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June 2024

Post image for Feedback is What Makes Everything Work

The other day I closed a savings account at a tiny credit union branch. I expected it to take about five minutes, but the teller took so long that I started to experience time distortion.

I knew it had been at least fifteen minutes, but perhaps it was much longer. Twenty-five minutes? Forty? There was no visible clock, and I didn’t want to take out my phone. The young teller seemed to be Googling how to close an account while maintaining her professional bank teller countenance.

I waited patiently, occupying myself with an eyes-open meditation practice, and didn’t complain.

I did feel self-conscious though. There were only two tellers, and half of them were dealing with me while the other one, clearly more experienced, handled the rest of the line one at a time.

Another customer did complain, to the other teller.

She said, with an edge to her voice, “I would suggest that if a transaction is going to take more than ten minutes, it should be done by appointment,” and then went on to make a few more suggestions. The teller cited extenuating circumstances (scheduling problems, somebody is on lunch) and also said she was very sorry about that a few times.

Everyone in the tiny building heard this exchange, and it made for an uncomfortable few minutes for all of us.

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Post image for Nobody Knows What’s Going On

A major online publication once reported in a profile on me that I had retired at 33. A few old friends and acquaintances reached out to congratulate me on my financial independence.

I think it was an honest mistake on the part of the reporter. I told her I had quit my job to write full time, and I guess she thought that meant I must have millions of dollars.

To be clear, I was not then, and am not now financially independent. The 100 or so people that actually know me could discern that just by seeing my kitchen. Yet perhaps 20,000 people read somewhere that I am. That means potentially 200 times more people are wrong than right on this question, because of an inference made by a reporter.

This scenario, in which there’s much more wrongness going around than rightness, is probably the norm. People make bad inferences like that all day long. These wrong ideas replicate themselves whenever the person tells someone else what they know, which the internet makes easier than ever.

Consider the possibility that most of the information being passed around, on whatever topic, is bad information, even where there’s no intentional deception. As George Orwell said, “The most fundamental mistake of man is that he thinks he knows what’s going on. Nobody knows what’s going on.”

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