The intersection of political analysis and Internet theory is a busy crossroad of cliche, where familiar rhetorical vehicles – decentralized authority, emergent leadership, empowered grass roots – create a ceaseless buzz.
Fortunately, human forgetting follows a pattern. We forget exponentially. A graph of our likelihood of getting the correct answer on a quiz sweeps quickly downward over time and then levels off.
If national safety – the ability to respond to hurricanes, terrorist attacks, earthquakes – depends on the execution of explicit plans, on soldierly obedience, and on showy security drills, then a decentralized security scheme is useless.
Sometimes entire categories of craigslist are rendered nearly unusable by spam. Con artists prowl the listings, paying sellers with fake cashier's checks and luring buyers to share their credit card numbers.
The history of using mice to stand in for humans in medical experiments is replete with failures.
The fondest dream of the information age is to create an archive of all knowledge. You might call it the Alexandrian fantasy, after the great library founded by Ptolemy I in 286 BC.
The problem of forgetting might not torment us so much if we could only convince ourselves that remembering isn't important. Perhaps the things we learn – words, dates, formulas, historical and biographical details – don't really matter. Facts can be looked up. That's what the Internet is for.
The idea that our mental life is affected by hidden causes is a mainstay of psychology.
Every day the choristers of the social web chirp their advice about openness and trust; craigslist follows none of it, and every day it grows.
Though social eugenics was discredited long ago, we still often think of the genome in quasi-eugenic terms. When we read about the latest discovery of a link between a gene and a disease, we imagine that we've learned the cause of the disease, and we may even think we'll get a cure by fixing the gene.
Even as the Internet has revived hope of a universal library and Google seems to promise an answer to every query, books have remained a dark region in the universe of information. We want books to be as accessible and searchable as the Web. On the other hand, we still want them to be books.
The self is just our operation center, our consciousness, our moral compass. So, if we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to get to know ourselves better.
Being a 911 operator means balancing seemingly contradictory skills. On one hand, operators have to be fanatically precise and well-organized. On the other, they must be able to establish rapport with panicky callers.
For all their expertise at figuring out how things work, technical people are often painfully aware how much of human behavior is a mystery. People do things for unfathomable reasons. They are opaque even to themselves.
Millions of us track ourselves all the time. We step on a scale and record our weight. We balance a checkbook. We count calories. But when the familiar pen-and-paper methods of self-analysis are enhanced by sensors that monitor our behavior automatically, the process of self-tracking becomes both more alluring and more meaningful.
SuperMemo is based on the insight that there is an ideal moment to practice what you've learned. Practice too soon and you waste your time. Practice too late and you've forgotten the material and have to relearn it. The right time to practice is just at the moment you're about to forget.
Craigslist is not only gigantic in scale and totally resistant to business cooperation, it is also mostly free.
The Internet's great promise is to make the world's information universally accessible and useful.
Human attention is limited, and a massive number of newly browsable books from the long tail necessarily compete with the biggest best-sellers, just as cable siphons audience from the major networks, and just as the Web pulls viewers from TV.
Books are an ancient and proven medium. Their physical form inspires passion.
Humans make errors. We make errors of fact and errors of judgment. We have blind spots in our field of vision and gaps in our stream of attention. Sometimes we can't even answer the simplest questions.
As a science fiction fan, I had always assumed that when computers supplemented our intelligence, it would be because we outsourced some of our memory to them. We would ask questions, and our machines would give oracular – or supremely practical – replies.
Steve Jobs has been right twice. The first time we got Apple. The second time we got NeXT. The Macintosh ruled. NeXT tanked. Still, Jobs was right both times.
During a large disaster, like Hurricane Katrina, warnings get hopelessly jumbled. The truth is that, for warnings to work, it's not enough for them to be delivered. They must also overcome that human tendency to pause; they must trigger a series of effective actions, mobilizing the informal networks that we depend on in a crisis.
To the small group of editors and designers who would launch Wired in January 1993, technology represented the future's best hope; but to the media, the tech boom was yesterday's story.
Our experience in fooling around with the genes of mice has taught us that many of the traits that interest us are not definite products of specific mutations but emergent phenomena arising from extremely complex interactions between genes, environment, and life experience.