A century-old argument for social media

It’s about the problem with the “Press” (or mass media), and highlights what social media can help with (from 1916):

“News, that is, information with regard to those things which affect us but which are not within our own immediate view, is necessary to the life of the State. The obvious, the extremely cheap, the universal means of propagating it, is by word of mouth. A man has seen a thing ; many men have seen a thing. They testify to that thing, and others who have heard them repeat their testimony. The Press thrust into this natural system (which is still that upon which all reasonable men act whenever they can upon matters most nearly concerning them) two novel features, both of them exceedingly corrupting. In the first place, it gave to the printed word a rapidity of extension with which repeated spoken words could not compete. In the second place, it gave them a unanimity and a similarity which were the very opposites of healthy human news.”

Hilaire Belloc. The Present Position and Power of the Press. The New Age. Dec. 14, 1916

The problem with “It’s not cheating. It’s how things work.”

Cheating could be the way things work. If something doesn’t feel right, it might be wrong, or it might be that our background (culture, experiences, etc.) have conditioned us to feel bad by attaching punishments to it. When we realize something is actually wrong, then it doesn’t matter that “it’s how things work”. At various points in time things that are wrong could gain some ground and become norms. Most people participate in them and dislike them at the same time. Bribing and some forms of cheating are the way things work in some places.

Often, that is not the only way of making things happen. If there was no alternative way in a situation, we might have to be the agent of change, or go somewhere else, or do something else. None of these are easy, but we might deserve feeling good.

On honest representations

We frequently create and present representations of things or people that we have interest in their success, for example when being interviewed for a job, presenting our work at a conference, writing a recommendation letter, or in day to day activities when talking about ourselves or anything/anyone that we care about.

An honest representation includes all non-trivial limitations that matter, but explains them and contextualizes them to ensure that the representation is suitable for its purpose.

A representation doesn’t have to be honest to succeed (at least a short term superficial success); but if you care about honesty, you need to think deeply to really understand the limitations of the entity being represented, to come up with the right representations that let you achieve what you think is deserved.

Honest representations do not simply come from crude honesty. What is referred to as crude honesty is often thoughtless honesty; actual crude honesty will be to offer a complete record of every related event from every perspective which, assuming it’s possible, is like raw data; others rarely bother to process it.

In an evaluation process, it’s not too hard for the evaluator to feel the dishonesty; the evaluator may feel betrayed; the one being evaluated may feel guilty and worthless (unless he/she is used to it perhaps); observers may feel pity for the dishonest.

We can be honest about the past and hopeful about the future.”Fake it till make it” is not about dishonesty about the past; it’s about being confident in and embracing our capacity. Believing in ourselves pushes us (and hence the world around us) to use more of our capacity.

On misguidelines for applicants

We often cannot afford to conduct a fair selection/resource allocation/evaluation process. We use heuristics to help us reach good-enough decisions. We rely on information that we cannot justify relying upon, and we bring all kinds of assumptions and prejudices that we do not want anyone to know. We might also be bound by law to value certain values that we might not care about.

So, we offer guidelines or instructions to the applicants that reflect what a fair process looks like, but has little to do with the actual process (unless perhaps superficially). That’s, perhaps, why we often omit explaining our decisions to the applicants.

We need to figure out why we are using the process that we are using, understand why it actually works fine,  refine it, and explain it to the applicants. We will get more of what we want, rather than more of those who have more experience with applying.

The incremental nature of research: Finding a logical next step

That’s how brain works. It connects things, and comes up with new things.

If you know a lot, it’s hard to see anything creative or novel.

If you experience or read a lot on a topic, there’s a good chance that you can come up with a logical next step. You may feel creative because you cannot understand how you came up with the next step (when you don’t remember its source), or you may find it obvious because you keep a complete record of what you read or think. This may also justify why we think all the important inventions have happened in the past, when many studies and experiences were not recorded properly or communicated widely.