From My Bookshelf: Nudge

Sometimes I feel dubious and then somewhat manipulated. Surely, the whole point of reading books is to make me think. Think about perspectives, worldviews, and perhaps even why I feel dubious and manipulated. Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein discussed what they termed libertarian paternalism, a rather mouthful and a bit of an oxymoron. The authors “use the word libertarian to mean ‘choice-preserving.’” And they have “used the term paternalism to include efforts to protect people against their own errors by guiding them to the choices they would make if they were fully informed and free from behavioral biases.”

Cover of book with title in bold font and three different sized elephants, one black, one red, and one blue, nudging each other in a line. The book is placed in front of google maps on an open laptop.

Choice architecture can be in the form of directions from GPS devices for nudging us to make right (or left) turns. Or a layout in the cafeteria to entice you to choose your vegetables first. And there is nudge in getting one to easily sign up for a magazine subscription, a credit card, or a long-awaited vacation but there also is nudge in the form of sludge to keep you from canceling your subscription, credit card, or vacation.

As an aside, my oldest nephew and I frequently swap thoughts on the books we read. He had an earlier edition of Nudge whereas I have the most recent edition. He was rereading some of the chapters for our conversation about the book. It turned out that my nephew’s edition cited works from a professor who committed scientific misconduct, had more than eighteen papers retracted, and was recently removed from research and teaching activities at Cornell. Thus, the cited works had been deleted in the more recent edition. Since not all authors have the opportunity to revise and update works, we can check the year of publication and give grace.

No matter, my nephew has a high baloney or error detector that I think we all should strive for, especially since the authors of Nudge have “noticed a worrying rise in authoritarian governments. And in the private sector, there is a lot of self-interested nudging.” We are all prone to nudging and desire to be nudged from young childhood up to old age, especially when we are overwhelmed with internet information and decision fatigue. And of course, driving with a GPS is quite helpful for navigating in unfamiliar places. However, transparency is critical. All food for thought.

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