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  1. #1
    this is my winter song EJCC's Avatar
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    Default The Curse of Meh

    The Curse of Meh: Why Being Extraordinary Is Not a Matter of Being Universally Liked but of Being Polarizing
    by Maria Popova
    Published at brainpickings.org

    Excerpt:



    After spending the entirety of my adult life as a noncitizen immigrant in America, perpetually toiling at the mercy of various visas, I am currently applying for something known as an “extraordinary ability green card” — a document granted to people whose contributions to culture the government deems valuable enough to offer them a slice of the American Dream or, at the very least, to make their lives a little easier by letting them stay in the country and continue to make said contributions with a little more dignity and peace of mind.

    ...

    I’ve become particularly fascinated by the extraordinary part of “extraordinary ability.” At first glance, it implies exceptional, above-and-beyond-the-ordinary ability. But it seems to also mean, rather, the very opposite — extra-ordinary as in possessing an extra helping of ordinary... This would be little more than a personally frustrating curiosity if it only applied to the limited case of “extraordinary ability green card” aspirants — but we also apply this paradoxical understanding of “extraordinary” to just about every aspect of life, from work to life.

    Why that happens and how it limits our potential for truly extraordinary lives is one of the many revelatory insights writer, musician, and entrepreneur Christian Rudder explores in Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) (public library) — a remarkable look at how person-to-person interaction from just about every major online data source of our time reveal human truths “deeper and more varied than anything held by any other private individual,” and how the tension “between the continuity of the human condition and the fracture of the database” actually sheds light on some of humanity’s most immutable mysteries.

    Rudder is the co-founder of the dating site OKCupid and the data scientist behind its now-legendary trend analyses, but he is also — as it becomes immediately clear from his elegant writing and wildly cross-disciplinary references — a lover of literature, philosophy, anthropology, and all the other humanities that make us human and that, importantly in this case, enhance and ennoble the hard data with dimensional insight into the richness of the human experience. Rudder writes:

    I don’t come here with more hype or reportage on the data phenomenon. I come with the thing itself: the data, phenomenon stripped away. I come with a large store of the actual information that’s being collected, which luck, work, wheedling, and more luck have put me in the unique position to possess and analyze.

    For the reflexively skeptical, Rudder offers assurance by way of his own self-professed “luddite sympathies”:

    I’ve never been on an online date in my life and neither have any of the other founders, and if it’s not for you, believe me, I get that. Tech evangelism is one of my least favorite things, and I’m not here to trade my blinking digital beads for anyone’s precious island. I still subscribe to magazines. I get the Times on the weekend. Tweeting embarrasses me. I can’t convince you to use, respect, or “believe in” the Internet or social media any more than you already do—or don’t. By all means, keep right on thinking what you’ve been thinking about the online universe. But if there’s one thing I sincerely hope this book might get you to reconsider, it’s what you think about yourself. Because that’s what this book is really about. OkCupid is just how I arrived at the story.

    Part of that story is our paradoxical relationship with the notion of the “extraordinary.” Unlike hot-or-not evaluations or Facebook’s unimodal “Like” function, OKCupid asks its users to rank one another based on a five-star rating system. (In one of his many perceptive asides, Rudder notes: “Websites ask you to vote because that vote turns something fluid and idiosyncratic — your opinion — into something they can understand and use.”) With five points of reference, there are suddenly degrees of opinion, which offer far more depth and dimension than a simple “yes”/”no” rating. To get three stars, it would seem, is to be rated “average.”

    But this is where it gets interesting.

    It is a simple mathematical reality that there are two ways of getting an average rating — either most people give you an average rating, or some people rate you really high and others rate you really low, yielding a cumulative middle ground. In mathematics, this concept is known as variance — the more spread out a set of numbers, the greater the variance.



    What Rudder and his team found was that not all averages are created equal in terms of actual romantic opportunities — greater variance means greater opportunity. Based on the data on heterosexual females, women who were rated average overall but arrived there via polarizing rankings — lots of 1’s, lots of 5’s — got exponentially more messages (“the precursor to outcomes like in-depth conversations, the exchange of contact information, and eventually in-person meetings”) than women whom most men rated a 3.

    Noting that OKCupid doesn’t publish these raw attractiveness scores and so no one’s ratings are being influenced by how others perceive the person being rated, Rudder writes:

    In any group of women who are all equally good-looking, the number of messages they get is highly correlated to the variance: from the pageant queens to the most homely women to the people right in between, the individuals who get the most affection will be the polarizing ones. And the effect isn’t small—being highly polarizing will in fact get you about 70 percent more messages. That means variance allows you to effectively jump several “leagues” up in the dating pecking order— for example, a very low-rated woman (20th percentile) with high variance in her votes gets hit on about as much as a typical woman in the 70th percentile.

    [...]

    Having haters somehow induces everyone else to want you more. People not liking you somehow brings you more attention entirely on its own.

    ...

    Indeed, the implications extend far beyond online dating and touch on the broader trap of public opinion. To play to public opinion or seek to please everyone is to aim at precisely that uncontested average, the undisputed and indisputable 3, obtaining which is a matter of being extra-ordinary rather than extraordinary. As soon as you aspire to be truly extraordinary, you begin aiming for those extremes of opinion, the coveted 5’s, and implicitly invite the opposite extremes, the burning 1’s — you make a tacit contract to be polarizing and must bear that cross.


