On being … primal?

By Ingrid Sapona

When I’m alone in the car I have the (bad) habit of “playing the buttons”, as my dad used to call it. If I don’t like the song, I flip to another station until I find something I like. The other morning I flipped to a station where the DJs were talking about a recent poll. I had missed the beginning of the discussion – the setup – but what I gathered was that the poll asked people what was the one thing they couldn’t live without.

Normally, I hate questions like that because they seem so contrived AND because I usually can’t come up with an answer. But this time, as soon as I heard the question, I blurted out: cheese. The fact the word popped out of my mouth without any conscious thought truly surprised me. But, I have to admit – I can’t imagine life without cheese.

As I said, I had missed the setup to the discussion about the poll. So, I didn’t know, for example, whether the poll provided a list of things to choose from, or whether people were asked to provide an answer “free-form” – as I had done. When the DJ announced the third most common answer people gave was their pet, I realized respondents must have been asked to choose between pre-set answers. Of course pet owners couldn’t live without their pets. It’d be like a parent saying they couldn’t live without their child – that’s not something you’d expect would even be in the realm of things anyone would choose to do without.

Anyway, after a brief discussion about pets and before revealing the two top answers, the DJ repeated the full question. Turns out the poll was about expenses that people incur for things but that they might be forced to give up if they were in a financial bind and had to really cut back. In that context, the number two answer – their cell phone – made perfect sense. I would have no problem giving up my cell phone. Hell, until about a year ago I had the most basic cell phone – the kind of thing that you could call 911 on, but not much more. Giving up my cell phone to cut costs isn’t much of a sacrifice, as far as I’m concerned – and it would save lots of money.

Given how surprised I was by the third and second most popular responses – and how very different they seem, I couldn’t imagine what the most common response was. Turns out the thing most people said they couldn’t live without is the internet. I will say, that response did give me pause. Having lived through some belt-tightening times, I have a ready list of services that, though I appreciate them, are always subject to cancellation should economic circumstances require it – things like Netflix, cable t.v., and newspaper subscriptions. But I’ve never actually thought about giving up the internet… that WOULD be hard to live without.

As I was weighing the choice of cheese vs. the internet, one of the DJs relieved me of the dilemma of choosing. He noted that if you have to give up the internet at home, there are still lots of places you can use it for free. The comment also helped me realize that my response of cheese actually has something in common with those who said their pet as something they can’t imagine living without – both appeal to more primal needs.

What about you? What couldn’t you give up?  

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


On being … behaviour modified

By Ingrid Sapona

My introduction to the concept of “behaviour modification” came when I was a youngster. I first heard it from my oldest sister, who was studying to be a teacher. My understanding of it back then was that it was something teachers did to try to get students to change some sort of bad behavior to something that the teacher thought was better. Though I was young, I remember being kind of appalled at the idea of teachers learning a technique to manipulate kids’ behavior.

Fast forward 30 years to the early 2000s and the topic came up again when I was doing some work for a client. That client was designing energy conservation programs that relied on behaviour modification. For example, to get people to switch their consumption to off-peak hours, people were offered special meters they could plug different appliances into to find out how much energy each appliance draws. The meter would also automatically calculate the cost of running the appliance at high demand times and at off-peak times. The whole point was to get them to understand the exact cost benefits of changing their behaviour. I have to admit, in that context, I didn’t find behaviour modification the least bit sinister – if anything, I thought it was pretty clever.

Lately I’ve been working on modifying my own behaviour after I realized technology had modified me in a way I wasn’t too pleased about. It started a few years ago when my (then) cable company began offering customers the ability to “pause live t.v.” When it came out, I thought it was the stupidest “feature” I had ever heard of, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to pay for it. But, when they upgraded my digital recorder, it was one of a few new features included at no extra cost.

I soon discovered how handy it was to simply pause the show I was watching when the phone rang. Even better, however, was the ability to rewind live t.v. I can’t tell you how often someone would say something in a news story and I’d think, “Did I hear that right?” No problem, I could just rewind a bit and listen again.

Little did I know, however, that this handy feature was taking a toll on my listening skills. I first realized my ability to listen and synthesize what I’d heard was suffering when I found myself feeling frustrated that I couldn’t rewind when I was listening to the news on the car radio. I’d get so irritated because I couldn’t go back and re-listen, as I could with my t.v.

I’ve since changed television providers and so I no longer have the ability to pause or rewind live t.v. I don’t mind admitting I do miss it. But, giving them up is for the best, as it’s forced me to pay better attention and focus more on what I hear.

Having realized how a seemingly minor technological change can subtly – and negatively – cause changes to my behavior, I can’t help wonder if there are other ways my behaviour is being modified that I’m not even aware of. What about you? Has someone – or something – modified your behaviour? If so, is it for the best, or is it something you might want to (re)modify?

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona