Reply All: The Happiness Calculator in Vermont
Now for something completely different.
I’ve long thought that Reply All is one of the all time best podcasts, this despite the fact that P.J. and Alex (the hosts are creators) 💯% fall completely in line with exactly what you’d think and Brooklyn media personality would think about anything.
This blog is not one for 👏👏👏ing the coastie consensus, so — while I listen to it decently often — I really didn’t think I would ever write about Reply All here.
But they did a show that I’m a bit late to about research into the overall happiness of the country and I have to say: it felt important to me in a way.
They talk to a Vermont researcher named Pete Dodds who developed a system from making measurements about the moods of people who are writing down words in large data sets. He’s been picking up a feed of (I think I have this right) of 10% of all English language tweets (completely at random) going back tot he beginning of Twitter.
They have used this data to extract a general vibe of happiness for everyone using the site, which is kind of an okay sample (with many caveats). Basically, they have made a long list of words that are positive or negative to more or less degrees and the number of times those words show up, they theorized, should indicate a broad vibe of happiness or unhappiness.
And behold 🌄! They did in fact find that generally speaking there method seemed to be logical. Things went really negative around terrible moments. Things tend to feel better right around Christmas. All that stuff.
OK, so why did it feel important? Two more things I need to tell you.
First, the show reports that the vibe has been generally going down for the last five years.
Second, that in all their data going all the way back to 2008, there has just never been a worse time than now. They have recorded multiple lowest lows ever recorded. Because of COVID-19. The death of George Floyd. Various events. It’s just a bad vibe.
For myself I have honestly done pretty well in this environment, but I’m an introvert. There have been, however, some very black periods. At times they haven’t been precisely explainable either.
It feels helpful for me personally to know that there is just a broad blackness fallen over everyone. I have really lost patience with the discourse at times this year and I have to say: I feel a bit better knowing that the whole Western world is basically depressed out of its mind.
This show feels important because it gives me a reason to cut everyone some slack. That feels liberating on some level. And perhaps we can each blame ourselves a little less for losing control of our moods somewhat as a black Winter begins.