Tag: Marginal Revolution

Friday flaggings

As usual, a mixed bag of goodies, just like you used to get from your favourite sweet shop as a kid. Except I don’t hold the bottom of the bag, so you get full value.

Let me know which you found tasty and which ones suck (if you’ll pardon the pun).


Andrei Tarkovsky’s Message to Young People: “Learn to Be Alone,” Enjoy Solitude

I don’t know… I think I’d like to say only that [young people] should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.

Andrei Tarkovsky

This article in Open Culture quotes the film-maker Andrei Tarkovsky. Having just finished my first set of therapy sessions, I have to say that the metaphor of “puting on your own oxygen mask before helping others” would be a good takeaway from it. That sounds selfish, but as Tarkovsky points out here, other approaches can lead to the destruction of self-esteem.


Being a Noob

[T]here are two sources of feeling like a noob: being stupid, and doing something novel. Our dislike of feeling like a noob is our brain telling us “Come on, come on, figure this out.” Which was the right thing to be thinking for most of human history. The life of hunter-gatherers was complex, but it didn’t change as much as life does now. They didn’t suddenly have to figure out what to do about cryptocurrency. So it made sense to be biased toward competence at existing problems over the discovery of new ones. It made sense for humans to dislike the feeling of being a noob, just as, in a world where food was scarce, it made sense for them to dislike the feeling of being hungry.

Paul Graham

I’m not sure about the evolutionary framing, but there’s definitely something in this about having the confidence (and humility) to be a ‘noob’ and learn things as a beginner.


You Aren’t Communicating Nearly Enough

Imagine you were to take two identical twins and give them the same starter job, same manager, same skills, and the same personality. One competently does all of their work behind a veil of silence, not sharing good news, opportunities, or challenges, but just plugs away until asked for a status update. The other does the same level of work but communicates effectively, keeping their manager and stakeholders proactively informed. Which one is going to get the next opportunity for growth?

Michael Natkin

I absolutely love this post. As a Product Manager, I’ve been talking repeatedly recently about making our open-source project ‘legible’. As remote workers, that means over-communicating and, as pointed out in this post, being proactive in that communication. Highly recommended.


The Boomer Blockade: How One Generation Reshaped the Workforce and Left Everyone Behind

This is a profound trend. The average age of incoming CEOs for S&P 500 companies has increased about 14 years over the last 14 years

From 1980 to 2001 the average age of a CEO dropped four years and then from 2005 to 2019 the averare incoming age of new CEOs increased 14 years!

This means that the average birth year of a CEO has not budged since 2005. The best predictor of becoming a CEO of our most successful modern institutions?

Being a baby boomer.

Paul Millerd

Wow. This, via Marginal Revolution, pretty much speaks for itself.


The Ed Tech suitcase

Consider packing a suitcase for a trip. It contains many different items – clothes, toiletries, books, electrical items, maybe food and drink or gifts. Some of these items bear a relationship to others, for example underwear, and others are seemingly unrelated, for example a hair dryer. Each brings their own function, which has a separate existence and relates to other items outside of the case, but within the case, they form a new category, that of “items I need for my trip.” In this sense the suitcase resembles the ed tech field, or at least a gathering of ed tech individuals, for example at a conference

If you attend a chemistry conference and have lunch with strangers, it is highly likely they will nearly all have chemistry degrees and PhDs. This is not the case at an ed tech conference, where the lunch table might contain people with expertise in computer science, philosophy, psychology, art, history and engineering. This is a strength of the field. The chemistry conference suitcase then contains just socks (but of different types), but the ed tech suitcase contains many different items. In this perspective then the aim is not to make the items of the suitcase the same, but to find means by which they meet the overall aim of usefulness for your trip, and are not random items that won’t be needed. This suggests a different way of approaching ed tech beyond making it a discipline.

Martin Weller

At the start of this year, it became (briefly) fashionable among ageing (mainly North American) men to state that they had “never been an edtech guy”. Follwed by something something pedagogy or something something people. In this post, Martin Weller uses a handy metaphor to explain that edtech may not be a discipline, but it’s a useful field (or area of focus) nonetheless.


Why Using WhatsApp is Dangerous

Backdoors are usually camouflaged as “accidental” security flaws. In the last year alone, 12 such flaws have been found in WhatsApp. Seven of them were critical – like the one that got Jeff Bezos. Some might tell you WhatsApp is still “very secure” despite having 7 backdoors exposed in the last 12 months, but that’s just statistically improbable.

[…]

Don’t let yourself be fooled by the tech equivalent of circus magicians who’d like to focus your attention on one isolated aspect all while performing their tricks elsewhere. They want you to think about end-to-end encryption as the only thing you have to look at for privacy. The reality is much more complicated. 

Pavel Durov

Facebook products are bad for you, for society, and for the planet. Choose alternatives and encourage others to do likewise.


Why private micro-networks could be the future of how we connect

The current social-media model isn’t quite right for family sharing. Different generations tend to congregate in different places: Facebook is Boomer paradise, Instagram appeals to Millennials, TikTok is GenZ central. (WhatsApp has helped bridge the generational divide, but its focus on messaging is limiting.)

Updating family about a vacation across platforms—via Instagram stories or on Facebook, for example—might not always be appropriate. Do you really want your cubicle pal, your acquaintance from book club, and your high school frenemy to be looped in as well?

Tanya Basu

Some apps are just before their time. Take Path, for example, which my family used for almost the entire eight years it was around, from 2010 to 2018. The interface was great, the experience cosy, and the knowledge that you weren’t sharing with everyone outside of a close circle? Priceless.


‘Anonymized’ Data Is Meaningless Bullshit

While one data broker might only be able to tie my shopping behavior to something like my IP address, and another broker might only be able to tie it to my rough geolocation, that’s ultimately not much of an issue. What is an issue is what happens when those “anonymized” data points inevitably bleed out of the marketing ecosystem and someone even more nefarious uses it for, well, whatever—use your imagination. In other words, when one data broker springs a leak, it’s bad enough—but when dozens spring leaks over time, someone can piece that data together in a way that’s not only identifiable but chillingly accurate.

Shoshana Wodinsky

This idea of cumulative harm is a particularly difficult one to explain (and prove) not only in the world of data, but in every area of life.


“Hey Google, stop tracking me”

Google recently invented a third way to track who you are and what you view on the web.

[…]

Each and every install of Chrome, since version 54, have generated a unique ID. Depending upon which settings you configure, the unique ID may be longer or shorter.

[…]

So every time you visit a Google web page or use a third party site which uses some Google resource, this ID is sent to Google and can be used to track which website or individual page you are viewing. As Google’s services such as scripts, captchas and fonts are used extensively on the most popular web sites, it’s likely that Google tracks most web pages you visit.

Magic Lasso

Use Firefox. Use multi-account containers and extensions that protect your privacy.


The Golden Age of the Internet and social media is over

In the last year I have seen more and more researchers like danah boyd suggesting that digital literacies are not enough. Given that some on the Internet have weaponized these tools, I believe she is right. Moving beyond digital literacies means thinking about the epistemology behind digital literacies and helping to “build the capacity to truly hear and embrace someone else’s perspective and teaching people to understand another’s view while also holding their view firm” (boyd, March 9, 2018). We can still rely on social media for our news but we really owe it to ourselves to do better in further developing digital literacies, and knowing that just because we have discussions through screens that we should not be so narcissistic to believe that we MUST be right or that the other person is simply an idiot.

Jimmy Young

I’d argue, as I did recently in this talk, that what Young and boyd are talking about here is actually a central tenet of digital literacies.


Image via Introvert doodles


Enjoy this? Sign up for the weekly roundup and/or become a supporter!

Friday foggings

I’ve been travelling this week, so I’ve had plenty of time to read and digest a whole range of articles. In fact, because of the luxury of that extra time, I decided to write some comments about each link, as well as the usual quotation.

Let me know what you think about this approach. I may not have the bandwidth to do it every week, but if it’s useful, I’ll try and prioritise it. As ever, particularly interested in hearing from supporters!


