SCENE: The local brewpub at happy hour, back corner of the bar.
COMPUTER GEEK: Wow, he sounds just like my ex-husband: good for a while, until you start to notice all the glaring imperfections. Total alpha.
BIOLOGIST: Oh yeah, mine too! Everything had to be done his way, didn’t matter what it was. Alpha male if there ever was one.
COMPUTER GEEK: Tell me about it. The quicker I adjusted every fucking thing to his modus operandi, the smoother things went. For a while. If I kept my eyes shut and put my fingers in my ears.
BIOLOGIST: Yup. And of course the problem is I’m a bit of an alpha myself, and he couldn’t handle that. Called me the the b-word to my face.
COMPUTER GEEK: Don’t be too hard on yourself! You don’t strike me as an alpha at all, though I suppose we’re all a little rough around the edges. Still, I like to think of myself more as a beta… and that’s definitely what I’m looking for in my next man. Must. Be. In. Beta.
BIOLOGIST: Well, I’ll go along with that! I’m definitely looking for a beta this time around. But I don’t mind admitting that’s because I’m an alpha. Someone has to be! Who’d keep all the betas in line, otherwise? Not all alphas are bad — just the ones that, you know, aren’t any good. (Laughs)
COMPUTER GEEK: Oh, well, I guess that’s true. Can’t have a beta without an alpha!
COMPUTER GEEK: Still, don’t you think that, ideally, we should expect to get a little better at this each time? Relationships, I mean. I’d hate to think that anyone’s just stuck in an alpha version forever, doomed to make the mistakes with the same kinds of men over and over.
BIOLOGIST: Are you saying the beta pattern represents progress? I hadn’t thought about it that way before. To me, they’re just different ways of interacting, different social styles. But you’re right, come to think of it. As they get older, every alpha does eventually become an beta, or worse.
COMPUTER GEEK: Worse? You mean better! The beta stage is when you start to get real public participation, assuming we’re a public beta. The more people you have testing you out, the faster you’ll improve.
BIOLOGIST: I guess that’s one way of looking at it. Age certainly does mellow us out — or wear us down, I’m not sure which! And I’m intrigued by this idea that the beta stage is actually what we’re designed for. Some of the new research on human aging does tend to back that up. I think traditionally we’ve just been so focused on the reproductive stage that we’ve tended to ignore the vital social roles of, for example, non-breeding females.
COMPUTER GEEK: (warily) I’m not sure reproduction is quite the metaphor I’d use, but whatever. The important thing is that you have a pretty flexible architecture to begin with. If someone’s stuck in alpha, they just aren’t reaching their full potential.
INVESTOR (two stools down): I’m sorry, ladies, I couldn’t help overhearing a little of your conversation. I have to say I am fascinated by your interpretation of alpha and beta values!
I’ve always been told that you should go for a high alpha and a low beta, but it sounds like you’re saying the exact opposite! What other performance factors do you look at?
COMPUTER GEEK: Well, uh, it depends. Some people just look at adoption rate, but I’m a purist: I’m looking for elegance, I’m looking for simplicity, I’m looking for ease of use…
INVESTOR: (slides over to the adjacent stool) Tell me more!
BIOLOGIST: (in a loud mutter) Why the hell are males always so obsessed with performance? Do you have any fucking idea what we were talking about?
Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).