18 September 2008

The Real Difference Between Liberals & Conservatives

Brilliant. Jonathan Haidt's conclusion was a bit gay, but the body was fantastic.


07 September 2008

The Next World War?

WWII if you prefer to view it that way, was, as all wars are, a reshuffling of the barnyard pecking order.

The players were:

The hyperpower, Britain, never the same after WWI
The has-been great power, France

and the four new contenders on the block:

Russia (the Soviet Union)
the United States

The latter four basically duked it out for the leadership, Germany allying with Japan, and the United States allying with Russia.

The latter alliance teamed up with Britain and France, and won.

To make it clear: Britain was on the winning side (as was France), but she was no longer the hyperpower. The two superpowers were the United States and Russia.

(Interestingly, the US has managed to get the two losers, Germany and Japan, onto its team.)

If WWII were to repeat itself, it would look like a variation of this:

The four duked it out, with Russia allying with China, and India with Brazil.

The latter alliance teamed up with the United States and Britain, and won.

To make it clear: The US was on the winning side (as was Britain), but she was no longer the hyperpower.

04 September 2008

Institutions v Collaboration


Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

I was being interviewed by a TV producer to see whether I should be on their show, and she asked me, "What are you seeing out there that's interesting?"

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus--"How should we characterize this change in Pluto's status?" And a little bit at a time they move the article--fighting offstage all the while--from, "Pluto is the ninth planet," to "Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system."

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, "Okay, we're going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever." That wasn't her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, "Where do people find the time?" That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, "No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you've been masking for 50 years."

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus.