The Weekly Circle #30 | Why Access to Information is Not Enough

Welcome to the Thirtieth episode of The Weekly Circle! A free Circles in Time newsletter released every Sunday.

Hey everybody,

There is this question I keep going back to. Again and again.

I see myself trying to answer this question in all the content, tools and systems I create. An emerging central plot around which all my work seems to be orientating.

The question goes something like this:

How can I help people leverage their access to the world’s information in ways that enable them to take on practices that support the lives they want to live over the long run?

The question stems partly from a set of inter-related observations.

Three Observations:

The first observation is that information access on its own does not lead to prosperity. In fact, in many cases, increasing the amount of information may do more harm than good. A realisation that is becoming more and more obvious as the internet grows.

Unfortunately, the path of ever-expanding information, on its own, doesn’t lead to some hyper-intelligent, hyper-moral utopia.

Rather it will begin to look more and more like the situation depicted in the Borges short story, titled, The Library of Babel.

The second observation is that information isn’t inherently meaningful, useful or even ‘true’.

For information to be useful, goals need to exist. Context and coherence need to exist. A willingness to acquire the information needs to exist. An ability to interpret and apply the information needs to exist. Without these foundations, we would aimlessly wander around Borges’ infinite library, moving further and further away from one another, consumed by a nihilistic sense of nothingness.

The third observation is that goals, contexts, coherence and desires don’t arise from the individual (even though they feel like they do). Rather, they emerge out of a social fabric that we are all intricately tied to. They are co-constructed through contact with our family, friends, communities and cultures.

This doesn’t relieve us of responsibility for our actions (a topic for another time).

Acknowledging the socio-cultural substrate from which goals, context and coherence emerge will provide clarity on why you see the world in the way you do and how you might expand that view if you so choose.

All of this points me to a precise way of thinking about information:

Information is made salient and meaningful through its utility. The utility determined by information’s ability to meet a set of goal-states, derived from the social-cultural context within which an individual currently operates.

The intricately connected nature of information, salience, utility, goals and culture paints an abstract yet clear picture for me.

A picture of why information access on its own creates so many problems. Why echo-chambers, polarisation and fake news are such pertinent issues. Why individual influencers and online communities are growing so rapidly across the internet. Why ‘the truth’ seems to look more like a monopoly that has fragmented into a competitive marketplace than a slow, gradual movement towards one universal view of the world.

Moving with the Grain

So, how can I help people leverage their access to the world’s information in ways that enable them to take on practices that support the lives they want to live over the long run?

The answer has something to do with online communities. It has something to do with understanding individuals and the social context within which their goals exist.

Importantly, the answer also clearly has something to do with emulation:

Information represented in the form of specific, easily-actionable practices that culturally-relevant, influential role models have adopted, validated and signalled as valuable.

This is the background to a digital tool I have been slowly working on for the past few months. I’m calling the tool Emulate. And I’m very excited about where things are going. It may be the best answer to that recurring question that I have come up with so far.

If you are interested in Emulate, you can reach out directly, and I’ll share more details on the progress I’ve made so far.


SAMPLE OF ONE PODCAST

with Evelyn Gosnell

We discuss her work around reducing the spread of misinformation on TikTok, dealing with grey areas, in-app customisation, and how she applies BeSci in her own life.

🎧 Listen on Spotify here | 🎧 Listen on Apple Podcasts here


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CLUBHOUSE CONVERSATIONS

Sam Salzer and I host a Clubhouse discussion every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 PM (GMT), exploring real-world applications of behavioural science.

Join the conversation! Message me if you need a Clubhouse invitation.

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WORLD VIEWS

THE IDEAS I CIRCLED AROUND THIS WEEK

REDUCING THE SPREAD OF MISINFORMATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA
If we could teleport back in time to relaunch social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok with the goal of minimizing the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories from the outset … what would they look like? Here are 5 changes.”

MASTERING INDISTRACTION [PODCAST]
“Every new technology has goods and bads, any technology of this scale. The question is, how do we keep the good aspects without succumbing to the bad aspects? The answer is quite simple, it’s what we’ve always done in history, we adapt and we adopt, we adapt our behaviors and we adopt new technology to fix the last generation of crappy technology. This is what we have always done.”

PREDICTION MARKETS: TALES FROM THE ELECTION
Prediction markets are a subject that has interested me for many years. The idea of allowing anyone in the public to make bets about future events, and using the odds at which these bets are made as a credibly neutral source of predicted probabilities of these events, is a fascinating application of mechanism design. Closely related ideas, like futarchy, have always interested me as innovative tools that could improve governance and decision-making. And as Augur and Omen, and more recently PolyMarket, have shown, prediction markets are a fascinating application of blockchains (in all three cases, Ethereum) as well.”


WISE WORDS

THE QUOTES I CIRCLED AROUND THIS WEEK

“You must be slow in deliberation and swift in execution.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte

“If you’re living solely in earned income, you’re playing with fire.” ~ Robert Kiyosaki

“If you stand at a bus stop, eventually you'll catch a bus. But if you run from bus stop to bus stop, you may never catch a bus.” ~ Howard Marks

“Don't let success make you complacent. Don't let failure be the reason you quit.” ~ Shane Parrish

“That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

“A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”Jorge Luis Borges

“The poet…is the man of metaphor: while the philosopher is interested only in the truth of meaning, beyond even signs and names, and the sophist manipulates empty signs…the poet plays on the multiplicity of signifieds.”Jacques Derrida

“In relation to an individual, being is experienced as peace and happiness. In relation to objects and others, it is experienced as beauty and love.” ~ Rupert Spira


SOMETHING TO PART WITH

Until next week,

Take care,
David


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