b.ing

Affordance Widths

Okay. There’s a social interaction concept that I’ve tried to convey multiple times in multiple conversations, so I’m going to just go ahead and make a graph.

I’m calling this concept “Affordance Widths”.

Let’s say there’s some behavior {B} that people can do more of, or less of. And everyone agrees that if you don’t do enough of the behavior, bad thing {X} happens; but if you do too much of the behavior, bad thing {Y} happens.

Now, let’s say we have five different people: Adam, Bob, Charles, David, and Edgar. Each of them can do more or less {B}. And once they do too little, {X} happens. But once they do too much, {Y} happens. But where {X} and {Y} starts happening is a little fuzzy, and is different for each of them. Let’s say we can magically graph it, and we get something like this:

Now, let’s look at these five men’s experiences.

Adam doesn’t understand what the big deal about {B} is. He feels like this is a behavior that people can generally choose how much they do, and yeah if they don’t do the *bare minimum* shit goes all dumb, and if they do a *ridiculous* amount then shit goes dumb a different way, but otherwise do what you want, you know?

Bob understands that {B} can be an important behavior, and that there’s a minimum acceptable level of {B} that you need to do to not suffer {X}, and a maximum amount you can get away with before you suffer {Y}. And Bob feels like {X} is probably more important a deal than {Y} is. But generally, he and Adam are going to agree quite a bit about what’s an appropriate amount of {B}ing for people to do. (Bob’s heuristic about how much {B} to do is the thin cyan line.)

Charles isn’t so lucky, by comparison. He’s got a *very* narrow band between {X} and {Y}, and he has to constantly monitor his behavior to not fall into either of them. He probably has to deal with {X} and {Y} happening a lot. If he’s lucky, he does less {B} than average; if he’s not so lucky, then he tries to copy Bob’s strategy and winds up getting smacked with {Y} way more often than Bob does.

Poor David’s in a situation called a “double bind”. There is NO POSSIBLE AMOUNT of {B} he can do to prevent both {X} and {Y} from happening; he simply has to choose his poison. If he tries Bob’s strategy, he’ll get hit hard with {X} *AND* {Y}, simultaneously, and probably be pretty pissed about it. On the other hand, if he runs into Charles, and Charles has his shit figured out, then Charles might tell him to tack into a spot where David only has to deal with {X}. Bob and Adam are going to be utterly useless to David, and are going to give advice that keeps him right in the ugly overlap zone.

Then there’s Edgar. Edgar’s fucked. There is *NO AMOUNT* of behavior that Edgar can dial into, where he isn’t getting hit HARD by {X} *and* {Y}. There’s places way out on the extreme - places where most people are getting slammed hard by {X} or slammed hard by {Y} - where Edgar notices a slight decrease in the contra failure mode. So Edgar probably spends most of his time on the edges, either doing all-B or no-B, and people probably tell him to stop being so black-and-white about B and find a good middle spot like everyone else. Edgar probably wants to punch those people, starting with Adam.

In any real situation, the affordance width is probably determined by things independent of X, Y, and B. Telling Bob to do a little more {B} than Adam, and Charles to do a little less {B} than Adam or Bob, is great advice. But David and Edgar need different advice - they need advice one meta-level up, about how to widen their affordance width between {X} and {Y} so that *some* amount of {B} will be allowed at all.

In most of the situations where this is most salient to me, {B} is a social behavior, and {X} and {Y} are punishments that people mete out to people who do not conform to correct {B}-ness. A lot of the affordance width that Adam and Bob have would probably be identified as ‘halo effects’.

For example, let’s say {B} is assertiveness in a job interview. Let’s say {X} represents coming across as socially weak, while {Y} represents coming across as arrogant. Adam probably has a lot going for him - height, age, socioeconomic background, etc. - that make him just plain *likeable*, so he can be way more assertive than Charles and seem like a go-getter, *or* seem way less assertive than Charles and seem like a good team player. Whereas David was probably born the wrong skin color and god-knows-what-else, and Edgar probably has some kind of Autism-spectrum disorder that makes *any* amount of assertiveness seem dangerous, and *any* amount of non-assertiveness seem pathetic.

There’s plenty of other values for {B}, {X} and {Y} that I could have picked; filling them in is left as an exercise for the reader.

Does this make sense to people?

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these are kind of old and kind of blurred but. 

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Peggy Lee (May 26, 1920 — January 21, 2002) as seen in LIFE magazine, 1948. Photo by Allan Grant

She was billed throughout most of her career as Miss Peggy Lee (and, in fact, she insisted on it). In the golden age of big bands she was a singer of renown with Benny Goodman’s orchestra and she went on to become a top nightclub singer, a prolific recording artist, a successful songwriter and an actress skillful enough to be nominated for an Oscar.

Duke Ellington called her “the Queen.” She was a weaver of moods and colors, her misty voice conveying impeccable rhythmic subtlety and smoldering sexuality. In a world of belters, she was a minimalist who eliminated any hint of the extraneous in both her voice and gestures, and she could stir audiences with an understated phrase more than most singers could by shouting and stomping.

Stephen Holden, a movie and cabaret critic for The New York Times, described her image as “Billie Holiday meets Mae West.”

Miss Lee made more than 700 recordings and more than 60 albums. Her own favorite album, “The Man I Love,” was recorded in 1957 with arrangements by Nelson Riddle and an orchestra conducted by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was so intimately involved with the album that he obtained some menthol to make Miss Lee’s eyes look properly misty for the cover photograph.

She is credited with having a hand in writing more than 200 songs, in most cases as a lyricist. Among the hits she wrote were “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” “It’s a Good Day,” and “Mañana (Is Soon Enough for Me).” Her name is indelibly linked with a number of songs, including “Golden Earrings,” “Fever,” “Lover,” “Big Spender,” “You’re My Thrill,” “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good,” “Them There Eyes” and the haunting Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller tune that became her signature in later years, “Is That All There Is?”

“She makes her listeners feel cherished,” Whitney Balliett wrote of her in The New Yorker. “Her singing lulls you, and it is easy to forget how daring it is. Many singers confuse shouting with emotion. Peggy Lee sends her feelings down the quiet center of her notes.”

“She is a subtle and brilliant showman,” he added. “She can slink, arch an eyebrow, pull out a hip and rest a hand on it, half smile, wave wandlike arms, bump, tilt her head and slouch – all to dazzling, precise effect.”

Miss Lee was named Norma Deloris Egstrom at her birth on May 27, 1920, in Jamestown, N.D. She was the sixth of seven children of Marvin and Selma Egstrom. Her father was a railroad station agent who drank too much. His job kept the family moving from town to town in lonely parts of North Dakota. Her mother died when she was 4 and her father remarried. Five-year-old Norma was brutally abused by her stepmother, who would hit her over the head with an iron skillet, beat her with a razor strap and drag her around by her hair. By the age of 7, she was keeping house, baking, cooking, cleaning and milking cows.

There was never any doubt in her mind that she would become a singer. ’‘I had always sung – I sang before I could talk,“ she reminisced in her 1989 autobiography, ’'Miss Peggy Lee” (Donald I. Fine). She was 14 when she made her professional debut at a local radio station in Jamestown and was still a teenager when a program director at a radio station in Fargo gave her a job and her stage name. The job paid $1.50 for each noonday show. To make ends meet, she worked a 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shift in a bakery, slicing and wrapping bread for 35 cents an hour.

A friend who had gone to California suggested she join her. She sold the watch her father had given her at her high school graduation for $30, bought a train ticket and arrived in Hollywood with $18. She got a brief singing engagement in a supper club but mostly worked as a waitress before returning to North Dakota. She found work singing for a radio station in Fargo, then as a singer in Minneapolis with Will Osborne’s band.

Miss Lee was discovered in Chicago in 1941 by Benny Goodman, who was looking for a replacement for his vocalist, Helen Forrest, who was leaving to join Artie Shaw’s band. He heard her sing “These Foolish Things” at the Ambassador West Hotel and called the next day, offering her the job. She had a cold the first night she appeared, the critics were unkind, and she wanted to quit. Goodman refused to let her go and she stayed on, at $75 a week.

Later that year, the band played the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, and Miss Lee recalled in her autobiography how awed she had been to see Franchot Tone dancing by with Joan Crawford, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne chatting at their table with Katharine Cornell, and Gary Cooper joking with Mayor Fiorello La Guardia.

It was Miss Lee’s sulky rendition of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” with the Goodman band in 1942 that made her a star. She sang the Joe McCoy song in a voice that demonstrated she could sing of hard times as well as anybody; her version became one of the the biggest selling records in the country:

You had plenty money nineteen twen'y-two
You let other women make a fool of you
Why don’t you do right
Like some other men do?
Get out of here and get me some money, too.

Peggy Lee’s tour with the Goodman band lasted less than two years but the collaboration made her one of the most famous female vocalists of the time and put her on the road to fame. [x]

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