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Varhol’s Corollary to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle August 29, 2016

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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I’m back to reading Sherry Turkle’s wonderful Reclaiming Conversation, and quite a bit of it is thought-provoking.  I’m trying to apply some of the lessons here to technology teams, but in the meantime, I’m drawing some independent lessons from her excellent tome.

Turkle notes that youth go to parties, then immediately start texting others to make sure they are at the right party, the “best” one. The idea, presumably, is to find that one best party and grace it with one’s presence.

Now on to Heisenberg. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle says that the very act of measure an activity out of necessity affects it in some way.  By attempting to measure something, we are making ourselves an actor in that activity.

Of course, Heisenberg was largely referring to the relative position of particles in quantum physics, but it’s reasonable to apply generalizations of this statement to other domains. My corollary applies to the realm of social behavior.  It says that one’s presence at a party affects the quality of that party, whether or not you are seeking alternatives.

While I will attempt to quantify this relationship for an upcoming academic paper, it is clear that if you go to a party and do nothing other than seek another party, you are worsening the experience for everyone at your current party. My corollary says that it’s not just the party; it is how you interact with the party.

If you interact well, you will believe you are at the best party. If you interact poorly, any party you end up at will be below your, um, expectations.  So by being there, and taking your own behavior into account, you directly influence the quality of the party by your own measurements.

In other words, your own presence and behavior has a direct and strong impact on your enjoyment.

Surprised? Neither am I.

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