Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Recency Illusion

I subscribe to a bunch of magazines; one I especially like is New Scientist. There was an article in there that I read a couple of days ago describing what I have noticed but never named: the recency illusion.

When something that you have discovered recently you assume is new to everyone is an illusion. In the software world I used to call a variant of this the "most-recently-discovered bug syndrome", which was the tendency to assume that a bug you just discovered is the most important one of all. It's actually the other way around, with bugs: if it took you this long to discover it, it must be relatively obscure, right?

Perhaps like everyone, I am susceptible to the recency illusion. In fact, in a very circular sort of way, when I set out to blog about this, I thought I should dig up a reference to the New Scientist article to link to, assuming that this was a new term that nobody would be familiar with. Ha! I set out to determine how new the phrase "recency illusion" is, which led me on a labyrinthine journey through Google links. One search result suggests that Arnold Zwicky coined the term in 2005, though vexingly, clicking on the link in the search results reveals no such mention; the abstract seems to have been edited.

But this article in the Language Log blog is great. It describes the "Cupertino effect" which you will just have to read to understand. What a great journey through linguistics with my morning coffee!