Saturday, February 23, 2013

Overshare

While parking outside the B&N in my neigborhood, the car next to me caught my attention. On the back seat window was pasted a 3-D ultrasound image in full color. I am assuming it is the baby they are going to have in a few months. So exposed and vulnerable floating in fluid, strung by a chord - the unborn child.

At what point did this most private and precious image that soon to be parents share with those closest to them (if that), become public property ? I felt a rush of sadness for this child that had not come into world. If they are on display on the car, they would most certainly be in social media as well - liked, shared, followed, plus oned and commented on. They have been established as an entity in the social network even before they could be born. Will their birth still be the big moment as it should be or would it become information fatigue by then ? 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Overcompensating

This article about A.A Milne's estrangement from his son is a cautionary note on the perils of being too perfect a parent. The simple beauty of Milne's stories revolving around Christopher Robin would suggest incredible harmony between father and child - the kind we may all aspire to have with our children. While the reason for the drift between the two is Christopher Robin turning "bitterly resentful" of his father's fame and living under his giant shadow, may not apply to most people, there may be lessons from Milne for the rest of us.

We could overcompensate for our failings by doing our equivalent of writing entire books with our child's stuffed animals as the cast of characters, placing them at the center of this created universe. Sometimes in our misguided quest for perfection we may make them deeply uncomfortable - maybe it is possible that they expect and accept us imperfect as we are. Maybe our flaws do not scar them as much as our overzealous efforts to do right by them.

In trying so desperately to rid ourselves of our flaws, we may pressure our children into following our own example - and hence the incredible burden of parental expectation. A good warning sign might be a child who like Christopher displays "no signs of any normal adolescent rebellion" . That may way well be the last chance a parent has to correct course - give up the quixotic quest for perfection, fail often and let the child breathe too.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

End Point


The topic of online dating has inexhaustible potential. This article attempts to reach that elusive end point. In a sweeping commentary that touches on the socio-economics of online dating, the technology that enables it and what it means for the future of relationships, the author does not leave much out. However, he is not able to tie the many threads of this topic into a cohesive conclusion.

Early on, he talks about what online dating companies are trying to create, namely "the profusion of potential partners all in one convenient marketplace, a sort of Costco for the libido". And like a customer at Costco who may prefer it over multiple stops at locally owned stores and a farmer's market, the online dater would likely forego the traditional methods of dating and take the path of least resistance. Technology allows for mass personalization; to that end I get coupons in the mail from my nearest big box store that exactly meet my needs. They come in an envelope addressed to me and unlike the mass mailers they once sent out, every last offer is completely relevant to me.

This level of personalization, Horning argues is coming to the online dating world as well "Just as CafePress can sell you a customized T-Shirt, why shouldn’t OKCupid aspire to sell you a customized partner?" From my past experience and that of my friends who have been or currently are active in the online dating world, that goal is aspirational at best. Unlike a person's shopping habits, that can be read, measured and interpreted, their preferences for romantic partner cannot be so easily discerned. Often the person in question does not know, cannot describe what it takes to make them happy and indeed does not want to profiled and served a made to order partner. While OKCupid's analytic horsepower is impressive, it is a little disingenuous to pretend that it is possible to pair someone with a partner perfect for them - algorithmically.

There are many connections made between the traditional business and the online dating market place. Here is one I found interesting. Horning says: "Traditionally, businesses have thrived on artificial scarcity, even if the tendency of the system as a whole may be to arbitrage away such advantages." He ties the idea of artificial scarcity to female purity "In a sense, social mores and attitudes about female purity worked as DRM for dating, restricting supply to protect intimacy’s value." Unfortunately, Horning does not carry this idea forward into his subsequent arguments.

He quotes the Dan Slater, author of Love In The Time of Algorithms, as saying the dating companies “want satisfied daters. But they also spend their days focused on maximizing nonromantic metrics, such as ‘customer acquisition,’ ‘conversion rates,’ and ‘lifetime value.’ This reminded me of my friend S who has been dating for a couple of years now and would sooner take a break from dating when things become too complicated than try to settle. Most of her relationships span between one and six months. She is happy with her life as it is and could potentially be classified a "satisfied dater" who would help maximize all those "nonromantic metrics" Slater is referring to.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mediocrity

A conversation I often have with J is about mediocrity - and how it can be a fair amount of effort to make it through life being mediocre. I encourage her to find her passion and work to excel in it - a much harder thing to do than being lulled into a false sense of comfort by natural abilities. Comes a time when coasting on innate talent will no longer be possible and if hardwork does not come naturally by then, things become difficult.

In my experience, mediocrity is the place where talent and passion meet lack of directed effort. So easy to assume when you have natural gifts, success will take care of itself and so often that turns out not to be the case. I had the privilege of growing up with a few precocious kids - they made everything the rest of us struggled with appear effortless. We were in awe of how they were able to make connections where we found none, ask questions that we would never know to ask and generally walk on water.

Yet some of the most successful among my childhood friends were considered the "average" kids. But what set them apart from the rest of the averages was their determination to succeed. They were not okay to remain mediocre and were willing to work their way out of that cohort - and so they did.

This very candid article about what it takes to be mediocre and is another way of thinking about it - though I am not sure I agree with the author's conclusion :

Being mediocre doesn’t mean you won’t change the world. It means being honest with yourself and the people around you. And being honest at every level is really the most effective habit of all if you want to have massive success