Digital Evolution

The tech pessimists are wrong—we can and will adapt to new technologies.

Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, by Clive Thompson, Penguin Press: 352 pp., $27.95.

The Internet is turning us all into ignorant, distracted, lazy, asocial narcissists. Or at least that’s what a seemingly endlessly stream of recent books about the information revolution and digital technology would have us believe.

Since the Net’s dial-up days, social critics have lined up to tell us about the supposed dark side of digital technologies and online life. The ranks of the Net pessimists include Neil Postman (Technopoly), Clifford Stoll (High-Tech Heretic), Andrew Keen (The Cult of the Amateur, Digital Vertigo), Lee Siegel (Against the Machine), Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget, Who Owns the Future?), Mark Helprin (Digital Barbarism), Evgeny Morozov (The Net Delusion), and Nick Carr (The Shallows), to name just a few.

For just as long, a different group of pundits has suggested the exact opposite: that the Internet and digital technologies will revolutionize the economy and society for the better. Our new tools will help us topple tyrannical regimes, elevate political discourse, improve education and public health, and more, they claim. The optimist army includes Nicholas Negroponte (Being Digital), Kevin Kelly (What Technology Wants), Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody), Chris Anderson (The Long Tail, Free), James Surowiecki (The Wisdom of Crowds), Stephen Johnson (Everything Bad is Good For You), and Jeff Jarvis (What Would Google Do?).

Enter Clive Thompson, a contributor to Wired and The New York Times Magazine. Thompson has a foot firmly planted in the optimist camp, but his new book, Smarter Than You Think, stakes out a reasoned middle-ground position. His goal is to “find a new way to talk clearly about the rewards and pleasures of our digital experiences—one that’s rooted in our lived experience, and also detangled from the hype of Silicon Valley.” He generally accomplishes that, and in the process he gives us a sensible framework for thinking about our new digital tools and how we will adapt to them over time.

New Issues, Old Concerns

Debates over the impact of new information technologies predate the rise of the Internet by at least two millennia. Several books by both Net optimists and pessimists, including Thompson’s, recount the allegorical tale found in Plato’s Phaedrus, in which Socrates cautions about the dangers of the written word. Socrates tells the story of the god Theuth, who boasted that his invention of writing would improve the wisdom and memory of the masses relative to the oral tradition of learning. Upon hearing this, King Thamus retorted that, “the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practice it.” Thamus then passed judgment himself about the impact of writing on society, saying he feared that the people “will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.”

“With every innovation, cultural prophets bickered over whether we were facing a technological apocalypse or a utopia,” Thompson notes. “The one thing that both apocalyptics and utopians understand and agree upon is that every new technology pushes us toward new forms of behavior while nudging us away from older, familiar ones.” It’s just that they bitterly disagree about whether that reality has positive or negative implications for society.

So it continues today. Most critiques of digital technology penned since the mid-1990s have followed the lead of Neil Postman’s 1992 anti-technology manifesto Technopoly. “Information has become a form of garbage,” he proclaimed, “not only incapable of answering the most fundamental human questions but barely useful in providing coherent direction to the solution of even mundane problems.” Left unchecked, America’s technopoly—“the submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of technique and technology”—would destroy “the vital sources of our humanity” and lead to “a culture without a moral foundation” by undermining “certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living.”

Echoing Postman, some of the digital age’s dourest critics (Keen, Seigel, Lanier) seem to believe we have already rushed headlong into the technological abyss and that there is no saving our culture or economy from the scourge of the digital revolution. Less pessimistic critics admit that some of us could adapt to the new realities, yet they persist in believing that something very important is lost in that process, that we should all care far more deeply about whatever that is, and, perhaps, that something must be done to preserve that thing or value before it is lost entirely.

Unlike most Net optimists, Thompson is willing at least to hear out the concerns raised by the pessimists and to take them seriously. And then, better than almost all of the optimists before him, he explains why positive adaptation is not just possible but almost certain.

“What Socrates didn’t foresee,” Thompson writes, “was the types of complex thought that would be possible once you no longer needed to mentally store everything you’d encountered.” Perhaps we lost the ability to memorize and retell long folk tales around the campfire. But we gained all new abilities to construct, consume, and process long texts at the same time. By extension, Thompson argues, we have continued to gain new capabilities by adapting our habits, and even our brains, to the emerging technological realities of each era. That evolution continues today, even if there’s some heartburn along the way.

Thompson’s treatment of digital tools’ impact on learning and attention illustrates his balanced approach. Thompson is worried about the potential for distraction in the midst of so much information choice and clutter. “Nobody has yet studied the long-term effects of relying on external, intimate memory tools,” he observes. While today’s tools “make it easier for us to find connections” and “encourage a superfluity of communication and publishing,” those options can overwhelm us. He calculates that everyone on the planet is “composing at least 3.6 trillion words daily, or the equivalent of 36 million books.” Meanwhile, we’re pretending to be master multi-taskers. “Constantly switching between tasks is ruinous to our attention and focus,” Thompson suggests. He recommends self-restraint, in the form of occasional breaks from our digital tools—“Digital Sabbaths,” he calls them. “One of the great challenges of today’s digital tools is knowing when not to use them, when to rely on the powers of older and slower technologies, like paper and books.”

Fear Cycles

The baseline in these debates is constantly shifting because every generation has a particular bugaboo, panicking about the disruptive technology du jour. Today’s intellectuals “wax nostalgic about early European coffee houses” and mass-market novels, but the elites of earlier eras hated them.

Find this and hundreds of other interesting books at the Reason Shop, powered by Amazon.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Jquip||

    "But we gained all new abilities to construct, consume, and process long texts at the same time."

    Uh no. Specifically, 'consume' was the point of Thamus. That rather than go through, analyze, and comprehend notions, that we would be quite capable of parroting the language as if we were invoking magic. No clue what it means, but it has some sort of... effect, on people. Which is exactly what Parrots do with language.

