Two Thoughts for Thursday

Falling for hype — and, why are people just stopping in traffic?

I have a distracted summer mind, so here is another post consisting of shorter entries to keep you thinking through a time of year full of diversions.

Why Do We Keep Falling for Hype?

Again and again, scholarly and scientific publishers seem to have lost their minds over various technology gambit and schemes. The tendency appears to have become ingrained.

From Wikileaks to Napster to Sci-Hub to blockchain to OA to preprints to Web 3.0 (a brief flash, before it burned out) to AI today, there’s a unifying factor I see to all of these things — the dream of a free lunch.

All of these have turned out — or appear likely to turn out — to be mirages, illusions, or scams. Often, there is something else afoot, in the cases of Wikileaks and Sci-Hub in particular. Sometimes, solid commercial and customer-focused options emerge to restore order and common sense, as in the case of iTunes supplanting Napster and now streaming services adding to the commercial reality necessary for music to remain vibrant and reach meaningful audiences.

I see in this dream of a free lunch a hope that we don’t have to keep doing the hard work of evaluating, revising, improving, publishing, tracking, and maintaining information. It’s not only a bit of a chore, but that chore has gotten harder despite or — or because of — all the technology.

The pre-digital age was a lot simpler — publish print, save copies in slipcases, and have a lot of time to think and catch your breath between issues. The digital age made information management a 24/7 affair full of all sorts of systems that need babysitting, coddling, changing, and burping, and it’s been relatively exhausting. Who wouldn’t want magical new technologies to lighten the load?

Sadly, they keep adding to the burden, as various interfaces, system integrations, technology stacks, slipshod implementations, and user needs have piled up.

The lunch of old was a relatively simple sub from the local shop. Today, it’s diet fads, from every direction, all day long.

There is no free lunch.

Why Are People Stopping for No Reason?

Now for something completely different.

Over the past year or two, drivers seem to have gotten not only worse — more distracted, less predictable, and driving like marijuana might have been legalized — but also inexplicable.

At first, I thought I was the only one seeing this, but soon others noticed it, as well — what I call the “traffic vigilante.”

This is a person who stops — regardless of factors like rules of the road, prevailing speed, traffic flow, or common sense — in order to let someone at the perpendicular do something, like turn in, cut in, turn across, etc.

This isn’t the normal kind of “after you” politeness you see when traffic is slowed to a crawl and people are gradually zippering in or poking along and letting other drivers join the ranks of the miserable. This happens at high speeds, for no good reason, and unexpectedly.

Cars slam on their brakes, people are bottled up in a backup that should never have existed, and because of all the gesturing and waving involved, the time it takes for the vigilante’s move to pay off is longer than it would have taken if they had simply followed the rules of the road.

Why is this?

I think it stems from individuality run amok. As noted in the book by Jean M. Twenge, PhD, “Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millenials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents — and What They Mean for America’s Future,” the trend, both technologically and societally, has been toward individuality and self-fulfillment. So, if someone who has crossed over into the individuality zone too far is driving ahead of you, they may simply be freelancing the rules according to their personal whims.

Because that’s what individuals who have forgotten that they are in a collective on the road might do.

I can’t explain it any other way, and I write this because I saw it two times in two days, received a text from someone who also saw it somewhere else another day this past week, and wanted to let you know that if you’re seeing it, you’re not alone.