Quantcast
Writing Yourself Off - Dilbert Blog

Writing Yourself Off

One of the many disadvantages of being me is that sometimes I have awful ideas that get stuck in my head and I have to purge them to make room for what I hope is something better. Today is one of those days. I apologize in advance for the post that follows. You should stop reading now. Seriously. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

We humans can’t tickle ourselves as effectively as strangers can tickle us. Scientists think it has something to do with the element of unpredictability. When you try to tickle yourself, you know what’s coming just ahead of the sensation and your mind prepares for it.

Likewise, it feels better when someone else rubs your neck. I suppose part of the reason is that your hand can’t get a good angle on your own neck, and you can’t simultaneously relax the rest of your body while rubbing with just one hand. Add to that the lack of predictability and a self-neck-rub isn’t ideal.

There is at least one other human activity that feels better when someone else does it for you. It’s not exactly tickling, and it’s not exactly a massage, and I can’t exactly describe it in my otherwise PG-13 blog. But if I know my readers, all of you know what I’m talking about and 50% of you are doing it right now. That activity is the topic for the remainder of this post. I’ll refer to it as noodling. And let’s assume I’m only talking about females doing the noodling just to keep the engineering simpler. That will make sense in a minute.

Suppose we want to invent a system that might be described as a self-noodler, and we want it to have the element of unpredictability. Could we make such a device? Yes, obviously you could write a program that would cause a hypothetical noodling device to vibrate at random intervals. But the problem I anticipate with that design is the lack of humanity. My guess is that a user would perceive machine-made randomness as boring and impersonal. Noodling is at its best when the recipient has the perception that some sort of human intention is behind the action. Can we solve that without the involvement of another human while maintaining a lack of predictability?

Suppose you wrote a program that translated written words into vibrations. Perhaps the specific vibration would depend on the length of words, number of syllables, tone of the sentence, punctuation, and other factors. Presumably, Hemingway’s text would create different pattern of vibrations from Shakespeare’s sonnets, and so on. My hypothesis is that we humans are so wired for language that the patterns of the vibrations that originate from the written word would register to us as both human-made and – here’s the best part – unpredictable. That’s the Holy Grail.

If my hypothesis is correct, a user of this marvelous self-noodling system could choose whatever text works best in her particular case. One user might prefer translating the text of an interview with Brad Pitt. Another might find some emails from an old boyfriend and run those through the text-to-vibration system. Some might find a favorite author that does the trick. If the system works, it will give new meaning to the phrase “He wrote me off.”

I don’t know what the other presidential candidates are doing today, but if they think they can make you happy by fiddling with your taxes, I would respectfully suggest they don’t understand your priorities.