The latest Pew Internet study confirms what most of suspected was the case: “Americans are increasingly going online just for fun and to pass the time, particularly young adults under 30. On any given day, 53% of all the young adults ages 18-29 go online for no particular reason except to have fun or to pass the time. ”
And this also confirms an idea many of us have been proposing for a decade and a half or so: The Internet is a place. It is a weird place in which proximity is determined by interest, rather than a space in which interests are kept apart by distances. It is a place in which nearness defeats distance. It is a place, not just a space, because spaces are empty but places are saturated with meaning: Place is space that has been made to matter to us. The Internet is a place.
And now we have the polling numbers to prove it :)
Tagged with: place
Date: December 2nd, 2011 dw
If meaning is use, as per Wittgenstein and John Austin, then what does “know” mean?
I’m going to guess that the most common usage of the term is in the phrase “I know,” as in:
1. “You have to be careful what you take Lipitor with.” “I know.”
2. “The science articles have gotten really hard to read in Wikipedia.” “I know.”
3. “This cookbook thinks you’ll just happen to have strudel dough just hanging around.” “I know.”
4. “The books are arranged by the author’s last name within any one topic area.” “I know.”
5. “They’re closing the Red Line on weekends.” “I know!”
In each of these, the speaker is not claiming to have an inner state of belief that is justifiable and true. The speaker is using “I know” to shape the conversation and the social relationship with the initial speaker.
1., 4. “You can stop explaining now.”
2., 3. “I agree with you. We’re on the same side.”
5. “I agree that it’s outrageous!”
And I won’t even mention words like “surely” and “certainly” that are almost always used to indicate that you’re going to present no evidence for the claim that follows.
, too big to know
Tagged with: 2b2k
• ordinary language
Date: October 25th, 2011 dw
Yochai Benkler is giving a talk about his new and wonderful book, The Penguin and the Leviathan. (I interviewed him about it here.)
NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.
Yochai begins by pointing to Occupy Wall Street as teaching us much about cooperation and collaboration.
On Oct. 23, 2008, Alan Greenspan acknowledge to Rep. Henry Waxman that his model of the world was wrong. “I made a mistake in presuming that the self interest of organizations…was such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders.” We live in a world built around a mistaken model of human motivation, Yochai says. The basic error is not that we are sometimes self-interested, for we are. The mistake is thinking we could build our systems assuming that we are more or less uniformly self-interested. We’ve built systems that try to get incentives right, or that try to get punishment right. But now scientific selfishness has retreated, and we should model our systems on this new knowledge.
In 1968 Gary Becker said that we could model crime by thinking it of a pay-off model: the benefits of the crime vs. the cost of the penalty. So, we get Three Strikes laws. In another domain, the Jenson and Murphy paper on incentive pay for top management assumes that every level of the enterprise will try to shirk and put more in their pockets, so (the theory goes) you should increase the stock options at the top. But that hasn’t worked very well for companies in terms of return to stockholders; you get misalignment from this model. This model is like Becker’s: it’s about getting the incentives and penalties right. Yochai tells of a mother trying to get her three year old into a car by threatening to take five cents off the child’s allowance. “This model penetrates everywhere,” he says.
This intellectual arc is everywhere. Evolutionary biology has moved from group selection to selfish gene through kin altruism and direct reciprocity. Economics also: strong assumptions of self-interest. Political theory, from Downs, to Olson, to Hardin: all assume the inability to come together on a shared set of goals. Management science and organizational sociology: From Taylor to Weber to Schumpeter through Williamson. Although there are counter narratives in each of these fields, selfishness is the dominant model.
And yet on line we see how easily we cooperate. “Things that shouldn’t have worked, have worked.” He draws a 2×2: market based and non-market based vs. decentralized and centralized. In each, there have been huge successes of social production. This is in fact a new solution space.
In each of the aforementioned disciplines, there is now a development of more complex models that take account of cooperation. E.g., evolution: indirect reciprocity; cooperation emerges much more easily in the new models. Economics: shift to experimental and modeling away from self-interest, and the development of neuroeconomics. Political: Eleanor Ostrom on the commons. Management science: Work on team production and networks; high commitment, high-performance organizations.
The core insight of all of these fields is that the model of uniform self-interest is inadequate. Then there’s debate.
Yochai compares Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) and Martin Nowak (2006). Dawkins says we are born selfish. Nowak says: “Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of evolution is its ability to generate cooperation in a competitive world.” It’s an old debate, Yochai says, citing Kropotkin vs. Spencer vs. Boaz vs. Margaret Mead. The debate is now swinging toward Kropotkin, e.g., neural research that shows empathy via brain scans: a partner’s brain lights up in the same way when s/he sees the other person undergoing pain. He points to the effect of oxytocin on trust, and for the first time in Berkman history makes a reference to monogamous voles.
Why does this matter, Yochai asks. He refers to an experiment by Lee Ross et al. Take a standard Prisoner’s dilemma. All predictions say that everyone should defect. Take the same game and give it to American students, Israeli fighter pilots, etc., and told them either “You’re going to play the Community Game” or “The Wall Street Game.” The former 70% opened cooperatively and kept cooperating through the 7 rounds. The latter opened at 30% cooperative. The 30% in the Community Game represent a significant segment that has to be dealt with in a cooperative system. But there’s a big middle that will one or the other depending on what they understand their context to be. So, concludes Yochai, it’s important to design systems that lets the middle understand the system as cooperative.
So, we move from tough on crime to community policing. That changes all sorts of systems, including technical, organizational, institutional, and social. Community policing has been widely adopted because it’s generally successful. We see that we have success with actual practices that depend not on reward and punishment and monitoring, but on coperation. We’re finding out about this online, but it’s not happening just online.
Yochai says that he’s just at the beginning of an investigation about this. There’s a limit to how much we can get out of evolution, he says. It’s hard to design systems on the basis of evolution. Instead, we see a lot of work across many different systems.
But we still want to know: Won’t money help? The answer is what’s called “crowding out.” We care about material interests, but we also care about fairness. We have emotional needs. We have social motivations. What if these interests don’t align? The Titmuss-Arrow debate 1970/1 about the motivations for donating blood. A 2008 study (Mellstrom and Johannsesson) paid people money to give blood. When you allow them to give the money away, it increased the number of people who gave blood. Adding money can suppress an activity more than it increases it. That’s crowding out. It’s not uniform in the population. Designing systems is much harder than coming up with a material reward that appeals to people’s self-interest. We do not have full answers here
Think of cooperative human systems in three vectors. 1. Conceptual: from rationality as univeral self-interest to diversity of motivations. 2. Design: Cooperative human systems designed on behaviorally realistic, evidence-based design. Politics: We cannot separate out incentives from fairness, ethics, empathy, solidarity.
Yochai points to a number of factors, but focuses on fairness: of outcomes, of intentions, and of processes.
Outcomes: What counts as fair is different in different cultures, especially when you move outside of market economies. In market societies, 50:50 is the norm for fairness. Once it gets to 30:70, people will walk away. But you can change that if you change the framing, e.g., “You got lucky.” But there is no single theory of justice. Yochai looks at a study of the cement trucking industry. It turns out that there are large pay disparities. They also differ in what they say they pay for: performance, or equally time. They don’t always do what they say, though. But when you look at real performance measures, you have fewer accident and out of service events if the company is accurate in what it says, no matter what it says.
We don’t have an agreed upon theory of justice, he says. This explains the 99% vs. 53% debate around the Occupy Wall Street. This is a debate over basic moral commitments without which a system cannot function. There is no way to resolve it either through neutral principles or by efficiency arguments.
Intentions also matter to fairness. When you Where bad intentions excluded (e.g., it was just a roll of the dice), then there’s much less negative reciprocity.
Processes: Tyler (2003) showed that procedural justice correlated with internalized compliance. Yochai points to the militarization of the police as they deal with the OWS. The image projected to the crowd is one of lack of regard for process. He compares this to a massive demonstration of Israel in which the police stood a good distance away, and a different relationship was fostered.
We can see a revival of the “sharing nicely” idea we teach our children. In science. In business. Science is beginning to push back against the assumption of selfishness. It turns out that we aren’t universally self-interested. Different people respond differently, and each person responds differently in different contexts.
We need a new field of cooperative human systems design that accounts for the diversity of motivation, and that takes seriously the issue of “crowding out”: adding incentives can result in worse outcomes.
And, Yochai concludes, we need a renewed view of our shared humanity.
Q: Fascinating. But: The passage from evolution to the social sciences has long been discredited. Also, it’s too simple to say that the solution to the banking problem is that we need more cooperation. The banks are supported by a set of interests bigger than that.
A: You say sociobiology has been discredited. That’s true of the early to mid 1980s but is no longer a good description. The social sciences and anthro have been moving to evolutionary models. Economics too. What was in the 1980s was resolved, now, especially in the social sciences, is unresolved. Second, sure, bankers self-select and control the system. The real answer is that it’s a lot of work. When you have a system optimized for money, and money is the social signal, it self-selects for people driven by that. We need long-term interventions to increase cooperation. E.g., the person who can work with Open Source at, say, IBM, is different than the person who can work her/his way up a hierarchy; the company therefore has to train itself to value those who cooperate.
Q: I just went through MIT’s tutorial that instructed me how my ideas would be licensed. I said that maybe there should information in your office about how to contribute more openly. How do systematize open, collaborative forms across the entire educational system?
A: Lots of people in this room are working on this problem in different ways. We fight, we argue, we persuade. Look at university open access publication. We use our power within the hierarchy of universities to raise a flag and to say we can do it a new way. That allows the next person to use us as an example. After I released Wealth of Networks for free on the Web, I got emails from all sorts of people wanting to know how to negotiate that deal for themselves. Universities should be easy.
Q: What are the burning policy implications of this shift in the way we rule the world? What would you change first?
A: I should note that I don’t address that in the book. We need an assessment of community policing and the big board [?] approach. The basic question is whether we continue to build a society based on maximizing total group, or one that trades off some growth for a more equitable distribution of outcomes. The point is much broader than open access, patent, copyright, etc. The deregulatory governance model is based on an erroneous model of interests. But all of my work is done on the micro level, not the level of organizations. But we know that the idea that musicians need the payoffs afforded by infinite copyright is false; we have empirically data about that. So there are places where the relation between the micro interests and institutional interventions is tight. But I don’t talk about that much in the book.
Q: I’ve looked at pay inequality in Japan and the US. The last thing that matters to the level of compliance with regulations is the gap between CEO and workers. The deterrents are very effective in the US, explaining [couldn't hear it]. Compliance is much better in the US because the penalties are effective deterrents.
A: First, once you’re talking about the behavior of an organization, we don’t have the same kind of data on what happens within a corporate decision. When people see themselves as agents, there can be conflicts between the individual and the organization. For that you need external enforcement.
Q: Jail time makes a huge difference.
A: Then how do you explain the findings that amount of tax options predicts probability of tax fraud. Same baseline enforcement, but whether you had stock options predicts tax fraud. Adding money and punishment certainly has an effect on behavior. But it depends on whether that intervention has better effects than other interventions. But we only have a little bit of data.
Q: If a high school principal came to you who serves many interests and types of people, how could your ideas influence her or him?
A: My mother founded two schools and a volunteer organization. The lessons are relatively straightforward: Higher degrees of authority and trust, structure with clearly set goals, teamwork, less hierarchical distance between students and teachers, less high-stress testing.
From Kattallus, via metafilter:
Humanities and the Liberal Arts is the personal website of former Middlebury classics professor William Harris who passed away in 2009. In his retirement he crafted a wonderful site full of essays, music, sculpture, poetry and his thoughts on anything from education to technology. But the heart of the website for me is, unsurprisingly, his essays on ancient Latin and Greek literature some of whom are book-length works. Here are a few examples: Purple color in Homer, complete fragments of Heraclitus, how to read Homer and Vergil, a discussion of a recently unearthed poem by Sappho, Plato and mathematics, Propertius’ war poems, and finally, especially close to my heart, his commentaries on the poetry of Catullus, for example on Ipsithilla, Odi et amo, Attis poem as dramatic dance performance and a couple of very dirty poems (even by Catullus’ standard). That’s just a taste of the riches found on Harris’ site, which has been around nearly as long as the world wide web has existed.
There are months of serious browsing in the world of Prof. Miller’s thought. It is a particularly wonderful illustration of the boon of having worldwide access to unlimited worlds of thought.
I’m giving a talk in Berlin in a week. My hosts want me to talk about the evolution of media, but suggested that I might want to weave some Heidegger in, which is not a request you often get. It’s a brief talk, but what I’ve written talks about four pairs, all based on Shannon’s original drawing of signal moving through a channel. 1. The medium and bits as idealized abstractions. 2. The medium and messages: How McLuhan reacts against information theory’s idea of a medium, and the sense in which on the Internet we are the medium. 3. Medium and communication: Why we think of communication as something that occurs through a medium, rather than as a way in which we share the world. 4. Medium and noise: Why the world appears, in its most brutal facticity, in Shannon’s diagram as noise, and how the richness of the Web (which consists of connections intentionally made) is in fact signal that taken together can be noise. (I know I am not using these terms rigorously.)
At the end, I’ll summarize the four contrasts:
Bits without character vs. A world that always shows itself as something
The medium as a vacuum vs. We are the medium that moves messages because we care about them
Communication as the reproduction of a representation in the listener’s head vs. Turning to a shared world together
World as noise vs. Links as a context of connection
Not by coincidence, each of these is a major Heideggerian theme: Being-as or meaning, care, truth. and world.
And if it’s not obvious, I do not think that Heidegger’s writings on technology have anything much to do with the Internet. He was criticizing the technology of the 1950s that scared him: mainframes and broadcast. He probably would have hated the Net also, but he was a snobby little fascist prick.
When I run into someone who wants to talk with me about something I’ve written in a book, they quite naturally assume that I am more expert about what I’ve written than they are. But it’s almost certainly the case that they’re more familiar with it than I am because they’ve read it far more recently than I have. I, like most writers, don’t sit around re-reading myself. I therefore find myself having to ask the person to remind me of what I’ve said. Really, I said that?
But, over the past twenty-four hours, I’ve re-read myself in three different modes.
I’ve been wrapped up in a Library Innovation Lab project that we submitted to the Digital Public Library of America on Thursday night, with 1.5 hours to spare before the midnight deadline. Our little team worked incredibly hard all summer long, and what we submitted we think is pretty spectacular as a vision, a prototype of innovative features, and in its core, work-horse functionality. (That’s why I’ve done so little blogging this sumer.)
So, the first example of re-reading is editing a bunch of explanatory Web pages — a FAQ, a non-tech explanation of some hardcore tech, a guided tour, etc. — that I wrote for our DPLA project. In this mode, I feel little connection to what I’ve written; I’m trying to edit it purely from the reader’s point of view, as if someone else had written it. Of course, I am oblivious to many of the drafts’ most important shortcomings because I’m reading them through the same glasses I had on when I wrote them. Things make sense to me that would not to readers who have the good fortune not to be me. Nevertheless, it’s just a carpentry job, trying to sand down edges and make the pieces fit. It’s the wood that matters, not whoever the carpenter happened to be.
In the second mode, I re-read something I wrote a long time ago. Someone on the Heidegger mailing list I audit asked for articles on Heidegger’s concept of the “world” in Being and Time and in The Origin of the Artwork. I remembered that I had written something about that a couple of careers ago. So, I did a search and found “Earth, World and the Fourfold” in the 1984 edition of Tulane Studies in Philosophy. (It’s locked up nice and tight so, no, you can’t read it even if you want to. Yeah, this is a completely optimal system of scholarship we’ve built for ourselves. [sarcasm]) I used my privileged access via my university and re-read it. It’s a fully weird experience. I remember so little of the content of the article and am so disassociated from the academic (or more exactly, the pathetic pretender to the same) I was that it was like reading a message from a former self. Actually, it wasn’t like that. It was that exactly.
I actually enjoyed reading the article. For one thing, unsurprisingly, I agreed with its general outlook and approach. It argues that Heidegger’s shifting use of “world,” especially with regard to that which he contrasts it with, expresses his struggle to deal with the danger that phenomenology will turn reality into a mere appearance. How can phenomenology account for that which shows itself to us as being beyond the mere showing? That is, how do we understand and acknowledge the fact that the earth shows itself to us as that which was here before us and will outlast us?
Since this was the topic of my doctoral dissertation and has remained a topic of great interest to me — it runs throughout all my books, including Too Big to Know — it’s not startling that I found Previous Me’s article interesting. And yet, Present Me persistently asked two sorts of distancing questions.
First, granting that the question itself is interesting, why was this guy (Previous Me) so wrapped up in Heidegger’s way of grappling with it? To get to Heidegger’s answers (such as they are) you have to wade through a thicket wrapped in profound scholarship wrapped in arrogantly awful writing. Now, Present Me remembers the personal history that led Previous Me to Heidegger: an identity crisis (as we used to call it) that manifested itself intellectually, that could not be addressed by pre-Heideggerian traditional philosophy (because that tradition of philosophy caused the intellectual conundrum in the first place). But outside of that personal history, why Heidegger? So, the article reads to Present Me as a wrestling match within a bubble invisible to Previous Me.
Second, my internal editor was present throughout: Damn, that was an inelegant phrase! Wait, this paragraph needs a transition! What the hell did that sentence mean? Jeez, this guy sounds pretentious here!
So, reading something of mine from the distant past was a tolerable and even interesting experience because PreviousMe was distant enough.
Third, I am this weekend reading the page proofs of Too Big to Know. At this point in the manufacturing process known as “writing a book,” I am allowed only to make the most minor of edits. If a change causes lines on the page to shift to a new page, there can be consequences expensive to my publisher. So, I’m reading looking for bad commas and “its” instead of “it’s”, all of which should have been (and so far have been) picked up by Christine Arden, the superb copy-editor who went through my book during the previous pass. But, I also am reading it looking for infelicities I can fix — maybe change an “a” to “the” or some such. This requires reading not just for punctuation but also for rhythm and meaning. In other words, I simultaneously have to read the book as if I were a reader, not just an editor. And that is a disconcerting, embarrassing, frustrating process. There are things about the book that pleasantly surprise me — Where did I come up with that excellent example! — but fundamentally I am focused on it critically. Worse, this is PresentMe seeing how PresentMe presents himself to the world. I am in a narcissistic bubble of self-loathing.
Which is too bad since this is the taste being left by what is very likely to be the last time I read Too Big to Know.
(My publisher would probably like me to note that the book is possibly quite good, and the people who have read it so far seem enthusiastic. But, how the hell would I know before you tell me?)
, too big to know
Tagged with: 2b2k
Date: September 3rd, 2011 dw
Ever since I ended my paper-based relationship with the Boston Globe, I’ve done my breakfast reading in front of a monitor on our kitchen table. Today, I spent a little longer, and read some excellent articles:
Stephen Metcalf writes about Robert Nozick’s legitimizing effect on Libertarianism, and the philosophical weakness of the case he made for it. I have not heard anyone else make Metcalf’s critique of the Wilt Chamberlain argument (so far as I recall).
