Saturday, November 28, 2009


I've been reading Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely. This book is full of well-planned experiments that show we do not reason as we believe we do. The book is full of entertaining surprises, and you can just read it for fun. But I think it is helpful to try to understand situations where we cannot help acting irrationally in predictable ways, and situations where we might become more rational if we knew how to try.

I noticed one of the latter situations during my vacation. I was often away from my email for days at a time, and when I finally logged in, I usually found dozens of emails waiting for me. The majority of these were ad-mails from companies I had once made a purchase from. I had no idea how many of these I got per week, but at last I realized that I value the time it takes me to scan and delete each of these dumb messages.

I realized that I was behaving in accordance with one of the principles discussed in Ariely's book: we tend to overvalue the risk of losing something. I had not unsubscribed to any of these company's ad-mails, because, one of these days, I might need to know – or to be reminded of – what they were selling.

With newly opened eyes, I have been vigilantly unsubscribing, and I'm enjoying my email more.


jgfellow said...

I have always been nervous about unsubscribe buttons -- some were used (historically) as a way for spammers to confirm that e-mail addresses were live...

The Precision Blogger said...

I've been unsubscribing from reputable busineses, so I was not worried about this. However, one company that I unsubscribed from has gone right on sending ads to me, even though their page said I would unsubscribe 'immediately.'