Monday, April 1, 2013

Placebo restraint

I read an interesting story in the Los Angeles Times yesterday about court monitored ankle bracelets. Apparently they don't work so good. So bad in fact, that at one time last year authorities felt that the public was in imminent danger. They could be jammed, covered with tin foil, lose signal, a lot of things could go wrong. But we will never really know how bad because the records for the devices were sealed.

What I find interesting about the story is that 3m, the makers of the product basically said that 'Hey, all of these types of products are flawed. The efficacy of the products is actually unimportant, what is important is only that the offenders believe that they are being tracked all the time."
In a lawsuit over the state's GPS contracting, corrections attorneys persuaded a judge to seal information about the failures, arguing that test results could show criminals how to avoid being tracked and give parole violators grounds to appeal convictions.
The information, they warned, would "erode public trust" in electronic monitoring programs. The devices, they said, deter crime only if offenders believe their locations are being tracked every minute.
"The more reliable the devices are believed to be, the less likely a parolee may be to attempt to defeat the system," GPS program director Denise Milano wrote in a court statement.
So the fact that the machines may not actually work in the real world may not necessarily be so important...


It would be hard to overestimate the new research on behavioral economics is having on me. I have uncovered flaws in my own selling strategy (giving the client too many choices, creating a complexity level which almost assures the no purchase default option, etc.) While the classes require a lot of work, the curriculum is exciting and thought provoking. 

A couple of things I want to share, from within the course and elsewhere. Yesterday I wrote about google being able to shape perception through rankings and hypothetically tip an election.

I am reminded of a story I once read about Mobutu, the longtime dictator from Zaire. Mobutu was installed as the head of the Congo by Belgium in 1965 and served until 1997. The story I remember is that television was a new thing during that period in Zaire. What did Arthur C. Clarke say, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic? 

Taking advantage of the wondrous medium, Mobutu would be seen on television in a golden throne surrounded by angel wings descending to earth on a cloud. His subjects were obviously stupefied and assured that their leader was a divine entity. Smart use of technology, until somebody peaks behind the curtain of course. Remember that great scene in The man who would be king when Caine and Connery must run for their lives?

Bad story about a poor guy named Alfred Anaya. Anaya was in debt, he had real talent at making secret compartments. He says he didn't sell drugs or take drugs. But he may have wittingly or unwittingly worked for people who did. Now he is doing 24 years with no possibility of parole. Read the chilling tale here.

I was considering some of the things I have been learning in the behavioral economics class and I started to think about branding. With the pervasive reach of television and the web, younger and younger children are getting exposed and developing brand preferences earlier and earlier. Three year olds.

I was thinking about today's fashion in the light of some of the new things that I have learned. Nose rings and tattoos for instance. While once they were the province of gypsies, hippies and the fringe of nonconforming society, today they have been widely adopted by the mainstream. They have become the "default" for a large group. The question is how they achieved default status and the complexity of the alternatives, I suppose. 

The women of the Baduang tribe of Burma wear a cascade of rings around their neck. Rather than stretch their neck they are actually compressing their spine, but that is neither here nor there.

While it is curious to our western eyes, this mode of decoration is the default in this province of Burma, the path of least resistance. I am guessing that the unringed would be viewed with a certain amount of suspicion.

We all have a mask and we are all clinging to some default. One of the defaults for middle age men where I live, is a hawaiian shirt, blue jeans and tennis shoes. Nobody knows who has money in these parts or should I say it can not be easily discerned by paying attention to one's dress. 

Now my older sister lives in Palm Beach, Florida. It is more of a classist culture. The default there might be sock less loafers and khakis. Sport coat. A place where it is obviously more important to give clues as to one's economic status.

Being an early if not near charter member of the anti materialist set my costume was different. The pants (preferably elephant bells, tight at the knee) had to be torn, preferably in multiple locations. Are you old enough to remember when patches were in vogue, your blue jean bellbottoms a pastiche mosaic of colors and embroidery? When was the last time that you saw a patch on somebody's jeans, as rare these days as a Baduang neck collar. I was wearing my own uniform, with my own calculated set of signals. And I wsa certainly as full of shit as the next guy.

We are all conformists, square pegs are quickly hammered round. And we are all wearing some sort of mask or uniform that is sending a completely tailored message to our peers.

I got a letter back from the great wordsmith Richard Lederer regarding my posts Forwent and Cognitate. By his brevity I can only assume that he was less than impressed with my scholarship.

Richard, I would love your opinions of these two word pursuits, forwent and cognitate.

Thank you,

Robert Sommers
Fallbrook, CA

We already have the verb "cogitate," so to jerrybuild and juryrig another verb, "cognitate," with the same meaning, from the noun "cognition," seems to me to be gratuitous.

"Forwent," as a past ternse of "forgo" already reposes in dictrionarties (sic) and seems to me to be perfectly useful. -rl

But cognition and cogitation have two distinct meanings. Even the root latin word they are predicated on is slightly different. Forwent is another story, am aware that it is in dictionaries the point was that forego implies its own past tense. Interesting double standard...

thank you,


What do you think? Is he right?

Watched an interesting video by Northwestern Professor Eli Finkel on online dating as it relates to behavioral economics. Two things I took away. We don't know what we really want in a partner or should I say what we think we want is different than what we really want. Men and women have the same basic desires in a partner. While some women are thought to be after money or as Finkel phrases it, economic prospects and men looking for looks, the reality is that experiments show that there is no gender difference. Personability was the third indices and also ranked evenly between the sexes.


mike reardon said...

My "mask": Patagonia shorts (khaki), Hawaiian shirt and flip flops. Do I have money??? I wish!!

Ken Seals said...

Of course, there are some (maybe one) in town wearing their (his) silken Hawaiian shirts showing the rest that they are financially superior due to the $$$ dry cleaning required.