If you watched the American State of the Union address last night, in part or in total, you couldn’t have escaped noticing one particular phrase: “win the future.” President Obama used it (or “winning the future”) nine times in the speech; he used “future” 15 times, in total. You might think that, as a futures guy, I would be thrilled at the Presidential shout-out, but I’m not.
When thinking about the future, “winning” is a terrible metaphor. It’s not just that “winner” implies “loser;” it’s not just that “win” demands competition. For me, the fundamental problem with the metaphor is that “win” means that the competition is over. Okay, we’ve won the future… now what? Everybody goes to Disneyland? Or if “win the future” means the future is a prize, once we’ve won it, what do we do with it? I don’t think my office bookcase is big enough to hold the whole future. I might have to get a storage locker.
I wrote about three different projects that are working to create a government-less Internet over at ReadWriteWeb:
In Cory Doctorow’s young adult novel Little Brother, the protagonist starts an wireless ad-hoc network, called X-Net, in response to a government crack-down on civil liberties. The characters use gaming systems with mesh networking equipment built-in to share files, exchange message and make plans.
The Internet blackout in Egypt, which we’ve been covering, touches on an issue we’ve raised occasionally here: the control of governments (and corporations) over the Internet (and by extension, the cloud). One possible solution, discussed by geeks for years, is the creation of wireless ad-hoc networks like the one in Little Brother to eliminate the need for centralized hardware and network connectivity. It’s the sort of technology that’s valuable not just for insuring both freedom of speech (not to mention freedom of commerce – Egypt’s Internet blackout can’t be good for business), but could be valuable in emergencies such as natural disasters as well.
Here are a few projects working to create such networks.
JD spoke at the now defunct Portland pro-bloggers group last year. Read his advice and heed it well:
From my experience, novice bloggers have no idea how much time and effort it takes to build and maintain a successful site. Yes, you can start a blog in just an hour or two. Yes, you can run a blog as a hobby, and you can even make a little money at it. But for a blog to be a full-time business it has to be, well, a full-time business. Blogging is no easy path to riches.
Based on conversations with hundreds of bloggers, my best guess is that the average blog makes maybe $50-$100 per month. (Well, the average blog makes nothing. The average blog that’s trying to make money earns about $50 to $100 per month.) A very successful blog might make $1000 per month. And some, like Get Rich Slowly, make enough for folks to earn a full-time living.
Blogging can be lucrative if you’re willing to invest the time and effort needed to make a go of it. But successful bloggers don’t just sit on the beach sipping piña coladas and eating mangoes. The full-time bloggers I know treat this just like work. Because it is work. (To be honest, the best bloggers I know are obsessive workaholics. They spend too much time on their blogs.)
And to some extent, “pointsification” is just quantification – something enterprises should be doing anyway. In fact, most the principals of a good game should apply in the workplace.:
Quantification: Tracking sales, average customer support response time, server uptime and other metrics that identify success.
Recognition and Reward: Raises, bonuses, promotions.
Autonomy: Robertson notes that for a game to be truly engaging players must be able to make decisions that “meaningfully impact on the world of the game.” Autonomy has been identified by Daniel Pink and others as a requirement for motivation and job satisfaction.
Challenge: I think this should be self-explanatory.
Looked at this way, is there any difference between “gamification” and “good management”?
I don’t agree with PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor Peter Thiel’s worldview, but I agree with much of what he has to say in this interview in National Review – particularly the section on education:
Education is a bubble in a classic sense. To call something a bubble, it must be overpriced and there must be an intense belief in it. Housing was a classic bubble, as were tech stocks in the ’90s, because they were both very overvalued, but there was an incredibly widespread belief that almost could not be questioned — you had to own a house in 2005, and you had to be in an equity-market index fund in 1999.
Probably the only candidate left for a bubble — at least in the developed world (maybe emerging markets are a bubble) — is education. It’s basically extremely overpriced. People are not getting their money’s worth, objectively, when you do the math. And at the same time it is something that is incredibly intensively believed; there’s this sort of psycho-social component to people taking on these enormous debts when they go to college simply because that’s what everybody’s doing.
It is, to my mind, in some ways worse than the housing bubble. There are a few things that make it worse. One is that when people make a mistake in taking on an education loan, they’re legally much more difficult to get out of than housing loans. With housing, typically they’re non-recourse — you can just walk out of the house. With education, they’re recourse, and they typically survive bankruptcy. If you borrowed money and went to a college where the education didn’t create any value, that is potentially a really big mistake.
There have been a lot of critiques of the finance industry’s having possibly foisted subprime mortgages on unknowing buyers, and a lot of those kinds of arguments are even more powerful when used against college administrators who are probably in some ways engaged in equally misleading advertising. Like housing was, college is advertised as an investment for the future. But in most cases it’s really just consumption, where college is just a four-year party, in the same way that buying a large house with a really big swimming pool, etc., is probably not an investment decision but a consumption decision. It was something about combining the investment decision and the consumption decision that made the housing thing so tricky to get a handle on — and I think that’s also true of the college bubble.
