Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Rational Ignorance

Academic life is ruining the internet for me. An example: Today I read Joi Ito’s wandering entry on money, economics, and physics, and the first thing I thought of doing was to post a bibliography of all of the reading that should have been done before that post was made. And then I realized that posting such a bibliography is the equivalent of shouting at the television. It doesn’t matter what I say about it. The TV (and the internet) can’t really hear me.

Lago reacts to an interesting point that I in fact pondered yesterday before posting my thoughts from my lunch with Seth. Is it better for me to post my superficial musings with Seth in the one hour that I had before I needed to move on to the next thing, or do I scribble them in my notebook and write a more rigorous treatment with references. I decided, as Cory often says, that my blog is my notebook and that even though many of my thoughts were half-baked, it was better to write early/write often than to back burner the thoughts and probably never get around to posting them.

If you read on in Lago's post, he does raise a very interesting way to look at the trade-offs of shallow vs rigorous. What is the cost of rigor and is it worth it?

I am not an academic. I am an extremely busy businessman who happens be lucky enough to meet quite a few smart people from a variety of fields. As one good friend has told me, my primary purpose is to connect people. It probably adds more value to society for me to spend one hour getting two people excited enough to talk to each other than to sit and ponder a notion by myself. My blog is not a rigorous treatment of the topics that I'm interested in, but rather a collection of links, questions, thoughts and points of view. A great variety of people read this blog and I'm sure that just about any professional thinker in on any topic I write about will find my treatment of the topic rather superficial. The question is to me is whether this is valuable or whether my lack of rigor could actually be a disservice to the discourse.

Getting back to my last post... I actually did think about spending the weekend dragging out my old notes from Hayek, Coase, Arrow, Chandler, Shannon, Mauss, Simon, etc. and digging into my memory and trying to tie all of this together. Instead, I posted a my rambling thoughts because I knew I'd never do it if I put it off. Also, I realize that I will never be able to compete directly with full-time academic and that it is not my position to answer these questions in a rigorous way. I suppose that if I can end up getting Seth, an economist and a rabbi to sit down and chat about world views over dinner at some point, I will have served my purpose.

I don't want to ignite a academic vs non-academic flame-war here. I'm just trying to point out, as Lago does, that we are all making decisions about how much to study in order for us to make the right decisions. I don't have the time or the ability to do "all of the reading that should have been done before that post was made." Having said that, I would encourage people to post "a bibliography of all of the reading" since I am interested and so are many other people.


One of the reasons your blog is compelling is because it's academically-inspired but not academic-required. That is to say, it's accessible to the inquisitive layman despite traversing some high-brow territory.

It's sort of like MIT Technology Review versus an ACM or IEEE journal. You're in the sweet spot!

My supervisor during my PhD study, Prof. Dr. Stevan Harnad, always maintained you should be writing your papers, essays, and the like as if you were writing it for your 12 year old sibling. He said that you should use normal language and avoid using terminological terms where possible. This advice has stayed with me since.

I even add to it: If you cannot write your thoughts in such a way your 12 year old sibling can understand you, then you most likely do not understand it yourself.

That said, I think you do a good job explaining stuff in your blog. But I also think you should not stop short from going deeper into details. Your audience varies wildly, so you cannot possibly satisfy all of them.

I agree with Dav that you're in the sweet spot for your readers, Joi. My post is a prime example of this, as reading your post triggered me to think about something in a new way and write about it. This has happened to me multiple times while reading your blog, and I appreciate it. Keep up the good work!

Reading your thoughts and your musings on your blog gets me thinking and pondering about things. It engages my brain in with a few lines of text.

If your posts were structured like someones thesis I doubt I'd have the time to read them on a daily basis. I'd have to print them off and sit down on a saturday afternoon and read them.

I like the daily Joi tidbits that are short enough and sweet enough to give my brain a boost.

If you were to fully research these I doubt we'd see so much interesting content. And when do you stop fully researching something ? Where is the end ? Most things are in a state of flux nowadays.

I don't think its like shouting at the TV either because you read and reply to comments on your blog and you also allow the various people that comment to also interact.

One of the benefits of posting something to one's blog (especially a high-traffic blog) is that others can criticize it and help you refine your ideas. Conversely, writing as a novice may give you a fresh perspective, so that you'll make connections that people who are more specialized and deeply involved may not have thought of.

Obviously, for these benefits to actually accrue, everybody involved needs to be open-minded.

When I first tried to get a blog up and running the idea I had was for the blog to be a notebook for bite sized ideas, but then for there also to be a section for collecting longer pieces that properly revisit those ideas in a more analytical and indepth fashion.

Unfortunetly, I never was able to get either side off the ground.

this is a personal blog, and as such, only joi should have a say in how he writes, and what he writes about. in other words, a personal blog doesn't have to pretend (as mass media do) that it represents public conscioussness and that it gives a voice to the public. on the contrary, only the blogger should set the tone. and as most bloggers know, and this is what they expect for, good blogs make for interesting conversations. in that regard, this blog rocks!

with regard to lago's post, i'm not entirely confortable with how he sees Internet documents. there's plenty of academic material online, which is of the higest quality, and more important, cannot be found offline by people not living inside a library. there are many acedemic-oriented journals (like first monday) online and high quality experiments in quality journalism (like squall). of course, navigation and filtering is always an issue, but it's the same concerning academic journals and publications too.

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Rational ignorance . Read More

Lago, on the blog Rational Ignorance brought up an issue in response to a blog entry by Joi Ito (Joi's response) that I think is very important for the academic world to chew on. The net, in many respects, reproduces, in a warped and tilted fashion, th... Read More

Citation Paralysis Lago notes that academia is ruining the Internet for him: upon reading an interesting blog entry, his reflex is to respond with a bibliography of all the relevant readings that should have been done before the entry w Read More