It’s a different way of understanding what happiness is.
Social psychologists describe this change as a consequence of a gradual shifting from promotion motivation — seeing our goals in terms of what we can gain, or how we can end up better off, to prevention motivation — seeing our goals in terms of avoiding loss and keeping things running smoothly. Everyone, of course, has both motivations. But the relative amounts of each differ from person to person, and can shift with experience as we age.
Research from Northwestern University in the journal Psychology and Aging suggests that promotion-mindedness is most prevalent among the young, because youth is a time for focusing on your hopes for the future, what you ideally want to do — you don’t have much in the way of responsibilities, and you still believe you can do anything you set your mind to. That and you think you are immortal. This is more or less a recipe for strong promotion motivation.
As we get older, illusions of immortality vanish. … The older we get, the more we want to hang on to what we’ve already got — the things we’ve worked so hard to achieve. We also have more experience with pain and loss, having been knocked around a bit by life, and having learned a few lessons the hard way.
Ever since the 1500s, and for hundreds of years after, the only people who used @ were bookkeepers, who used it as a shorthand to show how much they were selling or buying goods for: for example, “3 bottles of wine @ $10 each.”
Since these bookkeepers used @ to deal with money, a certain degree of whimsical fondness for the character developed over time. In Danish, the symbol is known as an “elephant’s trunk a”; the French call it an escargot. It’s a streudel in German, a monkey’s tail in Dutch, and a rose in Istanbul. In Italian, it’s named after a huge amphora of wine, a liquid some Italian bookkeepers have been known to show a fondness for.
Even with such cute names to recommend it, though, @ languished in obscurity for three and a half centuries, only ending up on a new invention called the typewriter when salesmen realized that accountants and bookkeepers were buying them in droves.
In 1971, however, a keyboard with a vestigial @ symbol inherited from its typewriter ancestors found itself hooked up to an ARPANET terminal manned by Ray Tomlinson, who was working on a little program he’d come up with in his goofing-off time to send messages from computer to computer. Tomlinson ended up using the @ symbol as the fulcrum of the lever that ultimately ended up lifting the world into the digital age: email.
Heartening stat of the day: Gallup finds that support for marriage equality has doubled since 1996, with approval now surpassing disapproval. Also see this animated GIF map of the geography of marriage equality since 1970 and the seminal 1993 essay instrumental in shifting the paradigm.
And don’t miss the most beautiful meditation on the issue yet – from a politician, no less.
Wisdom from Ian Bogost, University of Iowa – a fine addition to this ongoing archive of timeless advice. Pair with Greil Marcus’s fantastic 2013 School of Visual Arts commencement address.