September 14, 2013

Talebearing and Other Trivialities

What do you really care about?

Your family (and close friends)--health and wellbeing, your finances, your job, your soul...

If you're a little more social and aware, perhaps you care about the environment, the dangers of WMD, human rights, our national debt, and more. 

Yet as Rebecca Greenfield points out in The Atlantic (5 Sept 2013) "the dumbest topics [on the Internet] get the most attention."  She uses the example of all the chatter about Yahoo's new logo, which mind you, looks awfully a lot like their old logo.

The reason she says people focus on so much b.s. on the web--or derivatively at work or in social gatherings--is that it's sort of the lowest common denominator that people can get their minds around that get talked about. 

Like in the "old country," when gossipers and talebearers where scorned, but also widely listened to, there has always been an issue with people making noise about silly, mindless, and mind-your-own-business topics. 

Remember the Jerry Springer show--and so many other daytime TV talk shows--and now the reality shows like the Kardashians, where who is sleeping with whom, how often, and what their latest emotional and mental problems are with themselves and each other make for great interest, fanfare, and discussion. 

Greenfield points out Parkinsons's Law of Triviality (I actually take offense at the name given that Parkinson's is also a very serious and horrible disease and it makes it sounds as if the disease is trivial), but this principle is that "the amount of discussion is inversely proportional to the complexity of a topic." (Source: Producing Open Source Software, p. 91)

Hence, even in technical fields like software development, "soft topics" where everyone has an opinion, can invoke almost endless discussion and debate, while more technical topics can be more readily resolved by the limited number of subject matter experts.

This principle of triviality is also called a bikeshed event, which I had heard of before, but honestly didn't really know what it was. Apparently, it's another way of saying that people get wrapped around the pole with trivialities like what color to paint a bikeshed, but often can't hold more meaningful debates about how to solve the national debt or get rid of Al Qaeda. 

We may care about ourselves and significant others first, but most of us do also care about the bigger picture problems. 

Not everyone may feel they can solve them, but usually I find they at least have an opinion. 

The question is how we focus attention and progress people's discussion from the selfish and lame to the greater good and potentially earth-shattering. 

I recently had a conversation with my wife about some social media sites where the discussion posts seem to have hit new rock bottom, but people still seem to go on there to either have their say or get some attention. 

I say elevate the discussion or change sites, we can't afford to worry about Yahoo's logo and the Kardashians' every coming and going--except as a social diversion, to get a good laugh, or for some needed downtime dealing with all the heavy stuff. ;-)

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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