Is Twitter an Echo Chamber?
I’ve been a member of both Facebook and Twitter for many years, and my experiences with the two couldn’t be more different. While both are “social” in the broadest sense, Facebook for me is really like a rolling conversation, a somewhat gossipy block party where friends and family catch up on personal experiences and share some joys and sorrows. Twitter is much more contentious and political, a place for the opinionated to share their grievances and meet with others, similarly aggrieved. I emphasize that this is one man’s experience. I’m sure other members will challenge me—harshly on Twitter, more gently on Facebook.
Who Are You? Identity and Dementia
Phineas Gage is arguably the most famous case study in the history of neuroscience. Gage was a railroad worker who in the autumn of 1848 was helping to prepare a new roadbed near Cavendish, Vermont, when an accidental explosion sent a three-foot tamping iron through his head. The missile entered the left side of his face, passed behind his left eye, and exited through the top of his skull. Gage, remarkably, lived to tell about the mishap. But friends said he had changed—that he was “no longer Gage”—and this is what has intrigued psychological scientists. Formerly industrious and conscientious and amiable, he became irreverent and profane, incapable of returning to his former job.
The Neurology of Lending
Back in 1976, a young professor in Bangladesh starting making dubious low-interest loans to the rural poor of his country. Yunus Muhammad had the crazy idea that even impoverished farmers—men and women without credit history or collateral or even steady employment—could be disciplined and trustworthy in repaying small loans, and he founded the Grameen Bank to finance that vision. Many banks eventually followed Grameen’s lead, despite some serious misgivings, and “microfinance” is now a huge global enterprise. As of 2009, an estimated 74 million men and women held microloans totaling $38 billion, and Grameen claims a repayment rate between 95 and 98 percent.
Impossible Knowledge: Are You an Expert?
I grew up with a habitual overclaimer. He wildly exaggerated his expertise, at times claiming knowledge of things he couldn’t possibly know—people, events, ideas that simply do not exist. Being unfamiliar with overclaiming, I just called him a liar. I couldn’t have known the word overclaimer, nor the concept. The word didn’t exist, and is only used today in the world of psychological science. Even so, we’re all familiar with these people who feel the need to overestimate what they know about the world. What underlies such assertions of impossible knowledge?
I’m rich. You must be, too.
“Let me tell you about the very rich,” the novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in the 1920s. “They are different from you and me.” “Yes,” his friend and rival Ernest Hemingway replied. “They have more money.” Hemingway’s retort may be apocryphal, but the point is indisputable. Then as now, the rich have much more money than you and me, and they have more money in part because they don’t give it away. The very wealthy are disproportionately opposed to any policy—including tax policies—that would redistribute wealth more equitably. This makes sense from a purely economic perspective.
Fair Is Fair, But Not Everywhere
Imagine this scenario: Two commercial fishermen head out to sea at the break of dawn, and spend the next ten hours hauling in the day’s catch. When they wearily return to dock and count their take, one has three times as many fish in his hold. How should the two fishermen be compensated for the long day’s work? Many people consider this a no-brainer. Three times the fish, three times the pay—simple. Reward is based on merit—in this case, successful fishing. In academic jargon, it’s called “merit-based distributive justice.” The alternative—one alternative—is to divide the spoils equally.