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    ~ g e t f e s t i v e ! ~


    EJCC: "The Big Questions in my life right now: 1) What am I willing to live with? 2) What do I have to live with? 3) What can I change for the better?"
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  2. #2
    ^He pronks, too! Magic Poriferan's Avatar
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    Having haters somehow induces everyone else to want you more. People not liking you somehow brings you more attention entirely on its own.
    That seems to be a totally incorrect interpretation of what's going on here. Am I missing something?

    People don't knowingly contact an individual who is receiving hate from everyone else. That's incidental. There are only two things you can do, contact someone or not contact someone. All this really tells us is that people have relatively high standards for when they are going to message someone. If, theoretically, 4 is the minimum for messaging, and you get a 3 from everyone, you will receive no messages. If, on the other hand, 5% of people give you a 4 rating or higher, you will get some messages, which is more than the person who gets 3 from everyone, even if nearly all of the remaining 95% is 1 ratings. No one wants you more because other people are giving you 1 ratings, they want you if they give you a 4 or 5 rating, irrespective of anyone else's ratings.

    The fact that some people get mostly 3s and some people get ratings all over the place is not hard to understand. If, in the opening of my profiles, I express strong left-wing political convictions, I am going to become more appealing to the left-wing observers and less appealing to the right-wing ones, while if I contain no expression of my convictions at all, it will not change anyone's mind anyway. Perhaps by not expressing my convictions, right-wingers and left-wingers alike give me a 3, and supposing 3 is not enough to bother messaging me, I get no messages from either. But having expressed convictions, maybe I get 5s from the left-wing and 1s from the right-wing, which means the left-wingers have given me a higher enough rating to message me, but the right-wingers aren't going to message me, which they already weren't going to do if they gave me a 3 rating, thus making no difference. It's not like anyone else's decision to give me a 1 rating actually subtracts from the messages I'm getting from the people who are giving me a 5 rating.

    It's irrelevance, not the relevance, of ratings below 4 that create the effect here.
    Go to sleep, iguana.


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  3. #3
    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Magic Poriferan View Post
    ... There are only two things you can do, contact someone or not contact someone. All this really tells us is that people have relatively high standards for when they are going to message someone. If, theoretically, 4 is the minimum for messaging, and you get a 3 from everyone, you will receive no messages. If, on the other hand, 5% of people give you a 4 rating or higher, you will get some messages, which is more than the person who gets 3 from everyone, even if nearly all of the remaining 95% is 1 ratings. No one wants you more because other people are giving you 1 ratings, they want you if they give you a 4 or 5 rating, irrespective of anyone else's ratings.
    That's exactly what ran through my head.

    A bunch of 3 ratings means no one is particularly driven to write you and/or they are far more driven to write others first. So it still counts as a "no" -- basically 100% no (or "maybe").

    A bunch of 1's and a bunch of 5's, on the other hand, leaves you with 50% no but also 50% yes.

    The criteria of receiving messages is based on the "yes" vote.

    Dating's a funny game. You only need a few "yes" votes to find a mate, so you can have a 95% rejection rate and still win as long as you're hitting a large enough population. But if you have a 100% "meh" rate, you'll lose.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

  4. #4
    this is my winter song EJCC's Avatar
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    Did you guys both read the entire article? There are other charts that show that people in the medium "meh" range actually do see a strange dip in their number of messages, perhaps not related to what you're describing.



    See that dip right around the 40th percentile?

    Regarding beauty: some of the article's main points remind me of how supermodels are chosen. Usually not for traditional beauty, but for distinctiveness. For how striking their features are.

    Not regarding beauty: the point of the article is more than just that intro part -- like many other Brain Pickings articles, it goes off on related tangents, linked to other articles, and brings it back to a central point. Related to other things besides beauty. TBH those were the most interesting parts to me.
    ~ g e t f e s t i v e ! ~


    EJCC: "The Big Questions in my life right now: 1) What am I willing to live with? 2) What do I have to live with? 3) What can I change for the better?"
    Coriolis: "Is that the ESTJ Serenity Prayer?"



    ESTJ - LSE - ESTj (mbti/socionics)
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    want to ask me something? go for it!

  5. #5
    ^He pronks, too! Magic Poriferan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by EJCC View Post
    Did you guys both read the entire article? There are other charts that show that people in the medium "meh" range actually do see a strange dip in their number of messages, perhaps not related to what you're describing.



    See that dip right around the 40th percentile?

    Regarding beauty: some of the article's main points remind me of how supermodels are chosen. Usually not for traditional beauty, but for distinctiveness. For how striking their features are.

    Not regarding beauty: the point of the article is more than just that intro part -- like many other Brain Pickings articles, it goes off on related tangents, linked to other articles, and brings it back to a central point. Related to other things besides beauty. TBH those were the most interesting parts to me.
    That would still match what I'm talking about though, basically two assumptions: That one needs a more than average rating to get a message, and there is something close to an almost objective quality of being more or less polarizing. If anything, based on those two assumptions, I'd have expected the graph to be more bimodal than it actually is. However, I guess the extent to which it rises to the right is testament of how much of a normalized idea of attractiveness there is.

    The overall concept of the article I actually agree with, by the way. And it is applicable to far more than dating. It was just that one line of analysis I quoted that seemed to be the incorrect conclusion to draw from this data.
    Go to sleep, iguana.


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    Actually I agree with this article based entirely on my own anecdotal experience. It' a boring anecdote so I'll leave it there.

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    I'm a romanticist, so I'd rather believe average is less optimal than polarizing. Helps because I'm the latter of the two by far.

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