A laptop employed as a nightlight

This post is kind of from two years ago. I got thinking about it again last night when I was reading Wait But Why’s The Cook and the Chef, an article describing how Elon Musk does what he does, which is a lot. The author, Tim Urban, is using an analogy of chefs as those who actually do something original and cooks who just follow recipes. He remarks that most people think that most people are chefs and then some chefs are just better than others… but that a better model is that most people are cooks (some better than others) and then the main difference between most people and Elon Musk isn’t quantitative (“he’s smarter”) but rather qualitative (“he does things differently”).

It’s like a bunch of typewriters looking at a computer and saying, “Man, that is one talented typewriter.”

Imagine a laptop.
What can you use it for?
That laptop can be used as a paperweight.
It is, in fact, better than some objects (such as a pen) at being a paperweight.
But that’s probably a waste of the laptop.
What else can you use it for?
It can also be used as a nightlight.
It has quite a lot of comparative advantage at being a nightlight—most objects don’t emit light, so a laptop works pretty well there.
However, it’s still a huge waste.
And, if you’re a human, not a computer, it feels terrible to be wasted: to not be used for your full range of capabilities.
» read the rest of this entry »

Wanting to escape the present

I was a huge ZenHabits fan back in high school when he was more habits and less zen. I don’t really follow it these days, but I just happened upon this recent post and found it resonated a lot.

Something I forget a lot, and have to remind myself about a lot: I’m not on my way somewhere.

This moment isn’t just a stepping stone to get to another place. It’s the destination. I’m already here.

I’m not on my way to a more important moment. This current moment is the most important moment.

I’m familiar with the experience of wanting time to move faster because some future event seems better than the present… and I’ve been trying for awhile to figure out how much sense that actually makes.

Why might you want time to move faster?

I mean, the short answer is that the future seems better than the present. This seems to apply really broadly: students who dislike school find themselves wishing they could just fast-forward a few years. On the other end of the spectrum, someone being tortured would also like to fast-forward out of the experience. (This post is aimed towards the boredom thing, not the torture thing.)

But you can’t fast-forward. Especially not in acute situations where you’re already in them. Outside of that, well, you can distract yourself, or even intoxicate yourself, such that you don’t really notice what’s going on as time passes. You can even simply sleep longer—the classic technique known as “make Santa come sooner”.

But if I’m sitting in a boring meeting or meal, I basically can’t fast-forward. And yet I want to. Why?

In particular, why is it associated with such discomfort?

» read the rest of this entry »

Reveal Culture

I have things to say about the Ask/Guess/Tell Cultures model, and an addition/amendment to propose: Reveal Culture. Shifting cultures is hard, so what you’re about to read is not going to have a quality of “let’s all go do this!” I do think it’s worth talking about a lot more, and working on gradually and creatively with others who are game to experiment with culture-crafting.

This post is going to assume that you’re familiar with the Ask/Guess Culture model at the very least. I don’t want to have to explain the whole concept from scratch. The post is written with a Tell Culture familiar audience in mind, although I think it would be worth reading without it. I will talk about each in turn and my understanding of how they work, so you understanding them well is not a prerequisite for this post.

I do want to note that I think it makes more sense to talk about “ask cultures” or even “Guess-based cultures” though, rather than in the singular. This is helpful for keeping salient the fact that there are many very different cultures built upon the platform of Ask or of Guess.

So I’m going to use Majuscule Singular to talk about the platforms and lowercase plurals to talk about the cultures themselves.

Why am I using a new term?

I want to talk about a new cultural platform: Reveal Culture.

It has similarities to Tell Culture, but I’m choosing a new name for three reasons:

  • because I think that people read a lot into the names (for example assuming that if you ask a question then it must not be Guess Culture) (more on this as a general issue)
  • I think the name “Reveal Culture” suits this particular thing better than “Tell” (For what it’s worth, I think that “Infer” probably suits Guess a lot better than “Guess” does.)
  • I don’t want people to associate what I’m putting out with those who are trying to do tell culture with everybody just based on reading Brienne’s post. A culture doesn’t shift overnight: the reveal-based culture that I have experience with has been working at this for over a decade (I’ve been involved for 3 years) and it’s only just now becoming robust.

