Friday, April 29, 2016

The Girdle Effect

When I was in junior high, my father would not allow me to wear a "junior" girdle to hold up my hose.  He said that if I allowed a girdle to hold in my stomach, then eventually my stomach muscles would grow weak from underuse.  "Use it or lose it."

This came to mind when I saw a news item about a city imbedding red lights in the sidewalk to warn people walking while using their phone - WUIP  (Walking Under the Influence of Phone).

To me this is an example of "choice architecture" described by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein in their book Nudge.  In it, they advocate organizing the context in which people make decisions so that their eventual choices will secure greater health, wealth, and happiness.  But it begs the question of what is good and who decides it.

If social engineers relieve people of their decision-making, then how will they learn to make decisions that require reflective, critical thinking?  If mistakes are to be avoided at all costs, then we eliminate the learning that only comes from mistakes.  It's the Girdle Effect.

Thomas Edison said, "I haven't failed.  I've just found ten thousand ways that don't work."  

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