November 30, 2008

Fearing The Wrong Risks (With Examples)

Things that'll knock you down you don't even see coming --- Bruce Springsteen

Last week, I was looking at webcams. The warranties run two years (Logitech) or three years (Microsoft). That's good. I expect gadgets to have a warranty of at least a year. The cashier still suggested I buy an extended warranty. The cost isn't much, but I've got a bigger issue: protecting data.

I make daily automated backups on external hard drives but these copies are at home too. Years of valuable information could disappear by fire or theft. In contrast, a defective webcam would be a minor, inexpensive inconvenience.

According to the Harvard Business Review, we worry about the wrong risks by
  1. focusing on the recent and near term
  2. spending too much protecting against the wrong risks
Smoking reduces lifespans by about 5 years. Flying reduces lifespans by a day. Yet smokers worry about flying and continue smoking (in the few remaining designated areas). We worry about minuscule levels of pesticides on veggies but ignore the carcinogens from grilling burgers over charcoal.

We're irrational. According to David Myers, four fears influence our misguided intuition:
  1. we fear what our ancestors feared
  2. we fear what we can't control
  3. we fear what's immediate
  4. we fear what's most readily available in our memories
Inherited Fears
All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears --- of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words "Some Assembly Required." ---- Dave Barry
We no longer live in the wild, but we fear spiders, lizards and snakes. Combined, those creatures kill one American a month.

Out Of Control
If everything seems under control, you're just not going fast enough.
--- Mario Andretti
We fear food preservatives which we can't do much about. So we pay extra for organic products. However, we gladly ski and drive faster than conditions warrant (especially with all-wheel-drive).

The Immediate
Fear is an emotion indispensable for survival --- Hannah Arendt
We ignore the long term effects of a poor diet or lack of exercise because nothing bad happens now. This is the buy now/pay later mindset. We worry about flying especially at takeoff and landing. Here are other examples
  • strokes take twice as many lives as accidents
  • diabetes takes four times as many lives as homicides
The Memorable
What sticks in our mind and colors our judgment is our own vivid experience.
--- David Myers, Intuition
I recall reading that drowning causes more deaths than fire. Yet fires make the TV news and probably cause more fear.

Thanks to Jaws, we are afraid of shark attacks. In the last century, less than 70 deaths have been reported worldwide.

Lack of fear can be idiotic. Alligators look inert when sunning themselves on land. While on a bus tour bus of the wilds of Florida, we saw a family on the side of the road snapping photos of an alligator mere metres away. Our driver stopped and honked until the foolish foursome got back into their car. Who knows what they did after we left.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A lady found 14 baby pythons in her bedroom. I'm glad it was in Australia. Here's the link: