Sunday, March 31, 2013

Planet of the nerds

The NYT magazine carries a profile of Adam Grant, an associate professor at Wharton. He is an experimental psychologists who, at 31, has published tons of articles on “organizational behavior” in per-reviewed journals, and has apparently become an academic celebrity. The secret of his success? He has done numerous clever experiments establishing a counterintuitive truth – that informing employees of the ways in which their work helps others is a more powerful motivating factor than material reward. And Grant applies tirelessly this finding to his own life – giving advice  to dozens of students and fellow academics every day (mostly by email, sometimes on the phone), and often allowing students to tap into his personal networks. This all sounds almost too good to be true. But, to me at least, it was a chilling read providing a highly inaccurate portrait.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Power to the most unmeek

The virtual tempest set off by Sanberg’s book and the PR blitz accompanying its release reminded me of a recent column by David Brooks in the NYT. It’s called “The Brutality Cascade,” and describes a painfully familiar phenomenon:

Let’s say you are a student at a good high school. You may want to have a normal adolescence. But you are surrounded by all these junior workaholics who have been preparing for the college admissions racket since they were 6. You find you can’t unilaterally withdraw from the rat race and still get into the college of your choice. So you also face enormous pressure to behave in a way you detest. You might call these situations brutality cascades. In certain sorts of competitions, the most brutal player gets to set the rules. Everybody else feels pressure to imitate, whether they want to or not.

Facebook feminism

Last week, Time Magazine had another provocative cover. It pictured Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook COO and author of a new book advising women to Lean In and seek positions of power in the corporate world. The photo had this admonition plastered across:



My first thought was: why hate Ms. Sandberg for that, when there may be some much, much better reasons?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The end of transgression, among other things

A NYT article from two weeks ago (“A Hush-Hush Topic No More”) describes how aficionados of kinky sexual practices, partly inspired by the 50 Shades phenomenon, are seeking to come out and join the social mainstream. They claim they are “normal” in every other way, and even taking pleasure in sadomasochism (a denigrating term in itself which will probably be replaced by the more neutral acronym mentioned in the article) should not be viewed with reproach when practiced by consenting adults. If the L.G.B.T. community has achieved it, why not the sadomasochists?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

21st century etiquette

A blog post on the NYT web site (“Disruptions: Digital Era Redefining Etiquette”) lists previously unproblematic behaviors which should be considered rude circa 2013: sending an e-mail or text message which just says “Thank you”; leaving a voicemail message instead of texting; asking for a fact or directions that can be googled. Apparently, forcing a phone conversation on someone can fall in this category, too, since the author brags that he now communicates with his mother mostly on Twitter. I initially thought the piece was a parody, but it isn’t.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Super Oscar

The cover of the latest issue of Time Magazine Europe is graced by a semi-naked photo of Oscar Pistorius. Across his hypertrophied upper body and thighs are pasted the words (in increasing font size): 
As I was looking at the striking image, I though that for some athletes this (or some other deviance) might, indeed, be a natural progression. How so?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The pursuit of authenticity

An article in New Statesman asks: “Why Are We So Obsessed with the Pursuit of Authenticity?” Finally, an easy socio-psychological question – because we are suspended in a sea of fakery. The article focuses on the kind of clever branding which insinuates that generic products or services are supplied by inspired artisans – but this is just the tip of the ersatz iceberg. Keeping in mind the whole floating mountain is essential, by the way, for understanding the broad resonance of the first Matrix movie.