Cam’s Reads: I’m Not Listening…To Me

This November, I’ve selected five articles for your reading pleasure, on topics including the banality of the phrase banality of evil, why office snacks are an issue, how to quantify awe, and more.

The Real Reason the Sound of Your Own Voice Makes You Cringe
By Philip Jaekl
The Guardian

I’ve long wondered: do professional singers dislike hearing their own voice like the rest of us do?

The research is inconclusive, but it does offer some new explanations for why it’s so unbearable to hear recordings of yourself. One possibility is that it violates our aural expectations. When we speak, low tones are conducted internally through our bones to our ear; but when we hear recordings, fewer of those low tones come through. A second, newer possibility is that recordings suggest parts of your personality that are otherwise obscured.

Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’
By Roger Berkowitz
The New York Times

In the month since 11 people were murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue, I must have read the phrase “banality of evil” a half dozen times. For those with a behavioral science background, the phrase conjures thoughts of Stanley Milgram’s experiments on conformity, studies so seminal they nearly feel banal themselves. But while the phrase “banality of evil” has become common, the idea behind it remains more complex—and fraught—than many people realize.

This piece in the Times, though a few years old, lays out the different readings of Hannah Arendt, the writer who inspired Milgram’s studies. It’s an important reminder of how easy it is to collapse nuance into a pat cliché, and of how frighteningly close to repeating history we are.

Why Employers Should Stop Giving Away Free Snacks
By Greg Rosalsky
Pacific Standard

Getting free food at work can feel like the apex of luxury. Unfortunately, the economics of those bagels tell a different story. As Greg Rosalsky notes, the trend spurs less-healthy eating, isn’t actually free, and unequally distributes wealth within the company.

Can You Quantify Awe?
By Scott Barry Kaufman
Scientific American

Over Thanksgiving, my sister and I were pondering words that have abandoned their literal meaning. Exhibit A: “remarkable,” which doesn’t actually seem like a very high bar. Exhibit B: “awesome,” which, given how infrequently people actually experience awe, has perhaps deflated.

In this piece, Scott Barry Kaufman brings the experience of awe—“the perception of vastness and the struggle to mentally process the experience”—a little bit closer.

The Science of Inequality
Scientific American

Contrary to the national mythos, America’s social mobility is not unique—or even particularly good. The November issue of Scientific American contains a special report on the science of inequality: What are its origins and implications, in the U.S. or anywhere; how is automation, at first a ray of hope, actually exacerbating it; what does chronic stress do to our bodies; how does it degrade the natural environment? This read is behind a paywall, but it’s well worth the proverbial price of a coffee.