    And to the degree that we can process long texts in ways we couldn't, it's soley because we're taking notes. Analyzing and rewriting the text into a smaller set of structures and arguments. Or, you know, just the thing the Greeks did in pedagogy to begin with. So to state that we have gained nothing here by having t3h interwebs versus good old fashioned books, or debate, or anything else. We aren't magically what we're not because, like, nVidia, man.

    But it is correct to state that we have new manners of constructing long texts. As numerous hacks of published scientific papers have shown, we can use random buzzword generators to get utterly nonsensical and content-free nonsense published as 'knowledge.' Because for all the hooplah, we're still only consuming long texts and it doesn't get caught. Which is, again, a restatement of Thamus.

  • Metazoan||

    And to the degree that we can process long texts in ways we couldn't, it's soley because we're taking notes.

    What about machine learning? There's quite a bit of novel stuff going on there.

  • Jquip||

    Machine learning is awesome, but that's the machine learning. Certainly plausible that the machine can take notes for you, but then you're learning the machine produced Cliff notes rather than the original.

    I'd still be hopeful about it if it weren't for Siri and autocorrect on iPhones.

  • Metazoan||

    I didn't RTFA, so that may be my problem here. I was thinking of various ML algorithms and their application to text mining, and that that's a new way to process a lot of text. But it appears I completely missed the point.

    FYI, ML does some really cool stuff with respect to text mining beyond Siri, autocorrect, and ad prediction. From using medical records to repurpose drugs to mining scientific literature to create databases of molecular interactions, it seems pretty cool in biomedicine.

  • Jquip||

    No worries, I may well be stating something other than the article itself. But yes, the medical field has made great strides in ML. Though what I'd really like to see is ML turned loose on case law. Just for the lulz.

  • Fluffy||

    It sounds like you're on the side of Thamus here...which would make you a fucking idiot.

    It is absolutely beyond dispute that writing has advanced knowledge over spoken "pedagogy".

    You'd literally have to be fucking retarded to think otherwise.

    The overwhelming majority of all human information is useful only in instrumental ways. That means that committing it to memorization is pointless, because we only need it instrumentally, and if we can access it at the moment that we have an instrumental need, that's good enough. We can safely not have access to it the rest of the time.

    That means that anything that extends the size of external memory available to your brain as a system helps you. Writing helped, printing helped, systemization of knowledge helped, digital information storage and retrieval helped. Because if thinking is content + method, applying he same method to exponentially greater amounts of content does, in fact, make us magically what we're not.

  • Jquip||

    Ah see, and you made Thamus' point. You read, didn't understand, and from the certitude of your ignorance you are assured that I am a 'fucking idiot.'

    Perhaps you were unaware the Euclid's Elements is a book of pedagogy? I submit it's perfectly possible you didn't know this because of all the fucking pictures.

  • Fluffy||

    I understood completely.

    You are advancing the quite absurd notion that it is possible to duplicate via pedagogy the information processing ability I possess by having access to Google. Because both activities constitute "taking notes". And that's simply ridiculous.

    Consider SQL for a moment. If you understand how to write basic queries, and possess a reasonably well documented data dictionary for your data set, you can extract useful information from tens of millions of rows of records you never see, and never have to see. So learning one limited and relatively simple method (SQL syntax) gives you access to vast amounts of knowledge (query results) without listening to some fuckwad ramble on about each row so that we can "go through, analyze, and comprehend" them. Because once we know the method, our power advances with the size of the data set we can access.

    (Human + computer + software + data) is actually a single knowledge system, and that knowledge system is inestimably more powerful than (Human + other humans drinking wine and talking smack about love or whatever).

  • Jquip||

    Yep, now you've gone straight from certain ignorance to incurable dishonesty. Once again:

    "Perhaps you were unaware the Euclid's Elements is a book of pedagogy? I submit it's perfectly possible you didn't know this because of all the fucking pictures."

    Nah, too harsh. Rather than accuse you of dissembling, let's just assume that you have no knowledge of what a book is, what a library is, or what the Dewey Decimal System is. But by god you can write a query and hope someone put trivia in a database about it.

  • Fluffy||

    You know what, fuckface?

    Euclidean proofs are a great example. He devoted his entire life to that work.

    And you know what? I learned all the valid parts...in 7th grade. In three days.

    Seventh motherfucking grade! Three motherfucking days!

    Because his proofs may have been difficult to discover, but they're incredibly trivial to learn.

    And that is actually one of the best examples available of how knowledge storage actually IS transformative.

    And books, libraries, and the Dewey decimal system are on my side of the argument, not Thamus'. Because if he was right, books and libraries decrease understanding and knowledge and don't increase it. If you don't think that's true and think books and libraries have the opposite effect, then you should reach the same conclusion about computers and the internet, only raised (at least) one order of magnitude.

  • Fluffy||

    But by god you can write a query and hope someone put trivia in a database about it.

    And you're obviously too fucking stupid to see the transactional difference here. If you teach me the Dewey decimal system and point me at a library full of books, I still have to retrieve all the information categorized by Dewey and stored in those books MANUALLY. I have to walk my ass down to those shelves and run my finger down indexes. And most of the time the shelving is poor, the Dewey system is inexact, and the indexes are misleading - AND you can only look at one book at a time. But with a query, you write the query ONCE and you have access to all the information simultaneously. And if the data changes over time, you don't rewrite the query, you rerun it. It's the difference between analyzing, say, a million insurance claims by looking through paper claims in a well-organized file cabinet, and having all the claim data points in a database. If you don't see the difference, you're a Luddite fool.

  • Fluffy||

    But by god you can write a query and hope someone put trivia in a database about it.

    You don't actually have to hope.

    You can design a database structure to prove a particular hypothesis, and write your queries before the data actually exists. You can write them against tables that are empty.

    And then leave that thought product behind, ticking like a bomb, to go off when the data is gathered later.

