Tag Archives: Society

Changing the way you think

Every year I repost/review the Edge Annual Question as a refresh/reboot as my new year starts. The 2010 Question – “How is the Internet changing the way you think?” appears at first as a bit mundane, but as the 137 writers approach the task with their own personal take on the question I find enough to provoke some – um- deep thinking.

A few of my favourite behavioural themes get an airing – Nassim Taleb, author of the Black Swan, considers the impact of information:

So consider the explosive situation: more information (particularly thanks to the Internet) causes more confidence and illusions of knowledge while degrading predictability.

So much information, so much ignorance is his view – before he switches off the internet and returns to his well stocked physical library. David Myers states the obvious that the Internet as social amplifier can work for good and evil, and Chris Dibona (Google) doesn’t think the net creates ignorant people – they are just as likely to be ignorant without it.  Most of the other authors accredit the net to broadening their horizons and despite the brain power on show often in relatively simple ways. (I was expecting Andrew Keen to pitch in on how we are letting the amateurs take over, but sadly no room for just one more iconoclast). Brian Eno finishes his answer/essay off with:

I notice that almost all of us haven’t thought about the chaos that would ensue if the Net collapsed.

I notice that my daily life has been changed more by my mobile phone than by the Internet.

Stephen Pinker is robust:

To be sure, many aspects of the life of the mind have been affected by the Internet. Our physical folders, mailboxes, bookshelves, spreadsheets, documents, media players, and so on have been replaced by software equivalents, which has altered our time budgets in countless ways. But to call it an alternation of “how we think” is, I think, an exaggeration.

OK… no need to read every essay but surf the names you know or the titles that take your fancy – we still need the Edge Question every year.

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Social capital & the strength of weak ties

Following a RT from the Herdmeister this presentation has much to get your head around.  For me the exploration of weak and strong ties, social capital and norms echoes a book on economics I read on holiday last week ( I know, I have a real life on order, just Amazon couldn’t deliver in time) – Diane Coyle’s “The Soulful Science”.

From the slideshow it looks like the Guardian are trying to measure connectedness, a theme of econometrics geeks as well. As behavioural economics inches closer to social sciences and indeed social marketing there is a niche market opening up perhaps…

Oh and Diane Coyle has one mention of transport planners in the 250+ pages, in the concluding section on where economic research has “improved policy and made people’s lives better”:

“Not all transport planners make use of good economics, but where they have the efficiency and impact of the schemes has been transformed”

Thanks, that will be us then 🙂

19.20.21

New video  for an old project from Jon Kamen (Radical Media) exploring urbanisation and the rise of megacities, on Fora TV.

192021

The 19.20.21  project draws attention to the way such cities are growing and the problems of mass urbanisation, particularly in developing nations. How do we live in cities and how does that change over time?

“Finding the future first” means sharing data and information, so that better decisions are made, from infrastructure to health to culture.  The benefits of vertical living to save space, energy efficient mass transit systems are cited. 

The section on the largest cities at 1000, 1500,1900, 1950 and 2005 are as expected – the global cities are now mainly in Asia – as Kamen suggests urbanisation driven by water supply and location – well, yes and a few other factors .

Ultimately this is a promotional video for a potentially  interesting information project, so dependent on the audience you probably know this stuff already (or couldn’t care less). The site is OK, although my website designer pals would have plenty to beef about, just need to come back in 12 months time and see if its objectives have been met. As the idea has been kicking around since 2007 I perhaps won’t hold my breath waiting.

Smartest guys in the room

Imagine the scene – you get Dan Kahneman, Richard Thaler, Sendhil Mullainathan in a room in California to deliver a master class on behavourial economics, courtesy of Edge. In the audience you have Jeff Bezos, Nathan Myhrvold, Danny Hillis, Ev Williams, George Dyson and other A listers.

6 sessions, with videos and text, plus Q&A.  As an example  – session 1 – Thaler’s Nudge theory, choice architecture and “libertarian paternalism” are explored – interesting that he was going to call his book “Everything Matters”.  I like the phrase “one click paternalism” as well if not the possible negative outcome. Maybe we can get the opt out choice architecture right on our company car share scheme.

While its not an instant fix – behavioral econ rarely is – its worth the investment in time to get up to speed on the basics.

BTW The use of the Enron film title is just me being ironic…

The backlash begins

Working my way through this years “Pop!Casts” from Pop!Tech I settled down for the Malcolm Gladwell show. The premise of his new book, Outliers, leaves me a little underwhelmed – “so what” comes to mind – and I know that there has been some cultural critics who have argued that we have  seen diminishing returns from Tipping Point to Blink to Outliers.

I haven’t read it yet so will reserve judgement, but as bloggers take plenty of credit for compiling other sources of information and thought surely it would be  a bit wrong to characterise Gladwell as just a pop sociologist, reading the difficult books so you don’t have to?

Watch the video here and you decide.

So whats the big idea?

In the NESTA Connect blog there was some thought given to the recent Business Week top innovators list – all the usual suspects with Apple & Google leading the pack. I think the blog is right:

As always the list is more telling for who it leaves out rather than who it includes – what about companies from sectors such as architecture/construction, financial services, media, brand and PR, financial services and tourism and hospitality?

Agreed – surely the real innovation is found in the archetypical garage or at least small business and with the exception of Google, with its “20% Time” for all employees, innovation usually gets shuffled into an “R&D department”.

With the publication of Innovation Nation by the DIUS (yes, I had to remind myself it stands for the Department of Innovation, Universities & Skills) the topic is back in the news. 

Key to the debate is whether a recession is the best or worst time to develop new products and bring them to market – as an eternal optimist I would say do it now, research resources are inexpensive and necessity, as always, is the mother of invention.

So where is my rocket car,then?

I remember reading my uncle’s popular science magazines in the 1960s when I lived in North Dakota and every year there would be a long look forward to the future, always optimistic and full of technology breakthroughs just around the corner. A look back at the November 1968 issue of Mechanix Illustrated, courtesy of the Modern Mechanix blog, gave me a mix of “well, that happened” and “we’re still waiting” moments.

IT’S 8 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008, and you are headed for a business appointment 300 mi. away. You slide into your sleek, two-passenger air-cushion car, press a sequence of buttons and the national traffic computer notes your destination, figures out the current traffic situation and signals your car to slide out of the garage. Hands free, you sit back and begin to read the morning paper—which is flashed on a flat TV screen over the car’s dashboard. Tapping a button changes the page.

Well, the predictions about sat nav & computers in the article have been met, with the internet predicted and the wide use of electronic money, for example. A good read, as is the Paleo Future blog, now we need someone to write an article about 40 years from now, I bet it won’t be so optimistic.