Monthly Archives: January 2014


Overcompensating racial ‘colorblindness’

Pretending that the world is a place where race doesn’t matter is pretty bad. You see this on the Daily Show, where some hapless (but who should know better) southern white congressman just doesn’t understand why everyone can’t agree racism is dead. You also see it in Silicon Valley, with those who proclaim it a meritocracy and claim that any racial imbalances are a problem with the education pipeline and not some issue with hiring or culture.

I’m not here to talk about that. Instead I’m here to talk about what happens when well-meaning people overcompensate about this issue and vocally point out racial ’truths’ when it’s not really appropriate. This is inspired by tales of various run-ins with the law a bunch of (male, white or asian, privileged) coworkers and I were sharing at work. Whenever someone would say “it was pretty lucky that the cop was called off because of a robbery on the other side of town, otherwise he’d definitely have taken the time to book me” or similar, a particular coworker would make a remark joking that the only reason that the person got off so lightly was because they were white. The intent of the joke was to point out that the situation might have gone differently based on the storyteller’s skin color, and to remind that there is privilege while at the same time laughing at an uncomfortable truth. The joking was a little too gleeful, aggressive and repetitive, however, and I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly bothered me about the jokes.

I suppose it almost became a joke made at the expense of a lot of human suffering, as opposed to a check on your privilege. Not everything revolves around race, and to suggest otherwise seems to charicature-ize those who have to deal with oppression. It becomes “oh, if you’re X then you’re just totally fucked, that’s how it is”. It’s no longer a tilt of the hat to a group of humans whose struggles you are empathizing with, but instead a further exploitation of an imbalance in power for a laugh. It has gone beyond a simple acknowledgement of privilege to almost a celebration of how much more leeway your privilege gives you in the eyes of the law. This exploitation is furthered due to a motive to maximize laughs instead of a desire to educate.

What made the joke funny in the first place? A sort of dark (dare I say it?) Kafka-esqe humor about the injustice and arbitrariness of the world, perhaps. I can see that humor, although anything race-based is pretty edgy to put forth at work, even after regular business hours.

So where does it cross the line from acknowledgement to exploitation? I think when you are no longer empathizing with and ensuring privilege does not go unchecked, and instead are going for the laugh and rushing to exaggerate what might actually happen in the situation. In either case, it’s a pretty awkward conversation to have when you actually have black/latino coworkers. While perhaps it might be appreciated that someone is pointing out privilege, likely the reminder that the person telling the joke has more power in our unjust Justice System would not be appreciated. It’s a higher stakes version of telling a short person and a tall person at the same time about how each inch taller corresponds to greater earnings over a lifetime- depending on the coworkers, pretty awkward, and probably not appreciated.

However, it also seems like there is utility in pointing out true instances where there was privilege in daily conversation (for instance, if we are talking about Justin Bieber). This may even extend to personal anecdotes about run-ins with the law, which are being told at work. I think there is still room to check the privilege, you just should really be self-critical of why you are making whatever remark- it should not be to get laughs, but instead as an actual reminder if needed.

Anyway, given how dangerous it is to say anything on this subject, I almost did not post this. However I hope I have not offended and if I have, please let me know.


Subvocalization – something that might be slowing you down as you read these words…

Subvocalization is when, as you read, you speak the words in your head.

Up until this week, I had no idea that Subvocalization existed beyond starting to learn a language. I thought that it was a part of proficiency in a language that you could read the words without ‘saying’ them in your head. Similarly, others who do subvocalize (at least those who were in the same room I was when I heard about it) had no idea you could read without subvocalization! It’s amazing that such a used feature of our selves is so poorly identified by everyone, let alone understood by any kind of science.

I have a few pretty unscientific thoughts. One, it seems to me that I read faster because of it, and anecdotal evidence suggests this, but academic literature seems to say it doesn’t matter and there is a lot of debate. I wish that there was more research on this topic! Two, it seems essential to learn this if it does make you read faster, as this Forbes post suggests (albeit hyperbolic-ly)

If you think about our lives, we read probably 2 hours a day of blog posts, books, emails, etc. If you include work reading as well, it is probably most of the day that I am looking at and reading text. the range of comprehension reading is around 100-300 words/minute. So that’s the difference between 12,000 and 36,000 words! 24,000 words a day is 1/4th of The Hobbit- you could easily read the equivalent in words of The Hobbit once every week if you could increase your reading speed to the top of this range.

Note that this is not “Speed Reading”. Honestly I think that is useless- you miss out on every nuance and detail, and lose the point of most of the words the author wrote! The words are (usually) not there to take up space, but instead to flesh out the ideas with tricky cases, nuance, detail, emotion, and everything else human.

Which brings me to the one thing I don’t like about trying to read quickly- you do lose out on some of the interesting stuff, even when reading at regular comprehension rates. As it is, I feel like I forget most of what I read very quickly after I read it, and that sometimes I’m just a text-processing robot that might as well read those executive recaps at the end of business books. (To be fair, business books often really only contain those bullet points interspersed with anecdotal evidence that the bullet points are not all crap, so it’s probably beneficial to read just the basic theory the author is trying to get across!) It might be better to slow down and enjoy life a little more than we let ourselves, and this includes reading.

In any case, now you know subvocalization is a thing, and can choose for yourself!


Do you capitalize the [Ii]nternet?

The “Internet” officially should be capitalized. I certainly don’t capitalize it, however. This is just a theory, but I’ll bet that there is a clear difference in who capitalizes and who doesn’t. I’ll bet that those who were born after, say,1985 would just write “the internet” without capitalization.

Why? Well, you don’t capitalize “the sky” or “the ocean” or “the highway system”. For our generation, our entire adult lives and some of our formative years has seen the internet as a pervasive network, almost natural in how it surrounds and manifests in many ways and large enough so that it takes years of study to understand it. It ceases to be a proper noun thing that needs to be identified as such and instead is just a part of the world that we refer to from time to time.

It helps that there is no longer a clear boundary of what is and is not the internet. Is your phone part of the internet? How about when in airplane mode- is it a part of the internet that is just temporarily disconnected? How about your body, bathed in wifi and 4G signals, even though it can’t understand what those signals mean. Does the transmission of these into space count as the end of the internet? Is the internet then continually expanding into space at the speed of light in an ever-expanding sphere?

I’ll bet that our grandparents capitalized the “highway system” at least at first, and that their parents never got out of the habit. When this plane lands I’ll do some research- currently it’s a temporarily disconnected section of the internet, regardless of what Delta might claim on the little light above my seat that says “wifi”.

Now that I am on the ground with actual internet access, it looks like I’m not the first to think of this:
There is even a Wikipedia page on it, which seems to suggest that lowercase is inevitable but right now the ‘official’ spelling is with an uppercase ‘I’: