Category Archives: News

Where on the Internet is Jeremiah Stanghini – June 2016

One of the first few posts I wrote when I first started writing was a collection of the different places I could be found on the internet. That post was more than five (!) years ago. The other day, I happened to come across that post almost by accident and actually, even though I wrote two ‘updates’ to that post, it turns out that I wrote a second post almost a year and a half after that. In looking at those posts, I thought it might be fun to write an update to the series.

Even though I’ve already written an updated post to the first post, I thought I’d still look back on some of the places I used to frequent in that very first post five years ago.

Five years ago, it looks like I had planned on developing a presence on YouTube:

I have a channel on YouTube where I upload videos of presentations. You’ll also find videos that I “like” on YouTube along with videos that I have commented on.

As it happens, there really isn’t much more to my YouTube profile than links back to other places you can find me. I do have some things on YouTube, but that’s only if you’re a student in one of my classes (and have access to the lectures I’ve uploaded).

Similarly, I used to do a lot of writing for Squidoo. It’s been so long since I’d visited any of the things I’d written for that site that it’s not even called Squidoo (!) anymore — HubPages acquired them.

I also let my BodyTalk certification lapse, as my career went in a different direction.

It looks like I used to be a frequent commenter at other sites. In particular, I had profiles with IntenseDebate and Disqus (two popular commenting services). It looks like I haven’t had a comment with either of those two services in more than 2 years (almost 3.5 years with IntenseDebate).

Lastly, I highlighted two Toronto sports blogs that I used to be an active member of: Bluebird Banter and Pension Plan Puppets. If I check-in on my comment history for both those sites, it won’t even let me discern when I last made a post (as it’s been that long).

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If I look at the second post I wrote (in late 2012), the only carryover from the first post (of places I’m no longer that active) is the two commenting services: IntenseDebate and Disqus.

Now, let’s look at some of the places that I still frequent (in one way or another).

In that first post, I talked about writing posts (I’m nearly up to 600 on here). I also highlighted my LinkedIn profile (it’s up to date!), and my Twitter account (I like to share articles that I think people will find useful).

In the second post, I added two other places: Facebook and Quora. At the time, I used to be a frequent contributor to Facebook. Like Twitter, I liked to share articles that I thought people would find useful. I also liked to share pictures I found on the Internet that were either beautiful or provided a different perspective. Somewhere along the way, Facebook changed its algorithms and the people who “liked/followed” your page were no longer receiving all your updates. As a result, I stopped actively contributing in that environment. However, whenever I publish a new post, a link to that post is automatically uploaded to Facebook.

As for the second place — Quora — at the time, I did spend some time trying to build a presence on Quora. I wrote more than 60 answers, but it looks like I haven’t written anything for Quora in almost 3 years. I didn’t realize this until writing this post, but it looks like there are a number of answers that I’ve written for Quora that have more views than some of the things that I’ve written for this website.

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So, in the last 3+ years, how have my internet frequenting habits changed? Well, the best place to find me is still here on this site. Twitter and LinkedIn are also places that I continue to update. Two new places: Business2Community and Research Blogging. Business 2 Community is one of the top business blogs and Research Blogging is a community and collection of posts written about academic research.

Understanding is Inherent to Empathy: On Paul Boom and Empathy

I came across an article in The Atlantic recently that expressed the opinion that empathy might be overrated. You’ll note that the way the headline is written: “Empathy: Overrated?” should already tell us that the answer is no (via Betteridge’s law of headlines). While from the outset, I’m already noticing my bias against the idea of empathy being overrated, I did my best to read the piece with an open mind and I’m glad I did because there are a few passages that I think are important to highlight from the “con” side of empathy:

The problem, as Bloom sees it, is that “because of its focusing properties, [empathy] can be innumerate, parochial, bigoted.” People are often more empathetic toward individuals who resemble themselves, a fact that can exacerbate already-existing social inequalities. And empathy can cause people to choose to embrace smaller goods at the expense of greater ones. “It’s because of the zooming effect of empathy that the whole world cares more about a little girl stuck in a well than they do about the possible deaths of millions and millions due to climate change,” Bloom said.

Empathy can also make people do evil. “Atrocities are typically motivated by stories of suffering victims—stories of white women assaulted by blacks, stories of German children attacked by Jewish pedophiles,” Bloom said. It also can lure countries into violent conflicts based on relatively small provocations, and researchers have shown that people who are more empathetic are more likely to want to impose harsh punishments on people. “The more empathy you have, the more violent you are—the more ready and willing you are to cause pain,” Bloom said.

Bloom raises some really good points here, but I don’t know if it’s fair to lay the blame for climate change at the feet of empathy. There’s been an extremely strong misinformation movement that I’d “blame” before I’d blame empathy.

The point about empathy exacerbating social inequalities is also a bit curious to me. While we may be more inclined be to empathetic to people who look like us, that doesn’t preclude us from being empathetic to people who don’t look like us and to that end, wouldn’t being at least marginally more empathetic to people who don’t look like us be better than not being empathetic to them at all (if we’re to look at it from a cold, calculated, and objective standpoint)?

Lastly, and most importantly, I’m worried about this point that the more empathetic you are, the more likely you are to want to impose harsh punishments on people. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find the study that Bloom is referring to in this article in the New Yorker from a few years ago, so I won’t attempt to critique the study’s methodology, but I will say this: isn’t campaigning for less empathy taking us a step back? If we’re looking at the progression of humans, I think it’s probably fair to say that empathy is something that we’ve developed along the way. It’s growth. It’s positive (I mean that it’s an addition to our species, rather than when positive is meant to indicate a judgment). Wouldn’t it be better for us — as a species — to incorporate this new phenomenon of empathy as we continue to grow?

This idea reminds me of Ken Wilber and his work. In particular, the idea that we start with x, move to y, and then find a way to integrate our understanding of x and y to move to a third stage, let’s call it xy. It seems to me that we’ve learned about this thing called empathy (stage x), and now we’re learning about how it can sometimes have a negative effect on us. As a result, there’s this backlash or movement against empathy (stage y). So now, we’ve got to move to place where we can integrate the two (stage xy).

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Finally, I wanted to talk about one more thing that Bloom said:

At the end of the Aspen session, an audience member posed a scenario to the scientists: What if she was fired from her job, and her partner offered her a back rub and kind words but didn’t truly get why she was upset? Wouldn’t the comfort feel hollow, useless?

“What you’re really asking for is compassion plus understanding,” Bloom replied. “Suppose you feel humiliated. I don’t think it’s what you want or what you need for your partner to feel humiliated. You want your partner to understand your humiliation and respond with love and kindness. I think for your partner to feel humiliated would be the worst thing you want. Because now, you have to worry about your partner’s feelings.”

I like Paul Bloom and I’ve even written about him before, but I wonder if this is a misunderstanding of empathy. Or maybe more accurately, the way that the study defines empathy is different from the way that others may define empathy. The way that I remember empathy is that understanding is a component of empathy. I wrote a post about this a little while back and included a helpful short from the RSA:

Quick Thoughts on “Obama’s Stealth Startup”

A couple of weeks ago, there was a great article in Fast Company about President Obama’s initiative to bring the the technology used in the US bureaucracy into the 21st century. After reading it, there were a few things that came to mind, so I thought I’d write a post with some “Quick Thoughts” as I have in past instances for other events/articles.

1. The first thing that struck me was this idea that Silicon Valley wants to change the world. In particular, the idea that they “think” they are changing the world, but that they actually aren’t. It reminded me of the penultimate episode of Season 1 of “Silicon Valley,” the HBO series. In it, the show parodies Silicon Valley startups who purport to “change the world.” You can see part of it in the beginning of this clip:

In remembering this episode, I wonder if it was like this in previous generations. Obviously, the technology in previous generations was different, especially because companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft weren’t even conceived. In addition, “Silicon Valley” looked very different in the ’40s and ’50s than it did in the ’70s and the ’80s. Nonetheless, I wonder if there were idealistic twentysomethings trying to create things that would revolutionize the way something worked.

