Monday, April 19, 2010

For Graham

Graham raised the point in class a few weeks ago that it’s goofy that poor Brazilians have cellphones when they don’t have so many other things.

I tried to steer in the opposite direction: perhaps it’s our value systems are goofy if so many people are buying and using these things instead of other things.

David Gardner sent me an e-mail about a video he saw in another class about social media  (sorry, this video is not embeddable). It reminded me of Graham’s point.

I’m not thrilled with the video — it focuses too much on cute examples and trite observations — which I think leads it to missing the big picture.

This is not that people do social networking, but that they value it.

Why is that so? Network externalities is part of it.

Does it matter to macroeconomics? I think it does. Our conception of macroeconomics is based on pink dashed lines drawn in atlases – essentially networks established by physical proximity. If our identity becomes more tied up with our social networks than our proximity networks, then the policies of governments and the scores we keep about countries (like GDP) become less relevant too. I don’t expect governments to take that threat lightly — there’s a reason that computer programmers tend to be libertarian.

Which brings us full circle back to Graham. Does a kid with a cellphone and a social network in Brazil feel Brazilian? For now, I think the answer is yes. What will the world look like when the answer is no?

FWIW: as a non-Mormon, who relocated to Utah from out of state, who spends a lot of time on the internet, and who teaches at a university that is somewhat separated from the local community, I can tell you that I’m already losing a sense of identification with my local community. Most of me is still “Utahn”, but a bigger chunk of me is floating separately from Utah than most of you. It’s an interesting feeling … and a positive one.

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