Keeping up with the FITs, 4/26
Ben Thompson on making Twitter profitable; Jordan Peterson and Glenn Loury; Ed West on Brexit; Matt Shapiro on political COVID narratives; Alana Newhouse on schooling
If you can know how to reach someone, and have the means to do so, you are set, whether you be a critical service, an advertiser, or anything in-between. Twitter has the potential to fill that role: the ability to route short messages to a knowable endpoint accessible via a centralized directory has far more utility than political signaling and infighting. And yet, thanks to Twitter’s early decisions and lack of leadership, the latter is all the service is good for; no wonder user growth and financial results have stagnated!
His suggestion is to let other companies build apps on top of Twitter’s “core service,” which is its social graph. Those companies would in turn pay the core service. The issue of content moderation would be handled at the level of the app, not the core service.
It seems to me that Facebook could do the same thing. Perhaps Thompson would say that Facebook has been better at building a financially successful app, so that competing apps could undermine its profits.
Jordan Peterson interviews Glenn Loury. It’s from last October, but I just listened—it seems that it was only recently released. Both are really in their element, and the conversation flows well. Around minute 29, Loury explains why he is troubled by the racial disparity in incarceration, even though it may be explainable by differences in criminal behavior. Around minute 45, they talk about inequality, and they point out as a network gets larger, talented people benefit. Adam Smith said that specialization rises with the extent of the market. Economists point out that one side effect is that inequality rises with the extent of the market. Anyway, it is a fascinating discussion all the way through. Strongly recommended.
‘I can’t think of one Brexit promise that has been kept, novelist Tony Parsons tweeted recently. ‘Not one. Slashing taxes? No. Reducing energy bills? No. Taking back control of borders? No. Making a bonfire of EU regulations? No. This Government has broken every big bold Brexit promise. Ever feel like you’ve been cheated?’
and — this is the really funny bit — immigration is now running at near-record levels. This despite the whole thing really being about immigration to start with
vaccine administration for the highest risk group (+65 age group) is up to 80-90% for even the reddest states. The narrative of red counties as anti-science backwaters who are dying because of their stupidity is only possible with the most tortured manipulation of the data. To my deep sadness, this dishonest presentation has become a mainstream position.
We are never really comfortable with uncertainty. We seek causal answers to structure the world we see around us. The patterns of COVID over the last 2 years have not been particularly kind to that part of our psyches. The more work I’ve done with COVID data, the more aware I become that (as a friend put it to me) we go looking for the answer that satisfies our mental search for narrative closure.
The need for narrative closure is one of the factors driving people to fall back on the simplistic axes I identified in The Three Languages of Politics.
Synthesis—for which I’m proud to be an advisor—now has more than 5,500 active students, with thousands and thousands more on a waitlist to join. These kids learn complex problem-solving by competing in teams to win simulations of real-world challenges, like colonizing space, managing wildfires, sustainably fishing the oceans, curating art, running movie studios, and more. In essence, Synthesis lets kids practice the same skills that adults use every day. It throws them into chaotic and competitive situations, challenging them to test their assumptions, make sense of ambiguity, find their voice, and draw out the best in their teammates. It’s much less about coming up with the right answer, that staple of our current educational system, and much more about struggling to understand context and complications and working out some pattern to govern chaos.