technology, economics, and behaviour

Every fortnight I curate some of the observations and insights that were shared on social media. I call these Friday’s Finds.

“We are creatures of habit. Technologies are teachers of habit.” @amicusadastra

“States fail when they cannot distinguish fools from serious men.”Antisthenes via @sentantiq

“I believe it was Arthur C. Marx who said that any sufficiently globalized corporation is indistinguishable from empire.” @annaleen

 “obviously broken” systems will sometimes actually outperform “kinda broken” ones, because the latter might mislead people into trusting them. An obvious example would be traffic lights. A corollary to this principle (for which I could use a catchy name!) is that if fixing a system is too onerous, you might actually want to break it further or somehow make it obviously broken. Many systems, however, actually depend for their functioning on their brokenness remaining concealed, at least from most people. Judiciary systems might be an example. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to (a) formulate a concise criterion for deciding whether to fix, conceal, or reveal a system’s brokenness, and (b) encapsulate these ideas into a nice 2×2.@sebpaquet

Caffeine and angry bankers: the comfort of bad behaviour by @LedaGlyptis

Senior people are time-poor and you should respect that and refine the art of executive briefings and crisp summaries. High level highlights and clear asks. Complexity needs time and concentration and we have no staying power for it these days. But try saying that in an executive boardroom. Try suggesting that the way we work is not conducive to making informed decisions or reflecting on challenges and opportunities. Try suggesting that working like this leaves choice to chance because the seniors can’t see beyond the next half-hour interval and the juniors churn out PowerPoint safe in the delusion that their seniors and betters will notice if something is missing, if something is wrong, if something is inadequate – and too distracted by half by a desire to be at the apex of business themselves: that magical time when they will be reading other people’s badly thought-through slides, too busy to actually help them get the work right.

20 Years of Blogging: What I’ve Learned by @anildash

Ultimately, it’s my belief that social networks are systems that can be intentionally designed, and intelligently managed, to ensure that their primary impact is a positive one for the people who use them, and for the world. This is an optimistic idea that was the original spark for the creation of platforms, and a promise that’s been painfully abandoned in the years since. But I think we have learned enough lessons for it to still be worth trying to make something that works for the world.

The Economist Who Would Fix the American Dream

Economics has long played the role of sociology’s annoying older brother—conventionally accomplished and wholeheartedly confident, unaware of what he doesn’t know, while still commanding everyone’s attention. [Raj] Chetty, though, is part of a younger generation of scholars who have embraced a style of quantitative social science that crosses old disciplinary lines. There are strong hints in his research that social capital and mobility are intimately connected; even a crude measure of social capital, such as the number of bowling alleys in a neighborhood, seems to track with opportunity. His data also suggest that who you know growing up can have lasting effects. A paper on patents he co-authored found that young women were more likely to become inventors if they’d moved as children to places where many female inventors lived. (The number of male inventors had little effect.) Even which fields inventors worked in was heavily influenced by what was being invented around them as children. Those who grew up in the Bay Area had some of the highest rates of patenting in computers and related fields, while those who spent their childhood in Minneapolis, home of many medical-device manufacturers, tended to invent drugs and medical devices. Chetty is currently working with data from Facebook and other social-media platforms to quantify the links between opportunity and our social networks.

Image — @amyburvall

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