    Can't you see how incredibly vastly that expands you as a knowledge system? So much so that it allows you to incorporate future facts that are not yet known or gathered? So much so that it allows you to incorporate data-entry lackeys a continent away into a single system and a single act? Don't you see how incredibly laborious that would be without technologically enhanced information storage and retrieval?

    I guess not. But then again I am rapidly coming to the conclusion IRL that people who can't write SQL can't actually think, and have stunted, animal-like consciousnesses. So I guess that this argument isn't that surprising.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Can anyone translate this gibberish into Yokeltarian for me?

  • Christophe||

    I have no clue what the actual point is. It's funny because it sounds like a yokeltarianish-position (skepticism/traditionalist leanings).

    My translation is that we're no better off in terms of true understanding of concepts, despite all the tech advances related to information processing.

    Which seems patently false to me, but maybe I misunderstood.

  • Jquip||

    Rather, worse off in terms of understanding. For example, we've descended from debate about positions to slogans, quotes, and talking points memos picked up hither and yon (Pure yokel) that we skim over. When asked or challenged on what we know or what positions we take, we refer someone to an expert author to do our speaking for us, since we've done little more than read the dust jacket.

    For a witness proof of this condition I give you political pundits and the American electorate.

  • VG Zaytsev||

    And the supercilious commenter Jquip, Top Man™

  • C. Anacreon||

    You know, reading several hundred comments on hitnrun is a good way to pass a long flight. Worth the 8 bucks for wifi. Landing soon.

  • ||

    You know who else is smarter than you think? Government

    The biggest myth of the Obamacare debate goes like this: The failures of Obamacare prove that the government can't be trusted to run our health care system.

    And it is wrong on every possible level.

    First of all, the premise is wrong. Obamacare cannot be a litmus test for government-run health care because Obamacare is not government-run health care.

    Obamacare creates an online exchange where people can buy private insurance. The government merely sets basic standards that every plan has to meet and gives consumers a place where they can locate those plans. The rest is up to the free market.

    This simple concept has been so twisted and misunderstood that many Americans actually believe that the government will have access to their medical records. This is completely false. Under Obamacare, the IRS only needs to verify that you have health insurance. It does not -- and cannot -- see any of your private health information.
    [...]
    And that brings us to the fifth and most fatal flaw in this myth: The biggest success story from Obamacare has been Medicaid, the one part of the law that actually is government-run insurance. To say that the government can't be trusted is to say that the millions of Americans who benefit from Medicare and Medicaid and CHIP don't count and don't matter.

  • Metazoan||

    The government merely sets basic standards that every plan has to meet and gives consumers a place where they can locate those plans.

    Oh, that's why the law was so big we had to pass it to find out what was in it...

  • Metazoan||

    To say that the government can't be trusted is to say that the millions of Americans who benefit from Medicare and Medicaid and CHIP don't count and don't matter.

    Huh?! How is saying the truth--like that Medicare is riddled with fraud and corruption--saying that the patients who rely on them at the moment don't matter?

  • ||

    Obamacare creates an online exchange where people can buy private insurance.

    Really? Why don't you try and buy some then, genius? Oh wait, you can't? Moron.

  • AlmightyJB||

    And why and the hell would we need the government for that?

  • IDPNDNT||

    If that's all it did then that raises the question why we needed it at all.

    If i'm not mistaken do we not have a handful of websites that already do this, and actually work at that?

  • Sevo||

    "If i'm not mistaken do we not have a handful of websites that already do this, and actually work at that?"

    But the latest lefty excuse is that the O'care site was done by PRIVATE COMPANIES, not the government!

  • Libertarius||

    ehealthinsurance.com was a myth of the bourgeoisie, comrade. But it was also the bourgeoisie wreckers who have wrecked Obozokare.

    Kommissar Obozo will prevail!

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    The rest is up to the free market.

    hahahahahahah!

  • Sevo||

    "The rest is up to the free market."

    We tell you what size shoe to buy, what the shoe is made of, how many lace holes in it, how much trim is allowed on it, how many you can buy.
    And the rest is up to the free market! See? It's not government-run!

  • Generic Stranger||

    The market is shackled to a lead ball made up of regulations and the government has a gun to its head, but it's free I tell you!

  • Sevo||

    Oh, and I left out:
    We tell you you MUST buy those shoes, too.

  • Jordan||

    THIS IS WHAT SHRIEK ACTUALLY BELIEVES

  • Sevo||

    Well, the list gets longer:
    The guy who makes the shoes must be government-licensed. And the materials he uses must be government-approved.
    But the rest? Free market!

  • Sevo||

    Not O'care, but just one more gov't snafu:
    "UnitedHealth Group Inc., the nation's largest provider of privately managed Medicare Advantage plans, has dropped thousands of doctors from its networks in recent weeks—spurring protest from lawmakers and physician groups and leaving many elderly patients unsure about whether they need to switch plans to keep seeing their doctors.

    Doctors in at least 10 states have received termination letters, some citing "significant changes and pressures in the health-care environment."
    http://online.wsj.com/news/art.....Collection

  • Libertarius||

    I would love to see the insurance companies pull an Atlas Shrugged scenario. It is already happening with doctors, but the leftoid media matrix is able to ignore that for awhile; they could not ignore the CEOs of the biggest health insurance companies in the nation gathering at a PR session to announce that they were quitting the business.

    I would feel so much better about the future of this country (and the world) if an insurance CEO went on tv and said, "You don't want to deal with us as traders? Fuck you, we won't be your slaves."

  • ||

    Obamacare is not government-run health care.

    Obamacare creates an online exchange where people can buy private insurance.

    It is literally impossible now to even claim anything the government does is what the government is doing.

    We are fucking doomed.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The Internet is turning us all into ignorant, distracted, lazy, asocial narcissists.

    I disagree with this statement and my time is too valuable to waste continuing to read this article written by an obvious moron.

  • ||

    Shut up and pay attention to me! I don't have the energy to explain why, just do it...is that a pony?

