Over the years, I have noticed a split between the type of people who pay attention to stuff that „happens“ online and those who don’t. They are not evenly split 50-50, at least not by population.
The main difference I have noticed is that those people who are less disposed to paying attention are those who feel they have something to lose – not necessarily by participating online, but rather more in general. In contrast, people who do participate online appear to act as if they have little or nothing to lose – again: whether online or in any other regard.
This is not a „clear cut“ matter – of course there are exceptions. One particularly notable exception is those people who earn their living by participating online. I guess another exception might be celebrities who feel forced to participate on the world-wide web. Yet by and large, most of these people belonging to „the 1 %“ minority do appear to prefer remaining in splendid isolation of the masses of „the 99%“.
It’s fascinating to observe an apparently related difference: The vast majority of those who refuse to participate are quite highly educated, many having advanced academic degrees. However, because they remain ignorant of online media, they usually lack literacy skills related to this sphere. So, ironically, the traditionally most literate seem to have now become the least literate.
All of this creates an image that is very reminiscent of a Marxist „Klassenkampf“ – with the online population by and large representing the popular proletariate, and the offline, more conservative crowd representing the establishment elites. At the same time, the media empires of yesteryear are increasingly becoming a refuge for the powerful but disinterested – a virtual sans soucci in glossy print and/or high resolution, wide screen formats.
There is a quite popular myth which time and again gets propagated on the web – namely, that answers and solutions simply emerge from data all by themselves. This is very cute and also enticing to people who have little understanding about how science works, so there is no dearth of such novice pseudo-scientists who are willing to support the concept.
Nonetheless: It is complete hogwash.
That said, this week I posed a question to my so-called followers on a so-called social media website what they believe of the notion of „learning by doing“. It was mostly a hunch that motivated me to pose this question, but now I think I have been able to figure out some of my thinking behind it – and it seems to be somehow related to the above-mentioned concept of emergence.
Let me try to sketch out the basic of idea of my thinking at the moment.
One of the basic ideas behind so-called “scientific management” is that the basis of successful management (of tasks, projects, entire companies, etc.) is a reliance on what might be referred to as scientific facts – basically: ideas which have stood the test of time and/or “results” from scientifically designed research.
In my question, in contrast, I asked: “What if the indoctrination of such observations, facts, etc. is expensive?” I compared a “learning by doing” hypothetical example in which 10 people jumped into water, 9 learned how to swim, but one drowned with a situation in which 10 people were taught to swim by an instructor. To clarify my point, I also asked: “What if teaching 10 people to swim is more expensive than feeding 100 starving children?”
In a way, the 9 people who emerged from the water in the hypothetical example learned how to swim by not drowning are an example of something very similar to what advocates of emergence seem to be arguing for: We don’t need science, we can just “wing it” instead.
In my additional remark comparing the price of one drowned person with the cost of a hundred starving children, I wanted to underscore the way the opportunity cost of either method is by no means zero.
What is more: We actually “wing it” every day. Taken to the extreme, it should be readily obvious that the world as we experience it today has never existed before. We can assume it is similar, we can try to “control” for this or that assumed variable, but in the end it essentially boils down to Einstein’s famous remark that “God does not play dice”.
Unfortunately, I still have not found an answer to the question I posed that I am happy with.
The concept of „sustainability“ has to do with whether or not a technology can continue to exist for years, decades and centuries to come (and/or whether or not market forces will sustain the technology or not). For example, while the oil-based economy may continue to exist for many years to come, it is not clear when and/or how it will function in one, two, three or more centuries out.
Traditionally, introductory economics textbooks used to simplify economic resources into capital and labor. At that point, energy was not even mentioned as part of the equation (E.F. Schumacher, by the way, treated oil and similar natural resources as „capital“ – he often noted that an „oil based“ economy was unsustainable because we thereby simply do little or nothing more than to destroy the capital).
I noticed several decades ago that information is, in a way, a substitute for energy: You can either do something by applying huge amounts of brute force, or you may be able to achieve the same goal by refining your technique (with the help of information) in order to use less energy. There are many examples of this over history. For example: traveling by bicycle instead of by foot (though note how the establishment of smooth road surfaces also plays a role here), or various newer (and more energy-efficient) technologies have replaced – via market forces – the incandescent light bulb.
Nonetheless: One is very hard-pressed to refer to the 20th Century as anything other than extremely energy-inefficient. On the whole, the 20th Century was, in contrast, quite energy intensive, and increasingly human-resource saving. As a result, because we have witnessed a rather enormous growth in so-called „human resources“ for several centuries now, we now have a very large supply of humans and also very little demand. What is more, advances in information technology have further exacerbated these trends, such that we now face rapidly increasing unemployment for the foreseeable future.
There is great irony in the widespread failure to recognize that more machinery is being used to do more work, and the widespread surprize that ever fewer „employment“ opportunities for humans are seen as a catastrophy (even though there has been widespread propaganda for many decades which push the idea that human labor „ought to“ be replaced by the increased employment of more and more machines).
Yet only a very foolish person would not pay attention to a wider time horizon.
There is no doubt that the consumption non-renewable resources will come to an end at some point in time – this is tautologically true (by definition), so there is no doubt whatsoever. At some point, people will realize that there is an oversupply of human resources and an undersupply of non-renewable resources (compared to the current rates of consumption). Presently, however, the high growth rates of information resources due to the introduction of vastly more efficient information technologies apparently will continue to blind the masses. While the growth of information resources inputs are to some extent a substitute for energy resources, it is quite astonishing to note how little such substitution has taken place over the past several decades.
Indeed: This last observation puzzles me greatly.
Some words – usually referred to as „synonyms“ – have essentially the same or at least very similar meanings. While I fee there is no such thing as a perfect synonym (in the sense that the words would mean exactly the same thing), many words are used quite liberally interchangeably by people who seem to not really be completely familiar with their more exact meaning.
This post is not about that.
What I want to address here is that some words seem like they could be used interchangeably – if not for the „minimal difference“ in the „social“ meaning. It appears as though these words could be applied to the same situations, except they say something different about those particular situations.
Let me present you with a couple examples of some such cases which have recently crossed my mind.
Ignore vs. Neglect: I recently wrote about the rationality of ignorance. Ignorance and neglect differ not so much in what the activity is, but rather more with respect to what are the activity’s results (in the eyes of the speaker [or author / writer]). The result of ignorance is that the subject is less well off. With neglect, the object of the verb is less well off.
Change vs. Disrupt: Change is relatively neutral or even positive. In contrast, disrupt is usually considered to be negative to at least someone (or something). If something is negative (shocking, etc.) to many, then one might consider it to be revolutionary.
Hence, many words which mean almost the same thing, differ in a „value judgement“ sort of way – and such value judgements usually rely on something like some kind of social mores, social values, etc.