Conversation with Tyler
Notes from Monday's live event
The topic was Tyler Cowen’s sources of information. I thought I would use the Ukraine invasion as an example, but it is not very representative for studying his information diet. Because Tyler’s wife emigrated from Russia, he has many personal contacts and inside sources in the region that he would not have about a news event in a different part of the world.
Tyler and I are definitely in a different place concerning Twitter. Tyler says that as of now, if you are interested in a topic, then searching for a term on Twitter works better than searching for the same term on Google. I just did a search for “inflation” on Twitter and got a bunch of partisan garbage (on both sides). Searching for “price indexes” (in quotes) got a little more signal, but still a lot of noise. Perhaps with practice I could learn to use search on Twitter productively.
I still think that most people are attracted to Twitter for the game of Allies and Ostracism. I joked that saying that you go to Twitter for information is like when men used to say they bought Playboy for the articles. Tyler conceded that many people go to Twitter to play the game, but one does not have to. You don’t have to reply to anyone’s tweet, and you shouldn’t, unless you are trying to ask for clarification.
He says that his email is a great source of new information. He says that having a blog that is somewhat difficult to follow helps to serve as a filter, so that the random email correspondence he receives is mostly good.
He subscribes to print versions of some major newspapers. He reads other periodicals on line, and he uses Feedly. He thinks that Twitter has taken over from the blogosphere because maintaining a blog is too much work for most people.
Tyler was born with abilities that enable him to read much faster than most people. I suggested that this gives him a comparative disadvantage listening to podcasts, and he emphatically confirmed this.
Tyler said that when he was young, the most important books for him were chess books. He said that Alexander Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster taught him to study actively in a way that generates feedback. For example, when reviewing a game between two grandmasters, try to come up with a different move in a position and then read commentaries on the game to see what you got right and wrong in your analysis. I would say that putting your ideas out on a blog (or on Twitter, perhaps) is a way of actively learning by obtaining feedback.
I have noticed that the Internet seems to have reduced reader’s appreciation for flowery writing. He said that Latin American fiction still has some great writing style, but perhaps as the Internet gains in Latin America this will fade.
During the audience Q&A, he said that he is optimistic that American politics is becoming more centrist. Although the two parties are still crazy, the public seems to have more of a consensus. Not the consensus that he would want, necessarily, but better than what the partisan extremists are offering.
I do not share his optimism. I don’t like the trends among young people on the left. And, having watched Mr. Trump at CPAC again this year, I cannot be optimistic about the right these days. I will have more to say about the CPAC speech later this week.
Next Monday’s live event will be a resumption of my seminar on financial institutions. I will talk about the American financial system as it existed when I was much younger, and how it came to be that way.
I think that Tyler has the better point regarding Twitter versus Google. Have you tried searching for any more openly polarized or politicized topic on Google (say, in the last year or so)?
My sense is that Google results are now heavily curated, with left-of-center sources strongly preferred and the more-coherent right-of-center sites almost entirely removed from results. I would often search for some phrase or topic I read at one or two removes from my usual sources, and Google would not find it, but competitors -- particularly DuckDuckGo and Bing -- would. Along the lines of "great source[s] of new information", I want to see different viewpoints, but Google gives almost an echo chamber of mainstream punditry. Because of that, I switched my desktop and mobile browsers to use DDG as more representative of the "old school" of Internet search engines.
As a concrete example, the first page of results for "Taiwan protests" provides much more ideological diversity with DDG than Google. Bing only gives five results on the first page, but the next page is comparable to DDG's first page. (This is not too surprising given that DDG uses Bing as one source.)
If you find useful lists you can search list:890093242342 "search term" and it will surface only results from that list.