Saturday, November 14, 2020

The single reply rule

The single reply rule says that you are only allowed to make a single entry to an online thread or comment section. That is to say, not more than one comment and no replying to replies. 

What assumption is hiding behind the decision to adopt such a rule? It is the assumption that the kind of people who like to maintain a back-and-forth sequence of replies with a stranger online are not worth talking to. It's just wasting time. It's not even interesting to the readers. This is a bleak take on the internet, but I'm afraid that this is what online communities inevitably become when people who receive criticism are allowed to return criticism [1]. The only way to stop it is to not take the bait, to never reply to replies. This will not stop other people from jumping into the conversation and start wasting each other's time. At least you're not wasting your own time or energy.

Ego

When someone criticizes us online, the first instinct is to interpret this as an attack, and to return the attack. Why does it feel so important to not let a public attack to oneself stand unanswered? I think it has to do with the kind of "public" we are used to. We are used to small communities where everyone knows everyone and reputation is persistent. Coming out as the loser from a hostile exchange in such a setting can cause a permanent stain on reputation. So the instinct to defend the ego makes sort of sense in pre-urban societies, and also in artificially small communities like schools. 

In the online world, where people are more flexible to move around and switch communities, it is less important to keep up one's reputation in a specific community. So even if reputation was persistent within online communities, defending ego would be less important. The thing is, the online communities that work like like school classes are really not worth being part of. They are the bottom trough that capture all the insufferable people from school

Content

Why write anything at all? Why not adopt a rule of never ever contributing stuff online? I wouldn't blame anyone for doing that. But for me, the reason for choosing to contribute something worth reading has to do with a sense of wanting to give back to the parts of the internet that have given me endless entertainment and information. I want online communities to be fun and interesting places. The way to achieve this is not by 'saving' toxic communities by arguing with the arguers [2], but by building new ones with better culture. A sign of a good culture would be that the most honourable thing is to provide succinct, entertaining, and interesting points or counterpoints. Another sign of a good culture would be that the most shameful thing is intellectual dishonesty, and that attitudes below intellectual dishonesty (such as name-calling) do not even appear in conversation, but are blocked by everyone. 

Completeness

An additional consequence of adopting the single reply rule is that one has to make entries complete, in the sense that they can't leave obvious room for misinterpretation or misrepresentation. This increases the value to the reader. 

An exception

An exception can be made for replies that are well-meant, charitable, and are asking for clarification or more information. Such replies are constructive to the conversation and help build a positive and learning-oriented atmosphere. Note that the exception does not cover replies such as "Great post!" or "Genius comment!", since they are not asking for more information. For such cases, one can use the like button to say thanks. However, it should be noted that indiscriminate positive feedback is just the other side of the coin of indiscriminate negative feedback. 


[1] Actually, 'criticism' is a huge euphemism for most of bad faith online exchanges. 

[2] The idea of making a community nice by shouting down the trolls sounds so absurd that it's laughable to anyone who has used social media. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Vad några svenska folktroväsen kan lära oss om riskmedvetande

Näcken, brunnsgubben, tjässan. Kanske även skogsrået, bergsrået, och bäckahästen. Låt oss gå igenom vad de är:

Näcken: sitter naken i bäcken och spelar sin fiol. Lockar till sig barn och ungdomar som går ut i bäcken. Då drar näcken ner dem i vattnet så att de drunknar. 

Brunnsgubben: sitter i brunnen och drar ner barn som lutar sig för långt ut.

Tjässan: sitter i gödselstacken och ger sig på barn som går för nära den.

Skogsrået: ett vackert kvinnligt skogsväsen som lockar unga till att följa efter henne så att de går vilse.

Bergsrået: likt skogsrået fast i klippiga områden. 

Bäckahästen: en vacker vit häst som lockar barn att stiga upp på honom. För varje barn som stiger upp så blir bäckahästen aningen längre, så att det alltid finns plats för en till. Plötsligt rider bäckahästen rakt emot en sjö och hoppar rakt ner i den, så att alla barn som rider på den drunknar. 

När vi på detta vis radar upp våra folktroväsen så framträder ett tydligt mönster. Samtliga verkar ha kommits på och spridits med syfte att skrämma, snarare än att roa. Dessutom förefaller de vara till för att skrämma unga från högst verkliga faror, snarare än att vara baserade på skrock. Dessa väsen triggas av beteende som verkligen är riskfyllt. Låt oss lista de associerade farorna:

Näcken: om man vistas i en bäck med hala stenar och kallt vatten så kan man lätt halka och drunkna. Detta var ett otroligt vanligt sätt att dö på, se: https://youtu.be/F6Y22rIyLrQ

Brunnsgubben: om man lutar sig över brunnen så kan man plötsligt halka till och falla ner så att man drunknar i brunnen, ifall man inte slår ihjäl sig först. 

Tjässan: om man går för nära gödselstacken så kan man råka andas in en stor mängd ammoniak och svimma. Svimmar man med ansiktet nere i gödselstacken så kan man dö av syrebrist.

Skogsrået och bergsrået: om man planlöst vandrar ut i naturen så kan man gå vilse. Bergsrået kan också ha haft en koppling till drunkning, hon finns omskriven i Bohuslän. 

Bäckahästen: kan vara en varning för att gå för nära vilda hästar. Eller helt enkelt drunkning. 

Något som dessa faror dessutom har gemensamt är att de alla innehåller en skarp tidpunkt, när det inte längre är möjligt att rädda sig. Detta till skillnad från faror som har med skadlig livsstil att göra. Jag gör en förutsägelse om att det inte finns något väsen som tar barn som äter skämd mat. 

Dessa väsen är också någorlunda lömska, osynliga dator. Jag gör ytterligare en förutsägelse att det aldrig funnits något eldsrå; elden är uppenbart farlig. Samma med mörkret och kylan: det behövs inget väsen för att varna unga från att ge sig ut en kall vinternatt. Även gårdens djur passar in i denna kategori: det behövs inga sagor som varnar en för att gå föra nära hästar, svin, och tjurar.

Syftet med att skapa och sprida en historia om ett väsen är alltså att ge en inkarnation åt en fara som är plötslig och lömsk. Ett väsen gör att faran uppfattas som aktiv, snarare än som en passiv risk. Det blir ett sätt att kompensera för somliga barns övertro till sin egen förmåga. 

Vad kan vi lära oss av det här idag? Att tänka igenom det här har ökat min respekt för riskmedvetande i bondesamhället. Att dra en saga om ett väsen är ett smart sätt att rädda sina barn från vissa faror, tills de vet bättre. I upplysningens tidsålder tycker jag dock att man ska kunna göra det bättre. En saga om ett väsen kan gå i baklås och tvärtom locka barn att gå och försöka söka upp till exempel Näcken. 

En förälder som vill uppfostra barn som tänker själv, bör inte börja med avsiktliga lögner. Istället kan man berätta om barn som till exempel har gått ut i bäcken, halkat på en sten och drunknat. Det är inte en vetenskaplig studie, men vetenskapliga bevis är inte heller nödvändiga för att motivera varför man ska undvika livsfaror. Det räcker med ett anekdotiskt men verkligt skäl.

Friday, October 9, 2020

The Problem with Nostalgia

The problem with nostalgia is that nostalgia itself is not much to be nostalgic about. If we spend the 2020's reliving the 90's or the 00's, our decade will not be a very interesting time period for future observers. I think this was already a problem in the 10's. There is a tradeoff between cherishing old memories and creating new ones. Right now (October 2020), I think we'd be better off by being less nostalgic, on the margin. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Annie Hall Effect

Negative feedback of compatibility. In other words: when the process of being in a relationship with someone makes that person become less compatible with you. 

Named after Annie Hall (1977), where the eponymous Annie is initially very attractive to Woody Allen's character, except for the fact that she is not very educated. When they live together, he convinces her to take some courses at the university. This makes her conspicuously more like him, a shock that their relationship is not strong enough for.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Lack of fences: an underrated aspect of walkability

Walkability is not only sidewalks and bicycle lanes. These structures make pedestrians and cyclists use the same way from A to B as a car would. This can be unnecessarily long, if that is the only option. 

A neighborhood designed with walkers and bicyklists in mind should not have fences on the best best shortcuts. It could be a concrete wall walling off one end of a parking lot. It could be a fence between two condo apartment houses with different owners. It could be a thick row of hedges in a single family home area. 

To a walker, this makes a big difference. Walking is slow, so walking a couple of hundred metres just to find oneself in a dead end is annoying. This discourages discovery, and decreases walking in the area. Dead ends and fences also drastically reduce the number of possible good routes from A to B in an area. So walking in the same area becomes repetitive, which further reduces walking. 

Maybe this is not an unfortunate outcome in some cases, but the intended one? Do planners and owners expect that walkability will increase crime and loud street life? About crime I say that for each criminal who finds their way into a walkable neighborhood, ten witnesses also do. A dead end will attract zero witnesses, but may attract a nonzero amount of thieves. About loitering: it's often enough to ask people nicely to keep it quiet. A really successful walkable area will be so nice that parents let their young kids play outside. This makes it a "kid area" which can even repel noisy teenagers.

The benefit of pedestrian and bicycle traffic is that it's less bothersome to the people next to it. Pedestrians also have less range, so one can afford to let pedestrians cross straight through one's neighborhood, without worrying that a bunch of people will come from far away and make a lot of noise, as is the case with a large road. 


A heuristic for finding interesting places to walk

When going away from home: bias towards the smaller road. To find the way back: bias towards the bigger. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Economics of geeks and hipsters

People want as much out of life as possible. One way of doing that is to maximize lifetime earnings. Another way is to maximize consumer surplus. When a marginal increase in earnings become too costly in time and energy, it is more efficient to start increasing consumer surplus. This leads to fragmentation of how people consume things. Hipsters and geeks are examples of this. The markets also respond by fragmentation.

Consumer surplus is the maximum price you would pay for a thing, minus what you actually paid for it. A person who likes standard milk chocolate, loves it even more than expensive chocolate, makes a killing in terms of consumer surplus, since milk chocolate is quite cheap. Appreciating second hand apparel could likewise make living in a first world country satisfying and affordable at the same time. Or old vinyl records. So that's an economic rationale for hipster culture. The advantage of consuming forgotten things (that are still commercially available) disappear when those things become retro, and price increases. A hipster who buys an overpriced item has in a sense failed (if the item was actually unappreciated, then it wouldn't be expensive). Then, that person is not a hipster but just someone who follows fashion. 

Now to geek culture. Being a geek is about doing one thing intensively at the expense of ignoring other things to the point that the it becomes problematic or embarrassing [1]. Sacrifice plays a part in geekiness. Hipsters don't want others infringing on their thing because it decreases consumer surplus, and geeks don't want it because it decreases the value of something that they have sacrificed for. When this happens, geeks either shrug and keep doing their thing (may be a sign of social illiteracy), or move into even geekier territory. This creates a market for even more specialized things. 

[1] Famous people who became famous through their own efforts are geeks who were lucky enough to be geeky about something that others became interested in later. Applies to arts, including science and development.