Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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On Packet Politics and Noticing

I had a few other posts I wanted to write today (Why Thinking of Brands as People Might be the Best Way to Go and Why You Should Buy YourName.Com), but then I cam across to fabulous pieces of writing and my plans changed.

I’ve mentioned often on this site that I believe digital technology is fundamentally changing how our brains work and how we interact. On occasion I run into someone else who feels the same way and verbalizes it far more eloquently than I seem to be able to. That’s the case with Daniel Henninger’s “Packet Politics” article. In it he explains how the technology behind the web, specifically packet switching (which transfers data by breaking it up into little pieces and sending it in lots of different directions only to be brought back together at the end), may be shaping the current political situation. In his words:

Packet-switching is what allows us to flip effortlessly through torrents of data on Web screens, holding in mind a basic search goal. By now, this experience has forced more people than ever to think in terms of hierarchies–how to sort through lots of information and assign values, the way we quickly separate the flood of email into levels of importance. By now, we all have an Intel inside.

This may be why Mr. Giuliani is getting away with his social views in the GOP. We’ve become so adept at assigning value to good and bad information in searches that we can do it for a “flawed” candidate like Rudy Giuliani. Faced with an array of Rudy “packets”–the anti-terror reputation, three marriages, abortion and all the rest–GOP voters have already sorted the data, put anti-terror at the top of the hierarchy and are comfortable giving the social issues relatively lower values. Still relevant, but mid-range. This is how we do work now, every day. Why should it not affect politics?

The bottom line for me is whether we realize it or not, the deeper lessons the technology instills is staying with us. I’ll just return to what I said in Feburary in reference to the death of zero sum: “The internet and digital technology are driving a lot of these changes, but they are slowly seeping into the rest of culture. The web has redefined choice, offering us millions of results for each google search. The fascinating thing about those results, however, is that it’s often not the first that you find most useful. Rather, it’s some combination of many that gives you a final conclusion.”

And now onto article two, which just happens to have been written by the same person who inspired that death of zero sum article: Grant McCracken. This time Grant wrote about noticing, a topic I hold quite close to my heart. I don’t know that I have anything particularly insightful to add except to say I think Grant nailed it. I especially like this passage:

I was watching a very smart man acknowledge the limits of understanding. You could almost hear him thinking, “why can’t I think this?” This is the secret of noticing. Spotting things that defy expectation, things that don’t “compute.” The temptation for the rest of us is to “fake the results” and assimilate the anomalous to existing categories. Good noticers are fearless noticers.

It’s the things that make the least sense that are often the most interesting.

What are you waiting for? Go read both articles.

April 3, 2007