Something for the WordPress

My weekly “Something for the Weekend” newsletters are all now collected under their own WordPress tag category.


The emblogification of Google News

I find it’s increasingly difficult to search Google News / ‘Sort by date’ for broad news searches such as: future trends. It used to be possible. But Google News is currently saturated with questionable auto-blogs which pump out press-releases from companies which purport to sell dubious ‘market reports’ and stock investment opportunities. Every sector is covered with a report from hat-cleaning machines to salty nuts. Presumably the scam here is that if someone is stupid enough to try to buy a copy of the worthless market report, they’re a sure-fire ‘mark’ for a stocks-and-shares scam run from some boilerhouse telesales office in Whereisitagin. Some of the smaller U.S. town newspapers are also relaying the press releases. Even when one adds search modifiers such as: -“markets” -“earnings” -“scenario” -“strategies” -“outlook” -“ratio” it’s still nearly impossible to do the sort of broad-sweep search that used to be possible.

The underlying psychology of Generation Snowflake

An interesting observation in the latest issue of The Atlantic. Its “Study of Studies” sidebar column offers another few pieces of the puzzle on how a worldview of optimism/pessimism emerges in an individual. The first is that if one is pessimistic, one may appear to have a more urgent and serious communication style, and thus be more socially attractive. That seems valid. The other is that…

“Optimism can also beget disappointment [on a personal level]”

The example given here is of a student who hopefully expects a good mark for an essay, but gets a lesser mark. However it references only one short psychology paper. The paper’s 2010 date is ‘pre crisis’ in psychology, and the sample was 77 “students in a psychology class”, so one has to be a little cautious. One class of malnourished and hungover hormone-addled adolescents does not extrapolate well to the general population. The paper cited is: Sweeny and Shepperd, “The Costs of Optimism and the Benefits of Pessimism“, Emotion, Oct. 2010.

Simplistic, then, but the finding rings true. Such a habitual year-on-year pessimism (arising from unrealistic irrational optimism) could easily become ingrained at the personal level, given the right personality types and intelligence level. Certain types of adolescents could later use that habitual approach to shape their early understanding of the larger world.

The study notes that the biggest irrational optimists appear to be aware of the trade-off between ‘happy-go-lucky today / dashed down tomorrow’…

“people seem to be aware of the potential costs of optimism — participants who predicted higher scores before feedback also anticipated experiencing greater disappointment should they perform poorly”

But they’re willing to pay the price. This seems to relate to the idea that the ability to imagine longer time-horizons is a factor in optimism/pessimism. If you can’t really imagine a time more than a few weeks ahead, why worry about the essay that has to be delivered in eight weeks time, at the end of term? It would thus be interesting to see how such findings fit with each student’s time-horizon and intelligence level. Are the less intelligent and more impulsive students more inclined to be irrationally optimistic about their test scores, because they naturally lack a long time-horizon?

But what if this whole process were monstrously delayed, until after leaving the cocoon of education? Consider the changed nature of that cocoon in the late 1990s and 2000s: i) the cultivation of a vapid universal “self-esteem” in schools; ii) the “all must have prizes” culture (see Melanie Phillips et al), rampant grade inflation, the dumbing down of the curriculum so that low-grade teachers could handle it; iii) the severe curtailment of children’s ‘free range’ engagement with the natural world, their diminishing opportunities to learn how to handle individual autonomous freedom, and iv) also the constant lurid invocation of dire (but statistically highly improbable) dangers set against a pervasive drumbeat of political correctness.

In which case the habitual year-on-year pessimism which Sweeny and Shepperd pinpoint would have been delayed in multiple ways over many years, with the most susceptible personality types perhaps being the worst affected. Possibly then contributing to the monstrous temper-tantrums we’ve been suffering recently, as certain large parts (not all) of the Millennial generation finally encounter the real-world after 20-odd years of smothering and cocooning.

Doubtless others have a better handle on the murky depths of these psychologies than I do, and have already said this better than I can in a hasty blog post. For instance, I hear that the new Vox Day book SJW’s Always Double Down has several chapters which make a forensic assessment of the psychology of the loud-but-small activist segment of Generation Snowflake. But it seems to me that some of Sweeny and Shepperd’s ‘thwarted psychology’ of optimism/pessimism may be at the root of their troubles.

The kids are alright

What a pathetic response from UK journalists to news of the apparent drop in ‘Saturday and evenings job’ child employment. Not one of them once mentioned online income. Instead there was the usual moaning and pessimism as their columns tediously progressed as if on auto-pilot. They obviously didn’t have even even the mildest inclination to spend three minutes searching Google News for kid entrepreneurs.

It’s not just a few kid entrepreneurs, either. In the USA, “22 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds say they make money online and 16 percent say they work for themselves” and that’s just the ones who were willing to admit it to a 2017 IBM survey. So far, none of that type of income gets tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The phenomenon is probably even bigger in the UK, for various reasons including our creative industries savvy and our better broadband coverage (broadband is often dire in rural America).

While the UK’s newspaper-delivery rounds may have gone the way of the dodo, the bright kids of the post-Millennial generation are staying out the rain and cold and selling on Etsy; doing fan-art commissions on DeviantArt; power-blogging about fashion and make-up for the freebies (which are then sold); doing paid book reviews; eBay trading; selling their weird gloop; staging cool photos for Instagram; starting entire online empires and much more. The maths nerds among them are probably trading in Bitcoin and Cryptokitties, too. And you can be sure that all of that is not starting on their 16th birthday, but long before, whatever the ‘age verification checks’ might say.

Which is all very positive, and a cause for optimism for the future. But they’re not going to tell a “nosy snooper” from a dodgy-sounding “UK Commission” or “Institute” about their side-stream income, now are they? Especially if they’re using their big brother’s PayPal account.