Why You'll Click This Link: On Our Inherent Curiosity and How it's Being Exploited.

Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Man. A sideshow poster from the 19th century.

Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Man. A sideshow poster from the 19th century.

Like a bombastic carnival pitchman barking on the bally platform about Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Man, our attention is being captured by the alluring headlines and thumbnails that plague the internet. Sensational headlines like:  "9 Out Of 10 Americans Are Completely Wrong About This Mind-Blowing Fact" or "If This Video Makes You Uncomfortable, Then You Make Me Uncomfortable" are seen topping the charts of popular sites like Upworthy hooking our curiosity; What fact!? What uncomfortable video? I want to know! I. MUST. KNOW. The truth is we live in a world where our time and attention is the most valuable commodity. But as you may not realize, it's not entirely your fault for being distracted.

In the last few years we've seen an insurgence of attention grabbing, time sucking, void and vacuous internet fluff. What has now been coined "Clickbait" or "Sharebait" is being churned out at rapid rates in every corner of the interwebs so much so that parody sites like Upworthy Headline Generator and Clickhole have begun to pop up (which ironically steal yet more of your precious time - go ahead and click... I'll wait). 

Being in the business of distraction myself, it's no secret that a large part of what I do is about playing with your attention, not just by working out ways to divert it - but also ways to engage it. Everyone who wants to sell you something wants to first get you to look in their direction. They're exploiting an essential human mechanism we all share - curiosity. 

We all have an innate desire to know. Having information wields a type of power that almost certainly stems from our evolutionary survival instincts. Media, marketers, and politicians alike love to make you feel powerless because they want to sell it to you. But how do they do it?

Perceived Intelligence

They know that you want to be the most interesting one in the room. They also know that you want to be the first interesting one in the room. You'll read it, share it, and talk about it because you want to be a leader or at the very least, "in the know". By telling your friends you've seen the Dog-Faced Man, makes you that much more interesting...

Information High

Research has shown that dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is released into the brain's pleasure centers when we learn new information. Learning something new feels good - and we like feeling good, but addiction often operates in an insatiable cycle. A perfect chemical cocktail for constantly arresting your focus. Making it all the more interesting to find out what "21 things you should never say to an Atheist."

What to do about it?

Don't get me wrong, there are lot's of important "mind-blowing" articles to read out there. So how can you know when you're being swindled? Eventually you'll be able to sniff out a scam worthy headline from a mile away. But more importantly you can arm yourself by knowing the difference between active learning and passive distraction. The next time something piques your interest -think about your time and how much it's worth. Because it's so much easier to fall into an internet black hole when you're not paying attention. 

But hey, sometimes it's good to go to Coney Island - just make sure you don't lose all your money. So come one, come all to see Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Man...

**Also, if you must know - Fedor Jeftichew, aka Jo-Jo The Dog-Faced Man, suffered from a condition called hypertrichosis which left him with a face full of hair - one that he used to define a legendary career as a sideshow performer.  

Don't click this. Have you learned nothing?!

Don't click this. Have you learned nothing?!

Managing Stage Fright


Clammy hands. Heart beating at 120 BPM. Mind racing. A swarm of butterflies colonizing in your stomach. 3. 2. 1...

The first time I got on stage I nearly blacked out. I was sitting down, meticulously going over the details of my act - playing the perfect version of it over and over in my mind, making sure I hadn't missed a thing. It was for my middle school talent show. Unsure as to why I even signed up in the first place - it was too late now. A few minutes before I went on, I stood up from the chair, seemingly too quickly because all of the blood from my head rushed down to my lower extremities and I nearly fainted. You know, like a victorian woman. This sensation, being the first time I had ever experienced it (age 12), unsurprisingly added to my neurosis. I had an overwhelming case of what's known as "butterflies in your stomach", or "the jitters", or simply - "stage fright". Nonetheless I regained most of my consciousness and went out on stage in front of nearly 200 people and did what I had spent weeks practicing to do (which is a whole other story which I may or may not write about in the future). 

It's no surprise that public speaking is one of our greatest fears (in close competition with our fear of death). In this moment I could relate. Not only was I experiencing intense nerves but I also thought I was dying! Since then I've learned a thing or two about taming the pre-show heebie-jeebies both on stage and off.

Note: the "pre-show" here refers to the moments before a performance - but you might find these techniques applicable in other situations; before speaking in front of your peers (or strangers), or say, being nervous about confronting a friend about a serious issue. Whatever the "pre-show" is for you, I hope you find the following helpful.

