simplifying complex decision-making
I recently took on a new job as a market researcher. On my very first day, I was faced with a monumental task that would take all my analytical skills, education, and powers of perception: signing up for employee benefits.
I am no stranger to complexity and jargon; yet, signing up for benefits is one of the most complicated things I have ever done.As a former academic, I am no stranger to complexity and jargon; yet, signing up for benefits is one of the most complicated things I have ever done. It’s hard to believe hundreds of millions of Americans have found themselves in the position of signing up for benefits given how shockingly unwieldy they are.
When I’m contributing to my 401K, what percentage of my bimonthly paycheck is reasonable? 10%? 20%? 50%? Should my contributions be pre-tax? After tax? Should I get a Roth IRA? Which investment plan should I put my money in? I guess that depends on whether I’m planning to retire at 55, 60, 65, or 70, since the portfolios associated with each are employing different risk strategies. Which health insurance plan should I get? Should I get the one that has a $1500 deductible or the one with a $1000 deductible? It’s going to be important because beyond the initial deductible, the percentage of co-pay is going to change between in-network and out-of-network doctors. Should I pick the dental PPO or the HMO? One costs half as much as the other, but there’s a difference between how each takes care of major restorative work, and also if I pick the HMO, it doesn’t pay for dentures, should I need them. Vision care seems awfully expensive given that I may or may not even get new glasses this year. But then, what happens if I need new glasses? They are pricy, what with frames alone costing $150, for reasons that have never been clear to me.
Despite that dense paragraph of choices I just dumped out above, my options are actually fairly limited at this company; at the University of California, where I once worked, there were many, many more options for every piffling detail. I was handed a book that was literally 200 pages long that detailed all the available options in health insurance. Each option had a 2-3 page summary.
We all know that what I’ve just described is crazy. I’m fairly well educated, I have experience reading complex documentation, and I have business acumen that should allow me to make somewhat rational economic decisions based on my own particular set of circumstances. But let’s face it: few people are going to be able to make sense of all this information, especially at a time when one needs to be focusing one’s energies on learning the new work environment. Yet the proliferation of legalese, fine print minutiae, and paperwork across HR desks continues unabated, and most of us have just come to accept it as a nuisance that we deal with but mostly stay ignorant of.
Rather than an opt-out program that forces complex comparisons, I would offer a decision tree, which offers a logical process to eliminate choices.In their pop-lit behavioral economics book Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein argue that the solution is to create a default “best choice” option for employees that no one actually has to sign up for. Instead of presenting employees with a choice at the beginning, employees have to switch from this option, which is designed to make the most sense for the most people. So even if it’s not the best choice for someone’s particular set of circumstances, they’re also most likely not being completely screwed by it either— something that actually is a risk when someone is presented with choosing from 50 options, where they might make a horrible choice or might put off doing anything altogether.
It sounds good in theory, and the way Thaler and Sunstein present this concept (with the curiously offputting name “Libertarian Paternalism”), it seems like it would prevent a lot of people from making bad decisions. It’s true that it cuts down heavily on cognitive demands, but this is not an ideal setup for a number of reasons:
- It encourages employees to remain ignorant about things that they really should be invested in
- It empowers one person or a group of people within a bureaucracy to make a judgment about what is best for an entire class of people
- It could invite abuse, since the people in charge of creating the default position could have ulterior motives that don’t best serve employees
- What does “best” mean, and what are the metrics used to arrive at a consensus?
Questions like “Would you rather A) spend an extra $500 if you end up in the hospital, or B) pay $250 in advance regardless of whether you go to a hospital” would force you to make tough decisions about what you are willing to compromise, instead of making you compare features.To alleviate some of the problems inherent in this, I would offer another method: a decision tree. This tree would be something an individual or family could go through to arrive at optimal choices based on their own priorities. Obviously, the specifics would be dependent on the distinctions of the plans themselves, but it would offer a logical process to eliminate choices. Further, the abstract details of features will be bypassed in favor of the utilitarian concerns that underlie them.
For example, asking a series of questions like “Would you rather a) spend an extra $500 if and when you end up in the hospital, or would you rather pay $250 in advance regardless of whether you go to a hospital” takes a lot of the cognitive effort out of the selection process because it’s stating the cost-benefit explicitly and is highlighting the essential trade-off. In marketing lingo, this is called a conjoint analysis. The tradeoffs are presented upfront— forcing you to make tough decisions about what you are willing to compromise. Ultimately, this process allows you to decide what is right for you given a portfolio of choices that are otherwise hard to compare. Answer enough ‘trade-off’ questions and you’re bound to find the right plan for you, provided your choices are internally consistent.
At this point, it’s not a process of laboriously comparing— something that humans are not very good at, according to countless studies— but a process of elimination based on objectives and personal philosophy. I hope that the next time I’m saddled with having to sign up for benefits, someone in an insurance company or in HR actually follows through with a program like this.
on conducting market research to better effect behavioral changes in consumers
In an earlier article about bicycling, I mentioned that our cultural narrative about addressing energy problems typically involves a story about technology. Using existing means of solving problems is not usually viewed with much seriousness, or is dismissed entirely. Recall, for instance when President Obama was roundly ridiculed for suggesting that America’s continual search for oil wouldn’t be so pressing if we just kept our cars’ tires inflated.
In the realm of energy, energy policy, and energy politics, efficiency is not a sexy concept. Cool new technology is. Everyone intuitively gets that. Of course, my point here is not to say that technology can’t do amazing things; there’s no question that new technology is revolutionizing plenty of things. However, we also need to take into account that technology is expensive, takes a long time to roll out, and its outcomes simply aren’t keeping pace with the exponential urgency of our problems.
While we wait for our scientists and engineers to crank out viable and affordable solutions, the question turns, then, to whether it is possible in the meantime to make efficiency more attractive. I think the answer is a definite yes. However, there are good reasons why past efforts have not met with much success.
“The failures of achieving efficiency goals can be traced to a lack of attention to anthropological understandings of consumers and how efficiency can fit into consumers’ worldviews.”The failures of marketing in achieving efficiency goals can be traced, in my view, to a lack of attention to sociocultural and anthropological understandings of consumers and how they view the world, and how an implementation of efficiency can fit into this worldview. If I were a policy-maker looking to increase consumer efficiency or encourage participation in energy-saving efforts, here are some starter questions that I would want answered before spending a second crafting a program:
- How do people conceptualize energy in their lives, and what are the narratives they subconsciously tell themselves with regards to energy?
