Once again it’s Saturday. So here’s what I enjoyed reading this week, with commentary as to why.
1. Pew Research shows teens using Facebook less. Teens are way cool so Facebook is doomed. A narrative that’s been overplayed for at least a decade. Example. But now Pew has a survey (with real survey data, not just anecdotes) showing teens went from 71% usage in 2014-2015 to 51% usage now. And Facebook demographics are skewing poorer. This is convincing data, so maybe there’s something to it this time round. The chart below is from Frederic Filloux, who has a good write up on the survey. link
2. Adam Ozimek on not freaking out about structural economic factors. Ozimek’s econ piece is excellent, if (deliberately) dry. That said, his core argument here is outstanding. And applicable beyond economics. It is not enough to say something impacts the world, you must demonstrate what you’re freaking out about now is bigger than in the past. A far more difficult challenge. He nails the point as quoted below. link
Robert Gordon’s magisterial treatise The Rise and Fall of American Growth teaches that weak productivity growth today cannot be explained simply by pointing out mismeasurement, because every decade over the last 150 years has its own sources of innovation and progress that are mismeasured. It’s not enough to show that mismeasurement exists; you have to show that it is bigger than the mismeasurement in past decades.
The same mistake is made when we talk about structural factors affecting labor markets. Many commentators argue the labor market has little room to continue improving because structural headwinds will keep it less healthy today than in the past. This does not suffice; every decade the labor market faces headwinds and tailwinds.
3. AI Winter follow up. I linked to Filip Piekniewski’s post AI Winter Is Well On It’s Way last week. That post got 100k pageviews. And deservedly so! Now he has a follow up. It turns out my reaction (what about Waymo, is the hype fading not cracking) was similar to others, so he addresses those points in his follow up. After reading Piekniewski, my priors have shifted in his direction. Recommended. original post, follow up
4. Stuart Ritchie’s new book Hypeology coming out Spring 2020. Let me disclaim up front I’m a fan of Ritchie, postdoc in psychology at Edinburgh. His previous book Intelligence: All That Matters is the single best (and short) explainer on the current state of IQ I’ve ever read. And he does twitter rather well. So I’ll buy his book when it comes out. The announcement starts: “The Bodley Head has signed a book that exposes the ‘bias, hype, incompetence and fraud’ in the peer-reviewed world by Dr Stuart Ritchie following a four-way auction.” link
5. Fighting pollution by banning plastic straws is a dumb idea. Let me quote wikipedia on the bike shed effect: “A [atomic] reactor is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those who work on it understand it. On the other hand, everyone can visualize a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.” I see wikipedia has recently changed the name of this phenomena to the Law of Triviality. Things that are easy to understand get debated, while complicated things are ignored. Which leads us to people fighting plastic pollution by banning plastic straws. Quote: “Yet even if all those straws were suddenly washed into the sea, they’d account for about .03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastics estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.” link
6. Freddie deBoer on letting shoes be shoes. It’s short and good. link
That’s all for this week!