  • Generic Stranger||

    Never go full brony.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I think it was C.S. Lewis who wrote something about how airplanes can drop both medicine and food to the needy or bombs on innocent civilians. He wrote that radio waves could be used to inform the ignorant or to propagandize them as the Nazis had done. I he was writing this during or shortly after the Blitz.

    And I think he got it about right. Technologies are ethically neutral. we can use them to liberate ourselves or they can be used to oppress us--and anybody who thinks they will always have a net positive impact is being naive.

    We've seen the interwebs give us so much personal freedom so far, but that doesn't mean it will always be a net positive. And I don't think bursting the bubbles of the naive is necessarily being unduly pessimistic.

    Take Evgeny Morozov's "The Net Delusion" as an excellent example of somebody getting it right.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obi.....magazineA/

    It was cited by some during the Arab Spring as a response to the idea that the Arab Spring was brought about by Facebook and Twitter, and this was long before the revelations about how our own NSA is using the interwebs to keep really close tabs on all of us.

    Yeah, when g-mail and social media first went big, people were worried about Google and Facebook invading our privacy, but if that seems ridiculous now, isn't it because the danger posed by those entrepreneurs is nothing compared to the danger of our own government using those technologies against us?

  • mtrueman||

    "Technologies are ethically neutral."

    You mean, of course, that technology can be used for good or ill. Technology itself is by no means neutral. Generally speaking technological innovation carries along with it greater energy use, increased division of labour and finer gradations of hierarchy. These trends go overwhelmingly in one direction and that's not neutrality.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I can't imagine opposing technological progression itself for any of those reasons.

    I can imagine opposing the use of technology to hurt people, violate the 4th Amendment, etc. But then, you're not really opposing the technology itself. You're opposing someone using a particular technology to do something harmful or wrong.

  • Sevo||

    "Those reasons" are bullshit.
    Remember 'secretaries' who wrote your letters? Yep, computers made 'em first secretary, second secretary, third...
    Right, mtrueman?

  • mtrueman||

    "I can't imagine opposing technological progression itself for any of those reasons."

    I will try to help you. Increased division of labour inculcates dependency on the hive and erodes our independence and self sufficiency. For a statist and collectivist, this is to be welcomed. I don't think libertarians should have too much trouble rejecting this trend, as they stress the importance of the individual over the hive.

    Much the same could be said of the other trends I mention. Technological innovation moves in one direction and it's not a positive one.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|11.17.13 @ 1:15PM|#
    "I will try to help you."

    Don't need any help from an imbecile.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|11.16.13 @ 6:57PM|#
    "Technology itself is by no means neutral."
    True. It is almost without fail positive.

    "Generally speaking technological innovation carries along with it greater energy use,"
    Bullshit; you're getting a good start!

    "increased division of labour and finer gradations of hierarchy."
    WIH do those mean?

    "These trends go overwhelmingly in one direction and that's not neutrality."
    Hey, look! mtrueman tries innuendo (again)!

  • Christophe||

    Well he's been taught that wealth is zero sum, and he can see a bunch of people whose lives were enriched by technology. So, by definition, it hurt other people. It's so obvious!

  • mtrueman||

    "Well he's been taught that wealth is zero sum"

    That's not correct, Christophe. If you are willing to rise above cliche, we might have something to talk about.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|11.17.13 @ 1:27PM|#
    "If you are willing to rise above cliche, we might have something to talk about."

    If you posted anything above sophomoric opinions, we might have something to talk about.

  • mtrueman||

    "increased division of labour and finer gradations of hierarchy."
    WIH do those mean?

    They essentially amount to the same thing. Basically, the more complex the technology, the greater the number of tasks that go into it. Complexity brings complexity, in other words. If technology were 'neutral' as some here claim, technology would lead to greater or lesser complexity, willy nilly, without a defined trend. I hope I made myself clear, and I admit these are strange ideas I'm floating and you are correct to be suspicious. Let me know if you feel my reasoning is at fault.

  • Sevo||

    "If technology were 'neutral' as some here claim, technology would lead to greater or lesser complexity, willy nilly, without a defined trend. I hope I made myself clear,"

    Yes, you've made it very clear that you have no idea what you post about.
    Word salads do not an argument make.

  • ||

    That digital evolution? YOU DIDN'T BUILD THAT!!!

    Here we see the Randian vision in all its idiotic glory. If you could make a profit by pressing puppies into coffee, you deserve more moral praise than someone who dedicates their life to the poor...To justify their wealth, the titans of industry must make themselves the center of economic progress and society, but the dirty little secret is that they aren’t; they’re just along for the ride.
    [...]
    This observation fits with the facts: William Baumol found in the 1960s that 90 percent of the United States’ GDP today is due to innovations since 1870. Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon estimates that a flat tax of 90% of income is justifiable because “social capital” accounts for 90% of income in developed countries. The Human Genome Project cost the government $3.8 billion but generated $796 billion in economic gains. The project is expected to bring about returns of 140 to 1 to the public. Research by Kenneth Flam finds that, “eighteen of the twenty five most important breakthroughs in computer technology between 1950 and 1962 were funded by the government, and in many cases the first buyer of the technology was also the government.”

    Apparently living in a society is ipso facto proof that all things belong to the State.

  • Metazoan||

    Apparently living in a society is ipso facto proof that all things belong to the State.

    Is that what this is arguing? I can't even tell. This looks like pure gibberish... ok... innovations since 1870.. so what? Isn't that just evidence that a free market is innovative? I really don't understand the point of even mentioning this... or the point of the whole thing...

  • ||

    There's more:

    If Gates donated all $53 billion to foreign humanitarian aid, it would be double what the U.S. government gives yearly ($23 billion in 2013). Imagine the good we could do with the fortunes of the rich, who have only amassed the wealth because of the infrastructure developed by society.

    I think he's advocating total confiscation of the wealth of rich people. Because "we" could do so much better with it.

    Innovators regularly rely on government and academic funding for projects that corporations don’t think will be profitable (according to Singer, “less than 10 percent of the world’s health research budget is spent on combating conditions that account for 90 percent of the global burden of disease”). The arts are largely supported by public funding, not private donations. And many businesses are less self-sufficient than they imagine, requiring bailouts and competition between states to support them. Many corporations, like Walmart, dump poor employees on to government largess rather than pay them enough to feed themselves. And who builds the roads and takes out the garbage?

    He's right about corporate welfare, but then he pulls out the roads argument. Because roads and garbage collection are technological feats so complex no private entity could figure out how to provide either.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Yes, how dare innovators attempt to recoup some of their wealth that was confiscated from them at gunpoint in the name of "tax"!

  • Metazoan||

    The arts are largely supported by public funding, not private donations.


    I really, really, really, doubt this, though perhaps slipping in the word "donation" changes things. Otherwise, I think private funding for "the arts" (though maybe not the arts the author likes) is vastly greater than public funding.

    who have only amassed the wealth because of the infrastructure developed by society.


    What the actual fuck? It doesn't seem that he has demonstrated this point at all (I'm assuming that's because it's not true).

  • Generic Stranger||

    The vast majority of art is completely commercial. Think just about every movie, almost every TV show, every kitschy trinket or painting or what have you.

  • AuH20||

    No, see, "The Arts" are things like opera (I will admit, I'm a fan), ballet, and pictures of the Virgin Mary smeared with elephant crap.

    Things that people enjoy, and will pay money to see, are just lowly "entertainment" and are just the opiate of the masses.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Imagine the good we could do with the fortunes of the rich, who have only amassed the wealth because of the infrastructure developed by society.

    Humanzee: Documentary on Stalin's Experimentation to Create and Army of Ape-Men

  • IDPNDNT||

    Is garbage collection not done by private industry anyways?

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If you consider the Mafia an "industry", yes.

  • Sevo||

    At least it ain't gov't. Maybe less dangerous.

  • Whahappan?||

    Not only that, but Walmart et al. pay a shit ton of taxes, which more than compensates for roads and other infrastructure, and of course pay for their own waste disposal.

  • Jquip||

    My response to all such rose colored glasses of what the private markets have gotten on the back of publicly funded research: Velcro shoes and the rest of 80s fashion.

    Burn the fuck in hell.

  • SForza||

    Say something interesting.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Pictured:The author

    Truly the face of hard-won wisdom.

    From his bio:

    I also interned at Stossel, CBS News and the Hudson Institute (New York).

    Looks like those mean ol' libertarians and conservatives asked Sean to get them their coffee once too much for his liking.

  • ||

    This is almost word for word the same horseshit that was being said to usher in the glorious revolutions in russia and china.

    How did that turn out?

  • Francisco d Anconia||

    I'll leave this here...again. I posted it earlier to a mostly dead thread.

    I've been brushing up on my logical fallacies and my wife sent me this.

    30 common fallacies used against libertarians

    Most libertarians find they’re arguing in social media these days. So they’re not only finding new people on whom to test their ideas, they’re finding new fallacies in response. And sometimes these fallacies work, despite being fallacious, which is probably why they’re so commonplace. This is especially true on social media, where one can quickly learn that the real point of these exchanges is to play to the audience, to provide them with an excuse to withdraw into whatever biases they already hold. Still, maybe it’s possible to raise the costs of employing these fallacies—at least a little.

    We’ve decided to offer you a fun list of them, which you can use as a handy guide in the process of engaging in well-mannered, reasoned discourse online.

    See 10

  • ||

    When I worked there in the 70's, Texas Instruments had the largest private data net in the world. It may have been the data network in the world. I think IBM's data network was almost as large. Either one of these networks might have evolved into something similar to the internet if the internet had not evolved from its DARPA beginnings.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Going back further, the Internet could never have existed without the telephone, which was invented by someone in the private sector.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Or the telegraph before that or Maxwell and Gauss before that. It's a bullshit argument and only propagates because so much modern research is funded by the government because the government has successfully crowded out a lot of private research. It really just displays a stunning lack of historical knowledge, but that's really not surprising when you consider just how unkind history has been to socialism. It's better to conveniently forget the truth.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Awesome article.

    I think shrike and tony have read it and decided that those arguments make perfect, logical sense.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Also...

    This article kind a reminds me of Stefan Molyneux's takedown of Jon Stewart's 19 "tough" questions for libertarians. A lot of these fallacies are featured and refuted.

    Worth a watch, in my humble opinion.

  • np||

    Argument ad KochBrotherium

    lol. #1

  • Cytotoxic||

    Wasn't there a private group that also sequenced the human genome for a lot less money?

  • Sevo||

    And in about half the time.
    "John Craig Venter is an American biologist and entrepreneur. He is known for being one of the first to sequence the human genome and for creating the first cell with a synthetic genome."
    http://www.bing.com/search?q=c.....3951e72a64

  • Christophe||

    Oh shit, he did it (the synthetic genome project).
    That man is a badass.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    1950 and 1962? How arbitrary. The transistor was invented at Bell labs by a private company. The microprocessor was developed at Intel for a Japanese calculator company. Harddrives were invented by IBM for commercial use in 1956. OK, I'll give the government some credit for ARPAnet, but please tell me what other massive breakthroughs possibly outweigh those three.

    Or if you want to go back even further tell me what the fuck the government had to do with the invention of the vacuum tube, any of Armstrong's circuit designs (regeneration, FM, pentode).

    Fucktard.

  • Sevo||

    "OK, I'll give the government some credit for ARPAnet"

    Yep, and then the gov't left it laying on the road when someone outside of gov't said: 'look what I found, and look what I can do with it!'

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    Yes, but at least the gov't can claim some net positive outcome from the activity. The real problem is that Barry doesn't really want more money for that kind of research anyway. OK, he does, but it's peanuts in the grand scheme of things. What they really want the money for is more transfer payments, and THAT hasn't done shit for the country or the economy.

