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The Laughing That Leads to Crying

One person’s humor is another person’s . . . well, it could be a lot of things.  There are certain television programs that I have seen that are so awkward that I no longer enjoy watching them.  Other times, humor just isn’t that funny, as my daughter reminds me when I tell some of my “jokes”.

I was thinking about this when I signed off Groupon’s e-mail offers.  I had signed up for a few weeks to see what it generated in the way of enticements and found that it really wasn’t for me.  At the signoff, they take you to a landing page that was developed as a potential way to entice you to stay.  If you want, you can punish Derrick, who is apparently the Groupon staff person who suggested you would like to receive e-mails.  If you click, he is yelled at and pleads for you to stay with the e-mail subscription.  Some sites have called this clever.

Groupon CEO as Derrick, the intern that must be punished

I don’t really know, because I couldn’t bring myself to press the button.  I had just finished reading Ordinary Men, which is a pretty gruesome recounting of a group of middle-aged police officers who were indistinguishable except for their contribution to the deaths of as many as 85,000 Jews in the Holocaust.  The last chapter goes through Stanley Milgram’s experiment dealing with authority figures and the willingness to press a button to cause another’s pain.

What I found interesting was my reluctance to press the button.  I wasn’t offended by it and I was pretty sure it was going to be something funny.  6 months ago or 6 months in the future, I might have clicked without thinking about it and enjoyed a few seconds of schadenfreude.  But I just couldn’t disconnect the fellow in the picture from the experiments I had just recently read about.  Humor is such a powerful emotion and tool that can sometimes save situations unexpectedly and backfire when used inappropriately.  I had often thought about where humor should (or shouldn’t be used) situationally – whether/if telling jokes at work, types of humor to use in presentations, etc. – but it was curious to me how a specific input for an individual, like reading a book, could temporarily alter an audience and make the use of humor much more or less likely to be successful.

I’m keeping a link to Derrick’s smackdown.  I may need a bit of smile therapy in the future, and it will also be interesting to see if my reaction to the punish button has changed.

David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.