News Stories

The Shut Up Machine

Ever wish you could "turn off" that annoying cell phone chatter we hear everywhere around us these days? Well maybe you can: Japan has invented a "shut up" machine that painlessly forces people to be quiet. And it's portable!

It works by recording its target's speech, then firing their words back at them with a two second delay, which affects the brain's cognitive processes and causes speakers to stutter, then silences them completely.

If people start carrying these jammers around in their pockets, cell phone yackers may start using less happy language, because the truth is that English contains mostly POSITIVE words.

The worst news gets the big story on the front page, so you might expect the New York Times to contain more negative words than happy ones. The same with Twitter, which may contain a lot of complaints about bad days, worse coffee, busted relationships and lousy sitcoms. But new research shows just the opposite--are we finally starting to cheer up in 2012?

Mathematician Peter Dodds says, "English, it turns out, is strongly biased toward being positive. We looked at the top 5,000 words in terms of frequency, and in all of those words you see a preponderance of happier words. It's not to say that everything is fine and happy, it's just that language is social. If you want to remain in a social contract with other people, you can't be a (curmudgeon)."

In contrast to traditional economic theory, which suggests people are inherently and rationally selfish, a wave of new social science and neuroscience data shows something quite different: that we are a pro-social storytelling species. As language emerged and evolved over the last million years, positive words, it seems, have been more widely and deeply engrained into our communications than negative ones.

If we think of words as atoms and sentences as molecules that combine to form a whole text, "we're looking at atoms," says Dodds. "A lot of news is bad, and short-term happiness may rise and fall like the cycles of the economy (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show), but the atoms of the story--of language--are, overall, on the positive side."

We can't promise you all happy words at our Dreamland Festival, but we CAN promise you INTERESTING ones, so join us and come have a fascinatingly good time.

The late Frank Zappa had a home music studio, but when his kids Moon Unit and Dweezil were young they raised hell and ran through the house screaming and carrying on. As kids do.

To cut down the noise level, Frank first got a portable tape recorder and followed them around as they whooped and hollered. Then he made an "endless loop" of the most irritating screaming and shouting, locked the kids in the bathroom, and made them listen to the tape of their noise through a huge speaker on the other side of the door. For several hours. They got the message.

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