Sunday, October 27, 2013

Bad memes

Networking. All-nighter. If you're saying these words, you're probably doing something wrong.

People have been meeting each other for ages, making friends, and getting jobs from people they know. But when we start talking about "networking", this common practice becomes something that instills fear. (which in turn makes it harder.)

Similarly, you shouldn't "pull an all-nighter" for pretty much any reason. But it's become a thing among students (and maybe others in high-pressure jobs), so people do it, and talk about doing it. Even the fact that the word exists legitimizes it. If you talk about how you didn't "pull an all-nighter", maybe you're saying "well, I slept 4 hours", which, due to the anchoring effect of "all nighter", feels legitimate even though it's terrible. And you're still contributing to the existence of the concept "all-nighter". It's like "don't think of an elephant" - for better or worse, you start thinking of elephants.

For a harmless example, look at "planking." It's kind of funny. But now that some people started "planking", it's a thing, and for better or worse you might find yourself planking sometime.

But imagine if instead of "planking", we talked about "pebbling", where "pebbling" means "throwing pebbles at someone you don't like." This is going to have mildly negative consequences. Some kids will pebble some people. Adults will overreact and ban pebbling or something. It'll be a whole flap just because a word exists.

So, I guess, all this garbage about what goofy words the OED is adding actually matters. Be careful what words you use? Stop talking about all-nighters? (Linguists, I bet you've known this for ages. Maybe I'm just rediscovering the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, or the idea that memes are powerful?)

5 comments:

Julia said...

So you know I'm a perpetually sleep deprived person, so I won't comment on the all-nighter thing.

But networking? Networking is a skill that is the key to success in a lot of (most?) careers. It can be taught, and practiced; By teaching and learning it (and therefore talking about it) I don't believe you're doing anything wrong. Saying the word networking doesn't mean you're bad at meeting people, it means you value the concept of creating connections in a professional sense - which is different from the "common practice" personal sense, and pretty complicated with the scope of social media these days.

I'm still learning to network, and I think that talking to other people about it, their strategies, and how they meet people in their professional careers has significantly furthered my own career. By denouncing networking, you're really only doing yourself a disservice.

Dan Tasse said...

Yeah, it wasn't a perfect example. I do feel like the idea of "networking" turns the thing into a goal oriented experience, when we'd probably be better off just meeting people who do the same work that we do because that's a fun/interesting thing to do. Maybe I am too idealistic here. At any rate, there are worse memes.

Oh, here's one: "gamification." If you're talking about it, you're probably doing something wrong. You're probably talking about "gamifying" your product, or you're probably defending your crummy project against accusations that it's "gamified". Ugh. Uh, sorry to derail your valid point :)

Julia said...

Gamification is another thing I love, but maybe that's because I'm a former MMORPGer :-P

If you haven't already heard of it, you should read Reality is Broken (http://www.amazon.com/Reality-Is-Broken-Better-Change/dp/0143120611). Maybe it'll make gamification feel like less of an insult :-)

Dan Tasse said...

Argh, not getting into this, not getting into this, not ... okay, I can't resist.

"Gamification" means a lot of things. Usually it's when some crummy company adds points and badges to their crummy thing. (Airline frequent flier miles.) We can all agree that this is crummy, right? Let's call this Level 1 Gamification.

Level 2 Gamification is when some company says "oh no, we're not just adding points and badges" and then they... just add points and badges. (Foursquare?)

Level 3 gamification is when someone actually makes a game that is both fun and useful. It is rare. It can work for some things. (Refraction, a game that actually teaches kids fractions, I guess.) But it is rare, and for every one like this there are probably 10000 that suck a lot. Furthermore, for most things, I'd argue, it can never work. Most things don't have the nice skill progression of something like learning fractions. And if you get used to all your learning/reality in terms of games, you (arguably) get worse at dealing with the rest of reality.

Anyway, I'll see your link and raise you: "Don't play games with me".

Adam McJaffe said...

I'm proud to say that I've still never pulled an all-nighter. Instead, I go to bed and show up the next day without having finished my work. And that's okay.