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April 16, 2007

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Too... Much... Smartness

This Cornell class-blog, Info 204, is blowing my mind in a sort of cyclical combustion cycle where just as I feel like I’ve processed one of the posts, another one comes along and everything going BLAM. The class covers “how the social, technological, and natural worlds are connected, and how the study of networks sheds light on these connections.”

Posted April 16, 2007 at 12:55 | Comments (1) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted, Technosnark


This blog has already won me over. One of today's posts links to W. Brian Arthur's "increasing returns" argument for adaptation of new technologies, which, in my brief moment as a University of Chicago social scientist, I thought was the smartest shit ever.

It's a very simple idea at its core: once a technology gets adopted by a group of people, often for contingent reasons, the learning effects of that technology lock it in. So competing technologies that might be superior in the abstract never get a chance, because the costs of switching are too high.

Think QWERTY keyboards, or Microsoft's OS. Once you get really good and invest a lot in those systems, they're hard to give up. What's astonishing about it is that this kind of logic appears almost everywhere once you begin to look for it. In political science, we called it path-dependence -- ultimately, the biggest challenge to building grand theories of state actors is that you can't always sufficiently understand the different histories and sunk costs every actor brings to their decisions. Good stuff.

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