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What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends? (nymag.com)
315 points by gamble 1076 days ago | comments


rayiner 1075 days ago | link

It's become pretty popular these days to devalue asian immigrant culture, but most of the commentary misses the point. The intro piece to the article states exactly the facts that "Tiger Moms" are concerned about: Asians are more educated and make more money on average.

Asian parenting is about downside management. Yeah your kid might not end up a top CEO, but he's also less likely to end up as a plumber. There are worse things than ending up in middle management at IBM making six figures...

Also, as someone who went through the whole "asian education treadmill", I'll make two observations:

1) The point about Stuyvesant is dead-on. My high school was also a public magnet school and the culture was the same way: the people at the top were both pretty and smart. However, the take-away isn't really what what the author makes it out to be. The popular white kids weren't gunning any less hard than the asian kids. They socialized then went home and studied just as hard. The problem isn't that asian parents emphasize hard work in lieu of socialization, it's that they just emphasize hard work, largely b/c coming from a different culture socialization isn't something they can really help their kids with.

2) The PWC example is also dead on, but again, the takeaway is different than what the other concludes. In a law, accounting, financial firm, you don't get pigeon-holed for being a hard worker. The white guy who makes partner (or managing director or whatever) works every bit as hard as the asian guy, but plays the politics on top of that. Being "too good for bitch work" is a sure way to get yourself fired at a law firm or an investment bank. At the same time, schmoozing with a partner to get better assignments is absolutely not at odds with working hard and being the guy who can get things done.

These articles consistently manage to misunderstand both asian culture and american culture. Succeeding in America does not require rejecting asian work ethic. Americans work as hard as anyone. That high school football star has a dad who pushes him to practice just as hard as any "Tiger Mom" would. Succeeding in America does require a forthrightness and social perceptiveness that many asians choose not to develop, but that is absolutely not at odds with an asian upbringing.

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aphexairlines 1076 days ago | link

> “If you’re East Asian, you need to attend a top-tier university to land a good high-paying gig. Even if you land that good high-paying gig, the white guy with the pedigree from a mediocre state university will somehow move ahead of you in the ranks simply because he’s white.”

That's false. The mediocre guy moves ahead of white geeks too. The problem, as with white geeks, is that Asian-Americans disproportionately aren't learning how to bs, how to promote themselves and their products, how to become salesmen. See Jobs vs Wozniak, etc.

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bluekeybox 1076 days ago | link

> The problem, as with white geeks, is that Asian-Americans disproportionately aren't learning how to bs, how to promote themselves and their products

Actually it is the attitude like this -- the attitude that equates self-promotion with bullshit -- that causes problems for people with an engineering mindset. Not only does such attitude (1) show that you consider yourself superior (bravo) to people who are doing the hard and often boring job of marketing/campaigning, but it also underscores (2) that you, at a fundamental level, do not value communicating with other people, and therefore do not value other people (marketing, at its basic, is communication), and (3) that you will not make a good leader because you lack the social intelligence needed to observe others, learn from your observations, and to pay attention to the details of your and your company's public image.

Social skills are not bullshit; they are intelligence just like everything else. The fact that you only know how to do math does not show that you are intelligent; it only shows that you are specialized. The fact that women prefer men who are good at socializing is, ironically, direct Darwinian selection for intelligence.

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mquander 1076 days ago | link

I reject that set of skills not because I don't value communicating, but because I think it's a terrible way of communicating. The world has an unbelievable, enormous, tedious, completely indefensible surplus of self-promotion and marketing. Marketing fills every public space and enters every public discussion. What good is it? Look, you have made entire hard and boring jobs of it. Are you doing something useful? Who is it useful to besides you?

Buying into an obnoxiously self-promotional attitude is defecting in a giant Prisoner's Dilemma. It's enriching you only by taking away from others, and at the expense of filling the world with crap. It serves only to make my life and others' a little worse as I filter through "good self-promoters" to find people who are good at ordinary, interesting, non-self-promotional things, who do and say things I actually want to pay attention to. So no, I don't think people who engage in a bunch of self-promotion are stupid or inferior, just selfish and shameful. I will leave money on the table all day in order to not deal with the crap.

Hey, it's relevant to the article:

Having glimpsed just how unacceptable the world judges my demeanor, could I too strive to make up for my shortcomings? Practice a shit-eating grin until it becomes natural? Love the world twice as hard?

I see the appeal of getting with the program. But this is not my choice. Striving to meet others’ expectations may be a necessary cost of assimilation, but I am not going to do it.

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potatolicious 1076 days ago | link

How is self-promotion enriching yourself at the expense of others?

"Hey everyone, I'm really good at iOS development." <-- How is this at all harmful to anyone, and how is it bullshit, or making the world worse?

This illustrates an incredibly entitled view held by some geeks - that it is the responsibility of everyone else to come and discover how awesome you are. That is, to be blunt, a load of bullshit worse than any bullshit crockery the worst MBA could come up with.

If you are good at something, how is anyone supposed to know about it unless you make it a point to tell them? How is it someone's fault that they bothered to let their abilities be known to the community at large, and that they got chosen over you?

Quite the opposite in fact - self-promotion can (and does) do more good for the world than quietly assuming that people will realize your brilliance in your silence. Look at all of the code blogs out there offering insight and advice on our industry and our craft - each one authored by someone who is no doubt using it as a tool for self-promotion. Demonstrating their abilities and knowledge by giving it away for free, how is that taking away from others?

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mquander 1076 days ago | link

Consider the following three approaches of communicating that you are good at iOS development:

1) You write interesting blog posts about iOS development and discuss it with other people working on related projects.

2) You write apps and open-source them or publish them and their utility yields lots of great reviews.

3) You write some mediocre apps, but you make sure to tell people stories about how good you are at iOS development, and you network your way to a piece in every tech blog to advertise your apps.

The difference between 1, 2, and 3 is that your actions in #1 and #2 are actually evidence that you really are good at iOS development, whereas your actions in #3 are not evidence of anything! Nobody with a healthy sense of skepticism "knows" that you are good at something because you make a point to tell them about it, because it doesn't take any skill (in that thing) to do the telling. Someone is supposed to know because you do it and you did a good job and your work helps other people. This apparently sensible approach would work even better if everyone else in the world were not screaming from the rooftops how good they were.

The code blog author writing useful advice is great. That same blog author submitting all his posts to Hacker News contributes nothing more to his greatness.

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tobtoh 1076 days ago | link

> The code blog author writing useful advice is great. That same blog author submitting all his posts to Hacker News contributes nothing more to his greatness.

Submitting his blog to HN is part of communicating - and - spreading his advice to an even wider audience. And it's these sort of people who develop a following, influence and success.

You seem to be under some misguided belief that technical excellence is mutually exclusive to communication skills. On the contrary, what the other posters have been saying to your post is that you need both to be truly successful - they are both important and both need development.

A marketer who has nothing worthwhile to market is no better than a technical person who can't communicate his achievements.

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fragmede 1076 days ago | link

> A marketer who has nothing worthwhile to market is no better than a technical person who can't communicate his achievements.

I disagree; working code speaks for itself. The real point is that the marketer and technical person are complementary.

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tobtoh 1076 days ago | link

Code only speaks for itself to other coders. If all you seek is to mix with other programmers or work on a small self-contained project that is purely code based, then that is fine (I say this in a non-derogatory manner).

