An abbreviated history of the seat belt:

  • 1922 – Barney Oldfield installs the first three-point restraining harness in his Indy 500 car.
  • 1959: Nils Bohlin invents the three-point seat belt/shoulder harness for Volvo. To encourage automobile safety Volvo gives the design away free to all automobile manufacturers.
  • 1968: Lyndon Johnson signs mandate that all new cars must be equipped with the three-point safety harness into law.
  • 1973: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) mandates new cars must have a seatbelt interlock mechanism installed, preventing cars from starting unless the seat belt is engaged.
  • 1974: Congress repeals the mandatory seat belt interlock law.
  • 1984: New York State passes law requiring all drivers to wear their seat belts. Between then and now all states except Hew Hampshire have passed similar laws, extended beyond drivers to all passengers.
  • 2000: Nils Bohlin dies. Volvo estimates his invention had saved in excess of 1 million lives.
  • 2021: Some drivers still refuse to wear seat belts because “You can’t make me.” Many Americans refuse to receive COVID-19 vaccinations for the same reason.

Imagine you’re enough of a libertarian to oppose the “nanny state” on principle whether it is nannying about seatbelts or vaccinations.

Also imagine you accept the by-now-overwhelming evidence that the major COVID-19 vaccines are, like seatbelts, safe and effective.

Further imagine you accept that wearing seatbelts mitigates the harm from car crashes, making them less lethal or crippling, just as COVID-19 vaccinations reduce the morbidity and lethality of an infection. But unlike seatbelts, which don’t reduce the odds of being in an accident, vaccines do reduce the odds of becoming infected.

Next: Read or review Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and use it to justify the proposition that even though using seatbelts can save you from death and severe injury, the political point you’ll make is worth the risk. With some ingenuity you can probably manage this, as when you refuse to wear a seatbelt you only endanger yourself … assuming, of course, you have no family that needs you alive and healthy.

Now try to justify the parallel proposition about vaccines.

With FDA approval of the Pfizer vaccine for general use, we can expect an increasing number of employers mandating vaccination, following the advice given here a few weeks ago (admittedly, most of them didn’t know I’d given it, but I’ll take credit for it anyway). And with the current surge we can also anticipate a return to mask plus social-distancing mandates.

“You can’t make me!” isn’t much of a moral proposition. It isn’t what you’d call thoughtful. “Childish” seems like the more appropriate adjective.

Bob’s last word: In Horsefeathers, Groucho sang:

Your proposition may be good

But let’s have one thing understood:

Whatever it is, I’m against it

And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it

I’m against it.

For those who miss the point, the song is supposed to be satire.

Bob’s sales pitch: just published another essay from yours truly. I think you’ll like it. But you’ll never know if you don’t read it. You’ll find it here, in “The three IT processes CIOs need most.”

As a card-carrying member of the KJR community, you know our guts are optimized for digestion, not for a dominant role in the executive decision-support system.

While watching The Loudest Voice a biopic chronicling the rise and fall of Fox News’ Roger Ailes — it occurred to me that, when making decisions, deciding whether or not we should rely on our intestines is less consequential than deciding who we trust to provide us with information and insights.

The Loudest Voice, for example, tells a compelling tale. Much of it is or could reasonably have been supported by sources close to Ailes and Fox News. But some of the story depicts private circumstances, especially between Ailes and his wife Elizabeth, for which the scriptwriters could not plausibly have had any reliable sources to draw on.

Scratch The Loudest Voice off my list of places to get insights into conservative media.

But the story as told was compelling (and Russell Crowe’s performance as Ailes was brilliant). Were I a left-wing partisan I’d have been vulnerable to accepting the entire production as history, not just “based on a true story.”

Which brings us to the opinions we form and the decisions we make, not only in our personal livee as citizens and voters, but as managers and professionals as well.

How do you decide which of your potential information sources you can trust? And if you find yourself disagreeing with folks you need to persuade, how do you pry them loose from the information sources they rely on … usually, one or more of the big three analyst firms (Gartner, Forrester, IDC) … to more reliable sources such as Keep the Joint Running, or, even better (for you), you and your colleagues who will have to turn CIO decisions into practical action?

Here’s a starting point: Have some. Information sources, that is.

Take time … make time … to read, about developments in your areas of specialization, and, even more important, where you don’t specialize.

As you read, pay attention to your own confirmation bias.

Read critically, but not so critically that you ignore ideas and trends you should be knowledgeable about.

But on the other hand, we all need to pay special attention to the other side of our confirmation biases, uncritically accepting sources we like, or that tell us what we want to hear.

In the political world, that’s how QAnon has gained influence. Political partisans start with the desire for their own opinions to dominate. That easily turns into a need to dislike those they disagree with — for their opponents to be bad people. Once I need my opponents to be bad people it’s just one small step for me to seek out information sources that disparage them.

In the IT world we don’t (yet) have any QAnons to worry about. Nobody reads an IT opinion piece because it vilifies … well, maybe we do.

Imagine you’re on a solution selection project and have developed a preference for one of the candidates. Now imagine the team seems to be leaning to a different candidate, one you’re far more skeptical of.

As we’re dealing in hypotheticals, next imagine you search for industry evaluations that back your position. You run across a Gartner Magic Quadrant that places your preferred solution in the prized “Leader” quadrant while scoring the one you dislike as a hopeless loser (“Niche” in GartnerSpeak).

I don’t know about you, but my inclination would be to immediately share Gartner’s views with the selection team.

But if Gartner’ analysis ran the other way, I’d probably search for a second opinion. Imagine what I found was a hatchet job that cast aspersions, not only on Gartner’s methodology, but on its objectivity and integrity as well. Would I be tempted to share that with the team?

Of course I’d be tempted. Would I actually share it? I hope that if the critique in question was based solely on hypotheticals, with no actual evidence to back it up, I’d resist the temptation.

I hope.

Sharing that sort of thing wouldn’t be QAnon-grade conspiracy-theory mongering. But it would be a step in that general direction, especially because the act of sharing it doesn’t just influence the people around me. It also sets up the vicious cycle of selecting what I read based on my likes and dislikes, reinforcing them.

Which in turn leads me to make my future information sourcing choices searches, not for information, but for ammunition.

And that’s the point this week: We need to choose our information sources carefully. Choose none and we’re just ignorant.

But choosing the wrong ones will make us worse than ignorant.

It will make us deluded.