I’ll talk later about why I’ve chosen the name “Reveal”. Right now I want to talk about the structure of the models.

Why are they called “cultures” and not just “styles” or “strategies”?

In internet discussions, there have been proposals to refer to Ask/Guess/Tell as (variably) styles, strategies, skills, techniques, habits or something else (rather than “cultures”). In some cases, I think that this suggestion arises out of an oversimplification of how they actually work, although Brienne pointed out to me that there’s at least one good reason to avoid the term ‘culture’: “because ‘culture’ is way too close to ‘tribe’, and it makes people focus on cheering or defense.”

Unfortunately, those other terms aren’t sufficiently complex to model the dynamics. » read the rest of this entry »

Creating contexts for desire cultivation


Nate Soares just published the first article to The Mind’s UI, a group blog that I’ve set up with him and Brienne Yudkowsky. It’s called Enjoying the feeling of agency, and in it Nate said that one thing that helps with that enjoyment is

Context and framing: it’s much easier to draw satisfaction from a clean room if your mother didn’t make you clean it.

I wanted to elaborate on that, drawing on very recent (even ongoing) experiences of being home for the holidays.

I’ve spent the last year living in an intentional learning community (let’s call it LRC) that has a number of interesting features. One of these, as I’ve described before, is that nobody ever has to do the dishes. We have some agreements about how we want to keep the kitchen space and the cooking utensils available for use; even here, nobody ever yells or guilt trips people for not following them. At our best, we approach the act of giving that kind of feedback with openness and curiosity. Sometimes it produces experiences of frustration which are processed in a different way.

But the point is, for the most part, we all get to navigate the kitchen based on our own desires and needs, and our abilities to discern what makes sense. This is really relaxing. But that’s not the only reason we do it.


When I got back to Nova Scotia to see my family a couple weeks ago, I was amused to experience surprise when I saw a bunch of dirty dishes in the sink. I had become very accustomed to the fact that part of our dishing system in the LRC house where I live is that we stack dirty dishes next to the sink rather than in them, which makes for much better flow in various ways. I looked at the pile of dishes in the sink and figured that it would look a lot nicer if they were washed or put in the dishwasher. So I did that.

» read the rest of this entry »

On Feeling Uncomfortable as Information

Two experiences in the last 48h have caused me to redesign some of my language and communication patterns in a pretty serious way. I suspect that these are generally applicable and very useful, so I’m sharing!

Before I get into it, take a moment and see what comes to mind when you read the phrases “that made me feel uncomfortable” or “I noticed some discomfort while reading that.”


Okay, turns out that I’d been using phrases like that, and they were totally backfiring, because they communicated something totally different than what I was intending to communicate.

In a community: around “offensive” “jokes”

On a mailing list I frequent, someone offhandedly made a remark that was intended to be humorous. I felt uncomfortable reading it, which I shared with the group, along with an explanation for why I consciously endorsed that feeling of discomfort. Fortunately, I edited the subject before replying, because it prompted a massive email thread about (among other things) whether or not it makes sense to be offended by things and whether or not it makes sense to avoid saying things that will make people uncomfortable. And a bit about the content-level topic itself.

Someone else shared that their perception of this conversation was that I was trying to shame the OP for what he had said, to which I responded:

Thanks for the feedback that that was how it looked. I will maintain, as one of the main this-made-me-uncomfortable-sayers, that I was not intending to send any guilt or shame.

However, I’ll drink my own medicine, noting that this whole conversation happened because of person A saying something that was interpreted by person B in an unexpectedly negative way.

So I just did the same thing!

*sheepish look*

» read the rest of this entry »

Communication: Trust and Crocker’s Rules

So there’s a thing called Crocker’s Rules which is rather popular in my network. At any time, one can declare to be operating by these rules, a declaration that constitutes a commitment to being fully open to feedback that isn’t couched in social niceties etc. The idea is it’s supposed to be a much more efficient/optimal way to communicate things. To me, Crocker’s Rules seem like a high ROI hack for getting certain things that I like about deep trust.

