Six Ideas That Made Us Think

1. Noisy Neighbors

It seems fair that people who live around airports would have grounds to complain about noise. And it seems reasonable that the FAA would respond by increasing noise standards and limiting flight times. Yet, as this policy paper from Mercatus reveals, the vast majority of noise complaints tend to come from tiny minority of airport neighbors: 

In 2015, for example, 6,852 of the 8,760 complaints submitted to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport originated from one residence in the affluent Foxhall neighborhood of northwest Washington, DC…One individual in Strasburg, Colorado, 30 miles from Denver International Airport, complained 3,555 times in 2015, an average of 9.7 times per day….In October 2015, 53 Portola Valley, California, residents placed 25,259 calls to the airport—nearly 477 per person.

2. Who's Killing Advertising?

Bob Hoffman delivers a riveting stem-winder at a Dublin advertising award ceremony. Hoffman’s target is the business-side of advertising – the bookkeepers, the algorithms, the metrics – that is squeezing out creativity. Hoffman:     

Martin Sorrel, the CEO of WPP and the most powerful man in the history of the agency business, gave a talk in London. According to press reports, he told the conference: “Media has become ‘more important’ than the message.” This is unacceptable. Someone who believes media is more important than the message, believes the instruments are more important than the music; the canvas is more important than the painting; the bottle is more important than the beer.

Hoffman contends that the devaluation of creativity in advertising has prompted 400 million people worldwide to install ad-blockers on their web-browsers: “This is the largest boycott of anything in the history of humanity.” Superb speech.

3. The Case for a Messy Desk(top)

There are two types of people: those who organize and file the papers that arrive on their desks, and those who don’t. Tim Harford examines the research on which system is better, and he finds the lessons apply to email:  

Am I Wasting My Time Organizing Email? Yes, you are. People who use the search function find their email more quickly than those who click through carefully constructed systems of folders. The folder system feels better organized, but, unless the information arrives with a predictable structure, creating folders is laborious and worse than useless.

4. The Rise of Robots Comes to the Professions

Much has been written about how automation and artificial intelligence will displace low-skilled workers like machine operators and cab drivers. Yet as Richard and David Susskind argue in this HBR piece, the same is coming to the high-skill professions that were thought to be immune:

There are more monthly visits to the WebMD network, a collection of health websites, than to all the doctors in the United States. Annually, in the world of disputes, 60 million disagreements among eBay traders are resolved using “online dispute resolution” rather than lawyers and judges — this is three times the number of lawsuits filed each year in the entire U.S. court system…In 2011 the Vatican granted the first digital imprimatur to an app called “Confession” which helps people prepare for confession.

The authors greet these changes with applause: “Today’s professions, as currently organized, are creaking. They are increasingly unaffordable, opaque, and inefficient, and they fail to deliver value evenly across our communities.”

5. Still Fit to Print

Jack Shafer of Politico reports on new, contrarian research regarding the death of newspapers: they were better off when they relied exclusively on print:

The circulation of the supposedly dying print product may be in decline, but it still reaches many more readers than the supposedly promising digital product in home markets, and this trend holds across all age groups. For all the expense of building, programming and hosting them, online editions haven't added much in the way of revenue, either.

For years, the standard view in the newspaper industry has been that print newspapers will eventually evolve into online editions and reconvene the mass audience newspapers enjoy there. But that’s not what’s happening. Readers continue to leave print newspapers, but they’re not migrating to the online editions.

6. How to Mess with Driverless Cars

Australia tested its first self-driving car this month. The response: a celebration of a new study that finds that many human drivers plan to subject the autonomous car to “the merciless justice of the playground”:

These drivers have declared their intention to drive aggressively, cut the driverless cars off, flout the right of way and generally act like the automotive version of Biff Tannen. They know driverless cars will have to obey their programming to prevent harm to humans, and will therefore meekly submit to the fuel-injected douchebaggery of the mortal. Apparently the only thing presently preventing these people from acting like the colossal jerks they are when behind the wheel is the risk of other drivers crashing into them, or possibly getting out of the car and shooting them. The advent of the driverless car could, therefore, usher in a whole new era of innovatively obnoxious motoring.


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