In Scientific American, John Horgan defends Stephen Jay Gould from the charge that his brilliant example of personal bias affecting scientific outcomes was itself based on Gould’s own biases. It’s actually a weak defense, with Horgan instead defending a related point SJG was making: “Maybe Gould was wrong that Morton misrepresented his data, but he was absolutely right that biological determinism was and continues to be a dangerous pseudoscientific ideology.” By coincidence, a couple of days ago I came across my old copy of an anthology titled “The Sociobiology Debate” that was compiled in 1978 when the idea that evolution shape ours our social behavior was not just controversial, but to many of us (including me) seemed quite threatening: it implied a lack of free will (which I no longer care about) and it was sometimes used to give a sheen of inevitability to the most conservative and even oppressive of social behaviors. Unfortunately, Horgan’s argument against sociobiology consists of the following single paragraph:
“Biological determinism is a blight on science. It implies that the way things are is the way they must be. We have less choice in how we live our lives than we think we do. This position is wrong, both empirically and morally. If you doubt me on this point, read [Gould's] Mismeasure [of Man], which, even discounting the chapter on Morton, abounds in evidence of how science can become an instrument of malignant ideologies.”
Also in Slate, I disagree so sharply with Jack Shafer’s criticism of Jose Antonio Vargas that I think I must be missing something obvious. Jose is the former Washington Post and Huffington Post journalist (and Pulitzer-prize winner, by the way) who came out as an undocumented immigrant in an article in tomorrow’s NY Times Magazine. Shafer declares himself to be an “immigration dove”: “I believe in open borders and detest our current laws and their enforcement.” If you hate the law’s enforcement, how can you also get in a snit about someone who lies to evade that enforcement? Or perhaps it’s only journalists who shouldn’t lie to their employers about their immigration status because there needs to be a special bond of trust between the editor and the journalist. So, which jobs does Shafer think do not require trust? Or is this just journalism dealing with its self-esteem issues again? Jose didn’t lie about his credentials, and he didn’t lie in his stories. He lied about the thing the bad laws Shafer “detests” made him lie about, just as forty years ago he likely would have had to lie about his sexual preferences. If Shafer thinks Jose’s admission makes him unreliable, then go through his work and find where this lack of reliablity manifests itself. If it doesn’t, then salute Jose for his honesty and courage. (Disclosure: Although I haven’t talked with him in a year or two, I count Jose as a friend, beginning in his pre-Pulitzer WaPo days. He has struck me as an honest, open-minded, and impassioned inquirer. I like him a lot.)
In what is certainly the coolest proof that philosophy is the Queen of the Sciences, and also the Duke and all of the in-laws, xefer shows the relation of any Wikipedia topic to its “Philosophy” article. (Hat tip to Hal Roberts.)
Tagged with: kevin bacon
Date: June 8th, 2011 dw
Philosophers Carnival at Philosophy, etc. points to philosophical posts from around the Web over the past three months. Many of them weigh in on age old questions about the continuity of consciousness, whether objective morality is possible without Heaven and Hell, and whether time travel is possible.
But I was especially struck by the online sites and journals where the articles were posted:
This is a far cry from titles such as the Review of Metaphysics and Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies typical of the printed output of the old school. (Browse a list here.) The new titles seem to mock the academy, even though many of the papers would be at home in its traditional publications. But slowly the wrapped will take on the properties of the wrapper…
, too big to know
Tagged with: 2b2k
Date: May 30th, 2011 dw
Here’s a list of famous people who started out as philosophy majors.
You can take this either as evidence of the utility of majoring in philosophy, or as evidence that if you want to succeed, you should flee from your background as a philosophy major.
Tagged with: philosophy
Date: March 13th, 2011 dw
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