Startup Culture

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One of my interests has to do with science and technology. When an article from Salon popped up in my Facebook feed about Neil deGrasse Tyson saying that, “society has bigger problems than can be solved with your next app,” I asked myself, “Why is this newsworthy?”

It’s established that Silicon Valley start-up types love the idea of technological disruption. The truth of the matter, however, seems to be that market-based innovation is often underwhelming. Many forms of research aren’t profitable. Others are better suited to the public sector. Also, just because one business model disrupts another business model doesn’t mean that society will benefit.

Take the ride-sharing company Uber as an example. Uber injects competition into the taxi industry. Its service model is novel, but in an era where median wages are stagnant Uber might make the problem worse. Was it hard to find a taxi before Uber? Is the mass allocation of capital to a tiny problem (people finding a ride) really worth it the money spent on it?

If America’s start-up culture is obsessed with disruption, I wish that they would spend more time thinking about whether deliberately creating disruption is worth the cost. Just because an innovator can find a way to make money by reshaping the world doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunity costs associated with investment decisions.

LightSide

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I spent some time this morning analyzing the Twitter data again. This time I tried to analyze it using LightSide, but I ran into a few problems. Either way, I’m interested to see exactly what happens when I get the software to work. Today I kept getting error messages. On top of that, my rig at home is a bit outmoded for this sort of analytic text processing.

Twitter References

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I’m in the process of analyzing a sample of Twitter references to incumbent candidates from the 2012 Congressional Election. There’s a lot of data to sort through, but one of the things that struck me is just how much attention that a small group of candidates received. The Top 25 candidates received over two-thirds of all tweet mentions.

On top of this, almost all of the most tweeted candidates were members of their party’s leadership or members of the U.S. Senate, which represents more people per capita than the House of Representatives. As best I can tell, the only exceptions were Allen West (R-FL) and Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) who both had a propensity to say crazy things that drew national media attention. Anyway, I guess this just goes to show how American political discourse tends to be: (1) dominated by radicals who play to their base or (2) largely captured by poll-tested party narratives. So much for deliberative democracy. So much for thoughtful candidates trying to run on their beliefs.