Monday, November 29, 2010

A Metaphor whose underlying imagery I have forgotten the origin of

Thus I remember hearing about monkeys, but can't find a source for...

If you give a monkey a button that dispenses food when pressed, he will press it a lot and eat until he’s full. After that, he’ll press it occasionally as he gets hungry.

If you make it so the button dispenses food after being pressed a certain number of times, or add a predictable time delay, it takes the monkey a little while to figure out the pattern, but then he moves into the same behavior as before – he knows he can get food whenever he needs it, and just presses the button when he wants food.

But if you really want the monkey to press the button heaps, you make it so that the button dispenses food only after a random number of presses, or a random time delay. Then the monkey goes crazy – he keeps pressing it because he doesn’t know if it will actually work on each press, and can’t figure out the pattern. Even after he’s full, he keeps pressing it to load up on food, because he can’t be sure that it will actually dispense when he needs it to.

The subject of this metaphor is ‘why I click ‘Check Mail’ so many damn times’.

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