But most things in life are not self-contained - you have to mix and interact with people who are not subject matter experts - and with no communication skills, or a belief that 'people should recognise good code when they see it', you'll never go as far as you could if you had accepted that self-promotion is a necessary part of interacting with others.

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exit 1076 days ago | link

he specifically said working code. the software actualized by code DOES speak for itself to anyone capable of using it. self promotion is bullshit.

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tobtoh 1076 days ago | link

To a degree yes it does. But an inability to self-promote will, in most cases, limit your influence/reach. Good example is Chrome/Safari/Firefox/IE - they all do roughly the same things, for most people, there is little difference between them.

Google realises the need to self-promote ... they just released their 'Dear Sophie' ad pitched at a wider audience than just the tech community.

> the software actualized by code DOES speak for itself to anyone capable of using it.

And this is the point that one of the parent posters made - this attitude of 'people should be able to tell how brilliant my code/software is' is really arrogant (the parent posters words, not mine). Your customers/users will almost never be more knowledgable about your software than you are - so by not self-promoting, you will actually be losing customers/influence/users because they will pass on your products if they don't understand the benefit to them. This applies to the most brilliant of customers to the dumbest.

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exit 1075 days ago | link

any yet the self-promotion of browsers has NOTHING to do with their quality!

ms did a great job of self promoting ie and it's a piece of shit.

firefox gained a huge market share because the actual experience of the code is brilliant, not because of any self promotion.

all self promotion does is add a layer of noise over figuring out what to use. that is the ONLY reason google advertises chrome - because all the marketing scum out there has made it necessary.

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mbesto 1075 days ago | link

So now we've reached the conclusion that marketing in of itself is bullshit? The evolution of marketing has lead us to cause the so called "scum" to exist because of how traditionally effective marketing has been. Now that it's so widespread its becoming increasingly ineffective. Thus, enters the scum, or in other words more creative ways to interrupt your attention.

The techie (or Silicon Valley) view of the economic world, while fruitful, is a very meritocratic. We only believe that cream of the crop always rises to the top. Unfortunately this is not how the world works and the OP's suggestion about self-promotion is evidence of such (read - Jobs v Wozniak). We read stories from Steve Blank and PG about "just make a good product and the rest will follow". While good advice, I can count on my hand the number of products that "suck" that are way more successful than the ones that don't suck. It's the reason SAP, MS, and Oracle still exist.

Why are techies like this? I believe its because we are extremely analytical pattern hunters - we hate replication and deficiencies. Marketing to us represents an inefficiency in the system because it doesn't represent 1 or 0.

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bluekeybox 1075 days ago | link

> Why are techies like this? I believe its because we are extremely analytical pattern hunters - we hate replication and deficiencies. Marketing to us represents an inefficiency in the system because it doesn't represent 1 or 0

Actually it's not just that. True, techies recognize that marketing represents an inefficiency in the system, but, lacking social skills, techies are naive enough to think that they can improve the system. They can't, and they don't understand why (but look ma, I made a goooood product, why won't anyone buy it?). They assume that everyone has plenty of time on their hands to read the latest reviews on the product they buy, to compare specifications, and then to trial-test the product themselves, all the while being careful so as "not to fall into a marketing scam." No, most people are not like that. Most people make snap judgements in a split-second about whether or not to buy a product and if they feel like they spend too much time deciding then they simply move on. Techies specifically choose to ignore things like public image and social status (actually they replace the status ladder by their own one), and consequently suffer from it.

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sethg 1075 days ago | link

A non-technical user of this hypothetical iOS app won’t be able to tell if the author had to do some clever algorithmic hacks to get an acceptable level of performance, or if s/he spent a whole day figuring out how to work around an undocumented bug in some versions of iOS, or if the whole program is really a mountain of kludges that will cause endless pain to the next coder who tries to add a feature to it.

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codyrobbins 1076 days ago | link

First of all, this is a false dichotomy—you’re presenting an example with two fantastic iOS developers who don’t self-promote and one mediocre one who does. In reality, it’s probably more likely the fantastic iOS developers who self-promotes gets noticed over the fantastic iOS developers who doesn’t self-promote.

Ignoring your rhetorical feint, though, I think it’s completely reasonable to say that—by definition—you cannot be a fantastic iOS developer if you produce things that nobody knows about or uses. I would call the mediocre apps that get usage the product of a superior developer than the good ones that don’t. Software that exists in a vacuum with relatively little adoption is more or less useless. (At least, if we’re talking about a consumer-focused platform like iOS.) It doesn’t matter how elegant your apps are if no one uses them.

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rayiner 1075 days ago | link

When you take away the dichotomy, his point still stands:

Mediocre iOS developer who doesn't self promote versus mediocre iOS developer who does.

Since 90% of everyone is mediocre, a culture that encourages self promotion just fills the world with crap.

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codyrobbins 1070 days ago | link

The word mediocre is subjective and this just devolves into an ontological or semantic argument surrounding the meaning of mediocre. What’s mediocre to you may very well not be to lots and lots of other people. Or—if you prefer—in the form of an aphorism: ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’

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aik 1076 days ago | link

I think Robert Greene has some interesting things to say about this ("48 Laws of Power" for example).

(I hope I'm properly representing some of his thoughts here)

Clearly #1 and #2 are ideal. Clearly #3 is not (however there can be a healthy and superior balance between #1/#2 and #3). But clearly #3 exists, just as #1 and #2, and WILL ALWAYS EXIST. Power can be achieved through any of the 3 means, and it's up to each individual to choose their own path. What "geeks" (among many others) tend to do is close their eyes to the fact that this power struggle exists, and decide to not play any game at all. This leads to an endless frustration and mounds of material for whining.

Note: I believe it is very unfortunate that most marketing exists and how ubiquitous it is.

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mquander 1076 days ago | link

I agree with this. You can buy in or bow out, but the game isn't going away.

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scotty79 1076 days ago | link

> "Hey everyone, I'm really good at iOS development." <-- How is this at all harmful to anyone, and how is it bullshit, or making the world worse?

Someone might think that you are REALLY good and pass on someone who is much better at iOS than you, in fact so much better that he learned some humility along the way.

People better at something rank their skills lower than they actually are while people mediocre at something rate their skills very high.

So when you say "I'm awesome." then either you are mediocre or you really have mad skillz but you are being dishonest to yourself while saying that because you are so good that you think your skills are much lower.

Engineers who can actually evaluate the skill of someone claiming that know that from experience so they don't like people who boast and avoid boasting themselves.

Unfortunately this leaves technologicaly clueless people around them without any indication of competent, experienced engineer skills so those people, if in charge prefer and mediocre people who proudly pronounce "I am awesome".

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Confusion 1076 days ago | link

Evidence for the Dunning-Kruger effect is based on statistics. It doesn't imply that anyone, or even most of those, that claims awesomeness are either stupid or insufficiently humble. Of course you should check someones claims. But if Brendan Eich tells you he is awesome at javascript --and he should--, then he is simply telling you the truth, but there are hundreds of others in the world that could validly make the same claim and simply be right.

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scotty79 1075 days ago | link

Sure enough. But way technical people look at the world in absence of detailed data is based on statistics. And most of the times when someone claims that he is great at something he is either not good at all, or good but ready to say things that he doesn't believe in.

Either way you should be cautious around that guy. That's why (IMHO) intelligent people don't really like self promotion in other people and by extension do self promote themselves.

Generalists usually can't learn if someone is actually good or not at the thing he claims he's good at so they don't have the same statistics about the world as specialists.

And they don't look down on self promotion and proudly self promote themselves because if they see nothing bad about it only positive sides of self promotion remain.

My argument is not about what is true and who can self promote without lying, but about how minds work statistically and why specialists distrust self promotion while generalists (like managers who generally know what they employees do but specifically they have no idea) think.

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bluekeybox 1076 days ago | link

> It makes my life worse every day as I have to filter through "good self-promoters" to find people who are actually doing interesting things.

Or maybe you are setting up a straw man there as the people you find interesting are simply bad at self-promotion?

At a party once, I met a graduate student in physics and a guy who worked for an advertising firm. The physicist made a self-deprecating joke about how he sees his occupation as not terribly productive (I guess he saw his own potential for making a big discovery as pretty slim), but then remarked with some relief that at least the fact that he can dedicate his life to research is "a sign of a wealthy society." Immediately after that, he went up in arms against the guy in advertising, confronting him with, "but what do you do that's useful?" I had to interject, telling the physicist, that without people willing to buy stuff including all the plastic toys (chemical engineering) and fancy gadgets (electrical and computer engineering), there would be much less currency floating around in the economy and we wouldn't have the wealthy society he spoke of just a minute ago, in which case the big physics projects like the LHC would not get funded (i.e. we would be back to the 18th century or earlier).

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mquander 1076 days ago | link

The people I find interesting are all over the board at self-promotion! It's barely correlated. That's the point. The self-promotion is completely unhelpful in directing my attention to anything useful, but it is designed specifically to try to fool me.

Nobody needs advertising to be "willing to buy stuff." Advertising shifts demand around from companies that are worse at advertising to companies that are better at it. What do you suppose people would do with their portion of the GDP if there were less advertising? Sit on their hands, because they don't aspire to anything? Would men, their savings accounts bulging with useless money, moan, "I only wish I wanted an iPad more?" Although I admit that it is unavoidable, I find it non-obvious that commercial advertising contributes anything at all to the economy, and supposing it does, I find it completely unbelievable that it is worth the hundreds of billions of dollars worth of labor spent on it.

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bluekeybox 1076 days ago | link

> Nobody needs advertising to be "willing to buy stuff."

Untrue. First of all, even if advertising "only shifted demand around," it would still be worthwhile because our country participates in a global economy and we export many products abroad (as well as import others, but that's a different question). Second, the statement that advertising "only shifts demand around" is just plain wrong. Advertising creates demand, and this creation is overall a positive thing (admittedly there are plenty of specific negative examples). For one positive example: Americans didn't buy into cars simply because of utility. They bought into cars because of the entire "lifestyle" image created around owning a car -- and this image was created in large part thanks to advertising campaigns. There would be many fewer cars around today, and our economy would be much slower were it not for advertising.

To naysayers below: as Henry Ford's famous expression went, "if I asked my customers what they wanted, they'd tell me they want a faster horse." In other words: people did not immediately buy into the idea that a car is something desirable. At the time, cars were clumsy, noisy, not very comfortable or easy to drive. The whole idea of a car as something to aspire to had to be "pushed" onto the audience, and Ford was not shy about doing it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Model_T#Advertising.2C_mar...).

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marshray 1076 days ago | link

Americans didn't buy into cars simply because of utility. They bought into cars because of the entire "lifestyle" image created around owning a car -- and this image was created in large part thanks to advertising campaigns.

Nah. Show me a country with a similar low density as America where people don't buy cars almost as soon as they can afford them.

The advertising was certainly prominent, but it didn't drive the fundamentals.

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akgerber 1076 days ago | link

Most Americans don't live in particularly low-density areas. The Los Angeles metro area is about as dense as that of New York; the fact that LA is car-based whereas New York is based on rail is due to infrastructure choices made based on people's desire to drive more instead of walking or taking mass transit.

That desire was in large part created by marketing portraying automobiles as signs of wealth, power, modernity, and of course sexual potency.

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marshray 1076 days ago | link

Most Americans don't live in particularly low-density areas.

I assure you that the great majority of Americans live in areas which are not so dense in population that it becomes overly burdensome to own a car.

Add em up. The densest cities in the US are a few tens of millions maybe? And they have a lot of cars even there. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by...

The Los Angeles metro area is about as dense as that of New York; the fact that LA is car-based whereas New York is based on rail is due to infrastructure choices

Yes, in the case of New York the infrastructure choices were literally set in stone well over a hundred years ago.

made based on people's desire to drive more instead of walking or taking mass transit.

We all have choices to make in life. You can:

A) Live in a place like Manhattan in a small, expensive apartment, high population density, crime issues, impractical to own anything that doesn't fit in an elevator (including a car), but you can walk around and it has a usable public transportation system. Or..

B) Live in a place where for less money you can have a single-family house, room for multiple cars, a lawn and garden, low crime, and a reasonable commute to work. But no subway system.

Most Americans voted with their feet in the 20th century and chose B. They didn't need convincing.

That desire was in large part created by marketing portraying automobiles as signs of wealth, power, modernity, and of course sexual potency.

That's ridiculous.

There's nothing more potent to a young couple than a house with a few empty bedrooms.

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ovi256 1075 days ago | link

It's not ridiculous at all, it's very veridic. It's a basic advertising technique to link the product to some desirable value or quality. In the automobile's case, independence, which is already, in Western cultures, a trait of males and strongly linked to virility. They don't sell just the product, but the image that comes with owning it, the famous "lifestyle".

Edward Bernays is considered the father of modern PR and propaganda. Not a coincidence, he is the nephew of Sigmund Freud. He was the first to theorize the manipulation through the subconscious. And sex is one of the subconscious' most powerful forces. He participated in the US effort that succeeded in swaying the US public opinion away from isolationism and into the First World War. Not accidentally, this propaganda effort heavily featured virile imagery: young strong men as soldiers (which, incidentally, are the most expendable members of a society). Modern advertising is nothing more than applied propaganda and follows his ideas.

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marshray 1075 days ago | link

Yes, I understand the fundamentals of advertising and psychology.

What I'm objecting to this:

[Americans] bought into cars because of the entire "lifestyle" image [] created in large part thanks to advertising campaigns

Which is a pretty grand claim to make without supplying any data to support it.

Prove it.

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bluekeybox 1075 days ago | link

How naive of you to ask... No, how about you try to disprove it?

Unlike math, moth social science studies require years of work. I could of course go to a library or search Google to try to find something that would support my point (hint: most likely I will find something). Would that be proof to you? Regardless of what you think of it, it would still not be good enough for me to consider it as proof. Because it would be equivalent to what's known in the statistics circles as a "fishing expedition": cast a wide enough net and you will find something to support your opinion regardless of what your opinion is.

The best way to produce a true "proof" would be to ignore everything that's been written and perform a sociological experiment. That would require years of work, expertise in conducting similar experiments, and millions in funding. Is that what you are asking me to do?

It is impossible to make any progress in the soft fields without relying on intuition. Learn to accept it. Think of intuition as a little Bayesian engine built into your brain. Often biased, but if honed properly, extremely powerful. You are well warned not to trust everything I say; but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't seek out a better perspective on the world. Only through seeking a different perspective can one avoid being biased.

