ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Steven Levy on How Gadgets Lose Their Magic [Wired] – "Any sufficiently advanced technology," Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 1962, "is indistinguishable from magic."…This applies to all the similar fruits of Moore's law. In the past 40 or 50 years, such mind-stretching advancements have become the norm…We all, I think, have become inured to Moore's law. The astonishing advances that once would have brought us to our knees are now reduced to a thumbs-up on Gizmodo. They're removed from the realm of magic­ – they're just cool gear…As technological magic becomes routine, I wonder whether a visit to a preindustrial society might teach me more than it teaches them. The only thing more fascinating than our technology is the idea of getting along without it. Maybe the way to recapture the magic is to turn all that stuff off.
  • How Tony Gilroy surprises jaded moviegoers [The New Yorker] – Gilroy believes that the writer and the moviegoing public are engaged in a cognitive arms race. As the audience grows savvier, the screenwriter has to invent new reversals. Perhaps the most famous reversal in film was written by William Goldman in "Marathon Man,.” Laurence Olivier, a sadistic Nazi dentist, is drilling into Dustin Hoffman’s mouth, trying to force him to disclose the location of a stash of diamonds. “Is it safe?” he keeps asking. Suddenly, William Devane sweeps in to rescue Hoffman. In the subsequent car ride, Devane wants to know where the diamonds are. After a few minutes, Hoffman’s eyes grow wide: Devane and Olivier are in league! “Thirty years ago, when Bill Goldman wrote it, the reversal in ‘Marathon Man’ was fresh,” Gilroy says. “But it must have been used now 4000 times.” This is the problem that new movies must solve. “How do you write a reversal that uses the audience’s expectations in a new way? You have to write to their accumulated knowledge.”
  • Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability [Wired] – [Echoing some of what I wrote about in a recent piece for interactions "We Are Living In A Sci-Fi World"]
    It's a satisfying development for Varian, a guy whose career as an economist was inspired by a sci-fi novel he read in junior high. "In Isaac Asimov's first Foundation Trilogy, there was a character who basically constructed mathematical models of society, and I thought this was a really exciting idea. When I went to college, I looked around for that subject. It turned out to be economics."
  • What is the Status Quo Bias? [Wisegeek] – A cognitive bias that leads people to prefer that things remain the same, or change as little as possible. People will make the choice which is least likely to cause a change. This can also play a role in daily routines; many people eat the same thing for breakfast day after day, or walk to work in exactly the same pattern, without variation. The inability to be flexible can cause people to become stressed when a situation forces a choice.

    It explains why many people make very conservative financial choices, such as keeping their deposits at one bank even when they are offered a better rate of interest by a bank which is essentially identical in all other respects.

    While this provides self-protection by encouraging people to make safer choices, it can also become crippling, by preventing someone from making more adventurous choices. Like other cognitive biases, this bias can be so subtle that people aren't aware of it, making it hard to break out of set patterns.

  • Sports, sex, and the runner Caster Semenya [The New Yorker] – There is much more at stake in organizing sports by gender than just making things fair. If we were to admit that at some level we don’t know the difference between men and women, we might start to wonder about the way we’ve organized our entire world. Who gets to use what bathroom? Who is allowed to get married?…We depend on gender to make sense of sexuality, society, and ourselves. We do not wish to see it dissolve.


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