Category Archives: Arguments

The Importance of a Quality Office Chair

I write this as I sit in an office chair in a Bellevue hotel room. I try and try again to muster the mental strength to focus on the latest addition to the project I’m working on. However, for every bit of mental energy expended on the process of opening a new vim window, I spend about five seconds opening up a new tab and browsing to {unproductive site} [1]. This is an entirely unbalanced distribution of time, and after about an hour, I still haven’t added anything useful to the project.

Why is this? Out of all possible causes and correlations, I blame it on the chair I’m sitting in. The chair has a long base (The part that makes direct contact with the buttocks), meaning that in order for the back to be pressed against the back of the chair, the sitter must slouch or extend his legs in an uncomfortable fashion. Thus, I am slouching.

This slouching seems to make me inattentive and easily distracted. I am almost too comfortable to be focusing. If I wanted to focus, I would be sitting up relatively straight.

My theory about the chair reminds me of several different scenarios, which I will describe in a very Freudian fashion.

  1. The chair in my home office forces me to sit up straight. However, it lacks solid lower back support. Thus, I am able to focus for a good hour or so, but as soon as I feel back pain, I begin to unfocus and slouch. This slouching causes me to continue to remain inattentive to the task at hand.
  2. The seats of an airplane also force me to sit up straight. As much as people complain about the discomfort of airplane seats, I find them to be very comfortable. Albeit, I think people complain about the lack of respect for a “personal bubble” more than anything. While I’m in an airplane, I am able to focus very well. However, this may be due to my lack of accessible Internet connection.
  3. The chairs in my University library seem to encourage focus. However, there are chairs in which I do not focus – those that are the ones in which cannot reach the table comfortably.
  4. The chairs at my previous employment were very nice Steelcase chairs. While sitting in them, I was able to stay focused for several hours at a time without distraction. This could probably also be attributed to the work environment and the other focused workers who surrounded me.

Although causation is not clearly implied, it is clear that the chair I am sitting in has some sort of correlation with my level of focus. It is obvious that a good chair is necessary for back health, but a good chair may also be just as important for focusing on the task at hand.

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1. Usually Reddit, Hacker News, or Wikipedia

People are Selfish

If you have even remotely been following my blog, which I admit you probably shouldn’t be doing, you’d know that I am kind of obsessed with Dan Ariely’s The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty [1]. Well, this book has a way of making me think for myself. Every passage, every word, every letter [2] I find myself analyzing the author’s words and thinking about possible flaws or counterarguments. While doing this, I am able to understand the material better. It is really magnificent.

Of course, this is no text book, but rather a summary of fantastic research findings. Nonetheless, having never taken a psychology course, I find this book to be both very interesting and very informative.

One of the final arguments that Ariely makes is one that struck me as a little off, however. He claims that people cheat in excess whenever they know that their cheating behavior will be completely altruistic – It only helps others [3]. Here is a direct excerpt:

I think that when both we and another person stand to benefit from our dishonesty, we operate out of a mix of selfish and altruistic motives. In contrast, when other people, and only other people, stand to benefit from our cheating, we find it far easier to rationalize our bad behavior in truly altruistic ways and subsequently we further relax our moral inhibitions.

To be clear, I do not disagree with the argument that Ariely makes. I very much believe that altruistic actions are more susceptible to cheating than most other actions. I have, for instance, seen many students throughout my education career blatantly cheat and give others answers, but feel no guilt because it is only benefiting someone else. I disagree, however, with how Ariely came to that conclusion.

Basically, the experiment was set up in a way where two people had to each complete a task wherein they would be rewarded for their reported performance. How is this performance calculated? The other person in the “group” would report your score. What Ariely found was that people overstated the performance of their group members by a large amount, thus indicating that they were willing to cheat for altruistic reasons.

Although this may seem correct on the surface, I believe that there is a different motive behind this course of action. Since after member A reports member B’s performance, member B reports member A’s performance in much the same way, there may be a selfish incentive for member A to overstate the performance of member B. This is mainly playing off of guilt.

You know that feeling when you get a large birthday gift from someone you don’t really know? Great. Now you have to buy them a large birthday gift in return. It’s the same principle. Member A knows that by blatantly overstating member B’s score, member B will, in turn, overstate member A’s score. Thus, it may be that one member is acting altruistically. However, I believe that it is even more likely that the member is acting in their own personal interest — guaranteeing that they will have a higher performance by acting in an altruistic manner.

In order to better test whether or not people act altruistically, the performance reporting section of the task may be arranged in such a way that neither member of the group gets to see how the other member reported performance. In this way, there will be no guarantee that by reporting “altruistically” is also beneficial to the reporter. [4]

Again, I’m not pointing out that Ariely’s argument is incorrect, but rather that there is more than one way to interpret the results of this particular experiment. Interpreting the results in this way may lead one to believe that people are not altruistic cheaters, but rather selfish cheaters.

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1. Ariely, Dan. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. New York: Harper Perennial, 2012. Print. http://www.amazon.com/Honest-Truth-About-Dishonesty-Everyone-Especially/dp/0062183613
2. okay maybe not so much every letter
3. Ariely, 232
4. Of course, it may be true that this is indeed the way that Ariely implemented the experiment. He did not mention much of the specifics of the experiment in the text, which leaves room for skepticism.