- How do the above views manifest themselves?
- What are consumers’ attitudes and beliefs about energy conservation and technology, if any?
Based on my own readings of literature in energy politics, my discussions with consumers, and the recurring themes I’ve seen highlighted by our media, I have arrived at a few thoughts of my own about consumer narratives about energy, and how those might guide behavior.1
So why (in my view) is technology so attractive while efficiency is not? I think it boils down to:
- Consumer confidence in technology – a cultural belief that technology will unfailingly come through to solve our problems for us
- Desire for magic bullets – a belief that there are (or will be) amazing solutions that don’t require much effort or sacrifice to implement
- Bias against the cheap and familiar – a belief that cheap existing things (e.g. inflating tires, installing weatherstripping) couldn’t possibly be as good as new things (e.g. energy efficient heaters utilizing cutting edge technology) for solving problems— especially complex ones
- Discreteness – technological solutions are typically housed in a single package (e.g. a hybrid car), which makes them more attractive and less cognitively complex concept than ‘efficiency,’ which is by contrast a series of behaviors
- Social visibility – people want to be recognized by others as contributing to a solution ; the visibility of technology generally makes that easier
Much of how we as consumers act has to do with unquestioned cultural beliefs and narratives that guide the way we perceive the world; as a result, attention needs to be focused on understanding those views. Once you can understand consumers’ worldviews, it’s easier to understand what might be important in either changing attitudes or in catering to mentalities; otherwise changing behavior is a rather Sisyphean task. On that point, I hope that those working in the field of energy take the time to push for comprehensive qualitative research to undergird their future programs for creating better energy programs and policy. It’s complex work, no doubt— but I can’t think of many things that are more important.
1 I will, however, caveat that these views are unfortunately not the product of a specific program of research backed by industry funding, which of course is a serious limitation; however, I have a reasonable degree of certainty that these are important, if not central, issues.
on understanding and addressing motives
A few years ago, I was consulting for a well-known company with a large vehicle fleet. Higher-ups were interested in the company’s environmental impact, and wanted to know the best way to reduce their carbon footprint given “X” dollars of investment. They were thinking of maybe of replacing their vehicles with hybrids. My team and I, being the intrepid businesspeople that we were, collected figures, ran some numbers, and came to a solid and convincing conclusion about what they should do.
Standing before company execs, we went through a number of concise charts and calculations demonstrating our work. Then we stated— with some sense of pride for our thoroughly researched and unintuitive conclusion— our genius strategy: on retirement of vehicles, the company should replace its gasoline powered vehicles with diesel powered vehicles.
It was in the moment of silence that followed that I believe we lost them.
Sure, we told them:
- Diesel vehicles are much cheaper than hybrids and one could thus buy many more of them with the same amount of money
- Diesel engines are much cheaper to maintain and replace
- Hybrid batteries have high carbon footprints of their own, and disposal is a serious and largely unconsidered issue
- Diesel fuel is cheaper than gasoline
But ultimately, we sensed that something hadn’t quite translated. There were some questions and some comments by the company’s representatives, but they didn’t look convinced or excited by our presentation. The question of what happened, of course, is blindingly obvious to the onlooker. The company had already made up its mind about its strategy— they were going to get hybrids—, and our proposal simply did not fit into their plan. More to the point, we simply took their words about wanting to reduce environmental impact at face value, without taking careful stock of what their motives might be.
If you look at the business environment with regards to carbon footprints, the United States tends to be fairly hands-off at the moment. Generally there aren’t very many penalties for generating negative externalities as long as your company happens to create jobs and contributes to the economy. That is, no company is going to face government intervention because employees create air pollution while they drive around; the penalty for driving around comes almost exclusively in the form of fuel expenses and maintenance costs of the vehicles. Thus, any potential benefit that comes from reducing carbon footprints comes from these cost savings— and from creating a positive impact in the PR department.
Ah! The PR department. That was the critical element that we had missed. Somewhat naively, we had overlooked that the main intent of the carbon footprint reduction initiative was not the reduction itself, but in looking good for doing it. We had yet to learn that part of marketing is understanding that it’s as much about the story you can tell as it is about the reality. And the bottom line here was that “we care about the environment so we’re going to buy, errrr, smog-spewing diesel trucks” was not as compelling a story as “we care about the environment— that’s why we’re replacing our gas-powered vehicles with green technology hybrids!”
In other words, while doing the right thing is without a doubt a good thing, effective sustainability campaigns will definitely need to place the image factor high on the set of priorities. Something to keep in mind.
a brief look at the ripple effects caused by the car in the American economy, culture, and society
Socio-Cultural and Socio-Historic View of American Streets, and the Decline of Streets as Social Space
Many academic takes on the decline of community in American society suggest that that the moment it all started to go awry was when television entered the scene. It was the advent of television, it is argued, that caused people to never leave their homes and to instead sit alone on their couches, bathing themselves in the glowing blue light of the “idiot box.” More recently, an author named Stan Cox seriously points the blame for the decline in American society to the invention of air conditioning (it seems like a stretch, but Cox makes some good arguments).
I think there is some merit to both of these arguments. But much of the blame, in my view, is the advent of the car. It’s obvious to anyone who has spent any time in the United States that it is a nation that is firmly entrenched in car culture. Cars heavily integrate into the American psyche, and have come to serve as a central metaphor for a lot of things about the way we view ourselves. Cars are viewed as symbols of independence, convenience, status, freedom, class, and success; beyond this, the car has come to be equated with these things.
But it’s not really the car itself that is problematic, but the way in which the car transformed the landscape of our roads and neighborhoods. The reasons for this are not entirely accidental, but are due to a number of historical factors that involve the way this nation was built up. In the United States, most of our streets were built after the invention of the car, unlike many places in Europe and Asia, where the streets existed long before cars were introduced. As a result, American roads were built specifically for car traffic, and with the needs of car traffic in mind.
Travel to places like India, and you will immediately see that people have an entirely different relationship to the road than people in the United States. In India, the road is a place for walking, doing business, hanging out, playing soccer, and selling vegetables. Dogs, cats, and cows walk around in the streets like they own the place. American streets were once like that, as this fascinating clip of Market Street in San Francisco, from 1906, suggests:
Since 1906, cars have commandeered streets, and as such, you will never see people trying to cross Market Street on foot now (except on designated crosswalks), and you would never see bicyclists riding in such a carefree manner. That’s because over time, due to the simple law of the jungle that might is right compounded with the early 1900s understanding that people in cars were clearly more important than people who traveled on foot, people quickly became attuned to the idea that streets are car spaces. This an attitude that as Americans, we all carry with us. We feel uncomfortable walking in the street. As bikers, we feel like second-class citizens who are only borrowing space and who should get out of the way as soon as a car comes near us. Heaven forbid that we allow children to play in the street with their friends—in fact, one of the very first lessons we teach children is about looking both ways before crossing a street. The message that has been written on our cultural frame—the operating system that undergirds our brains— is that streets are places for cars. Cars rule this space. If you are not in a car, you do not belong there.
Unlike many other parts of the world, large sections of the United States were built up after the advent of the automobile. More importantly, companies like Ford and General Motors were instrumental in much of the national and regional dialogue about how city planning should occur. Posing the argument that the design of American cities should revolve around the demands of the car, car companies suggested that catering to the car would ensure that Americans could bask in the fruits of economic prosperity. As a result, our nation became dependent on the car for transport around its towns. It was a rather uphill battle, for example, to get from one’s suburban home to the grocery store or the hardware store, which due to a new vision of urban planning, made these places miles away instead of being around the corner. It doesn’t require much imagination to think about the broader impacts of this historical decision:
- Marginalization of people and non-motorized vehicles on streets
- A high level of dependence by US populace on motor vehicles for everyday needs— a perennial problem for the poor and unemployed, since they need a car to get a job and need a job to get a car
- Increased fossil fuel consumption, which has led to higher levels of air pollution, greater traffic on streets, and almost certainly greater levels of global political instability due to oil dependencies
- Encouragement of sedentary lifestyles
There are many, many other side effects borne from the American car culture, but what is interesting is how completely our attitudes about the car have integrated into our views of what our daily life looks like, and how it should be. Think about this: there are a significant number of people in the US who do not step foot outside of a building on a typical day even though they travel around town. The car has become such an integral part of our lives that not having one can have severe consequences on one’s well-being, whether that involves practical issues like getting to work or going to the grocery store, or whether that means psychological issues like self-esteem, self-worth, and being able to maintain social circles.
Another worrying side effect of this privileging of cars is the fact that communities and neighborhoods do not have public spaces. For example, think about your own neighborhood. If you wanted to have spontaneous chit-chat with your neighbors, where would you do this? If your children want to play with others, how can they do this without going either formal mechanisms like asking someone to play, or without stepping into someone’s else’s yard? In India, people and children hang out literally in the middle of the street in front of people’s houses. It’s an open and neutral space that isn’t on anyone’s property (think of the alleyway that Hank and his friends use on the TV show King of the Hill). No one owns it, and it’s no one’s home turf. The neutrality makes a difference; there’s a difference between hanging out at Bill’s house and hanging out in a neutral area in front of Bill’s house. There’s simply no place for this kind of impromptu and neutral-space interaction here in the U.S.
The lack of available space makes the conditions for getting to know your neighbors and for socializing with them hard. Occasionally, some neighborhoods have a block party. This involves someone from the neighborhood calling the city and asking them to block off the street to car traffic. Invariably, this creates a pretty lively space. As a thought experiment, just close your eyes and imagine for a moment what your street would look like if it was permanently blocked off from car traffic. Do you believe people would spend more time outside if it was?
Here is a Snuggy-like product that I came across at a local hobby store. See anything odd about it? Thanks to the shoddy production work on the box, the woman appears not to be wearing a comfortable robe, but a piece of military-issue MARPAT digital camouflage.
Incompetence of this caliber is hard to excuse in a competitive market— especially when the product you are trying to sell is clearly a shameless rip-off of another, more popular product.
why revealing your true identity will be the next tectonic shift in the virtual space
The role of anonymity is a topic that comes up often about the increasingly unpleasant tenor of discourse on the internet. It’s getting harder and harder for websites and content providers to deal with the incivility, abusiveness, and venomous anger that is constantly being spewed out on their forums— almost all stemming from users who never reveal their real names or identities. As I mentioned in a previous article, as the internet has moved from obscurity into the mainstream, civil and thoughtful conversation has become increasingly rare. We’re finding that it’s easy for the public to sling mud on the internet when they can hide behind their monitors. It’s common for vigilante internet mobs to form and harass their enemies. Namecalling and insults abound.
As a thought experiment, think about this for a minute: how would behavior on the internet change if you had to use your real name?
As I see it, changing this one aspect of the internet would radically reduce the level of unseemly activity in the virtual environment. In “real life”, norms of civility and politeness help us maintain our positive appearances in the eyes of others, which to most of us is pretty important; on the the internet, anonymity allows us to largely avoid consequences of bad behavior, essentially giving us license to abandon self-control. But when your name and identity is forever linked to the comments you make, you must maintain a certain level of comportment fit for someone interacting in polite society, lest you earn a permanent mark against your character. And, as a friend of mine once said, the internet never forgets.
Thus, I predict that some day, the internet will undergo a radical transformation into a dichotomized space: there will be one portion that is anonymous; its qualities will be generally seen as chaotic, unreliable, and unstructured. This anonymous internet will not be taken very seriously by anyone— even the people who use it; it will probably not be regarded very well, and people will use it either just to let off steam or to just mess around.
And then there will be the other portion, demarcated by the use of users’ real identities in communications. This latter internet will be regarded as civil, purposeful, and reliable in its information; it will be a place where reputations and communities can be built, meaningful and polite interaction can take place, and where comments are helpful and constructive rather than snarky, dismissive, and hostile. Though it may come off initially as a somewhat sterile space, as its userbase expands, it will evolve to be as the primary virtual complement to “real life” interaction. The anonymous forums of the ‘other web’ will simply be too unstructured by comparison for long-term investment of time. A company will probably make a lot of money selling you an official identity that you will use as a login for all the websites that subscribe to this part of the internet; this will prevent you from making up an identity and ruining it for everyone.
Privacy advocates will worry about this evolution of the internet into a sphere in which we give out our real names and are forever linked to our comments, but the dystopian reality of the current internet “community” and commenting as a whole is one that both the public and those privacy advocates simply must acknowledge, as the current state of affairs threatens to undermine the internet as a whole. Currently, websites are having to employ increasingly heavy moderation to weed out bad behavior, but ultimately, content providers will find that they lack the resources and manpower to corral human nature in an atmosphere where there are no rules. However, they can avoid having to deal with this problematic behavior when they understand how the presence of social norms can suppress incivility from the get-go.
People will initially be reluctant to sign up for this idea—mainly for privacy reasons and the fact that they are accustomed to anonymity— but once they realize it’s the only ticket to entering a consistently constructive and civil society in the virtual world, I think they will understand the value, and eventually embrace it. They will see how it can be leveraged it to bolster their personal reputations, build their names, and create a lifelong history of their characters. They will appreciate how the internet will go from being a glorified anonymous chatroom to being a community of real people with valuable things to contribute. They will appreciate how having the discipline to maintain oneself will make conversations more pleasant, constructive, and intellectually satisfying. They will appreciate how knowing each others’ names will facilitate the transition from being online friends to being “real life” friends.
It will be interesting to see whether my prediction will come true, and if so, how long it will take. The level of moderation necessary on reputable sites that allow public commenting (like news sites) is reaching all-time highs, and younger generations who have grown up with the internet as a free-for-all are posting with increasing frequency. Why, even the middle-aged adults who were taught growing up to mind their Ps and Qs have, over time, been socialized by the rest of the web to drop their pretenses of civility.
Given all that, my bet is that the wheels will be in motion within the next 5 years.
using marketing strategies to fix a mass transit system
Preliminary Comments on Observing the BART Transit System
Over the 10 years I spent in the Bay Area, I spent many hours using the BART mass transit system. As a result of my own experiences and my observations of others in BART trains and stations, I spent considerable time thinking about the goals of the system, and how rider experiences could be improved to make the system more effective, flexible, and in keeping with principles of usability.
I must admit that the reason I embarked on this article is that I find BART, from top to bottom, a frustrating transit system to use, and it in many ways is the perfect example of a wasted opportunity— so much so that it is really an embarrassment for an area of the country that prides itself on technological leadership and progressive thought. At every turn, the BART system is set up in a way that discourages ridership, and makes it ridiculously hard for passengers to do things that should be very simple. What follows are observations I have made about BART, culled from years of experience riding it, along with some marketing strategies that I think will help mitigate some of the frustrations of using BART.
Implications of BART Design and History
First off, it’s important to get some history. BART was constructed as a system that is unlike most mass transit systems. Unlike intra-city (within a single city) transport system like New York, Tokyo, or Hong Kong, BART is an inter-city (between cities) transport system. This has several implications for ridership: 1) station distribution of the BART system is geographically wide, but with low density; 2) because of the geographical coverage, rides can be quite lengthy; 3) riders are more likely to employ multiple forms of transport in their journeys, and 4) passengers traveling longer distances or going to airports may be carrying baggage. That means that while BART travels further than most other subway systems, it is also likely to be harder to get to a station, a trip is significantly more likely to involve several legs involving different types of transport, and riders will have to wait longer between the arrival of two trains. These facts already pose a psychological barrier to potential ridership, so it is important that if administrators want to encourage BART usage, that central and peripheral annoyances be minimized; after all, any excuse a rider can find not to take BART, they likely will employ.
Observation #1 – Lack of Proper Maps, Signage, and Human Communication
- The BART system lacks an adequate number of maps, and also offers poor information quality on existing maps. At times, it’s surprisingly difficult to find a map; many platforms only contain one, and there is often only one on an entire BART train. In addition, if one is unfamiliar with subway maps, it is difficult time figuring out how to get from point A to point B. Numerous experiences I have had assisting disoriented BART patrons has shown me that the reading of existing BART subway maps requires the development of some intuition that visitors often do not have.
- The confusion of navigating is exacerbated if one not understand the geography of the Bay Area, or if one only has a limited understanding of it (ex. “Dublin is north of Fremont”). Not all trains go to all places, so it is important to understand which ones go where, and where transfers needs to happen.
- Given the general lack of signage, we might expect conductors to give helpful messages over the intercoms about where passengers should transfer and whether the train is currently at a transfer point. In fact, it is often impossible to understand what is being said on the intercom; conductors are inconsistent in their clarity and the speaker quality is generally quite poor.
- Too often, when one is in a train, it is hard to figure out what station the train is at if one is not actively keeping track, or if one does not have a visual sense for what particular stations look like. Often, the only indication is a small sign posted on the wall of the station if you look out the train window long enough to find it. These signs are surprisingly difficult to spot, and are likely be hard to see for those with poor eyesight.
Solutions to Observation #1:
- I propose that in addition to showing a geographical depiction of cities, BART’s map should be shown as a linear continuum to eliminate unnecessary or confusing information. Currently, it is confusing to know where to go when all the signs just say things like ‘Platform 1’ and ‘North-bound train.’ This presupposes the BART rider already has previous understanding of the station layout and geographical sense of the Bay Area. A simple linear map that displays how each location on the BART system is related to each other place would allow a rider to intuitively understand how one could get from point A to point B.
In the above picture (where numbers are used to represent cities), someone at point 7 on the map can easily see how he could get to 23, without having to process geographical information.
- At the various platforms within stations, patrons should have a clear understanding of the direction the train is traveling. This can be done by presenting maps where stations that the train will not be going to are grayed out:
Assuming that lines are not rotated on the same platform from day to day, the floor outside the platform or the train itself can be color-coded to ensure that patrons understand which line they are embarking upon.
- Dynamic information offered within the train should be employed to help passengers understand where they are currently, and where the train will be going next. This is illustrated in the graphic below, where the static yellow light in circle 15 indicates current location, while the flashing orange light in circle 16 indicates the next station the train will stop at:
- Instead of having conductors speak, an automated computer voice should broadcast the arrival at each station (ex. “This is the EMBARCADERO STATION.”). This will ensure consistency and audibility in the announcement.
Observation #2 – Inflexible Payment System and Intermodality Issues
- There are currently countless distinct public transit systems in the Bay Area: BART, CalTrain, MUNI, AC Transit, WestCAT, SamTrans, Golden Gate Transit, and the Oakland Ferry, to name a few. Interestingly, most of these have different payment forms. In the past I have had commutes involving AC Transit, BART, and MUNI in a single day; I have known people who have had even more complex daily routines. Not surprisingly, I have personally dealt with and watched others deal with innumerable transit cards, having to keep constant tabs on whether they have credit on those cards, and having to search around for these cards when the time comes to present them.
- The BART card, which gives a passenger access to the trains, is made of a flimsy piece of magnetic paper. They are easily bent, and will de-magnetize if one happens to place one next to one’s mobile phone. Bent or de-magnetized tickets are rejected by the turnstiles.
- BART attendants aren’t particularly concerned about helping passengers with problem cards (a friend once told an uninterested attendant that her card, which still had $5 on it, wasn’t working. The attendant took it, said that it was “too old” and then told her to buy a new one. Is 1.5 years a long time in BART years?
Solutions to Observation #2
- If a major goal of mass transit is to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce pollution, implementing a universal payment system across different modes of public transit is crucial. A large part of the problem with intermodal transport (i.e. multiple different forms of transport within a single trip) currently is the sense that the trip is not integrated. This creates a sensation of hassle and disconnectedness between different legs of the trip. Simplifying the process of intermodality through a single payment card that works for all systems encourages passengers to view the entire commute or transport process as interconnected and logical, rather than disparate and frustrating. This improvement would likely result in increased system throughput, reduced frustration, and greater levels of pre-payment. Admittedly, there are bureaucratic hurdles to jump, but they are ones worth jumping for the good of the system as a whole and for the goals of that system.
- If institution of a new payment system is possible, I would suggest an RFID system in which funds can deducted simply by flicking a sturdy card (or specially-enabled wristwatch) at a receiver. This would drastically reduce the incidence of lost or damaged cards, and would avoid issues created by finicky ticket machines.
- If it is technologically possible, being able to add funding to the card from a place other than the station, would alleviate the frustration of having to wait in line to add funding to the card, and would encourage patrons to purchase high-value tickets in advance in more convenient settings.
- It is worth noting that mass transit systems in other regions (Hong Kong, for example) is set up such that you can use tickets to purchase goods other than rides on the mass transit, like food at convenient stores. Having additional perks and functionality would render a customer more likely to keep a BART ticket around and in use.
Observation #3 – BART Material Construction Promotes Perception of Poor Sanitary Conditions and Visual Disorder
- In my own informal research, when asked about their opinions of BART, passengers’ comments often begin with a negative description of the visual aesthetic and olfactory experience of the trains. A large component of both complaints can be traced to the material construction of the trains. Namely, it is not advisable for a public transit system that carries about 2.5 million of passengers every week to be equipped with upholstered seats and carpeted floors. These materials retain dirt, sweat, and grime, and are near impossible to keep clean. These materials present an unnecessary maintenance expense, a sanitary concern, and unpleasant visual and olfactory experiences.
- Furthermore, it has become clear from recent events that fabrics such as those in BART trains can be vectors for unwanted pests as bedbugs, which poses a problem not only for BART itself, but for the entire region and beyond.
- In addition, the color pattern of the seats are somewhat dated, and easily show discoloration from dirt.
Solutions to Observation #3:
- Shallow as it may appear to be, initial sensory impressions (affective perception) are one of the strongest drivers of customer attitudes. Visually impressing patrons and preventing unpleasant odors will greatly encourage ridership at the aggregate level, and will create the climate for a more pleasurable BART experience. My advice is to abandon upholstery in favor of hard plastic or vinyl, and remove the carpet from the floor. While this may be an expensive overhaul, the cost savings of maintenance and the appreciation from passengers will ultimately pay off in the long run. It will be much cheaper to maintain, it will smell better after constant use, will not appear as dirty, and the selection of an appropriate color will be visually much more appealing than the current choice dirty teal.
Observation #4 – Suboptimal Seat Arrangement and Inflexibility towards Passenger Heterogeneity
- Current usage patterns on BART suggest that the arrangement of the seats in is awkward, inefficient, and inflexible. Some seats face forwards and others face backwards; some seats are placed perpendicular to the train, while others are parallel; and some seats face other seats, facilitating awkward views of strangers. The odd arrangement suggests some design rationale behind it, but observation suggests that it is an ineffective design.
- From my observations, the BART cars are neither convenient for regular passengers, nor accommodating for special situations. In fact, the heterogeneity of passengers needs on any given train upsets the order in such a way as to inconvenience all the passengers on the train. For example, a bicyclist’s awkward but logistically necessary position of standing in front of doorways with his bicycle jutting into the passageway is uncomfortable for both the bicyclist and disembarking passengers. A passenger returning from SFO airport is forced to place his/her baggage on seats or in aisles, making the patron feel self-conscious on crowded trains.
- While BART does allow passengers to bring bikes, it is prohibited at the times that one would most likely want to bring a bike on— during normal commuting hours. BART has been adding bicycle parking units outside some BART stations, where patrons can store bikes at the station in a special holding container for a nominal fee. Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve the problem of those who need bikes on both ends of their daily commute.
Solutions to Observation #4:
- I suggest the rearrangement of seats to maximize seating capacity in most cars, but to set aside [a] special car[s] with different seating arrangements that better accommodates people with packages, baggage, and bicycles. This will account for the heterogeneity in passenger needs, and optimize the customer experience for all by creating designated areas for those whose needs are similar. Obviously, statistics on usage patterns involving means and standard deviations of customer types will need to be collected, but implementing a change based on these statistics will create a better customer experience once optimized for heterogeneity.
- The restriction of bikes during commuting hours is symptomatic of the poor design of BART cars. Because BART was designed to be an inter-city rather than intra-city transport method, stations are not geographically scattered around cities. Because of this, and given the rapid increase in bicycle popularity, BART should encourage patrons wishing to integrate bicycles into their commutes; doing so would encourage BART ridership for commutes, and discourage automobile usage. By designing and setting aside special cars for bicyclists, BART can better serve a segment that is currently not being served very well—a segment, it is worth noting, that is growing.
Observation #5 – Confusing Station Layout and Orientation
- BART stations’ post-modern aesthetic unfortunately thwarts usability and intuitiveness. Some BART stations are designed such that they seem to actively thwart passengers from catching trains. For example, in the 12th street / Oakland City Center station, for a passenger to switch trains, he must climb up one set of stairs to another level, and then climb down a different set of stairs to access the second BART platform. This is despite the fact that the first set of stairs actually passes by the other level; for some reason, access to that floor from the first set of stairs is blocked.
- In certain stations, the passenger standing areas are placed against the outer walls (Design A in the diagram below) rather than in the center between the two opposite train tracks (Design B). This means that if one selects the wrong platform upon entry—which is not unlikely given the poor signage— he/she will have to run back up the flight of stairs and run down another flight of stairs to get to the other platform; in Design B, passengers can access access either train from the contiguous standing area.
Solutions to Observation #5:
- Architectural issues like this are difficult to correct without incurring great expense and inconvenience to passengers. Ideally, investing time and money into creating optimal designs would have been implemented in the initial stages of creating the system; though the time has passed to employ this strategy for existing stations, it should be used for the construction of new stations.
- However, given that the time has passed for optimizing the architectural design, the next best solution is to creating signage that allows patrons entering the platform area to select the correct platform.
The observations and proposals I describe are methods that specifically attempt to create a more positive experience for riders on BART, which will not only create a more committed and loyal customer-base, but will contribute to other social goals within the Bay Area, such as reducing vehicular traffic, congestion, and air and noise pollution.
BART’s slogan is “BART… and you’re there!”, a phrase that sounds great on paper. Yet, anyone who’s ever ridden BART knows well that BART is anything but that simple. With its few stations positioned in San Francisco and Oakland, as well as places like Fruitvale and Bay Point, you can make a decent argument that BART’s geographical reaches are significant; still, what it means in that slogan to ‘be there’ is clearly up to debate. Sure, you can get from the town of Orinda to the city San Francisco relatively easily if you happen to already be at the originating BART station, but it’s rarely convenient to get either to your originating BART station or from the destination BART station to wherever it is that you’re trying to go. This often means that a range of transport is necessitated for a given trip. You might need to drive or walk to a BART station, take the BART, and hop on a bus to your final destination. Or you might need to get on CalTrain, catch the BART, and hail a taxi for the last leg of the trip. “BART… and you’re there!” is a phrase that not only rings untrue and hollow for the bulk of passengers, but serves mostly as a reminder for how long and tedious it is to get anywhere using BART and Bay Area mass transit in general (which probably explains in large part the ridiculous amount of traffic to be found on any given stretch of highway in the Bay Area during any given time, particularly around commute times). Better to improve the actual system than to send out hollow reminders of system’s technological prowess.
ever wonder why you can’t have a normal discussion online?
Try having a serious dialogue online. No really, try it. Not the breezy kind of conversation with a lot of ‘lols’ embedded in it; the kind where you actually have to debate ideological, conceptual, or socio-cultural points. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
How’d that go? If it’s anything like any of the thousands of conversations I’ve seen take place or have been personally involved in, it not only goes nowhere, but it breaks down into the basest forms of pettiness, cattiness, and personal degradation pretty darn quick, and at a rate that few “real life” conversations do. I’ve long noticed this perplexing and frustrating tendency, and I’ve tried for a long time to grapple with why this is. It’s important to look at, because we look to the internet to serve as some sort of nexus of minds, where finally all the limitations of geography, language, prejudice, and diffuse, unwieldy information sets can be pushed aside for high causes. There are some places, like Wikipedia, where it somehow comes together in a meaningful way, but even there, there are bitter and fiery debates raging behind the scenes, the kind where people actually would do physical harm to each other if they could.
It’s easy to say that people online are just jerks, and have the license to be jerks via their anonymity, but I noticed that it’s not always just a lack of civility that creates these trainwrecks. After analyzing and carefully considering a sample of 150 conversational disasters, I have amassed the following list of 13 unlucky reasons why online discussions get messy. This list might help you think about the level of productivity that online discussion offers, and perhaps will force you to consider whether it’s worth your time engaging in dialogue online.
1) limited information signal
Consider how you make sense of the people around you. It’s not just their language per se that helps you understand them. It’s also a function of many other pieces of information, including gestures and tones. A simple sentence can have hundreds of meanings; it’s the form and context that help us whittle down the plethora of meanings to a smaller consideration set. Without these additional fragments of data, it’s harder to create meta-order from just words. Perhaps to draw an analogy: it’s one thing to see a photo of Niagara Falls. It’s another thing entirely to see it in person, hear the water crashing, and smell its gentle aroma. The online environment does not well convey the weight of a real-life interpersonal dialgoue.
2) translation from aural (ephemeral) experience to visual (permanent) experience
There is permanence in the written word that the spoken word simply does not have. We can revisit the written word again and again, repeatedly absorbing meaning within words. Another thing that seems to happen is that the more we read something, the most we read into it as well. That is, in conversation that is of a more serious or non-trivial nature, it is easier to build layers of unwanted meaning within our conversations. It is easier to find hints of hostility, to find subtle attacks, to find backhanded insults. Often these hidden messages aren’t even there, but are the result of our need for order and meaning. As humans, we often look for patterns, and ascribe meaning to them when we find them— even when they aren’t real. By contrast, a spoken conversation does not have a high level of latency in the dialogue; there is little time to build new meanings into anything that isn’t understood the first time around.
3) inability to complete and translate each others’ thoughts in a dialectical fashion
One of the biggest differences I see between written and spoken communication between people is the loss of the dialectical back-and-forth in the former. In a conversation, the direction of the dialogue moves in a manner that is easily controlled by either party on short notice. There is a mutual shaping of the conversation in a metered manner.
Imagine that two people are standing next to a large block of marble. I imagine a conversation to be the process of making that block of marble into a sculpture. In a spoken dialogue, both parties are chipping away at the marble at the same time. In a written dialogue, it’s more like one guy working at a time, while the other guy waits for his turn. This latter case gives each person more control at certain points, and makes it harder for the other person to respond accordingly because the first person’s chipping largely narrows what the second person can do, and increases the amount of effort it takes to do it because the direction was not created mutually. That is, each conversation partner’s actions are more reactive rather than cooperative. As such, this leads to conversations turning into “arguments” rather than a mutually developed stream of thought.
4) latency of responses in bi-directional conversation leads to very little dialogue over a longer period of time, which leads to increasing gravity of each post and loss of patience
Because email and message board dialogues aren’t happening in real time, there are often large gaps between posts. This gives conversation partners increased opportunity to view each email in the slow trickle of dialogue as having increased importance. Contrast this with a face-to-face discussion, where the continuous nature of the conversation doesn’t allow us the time to think too hard about any single part in the discussion. Further, the latency issue makes what would be a 5 minute conversation in real life into a clumsy, protracted discussion that could take weeks! And because the written word is set in stone once an email is sent, some people spend hours carefully crafting a message that would be stated without any preparation in a real-life conversation, adding gravity to both the writing and to the reading.
5) online answers preclude knowledge of how much time went into responses
One of the primary cues we use in dialogue to determine sincerity, glibness, shallowness, profundity— and indeed the idea that someone is actually listening to us— is the duration of time between the end of a comment or question and the beginning of a comment, question, or answer by the other party. In the context of a dialogue, it tells us a lot about the quality of the conversation we’re having. For example, we’ve all been at parties where we finish saying something, and the other individual chimes in with no pause to say something. It usually irritates us because we know the person hasn’t heard a word we said. On the other hand, a long pause could signal either a lack of interest or careful consideration of the comment. The silence can be as valuable as the words.
6) differing nature of expectations about conversation (academic vs. conversational)
When you’re not sure what kind of conversation is typical in a certain forum, or when you don’t know the people you are talking to, it’s much harder to know how one should speak. Can you have a “normal” conversation, or do you need to back up your assertions with facts, citations, and research? Can you state opinions without having backup? Are your comments viewed as being arguments, or are they just thoughts that are being expressed? These can change dramatically depending on who you are talking to. A lack of alignment or mutual understanding on the fundamental expectations of the conversation will lead to frustration and annoyance.
7) differing expectations about forum being used (appropriate use)
You wouldn’t walk into board room meeting and scream at the top of your lungs. Just by certain cues, you can intuitively arrive at how to behave. The formality of the clothes, the lighting, the furnishings, the noise level— these all tell you things about how you’re supposed to act in this environment. But it’s not as clear what the behavioral constraints are in an online forum because you have very few meaningful cues. If you look around at conversations on this forum, you might get a sense for what people talk about, but you may not as easily come to conclusions about etiquette, the parameters of acceptable behavior, or the level of seriousness with which people take themselves.
8) anonymity means people can say what they want and not worry about losing face or thinking of how they appear to others
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that anonymity gives people license to act in ways that they wouldn’t dream of if people knew who they were. Think about places like 4chan and Something Awful. These places simply wouldn’t exist in the way we know them if every user had to post under their real name and location. The level of incivility, cruelty, and hostility would be erased if people actually had to stand by their comments and have all their neighbors, friends, and family know what they were saying.
9) more time to think of responses means insults are more powerful and labored over than the impotent off-the-cuff comebacks in real life
A well-known episode of Seinfeld features George Costanza getting flamed by a co-worker, and finding himself unable to respond with a withering put-down in the few seconds he has to tear the guy a new one. He finally comes up with a retort— hours too late. Well, formulating the killer response or amassing ridiculous levels of ammunition is now easier than ever, thanks to the internet. People don’t expect that you’re reading their comments right after they commit them, and no one expects a response immediately. In fact, no one knows whether you’ll ever read their comments in the first place. That’s why you have so much time to nail the guy you’re arguing with. The desire to do this only increases with your perception that a lot of people are watching, and it’s going to be written in cement for the world to see.
10) moods of other individuals not detected by posters
You’ve probably had the experience of walking into a room when someone is in a bad mood. You can tell instantly, without a word even being spoken. There’s a vibe. In a medium bereft of signals, there are no vibes. You get vibes after you’ve been flamed. Until then, it can sometimes be hard to tell if someone’s just being good-naturedly argumentative or is seething in their seat. Sometimes the SUDDEN USE OF CAPITAL LETTERS CAN BE YOUR ONLY SIGN!!!!!
11) time it takes to type out responses can lead to truncated stream of thoughts
The fact that it will take much, much longer to convey a thought in writing than it does in speech means that often, writers will lose patience in writing, and write something that’s far shorter, less nuanced, and more direct than what they might say in person. In person, it is easier to follow up comments, expand upon them, and elaborate as necessary in a quick manner.
12) jocularity/sarcasm/irony sometimes not easily understood unless explicitly stated
Because tone and pitch variance is stripped from conversation online, it’s much more difficult to pick up on jocularity, ribbing, and sarcasm. How do you take this statement: “I bet the new Sylvester Stallone movie is going to be great.” Even contextually, it’s hard to get a grip on this because often there aren’t environmental or syntactical cues that preface sarcastic or jocular comments. In person, we learn to detect them by behavioral and tonal cues. Unfortunately, it’s these sort of statements that, when misunderstood, have an inordinate tendency to create ill feelings.
13) lack of need for alignment in space-time
There is no physical location on the internet, and individuals are not situated in space-time the same way they are in person. A real-life argument necessitates that both parties be in the same place at the same time. Online, conversation participants can keep returning to the scene over and over, and it doesn’t require the other person to be there at the same time. Exacerbating this is the fact that the internet has both prompted and enabled our short attention spans, keeping us constantly surfing for emotional arousal and, perversely enough, sources of tension.
What’s the solution to all this? Personally, I think that people aren’t invested enough in the internet to worry about being constructive and productive with it. They’re more interested in the internet to serve as a complement— or perhaps a substitute— for TV or other forms of entertainment. The Straight Dope message board, which for a long time was the best place to go online for serious debates and interesting conversation, was regulated by a modest $15/year entry fee. As you may be aware, users of the internet are not typically used to paying for things. In fact, you might even say that they almost never pay for intangible or non-discrete products. But that’s what made the Straight Dope so good. No one went there just to troll or to create chaos. People who ended up there tended to be pretty self-aware, polite, and considerate; after all, they paid hard-earned money to be there. Of course, there were many times where it all turned into a mess of insults and personal attacks, but the financial filter seemed to do serve a beneficial function, even if it didn’t solve all the problems.
So what else is there? I’m not sure there is an easy answer, but for now, beyond training people to understand the pitfalls of online conversation, and to encourage them— perhaps through environmental cues and institutional constraints— to comport themselves in ways that make the internet something other than a glorified pro-wrestling tournament. Honestly though, short of revealing our identities for the world, I don’t have a lot of hope for it.
according to Jeremy Rifkin, we’re on the verge of a massive revolution
There’s a fascinating interview with writer Jeremy Rifkin over at the New Scientist website. In it, he lays out why he thinks there is going to a be a massive shift in human consciousness as a result of new forms of information accessibility combining with the human ability for expressing empathy. This revolution, in his estimation, will solve the energy and environmental problems our world is facing. Borrowing from evolutionary biology, philosophy, marketing, and many other fields, Rifkin sees hope in the current turmoil where others don’t.
Incidentally, Rifkin’s vision of changing human behavior runs completely contrary to that of Steven Levitt (of Superfreakanomics fame), who as I stated in a previous entry is stuck in neutral with his “solve problems created by technology with more technology” rut.
emphasis on short-term profitability stunts CSR’s ability to thrive in the market
Regulation is a pretty hot topic. And when I say “hot,” I mean that it has an uncanny ability to divide a crowd. Progressives seem to generally favor regulations as a means of limiting the damage caused by corporate recklessness, and they have been quite vocal in pushing for greater government oversight in what companies can do, and how much they can do it before incurring serious penalties. Meanwhile, proponents of the free market maintain that the only fair and effective way to handle regulation is to allow the market to do the work; they believe in an efficient economic system that automatically controls problems that really matter (i.e. the problems most people care about). I personally can sympathize to some degree with both sides of this debate, but am not convinced that either can be implemented as solutions to the problems we currently face. What follows is my logic.
Before we can go on though, we have to face facts: it’s been obvious to those paying attention that market forces have not been effective in curbing devastating environmental damage caused by companies who have ignored the social costs of their operations. It’s not limited to environmental damages, either. The recent financial meltdown almost certainly would have been prevented with more oversight.
The traditional progressive (read: “liberal”) line about all this is that these corporations are just greedy and soulless, and don’t care about anything but profit. But this views corporate activity within a vacuum, and denies the economic realities underlying their behavior. In the absence of proper incentives, no company will behave in a manner consistent with diffuse, idealized social goals. Companies by their very nature act in ways that are most beneficial to themselves in the marketplace; even companies that try to do social good still have financial and publicity incentives underlying their behavior. Why? Because if they don’t, they effectively get punished by Wall Street and the market; remember that when we’re talking about the stock market, the bottom line is that public companies (i.e. the biggest organizations on the planet, who control the most money) pretty much need to post higher-than-expected profits consistently— or else. On Wall Street, nobody gives a hoot about how socially responsible you are— unless you’re making money from it. And tragically, our system is structured in such a way that companies really cannot afford to piss off Wall Street, for a number of reasons that go beyond the scope of this commentary.
Nevertheless, that is an economic reality; to condemn a company for being socially irresponsible overlooks the conditions that encourage the sort of reckless behavior that we hear so much about. In my opinion, it’s more of an indictment of our social and financial structure than it is of a company to say that they act irresponsibly. Like I’ve said before, we should think of corporations like organisms. They do what it takes to survive now. They typically can’t afford to think too far in the future, because Wall Street does not reward thinking far into the future; Wall Street rewards thinking about next quarter. Whose fault is that? I’d argue that it’s all of our faults. In an environment of high competition and high risk of market punishment, it’s unfair to blame companies for playing the game by the rules we ourselves constructed. Of course, it doesn’t make what they do ethically right, but like in any evolutionary context, the concept of justice doesn’t play a large role in behavioral decision-making; surviving does.
So yes, public companies do operate by almost strictly by financial motives, just like many progressives indignantly charge. But I would argue that this financial motivation should not at all detract from the actions of, say, Wal-Mart, who has done more than almost any other company in the world to enact serious green initiatives. True, they’ve done it for themselves, their own bottom line, and Wall Street— but still, they’ve done it. And if that’s the motivation they need to do it, then perhaps we should encourage that. Besides, if they were supposed to adopt a sudden conscience about their activities and rectify them, whose social goals are they supposed to strive for, anyway? Lots of different social factions have lots of different goals, and many of them have incompatible or actively contradictory goals.
For this reason, it seems fair to place the decision-making process in the hands of the public, through market forces. That allows a sort of collective decision-making process that is free from being regulated by “some guys on a board,” and allows for us to ostensibly have a shared voice in determining the direction that we take as a planet. Unfortunately, however, there are some problems that such market forces don’t resolve. For example, the economically well-endowed have a disproportionately large voice and thus the ability to unilaterally have a strong negative impact with their choices. And there’s still no guarantee that the aforementioned group will pay attention to social well-being if they’re still being held hostage by Wall Street demands. Free market economics as a means of regulation is dependent on not only market efficiency, but ethical, rational, and well-informed decision-making on the part of consumers— many of which are corporate entities.
But as consumers we are neither rational nor omniscient. We are sometimes ethical. But we can’t know everything about all the downstream effects of all our purchases at the time of purchase. This makes it pretty hard to argue the point that the market will be able to curb environmentally damaging business practices through selective consumption.
That may seem like a slam dunk for regulation, and many on the political left would love to see this happen. But it’s not that easy. The problem of regulation is complex, and it is difficult to enact regulation in a way that appears fair to everyone. Here’s the main problem: if there are regulations, who gets to call the shots?
Some might argue that we should use science to guide our regulatory policy, at least with regards to environmental concerns. But what science? Even science can have an agenda. The more you look into scientific research, the more you see how there is a chain of funding. Funding is a political process. People conducting research are subject to biases. No matter what the science says, or the preponderance of evidence suggesting one thing or another, when it comes down to drafting law, there will almost always be some arbitrary component about implementation (e.g. exactly how many tons of CO2 a company can release per year; exactly what chemicals a company can and can’t produce). And those people whose economic interests are being impinged will no more welcome the validity of the science or the arbitrary lines being drawn than a liberal would welcome Sarah Palin’s views if she was placed in charge of preserving endangered wildlife. Ultimately, any laws will be seen as political tools with embedded agendas.
Though it is debatable how much this might change corporate attitudes towards CSR, I think part of the fix is to change the nature of Wall Street. It does not serve companies or society to have such a heavy focus on short-term profitability. This structure denies companies the opportunity to act in ways that favor their own long-term efficiency, the public’s best interest, and the well-being of the planet. If companies didn’t have to keep impressing Wall Street, they could better take actions that could, over the long term, make their operations more efficient, streamlined, and less wasteful. That would be good for their bottom line and for environmental concerns. But that takes time, and it might require a few consecutive quarters of what may appear to be subpar financial performance. Right now, this is a highly risky strategy that most companies wouldn’t consider because they will not be rewarded for it.
Weirdly, even amidst all the talk about reform in the financial industry, I have not heard any talk about this. Admittedly, I’m not sure if anyone has worked out the details about how a “new and improved” stock market system would work, or if anyone has suggested a better set of economic incentives for waste reduction, but perhaps it’s time we started a national dialogue about it. It seems rather important.