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The Überdistortion

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From Create Your Own Economy, the new book by Tyler Cowen of the Marginal Revolution blog:

Standard behavioral economics views “framing effects” as distorting our decisions, but in many circumstances framing effects help make our lives real, vivid, and meaningful, just as Twittering can make our smallest choices more salient.  We choose to send or receive messages in particular ways, in part, to determine which kinds of framing effects will influence our thoughts and emotions.

. . .

The better way to understand human imperfections is to focus on what I call an überdistortion, namely that we, when selecting from a broad menu of options, don’t always make the right choice of framing effects.  In other words, if you want to make better decisions, you should be more self-reflective about how you are choosing to frame the messages you send and receive.

. . .

Competition gives you the chance to construct the whirlwind of influences that you most prefer.  For that process to work smoothly, try to avoid the überbias of picking the wrong framing effects.  Focus your wisdom on choosing the right media for your messages.  (pp. 78-79, 89)

(Obviously, the link to Wikipedia was inserted by me and is not in the book.)

Cowen is writing about the ways in which the information age allows us to customize our own individual relationship to the world by choosing particular ways of filtering the bits of information (cultural goods, friendships, news, etc.) that we consume.  In the above excerpt, he suggests that the meta-level choice of how we frame information is the important choice to get right if one wants to live a meaningful life in the information age — more important, perhaps, than the information itself.

Is this good advice?  What principles should one apply in choosing the ‘best’ frames for oneself as a consumer of information?  Does explicitly recognizing and embracing one’s own frames imply the abandonment of disinterested impartiality in information consumption (even if that was always just a pretence anyway)?  If everyone thought this way about the information they consume, would we all become dangerously postmodern?

The book is pretty good so far.


Written by Alex

August 17, 2009 at 3:13 pm

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