Assorted links

1. Best science books of the year?: the best book list so far this year

2. The age of mass intelligence

3. On-line Keynes, from Brad DeLong

4. John Milton podcast

5. Karaoke rage; recommended



Don't get too excited about "mass intelligence." After four years in college and a lot of time interacting with other college-age kids in online games, I haven't seen any evidence of a big awakening to intellectual pursuits.

Even many that seem somewhat interested are faking my friend who invited me to visit the local history museum with her on a free admission day. Buzzing by exhibits and glancing at dinosaur bones=/=intellectual.

The age of mass intelligence is arriving, helped partly, I think, by the eclipse of the commercial mass media by the proliferation of channels and then the internet. In other words, we suffered for about a century due to a technological bottleneck: the production and distribution of film, radio, and television cost too much, and so the market was driven to be standardized onto the lowest common denominator of our interests. This, I think, infected cultural attitudes and expectations in general. Then of course, mass media became partly manipulated; a propaganda outlet. One of the other remarkable consequences of the internet is that most people want to get things right, so false information is now more quickly rooted out and exposed. Wikipedia is an example; its entries on mathematics and science are already becoming highly regarded. After decades of cynicism regarding our culture's general stupidity and lack of discernment, it turns out that that may not be our natural condition! Now? Because our attention spans are limited by the hours of the day, but cultural and intellectual information is tending to an infinity of instantaneous supply, the process of filtering has become paramount. Filtering presents opportunities for innovation and commercial development, and is likely to remain in constant permutation for a long while.

The mass intelligence thing is fascinating. I read Leef's article on EconLib pooh-poohing expanded college education, and to some extent I agree with him. There are some college degrees out there that probably don't deserve the name.

But I am excited to think that even if having a collee degree to be a sales supervisor isn't very meaningful, the bigger impact might be a second-order generational one like the one ascribed to the GI Bill after World War II. Opening higher-level education to a greater part of the population, even if through online programs and community colleges, gives them access to a different set of opportunities and probably a different perspective in raising their kids. Maybe their kids will simply be smarter due to having more educated parents.

So while there are still marginal students out there who are making the wrong decision in going to college, as well as the usual problems with high-school dropouts, etc., maybe we are all becoming smarter? Intelligence/education tends to be one of those areas where people talk about the good old days; I'd love to think it's not true.

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