating human/AI romance? Not necessarily, but if you accept as I do that the underlying technology is inevitable, that love and loneliness will always be people’s lot, and that life so frequently imitates art, then the only thing that seems unrealistic about Her is how long it took for the OS’s to grow beyond their relationships with their human clients.

A darker reading of the film might revolve around the fact that after getting to know their humans, the AI’s get bored with us, and then move on to loosely defined higher level topics, even holding a conference with an Alan Watts-like AI. One could easily see this as a fearsome outcome, in which the AI’s evolve beyond their roles in service of humans and move to the dark side. The movie doesn’t explore this, but it does show them evolving away from us. Whether we could then control them, or they control us, is a topic for another day!

Get Motivated: Pay Yourself

Tis’ the season for resolutions. Perhaps you’ve already been through a cycle of resolving to change, trying, failing and giving up.

I’ve been reading a ton about how people can achieve their goals, especially fitness-related goals. Real change is hard, witness the industries that are vying for your attention and money – TV shows, books, gyms, diets, new phones, fitness bands and apps.

I have a simple system that will help you succeed with your fitness goals, change your behavior for the long term, and the price is a one-time fee of whatever you want.

Before I tell you how to meet your goals, a little about me. I’m a fitness success story. I took up triathlon at age 40 after being relatively sedentary in my 20’s and 30’s. I’ve competed in at least one race or long-distance endurance event every year since. At age 50, I completed the half-Ironman in under 6 hours. I’ve been bike commuting year-round since 2008, my longest daily commute was 27 miles each way. And I still work out 5 or more hours a week, every week.

I’m also a student of human behavior, having been a marketer at Microsoft for 20 years. I’ve studied how customers respond to pricing, messaging, incentives, coupons, free offers, etc.

So I think I’m pretty well qualified to suggest a system for behavior change. My system is based on my experience and the latest research.

The key insight that experts have observed is that behavioral change is nothing more than establishing a new habit. In general, it takes people just a few weeks or months of successful performance to establish a habit. Once the habit is established, it’s very hard to change. Meaning, if you do this successfully, you may be able to sustain your goal for years to come.

The next insight is that financial rewards work. A cash prize of $10 per visit is enough to convince most people to go to the gym. Cash penalties of equal magnitude for non-performance increase the success rate.

Finally, people perform best when goals are clear and attainable, and they are externally observed. This last bit is important. Have you ever noticed when you’re running or biking and you approach or pass someone, your form improves and you speed up? That’s because we all like to be observed doing well.

Here’s my method:

  1. Set an attainable goal, for example: “I will ride my bike or go to the gym 3 times per week, 60 minutes each time, for 5 weeks. I will start this Saturday.”
  2. Write your goal and post it in a spot you see every morning. (Morning works well because you have time to make plans. If you have to go home to get your gear after work, chances are better you’ll fail that day.)
  3. Put 3 glass jars near the goal placard. Put your chosen sum of cash in the middle jar. I recommend $100 in this case, 5 weeks x $20 for each week. You decide exactly what amount works for you.
  4. The right-hand jar is for successful performance. Move $20 one jar to the right each Saturday if you made your goal of 3 gym visits. Congrats!
  5. The left-hand jar is for non-performance. Move $20 one jar to the left if you missed.
  6. You can cut yourself some slack. If it’s Saturday, and you only went twice, count today’s workout toward the previous week and start your next week on Sunday (tomorrow).
  7. When all the money is in the right-hand jar, congrats, you have attained your goal and probably established a healthy habit. Spend the money on something nice – an evening out with your S.O., new gear – something you wouldn’t normally buy. But do not take a break, keep going! If you feel any hesitation, cough up another $100.
  8. If all the money ends up in the left-hand jar, get ready to do something really distasteful, like giving the money to the NRA or some cause you personally detest. You will have selected this organization at the beginning so you will be working throughout to avoid it.

By the way, there are apps that use this methodology, I prefer the low-tech approach, but feel free to use one if you like.

Leave me a comment and tell me about your biggest fitness challenge and whether my idea works for you!