Links and Comments: Gift-Giving; Australia is Fake; Facebook as Doomsday Machine

NYT: You’re Choosing a Gift. Here’s What Not to Do., subtitled “Many of our natural impulses turn out to be wrong. Psychological research can help us choose wisely.”

Another essay about how intuition and “common sense” can seem appropriate for an individual, but are dysfunctional in the bigger picture. Here applied to the mundane task of buying gifts for others.

There are five main points in the essay:

  1. Ignore price. “When researchers asked people to recall a gift they gave and then to rate how much they thought recipients liked it, higher prices went with higher ratings. But when people made the same ratings for a gift they had received, price was completely unrelated to enjoyment.”
  2. Give gifts that are actually usable. “Indeed, a study examined the prices that resold gift cards commanded on eBay, and showed that people were willing to pay around $77 for a $100 gift card to a more expensive store (for example, Bloomingdale’s), but would pay around $89 for a $100 gift card to an everyday establishment (for example, Lowe’s).”
  3. Don’t worry if your gift isn’t immediately usable. “Givers didn’t like the idea of giving someone half the money to buy a high-end blender, preferring to give a medium-priced model outright. Recipients showed the opposite preference.”
  4. Give people what they ask for. “…But recipients actually think it’s more thoughtful to give a gift that they requested. They see it as showing that the giver attended to and honored their wishes.
  5. Give experiences, not things. “…But givers are leery of experiences because they worry it’s more likely they’ll pick something the recipient doesn’t want. It’s a valid concern, but there’s an easy fix: Make sure there are choices. Instead of giving a massage, give a gift certificate to a spa that offers a range of services.”

I’ve been thinking about this last one for some time, even though arranging “experiences” can be more complicated than just buying something. But at a certain point in your life, you realize you have enough *stuff*, and don’t really need anything more, except perhaps replacements of things like clothes that wear out.

Also, I’ve tried to pay more attention to the fourth item, by being alert for a month or two before the holidays what people (well, my partner), wish they could have. Of four gifts this year, two will be fulfillments of such casual remarks.


Via Facebook, a link from an Australian news source about the latest conspiracy theory from the Flat Earthers: Move over Atlantis – is Australia geography’s greatest fiction?.

A map of Australia is stamped with big red letters: FAKE. The text underneath reads: “Australia isn’t real. The people are either paid actors or robots.”


Finally for today, a topic increasingly being discussed.

The Atlantic: Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine, subtitled “The architecture of the modern web poses grave threats to humanity. It’s not too late to save ourselves.”

Long essay which I haven’t read entirely, but the general thesis is that Facebook (and other social media) play off people’s worst instincts and provides aggressive feedback to everything you click on, no matter how paranoid or bizarre. (Don’t get your news from Facebook!) And how therefor it’s a kind of “doomsday machine,” a kind of automatic feedback mechanism designed to take any small violation (of international nuclear treaties, say), and respond so overwhelmingly that it leads to doomsday.

Related, an op-ed from a few weeks ago — What Facebook Fed the Baby Boomers, subtitled “Many Americans’ feeds are nightmares. I know because I spent weeks living inside two of them.” — about the vile content of two older Americans who rely on Facebook feeds for their news. How did all this propaganda and fake news get on their feeds? Because they clicked on one, presumably, and so Fb fed them more. (Just like if I watch an airplane video of 747s taking off from JFK or Hong Kong, Fb feeds me more such videos in my news feed.)

I have a notion to examine that op-ed and then reproduce my own Fb feed, on some random day. I never see any of the garbage the examples in the op-ed see.

(This was drafted last Thursday and posted only tonight.)

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