One important difference between the housing bubble and the education bubble is that there was sort of a class aspect to the housing bubble: upper-middle-class people in the U.S. tend to be invested in equities, and middle-class people tend to be invested in housing, so there was a way in which the housing bubble was a way of making fun of the middle class for various sophisticated elites that ran all the way through the housing bubble. It was sort of like, “Look at those dumb people and beatniks in suburban America who are doing this crazy housing thing.” So even though it was a crazy bubble, there was at least a kind of counter-narrative; you had a bit of a dissenting narrative. Education is an upper-middle-class thing, and so something that is not questioned by elites at all, and that’s why the education market is more likely to be distorted.
You know, we’ve looked at the math on this, and I estimate that 70 to 80 percent of the colleges in the U.S. are not generating a positive return on investment. Even at the top universities, it may be positive in some sense — but the counterfactual question is, how well would their students have done had they not gone to college? Are they really just selecting for talented people who would have done well anyway? Or are you actually educating them? That’s the kind of question that isn’t analyzed very carefully. My suspicion is that they’re just good at identifying talented people rather than adding value. So there are a lot of things about it that are very strange.
The Great Recession of 2008 to the present is helping to bring the education bubble to a head. When parents have invested enormous amounts of money in their kids’ education, to find their kids coming back to live with them — well, that was not what they bargained for. So the crazy bubble in education is at a point where it is very close to unraveling.
In early 2009, there was a question of why the stimulus money was not going to infrastructure, and a very large amount was going to subsidizing college loans and encouraging people to go back to school. The argument was that we get a higher return on human capital than on infrastructure. While that’s certainly possible, and I agree that human capital is extremely important, I think we’re not actually measuring the return we’re getting on the human capital. It is, in fact, considered in some ways inappropriate to even ask the question of what the return is. We are given bromides to the effect of, “Well, you know college education is good, but it’s good precisely because it doesn’t teach you anything specific; you become a more well-rounded person, a better citizen, you learn how to learn.” There tends to be an evasion of specificity of what exactly it is that is learned. And so these human-capital intuitions may be very far off in a lot of colleges.
I thought his position on seasteading was interesting as well:
Seasteading was thought up by acolytes of Milton Friedman. The idea is that we need to create competition between governments. If it’s very hard to reform existing ones, we need to create new sovereign states — in the oceans or elsewhere. There’s a technological question about how far away we are from these kinds of things. It’s probably not around the corner. But these technological projects are worth pursuing.
It’s one of the ways in which I see things in the U.S. as having declined from the 1950s, when people had a real sense of the future, and the future was an important subject for public discussion. We thought about being on the moon, or living underwater, and what we were going to do about farmlands and forests and so on. Different ideas about how technology would change in the future played an important role in our society. That sort of collapsed with everything else in the late ’60s and into the ’70s. I want to go back to the future and back to a time when people were thinking about how to use technology to make the world a dramatically better place — not like the present, where technology is largely seen as irrelevant and specifically as bad.
Some people have criticized my advocacy of a student loan jubilee by saying that college kids who made bad decisions don’t deserve to be bailed out. Well, as Clint Eastwood said, “deserved” hasn’t got anything to do with it. We need a student loan jubilee to keep the angry, unemployed hordes from storming the Bastille and dragging the royalty to the guillotines. It’s not about what THEY deserve, it’s about YOUR survival. But hey, just keep repeating those mantras of “self-reliance” and “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” – I hear the grave’s a fine and private place.
I released my first full length album, Return to the Wasteland and performed live several times. I talked to Joseph Matheny about it on GPOD. I have another album in the works, but I’m insanely busy lately so I’ve been having a hard time getting it finished.
This is the primary reason I’ve been so busy. I initially thought that I’d be less busy once I was working full-time for RWW instead of juggling a full-time IT job with part-time writing duties. Instead, I’ve only become more busy. But it’s the best job I’ve ever had and I’m proud to be a part of the ReadWriteWeb team.
None the less, I’ve got plans for the site. My biggest goal for 2011 is to the dossiers flowing again. Changes and new stuff will roll-out as time permits.
Photo courtesy of Courtney
Although we had our legal wedding in 2009, my wife and I had our full ceremony this year. We had a crazy Bollywood/Steampunk mashup wedding on the Oregon Coast.
Thanks for reading everyone, and have a great 2011!
I’ve been meaning to do my “year end/new year” type posts for a while, but I’ve been insanely busy. Today is the 11th anniversary of Technoccult, so I thought it would be a good occasion to get these posts out of the way. Enjoy!
So without further ado, here were the most popular 10 new posts of 2010:
What music listeners have known for centuries has been vindicated by science: music gets you high. Specifically, when we listen to music we like, our brains release dopamine. Dopamine is released even when anticipating listening to a song.