This Is the Single Most Important Page on the Web (If You’re a Human)

Cognitive biases shape us beautifully and tragically

Photo by Damian Zaleski on Unsplash

If you could only access a single URL on the web, what would it be? Not something like Google or YouTube but actually a single static url — so youtube.com/[some specific video]. I was thinking about this earlier today, and my initial framing was, “What page performs the most complex task that I couldn’t do myself?”—imagining that optimizing for absolute computing power would be the right angle. It took me a minute or two, but I realized this was completely backward and that I should be trying to figure out what content would be most impactful upon a different type of computing power, namely my own brain.

That flip led me back to a page that I absolutely love and try to visit quarterly or so when I want to laugh at myself: Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases.

Image: Wikipedia’s cognitive biases page

“A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking that occurs when people are processing and interpreting information in the world around them and affects the decisions and judgments that they make.” — VeryWellMind

Reviewing this list periodically (as well as reading Robert Cialdini’s Influence, one of my favorite books) always makes me slap my forehead at the ways we are beautifully and stupidly human. Anchoring bias? Guilty (maybe this very post is an example!). Survivorship bias? Twice last week that I can remember. And it goes on like that.

Then I shift to wondering about the role of technology in helping us with these biases and two different paths to doing so. The first is essentially giving up more of our agency and outsourcing an increasing number of our decisions to A.I. The second is some sort of listening device (our phone, our watch, our nerd AR glasses) that notices when we’re saying something that fits a cognitive bias and sends an alert to help us reconsider. Frankly, both are a little freaky to me, but is it really any weirder than me frequently rereading this Wikipedia list and trying to manually break myself of these biases?

I’m sure we all have a personal redline about things we’d automate and things we wouldn’t. Maybe we like the idea of control over the “last mile,” for example: We’re happy to let a dating app give us 10 profiles they think would be matches for us, but we’d prefer to pick the ones we want to connect with versus the same app setting us up with one of the 10. I wonder if these redlines are generational (i.e. younger folks trust the computer more or less than I do), cultural, demographic, or more fixed. At the end of the day, we’re all the sum of our cognitive biases.

You’ll find me @homebrew , Seed Stage Venture Fund w @satyap . Previously made products at YouTube, Google & SecondLife. Married to @cbarlerin .

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