What is and isn’t Crocker’s Rules?

From the canonical article:

Declaring yourself to be operating by “Crocker’s Rules” means that other people are allowed to optimize their messages for information, not for being nice to you. Crocker’s Rules means that you have accepted full responsibility for the operation of your own mind – if you’re offended, it’s your fault. Anyone is allowed to call you a moron and claim to be doing you a favor.

First we need to ask ourselves what we mean by being “offended”. One of my all-time favorite articles is titled Why I’m Not Offended By Rape Jokes, and its opening paragraph reads:

I am not offended by rape jokes. Offended is how my grandmother feels if I accidentally swear during a conversation with her; the word describes a reaction to something you think is impolite or inappropriate. It is a profoundly inadequate descriptor for the sudden pinching in my chest and the swelling of fear and sadness that I feel when someone makes a rape joke in my presence.

So sure, I think declaring Crocker’s Rules includes relinquishing the right to claim someone said something impolite or inappropriate. It also means giving someone the benefit of the doubt around them being inconsiderate. However, there are lots of potentially cruel things they could say, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect those not to hurt.

People sometimes talk about Radical Honesty, a policy which is easy to confuse for Crocker’s Rules (though they’re kind of the opposite) and which can sometimes just come off as Not-that-radical Being-a-dick. There is a lot to be said for direct and open communication, but somebody who just says “you’re a moron” isn’t usually being helpful. Tact can be valuable: saying everything that’s on your mind might not actually help you or the other person achieve your goals. The brain secretes thoughts! Some of them happen to be totally useless or even harmful! [EDIT 2021: I would no longer say this so categorically. Read Dream Mashups for a better sense of how I’d talk about this now.] And, just like you don’t want to identify with unduly-negative self-judgements, not all thoughts about someone else are worth granting speech.

On a related note, I know someone whose contact page used to say something to the effect of “I operate by Crocker’s Rules, but I’m also an ape, so I’m likely to be more receptive to criticism if it is friendly.”

The most efficient communication paradigm

I want to touch on the question of efficiency. Are Crocker’s Rules optimally efficient as a communication paradigm? On an information level, theoretically yes, as it tautologically eschews adding extra information. On a meta-information level it is very efficient as well, as the act of declaring Crocker’s Rules is a very succinct way to communicate to someone else that you want to be efficient in this way.

However, there’s more to communication than information, especially when it comes to interpersonal dynamics. I talked about this in my post on feedback a few months ago. Sometimes the feedback you most need isn’t efficient. Sometimes it’s vague and hard to express clearly in just a few words, and would become garbled in the process. Sometimes the feedback is a feeling. It’s saying “when I experience you doing X, it makes me feel Y.” And this requires vulnerability on the part of the person giving the feedback, which can’t be caused by any amount of you self-declaring Crocker’s Rules. For that, you need trust.

In the short-term, trust-based communication can be incredibly slow. I thought of using an adverb like “excruciatingly” there, but I actually find it very pleasurable. It’s just frustrating if you’re in a rush. In the long-term, however, building trust allows for even more efficient/optimal interactions than Crocker’s Rules, because you have a higher-bandwidth channel.

Acute Crocker’s Rules

I believe that the primary useful function of Crocker’s Rules is in acute usage, such as soliciting honest general feedback or soliciting any kind of feedback really. Mentioning Crocker’s Rules in such a context is very effective shorthand for indicating that you want all of the grittiest, most brutal feedback the person is willing to offer, not just surface stuff or “grinfucking“. The article doesn’t have a quotable definition for that term, but it’s essentially giving someone bland positive feedback when your honest feedback would be strongly negative. You’re grinning at them but in the long-run the lack of honest feedback is fucking them over.