Education and Men without Work (National Affairs) — “Unlike the Great Depression, however, today’s work crisis is not an unemployment crisis. Only a tiny fraction of workless American men nowadays are actually looking for employment. Instead we have witnessed a mass exodus of men from the workforce altogether. At this writing, nearly 7 million civilian non-institutionalized men between the ages of 25 and 54 are neither working nor looking for work — over four times as many as are formally unemployed.”

This article argues that the conventional wisdom, that men are out of work because of a lack of education, may be based on false assumptions. In fact, a major driver seems to be the number of men (more than 50% of working-age men, apparently) who live in child-free homes. What do these men end up doing with their time? Many of them are self-medicating with drugs and screens.


Fresh Cambridge Analytica leak ‘shows global manipulation is out of control’ (The Guardian) — “More than 100,000 documents relating to work in 68 countries that will lay bare the global infrastructure of an operation used to manipulate voters on “an industrial scale” are set to be released over the next months.”

Sadly, I think the response to these documents will be one of apathy. Due to the 24-hour news cycle and the stream of ‘news’ on social networks, the voting public grow tired of scandals and news stories that last for months and years.


Funding (Sussex Royals) — “The Sovereign Grant is the annual funding mechanism of the monarchy that covers the work of the Royal Family in support of HM The Queen including expenses to maintain official residences and workspaces. In this exchange, The Queen surrenders the revenue of the Crown Estate and in return, a portion of these public funds are granted to The Sovereign/The Queen for official expenditure.”

I don’t think I need to restate my opinions on the Royal Family, privilege, and hierarchies / coercive power relationships of all shapes and sizes. However, as someone pointed out on Mastodon, this page by ‘Harry and Meghan’ is quietly subversive.


How to sell good ideas (New Statesman) — “It is true that [Malcolm] Gladwell sometimes presses his stories too militantly into the service of an overarching idea, and, at least in his books, can jam together materials too disparate to cohere (Poole referred to his “relentless montage”). The New Yorker essay, which constrains his itinerant curiosity, is where he does his finest work (the best of these are collected in 2009’s What The Dog Saw). For the most part, the work of his many imitators attests to how hard it is to do what he does. You have to be able to write lucid, propulsive prose capable of introducing complex ideas within a magnetic field of narrative. You have to leave your desk and talk to people (he never stopped being a reporter). Above all, you need to acquire an extraordinary eye for the overlooked story, the deceptively trivial incident, the minor genius. Gladwell shares the late Jonathan Miller’s belief that “it is in the negligible that the considerable is to be found”.”

A friend took me to see Gladwell when he was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne touring with ‘What The Dog Saw’. Like the author of this article, I soon realised that Gladwell is selling something quite different to ‘science’ or ‘facts’. And so long as you’re OK with that, you can enjoy (as I do) his podcasts and books.


Just enough Internet: Why public service Internet should be a model of restraint (doteveryone) — “We have not yet done a good job of defining what good digital public service really looks like, of creating digital charters that match up to those of our great institutions, and it is these statements of values and ways of working – rather than any amount of shiny new technology – that will create essential building blocks for the public services of the future.”

While I attended the main MozFest weekend event, I missed the presentation and other events that happened earlier in the week. I definitely agree with the sentiment behind the transcript of this talk by Rachel Coldicutt. I’m just not sure it’s specific enough to be useful in practice.


Places to go in 2020 (Marginal Revolution) — “Here is the mostly dull NYT list. Here is my personal list of recommendations for you, noting I have not been to all of the below, but I am in contact with many travelers and paw through a good deal of information.”

This list by Tyler Cowen is really interesting. I haven’t been to any of the places on this list, but I now really want to visit Eastern Bali and Baku in Azerbaijan.


Reasons not to scoff at ghosts, visions and near-death experiences (Aeon) — “Sure, the dangers of gullibility are evident enough in the tragedies caused by religious fanatics, medical quacks and ruthless politicians. And, granted, spiritual worldviews are not good for everybody. Faith in the ultimate benevolence of the cosmos will strike many as hopelessly irrational. Yet, a century on from James’s pragmatic philosophy and psychology of transformative experiences, it might be time to restore a balanced perspective, to acknowledge the damage that has been caused by stigma, misdiagnoses and mis- or overmedication of individuals reporting ‘weird’ experiences. One can be personally skeptical of the ultimate validity of mystical beliefs and leave properly theological questions strictly aside, yet still investigate the salutary and prophylactic potential of these phenomena.”

I’d happily read a full-length book on this subject, as it’s a fascinating area. The tension between knowing that much/all of the phenomena is reducible to materiality and mechanics may explain what’s going on, but it doesn’t explain it away…


Surveillance Tech Is an Open Secret at CES 2020 (OneZero) — “Lowe offered one explanation for why these companies feel so comfortable marketing surveillance tech: He says that the genie can’t be put back in the bottle, so barring federal regulation that bans certain implementations, it’s increasingly likely that some company will fill the surveillance market. In other words, if Google isn’t going to work with the cops, Amazon will. And even if Amazon decides not to, smaller companies out of the spotlight still will.”

I suppose it should come as no surprise that, in this day and age, companies like Cyberlink, previously known for their PowerDVD software, have moved into the very profitable world of surveillance capitalism. What’s going to stop its inexorable rise? I can only think of government regulation (with teeth).


‘Techlash’ Hits College Campuses (New York Times) — “Some recent graduates are taking their technical skills to smaller social impact groups instead of the biggest firms. Ms. Dogru said that some of her peers are pursuing jobs at start-ups focused on health, education and privacy. Ms. Harbour said Berkeley offers a networking event called Tech for Good, where alumni from purpose-driven groups like Code for America and Khan Academy share career opportunities.”

I’m not sure this is currently as big a ‘movement’ as suggested in the article, but I’m glad the wind is blowing in this direction. As with other ethically-dubious industries, companies involved in surveillance capitalism will have to pay people extraordinarily well to put aside their moral scruples.


Tradition is Smarter Than You Are (The Scholar’s Stage) — “To extract resources from a population the state must be able to understand that population. The state needs to make the people and things it rules legible to agents of the government. Legibility means uniformity. States dream up uniform weights and measures, impress national languages and ID numbers on their people, and divvy the country up into land plots and administrative districts, all to make the realm legible to the powers that be. The problem is that not all important things can be made legible. Much of what makes a society successful is knowledge of the tacit sort: rarely articulated, messy, and from the outside looking in, purposeless. These are the first things lost in the quest for legibility. Traditions, small cultural differences, odd and distinctive lifeways… are all swept aside by a rationalizing state that preserves (or in many cases, imposes) only what it can be understood and manipulated from the 2,000 foot view. The result… are many of the greatest catastrophes of human history.”

One of the books that’s been on my ‘to-read’ list for a while is ‘Seeing Like a State’, written by James C. Scott and referenced in this article. I’m no believer in tradition for the sake of it but, I have to say, that a lot of the superstitions of my maternal grandmother, and a lot of the rituals that come with religion are often very practical in nature.


Image by Michael Schlegel (via kottke.org)

There’s no perfection where there’s no selection

So said Baltasar Gracián. One of the reasons that e-portfolios never really took off was because there’s so much to read. Can you imagine sifting through hundreds of job applications where each applicant had a fully-fledged e-portfolio, including video content?

That’s why I’ve been so interested in Open Badges, and have written plenty on the subject over the last eight years. If you’re new to the party, there are various terms such as ‘microcredentials’, ‘digital badges’, and ‘digital credentials’. The difference is in the standard which was previously stewarded by Mozilla (including at my time there) and now by IMS Global Learning Consortium.

When I left Mozilla, I did a lot of work with City & Guilds, an awarding body that’s well known for its vocational qualifications. They took a particular interest in Open Badges, for obvious reasons. In this article for FE News, Kirstie Donnelly (Managing Director of the City & Guilds Group) explains their huge potential:

The fact that you can actually stack these credentials, and they become portable, then you can publish them through online, through your LinkedIn. I just think it puts a very different dynamic into how the learner owns their experience, but at the same time the employers and the education system can still influence very much how those credentials are built and stacked.

Kirstie Donnelly

Like it or not, a lot of education is ‘signalling’ — i.e. providing an indicator that you can do a thing. The great thing about Open Badges is that you can make credentials much more granular and, crucially, include evidence of your ability to do the thing you claim to be able to do.

As Tyler Cowen picks up on for Marginal Revolution, without this granularity, there’s a knock-on effect upon societal inequality. Privilege is perpetuated. He quotes a working paper by Gaurab Aryal, Manudeep Bhuller, and Fabian Lange who state:

The social and the private returns to education differ when education can increase productivity and also be used to signal productivity. We show how instrumental variables can be used to separately identify and estimate the social and private returns to education within the employer learning framework of Farber and Gibbons (1996) and Altonji and Pierret (2001). What an instrumental variable identifies depends crucially on whether the instrument is hidden from or observed by the employers. If the instrument is hidden, it identifies the private returns to education, but if the instrument is observed by employers, it identifies the social returns to education.

Aryal, Bhuller, and Lange

I take this to mean that, in a marketplace, the more the ‘buyers’ (i.e. employers) understand what’s on offer, the more this changes the way that ‘sellers’ (i.e. potential employees) position themselves. Open Badges and other technologies can help with this.

Understandably, a lot is made of digital credentials for recruitment. Indeed, I’ve often argued that badges are important at times of transition — whether into a job, on the job, or onto your next job. But they are also important for reasons other than employment.

Lauren Acree, writing for Digital Promise explains how they can be used to foster more inclusive classrooms:

The Learner Variability micro-credentials ask educators to better understand students as learners. The micro-credentials support teachers as they partner with students in creating learning environments that address learners’ needs, leverage their strengths, and empower students to reflect and adjust as needed. We found that micro-credentials are one important way we can ultimately build teacher capacity to meet the needs of all learners.

Lauren Acree

The article includes this image representing a taxonomy of how teachers use micro-credentials in their work:

If we zoom out even further, we can see that micro-credentials as a form of ‘currency’ could play a big role in how we re-imagine society. Tim Riches, who I collaborated with while at both Mozilla and City & Guilds, has written a piece for the RSA about the ‘Cities of Learning’ projects that he’s been involved in. All of these have used badges in some form or other.

In formal education, the value of learning is measured in qualifications. However, qualifications only capture a snapshot of what we know, not what we can do. What’s more, they tend to measure routine skills – the ones most vulnerable to automation and outsourcing.

[…]

Cities are full of people with unrecognised talents and potential. Cities are a huge untapped resource. Skills are developed every day in the community, at work and online, but they are hidden from view – disconnected from formal education and employers.

Tim Riches

I don’t live in a city, and don’t necessarily see them as the organising force here, but I do think that, on a societal level, there’s something about recognising potential. Tim includes a graphic in his article which, I think, captures this nicely:

There’s a phrase that’s often used by feminist writers: “you can’t be what you can’t see”. In other words, if you don’t have any role models in a particular area, you’re unlikely to think of exploring it. Similarly, if you don’t know anyone who’s a lawyer, or a sailor, or a horse rider, it’s not perhaps something you’d think of doing.

If we can wrest control of innovations such as Open Badges away from the incumbents, and focus on human flourishing, I can see real opportunities for what Serge Ravet and others call ‘open recognition‘. Otherwise, we’re just co-opting them to prop up and perpetuate the existing, unequal system.


Also check out:

Implicit leverage

Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution asks how well we understand the organisations we work with and for:

Most (not all) organizations have forms of leverage which are built in and which do not show up as debt on the balance sheet.  Banks may have off-balance sheet risk through derivatives, companies may sell off their valuable assets, and NBA teams may tank their ability to keep draft picks and free agents in their future.

In other words, every organisation has people, other organisations, or resources on which it is dependent. That can look like event organisers not alienating a sponsor, universities maintaining their brand overseas so they can continue to recruit lucrative overseas students, and organisations doing well because of a handful of individuals that win investors’ trust.

When it comes to politics, of course, ‘leverage’ is almost always something problematic. In fact, we usually use the phrase ‘in the pocket of’ instead to show our opprobrium when a politician has close financial ties to, say, a tobacco company or big business.

In other words, understanding how leverage works in everyday life, business, and politics is probably something we should be teaching in schools.

Source: Marginal Revolution


Image by Mike Cohen used under a Creative Commons License

Get a Thought Shrapnel digest in your inbox every Sunday (free!)
Holler Box