Tradition is a Terrible Reason for Anything

One more quick post about Adam Conover's new show since I originally wrote about it back in September. ReasonTV recently aired a short interview with Conover explaining some of the key themes behind the show and its obvious influences from programs like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight.

If nothing else, the grand lesson is that we can always afford to spend more time examining our cultural norms, asking why we do things, and thinking about how we want things to look going forward.

If you work for a large company, you probably have some type of annual review process. Most people hate them, but the reason they exist is just to give everyone a chance to formally think about things.

Society at large needs to have more "reviews." If I could wave a magic wand over our democracy, I'd suggest that we have state-organized constitutional conventions every 25 years. Not something tied to elections, nor something people would have to vote on - something automatic coded into the system itself. A 25-year review that would give society a new and needed opportunity to assess where we are and where we want to go.

Today is December 5th - Repeal Day. A reminder - of something we tend to forget in modern times - that we can amend the constitution, and if we happen to screw up completely, we can then amend the amendments too. Getting to a more perfect union means occasionally changing things, taking risks, assessing the results, keeping what works, and discarding what doesn't. But that process takes the type of political courage our country hasn't had in quite some time.

Pennies are not even worth what they're worth. So why do we still make them?

So for now, just think about smaller bits of our culture and democracy. Spend some time over on John Oliver's youtube channel. Wonder openly why things like tipping in restaurants, the lottery, Columbus Day, our criminal amount of food waste, and pennies - yes pennies, are all still things.

The short answer is that change takes effort, change is hard, and sadly it's a lot easier for everyone to just continue with the status quo because... tradition.

Seriously though... the penny thing makes zero sense on any level.


Adam is Still Ruining Everything

How about that, they actually gave Adam Conover a TV show. Conover is best known for his Youtube videos on the CollegeHumor channel under the same name "Adam Ruins Everything." The videos use a mix of comedy, history, and science to dispel widespread misconceptions about everything we take for granted.

The comedy part of Conover's program comes from the fact that when we really think about some of the routine parts of our lives... many of them are sort of ridiculous. Why do we still vote on Tuesdays, why has no one changed that? Why do we have car dealerships? What other consumer good has a random middleman stuffed in the middle between producer and consumer? If you've ever read Paul Keegan's 2014 article about the war between auto dealers and the website TrueCar or the on-going battle between my home state of Michigan and Tesla Motors on how Tesla can sell their product to consumers, you'd be right to think that are current system is sort of bonkers.

Or even much more basic customs of day-to-day life. To this day, I freeze in silence when someone near me sneezes because I once made the mistake of learning the history of the phrase "God bless you!" - now I'm constantly torn between not saying anything and genuinely feeling horrible because it's such an expected part of American culture.

The masterclass of this "our everyday life is ridiculous" concept are the weekly rants on John Oliver's show, which should absolutely earn Oliver a much deserved Emmy. Conover's program won't be on that level, but it should still highlight some of the odd things about everyday life. Things we might not want to think about... but we should.

Here are a couple of my favorite videos from Conover on Youtube:

Adam's earliest work about wedding rings ends with the depressing and true line "... but you'll still end up buying one." That's just how deeply this - one of the most successful marketing campaigns in history - is tied into our culture. Maybe our grandchildren will be able to evolve past this. Until then... rings for everyone!

Discuss tipping with friends and expect to get into an argument, especially if they work in the service industry. We all know why we tip, because servers get horrible pay if we don't - and that's just cruel. But how did we get here? How is it simply OK for restaurants to pay workers wages that guilt tips from customers to make up the rest? Lots has been written on this including "Tipping Is an Abomination" by Brian Palmer in Slate and another piece by Brandon Ambrosino in Vox demanding we get rid of it.

Short version: Getting rid of tipping won't be easy, and is a long-term challenge. But if we get to 2050 and we're still tipping in restaurants, it's because society was too unwilling to deal with an obvious problem right in front of us.

WeWork's Ambitious Plan to Re-Design Apartment Living

WeWork's Ambitious Plan to Re-Design Apartment Living

Co-working superstar WeWork is preparing to launch its first residential venture in the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, VA - just outside of Washington DC. The project, which has taken on the unofficial names of "WeWork Residential" and “WeLive” is the renovation of an older office building into 250 micro-apartments.

How important is building community in an apartment complex? And how might WeWork's special blend of co-working magic make this project a step-up from traditional apartments.

In this piece I want to take a look at what we know about the WeLive project itself, look back at some of my own apartment and housing experiences, and finally have some fun brainstorming how WeLive might change the micro-apartment game forever...

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The Rise of Explanatory Journalism

The Rise of Explanatory Journalism

I've watched with increasing excitement the development of new ventures in explanatory journalism, such as by Ezra Klein, Matthew Yglesias and their team; from Nate Silver and his team; and The Upshot from David Leonhardt.

The reason for these new ventures: the news does a poor job of explaining material to the public - an embarrassment in a connected world and something we hope will soon change...

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My Friend Matt Finished the Boston Marathon in 2:51 - His Words

Matt with friends shortly after his finish

Matt with friends shortly after his finish

All of the preoccupations with my personal race outcome had vanished and my sense of celebration were wiped away. The next thing I thought about was how lucky my friends and family were to not be there during the incident and how awful it was a young boy and a woman were killed.

More of Matt's recap are over on his fastrunningblog.