What is hidden in positive statements

I just finished reading The Emotion Machine: Commonsense Thinking, Artificial Intelligence, and the Future of the Human Mind by Marvin Minsky It was a really interesting book which I really recommend. I would like to highlight this part from the first chapter “Falling in Love”

On the surface such statements seem positive; they’re all composed of superlatives. But note that there’s something strange about this: most of those phrases of positive praise use syllables like ‘un–’, ‘–less’, and ‘in-‘un-’, ‘-less’, and ‘in-’—which show that they really are negative statements describing the person who’s saying them!

Wonderful. Indescribable,
—— (I can’t figure out what attracts me to her.)
I scarcely can think of anything else.
—— (Most of my mind has stopped working.)
Unbelievably Perfect. Incredible.
—— (No sensible person believes such things.)
She has a Flawless Character.
——(I’ve abandoned my critical faculties.)
There is nothing I would not do for her.
—— (I’ve forsaken most of my usual goals.)

Positive statements might hide what we really are thinking about. Did you heard in a wedding someone saying “He’s a very lucky man for marring her”? What that person probably meant was something like: “He’s lucky because I can’t understand how a woman like her could marry a man like him” or “He’s lucky because she could find a better man”

Reading about iOS7 Design Resources in the iOS Human Interface Guidelines I found a similar approach comparing iOS 7 and iOS 6. Look at the screenshot:


This looks wrong. One thing is to talk about the improvements of iOS 7 and the changes they made, and another thing is to trash your previous product. They are not doing it explicitly, but they are doing it indirectly.

  • Deference. The UI helps users understand and interact with the content, but never competes with it. (The previous design competed with the content and wasn’t clear)
  • Clarity. Text is legible at every size, icons are precise and lucid, adornments are subtle and appropriate, and a sharpened focus on functionality motivates the design. (Icons weren’t precise and adornments were not appropriate)
  • Depth. Visual layers and realistic motion impart vitality and heighten users’ delight and understanding. (Previous design lacked vitality and was hard to understand)

These three positive statements would be just fine if they were announcing iOS 7 as a new product for the first time. In that case the listener wouldn’t have a previous model to compare with and would use the hidden negative statements on the competition. But comparing in this way your current product with the previous one is just trashing your previous work. That damages the credibility of what Apple continually claims about their products, depicting them as the best in the market. How could they say they have the best Mobile OS if they are trashing it when the next version comes out.

I think that the right thing to do should be to avoid direct comparisons between your own products and only point out the evolution, the improvement, the new features instead of sending subliminal messages to costumers saying “today we sell you gold and tomorrow we will call it shit”.

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