Saturday, April 27, 2013

Leff's Law of Green M&Ms

As Chowhound grew, so did the moanings about its decay. We opened in July of 1997, and we weren't far into autumn before I started hearing complaints about how the newbies were ruining it. Too many bad postings! Too many dopey posters! Too many flames and rude responses! Too many bad things!

It's true that Chowhound did eventually overgrow (per this explanation), and it's true that the community's credo, as so often happens, got lost. But the death knell was being sounded even back when Chowhound was getting better and better. I've often explained this via my Law of Green M&Ms.

If you absolutely hate green M&Ms, you'll be increasingly horrified by larger and larger bowls of M&Ms, simply because there will be more green ones....even though the proportion remains the the same.

As a thing grows, we see only decline. We don't grant equal attention to the good stuff quietly growing in equal proportion. So even though Chowhound became lots more useful as it grew from hosting 50 good postings (and 5 bad ones) per day to hosting 5000 good postings (and 500 bad ones), the natural reaction was "Geez, look at all those bad postings!"

Law of Green M&Ms also explains why urbanites are seen as rude and heartless. Visitors to Manhattan will, in the course of a day, pass 10,000 people. Two will randomly yell crazily at them from the street, one will fail to hold a door, three will cut them off while driving, one will shove them to get by, and, right there, that's more assholery than they'd see in an entire year back home. Of course, they fail to register the hordes of quietly good people.

Have a look at this very interesting Ted Talk where Steven Pinker convincingly argues that violence has drastically declined in human society (even factoring in the horrors of the 20th century and the dismaying violence which continues). It's a deeply counterintuitive argument, and I attribute its surprisingness to the Law of Green M&Ms.

We obsess and focus on the violence that exists to the point where it's all we see, and we fail to notice how much better it's actually getting. In other words, we only see green M&Ms even when the proportion of greenies is steeply declining! And that's a good thing. By all means, let's stay sensitized and abhorred as ever less violence is tolerated!

I'm reaching an age where my perspective is long enough to spot over-arching societal shifts. I remember when it was still more or less acceptable to punch assholes in the mouth. But you don't see a lot of punching any more. And this seems a random observation, but only because the behavior's become so taboo.

Fwiw, here are my other laws

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