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marshray 1075 days ago | link

How naive of you to ask...

I'm not being naive here. I fully expected you not to produce any data, and you didn't.

No, how about you try to disprove it?

Because I'm not the one making the extraordinary claim here (that America's personal transportation infrastructure is primarily the result of a systematic psychological manipulation by advertisers).

I could of course go to a library or search Google to try to find something that would support my point (hint: most likely I will find something). Would that be proof to you?

It depends on what you find. Is it based on aggregate economic and census data, or is it simply testing individuals' susceptibility? Was it funded by a government trying to figure out where they needed to build roads, or an advertising industry promoting itself? Do the methods support the conclusions? How much does it support the claim we're discussing?

The best way to produce a true "proof" would be to ignore everything that's been written and perform a sociological experiment. That would require years of work, expertise in conducting similar experiments, and millions in funding. Is that what you are asking me to do?

There have, in fact, been many millions (likely billions) spent funding sociological and urban planning studies over the years.

Can you reference some serious study that even halfway supports the claim? I'll read whatever you come up with with an open mind.

Or are you expecting me to throw out my own experience and intuition and just "learn to accept" yours?

Because my experience says that where people work and live is a major life decision that people plan for and think about very carefully. People buy houses in the suburbs because they prefer not to hear the neighbors through their apartment walls or live in the shadow of the factory or office building where they work. People buy cars because they need to get to work and cars provide convenient, comfortable, and relatively inexpensive personal transportation.

My intuition tells me this explanation is sufficient and we needn't invoke Bayes, Bernays, Freud, or powerful psycho-sexual subconscious forces to explain it further. Heck, my intuition would sooner accept a purely Jungian explanation than this self-important Media Studies concoction.

A person in advertising once related to me that the studies they went by placed sex third in male attention-getting effectiveness. Food came in second after...wait for it...transportation. That's right, advertisers use transportation on its own to sell other products. They hardly needed to use sex to sell farmers a Model T or family cars in the 30's and 40's.

I think that my explanation will be better supported by data than yours. Here's why:

The automobile trend in the US started with the Model T: a utility vehicle if there ever was one. This trend was well underway far before the advertising-industrial complex really kicked into gear post-WWII.

Furthermore, people all over the world begin to prefer cars over walking whenever the economic/logistic factors support it. If the American phenomenon were really primarily the result of a specific set of machinations, you wouldn't expect it to replicate itself quite so consistently.

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dhume 1076 days ago | link

There would be many fewer cars around today, and our economy would be much slower were it not for advertising.

Or we wouldn't have built sprawling suburbs that make cars necessary.

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bluekeybox 1076 days ago | link

Thus failing to put to good use of one of the biggest assets the U.S. had in comparison to the rest of the world -- space and cheap land.

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ericd 1076 days ago | link

Is this an example of something that helps the economy (since your premise above was that advertising is very important for the economy)? It certainly doesn't help productivity for every family to have a large house to take care of, and most of the spending to outfit and run that house is ultimately a waste.

A much better use would be, say, farming.

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stretchwithme 1076 days ago | link

Money not spent on cars would spent on something else. or saved and lent to someone else who would spend it on something.

And if car purchases having no utility declined, its likely that the other things purchased might have utility, which means more wealth created in the long run. Not a slower economy.

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lutorm 1075 days ago | link

... even if advertising "only shifted demand around," ...

Given the state of US consumer debt, you can make a convincing case that if this wasn't true 100 or even 20 years ago, it certainly is true now. (Unless you mean the top 5% whose wealth is skyrocketing, of course; they could probably be convinced to spend more of it since they won't have to pay it in taxes any time soon.)

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bane 1076 days ago | link

"Miranda Priestly: 'This... stuff'? Oh. Okay. I see. You think this has nothing to do with you. You go to your closet and you select... I don't know... that lumpy blue sweater, for instance because you're trying to tell the world that you take yourself too seriously to care about what you put on your back. But what you don't know is that that sweater is not just blue, it's not turquoise. It's not lapis. It's actually cerulean. And you're also blithely unaware of the fact that in 2002, Oscar de la Renta did a collection of cerulean gowns. And then I think it was Yves Saint Laurent... wasn't it who showed cerulean military jackets? I think we need a jacket here. And then cerulean quickly showed up in the collections of eight different designers. And then it, uh, filtered down through the department stores and then trickled on down into some tragic Casual Corner where you, no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin. However, that blue represents millions of dollars and countless jobs and it's sort of comical how you think that you've made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry when, in fact, you're wearing the sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room from a pile of stuff."

http://www.hulu.com/watch/13046/the-devil-wears-prada-cerule...

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mturmon 1076 days ago | link

It's a beautifully written defense of connoisseurship. I can't help but admire the force of the writing and the depth of knowledge conveyed by Anna Wintour's double. It's the best line of the movie.

But, getting past all that eloquence, and back to the point -- doesn't it seem like too much intelligence wasted on too little substance? I think the person in the lumpy blue sweater can say, I actually do not care about your convoluted story. I put this on because I have to wear something rather than nothing, but its history has no interest for me.

This is not a philistine rejection of all design. Just a certain frivolous part that takes itself too seriously.

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bluekeybox 1075 days ago | link

> doesn't it seem like too much intelligence wasted on too little substance?

That's an interesting argument. The answer is no, and it's because fashion and other seemingly frivolous pursuits serve a very clear function in the society. Finding a mate, a business partner, a friend, etc. is often very difficult. You generally want to hang out with the best, the smartest, the most influential people possible. However there is no easy way to tell! It would be nice and easy if the best and the smartest were also the best looking, but it is not always the case. Also, there is no "IQ coefficient" badge on the forehead. There is really no way to tell other than either by asking questions (too direct!) or by observing subtle social clues. Fashion sense and social skills are some of those clues.

From the other side of the coin, when you are smart, you want to advertise that. But it would be unsubtle to put up an IQ coefficient badge on your forehead. And being unsubtle (which equates to failure to consider all possible consequences) is seen as a mark of low intelligence. It is the same way in the human society as it is in chess. In chess, if you don't think through as many possible moves as you can, you lose. So you try to look smart, subtle, sophisticated, and up-to-date, at the same time without coming across as too direct or vulgar. It is very hard.

BTW, the unkempt "nerd" look is also an advertisement -- albeit to a limited audience.

It works the same way in humans as it does in lyrebirds. All animal societies share some fundamental similarities.

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etherael 1076 days ago | link

Which would have failed utterly in the instance that the person being addressed was wearing something that she couldn't twist into being a result of the whims of the fashion industry.

But then of course, they'd just be rebuking bad taste, because it's not really possible that they might, after all, just be genuinely wasting time.

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maayank 1076 days ago | link

"Social skills are not bullshit; they are intelligence just like everything else. The fact that you only know how to do math does not show that you are intelligent; it only shows that you are specialized. The fact that women prefer men who are good at socializing is, ironically, direct Darwinian selection for intelligence."

You know, I'm tired of smart people apologizing that they're good at math/programming/physics/whatever. True, the fact that you are a math pro shows that you are specialized, but by being able to understand and achieve in this field you showed intelligence. I would define intelligence as the potential of acquiring new skills. "Soft" skills can be learned through books and experiment (i.e. reading How to Win Friends and Influence People, doing a salesmen course, etc.). The fact one didn't "learn" it and shows some seemingly innate ability just shows that s/he either learned unconsciously through imitation or through a lot of experimentation in his/her youth. Life xp and observation just led me to agree with what's presented by pg in http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html .

p.s. I'm also tired of this meme that women having some weird darwinian developed methods unlike men for processing relationships. While it may be true on some level people are making too much of it. They are ordinary persons. Just imagine a person that about half of the population is being aggressively nice to her since she's 14. Extrapolate and the rest follows.

edit: you can't imitate math. you can't imitate programming. being around people who are good at these (i.e. raised by a couple of professors) might give you some good learning stamina and people to consult with, but you still have to develop an internal understanding. Soft skill are different in that regard - you can make great strides by just imitating people who you think are appealing/confident/good communicators (to a degree). You might not understand why it works, but it will work.

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bluekeybox 1075 days ago | link

> I'm also tired of this meme that women having some weird darwinian developed methods unlike men for processing relationships. While it may be true on some level people are making too much of it. They are ordinary persons

I didn't say that women have a biologically different brain at birth. I don't think they do. It's just that most women, starting from early childhood, are taught that other people are important, and that it is important to be nice to other people. The rest follows, as you said. This is how social skills are developed. And the part were girls compete at being "pretty" is their first lesson in self-promotion. Most boys growing up, on the other hand, often compete in tasks that have little social relevancy for whatever reason (or even are entirely anti-social such as anything that has to do with violence), and as a result do not develop advanced social skills.

I am a guy, and I prefer women with good social skills. I do not want to date some virgin from a strict upbringing who has zero self-confidence, regardless of how "hot" she is (btw, don't you notice how most men who talk about women being "hot" come across as rude?). I imagine the same is true for the preferences of most women.

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eropple 1075 days ago | link

Cargo-cult social behaviors don't work any better than cargo-cult programming.

People can smell a fake a mile away.

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leot 1075 days ago | link

There are lots of different kinds of people.

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carussell 1074 days ago | link

And yet, there seems to be no shortage of buy-in for them.

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delackner 1076 days ago | link

I know both totally honest and trustworthy sales people. I also know others that seem trustworthy but actually don't know what they are talking about, lie constantly, yet so far after 10+ years in their respective careers somehow manage to get very far ahead of the game. You may say they are simply effective self-promoters and I should not be envious, but I disagree.

If you don't believe in a product, it is wrong to tell others it is great. If you have no idea how to do something, sure, say "No problem, I'll get right on it", but it is wrong to say "I have done that tons of times".

With products it is fairly easy to see what the truth is: An advertisement for a product may say it is magical. A reviewer may agree. You try it yourself and find whether it is true or not, for you.

With people in the workforce though, especially in fields where the cause of a particular team's success or failure is quite difficult to quantify, detecting the bullshit artist from the solid player can be extremely difficult.

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eob 1075 days ago | link

If I put aside how I'd prefer the world to be and accept it for how it actually is, I'm inclined to agree with you, bluekeybox.

Here's a question for the self-taught self promoters on HN:

Is there a good book that coaches you about how to learn to become an effective self promoter?

I think a lot of technical people think of themselves as bringing a lot to the table, but are (perhaps too) quiet about it in a group.

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bluekeybox 1075 days ago | link

I learned to accept the world the way it is after I spent some time studying art. Many artists were effective self-promoters, but it is not seen as a bad thing because they were subtle and not pushy about it. When most people think of self-promotion, they think of a pushy, sleazy used-car salesman. That's a very narrow view of the world.

There can be beauty and subtlety in image-making, diplomacy, and other "soft" skills just as there can be beauty and subtlety in a well-written piece of code or in a theorem proof.

Learn to perceive the world from an impartial point of view of an outside observer (or from a point of view of someone wielding power), not from a narrow resentful point of view of someone trying to spread a hateful message to agitate others for whatever vengeful cause. Consider all possibilities. Unlike what the Tolkien's tale says, it is okay to like power; what's not okay is to misuse for a hateful cause. One can't know what misuse is without diligent observation of others. One can't become alpha by acting like a beta.

Recognize that even your claim that you dislike self-promotion is a mere attempt to promote yourself to others who (you hope) are just like yourself. Think again about whether people like yourself are a worthwhile bunch to be around. Strive to be around people better than yourself, not just around ones who are your equals. Read Nietzsche.

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Psyonic 1075 days ago | link

I could tell you've read some game stuff. Was waiting to see if it'd show itself clearly. Solid comment.

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stcredzero 1075 days ago | link

Actually it is the attitude like this -- the attitude that equates self-promotion with bullshit -- that causes problems for people with an engineering mindset.

The problem is that you have to get your audience to buy into what they don't know enough about to understand. Really, it's not their fault that they don't have your specialist knowledge. This is where, "Sell them what they want, but give them what they need," comes from. You can't sell someone something that they don't understand. But if you can sell them something and get their rave-reviews, they can bridge that gap for you.

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sapper2 1075 days ago | link

> The fact that women prefer men who are good at socializing is, ironically, direct Darwinian selection for intelligence.

Wow... you really made my day! That is the BEST statement ever :-)))

My girlfriend is prettier than yours, so I am more intelligent.

Of course, as history shows, often the dumbest animals (cockroaches..) are best at survival...

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mquander 1076 days ago | link

You cherry-picked one quote, but he spent the entire rest of the piece making your exact point.

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rubashov 1076 days ago | link

> insidious nature of the Bamboo Ceiling [...] the discrepancy in these numbers is a matter of unconscious bias.

The author spends plenty of time trying to claim there is some sort of racial discrimination going on. Much more plausible is that less likable people aren't getting ahead, and it just so happens that Asians tend not to be likable, or have "leadership potential" if you prefer.

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mquander 1076 days ago | link

No, he spends time discussing a variety of explanations, the least of which is any kind of conscious racism. If you expand the part that you elided, it says:

Part of the insidious nature of the Bamboo Ceiling is that it does not seem to be caused by overt racism...More likely, the discrepancy in these numbers is a matter of unconscious bias. Nobody would affirm the proposition that tall men are intrinsically better leaders, for instance. And yet while only 15 percent of the male population is at least six feet tall, 58 percent of all corporate CEOs are. Similarly, nobody would say that Asian people are unfit to be leaders. But subjects in a recently published psychological experiment consistently rated hypothetical employees with Caucasian-sounding names higher in leadership potential than identical ones with Asian names.

To become a leader requires taking personal initiative and thinking about how an organization can work differently. It also requires networking, self-promotion, and self-assertion. It’s racist to think that any given Asian individual is unlikely to be creative or risk-taking. It’s simple cultural observation to say that a group whose education has historically focused on rote memorization and “pumping the iron of math” is, on aggregate, unlikely to yield many people inclined to challenge authority or break with inherited ways of doing things.

Then the author spends the rest of his time identifying specfic kinds of social skills and leadership qualities, like confidence, risk-taking, and shamelessness, and contrasting how Asians and Westerners frequently approach the development of those skills.

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lsc 1076 days ago | link

this is what was so hard for me when I was trying to learn 'leadership' or whatever you call it. What most people call 'likability' - I call 'being an asshole'

Different people have different behavior preferences, and if you think 'likable' means more passive rather than more aggressive, you are likely going to do the wrong thing in most social situations.