    Wanna quote improved elderly poverty statistics? Great. Now quote youth poverty. Huh, conservation of misery after all...

  • Sevo||

    "conservation of misery"
    WONDERFUL concept! Far superior to 'zero-sum'!

  • Brian||

    Herbert Simon estimates that a flat tax of 90% of income is justifiable because “social capital” accounts for 90% of income in developed countries. The Human Genome Project cost the government $3.8 billion but generated $796 billion...

    Hey, that's fine with mee: if the government supplies a public good for $3.8 billion, and industry can use that good to generate $796 billion, then the government supplied a very valuable good indeed, and they should be compensated. 90% sounds good.

    Of course, we wouldn't want to be inconsistent, and stop that line of thinking right there, now, would we? After all, the government just made about 20000% profit on their investment of $3.8 billion, and who did they get that $3.8 billion from? Taxpayers, of course. So, this line of reasoning implies that those taxpayers should be directly compensated for their investment, as well, and in proportion to how much in taxes the pay. After all, we wouldn't want to deny society credit for the social goods it produces, now would we?

    Taxpayers already pay taxes for fire and police, etc, and the associated protection is what they get in return. That can't be worth an additional $700 billion. Government will have to think of something else. Which begs the question: if producing it was so profitable, why did the feds have to do it in the first place? Why turn taxpayers into investors, and make a corporation out of government, in the first place??

  • AlmightyJB||

    I'm not really sure I see the point in waxing so philosophically about all of this. It's pretty much common sense.

  • ||

    It is funny how people like this who talk about doing good end up creating millions of corpses.

  • ||

    oops. that was supposed to be attached to my comment above.

  • ||

    Remember: for these kinds of people, only words matter. State noble intentions and then murder millions? They will love you, because only words matter to them, not actions. It is unbelievably perverse and repulsive, and I have no idea how someone can operate where they listen only to a person's words but do not analyze their actions, but this is the way a lot of people live. And they are incredibly dangerous because of it.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Cognitive dissonance. If they matched the actions to the words, they would have to admit they were wrong and that would damage their self-constructed identity, of which most humans are wired to protect at all costs, even if it means confabulation.

  • Christophe||

    Yeah, the first step to becoming irrational is to tie your identiy to your beliefs too strongly.

    The sectarianism amongst libertarians probably is a good thing to keep us from falling into that trap. Almost any topic will have at least a few dissenters forcing us to address their positions, while sharing the broader identity (which makes them harder to ignore).

  • AuH20||

    Cracked has been infected by Jezebel. 5 Responses to Sexism that just make everything worse

    The best part may be the end, though:

    The best response to sexism? Having zero tolerance for these absolute wankers. And it can be done; the infrastructure is already in place. If we have the wherewithal to instantly arrest people for making Nazi salutes or to accost women within 10 seconds of removing their shirts, then we can similarly be on hand to call out anyone who thinks they can tell others how to fucking dress. People like me need to reduce the disparity between how opposed we are to sexism and how much we actively do to help create an atmosphere that's poisonous to it. If you're in the same boat, then let's do this -- let's actually be part of the conversation, because it works. Captain Picard himself has given the order, if that helps (IT SHOULD). Because doing nothing is not good enough, dammit. Not good enough.

    Yep, folks, that's right: Free speech should be censored, like Nazi salutes... and sexism.

  • AuH20||

    Oh, and there's this great, economically idiotic bit:

    Why aren't there more female investment bankers? Maybe it's actually the same reason there aren't more male investment bankers who aren't insufferable alpha males -- because investment banking is a gigantic fly trap for macho assholes and ideally nobody should be doing it. The real question is why are there so many macho assholes, and why do we let them beat the economy like a rented mule? This is of course in no way to suggest that efforts to reduce gender imbalances should cease, because there are going to be people of any gender who want to be investment bankers for whatever reason, and equality means all of them should by God have an equal chance at wasting their lives (and the legal right to be paid maternity/paternity leave to raise their devil spawn). The point is just to illustrate that what men do is automatically seen as desirable, as opposed to maybe asking if maybe something having no women in it maybe means it's maybe bullshit maybe.

    The better reaction would be to glorify whatever it is that's actually positive and ensure that as many people as possible get to do it. Investment bankers don't improve the world. Nurses do, though, and we should be glorifying the fuck out of them and paying them eleventy billion dollars a year and saying what can we do about the crisis of not enough men going into nursing

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    If we have the wherewithal to instantly arrest people for making Nazi salutes or to accost women within 10 seconds of removing their shirts

    We do?

  • AuH20||

    Well, according to the google, the author of this piece is originally from Regina. So a Canuck.

  • Christophe||

    Yeah, we canucks have trouble with free speech we don't like.
    It's the unfortunate flip side of the politeness.

  • Sevo||

    Fuck your "Politeness", right Virginia?

  • General Butt Naked||

    I was pleasantly surprised that the comments, which usually skew prog, were taking the author to task.

    This was as of the day when the article was posted, conditions on the ground might have changed.

  • Jordan||

    Washington state insurance commissioner to Obama: drop dead.

    State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has rejected President Obama’s proposal to allow insurance companies to extend health insurance policies for people who have received notices that their policies will be cancelled at the end of the year.

    Within two hours of President Obama’s news conference announcing the proposed administrative fix for Americans upset by their policy cancellations, Kreidler issued a statement rejecting the proposal.

    “I understand that many people are upset by the notices they have recently received from their health plans and they may not need the new benefits [in the Affordable Care Act] today,” he said. “But I have serious concerns about how President Obama’s proposal would be implemented and more significantly, its potential impact on the overall stability of our health insurance market.”

    “I do not believe his proposal is a good deal for the state of Washington,” Kreidler’s statement continued. “We will not be allowing insurance companies to extend their policies.”
  • Sevo||

    See?
    Obo said it was OK, but this guy's in the pocket of the insurance companies!

