Friday, March 29, 2013


I really like this article about descriptive norms, and how people are influenced heavily by what they see others doing or hear they have done.

"When people try to change behavior, they often focus on prescriptive norms, telling people what they should do. We often underestimate just how strongly we respond to what other people actually do.

In a classic study, Cialdini and colleagues manipulated the signs that were displayed in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, a site often plagued by tourists who end up grabbing some of the petrified wood to take home as a souvenir. In situations like this, the first inclination of well-meaning environmentalists might be to set a strong prescriptive norm — perhaps by saying something like, “Many past visitors have removed the petrified wood from the park, changing the state of the Petrified Forest. This is bad, don’t do this.” The idea here would be to invoke a sense of shame and severity before asking visitors to refrain from taking the wood. But read that prescriptive message once again. Is there anything descriptive in there? Yes, of course there is. That message is not just telling you that you shouldn’t take the wood — it’s also telling you that most other people do. In fact, people were actually more likely to steal wood from the forest when they saw the sign telling them how many people tend to do it themselves, even though the very next sentence was asking them to refrain. But when the researchers simply tweaked the message to read that “the vast majority of past visitors have left the petrified wood in the park, helping to preserve the natural state of the Petrified Forest,” the thievery plummeted."

I've seen it play out in various settings myself, things like when you have a pristine toilet cubicle door, it stays that way for quite a while - but once one person scrawls on it, it quickly becomes covered. If someone leaves rubbish beside the bin, more rubbish quickly appears and so on.

So, yes, it's good to think that perhaps 'slacktivism' on FB through profile picture changes etc might actually go some way to changing social perceptions.

I think this differs from the sappy FB memes I have previously complained about (possibly because this is something I agree with!* but also) because it requires a shift in thinking. After all the anti-cancer memes are something easily paid lip-service to, while supporting gay marriage is more controversial, sadly.

* Not that I'm pro-cancer.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


In my devotion to blogging, when I spotted dogs on the balcony again yesterday, I thought I would take a picture for illustrative purposes for my last post.

I took one quickly as I was on my way to work, and wended on my way. I heard a squawk behind me and looked back to see a woman pulling her dogs back into the flat, "Are you from the council?!"

Oops. I kept walking as I didn't see how to form the thought of taking a picture to illustrate my blog into a particularly coherent sentence that I could shout up effectively and felt it might be poorly received (rightly) if I could! Walking along I picked up pace a bit in case she should come running out demanding to know what I was up to.

I guess I probably messed with her head a bit. I feel bad about that. I wonder if she doesn't have permission for the dogs from the council, or if there have been complaints from neighbours, hence the leap to thoughts of the council. Maybe she's waiting for a knock on the door or a reprimanding letter now. Oh no.

I think I'm in the wrong of it, it can't be nice having your only outside space completely open to the view of the world. Is there an expectation of privacy, when your balcony is transparent and above a public road? Well, maybe not much of one - but I guess it's rude to stare up at the people using them/take pictures of their dogs. I hadn't really thought of it from the inside, just from an idle curiosity wandering past kind of way.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dogs on balconies

Sometimes I walk past blocks of flats and there are dogs out on the balconies, and I wonder why.

Is it to get them out from under their owners' feet while they vacuum or something, or is it so the dogs can sun themselves and get fresh air?
I hope it's not so the  dogs can relieve themselves - rank! Imagine living in the flat below. Ghastly. I hope that's not it.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fading out

I have the urge to explain myself, but I don't think the recipient would find it edifying. So I'm unloading the reasons why here. I'm not being very transparent so perhaps I should explain.

A few years ago I made a friend - we initially met online but live close to each other and ending up seeing each other as friends in real life. We helped each other out.

Over the last year or so, however, I've found that it's not a friendship that makes me particularly happy - not because she's not nice or that she's not kind, but it doesn't really make me feel good. She often invites me to things, but it's always masses of people I don't know, never just a few, or mostly a crowd I'd met before. I'm not good in large social gatherings and she knows that: we've talked before about social awkwardness and shyness.

Bizarrely (to my eyes) she claims to find socialising difficult herself. Maybe internally it feels/is true to her, but from where I'm standing it looks like she loves to be in a social whirl of people. I can't believe she suffers the same frozen agonies that I experience.

If we do meet up 1-2-1, she always uses her phone or laptop a lot at the same time, and maybe that's old-fashioned of me, but I feel offended by it - well, not offended - but like I'm not interesting enough or fun to be around. Which may well be true.

So weighing it all up, stress vs pleasure in her company, I came to realise the former far outweighed the latter and have let things drift. It's perhaps a cowardly way out, but there's nothing to row about or confront really, just I don't feel we have much in common and that I'm there to make up the numbers rather than she really likes me.

And who needs that? I have already plenty of long-established reasons to doubt my own likeability/loveability.

But she evidently realised I've created distance and texted me recently inviting me to yet another thing with a jolly crew of campers, and asking if I was upset with her. I replied just saying that I'm rubbish at keeping in touch and there we've left it.

But the above is why.


Friday, March 08, 2013

International Women's Day

A few links:

The IWD website

A fantastic world map of women's political rights in the Guardian: New Zealand gave women the right to vote in 1893 and other fascinating facts.

A celebration of Lily Parr at the F-Word, a First World War era female footballer. The FA banned women from play on their grounds as the war came to a close and men's football restarted: sport was damaging to women's health apparently! But Lily Parr was not deterred.

And a nice piece about the damsel in distress as appearing in video games from Feminist Frequency.

I need to add John Scalzi's piece about white male privilege, which I think explains so much of  'privilege' theory so elegantly: lowest difficulty setting.

Thursday, March 07, 2013


Driving today, I got stuck behind a van emblazoned with the legend 'Hydra Logistics'. I amused myself visualising a scene a la Percy Jackson, with a barely contained Hydra in the back...

The driver was probably going so slowly as to not bump or swing the beast and piss it off.