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Psyonic 1075 days ago | link

Passive isn't likable, it's boring and safe.

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lsc 1075 days ago | link

I understand that's how most people feel. My point is that for those of us who don't fee that way, this truth is hard to spot. I know for me, I always thought that most passive behaviors were respectful, and most aggressive behaviors were not. Don't take up too much space. Don't interrupt people, and if someone is working, stopping to talk to them is interrupting them. Speak at a reasonable volume. Don't assume people want you around.

I mean, I now see that this behavior is self-defeating. Most people prefer my loud, expansive self who assumes that you want him around until you make it very clear otherwise to my quiet, small self who assumes that you don't. If I walk by someone who is working without at least an acknowledgement of their existence, most people feel snubbed.

I mean, using the word 'asshole' is a value judgement, which probably made the message come off wrong. My point is that 'likable' is a word that means very different things to different people.

To this day, I prefer being around people who are less aggressive, even though I've adapted to a world dominated by people like you, who prefer behavior that I find mildly offensive when directed at me.

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Psyonic 1072 days ago | link

I know exactly what you mean. I'm a convert myself, and while it's mostly natural now, I still fall back into passive mode on occasion.

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lsc 1072 days ago | link

I think it's important to remain grounded in reality. Social bullshit is important, essential even for some jobs. But for other jobs? it really has little to do with actually getting the job done.

If you recognize people who are good at their jobs but who are passive in other ways and you treat those people well while others disparage them for being passive, If you can handle the social bullshit for those people and let them do their jobs, those people will feel real loyalty towards you, and not just because they feel good about you; if you can separate the 'do your job' from the 'social bullshit' those who can do the job but can't or won't deal with the social bullshit really will be much more valuable than they would have been on a team where that social bullshit was expected of everyone.

If you value aggressive people over passive people in the general case, you are leaving a lot of value on the table.

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ajkessler 1076 days ago | link

I found the last two sentences to be the most telling part of the whole piece:

>>There is something salutary in that proud defiance. And though the debate she sparked about Asian-American life has been of questionable value, we will need more people with the same kind of defiance, willing to push themselves into the spotlight and to make some noise, to beat people up, to seduce women, to make mistakes, to become entrepreneurs, to stop doggedly pursuing official paper emblems attesting to their worthiness, to stop thinking those scraps of paper will secure anyone’s happiness, and to dare to be interesting.<<

Degrees and certifications certainly don't make you interesting. But neither does wallowing in your own self-pity while yelling "fuck the system".

Passion makes people interesting. It doesn't matter if you're passionate about making pork buns or writing code. Huang (pork bun guy) sure sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than the author does. The best way to find your passion is to get out there and do things. Set goals. Accomplish them. If you focus on being miserable and espousing things like "fuck humility and hard work", how the hell are you ever going to be passionate about anything. And, so, how the hell are you ever going to be interesting?

Yang makes some decent points about Asian culture, but his idea that he's somehow the squeaky wheel or the loudest duck is laughable. He's the miserable whiny guy who everyone ignores, who decidedly isn't interesting. Guys like Tony Hsieh, the guys who don't shut up until they accomplish their goals, they're the only ones who ever get any grease.

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bluekite2000 1076 days ago | link

How I did it:

1. quit my corporate software engineering job (it was slowly killing my soul)

2. went surfing in maui for 2 weeks then bali for a month. when there was no waves, there were parties on Kuta beach

3. opened an English bookstore in Southeast Asia(highly risky considering I knew nothing about the local market or government censorship) Everyone I knew thought I was crazy. But I DIDNT care! For the first time in my life I was doing something meaningful, to me and to society.

4. met tons of babes (locals, other asian babes, europeans, americans) by going out every single night for 1 year straight (averaging 4 5 clubs per nite). Plus did tons of traveling around asia, south america and north america. Trust me you are forced to socialize when EVERYONE at the hostel was happy go lucky young backpackers. And the bookstore also attracted lots of girls (which was NOT the reason why I opened the store :)

5. Now I m back in Silicon Valley and guess what it is still the same (nice guys toiling away in front of their laptops while life, and hot babes, are passing them by) And I smile to myself. It is me who has changed!

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roel_v 1076 days ago | link

How old were you when you did this? It sound like you were beyond the typical early 20's backpacker age - weren't you the weird old guy around? (I feel like this in many situations already, I'm 31).

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bluekite2000 1075 days ago | link

I was 27. I quit after 3 years out of grad school. But you are right. I dont think its just age. It is also the differences in the backgrounds. You just need to adapt and mirror the other person. It is easier said than done but my social skills improved a lot because of that.

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erikpukinskis 1075 days ago | link

If you're relatively socially aware you should be able to tell the difference between being the weird older guy who is nonetheless awesome to have around, and the creepy older guy who can't tell when someone wants him to leave them alone.

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wallflower 1076 days ago | link

A friend from high school - he got top grades, got into a great school, got a MD and a PhD, married a beautiful, smart wife, became a surgeon, and had a healthy son.

After all of this, he went back to his grandfather overseas (who was very old) and told him, "I did everything you told me to do".

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flipside 1076 days ago | link

You forgot the last step, he has to raise his son to do all those things too.

This closes the loop to create the "asian circle of life".

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DrJ 1076 days ago | link

so he didn't want to be a Doctor? He didn't want a wife? who was smart? beautiful? He didn't want to be wealthy? He didn't want a family?

I don't get what you are trying to say here... Maybe you are trying to say that he wasn't happy? If you get all of that and you aren't happy, what will make you happy? being unemployed? being famous? maybe infamous?

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pyre 1076 days ago | link

With the emphasis on 'did,' I would assume that the grandfather was still acting like he hadn't done enough and, "I did everything that you asked me to," is the rebuttal to that. Sort of like this scary Asian dad that my wife encountered on the subway once (yelling at his ~7 year old kid):

  This is not perfect! It must be perfect! Not 80%.
  Not 90%. That's not perfect! Must be perfect!

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wallflower 1076 days ago | link

The gist was that his grandfather had pushed him very, very hard to study and work very, very hard from a very early age. And he was finally able to tell his grandfather that he could no longer tell him what to do/order him to work hard - he had done it all - he had done everything that the grandfather had pushed him to do. It is a sense of closure, more than anything but still very significant. My friend had ulcers in high school, if that is any indication of how hard he studied.

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phishphood 1076 days ago | link

Don't mean to hijack the thread but ulcers have nothing to do with how hard you study or how stressfull your life is; it is a misconception that really needs to be put to rest.

Most ulcers are caused by h. pylori infection (and sometimes by over-medication in childrens cases).

Your friend most likely ate unshashed fruits/vegetables overseas, or had access to someone who did

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skunkworks 1076 days ago | link

We all have h. pylori in our stomachs, but only some of us have ulcers. This is because stress plays a role in weakening the stomach's defenses, giving h. pylori a chance to create ulcers.

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jgamman 1076 days ago | link

i believe the nobel prize committee begs to differ: http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2005/p...

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streptomycin 1075 days ago | link

> Helicobacter pylori is a spiral-shaped Gram-negative bacterium that colonizes the stomach in about 50% of all humans.

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rayiner 1075 days ago | link

Did the grandfather say "and look at the great life it got you!"

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bo_Olean 1075 days ago | link

To make iteration feel more "asian":

"I did everything you told me to do, thanks grandpa!"

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Jun8 1076 days ago | link

This is one of the best descriptions of minority life in the US (or anywhere else) that I've read in quite a while.

I wish similar pieces would be written by and embraced by African-Americans. Sadly whenever such thoughts are expressed, they are met with negativity.

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michaelf 1076 days ago | link

Are you really suggesting that similar pieces haven't been written by African Americans? To my mind, the first several paragraphs were practically an homage to Ralph Ellison's "The Invisible Man." And Yang mentions Baldwin by name.

It seems to me that when those authors were writing (and earlier poets like Langston Hughes), the problems of assimilation and alienation were both more apparent (as in "WTF!!!") and at the same time more vague (as in "WTF???"). It demanded the attention of artists. It was the same era that included the most creative period in the development of Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement itself. I wonder if Asian-Americans find themselves at something of a similar juncture.

Ultimately, and unfortunately, I think the direction of African-American cultural identity ended up following in the direction Yang has set for himself. Yang says:

"The first step toward self-reform is to admit your deficiencies. Though my early adulthood has been a protracted education in them, I do not admit mine. I’m fine. It’s the rest of you who have a problem. Fuck all y’all."

He's obviously a bit tongue-in-cheek here, since earlier he wondered if his "defiance is just delusional, self-glorifying bullshit that artists have always told themselves to compensate for their poverty and powerlessness." I'm sure he's (ironically) comparing himself to African Americans (otherwise, why the black vernacular "Fuck all y'all"?).

Something he touches on but doesn't really flesh-out is the problem with defining yourself in the negative -- that is, defining yourself in terms of things you won't do because you've already established a social identity where you aren't that thing. When he says "I love this hard and unyielding part of myself more than any other reward the world has to offer a newly brightened and ingratiating demeanor, and I will bear any costs associated with it," I hear the the constant refrain in the African-American community to "keep it real", where what this really means is "don't range widely." And incidentally, this is also recognized by African-Americans -- see Dave Chappelle's sketch "When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong."

(btw, I'm an African American software engineer, so issues of race and culture are unavoidably fascinating to me)

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Jun8 1076 days ago | link

No. My observation was that (as a general tendency, a lot of exceptions, of course, exist) self-criticism in the African-American community is usually met with attacks ranging from "you are hitting below the belt, these are poor, choice-less people" to the more crude ones along the lines of Uncle Tom-ism and being an Oreo (compare with OP's "Twinkie").

I haven't read Ellison much but am familiar with Baldwin and the vicious attacks leveled at him from the black community (coincidence: I was reading about his years in Turkey just yesterday : http://www.dukeupress.edu/Catalog/ViewProduct.php?productid=...). Remember how Cosby was vilified for his (somewhat simplistic) remarks about low-income black families in 2004? Many other examples can be given, I think.

I totally agree with your points, esp. "defining yourself in the negative", which I observed the case to be with many African-Americans I've met in college (at work such topics are rarely discussed). Unfortunately, as far as I can see, negative stereotypes are continuously being glorified and perpetuated within the community. When I was watching Waiting for Superman I was blown away by Geoffrey Canada's no-nonsense approach, I think more of that needed.

You, of course, have firsthand experience. It would be great if you can elaborate on some of these points.

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michaelf 1076 days ago | link

Apologies for unfairly characterizing your statement. And I do agree that self-criticism in the black community is very typically met with hostility, and that "negative stereotypes" are perhaps too frequently glorified.

Regarding Cosby's remark about black families, I certainly understand his sentiment, but I agree it was somewhat simplistic. My father (and my grandparents) all had a pretty similar view to Cosby's. In the particular black neighborhood of Philadelphia where he was from, that type of conservatism was the norm. By the early '70s, several of his friends (along with him) had graduated from college and moved out of the cities into the predominantly white suburbs, and this cohort was for the most part extremely successful. Not everyone managed to get out of the city, though, and it wasn't because the ones who stayed behind were necessarily lazier or less hard working (though certainly many of them were). For the most part, the opportunities just ran out.

With that came, I think, a lot of the anti-assimilationist sentiment you see today. Yang mentions something similar in his article. When you work your ass off to excel in all of the culturally approved ways, but nonetheless you are passed-over for someone who worked half as hard as you, what are you to think? There's a whole generation of older black men who were stung in this way (and, as Yang mentions, a whole generation of Asian men in a similar, but largely better, situation). (And incidentally, I'm speaking about men instead of women because women face different challenges that I'm not qualified to discuss). In many ways, I don't think the situation is much different than what lead to hooliganism in the UK during the '80s.

So is the situation getting worse, better, or staying the same? Economically, it's a hard time for a lot of people. Kids graduating from college (of any race) are having a hard time finding jobs. Thirty-somethings who saved up to buy homes in 2005 are underwater. As global inequalities are being addressed, global competition is at its highest, particularly for jobs that previously would have been "entry-level". These are also the sort jobs which are most prone to nepotism.

Its hard to say what lessons will be drawn from this period. It seems entirely possible that many of the hardest working, most optimistic young black people of this generation will find themselves out of work, disillusioned, and wondering why they didn't just have more fun in high school (and passing that attitude on to their kids).

BTW, you might (should) say "Don't Asian Americans face the same economic difficulties? They're employed at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the country." This is true, of course, and there's a lot to say about that. But I think this post is already too long, and none of this has been particularly relevant to hacking, except maybe societal hacking. Maybe I can end with a question: why don't white kids, generally, work as hard as Asians, especially when they are being out-competed for valuable educational opportunities?

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Jun8 1074 days ago | link

michaelf, I have to say: you are one of the most eloquent commenters I had a chance to correspond in HN. I would very much like to continue the discussion with you, if you want.

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triviatise 1075 days ago | link

outliers attempts to provide some explanations for this. It comes down to rice fields and culture

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wan23 1076 days ago | link

Just like how at the beginning of this piece the author talks about how different his own experience is from what he is describing, many African Americans who grow up to be writers (or read HN for that matter) have had a different experience than the majority.

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jinushaun 1076 days ago | link

The fundamental fallacy of this article is that being the founder of the next Facebook or CEO of a large Fortune 100 company equals success. These Asian parents simply want their children to do better than they did when they came to the US, which pretty much means a comfortable white collar job over a back-breaking blue collar job.

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potatolicious 1076 days ago | link

But what is doing better?

As an Asian immigrant myself I have no shortage of people in my circles who are absolutely miserable being upper-middle class white collar workers.

Asian upbringings do not optimize for happiness, nor even physical well-being. It seeks to maximize income - and it does quite well at that.

We're taught from a young age that we must work hard in school. Why? So we can test well and make it into a good high school (it works that way in much of Asia). Then we must study hard - to make it into a good college. Then we must study ever harder - to excel and be considered for a well-paying job.

Then the progression stops, and the advice runs out. All your life the entire raison d'etre for you has been The Next Step, but now there is none. You've done it, you've hit the end, trumpets are supposed to blare, and... and...

And then what?

You have an entire generation of people who pushed, prodded, and hauled their entire existence to work hard so they may have a good life - but in that process they were never taught what a good life was.

I found myself in that position going through college. I sacrificed socialization in exchange for raw academic performance, and found myself unable to connect with the people around me. I was making six figures out of college, but had nothing to spend it on, save gadgetry and fast machines - tools that allowed to bury myself in a world where I wasn't a mostly socially-retarded 20-something that had stunted social skills, no artistic or creative inclinations, no hobbies, and a circle consisting mostly of equally lost young professionals like myself. It's taken every ounce of effort and time (and a not insignificant sum of money) to start digging myself out of this hole - and I suppose my warning to people is to never dig that hole in the first place.

If you're going to waste away your teens just so you can waste away your twenties catching up to the rest of the world, don't.

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LargeWu 1076 days ago | link

About a month ago I was doing some nonprofit work for a local youth organization, and was working with a 16 year old who was already taking college level pre-med classes. He explained that he was going to be either a doctor or an engineer "because, you know, I'm Asian". Someone else later asked him if he wanted to be a doctor, and he replied "it's sort of the family business", as though he had no choice in the matter. (his father is a doctor at a very prestigious clinic).

All the while, he seemed very interested in the development work we were doing, but being "merely" a web developer would not be an appropriate profession. I got the feeling that even if he had no interest in medicine or engineering he felt compelled to pursue one of those careers to satisfy expectations. I wanted to tell him just to slow down and enjoy being young a bit, but it wasn't any of my business, and it wouldn't matter anyway. I just feel bad that this poor kid is going to miss out on some of the best parts of college because he's too focused on reaching a goal he probably doesn't even really want.

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rayiner 1075 days ago | link

It's definitely a cultural thing, but everyone always misses one angle of the story. Asian parents tell you to work hard and become a doctor or an engineer not necessarily to make yourself happy, but so you can provide well for your family.

It's a mentality that was wholly familiar to our grandparents, but seems to have skipped the baby boomer generation and I'm not sure the country is better for it.

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lurker19 1076 days ago | link

Arnold Kim got his MD and even practiced for a while before retiring from medicine to work on Macrumors.com full time.

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zasz 1076 days ago | link

And wouldn't it have been nice if he could have saved himself a decade of the pain that is medical school, residency, and practice, by leaping into the tech industry earlier?

It would be one thing if he had been making all his own choices, but Arnold Kim lost several years of his life strictly due to his parents' misguided ideas. He very likely could have found the thing he loved sooner without their overbearance. That's a tragedy.

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arn 1075 days ago | link

I feel obligated to respond, since I was mentioned, though I'm not sure I have any great insight into the matter.

It's one of those situations in life in which where you end up makes sense only in retrospect, as all those steps led you to where you are. What would have happened if I didn't go the pre-med/medschool route? I'm not entirely sure. I was a computer science guy in college, so absent pursuing a medical career, I probably would have ended up as a programmer somewhere after college ('96). Maybe I would have gotten rich in the craziness or maybe I would have been a victim of the .com crash.

I do think that if I was in college in the past few years, the startup culture and iphone app opportunities would have infected me, and I probably would have had to make an earlier decision.

Though, if I hadn't gone down the path, I don't think MacRumors.com would exist, as there was a timing/luck element to it. Not that I think success is entirely dependent on luck but a matter of taking advantage of circumstances as they arrive. I got married and had kids during that med school diversion, so certainly have no regrets there.

As for parental pressure/expectations on kids, it's something I've thought about especially after becoming a parent. I think as a parent, in many ways, you try to right the wrongs, fulfill the desires, or fix the challenges when you grew up. For immigrant parents, financial stability is probably the #1 hurdle they had, so they want their kids to go to college, get a white color job. That's what they've been struggling with. As someone who grew up financially stable, and being well off now, my priority for my kids is more of a focus on happiness and doing what they want. But that's a luxury that you can afford once financial stability is a given.

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misterbwong 1075 days ago | link

Yes, if nice == more efficient. Who's to say he would have even thought of leaping into the tech industry had he not been in med school?

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fragmede 1076 days ago | link

"My father never went to college so it was really important I go to college. After college, I called him long distance and said, now what? My dad didn't know, so he said get a job. When I got a job and turned twenty-five, long distance, I said, now what?" -Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

It's not a quality unique to an Asian upbringing. Chuck Palahniuk was born in the Tri-city area in the state of Washington.

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marshray 1076 days ago | link

Yes, but the freedom to ask "the self-fulfillment question" is new to some families.

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wattsbaat 1076 days ago | link

> Then the progression stops, and the advice runs out. All your life the entire raison d'etre for you has been The Next Step, but now there is none. You've done it, you've hit the end, trumpets are supposed to blare, and... and... And then what?

You must have either seen this or you don't need to.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ERbvKrH-GC4

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potatolicious 1076 days ago | link

I first saw that right when I was going through this whole existential crisis after college. Suffice to say it got me sad and mad all at once - sad that I haven't seen and comprehended this video earlier (though tbh, it wouldn't have made a difference), mad that it took me this long to realize the fundamental truth of what it posits.

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mturmon 1076 days ago | link

A lot of old Alan Watts recordings are still played on KPFK and perhaps other Pacifica stations. There was a time when the West coast avant garde consisted of both artists and nerds, less so now.

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kin 1075 days ago | link

May I ask where you grew up and what schools you went to? I grew up and went to college with Tiger cubs and high school/college was the best years of our lives on top of great grades, honor societies, and successful post-grad careers. Not to rub it in or anything, but work hard / play hard is the motto. What did you during free time? Study more? That's hard to believe on my end.

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potatolicious 1075 days ago | link

I'm a Taiwanese-Canadian, first generation. Grew up in Vancouver, went to college at Waterloo.

Everyone in my peer group at college has successful post-grad careers - it doesn't mean squat in terms of general happiness and life satisfaction, though. We're all making way more money than we need, but many are feeling rather empty otherwise.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed college, in so far as one enjoys a nearly-continuous 4-year stint of drunkenness spliced with pedal-to-metal studying.

But after we left, what did we do? Few of us had real hobbies - our time in college was either studying our asses off or doing keg stands to unwind, not exactly a lot of room for self-development or figuring out your passions. So we just kept doing it after graduation - hell, we were real ballas at the club now, not just broke-ass students!

The novelty of that didn't last very long. Some of us are still at it - but a lot of us are starting to wonder why we just spent all this time not having a life, studying our asses off, and now we're just a bunch of under-cultured, under-learned 20-somethings making too much money, with nothing more worthwhile in our lives than flashing money at chic high-end lounges and doing shots of expensive liquor.

Some people might look at this and think we have it great - and maybe you live this life also and think it's awesome. Personally - and for many of my peers - this is a nightmare. We lead an excessive, vapid existence despite having the resources to live fulfilling, rich lives... because we never bothered to slow down and learn how.

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kin 1075 days ago | link

Funny, I'm friends with a Taiwanese-Canadian first generation that grew up in Vancouver. He starting off working for the man straight out of college and now leads a team just after a year. I don't know about passion but he's well off in terms of rising the ranks.

What you seem to be talking about is passion, and finding your passion is a lot harder with a typical Asian upbringing. I'll agree to that. However, it's how our education system works. As a kid, most only know to go to a good school to secure a job. It's even what the movies teach you. I guess my main point is, for me, my work is my passion and I love what I do (make social games and side projects). My question for you is, are you saying you really have no hobbies and/or passions?

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Psyonic 1075 days ago | link

I'm not Asian, but I can sympathize. I've been working to change that for a few years now.

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