 

2. The second thing that came to mind was this idea that lawyers spend a couple yrs in DC between jobs. When I lived in the DC area, I remember one of the jokes being that DC has more lawyers per capita than any other city in the US and part of that was because of the government. It also reminded me of scene from The West Wing in Season 7 when Josh Lyman (who has a law degree) flies to California to recruit Sam Seaborn (who is a lawyer) to come work with him at the White House.

I think it’s a fantastic idea to recruit folks who are wizards with technology into highly placed government positions to help accelerate the transition for many government agencies. Goodness knows that the VA could use a technology-upgrade. In thinking about this idea, though, it made me wonder if there are other professions that could also do with a “stopover” of sorts in the government, contributing their unique skillsets to advancing the mission of the US government. Lawyers already make the most sense as they’re position to write/interpret laws, but what other professions would be well-suited for short stints in the government?

Scientists probably also make sense. I’m reminded of Patrick Dempsey’s character from Grey’s Anatomy (Derek Shepherd) who was working on a brain initiative. I’d imagine that scientists in other fields could also do well to spend some time in a government agency, but that’s not really outside the norm. Meaning, that’s already a career path that’s identified for scientists. I wonder, are there other professions for which working in DC is not something that’s on the radar.

The “Real” Purpose of TV (& Movies): Education, Inspiration, and Storytelling, Part 2

A few years ago, I wrote a post about the purpose of TV and I think I sold it (TV) short. That is, in that post, I essentially decried TV:

Watching TV is a mechanism that allows people to stay at jobs that they are otherwise less pleased about. Being able to tune into a created reality (or sometimes an actual reality) of a situation that they envy or can vicariously live through is something that I think allows people to feel better about themselves and by extension their life. Feeling better about one’s life makes one less likely to reflect on the things that aren’t going as well as they would have planned in life. So, like I said, I don’t proclaim to know the real purpose of TV, but I think that it can be argued that a fair majority of television is meant to entertain, allow for escapism, and sustain employment.

While I still think that there’s some truth to what I wrote over 4 years ago, as I indicated earlier, I think I’ve sold TV short. And while we’re at it, movies, too. Maybe there’s more to TV and film than entertainment, escapism, and employment. Well, of course there is, but let’s get into it.

Maybe there’s also an element of education to it. Remember my post from the other week on fictional presidents and the sunk cost trap? If the the script were written differently, that could have shown viewers the more optimal choice.

Or what about the idea that watching a TV show or a movie can inspire us? Last year, Reese Witherspoon starred (and was rightfully nominated for an Oscar!) in the movie Wild. The movie was based on Cheryl Strayed’s memoir regarding her trek on the Pacific Crest Trail. Importantly, the movie didn’t give viewers misconceptions about hiking 2,500 miles. It’s hard. With that being said, consider this:

“People are definitely worried about the ‘Wild’ effect, though we can’t really figure out what it is yet,” said Dan Moe, a baker from Portland, Oregon who’s hiking this year.

He said while he thinks there are more hikers on the trail this year, he hasn’t yet met anyone who’s out there because of the book or film.

“At least they don’t admit it,” he said.

To add to that:

Before the book was published, about 300 people would take out permits to attempt the full hike, which usually takes four to five months. It’s not yet known how many will try this year, but estimates range from 1,600 to 3,000 — 10 times the number who tried before the book came out.

So, while we may be wrong to infer causality here, there certainly appears to be a correlation worth noting.

There are two more things I want to address. The first, “you can’t be what you can’t see.” This is the motto of a movie/documentary of which I’ve written about many times before: Miss Representation. There has certainly been a lot of progress (at least there appears to have been) since that movie came out, with regard to women having more prominent roles, but similar to the anecdote from above, I’d caution on inferring causality. However, I will say that I’m glad to hear that it appears that there’s this concerted effort arising. For instance, did you know that there’s going to be female Thor? Or that they’re bringing back Macgyver as a female?

Lastly, there’s the idea that TV is a mechanism for storytelling. While that may seem obvious, consider the time before movies, TV, and radio, when we’d have to sit around the fire and tell stories to each other. This was the way that many things were passed on from generation to generation and now we have things like the Internet where we don’t even need to hear the story from someone — we can read all about it (and the blatant hyperbole contained within).

There was a great article on Vox a couple weeks back with the main thesis that the recent string of superhero movies have been an attempt to rewrite the images of 9/11. It’s really a very interesting read and I encourage you to check it out, but I think this adds to the idea that TV (and movies) are and can be much more to us than a place to escape. They can also be a place where we heal. That may seem somewhat ironic given that the average American spends 3 hours a day watching TV (and, in a sense, accelerates their ageing/death because of sedentariness), but maybe it’s time we have a bit more compassion for those among us who would rather go to the movies or binge-watch a season of Star Trek.

Is the “Hollywood Model” Really Something New?

There was a great article in the New York Times the other week called: “What Hollywood Can Teach Us About the Future of Work.” The author uses Hollywood to make the case that this is how work is going to be in the near future for everyone (not in Hollywood):

This approach to business is sometimes called the “Hollywood model.” A project is identified; a team is assembled; it works together for precisely as long as is needed to complete the task; then the team disbands. This short-­term, project-­based business structure is an alternative to the corporate model, in which capital is spent up front to build a business, which then hires workers for long-­term, open-­ended jobs that can last for years, even a lifetime. It’s also distinct from the Uber-­style “gig economy,” which is designed to take care of extremely short-­term tasks, manageable by one person, typically in less than a day.

This method sounds really intelligent in that it would — theoretically — save a business quite a lot of money. However, as I was reading it, two things came to mind. The first: this method also sounds eerily familiar. Remember “SWAT teams” (in business)?

“In business, it means a group of ‘experts’ (often fat guys in suits) assembled to solve a problem or tackle an opportunity” says USC’s Logan.

Or what about “Tiger teams?”

A ‘tiger team’ is also a group of experts—specifically a bunch of tech geeks entrusted with curing your computer ills.

While it doesn’t perfectly map onto the Hollywood Model, both of these business “buzzwords” already seem to account for aspects of the Hollywood Model. It may be that the Hollywood Model will become another business fad in the same way that SWAT teams or Tigers teams was/is. Or, maybe the Hollywood Model will have staying power and it will live beyond a fad and become something as normal as the idea as working in a full-time job or a part-time job.

The second thing that came to mind upon reading about the Hollywood Model: Project Management. Granted, the last time I had formal education in PM was almost three years ago, but I don’t remember hearing/reading about this idea of a short-term team. That’s not completely fair. Yes, of course we learned about teams coming together for a short period of time, but it wasn’t written about in the same way that it was in this NYT article. I’d be interested to hear from folks in the PM-academic circles on this.

Does Everyone Want to Attend University?

There was an op-ed in the New York Times the other week that detailed some of the economic inequality in the US. It used academic data to discuss how poorly Americans estimate the level of social mobility. It’s certainly worth reading, but I wanted to highlight one section (and study):

Studies by another author of this article, the University of Illinois psychologist Michael W. Kraus, and his colleague Jacinth J.X. Tan, to be published in next month’s issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found a similar pattern: When asked to estimate how many college students came from families in the bottom 20 percent of income, respondents substantially misjudged, estimating that those from the lowest income bracket attended college at a rate five times greater than the actual one documented by the Current Population Survey.

Now, it’s certainly worth noting how poor Americans are when it comes to estimating social mobility, (they’re certainly just as poor when it comes to estimating wealth inequality), but I’m curious about the desires of those in the bottom quintile. That is, many people espouse the values of higher education (full disclosure: I’m a professor at a higher education institution and I have two master’s degrees!), but what if everyone isn’t meant to go to university? More importantly, what if everyone doesn’t want to go to university?

Higher education is often held up as a mechanism for those in lower income quintiles to move up into a higher quintile (social mobility), but maybe people who come from the bottom quintile don’t want to go to university. I’m not in the bottom quintile nor did I grow up in the bottom quintile, so I have little to no authority to speak about the desires of those who come from the bottom quintile, but I think it’s worth asking what it is that the bottom quintile desires, specifically as it relates to higher education.