The Importance of Jewelry in Relationships

While growing up, I never thought much about jewelry. Mainly, I thought it was a way to look “cool” and express yourself. I used to wear necklaces, earrings1, rings, and watches just to make myself look a little older and look a little “cooler”. Girls, I thought, did the same. They wore jewelry just to look a little more elegant and a little more pretty. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But I’m not here to discuss the semantics of beauty and jewelry.

In relationships, I always saw jewelry as a huge marketing scheme. After all, the idea of a diamond ring as something mandatory for a proposal was the result of one company’s ad campaign2. As we go about our day, we are constantly barraged with slogans like “Every kiss begins with Kay”3 and “Your personal jeweler, Ben Bridge” trying to lure us into the world of expensive, pricey jewelry.

There’s more to it than just marketing, most people would agree. Wearing jewelry is an expression that you are wearing something dear to you that was given to you by someone you love. A diamond ring, a heart necklace, a silver earring – all to show others that you’re proudly taken and proudly in love. It works well, too. Walking around, it is not difficult at all to spot men or women in dedicated relationships by the ring that they wear on their ring-finger.

There is more to just following trends, looking good, and showing others that you’re taken, however. Jewelry serves the purpose of reminding the wearer that they are indeed in a relationship. Why would someone in a relationship need to remind themselves of this? The following anecdote sums things up perfectly4:

One day, Peter locked himself out of his house, so he called around to find a locksmith. It took him a while to find one who was certified by the city to unlock doors. The locksmith finally pulled up in his truck and picked the lock in about a minute.

“I was amazed at how quickly and easily this guy was able to open the door” … In response to Peter’s amazement, the locksmith told Peter that locks are on doors only to keep honest people honest. “One percent of people will always be honest and never steal,” the locksmith said. “Another one percent will always be dishonest and always try to pick your lock and steal your television. And the rest will be honest as long as the conditions are right – but if they are tempted enough, they’ll be dishonest too. Locks won’t protect you from the thieves, who can get in your house if they really want to. They will only protect you from the mostly honest people who might be tempted to try your door if it had no lock.”

After reflecting on these observations, I came away thinking that the locksmith was probably right. It’s not that 98 percent of people are immoral or will cheat any time the opportunity arises; it’s more likely that most of us need little reminders to keep ourselves on the right path.

Now before you begin to disagree with me because there is no way that relationships are relatable to locked doors and locksmiths, consider the possibility. In relationships, there are probably around one-percent of people who will be faithful to their significant other no matter the circumstance. They will stay true to them in life and in death. Conversely, there are probably another one-percent of people who are purposefully looking to cheat on their significant other – to feel the rush of breaking the rules. Thus, this leaves the remaining ninety-eight percent who will remain true to their significant other “as long as the conditions are right”.

What kind of conditions am I talking about? Well, if a relationship is healthy and happy, there is probably no reason to change anything – the conditions are right; however, say that there is a little bit of trouble – one person has a little too much alcohol – anything can happen! This kind of disloyalty in a relationship is the disloyalty that happens on a daily basis. People seemingly “accidentally” cheat on their significant others quite often, and almost always because the conditions were a little bit off.

In The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty, Dan Ariely discusses this phenomenon at length, saying that it does not only apply to locked doors, but also to tests, tax returns, and most other situations where a bit of honesty is required. Through several experiments, Ariely shows that there is a way to prevent this dishonest behavior – to have a reminder that keeps us on the right path. This reminder can be in any form, Ariely claims. According to his studies, swearing on a bible prevents lying, signing a “I will not cheat” statement prevents cheating, and signing a “I verify that these taxes are correct” prevents tax return fudging.5

The catch with Ariely’s claims, however, is that the reminder has to take place before the opportunity to be dishonest arises. For instance, when doing taxes, the signed verification at the end of tax submission would be much more effective if it was placed at the beginning, reminding people to fill out the forms honestly. The same goes for relationships – the reminder to remain loyal to your significant other would have to take place before the opportunity for disloyalty arises.

This is where jewelry plays a major role. Since jewelry is something that is worn all day and something that is visible, it serves as a constant reminder to the wearer that they are indeed in a relationship and that they should not do anything to jeopardize this. Following the logic of the above anecdote and Ariely’s well-argued claims, if one were to constantly be reminded of their relationship by the ring on their finger, they would be far less likely to be dishonest.

By making this claim that jewelry in a relationship reduces dishonestly, I’m not saying that every relationship is in jeopardy of having some sort of cheating occur – I’m mainly pointing to the possibility and saying that jewelry may reduce even the slightest chance by simply reminding the wearer that they should not be dishonest to their significant other. If you are currently wearing jewelry given to you by your significant other, you should not be offended that they think you may cheat, but you should be happy because they are trying to mitigate even the slightest possibility. Jewelry is a constant reminder and a constant warning and may prevent instances of heartbreak due to this.

 

 


1. For the record, I do not have my ears pierced. I used to wear magnetic earrings.

2. For more information about this, see New York Time’s fantastic article about De Beers, Frances Gerety, and the way that they influenced the American jewelry market. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/fashion/weddings/how-americans-learned-to-love-diamonds.html?_r=0

3. Stern Advertising has done a fantastic job raising the public’s awareness of Kay Jewelers. View the official Stern page here: http://www.sternadvertising.com/our-work/kay-jewelers-2/

4. Anecdote is from Dan Ariely’s The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. Full citation:
Ariely, Dan. The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. Print.
Specific anecdote, “Lessons from Locksmiths” is on page 38.

5. These experiments and conclusions are mainly discussed in Chapter 2: “Fun with the Fudge Factor”.