  • Rich||

    Looks like Arkansas is saying "No, thank you" as well. How many states must reject O's "request" before it becomes a "demand"?

  • Sevo||

    I don't think he will. Once he can transfer the blame, he's home free.
    All it takes is the Obot public to say 'see? he tried!'

  • Rich||

    I keep hearing this, but I think short, clearly-worded letters, citing *Obama's law*, from the companies to the Obots might cause some of the blame to be more properly placed.

  • Sevo||

    I hope you're right.

  • Metazoan||

    Investment bankers don't improve the world.


    Those about as sharp as a dulled butter knife don't usually understand finance.

    Nurses do, though, and we should be glorifying the fuck out of them and paying them eleventy billion dollars a year and saying what can we do about the crisis of not enough men going into nursing


    I love how any personally-unfavorable outcome to these people is a "crisis."

  • Jordan||

    I love how any personally-unfavorable outcome to these people is a "crisis."

    I love how they say "we" when they mean "you". If you want to start paying nurses a bazillion dollars, then your are perfectly free to do so now.

  • General Butt Naked||

    I like how...

    A)There's an implication that nurse's don't do what they do for the monetary rewards, and

    B)That you'd attract the same selfless care givers if you paid nurses disproportionally to their value given

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Nobel Prize winner Herbert Simon estimates that a flat tax of 90% of income is justifiable because “social capital” accounts for 90% of income in developed countries.

    What the fucking fuck?

    That calls for a drink.

  • ||

    Amazing how they will post claims like that and then get all defensive if you bring up Mao and Pol Pot.

    If the jackboot fits...

  • Cytotoxic||

    I'd put 'social capital' in quotes but he did already.

  • AuH20||

    The internet scares the crap out of the Establisment, and for good reason. For most of human history, control of information has been a key part of power. You, as a lowly farmer in the first city-states, had no access or ability to use census data, nor did you know the complex rituals that the priests did in the back rooms to please the sky gods. Later, it was the Bible and Mass only in Latin, to keep the common man in the dark (The fact that the Koran is only supposed to be read in a very archaic form of Arabic is probably not helping Islam right now). The Medicis weren't showing any asshole who walked in their ledgers, to provide an economic example.

    Now, with the Internet, information is instant and free, and with increasing literacy, usable.

    Of course the elite hates it: It not only undermines their power, it also undermines their justifications and arguments to have that power in the first place.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    The internet scares the crap out of the Establisment, and for good reason

    I'm not as sanguine as you concerning the survivability of the Internet vs. the Industrial-Military Complex.

  • ||

    On June 19, 2010, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a bill called "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010",[4] which he co-wrote with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE). If signed into law, this controversial bill, which the American media dubbed the kill switch bill, would grant the President emergency powers over the Internet. Other parts of the bill focus on the establishment of an Office of Cyberspace Policy and on its missions, as well as on the coordination of cyberspace policy at the federal level.
    If national security were to be severely threatened by a cyber attack, broadband providers, search engines, software firms and other major players in the Telecommunications/Computer/Internet industry could be required to immediately comply and implement any emergency measure taken;[5] for most of the month of June, media coverage of the bill insisted on this so-called 'kill switch' provision, said to be included in the bill.[6]

    Lincoln, Wilson, and FDR would have approved.

  • Rich||

    If national security were to be severely threatened by a cyber attack

    With all due respect, what does this even mean?

    We're told Snowden's "cyber attack" not only threatens, but has severely damaged, national security. So pull the plu*ZZZTTT*

  • Cytotoxic||

    You can't kill the internet the American people would rise up. Don't take away people's porn.

  • Christophe||

    Technically feasible, especially with guns to backbone providers' heads. They also only get to use it once before D.C. gets stormed by a mob.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "it was the Bible and Mass only in Latin, to keep the common man in the dark."

    Ahem -

    "Bishop Ulfilas (318-388) devised an alphabet for the Goths and translated the Old and New Testaments into their language soon after.

    "Another of the earliest translations of Scriptures must have been in 411 into Armenian by Mesrob who also invented their alphabet.

    "In the ninth century St. Cyril and St. Methodus invented an alphabet (the Cyrillic alphabet still used in Eastern Europe) for the Slavs and translated a Bible into Bulgarian.

    "Parts of Psalms, Revelation and some of the Old Testament were translated into French as early as the seventh century. A complete version of the Bible was made in the thirteenth century.

    "In Italy a complete version of the Bible in vernacular Italian was available in 1472 and this manuscript is now in the National Library at Paris.

    "There were numerous versions of parts of the Bible in German as far back as the seventh and eighth centuries and there was a complete Bible in the fifteenth century before the invention of printing and well before Luther’s New Testament in 1522.

    "The first Bible in Dutch was printed at Delft in 1475.

    "The first complete Polish Bible was printed at Kracow in 1561.

    "There were even portions of Scripture translated into Arabic as early as the tenth century and an Arabic Bible was published at Rome in 1671."

    http://stchiara.blogspot.com/2.....bible.html

  • Warrren||

    So the Goths got a bible and the Emos didn't?

  • Sevo||

    "In the ninth century St. Cyril and St. Methodus invented an alphabet (the Cyrillic alphabet still used in Eastern Europe) for the Slavs and translated a Bible into Bulgarian."

    As I understand it, this had nothing to do with informing the populace. It was simply required to spread the fables.

  • Acosmist||

    That's prog-level butthurt right there.

  • Sevo||

    Acosmist|11.17.13 @ 7:44AM|#
    "That's prog-level butthurt right there."

    Do we have another bleever embarrassed by his infantile bleef?

  • Fluffy||

    If we're talking about the Catholic church in the West, I think you need to draw a distinction between the early translations (anything before 600) which would purposefully undertaken for missionary purposes and the later ones (anything after 1200) which the Catholic hierarchy fought against and which generally represent acts of defiance.

    Notably, before 600 there really wasn't anything we'd recognize as a Catholic Church anyway. So as soon as there WAS a hierarchy, the enthusiastic spread of the gospels in the vernacular stopped.

    Cyril falls in the middle of those years, but he was Eastern Orthodox.

  • sheila124||

    my best friend's ex-wife makes $74 an hour on the laptop. She has been out of work for five months but last month her pay was $21054 just working on the laptop for a few hours. explanation..........................

    ⌘⌘⌘⌘⌘⌘⌘
    http://www.tec30.com
    ⌘⌘⌘⌘⌘⌘⌘

  • Sevo||

    Must be mighty small to be turning tricks on a laptop.

  • Warrren||

    Let's meet for drinks at the Space Bar after my Shift and we can talk about when I can enter...what you're on your .? That's not a +...sorry! Why are you mad, got & in your vagina? Fine how about we do it up the *? No? Well then just show me your (.)(.)!

  • Sevo||

    I'll never remember all of it, but FUNNY!

  • Rich||

    I'm confused, sheila. You say she's been *out of work for five months*, yet *last month she was working* on the laptop. So, which is it?

  • mtrueman||

    I'm surprised that the tendency to fragment and atomize society is not played up here. This seems to be the most positive aspect of digitalization. Especially from a libertarian point of view. The technology renders old collectivities obsolete and leads to an increasingly fragmented and isolated populace. Perfect outcome for libertarians.

  • Metazoan||

    The technology renders old collectivities obsolete and leads to an increasingly fragmented and isolated populace.

    What? Ever more connected = fragmented and isolated. Right.

  • Christophe||

    Remember, there is only one collective, and anyone not part of it is isolated and alone, by definition.

    The fact that small groups of people can congregate around shared interest whereas they wouldn't have had the critical mass to make it work before is a problem, if those groups aren't the kind you like.

  • mtrueman||

    "What? Ever more connected = fragmented and isolated. Right."

    Exactly, digitally connected, and socially fragmented. What better outcome for a libertarian?

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|11.16.13 @ 7:20PM|#
    I'm surprised that the tendency to fragment and atomize society is not played up here."
    Well, one reason is that it's bullshit.

    "The technology renders old collectivities obsolete and leads to an increasingly fragmented and isolated populace. Perfect outcome for libertarians."
    Yeah, libertarians really want isolated people!
    Where in hell do you find your piles of stuff?

  • Libertarius||

    Collectivists regard "society" as some kind of metaphysical super-entity, rather than just a sum of distinct individuals.

    The half-baked, dimestore Platonism of collectivists is readily demonstrated by a common sentiment I have heard from them over the years, most regularly back in college and in various conversations since then: "The individual isn't real, man."

    Of course, behind this notion is the tribal premise of collectivism; even back in my college days, when I was usually heavily sedated on marijuana and postmodern philosophy, I knew it was bullshit.

  • Sevo||

    "dimestore Platonism"

    I see you recognize mtrueman.

  • mtrueman||

    "I see you recognize mtrueman."

    But I'm the only one here who isn't celebrating virtual collectivities and collectivism.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|11.17.13 @ 1:41PM|#
    "But I'm the only one here who isn't celebrating virtual collectivities and collectivism."

    No, you're a delusional imbecile.

  • mtrueman||

    "Yeah, libertarians really want isolated people!"

    Why not? Do you really believe that social isolation and fragmentation hurts the libertarian cause? Next thing you'll be telling me that you believe in 'the social good' or something like that.

  • Christophe||

    Anyone who works in a technical field knows how insanely more effective we've become in the last two decades. I have the ability to grab information on hundreds of complex technical topics, and get it explained to me in a half dozen different ways, to check my understanding against that of others, in the time it would have taken me to get the right book off a shelf and back to my desk.
    Yes it changes our organization of memory, and it definitely means most of us would be in deeper shit if that external information disappears, but you'd have to be insane to think it's made us dumber.

  • mtrueman||

    "you'd have to be insane to think it's made us dumber"

    Dumber or smarter is not the issue. Rather it's an awareness that these technological innovations foster a culture of dependency on the hive and erode our independence and self sufficiency. I'm frankly surprised that this tendency is recognized and questioned, at the very least.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|11.17.13 @ 2:18PM|#
    "Rather it's an awareness that these technological innovations foster a culture of dependency on the hive and erode our independence and self sufficiency. I'm frankly surprised that this tendency is recognized and questioned, at the very least."

    I'm frankly surprised you continue to post such bullshit.
    Do you ever post *anything* that you could possibly defend, or just one ignorant opinion after the other?

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman, let's make it clear:
    I presume you are ignorant of the concept of 'falsifiability'; what is proposed has to have the characteristic that it can be tested and found false.
    I've yet to see anything you post that has that virtue. You post cockamamie theories that sound like you've hit the sauce a bit early and they are worded as if you've found some new insight rather than some sophomoric fantasy.

  • mtrueman||

    I'm glad you continue to read and respond to my comments here. I appreciate your input, especially as in here when you muster the energy to engage in something more than name calling and bluster. I'm disappointed that you haven't the inclination to address 'my theories' as you call them.

    Falsifiability is over rated, and no, proposals don't 'have to have the characteristic.' Falsifiability can make a complex world more simple, but it's not much more than that.

  • Sevo||

    "Falsifiability is over rated"
    You're an idiot.

  • mtrueman||

    And you tend to repeat yourself. If you would prefer not to discuss 'my theories' as you call them, we can discuss something else. You're a clever respondent and occasionally challenging. Let's put aside my idiocy for the moment. I have many failings, but this isn't the place to address them.

  • Sevo||

    You're an idiot. Just to be clear.

  • mtrueman||

    Let's talk about me then. As clearly as you please.

  • JidaKida||

    I donmmt think Jack Stroud is going to like that.

    www.Privacy-Web.tk

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement