Two for the price of one this week. (The purest streak of gold you’ve struck… Sorry if that’s now stuck in your head on Monday morning, and if you’ve no idea what I’m talking about then perhaps count yourself lucky.)
Messing with complex systems can often produce unexpected results. Why is a repressive, authoritarian border policy sometimes good for wildlife? Why does trying to reduce the number of snakes in India sometimes lead to the snake population increasing? Why does trying to get a photo of your house deleted from the internet cause more people to view it? This first article looks at some different ways to view these and other unintended consequences.
Complex systems rarely respond in predictable ways. Whatever we try to change – companies, other organisations, the environment, technical systems – we run the risk of unexpected behaviour, both good and bad.
The second article looks at Wordle, which I – like the rest of the world – remain moderately obsessed with. The focus of this is not tactics or best-first-word guessing, but rather a look at why it’s prompted so many spin-offs, and what some of the best of those variants are.
Wordle has taken the internet by storm. It’s fun and simple, two qualities that have inspired a host of interesting spin-offs.
A great story from what’s been a great Winter Olympics so far: Jamaican skiier Benjamin Alexander, who only started skiing six years ago, successfully finished his giant slalom race. Although he finished last and was 1m10s off the pace, his philosophy – “if you finish you beat everyone who doesn’t” – seems like a pretty great one for more than just skiing. #
James Greig examines the “concept creep” of the language we collectively use to talk about behaviour in the dating game. “Trauma”, once limited to life-altering events, now essentially means “anything that hurts me”. “Love-bombing”, a manipulative behaviour that involves showering someone with a disorientating amount of affection at the start of a relationship, is now used to describe behaviour that previously might have been called “a bit keen”. Everyone, it seems, is either a narcissist or going on dates with one.
As well as watering down useful concepts to the point that they no longer hold meaning, this language reinforces problematic relationship dynamics:
”Using this kind of language can also lead to ‘moral typecasting’: the idea that the world is split between moral agents (people who do either good or bad) and moral patients (people who have good or bad things done to them). What’s interesting is that studies show that we think of people as either one thing or the other, and very rarely a combination of the two…
“But if you think of yourself as a moral patient and anyone who hurts you as a moral agent, it means that anything you do to them becomes fair game, because you are constitutionally incapable of inflicting harm, and they are constitutionally incapable of experiencing it.”
The fascinating story of Danielle Miller, rich kid turned fraudster.
“Miller and Blas didn’t interact much, but their meeting set off a chain of events that would draw them both deeper into the criminal world than either had gone before. By the time their friendship fell apart, stolen credit cards would be the least of their troubles. “I was interested to know why this mean girl wanted to be friends with me,’ Miller says now. ‘And in the end I think it was because she wanted to use me for whatever crimes we were accused of.’”
This kind of profile, interesting though it is, is an example of a phenomenon that Chris Dillow has written about extensively: people, and especially journalists, are bizarrely deferential to criminals from upper and upper-middle class backgrounds. Dillow quotes Adam Smith:
“We frequently see the respectful attentions of the world more strongly directed towards the rich and the great, than towards the wise and the virtuous. We see frequently the vices and follies of the powerful much less despised than the poverty and weakness of the innocent.”
As Dillow notes:
“The sympathy of headline writers is tightly circumscribed. They rarely speak of a downfall or fall from grace after working class people are convicted.”