Monday, June 14, 2010

Trade Offs Between Status And Interestingness

In a response to Kaj Sotala's post about how to have interesting conversations, HughRistik mentions two problems with asking questions:
1) If you are beginning a conversation with some who you don't know well, they may not give you very extensive or useful answers to your questions. 2) You can only ask so many questions in a row before you are interviewing them. Worse, it looks low status.
Asking questions lowers your relative status. I certainly buy this, as questioning is a sign that you care about the other person's opinion, which the higher status person will tend not to do. But asking questions is also one of the best ways to learn new info, satiate curiosity, and generally expose oneself to interestingness.

A higher status person will tend to be more aggressive, smile less, and act more selfishly. But being aggressive raises everyone's blood pressure, smiling releases endorphins, and being selfish makes it harder to create long lasting friendships of any value.

To me, these qualities that raise status don't seem to be worth it.

On a more macro level, Elena Kagan is now a very high status person and likely to become a supreme court justice. But she sacrificed interestingness along the way. Was it worth it? I'd say no.

As another example, blogging is fairly low status. But lots of people choose to do it anyway, in large part because they find it interesting.

On both a micro and macro level, it seems that there are trade-offs between status and interestingness. So, where do you stand on this widespread trade-off?