Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Information overload

Something I am very interested in as a social scientist (even if it does't directly touch on the kind of things I write about on a day-to-day basis) is the concept of heuristics and biases. In effect, these are the things we use to make decisions without thinking - rules of thumb and innate leanings that we develop both as individuals and as a species. They don't always serve us very well, as when we cease worrying about earthquakes because there hasn't been one for ages (geologically speaking, the riskiest time) or when we start devising stereotypes and discarding any information we gather than doesn't fit what we expect to see (which is a big problem when you start considering how that impacts our perception of individuals we do't know very well).

Associated with this is the fact that we tend to default to snap, intuitive judgments when we don't have much time, or there is no obvious need to devote brainpower to a problem. Dan Gardner calls this 'Gut' vs 'Head'. Gut is a caveman, Head is a lazy teenager, and they're both fighting for control of the wheel. Whilst I think the book doesn't exactly break the mould - if you've read any social science, none of what Gardner says will be new - he does communicate the principles of evolutionary psychology and probabilistic judgment in a witty and engaging way, and I liked the analogies he uses to explain often quite inaccessible concepts. So, I will borrow the Gut/Head analogy, because it's a nice way of explaining the issue that has led me to write this post: when I buy shoes, Gut and Head have a falling out.

Gut was in charge when I bought these

No, really. More than any other item of clothing, shoes leave me painfully divided over whether to go for love or the practical option. With clothes, beautiful fabrics can seduce me into choosing something that it both beautiful and sensible, since half the joy of wearing clothes is the sensation of having something that feels amazing next to your skin. But there is no such pay off with shoes. Inevitably the shoes I love are not the ones that will do my feet any good at all. Hence, my Gut will pick a pair of shoes, and my Head will say 'no'.
Head: That's £88's worth of 'no, you're not having them'

So where does this leave me? Totally paralysed, usually. On the one hand, I am able to very quickly select shoes I love. (I mean...who isn't?). But when Head gets involved trying to select shoes I need, I usually end up confused and upset, flicking through 3,000 pairs of semi-identical black flats on Shopstyle, and so fed up that I no longer want to leave the house ever again.

This is another example of our dysfunctional brains, by the way. Rationally, you would expect that the more information we have, the better able we would be to make good decisions - because you could sum up which information corroborates others, and therefore which has the most weight. But we can't. Once we get past a critical mass of information, we freeze up, and can no longer prioritise which is most important (as Malcom Gladwell, the author of Blink, explains). And once I've put 'black flat knee boots' into google, it isn't very long before I'm reduced to a sobbing wreck, pummelled by information I don't want or care about.

Google helps us sift through information, but it also gives us access to a huge quantity of it. And it's virtually impossible to make meaningful decisions about the range of options now available to us. One shoe shop is manageable, but an entire globe's worth isn't. Which is why, without Gut (who has a penchant for 6" block heels in bright colours) to guide me, I can't pick shoes I will actually wear to save my life.

Perhaps I should just go with Gut and buy the blue snake print heels.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Unicorn Pee boots: Fluevog Grand Nationals

Apologies in advance for a pretty epic post. If you're not into boots: move along, nothing to see here.

I like to think I'm not that materialistic (okay...I'm lying, I am) but right now I am as happy as a pig in the proverbial. A pair of boots I've been wanting since 2005 have turned up on my doorstep. Behold:

These are Fluevog Grand Nationals.

The Grand Nationals were my dream boot. I first spied them in '04/'05 when the re-runs were being promoted. I ummed and ahhed, but having just started University I was pretty broke having spent all my money on pies and beer. Also, with the internet in its infancy, I seem to recall that Fluevog at the time only took payment from us international types via carrier pigeon. Not really, it was international money order, which I never got the hang of. Thank God for Paypal!

Anyway, I kept half an eye out in the subsequent years. They popped up occasionally, but always right after a mortgage payment had gone out, and usually in a size that led me to contemplate whether I'd really miss the ends of my toes. And then while idly browsing ebay, I found that a seller had listed a whole bunch of nearly new pairs. In my size. I was on a train at the time and I believe my fellow passengers may have thought I was having some kind of seizure.

A little history

Monday, 14 November 2011

My Latest Project

Yeah, so sorry for being such a lazy blogger. I prefer to think of it as 'active real-life participant'. In the last couple of weeks I've made a trip to Europe for a conference, stayed over in another city for work a couple of times, taken on extra hours, done marking, gone to parties, AND (this is probably the kicker) got through three seasons of the X Files, one of The Big Bang Theory, and purchased Skyrim. For the last couple of weeks my laptop has sat in my office, unused and unloved, gathering dust. But it's good to step away every now and again. For the soul, if not the PhD.

Anyway, I have recently developed a project. I know I'm several years late to this (although Jenine of The Coveted posted on the topic recently, so that's all right then), but I have recently started coveting a pair of red jeans. I can just seem them working perfectly rolled up in my summer wardrobe, or with blazer and heels for winter. Sadly I probably won't look like this, but I can try:

DaniDaniRamirez on Chictopia

BUT. I hate buying jeans. Hate it with every fibre of my being. As my mother says, 'I know teenagers are a bit histrionic, but I remember taking you jeans shopping when you were younger and being shocked by of your reaction. I'm not sure it's normal to express suicidal urges because jeans don't fit you.' To date, in my early to mid twenties, I have found only two pairs of jeans that fit my childbearing hips (and don't cost £200), one of which is Topshop's Kristen high waist. (Well, they're not perfect - the 26 is too tight and the 28 too loose, but I can't have it all, and at least they don't fall down). The current season don't come in red, but they do come in Cerise:

Topshop Kristen Jeans

Having seen them in the flesh, they're much more pink than red, but being 98% cotton they should take a dye. To be sure, I managed to hunt down a pair of the 28/32 (to be precise, my mum hunted down a pair - I can always count on the backwaters of South West London to have stock of things that are sold out anywhere else), on the assumption that they'll probably shrink during the hot wash necessary for the dye to take, and therefore fit me perfectly. Hopefully.

Now all I have to do is choose from the confusing range of red idye colours and not feck up the dyeing process. Wish me luck!