Monday, January 28, 2013

Personal Annoyance Factor

There were only 37 minutes to go. Surely we could make it to the end? But having spent the last two hours hoping vainly that things must get better, I gave in. “Let’s get out of here,” I said. And so it was, on the film’s £8 million-grossing opening weekend, that I walked out of Les Misérables. 
Emma Gosnell
Deputy editor, Seven
I, too, have recently been doing some walking out—figuratively speaking in my case.

Just before beginning to write this blog entry I stopped reading an article from New Scientist  magazine on the subject of the equivalence of gravitational mass and inertial mass. The article was well-written, but informative beyond my needs and, eventually, easy comprehension. I put down the text, unfinished but with admiration for the author.

Shortly before that, despite having read all but about the last forty pages of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s bestseller,The Black Swan, during my recent trip to Argentina, I found that upon my return to the normalvision hearth I could not abide reading a paragraph more. But not for the reason I stopped on the science article. Taleb’s book, for those who don’t know it, is about outlier events (“Black Swans” in his terminology) that unexpectedly pop-up out of nowhere and upset—for good or (more likely) bad—the established order of things. Although somewhat repetitious, the book is well-argued and worthy of one’s attention. So why did I stop reading it? Because it set off my Personal Annoyance Factor (PAF, hereafter). While there are numerous ways one can put off by other people, I reserve the term PAF for those occasions when one is slowly afflicted Chinese water-torture style by the continual dribbling of another person’s off-putting mannerisms and/or affectations. In Taleb’s case it was his smugness and self-satisfaction that eventually broke through my PAF level. That and a snideness about those he disagreed with which raised a ha-ha in Chapter One but became petty and tiresome as Taleb kept it up. So, just as one deals with an ungracious—though perhaps intelligent and witty—fellow cocktail party guest, I excused myself and went in search of another drink.

I first came up with the term PAF about six months ago, as I was getting more and more annoyed while reading another well-acclaimed book, this one on a topic I had been compiling notes about for a blog entry—sincerity. It was a much shorter book than Swan, but I tossed it aside much sooner than I did the economics book. It aroused my PAF to the point that I was moved to write one of my rare Amazon reviews about it (I believe that I have submitted only three other product reviews all told—despite spending half my Social Security check there: one was in praise of a favorite author, David McKie; another to point out that the plot summary of a book was totally wrong; and the third was to warn potential buyers of a video that the movie was dubbed). As I read the book on sincerity, I realized that although the author had done a good deal of research, he was zipping through history at breakneck speed, with a look-at-me grin on his face and a look-at-all-the-authors-I-can-lump-together-in-one-sentence self-satisfaction oozing from the page (Oh, I’m soooo smart!). And I got more and more annoyed as I read. Finally, I quit and produced my two-star review. I had intended to award three stars, but the more I thought about the book as I wrote the review, the more my PAF pricked me and so I punched the two-star button.

A slap in the face (literal or figurative) may make one angry and desirous of revenge. But at least it’s sudden. It’s the insidious drip-drip-dripping into one’s life of another’s negative character traits that sets off my PAF.