Links: Cultures that build, culture more generally, love, lifeguards, thinking, and more!

* On Cultures That Build. This blog, Scholars Stage, has been consistently interesting on a range of topics for a long time, and so it’s recommended for your RSS feed.

* Useful: “Ramit Sethi talks about how you can just not reply to stuff. It felt rude at first, but then I realized it was ruder to ignore the people I care about to respond to things I didn’t ask for in the first place. Selective ignoring is the key to productivity, I’m afraid.” Notice the word “selective.” If you ignore everything all the time, that’s probably bad. But if you’re “on top of things” you may not be advancing the more important projects.

* 10% less democracy might improve outcomes. Too little voting is bad but too much voting may also be bad.

* “The University Is Like a CD in the Streaming Age.” Maybe. It’s an intriguing analogy I don’t really buy. Also, what percentage of people go mostly for the social and development aspects, as opposed to the learning-things aspect?

* “Can an Unloved Child Learn to Love?” On the ghastly Romanian orphanages. In “Foster Family Agencies (FFAs) and why political rhetoric rarely focuses on child abuse,” I mention that orphanages could conceivably offer a better system than the current foster-care system, but their PR is terrible, due to articles just like this one.

* Boss of the beach, about NYC lifeguards and, more importantly, the dysfunctions of public-sector unions. Seems mostly hilarious in the first half—more hijinks than outright evil—but allowing people to drown is terrible.

* Another quit-lit piece from an academic, or former academic.

* “Much of today’s intelligentsia cannot think.” I’d say that much of it doesn’t even try and, perhaps more vitally, the dopamine hit of social media and the fast regurgitation of pre-digested but possibly wrong ideas is superficially attractive, like drinking pop and eating fast food. There have always been “intelligentsia” who repeat wrong slogans (look at the apologists for the Soviet Union, for example), but the incentives for them to form mobs is higher than it once was. Twitter is worse than blogs! The link below, “The silence is deafening,” also applies fruitfully to this one. It may be that the most intelligent part of the intelligentsia is not the loudest.

* “Cycling, Art, and Utopian Possibilities.”

* Apple and Facebook, an analysis from Ben Thompson at Stratechery; something about Facebook in particular renders most intelligent writers inane or blinkered, and Thompson is the big exception to that principle. I’m not a big Facebook user or fan but that seems a minority taste on my part.

* Oklo, developer of ‘micro’ nuclear reactor, aims to prove environmentalist doubters wrong. More vitally, they seem to be making real progress.

* “Forget Google, time to end the Visa-MasterCard duopoly.”

* Why does DARPA work? Much more interesting than the title may suggest.

* “Losing the Narrative: The Genre Fiction of the Professional Class.” Overstated, yes, but among the most interesting essays I’ve read in a long time, and I read a lot.

* “The silence is deafening,” on why many defaults in social media don’t work and often produce poor outcomes.

One response

  1. “The university is like a CD in the streaming age.” I’m enthusiastic about that simile, but not in the way the writer of that piece, an IT and Marking Professor, intended. Many of us are finding that streaming services don’t have the things we want, curate what they serve up according to their own agendas, and make it possible for corporations to make cultural artifacts, and thus whole swaths of social history, completely disappear. The Rubbermaid container full of DVDs and CDs in my basement is looking better and better, ensuring my ongoing access to things I’ve paid for once and don’t intend to pay to “rent” or stream again.

    “From 1999 to 2009, the music industry lost 50 percent of its sales.” Yes—to piracy. As a marketing and IT guy, he has no interest in asking whether this has been a good thing for musicians or for culture in general. He’s just about chasing consumer demand.

    I’m also skeptical of his notion that the transition to online education is “likely to appear first in technical degree programs, where it is relatively easy for students to certify their skills online.” I’d prefer to know that my welder, my plumber, my house framer, and my electrician have received hands-on, face-to-face training as apprentices with master tradesmen in their fields.

    I’ve heard lots of grumbling from parents and teachers about the hot mess that was online teaching during the first four months of the coronavirus. I know one set of parents who’ve told me it made them easier to monitor their teenager’s work, but my sense is that almost nobody wants this to be the way of the world full-time. Society flirting with online education isn’t a sign that it’s what they prefer, only that the price point for face-to-face education is too high. It’s a sign of what people actually want that they’ve stuck with the campus model of higher education despite insane tuition prices.

    But what do I know? I’m not a marketing professor at a prestigious university.


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