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The undercurrents of the future. A publication from Medium about technology and people.


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Illustration: Jordan Speer

Bad Ideas

Welcome to Bad Ideas, a column in which we examine the practical limits of technology by considering the things you could do and then investigating exactly why you shouldn’t. Because you can still learn from mistakes you’ll never make.

Twitter users love to joke that they “can’t believe this website is free.” But the website hasn’t really been free since 2010, when Twitter introduced the promoted tweet. The average Twitter user might not be paying anything, but the brands are. Twitter reported $702 million in advertising revenue in Q3 of 2019, an 8% increase over 2018.

That money results in…

Photo by Josh Couch

Bringing people together.

Changing the world.

Making the world a better place.

There’s a reason so many tech company slogans sound similar. It’s not just that they’re all trying to do the same thing — commodify human experience, sell it back to us, and pipe the tax-free profits offshore. It’s that the smooth straplines all work so hard to draw our attention away from that. But Big Tech’s cheery slogans reveal more than they mean to.

It’s late 2018. We’ve all reread our Hannah Arendt. We know organizations with totalizing worldviews love slogans that contain their own opposites. It’s all…

Photo by Vittorio Zamboni

To use the analogy of the needle in the haystack, more data does increase the number of needles, but it also increases the volume of hay, as well as the frequency of false needles — things we will believe are significant when really they aren’t. The risk of spurious correlations, ephemeral correlations, confounding variables, or confirmation bias can lead to more dumb decisions than insightful ones, with the data giving us a confidence in these decisions that is simply not warranted.

Excerpt from Alchemy, by Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy & Mather

Towards the end of 2017, I published…

Credit: sombatkapan/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Maybe you’ve heard of Occam’s Razor? It’s the logical principle that holds that the simplest answer to a question is usually the correct one. And the simplest answer, according to Occam’s Razor, is the one that requires the fewest number of assumptions or jumps in logic to reach the correct conclusion.

With that in mind, a question recently came up in conversation: Why in the world would anyone buy Apple’s $30 6.5-foot Lightning-to-USB cable? A couple of answers arose:

  1. All of the seating the potential buyer possesses is comically far from an outlet, and they have an aversion to extension…

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