Jeremy Philip Galen

Product Marketing at Facebook. Cinephile. Cynic. Levinasian.

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QuickType in iOS 8 – a bigger deal than it might seem at first

One could conceivably claim that convenience is the mother of all communication. By “mother” I of course mean a set of other metaphors including but not limited to progenitor, caretaker, instructor, guardian, and then maybe conscience, nudge, antagonist, friend, ally and eventually (in dotage) a responsibility.

According to this claim there must thus be a theoretical point in ancient, pre-recorded time when inconvenience reigned supreme, unchallenged by our fretful attempts at being comfortable. In this hazy era we were likely as haphazard as Lucretius’ “dust motes dancing in the sunlight” – mere atoms in nature. But whenever it was that a creaturely commitment to convenience developed and managed to puncture this regime, forms of communication must have rapidly been born. For how else, could we have set about working well with like-minded members of our species?

After the arrival of...

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Metrics and Melancholia


“Objection to scientific knowledge: this world doesn’t deserve to be known.”

Perhaps the only thing worse than doing something wrong and not knowing about it is doing something wrong and knowing too much about it.

I’m in awe of a new product called Automatic designed to make me a “smarter driver.” More than any other recent promise of digital-personal-metrical accountability, Automatic touches on a behavior I’m convinced I could actually modify. I feel as though what I eat, how many steps I take, how deeply I sleep etc. are all fully deterministic expressions of my genome: how can I possibly use data to peel back layers of historical anxiety compounded by decades of familial and cultural reinforcement?

But my driving style strikes me a priori as something that hasn’t ossified yet. Driving isn’t a dictate of nature, it’s not something I was born doing, I had to learn how to...

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On the Tyranny of Miscommunication

If I could dedicate my life to exploring one paradox, I would choose the relationship that rhetoric has to miscommunication.

Like other humans, I’ve been making sounds and hoping to be understood for as long as I can remember. Being understood is incredibly gratifying – it’s bound up in the intoxicating affair of external validation. Being misunderstood, however, ranges from merely irritating to completely horrifying. The worst experiences of miscommunication are akin to madness. Indeed, couldn’t we describe insanity as the self-fulfilling paranoia of being misunderstood?

At first blush, rhetoric might seem to pave the road to miscommunication; what could possibly be less effective than colorful or expressive language? Effective communication would seem to depend on the opposite of rhetoric. Wrong! In hinting at the possibility of miscommunication, rhetoric crucially reminds us of how...

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A Short Checklist for Avoiding Mediocrity in the Gamefication of Loyalty

Artwork courtesy of Gabriel Schama

I’ve been a member of United’s Frequent Flier program since my father enrolled me in 1995. After nearly 20 years of collecting and redeeming miles for award travel, I recently became a Premier Silver member (the entry-level echelon of elite status, earned by actually flying 25,000 miles in a calendar year) for the first time.

Miles programs are oft-touted as the canonically well-constructed and successful loyalty game; my experience “winning” the game has taught me otherwise.

CELEBRATE progress–duh!

When I earned Premier Silver I received no email, no on-site megaphone, nothing to congratulate me on the accomplishment. I grew up watching my father flash a plastic card at check-in, and though I’ve been a Premier Silver member for a few weeks now, nothing has arrived in the mail for me. Perhaps they’ve discontinued the plastic shenanigans? Fine, but...

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Thoughts on “Over-Thinking”

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Courtesy of Gabriel Schama

If momentarily granted dictatorial control over parlance, the first phrase I’d eradicate is “You’re over-thinking it.”

It’s a vile phrase. In most contexts it amounts to little more than a verbal tic, a way for lazy interlocutors to buy time. In some cases it’s actually pejorative and can be a form of bullying. By deploying this horrid bit of rhetoric you’re not telling people that they are inaccurate or irrational or misinformed, and you’re not arguing with a specific point or the premise of dispute, you’re simply accusing them of adding complexity. How dare you!

Unlike other verbal cruft which we bandy about with impunity, the continued use of “over-thinking” as an insult comes at a dear price. The chief reason is that it’s impossible to differentiate over-thinking from mere thinking, and thus hostility to one is by necessity hostility to the other.


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Bob Galen: A pious reply to his son’s heresy


Last week I shared some thoughts about how tasks can be oppressive. My dear father, an inveterate list-maker and task-completer, emailed me this thoughtful reply.

Dear Jer,

You challenge the Task Model with a concise, rational and appealing argument. You ask, “isn’t life little more than the sum of the tasks you complete?” Further, you say, “tasks are pragmatic because they can be completed. And people clearly derive satisfaction from completion.” People aren’t the only ones.

If you came from an Abrahamic religion and have the Old Testament as your theoretical framework of life, you can’t help but notice, in the very beginning of this Holy Book, that according to Genesis, God had a list to work from and it was very clearly spelled out in terms of what would be done and in what order.

In fact, God derived so much satisfaction from completion of all the tasks that s/he called the...

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Stop thinking about your work in terms of tasks

I recently came across a work of art in my home that really helps visualize one of the risks that are run by breaking work down into discrete tasks:

Emergen-C, Abandoned

We’re always liable to be interrupted during the completion of tasks. Despite the noble work task management does to limit this liability, the risk of interruption never quite goes away.

The Task Model

The task model for conceiving of and discussing work makes a good deal of sense–it’s rooted in our most common vocabulary for discussing the past and our role in it. This may sound reductive, demeaning, unpalatable or even rude, but isn’t life little more than the sum of the tasks you complete?

Break down a week, day, or hour, and the only way you can really talk about it is in terms of what happens and what you achieved. You, the world you experience, and the stuff you want to do and get done for the portion of your...

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On the power of examples

painted rock

Damn this is some good signage, right? I took this picture on a bike ride in Lands End yesterday and I’ve been thinking a lot about it since then. There’s something incredibly efficient about the way it’s formulated.

There are of course several ways this sign could have been written, and I keep imagining the municipal conference room where some functionaries had to reject proposals until they came upon this winning formulation. Chief says “Alright everybody listen up, we really need to get the message across, people keeping dying out there on Painted Rock, it’s just so beautiful that they aren’t heeding our normal warnings.”

“Let’s spell it out in plain english,” ventures one cautious subordinate. “‘Severe Risk of Death’ will work perfectly, as always” he suggests.

“But the kids these days don’t believe in signs. And some of them are only enticed by risk,” replies the Chief. “We...

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What is the difference between sharing and self-expression?

People often use these two words interchangeably and it makes me rather nervous. I am uncertain they mean exactly the same thing, and I’m convinced it matters.*

Here are 4 propositions representing distinct options for modeling the relation between sharing and self-expression: A) Sharing is a subset of self-expression or B) Sharing is a superset of self-expression or C) All sharing is self-expression or D) No sharing is self-expression

self-expression and sharing

In Option A sharing is a subset of self-expression. Restated: all sharing is self-expression but not all self-expression is sharing. This is a pretty intuitive option because it pretty much makes anything I say or express or convey a form of self-expression. This is a self-flattering view, but it unattractively waters down the meaning of self-expression.

For example, when I share news about the government shutdown (a mere fact in the world), does it...

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Living with distraction: a rejoinder to Louis C.K.


Over the last few days I’ve rewatched Louis C.K.‘s Conan clip several times and talked of it with anyone who will listen. His point of departure is the case for denying his children smartphones, but he soon dwells on a much more disturbing subject, namely the threat that continuous connectivity poses for selfhood.

The bit is funny because, like pretty much all good standup, it is at once patently obvious and painfully true: solitude is a challenging experience and we’re hopeless at turning down an opportunity to feel part of the human community. Even if the gesture of inclusion is shallow and short-lived, like a text message, we spring for it instinctively.

What’s really interesting here (and probably the source of the routine’s comic weight) is that he’s willing to go out and admit that a text message from a friend momentarily resolves the existential anxiety he...

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