Thank $ You?

I’m reading “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn. It is a full out rant against the pop-behaviorism. That aspect of American culture where in all of life’s problems have a single simple solution. Problem: you want X to do A. Solution: Tell X you will reward him if he does X. For example “Go to sleep now honey and I’ll buy you an ice cream tommorrow.”

Full of great stories. For example he has a slew of experiments where performance dropped when the subjects were promised rewards. My favorite was with poets. Just the act of imagining the rewards their work might engender triggered the creation of less creative works.
The data suggests that these programs really put the damper on: creativity, risk taking, and cooperation.

In the early days of AI (AI or Artificial Intellegence is the branch of computer science concerned with making intellegent seeming computers) we used to refer to problem- solving methods like these as the “strong methods”. Strong because they apply to so wide a range of problems. Students would always have trouble remembering that these were the “strong methods” because the other feature of all these methods was they all behaved so horribly when applied in practice.
Problem solving is hard.

It’s a fun, but angry, book. It deserves a longer discussion. Maybe latter.

One thing worth mentioning in passing is that these programs are not just pop-behaviorism (tap into that animal hunger), they are also pop-economics (manipulate that rational man).

On that note … here’s something about micropayment donations for free digital content. One of the most venurable of the Macinotosh newsletter is Tidbits. They recently have been playing with letting readers make small donations when they enjoy an article. This gives an overview of the income captured for various articles.

Man you could lay waste to an open source project doing something along these lines.

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