A Marriage Proposal

Spotted on a street corner in Chelsea (New York):

The Downside of Living in a Need-to-Know World

I like keeping up with things, large and small, as much as the next person.

Or maybe I don't. That's what I'm trying to figure out.

As someone who's done a lot of journalism, I certainly have an appetite for being first with a story. In fact, most of the journalism I've written was stuff that no one else was writing about. But there's a big difference between looking off the beaten path and trying to land a scoop within a beat that 100 other journalists are covering. I was never much into that. I understand that news organizations value the scoop but I do question how valuable such scoops really are -- especially these days, when the first-mover often gets drowned out by the 1,000 who follow.

But lately I've been thinking about the information flow from the demand side rather than the supply side.

A Common Joke About Common Knowledge

If you enjoy this joke (which is discussed here, and comes from the folks at Spiked Math Comics) as much as I do, you might be a gearhead.

It illustrates one of the many surprising and subtle impacts of common knowledge. Yale's John Geanakoplos provides an even more perverse version of the bar cartoon, in this incredibly helpful chapter :

Imagine three girls sitting in a circle, each wearing either a red hat or a white hat. Suppose that all the hats are red. When the teacher asks if any student can identify the color of her own hat, the answer is always negative, since nobody can see her own hat. But if the teacher happens to remark that there is at least one red hat in the room, a fact which is well-known to every child (who can see two red hats in the room) then the answers change. The first student who is asked cannot tell, nor can the second. But the third will be able to answer with confidence that she is indeed wearing a red hat.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. But It Will Be Tweeted

A new paper from Chris Edmond at the University of Melbourne examines how the quantity and quality of information impacts regime change. This is particularly timely in light of the Arab Spring taking place across the Middle East, and the current goose chase for Muammar Gaddafi.

Edmond constructs a simple model to study how a regime's chances of survival are a ffected by changes in information technology. He finds that information alone does not destabilize an oppressive regime. In fact, more information (and the control of that information) is a major source of political strength for any ruling party. The state controlled media of North Korea is a current example of the power of propaganda, much as it was in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, where the state heavily subsidized the diffusion of radios during the 1930s to help spread Nazi propaganda.

Did You See A Red Balloon Last Sunday?

More than 4,000 teams of people recently raced to determine the location of ten red balloons released across the U.S., as part of an experiment designed to "explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems."