Monday, October 22, 2007

Instant (Un)(Dis)(Non)Gratification?

Last Tuesday night, while waiting for some copies at the Kinko's on Grand and Snelling, I wandered into their new book section and picked up Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. A week later, I'm about 15 pages from finishing it. My snap judgment on a book about snap judgments: I don't know if it's genius or horse hockey.

All I had previously read from Gladwell was a New Yorker piece on dependency ratios that caught my eye because it ran counter to the conventional wisdom on Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" economic miracle. Liberals credited it to government subsidizing of higher education. Conservatives pointed to the slashing of corporate taxes. All could agree that a massive influx of European Union capital had a, uh... profound effect. But Gladwell argued that the true reason lay behind the legalization of birth control, which created a larger ratio of working-age people to the old and the young (dependents)... and this is always the real formula for economic growth. He made a convincing case.

Blink is similarly convincing... addictive even. I found it hard to put down from the moment I saw it in Kinko's. But that's precisely the problem. I've become more and more skeptical about anything that is instantly riveting.

It started with music: how many songs or albums that were great on the very first listen actually pass the test of time... and how many that seem average at first turn out to be genius? I couldn't stand Bob Dylan until I was about 25, but I stayed up nights reading Dan Brown's Angels & Demons. Sugar is instantly gratifying. I hated my first coffee.

As for Blink, as of right now it's one of the more fascinating books I've ever come across. Gladwell is an incredible storyteller, writer and organizer of information. And this is exactly why I'm suspicious. Anyone with those three gifts has the ability to make compelling arguments regardless of whether or not they actually hold any truth. Just look at Karl Rove.

5 comments:

mike said...

Tom, Susan and I got to meet Gladwell when he was in town speaking at the Crime and Justice benefit. You're right -- Blink is a hyperaddictive read. But I'm sure the Larson-Lewis project would have something to say about Gladwell's sleight of hand with facts, at least some of the facts in his talk.

michael f. said...

He sure looks ridiculous with all that hair...

So, whatever happened in the office-wrap caper? Suspects? Verdicts? Denouement?

Oh, and Marc, Notre Dame 20 - UCLA 6. (Then the Bruins had to go ruin the season of my beloved Bears...)
Does that mean the Dems have a chance after all?

Marc Conklin said...

Oh, I know the story on SaranGate. But I take a while to plot my revenge.

I guess if you use ND as a gauge, the Dems have a 1 in 8 chance. It depends on if the Republicans pit them against USC or Duke.

The Wordman said...

report from one half of the Larson/Lewis Project... the guy's a snakeoil salesman with an eye for the statistics of optimism that denies complexity and deep historical patterns. so sez I.

Vegas Gopher said...

The Republicans don't have any potential USCs on the debate trail at this point. The best I see is a couple of Colorado States, a Tulane and a Tulsa. And, of course, a BYU.