Go with it. It's normal. Don't try and fight "the beast". You can always find a way to live with it harmoniously.  The production and distribution of adrenaline is a normal physiological response to anxiety (in an attempt for your body to cope) it's natural to sweat, shake and panic. It's a part of the instinctual flight or fight response and it works differently for everyone. But knowing this already puts you a step ahead of others who are crippled by the mere notion of being in front of people.

Breathe, Hydrate and Warm-up. It's what all the pro's do! It's so that your body can have the right conditions to balance out and focus. Why not do the same before delivering a keynote, or talking to your boss at the office? Be attentive to your breath as you take deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth. A simple breathing technique is to breathe in for a count of 4 - hold for a count of 7 and breathe out through the mouth for a count of 8. It helps to regulate oxygen throughout the body. Drink plenty of water or herbal tea (caffeine might make you more nervous - or worse - crash!) and warm up your voice and body with some simple exercises (you can find basic physical stretches and warm-up techniques on YouTube but if you're serious about vocal warm ups I'd recommend booking a session or two with a vocal coach to get some tailor made exercises). 

Be prepared. Map out key points and review them until your comfortable. Not more than that. Over preparing, while occasionally good for catching mistakes, often does more harm than good. Instead think about the things that might sabotage you beforehand. I know quite a few performers/presenters that leave everything to the last minute. Don't. The last thing you need to worry about is picking up your dry cleaning! 

Visualize. If you can see the space beforehand do it. Occasionally some may get nervous about new and unfamiliar environments. It helps if you can visualize yourself performing beforehand. Being comfortable with your space is important to feeling at ease. 

As for me? These days there aren't many times I get nervous before a performance (occasionally when I'm performing a new show). Thankfully most of the times I'm experiencing a sense of euphoria on stage. A sense of "flow" as psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to it. It's a realization that what I'm doing is what I love to do - and knowing that has a funny way of keeping your feet on the ground and the blood from draining from your brain. 

The 5 Best Books on Lying. Honestly.

Whether you're interested in learning how to become more proficient in the art of truth contorting or you just want to peel back the curtain on deception - the following is a compilation of some of my favorite books on the subject. 

#5 The Honest Truth About Dishonesty - Dan Ariely

If you're interested in the psychology of lying, why we do it, and how to spot it - I'd recommend starting your adventure here. I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Ariely during his "Truth Box" project at the Games for Change festival in NYC ( which my confession was featured in! ). Dan provides interesting anecdotes and comprehensive research on why it is we distort the truth. Beyond reading the book I'd also recommend keeping an eye out for his documentary (which was recently funded on Kickstarter).



#4 Lying - Sam Harris

Aside from being a Ben Stiller look-a-like - Mr. Harris is more commonly known as a prolific author and speaker on quite a few controversial subjects - Lying being one of them. This book is a short read that focuses more on the philosophy of lying. Mr. Harris discusses vulnerability, false encouragement and how lying affects your relationships. I highly recommend getting the e-book and spending an afternoon questioning the truth with Mr. Harris. 

Some of my other favorite books of his include Waking Up, Free Will, The Moral Landscape.


#3 Unmasking the Face - Paul Ekman

A huge part of understanding lying is understanding emotions. Paul Ekman has become known as a pioneer of understanding hidden human emotions through facial expressions (often referred to as micro expressions). Mr. Ekman was the inspiration for the popular show Lie to Me. And although this is not a cover to cover type read - this book provides a guide on the extensive research he's done over the years. His FACS system (facial action coding system) has piqued the interest of companies like Apple, Google and even Pixar. Mr. Ekman also consults for the TSA and is called in to monitor high profile court cases in order to spot liars. If you're interested in diving deeper down the rabbit hole - Paul Ekman's books are a must. 


#2 Trust me I'm lying - Ryan Holiday

"... It is a world of many hustlers and you are the mark." One of the many quotable turns of phrase from this infamous author. Ryan is the master puppeteer behind the controversial American Apparel campaign (in which he speaks about in the book). Trust Me I'm Lying is more of a specific take on how the art of manipulating thoughts and behaviors applies to the media and consumerism. But his stories are chilling and violating. You'll never look at the internet (among other things) the same way again. I'd also highly recommend reading Mr. Holiday's blog - which you can check out here



#1 On the Decay of the Art of Lying - Mark Twain

Hands down my favorite publication on the subject. This short essay by Mark Twain speaks about the necessity of lying. This was the first text for me that successfully romanticized the subject. He says: 

“...lying is a sweet and loving art, and should be cultivated. The highest perfection of politeness is only a beautiful edifice, built, from the base to the dome, of graceful and gilded forms of charitable and unselfish lying” 

It's available for free on the iBooks store but I strongly recommend buying a copy here.