anomalies of rational choice

Why, rather than bringing myself short-term joy by looking at cheery photos on Cute Overload, or promoting my long-term well-being by being asleep, am I instead reading different accounts of this story over and over again, despite it being one of the more depressing and horrifying things I have read in some time? I mean, really, I feel like if I could, I would choose to take some magic pill and forget that the incident reported in the story ever happened, because it makes me feel so morose and angry. Yet, not only am I not forgetting it but I’m perseverating in reading source after source about it. Of course, given that I just identified the story as depressing and not something that would bring one any kind of happiness or obvious other form of utility, it’s unclear why you would click on any of the links to see what I was talking about. I hope you are more rational than I am–here, check out this adorable photo of a quokka instead.

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

14 thoughts on “anomalies of rational choice”

  1. I practiced saying no and didn’t click through to any of those links. Phew. I wish I’d had the same strength when it comes to that cute overload link. I think we have different definitions of or thresholds for cute. This , this and this I think count.

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  2. I didn’t read this account that you posted, because I can’t read another one, but this story absolutely breaks my heart. It wasn’t until reading the recent New York Times piece that I realized the time that it took for this to come out and the turn of events between Megan’s death and now and that it’s a forty-seven year-old mother behind all this. It’s the details that draw you in, but it’s those same details that are depressing and horrifying.

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  3. Yeah, I was about to say, well, here’s another case where the new-and-dodgy technology angle makes a “routine” tragedy more newsworthy, then it opens up new vistas of How People Suck.

    There is a real dual-use technology problem with social-networking technologies. I may naively view Facebook as a platform for Scrabble-playing (ahem) and sheep-throwing among grown-ups who are more-or-less my actual if virtual friends, but my mother the high school counselor summarized it as Predator Central. The latter characterization may be a bit extreme, though some knowledge of what the youth contingent will post about themselves leaves me concerned that keeping the kids’ future computer use within sensible bounds (esp. as all phones become smartphones) won’t just be a matter of keeping the household computers in public spaces.

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  4. Is reading comments to this entry going to make me read the story after all? Now it sounds like it’s related to my work so I probably should. But I don’t want to get all depressed.

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  5. What pleasure is there to be found in looking at a mangled corpse, an experience which evokes revulsion? Yet wherever one is lying, people crowd around to be made sad and turn pale. They even dread seeing this in their dreams, as if someone had compelled them to look at it when awake or as if some report about the beauty of the sight had persuaded them to see it.

    Augustine’s Confessions Book 10, chapter 55

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  6. I did the exact same thing when I first read about this story a week ago. I was horrified and disgusted, but I kept seeking out more and more reports and accounts of it…

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  7. Sad and disturbing, indeed. I think the language fails to adequately capture many of the dynamics in this story. I see this story variously referred to as a “hoax” or “cyberbullying” or “sock puppet” but these terms seem inadequate to describing this sort of thing.

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  8. No offense intended by this post, but I just don’t understand why you think this story is so incredibly depressing and horrifying. It’s an example of evil in suburban America using the latest technological means. Personally, I think
    this is much more depressing. Is it because your story hasn’t become a major news headline? Or because you don’t think it could happen here? Or because it happened while using the internet?
    Signed,
    Legitimately curious

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  9. Demographist: I couldn’t follow your link, although I see from the broken link it is about Sudan. I would not make some argument that I’m linking to the most objectively depressing thing in the news. I don’t think my own reaction has as much to do with the Internet as with the betrayal and twistedness involved. I also think I have especial reaction to stories in which a betrayal is conducted for a long time with the person being unwitting. There was this story back when I was at Indiana about a man who allegedly was so upset with his girlfriend for not returning from a cruise for this father’s funeral that he married the woman, impregnated her, let the child reach age six months or so, and then killed him. I spent a lot of time melancholic-reading about that story.

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