Tag: architecture

Cluster@*#! to the Boston Marriott

Jon Stewart‘s guest last night, Bill Bishop, makes an argument about US political culture in his book The Big Sort: both about our tendency to “cluster” with those who think as we do, and its detrimental effects.

I concur with Bishop, hence I am writing to express my displeasure with this year’s Preliminary Program for the American Political Science Association Annual Conference. (At least, with the paper version.)

The program used to be organized chronologically. Panels of whatever topic were clustered by time block. If you had an open time block in your schedule, you could browse the program and pick any number of interesting panels to pop into, some that might interest you, others that you might never have attended, but for them fitting your time slot, where by chance, you get new ideas or meet new people you never would have thought to look for.

This year’s program groups panels according to Division. This means you’re likely to ask yourself not “what’s playing when” but rather, “who’s playing what.” In other words, your point of reference begins not with your location in space-time, but with your social and intellectual orientation; not with your availability to think and network freestyle, but with your choice of which particular community within APSA you most want to spend time associating with. The chances of my even noticing any of the panels not sponsored by the the Human Rights, Information Technology and Politics, International Security or Qual Methods sections are declining already.

This is exactly the opposite of what the profession needs. Instead of encouraging cross-topic fertilization, it will create more ghettoization along substantive lines. Instead of increasing our breadth, curiosity and diversity of perspective about things political, it will encourage us to compartmentalize ourselves within small communities of expertise. Instead of facilitating synergistic relations among many different types of political scientist, it will incentivize us to connect with only those who think most like us.

Perhaps political scientists should take heed of Bishop’s observations. As I recently pointed out, architecture is everything.

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Confessions of a Scrabulous Addict Afficionado

The big news story of the day seems to be the “demise” of Scrabulous. “Scrabulous is dead,” claims Slashdot. “Scrabulous No More,” begins the equivalent post at Digital Savant.

Well no, Scrabulous is not dead (not yet anyway), no matter how many laments may appear on Facebook status messages. You can still play Scrabulous, for pity’s sake, just not on Facebook. Instead, you must create an account on the regular Scrabulous site, and play there. (Or, try out Facebook’s new Hasbro-owned application, boringly named “Scrabble.”)

While Facebook users are bemoaning the loss of a popular application, some commentators are claiming this could be a good thing. Dan Drezner‘s Facebook status message today read “Daniel Drezner is confident that labor productivity will boom and the economy will rebound with the suspension of the Scrabulous feature.” His sentiment is echoed by Floyd Sklaver at Justout and Helen Popkin at MSNBC.

Well, I don’t care what Drezner or anyone else says. Scrabulous on Facebook made me more productive, for three reasons:

1) It was a fun way to keep my brain on its toes when I might otherwise have degenerated into more passive forms of online entertainment, such as watching the Clerks’ Jedi Politics YouTube video clip again, or trying to figure out Where the Hell Matt is on Google Earth.

2) It was also an incentive to take a healthy five-minute break here and there – I vaguely recall that in my old retail days before becoming a professor, employees were actually allowed regular five-minute breaks, and at least one 30-minute break, mandated by law, because this was known to boost productivity and also, just to be a really nice idea.

3) Finally, Scrabulous served a valuable professional networking function, keeping in me in touch periodically with colleagues and friends I too seldom connect with in real-space, or for anything other than work online. Those social relations are the grease in the cogs of intellectual productivity. This is why the National Science Foundation encourages grantees to spend taxpayer money on “synergistic activities” that bring together researchers in social settings – because it knows the best ideas happen when the nerds actually put the books away and sit down over drinks.

After a day of experimentation, I can honestly say, however, that the off-Facebook version will make me less productive – at least if I play by email. In this version of the game, every time your partner makes a move, it will show up in your email inbox insistently, rather than appearing quietly in a secluded corner of Facebook where it waits patiently until you happen to log in and check whose turn it is.

Also, the email version reduces the benefits while increasing the risks. It’s more distracting, so you can afford to play with fewer friends simultaneously without getting addicted. Goodbye social networking! On the other hand, being forced to play regular Scrabulous may help me network doubly well because I’m no longer limited to those friends who are on Facebook, nor must I go through the awkward process of recruiting new friends to Facebook to entice them to a game.

Anyway, as Lawrence Lessig has famously argued, architecture constitutes governance, just as do norms, laws, and markets.Today, Scrabulous did not die; its architecture was modified. How this will ultimately affect the nature of interactions that the game facilitated remains to be seen, but so far I’m adapting, Borg-like, instead of donning black.

So what’s the point of this little tirade? Sorry, I’m not sure I have one and anyway no time to explain, I see I have just received an email from one of my two lucky remaining Scrabulous partners…

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