Cultural Differences

Intended and Unintended Consequences of Social Design

Baby Fresh Air Cage for High-rise Apartment Buildings

Nudging is a form of social engineering — a way of designing system constraints and support structures to encourage the majority of people to behave in accordance with your plan. Here’s a famous-in-my-classroom example of nudging: Opt-in versus Opt-out Consent Solutions There are many examples of such social engineering. During our breakout groups at the NIH think tank on the future of citizen participation in biomedical research, I raised the difference between opt-in versus opt-out option results for organ donation. In some countries in Europe, citizens have to opt-out from donating their organs in a case of a tragic accident — they have to do something to NOT donate their organs. As the result in Austria — which has an opt-out system — the donation rate is 99.98%! While in Germany — which has an opt-in system — only 12% will their organs for transplants. This is a huge difference in consent between very similar populations of people. Unintended Consequences of Social Design Not all social engineering efforts go as well as opt-in/opt-out organ donation systems. To reduce pollution for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, the Chinese government established the even/odd license plate law: cars with even license…

Do you remember Gardol?

Colgate Gardol Ad

Do you know what Gardol is? Unless you are close to retiring, probably not… So here’s a bit of background: Gardol is sodium lauroyl sarcosinate — not a very harmonious sounding chemical. I’m guessing Gardol was a clever marketing trick of combining the words “Guard” and “All”, relying on the phonetic combination to drive home the idea of protective quality of this chemical compound. In our society, chemicals don’t sell — we have an aversion to chemicals, we only want natural products! The common Western p-prim (or folksy wisdom) is that chemical are bad for us, and products created from natural ingredients are good for us … never mind arsenic! Gardol might have disappeared from the drug store ads, but the chemical sodium lauroyl sarcosinate didn’t — today it goes by the name “Advance White” and is part of a very well respected for its natural and health-consious products, Arm & Hammer toothpaste! Oh, and we don’t like the word “dental cream” — it’s toothpaste now…

How Do You Know When Contractors are Lying to You?

Do you sometimes get that sunken feeling that your contractors are flat out making up statistics about your users on the spot? I do get that a lot…but until just a few days ago, I didn’t have the indisputable evidence. Slide below is from a Russian contractor Power Point deck explaining the user demographic breakdown for different forms of payment awareness among the 18 to 45 year-olds. The logo of the company which made this slide is blurred… But for those of you who don’t speak Russian, let me walk you through the slide. Horizontal variables are: Knowledge of the type of payment and Usage. The columns are: Credit Card Payments; eMoney; Internet Banking; non-Internet Currency (aka cash); and payments via SMS. 79% of the population of Russian cities with population of over 800,000 people (really?) know about SMS payment systems and 22% use them. While only 93% heard of “offline” cash!

Extreme Hypocrisy

Gul Meena, 17, left her abusive husband in Pakistan for another man. Meena's brother hacked her friend to death with an ax, before turning on her.

On the same day as I read about Gul Meena — a 17 year old Pakistani girl who was almost killed and severely maimed by her own brother — I bought a pair of skinny jeans. When I got home, I noticed they were made in Pakistan. I think I don’t need to say more… Gul Meena, 17, left her abusive husband in Pakistan for another man. Meena’s brother hacked her friend to death with an ax, before turning on her. Skinny Jeans Made in Pakistan

The Tone and the Interface

2013-03-21 Cheese from Farmers Market Amsterdam

I just returned from a brief visit to The Hague and Amsterdam. When in a foreign country encountering an unfamiliar language, it’s easy to focus on the visual presentation of content since the linguistic portion of the presentation is unavailable for processing. People who can read can’t help but do so when presented with text. But when one can’t process the linguistic content, all that is left are visual clues (and smells and sounds…). So I took a few snapshots to show how the tone of the interface impacts the emotional processing of content and attitude of the customer to the content. Selling Cheese in Amsterdam This is a farmers’ market stall in the middle of Amsterdam, selling home-made cheese. The woman in the photo is the actual cheese maker. Note the hand-lettered signs, the simple wooden boxes, the plain presentation — the overall effect is home made goods, care in production, quality product, even made with love. Fancy production values would just be off putting in this context, and probably result in lower sales of cheese. This NOT a museum, but rather a neighborhood cheese store in Amsterdam. (It is located next door to the flower museum…). What is…

Culture, education, language, and thinking

How we think about problems depends in part of how we are taught to do so. And that education is seeped in our culture and language. Metaphors, mnemonics, analogies, riddles, word choice for explanations are tightly interwoven into our language. Just like it was probably impossible for Romans to invent calculus given their numeral system, it is difficult to think clearly about some problems in some languages. I’ve learned advanced physics and mathematics in English and find it very difficult to express thoughts in those domains in Russian (my native language). But when I first came to New York, I marveled at how poor my cohorts’ geometry proofs were — their presentations took a lot of space and too many steps to achieve what I was taught to do in minimal configuration. I was taught to jump and bound from concept to concept (in geometry), while the students in America were taught to crawl through ideas. I found that maddening! But it was a different math language, and as such it allowed for a different set of affordances… It is difficult to easily show the differences in thought process that language makes in this short blog. But here’s a bit…