The July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic was its annual “big ideas” issue, so for today’s post I thought I’d list a few that I found particularly interesting.
The right to be forgotten (link) This idea was motivated by the fight of an Argentinian pop star to remove from the Internet some pictures she had posed for after she changed her mind, but it touches upon the broader issue of people posting things online that they want erased a few years later. Although the Atlantic blurb about that idea comments on “the conflict between European conceptions of privacy and American conceptions of free speech”, a number of young Americans might welcome the option to erase some of the postings of their youth. This of course opens a can of worms in terms of implementability. The judge agreed with the Argentinian pop star (although maybe she should have shown better judgment before posing for the pictures), but the search engine’s answer was to block all sites referring to her instead of delinking all sites with the problematic pictures, on the grounds that the second option was too cumbersome.
Boot camp for teachers (link) This idea relies on the fact that “the only way the brain learns to handle unpredictable environments is to practice” and is inspired by the practice of Boston’s Match Teacher Residency program, which puts student teachers through “100 hours of drills with students and adults acting like slouching, fiddling, back-talking kids”. Also, “the Institute for Simulation and Training runs a virtual classroom at 12 education colleges nationwide using artificial intelligence, five child avatars, and a behind-the-scenes actor.” This could help improve the abysmal retention record of the teaching profession – “46 percent quit within five years.”
Lotteries for college admissions (link) Barry Schwartz, a psychology professor at Swarthmore College, suggests to implement the following lottery for college admissions: “every applicant who is good enough gets his or her name put in a hat, and then “winners” are chosen at random… Instead of having to be better than anyone else, [high-school kids] will just have to be good enough, and lucky.” He doesn’t get into the details of how to define good enough, but it makes sense that it’d be up to the admissions committee to identify which applicants would be a fit for the school, and thus be eligible for the lottery.
Hire introverts (link) According to the research of a Wharton professor, “introverted leaders typically deliver better outcomes than extroverts, because they’re more likely to let proactive employees run with their ideas.” In addition, “introverts are also comfortable with solitude – a crucial spur to creativity. When the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist studied the lives of the most-creative people across a variety of fields, they almost always found visionaries who were introverted enough to spend large chunks of time alone.”
Fix law schools (link) “Would-be lawyers have to be taught to see the law not as a path to wealth, but as what it has been historically – a respectable middle-class profession.” The most unwittingly funny line of the magazine comes right after that: “Too many of our current applicants do not see the law this way – and we need to bring them to clarity, even at the risk of driving them into M.B.A. or engineering programs.” (emphasis mine). Gasp! What an enormous risk we’re running, perhaps driving would-be lawyers into *engineering*! Yeah, right. But the rest of the blurb offers the excellent idea of using the hospital internship as a model to re-think the first few years of newly minted lawyers. The author views “law internships” as a possible replacement for the third year of J.D. programs, thus decreasing tuition costs and giving students deeper insights into the profession.
Before the last idea I liked, I’ll quote from another one – I don’t agree with it (“Don’t treat the sick if they’re poor”), but I found the following a very good reminder of the situation the medical field faces in the U.S.: “Conservatives say the government cannot and should not require people to buy health insurance. The trouble is that the government can and does require hospitals to treat people who don’t have health insurance and who can’t pay. The result is a free-rider problem that runs to tens of billions of dollars a year and, worse, destabilizes the whole system.”
Smartphone-free socializing (link) If you know me in real life, it won’t come as a surprise that I loved that one. (It’s actually the half idea of the “23 ½ ideas” mentioned on the cover, because it’s less fleshed out than the others.) “Certify willing restaurants, bars, lounges and coffee shops as signal-blocking Wi-Fi-free bastions of face-to-face conversations.” Can I come and teach there?