Think, $$$, Learn

11/4 - What's Next

Hey there, hope you had a great weekend!

I recently re-read an essay I wrote ~ 1 year ago: Dear Freshman Me, lots of good reminders. Time flies!

Enjoy the newsletter.

Articles to Read.

Middle Class Shrinks as High Income Households Multiply

The Washington Post recently ran a piece with the alarming headline, “The middle class is shrinking just about everywhere in America.” Although you wouldn’t know it from the first few paragraphs, a shrinking middle class isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Advisory Board member Mark Perry has pointed out, America’s middle class is disappearing primarily because people are moving into higher income groups, not falling into poverty.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that after adjusting for inflation, households with an annual income of $100,000 or more rose from a mere 8% of households in 1967 to a quarter of households in 2014. According to the Pew Research Center, 11% fewer Americans were middle class in 2015 than in 1971, because 7% moved into higher income groups and 4% moved into lower income groups. The share of Americans in the upper middle and highest income tiers rose from 14% in 1971 to 21% in 2015.

You Don’t Need Permission

When we first arrive on the earth, nothing is more alien to our minds than the idea of needing permission. We simply try to do whatever we want: when there’s an intriguing plug socket, we push our fingers into it. When we wonder what something might sound like as it hits the floor, we give it a shove.

But soon enough, a lot of contrary messages come our way. Liking something isn’t enough. You must always ask, not just take. What you want is probably owned by someone else, and they need to give you their approval. A lot of what you crave may hurt others. You need to act a bit less and think a bit more. In fact, a great deal of what you want is just a terrible idea. Unfortunately, it seems as though the most exciting new ideas continuously defy the rules of existence: apparently, you can’t just strap a radio to the hamster, you can’t eat only cake for lunch, you can’t bury your brother in sand, you can’t drill a hole in someone’s head to hear their thoughts. And we learn a few sobering things about timing. It has to happen after homework. Next year. When you’re an adult. There’s seemingly no situation that doesn’t require waiting infinitely longer than one would have liked.

And so we grow up with a host of background ideas about what we’re permitted to do, what the status of our longings is and where kindness and goodness might lie. We learn that we need to check in constantly with a parent to make sure that we have their nod to ride our bike to the shops. We need to ask before we switch subjects at school. We have to put our hand up before we say anything in class and have to have a permission slip to go to the doctor. At university, we need to get our thesis topic approved; at work, we need to check with the HR team if it’s OK to work from home on Friday. Even in personal life, prohibitions abound. We can’t just end a relationship like that, especially when there’s a holiday planned. Now we are living in a certain country, it would be very strange and costly to move. Things are not very satisfactory, but who are we to change them, given how silly we probably are?

Bank of the Underworld

The underworld is a realm that thrives on paranoia. On May 24, 2013, criminals across the globe had good reason to panic: they couldn’t access their Liberty Reserve accounts. Rather mysteriously, the company’s Web site had stopped working. There were no explanations, no “We’re experiencing technical difficulties” notices. The home page simply redirected to a blank screen.

Those who bothered to investigate further learned that the domain name for that blank page was controlled by a nonprofit organization called the Shadowserver Foundation. Its own Web site featured a faceless man in a dark hat and declared: “The Shadowserver Foundation gathers intelligence on the darker side of the internet. We are comprised of volunteer security professionals from around the world.” It appeared that the Liberty Reserve Web site had been taken down, at least temporarily, by a team of pro bono crime fighters.

Social Media Has Not Destroyed A Generation

Social Media Has Not Destroyed a Generation  

Anxiety about the effects of social media on young people has risen to such an extreme that giving children smartphones is sometimes equated to handing them a gram of cocaine. The reality is much less alarming.

A close look at social media use shows that most young texters and Instagrammers are fine. Heavy use can lead to problems, but many early studies and news headlines have overstated dangers and omitted context.

Researchers are now examining these diverging viewpoints, looking for nuance and developing better methods for measuring whether social media and related technologies have any meaningful impact on mental health.

Keep Your Identity Small

I finally realized today why politics and religion yield such uniquely useless discussions. As a rule, any mention of religion on an online forum degenerates into a religious argument. Why?

What's different about religion is that people don't feel they need to have any particular expertise to have opinions about it. All they need is strongly held beliefs, and anyone can have those. No thread about Javascript will grow as fast as one about religion, because people feel they have to be over some threshold of expertise to post comments about that. But on religion everyone's an expert.

Then it struck me: this is the problem with politics too. Politics, like religion, is a topic where there's no threshold of expertise for expressing an opinion. All you need is strong convictions.

I think what religion and politics have in common is that they become part of people's identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that's part of their identity.

The most intriguing thing about this theory, if it's right, is that it explains not merely which kinds of discussions to avoid, but how to have better ideas. If people can't think clearly about anything that has become part of their identity, then all other things being equal, the best plan is to let as few things into your identity as possible. [2]

Clip from 24 years ago. Bill Gates answering David Letterman's questions about what the internet can offer.

Longer, more optimistic, lives: Historic optimism and life expectancy in the US

Optimistic people live longer, based on nearly 50 years of longitudinal data (PSID).

How was optimism related to mortality before the rise in “deaths of despair” that began in the late 1990s? Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, we show that as early as 1968 more optimistic people lived longer. The relationship depends on many factors including gender, race, health, and education. We then evaluate these and other variables as correlates of individual optimism over the period 1968–1975. We find women and African Americans were less optimistic at the time than men and whites, although this changed beginning in the late 1970′s. Greater education is associated with greater optimism and so is having wealthy parents. We then predict optimism for the same individuals in subsequent years, thus generating our best guess as to how optimism changed for various demographic groups from 1976–1995. We find people with less than a high school degree had the greatest declines in optimism, a trend with long-run links to premature mortality and deaths of despair. Our findings highlight the importance of better understanding optimism's causes and consequences.

More to Check Out: 
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- Playboy Interview: Steve Jobs (1985)

My Update:

  • …working…

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