To me, Crocker’s Rules seem like a high ROI hack for getting certain things that I like about deep trust. I think its ultimate form would in fact be a kind of trust: a trust that the other person fundamentally has your best interest in mind. However, we often can’t reasonably have that trust yet in many contexts in which we’d like honest feedback. Hence approximations like Crocker’s Rules.

So You Want To Sleep Polyphasically

Over the past few years (and mostly this summer) I’ve amassed a myriad of experience surrounding the enigmatic topic of polyphasic sleep. I’ve yet to write a comprehensive polyphasic adaptation advice post, so here goes. (This post was adapted from an email to a friend who is just starting his adaptation.)

I recommend reading puredoxyk’s book Ubersleep as well and following most of her advice: after all, she’s one of the first of not-very-many people to sleep on the uberman schedule, and has also spent years on various other polyphasic schedules. I would recommend reading that before adapting, as it really helps you create a good mindset for this kind of behavioural shift. Since at this stage you may not have time to read it before starting your adaptation, I’m going to pull out the key pieces of advice for you:

Notes from Ubersleep 2.0

1. Keep to your naps exactly on schedule, while adapting.

This isn’t ±1h, and ideally isn’t even ±5mins. Aim for ±1min. In order to do this, you’ll probably want to have an “alarm” on your phone that goes off shortly before your nap. I have one 10mins before with a snooze time of 6mins, set to a nice pleasant sound. 10mins is like “you’d better know where you’re napping and any details” and 4mins is like “you’d better excuse yourself from whoever you’re with or whatever you’re doing and go sleep.”

2. Practice getting up to your alarm.

The longer the routine, the more effective, but the harder to maintain. Good idea to have the first steps include rapid movement like arm-and-head-flailing, and possibly rendering your mattress temporarily un-sleep-on-able. Easy mode: put various cumbersome objects on it. Hard mode: put a large bowl full-to-the-brim of water on it.

3. Why I Want to be Polyphasic

Write that at the top of a piece of paper, answer it below, and put that paper somewhere where you can remind yourself of your long-term goals and how awesome they are, when you’re at the depths of tiredness.

4. Make a big fat list (BFL) of stuff to do while you’re tired.

Try to minimize external obligations during this time, and be aware that there will probably be times when you are too tired to do a seated computer task. At those times you have to admit it and do something energetic instead. Realize that even if you sit there and try to work, you won’t get anything done anyway. But you do have a lot of time to get other random fiddly things done. Puredoxyk apparently had like 80 things on her initial list and she finished all of them within a few days.

5. Make a list of things you might do before going to bed.

PD recommends:

  • start making some food
  • start an interesting project
  • do a pep talk
  • make plans with someone (online or irl)
  • rotate alarms (sometimes you’ll get used to the ones you’re using)
  • watch the first bit of a movie (I recommend the show Orphan Black, which is extremely suspenseful)

6. Have a ton of alarms to make sure you always wake up.

This one mostly wasn’t necessary for me, as I don’t think I’ve had a single instance where I didn’t at least wake to the end of Matt’s sleep tracks. However, waking and actually rising are totally different. Puredoxyk recommends things as weird as putting various appliances on timer switches so that they’ll start blending, or toasting, or whatever, when you’re supposed to get up. Another option is to take something that needs to stay frozen out of the freezer before your nap. Then if you oversleep, it goes bad. Anything to increase the pressure on the “get up” side of your body’s internal fight. I like Sleep as Android, which forces me to scan a QR code (which I keep in the bathroom) in order to turn it off.

7. Have a buddy.

Have a dozen (err, don’t have so many that you have bystander effect). Preferably in person, and preferably someone who can be with you during your darkest hours (which may not necessarily be the literally darkest hours; for me it was often 5am-11am). If someone else is adapting with you, that can be really effective, as your downswings in energy may not be simultaneous

A photo of a cat doing a faceplant into some cushions, with text that reads "I will nap... HERE".

Don’t let this be you. Not worth it.

Personal advice (i.e not from Ubersleep)

8. Incentivize yourself to avoid even the slightest extra sleep.

I haven’t actually tried this, but you might consider putting a really high financial (or experiential; could be eating a cockroach) penalty on being asleep for more than 30 consecutive mins ever during your adaptation (with an appropriate caveat for schedules with cores). This could add extra gravitas to the need to stay awake constantly, and because the penalty applies every time, it would ruin any ability to say “just this once”. Obviously you want to be careful with this because sometimes you might be totally blindsided and feel like it wasn’t your fault. Still though, like Beeminder, this would allow you to be hyper-vigilant about the moment-to-moment decisions so as to achieve your ultimate goal. This could be combined with tip #7

9. Find a way to get past the discomfort of realizing you’ve already messed up.

Something further from my own experience: I would sometimes doze off, and then half-wake-up but not actually get up. I think part of this comes from not wanting to consciously face the shittiness of just having overslept. But it So you might consider a separate motivational hack in that case. That would be almost impossible to actually enforce though, which means it might not make sense. At the very least, be aware that this might happen.

10. Move objects fast and rotationally.

Something for the Big Fat List: learn to juggle, or (even better) spin poi or devil sticks. I’ve found this to be a very wakefulness-inducing activity. Juggling is okay but I think poi and devil sticks are better as they allow you to build up a lot of rotational momentum in objects, which is really engaging and exciting. Juggling balls doesn’t have that. Juggling pins, maybe? This sort of thing only costs $20-$40 to start, so it’s worth going and buying some objects like this for the sake of adaptation, unless you’re extremely broke.

How to think about the adapation process

Unfortunately, not much is known about the mechanism by which polyphasic adaptation works, and there are actually several models of this. The model that polyphasicsociety.com uses is that napping is mostly a skill to be learned, so they make suggestions like the Nap Exaptation (often “naptations”) which involves taking a lot of practice naps. Puredoxyk’s model is that your body needs to be taught to get its sleep at different times of day than it did before. At first, deprived of sleep during the normal hours, the body will respond violently with a survival response designed to get you to fall asleep immediately at all costs. Then, once you refuse to yield, the body tries a different tactic, which is to get sleep during the polyphasic periods allotted. If you give in, you tell your body that the sleep deprivation works, and thus it doesn’t try adapting.

Based on that, you want your immediate response to “I’m dozing off” to be “OMFG I better run around the block right now! It’s life or death!!!” Maybe not that dramatic, but that’s better than your response being “well, I’ll just get up in a few moments”. If you have the ability to install dramatic imagery, you might try something like a bear chasing you and forcing you to hibernate with it. More realistically, you could simply suddenly point your fist to the sky and say “No! I must not sleep! Sleep is the time-killer! Sleep is the little death that brings total hibernation!”

One thing that is embarrassingly common to see among wannabe polyphasers (including a younger Malcolm) is to remark, mid-adaptation, something to the effect of “clearly my body isn’t meant for this”. This, I think, is the counterpart to the legitimately mindblowing reality that even with no experience, you’re still way more rested with 20min naps every 4h than not. This can lead to a sense of “wow, my body is doing this cool thing.” Which it is. Just know that until your body is doing that consistently and you feel totally rested almost all of the time, rather than rested-enough some of the time, you are not fully adapted. Being not fully adapted means that you’re still experiencing sleep deprivation, which yes, your body is not meant for.

But don’t confuse this temporary pain for an incompatibility with the system long-term. This is like visiting Brazil for a week and saying, “I could never live there! I couldn’t understand anybody!” Your brain is much more malleable than you think.

(As far as I can tell, neither Puredoxyk’s model nor Forevernade’s model on PolySoc really explain all of the data I’ve experienced. So there’s clearly more to it. They both have their merits though.)

Tiny tips

  • Want to nap barefoot, but hate putting on cold socks afterwards? Sleep on your socks! This works for most kinds of clothing, actually.
  • The sleeve of a long-sleeved t-shirt makes a great face-mask to keep the brightness out.
  • Anything that involves moving about energetically is great for wakefulness. Unless it’s dangerous.
  • I found I would sometimes feel like I was relying on backup alarms, so instead of setting it to on I would tap the toggle button over a dozen times without looking, which means that there were decent odds of me having a backup alarm, but it was something I couldn’t rely on.
  • Puredoxyk recommends not eating shortly before or after naps, but I once was literally still chewing meat as I laid down and I proceeded to have 15mins of REM sleep. So…

YES! I noticed!

This is a response to Can You Condition Yourself? on Slate Star Codex. Upon hearing about the “Propagating Urges” technique taught by CFAR, Scott was doubtful that humans could indeed successfully train themselves using operant conditioning. This is my response, which was also posted as a comment. I agree with him for some things but note that the technique has still been personally valuable to me and could be much more so.

I don’t know about big complex tasks, but I tried this once for a bad habit, and it worked impressively well. I used to pick my nose as a kid… and then I didn’t stop when I grew up. When I heard about the inner pigeon idea, I thought I’d give it a shot. Every time I noticed an inclination to reach my hand up, or that I was anywhere in the process of nose-picking, I would pump my fist and go “YES!” (this is my happy gesture-button).

You can’t stop a habit you don’t notice

The idea was to reinforce my own noticing. Since this action is generally considered gross and/or shameful, my brain generally tried to avoid thinking about it, which meant I definitely would never notice I’d done it until it was too late. By rewarding myself for noticing (whenever it happened) I taught my brain that it was a good thing to think about. When doing the opposite (cringing when noticing) we train our brain not to notice because it produces discomfort. This is likely punitive justice: it teaches people not to get caught.

I think perhaps this functions in a slightly different way than Skinner’s pigeons though. It’s almost like I’ve made a game out of noticing my brain’s urge, and I get an (uncounted) point every time I successfully do so. Regardless, this made me more aware of these urges, which meant I started noticing more and more when it was just my nose feeling itchy or my hand moving up. I would then reward myself and not bother actually doing it.

Within the first day, this almost completely eliminated the habit, although I forgot to go back for vaccines 2 and 3 so I confess that it’s not quite gone. However, during this comment I noticed once during the act, and YES’d. Then, not a minute later I noticed beforehand and YES’d again.

Noticing urges

I believe this could work for a number of these sorts of impulses, although I haven’t yet tried (upon reflection, this would be really valuable; adding near top of queue)

  • the urge to open Facebook/Twitter/HN/reddit/etc in a new tab
  • the urge to go on the internet if not already on
  • the urge to switch away from this tab where I’m writing a blog comment and go check my email (has happened twice thrice four times so far)
  • the urge to grab a snack when I’m already full
  • the urge to click on a link that is linkbaity but that I don’t anticipate actually being valuable.

Noticing thoughts

In addition to helping notice these urges, it could also be valuable for noticing thoughts to the effect of “this may not be a valuable use of my time” or “I’m doing something I don’t want to be doing”. Normally, my brain shies away from those, because if that’s true, it means I’ve been wasting my time. However, like being wrong, the only way to fix that is to admit it (to yourself, at least). This ranges from:

  • “Why am I still reading this site?”
  • “I’m not really sure what I’m getting out of this video…”
  • “This conversation/person-I’m-talking-to isn’t really very interesting…”
  • “Gah, I was going to submit that form this morning and I forgot…”

… and of course any ugh field or thought about a belief that’s generally aversive.

How to actually use this

Since there can be a fair bit of cognitive overhead to this at the start, I would recommend starting by focusing on only one type of thought or urge at a time, but it’s fun to do. I had to leave for a few hours in the middle of typing this and my attention to it while writing made it really easy to apply it to both the original unhygenic habit mentioned and also to the email-checking impulse when I came back.

Writing this post has made me realize that there’s a lot of really low-hanging fruit for me here, and so I’m going to try adding a new noticing every few days for the next while. Will report back in later this summer with results. I suspect this can work with positive urges too but I’ll look into that later.

A Real Man

The following is not a list of traits required for manhood. There are enough of those already.

This post is a response to a comment posted on this article by Jeff Perera which is itself a response to the article Toronto, City of Sissies by Christie Blatchford. The following will make more sense if you read at least Jeff Perera’s article, but it’s not entirely necessary.

Here’s the comment I’m responding to:

Very well written.
Ms. Blatchord seems to forget that there is more to being a whole person than outward appearances.
To me, a man is someone who is aware and in touch with his emotions, all of them.
A man hugs his children and kisses his wife (or partner.)
A man defends those who can’t defend themselves.
A man cries at sad, sappy movies, laughs at funny ones, and cheers at UFC.
A man hugs his friends because that’s what friends do.
Lastly, a real man isn’t concerned with the opinions of those who would confine them to little boxes. They just aren’t worth the time.

Here is the response I wrote as a comment:

Thank you for this. While reading it, it occurred to me to wonder about what we say about women or “real women”.

I first considered the phrase “A man defends those who can’t defend themselves” and mentally constructed “A woman defends those who can’t defend themselves”. I promptly concluded that while a woman would probably be praised for standing up for someone weaker, society doesn’t explicitly expect her to do so, in the same way.

I then looked at all of the other phrases, and concluded that (in general) we don’t state expectations like this about women. We may have them (eg. we expect women to hug their kids and kiss their partners) but we never state them in lists like this.

I have read countless lists of things men must do or not do, and feel or not feel. I recognize that your list is personal, and it is certainly more reasonable than most, yet it is still such a list. Your list does not confine men to a “little box”, but it does confine us to a big box, and that’s still a problem.

If we’re going to work towards achieving gender equality and freedom of personal expression, we have to take away all of the boxes and all of the lists, and accept that manhood isn’t defined by any characteristics at all. I realize that it’s scary to do this, but I feel it has to be done.

While writing this, I made some interesting discoveries via Google searches that I wanted to share here.


The first is the results of searching a real man versus searching a real woman. Nine of the top ten results for men are sites describing traits men must have to be “real men”. The results for women are mostly unrelated to this idea, except for this article that declares “A Real Woman Wants A Real Man” and proceeds to tell us (again) what a real man is like. Two of the real woman results are lists like the man ones, but both are from fundamentalist Christian groups, and the lists include such remarks as “A Real Woman… Wants to do God’s will.” and “A Real Woman… Knows her body is a temple of the Holy Spirit”. These definitely do not follow any widely accepted definition of what a “Real Woman” is, and according to traffic ranks Alexa.com, the first manliness site (askmen.com, which has several articles on the subject) has 22,000 times the number of pageviews as the fundamentalist site (chastitycall.org). At any rate, it’s clear that the cultural pressure of character is much higher for men than for women.


Google search results indicating that Google views "man" as a synonym for "person", but not "woman".

Really, Google? (Screenshots taken December 27th, 2011)

The second discovery I made is more surprising and less relevant: Google treats “man” and “person” as synonyms. This is not true for “woman” and “person”, which is a relief—then man and woman would be synonyms, and we’d have to retire the gender binary forever! What a shame…

I presume this has something to do with conversions such as chairman and chairperson, or mailman and mailperson, but the fact remains that it’s an inaccurate synonym.

I’d like to conclude by returning to the idea of better rules: at least one of the top “Real Man” articles espouses “modern manhood” rather than the “rugged” ideals of the past, these are still lists of expectations and rules. I’m willing to acknowledge that the better rules might be a necessary step on the way to full openness to all possibilities of unique manhood. Personally, I don’t think so. I think we need to stop putting such demands on people altogether. On that note, “man” and “person” can’t be synonyms, because you couldn’t possibly make such a list of traits necessary for personhood: “To be a real person, you have to acknowledge all of your emotions.” That just sounds silly.

All of us experience emotions, and all of us sometimes neglect to fully honour them. We’re still just as real, as people, and as men or women or any other gender.
A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm developing scalable solutions to fractal coordination challenges (between parts of people as well as between people) based on non-naive trust and intentionality. More about me.

Become more intentional
Check out Intend, a web-app that I built to help people spend their time in meaningful & intentional ways and be more playfully purposeful. Intend logo
Connect with me on Twitter!