In raising this kind of question, it would, of course, be important to raise the issue of culture and how that influences one’s desires. That is, people who come from higher quintiles usually have parents (and friends) who think it natural to make the progression from high school to university. For some, attending post-secondary institutions of learning isn’t a choice — they’re forced to go. For those in the bottom quintile, attending a post-secondary institution of learning isn’t thought about in the same way. For many, it’s not “the thing you do after high school,” but instead, it’s held up as an ideal. It’s held up as a mechanism for transformation from being poor to not being poor.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that people in the bottom quintile shouldn’t attend university or shouldn’t want to attend university, but I think that alongside data discussing that estimates university attendance of different levels of income, there should also be data discussing the desires of those different levels of income.

ResearchBlogging.orgKraus, M., & Tan, J. (2015). Americans overestimate social class mobility Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 58, 101-111 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2015.01.005

What if We Treated Prisoners Like Humans?

There was an excellent article in last week’s New York Times Magazine about a maximum-security prison in Norway. Though, when you read about this prison, it sounds nothing like any prison you’ve probably heard about in the US or Canada:

Norway’s newest prison was marked by a modest sign that read, simply, HALDEN ­FENGSEL. There were no signs warning against picking up hitchhikers, no visible fences. Only the 25-­foot-­tall floodlights rising along the edges hinted that something other than grazing cows lay ahead.

[…]

I walked up the quiet driveway to the entrance and presented myself to a camera at the main door. There were no coils of razor wire in sight, no lethal electric fences, no towers manned by snipers — nothing violent, threatening or dangerous. And yet no prisoner has ever tried to escape. I rang the intercom, the lock disengaged with a click and I stepped inside.

If you think the description of the appearance is surprising, I’d encourage you to read the article as the journalist who wrote the article did a wonderful job painting the picture of what it’s like inside the prison. Here’s another snippet about what it was like to be with the most dangerous prisoners (i.e. violent crimes like murder, assault, rape, etc.) that I found… enlightening:

I met some of the prisoners of Unit A one afternoon in the common room of an eight-­man cell block. I was asked to respect the inmates’ preferences for anonymity or naming, and for their choices in discussing their cases with me. The Norwegian news media does not often identify suspects or convicts by name, so confirming the details of their stories was not always possible. I sat on an orange vinyl couch next to a wooden shelving unit with a few haphazard piles of board games and magazines and legal books. On the other side of the room, near a window overlooking the unit’s gravel yard, a couple of inmates were absorbed in a card game with a guard.

An inmate named Omar passed me a freshly pressed heart-­shaped waffle over my shoulder on a paper plate, interrupting an intense monologue directed at me in excellent English by Chris Giske, a large man with a thick goatee and a shaved head who was wearing a heavy gold chain over a T-­shirt that strained around his barrel-­shaped torso.

The thing that struck me most about this article was the underlying philosophy of the Norwegian prison system: prisoners are humans, too. Think about for a minute what it might like to be in a maximum-security prison in the US. How much freedom do you think you’d have? I’ve never visited a maximum-security prison, but based on what I’ve read, it’s certainly not somewhere I’d like to spend my afternoons. What’s worse is that some of the people in those kinds of facilities are meant to reintegrate into society when they’ve completed their sentence. If they spend so much time by themselves and then when they do get to socialize, they do so in a manner that would be wholly unacceptable when they’re ‘out,’ how can we, as a society, expect them to be ‘better’ once they’re out of prison?

I’m not arguing for every prison in the US and Canada to look switch over and look like this one in Norway (though, imagine what that would look like), but I think it’s important for us to consider the way we treat our fellow humans — even if they’ve done some unspeakable acts. Even if you’re not willing to consider treating someone like that in a more humane way, consider that it could be you. And before you get all high and mighty, remember that not all prisoners are guilty of what they’ve been accused of and subsequently convicted for.

We will never know for sure, but the few studies that have been done estimate that between 2.3% and 5% of all prisoners in the U.S. are innocent (for context, if just 1% of all prisoners are innocent, that would mean that more than 20,000 innocent people are in prison).