English Challenge 02

I.  Article

A. How Technology Is Hijacking Your Mind – Link

B. Excerpt to Read and Record

It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.

I’m an expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities.  That’s why I spent the last three years as a Design Ethicist at Google caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked.  When using technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us.  But I want to show you where it might do the opposite.

Where does technology exploit our minds’ weaknesses?

I learned to think this way when I was a magician.  Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities, and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it.   Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.  And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind.  They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention.  I want to show you how they do it.

Western culture is built around ideals of individual choice and freedom.  Millions of us fiercely defend our right to make “free” choices, while we ignore how those choices are manipulated upstream by menus we didn’t choose in the first place.  This is exactly what magicians do.  They give people the illusion of free choice while architecturing the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose.  I can’t emphasize enough how deep this insight is.  When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:

  • “What’s not on the menu?”
  • “Why am I being given these options and not others?”
  • “Do I know the menu provider’s goals?”
  • “Is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?”
    (e.g., an overwhelming array of toothpastes)

For example, imagine you’re out with friends on a Tuesday night and want to keep the conversation going.  You open Yelp to find nearby recommendations and see a list of bars.  The group turns into a huddle of faces staring down at their phones comparing bars.  They scrutinize the photos of each, comparing cocktail drinks.  Is this menu still relevant to the original desire of the group?

It’s not that bars aren’t a good choice; it’s that Yelp substituted the group’s original question (“where can we go to keep talking?”) with a different question (“what’s a bar with good photos of cocktails?”) all by shaping the menu.  Moreover, the group falls for the illusion that Yelp’s menu represents a complete set of choices for where to go.  While looking down at their phones, they don’t see the park across the street with a band playing live music. They miss the pop-up gallery on the other side of the street serving crepes and coffee.  Neither of those show up on Yelp’s menu.  Yelp subtly re-frames the group’s need “where can we go to keep talking?” in terms of photos of cocktails served.

The more choices technology gives us in nearly every domain of our lives (information, events, places to go, friends, dating, jobs) — the more we assume that our phone is always the most empowering and useful menu to pick from.  Is it?

The “most empowering” menu is different than the menu that has the most choicesBut when we blindly surrender to the menus we’re given, it’s easy to lose track of the difference:

  • “Who’s free tonight to hang out?” becomes a menu of most recent people who texted us (who we could ping).
  • “What’s happening in the world?” becomes a menu of news feed stories.
  • “Who’s single to go on a date?” becomes a menu of faces to swipe on Tinder (instead of local events with friends, or urban adventures nearby).
  • “I have to respond to this email.” becomes a menu of keys to type a response (instead of empowering ways to communicate with a person).

C. Vocabulary

  1. See highlighted words in the text above.  Mouse-over these words to learn their definitions

D. Comprehension Questions

  1. What is the main theme or topic of this excerpt?
  2. Does this article view our cell phone as good or bad?  Explain.
  3. What is the difference between a menu with a lot of choices and an “empowering menu”?
  4. Yelp is a web service that helps you find good restaurants to eat at.  Does this article view Yelp in a good or bad light?  Explain.
  5. Explain is meant by “the illusion of free choice”.

E. Grammar Questions and Notes

  1. Pattern for emphasizing a point for clarityIt’s not that [clause].   It’s that [clause].
  2. In this group of words:  Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities, and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence…
    (a) What special name do we give to the comma before the “and”?
    (b) Why are the first three commas required or what is the grammar rule?
    (c) Why is the comma required before “so” — what is the rule?
  3. In this group of words:  in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked
    (a) What grammar term would you use to refer to the underlined words?
    (b) What part of speech is “from”?
    (c) What part of speech is “getting”?
    (d) Why does “people” have an apostrophe (‘) before the “s”?
  4. In this group of words:  on all the things it does for us
    (a) How many prepositions are there?
    (b) What is the object (noun) of each preposition?
    (c) There is actually an implied word that has been omitted.  What is this word and where should it be placed?

II.  Song

A. Five o’clock World – Link

B. Story

This song tells the story of a married man who struggles to make ends meet (01). Though he works for a living, he feels he is wasting his life away (04). His wages don’t pay all his bills (10), so he goes deeper in debt every day. He fights rush-hour traffic to commute to work (02).He works from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (05); this is what we call a “9-to-5” job. At the end of his work day, he can’t wait to get home (12) so he can use his free time to be with his loving wife (15). He suffers through his working life (11) so he has enough money (09) to allow him to enjoy quality time with his wife (17). He sometimes falls into despair (16, 19-20), but his wife’s love inspires him and makes his suffering worthwhile (17-18, 22-24).

C. Lyrics

01 Up every morning just to keep a job,
02 I gotta fight my way through the hustling mob.
03 Sounds of the city pounding in my brain,
04 While another day goes down the drain (yeah, yeah).

05 But it’s a five o’clock world when the whistle blows.
06 No one owns a piece of my time,
07 And there’s a five o’clock me inside my clothes,
08 Thinking that the world looks fine, yeah.

09 Trading my time for the pay I get,
10 Living on money that I ain’t made yet,
11 Gonna keep going, gotta make my way,
12 While I live for the end of the day (yeah, yeah).

13 Cuz it’s a five o’clock world when the whistle blows.
14 No one owns a piece of my time.
15 There’s a long-haired girl who waits, I know,
16 To ease my troubled mind, yeah.

17 In the shelter of her arms everything’s OK.
18 She talks and the world goes slipping away,
19 And I know the reason I can still go on,
20 When every other reason is gone (yeah, yeah).

21 In my five o’clock world she waits for me.
22 Nothing else matters at all,
23 Cuz every time my baby smiles at me,
24 I know that it’s all worthwhile, yeah.

Questions for the Students

  1. Line 01 says he has to get up every morning in order to keep his job. This implies that, if he doesn’t show up at work, what will happen?
  2. Which line number is referring to rush-hour traffic and crowded sidewalks?
  3. Is his city quiet or noisy? Which line number?
  4. Is he happy with his working life? Which line number?
  5. In Line 04, what does “to go down the drain” mean?
  6. In Line 06, what does “own a piece of my time” mean?
  7. In Line 12, what does “I live for the end of the day” mean?
  8. In Line 13, what does “cuz” mean?
  9. In Line 13, what does “when the whistle blows” refer to?
  10. What do Lines 13-14 mean?
  11. In Line 18, what does “the world goes slipping away” mean?
  12. In Line 19, what does “I can still go on” mean?
  13. Does this story apply to you or someone you know?


A. Don’t Regret Regret – Link

B. Excerpt to Read and Record


  1.  So like Johnny Depp, and like 25 percent of Americans between the ages of 16 and 50, I have a tattoo.  I first started thinking about getting it in my mid-20s, but I deliberately waited a really long time. Because we all know people who have gotten tattoos when they were 17 or 19 or 23 and regretted it by the time they were 30.  That didn’t happen to me.  I got my tattoo when I was 29, and I regretted it instantly.  And by “regretted it,” I mean that I stepped outside of the tattoo place — this is just a couple miles from here down on the Lower East Side — and I had a massive emotional meltdown in broad daylight on the corner of East Broadway and Canal Street.  Which is a great place to do it because nobody cares.  And then I went home that night, and I had an even larger emotional meltdown, which I’ll say more about in a minute.
  2. And this was all actually quite shocking to me, because prior to this moment, I had prided myself on having absolutely no regrets.  I made a lot of mistakes and dumb decisions, of course.  I do that hourly.  But I had always felt like, look, you know, I made the best choice I could make given who I was then, given the information I had on hand.  I learned a lesson from it.  It somehow got me to where I am in life right now.  And okay, I wouldn’t change it.  In other words, I had drunk our great cultural Kool-Aid about regret, which is that lamenting things that occurred in the past is an absolute waste of time, that we should always look forward and not backward, and that one of the noblest and best things we can do is strive to live a life free of regrets.
  3. This idea is nicely captured by this quote: “Things without all remedy should be without regard; what’s done is done.” And it seems like kind of an admirable philosophy at first — something we might all agree to sign onto … until I tell you who said it. Right, so this is Lady Macbeth basically telling her husband to stop being such a wuss for feeling bad about murdering people.  And as it happens, Shakespeare was onto something here, as he generally was.  Because the inability to experience regret is actually one of the diagnostic characteristics of sociopaths.  It’s also, by the way, a characteristic of certain kinds of brain damage.   So people who have damage to their orbital frontal cortex seem to be unable to feel regret in the face of even obviously very poor decisions.  So if, in fact, you want to live a life free of regret, there is an option open to you.  It’s called a lobotomy. But if you want to be fully functional and fully human and fully humane, I think you need to learn to live, not without regret, but with it.
  4. So let’s start off by defining some terms.  What is regret?  Regret is the emotion we experience when we think that our present situation could be better or happier if we had done something different in the past.  So in other words, regret requires two things.  It requires, first of all, agency — we had to make a decision in the first place.  And second of all, it requires imagination.  We need to be able to imagine going back and making a different choice, and then we need to be able to kind of spool this imaginary record forward and imagine how things would be playing out in our present.  And in fact, the more we have of either of these things — the more agency and the more imagination with respect to a given regret, the more acute that regret will be.

C. Vocabulary

  1. See highlighted words in the excerpt above and learn what they mean.

D. Comprehension Questions

  1. This excerpt uses the phrase:  I had drunk our great cultural Kool-Aid about regret.
    What does this expression mean?
  2. How would you describe the popularity of tattoos in America, based on this article?
  3. What does this phrase mean:  to live a life free of regrets ?
  4. What did Lady Macbeth tell her husband?

E. Grammar Questions and Notes

  1. Pattern indicating a progression:  The more [Phrase A], the more [Phrase B].   This means that doing more of “Phrase A” will cause more of “Phrase B” to happen.  The more people, the merrier. (at a party — more people will produce more happiness).  The sooner, the better. (doing some action quickly will produce a better outcome or result.  Delaying may cause a problem.)
  2. What is the difference between “human” and “humane”?
  3. If you hear the expression “first of all”, what expression should you express to hear soon after that?

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