On How I Read, Part 3

As with anything else in life, there are costs and benefits to social media, and it has become a little bit fashionable, I suppose, to speak more about the costs of social media. But there is a lot  to be gained from using social media properly.

It involves a significant amount of effort on your part, but I would argue that it is ultimately worth your time. First, if you follow me on Twitter, you might note that I hardly tweet at all, besides an automated posting of the daily set of links from EFE. Twitter is great for listening, and not necessarily for, well, tweeting.

Here’s an excerpt from a very long, and very good, essay by Dan Wang:

 I mean to tune out the angry side of Twitter. The good parts of Twitter are very good indeed, and every day I marvel at how many great links are dropped into my feed by people I follow. I tweet/retweet three things: informationally-dense pieces, interesting pictures, and good jokes. Generally I try to follow people who do the same. Occasionally the waves of angry Twitter wash up on my happy island, but it’s not frequent.

I try to follow people who adhere to the criteria that Dan Wang describes above (and don’t always succeed, I should add). Another useful criteria is the one mentioned by Patrick Collison:

This involves a lot of curation, and that too on an ongoing basis, but I assure you, it is worth your time. The same rules apply to Facebook of course, although there it is more complicated because of the rather more social aspect of social media.

I can’t remember where I read this, but it resonated with me: Facebook is folks I went to college with, Twitter is folks I wish I had gone to college with.

But the bottom line is this: social media isn’t necessarily full of hate, it isn’t necessarily trivial, and if you work at it, it can be a complete delight.


Links for 22nd August, 2018

  1. On the ocean’s advance, and humanity’s reluctant retreat.
  2. An excellent write-up on climate change. But, also see this.
  3. On progress in combating cancer.
  4. A long read on polar bears.
  5. Music is, it would seem, rather more disconnected from reality today than in the past.

On How I Read, Part 2

The single greatest invention of the past thirty years or so, as far as infovores on the internet are concerned, are blogs. There is absolutely no question about this, but blogging has changed immeasurably, and for the better, the amount of information, wisdom and nuance that is publicly available.

I graduated with a Masters degree in the year 2006, and blogs were only just beginning to take over my consciousness. But within a span of less than a year, the number of blogs that I followed had grown exponentially – and this was possible because of a great little idea called RSS. Really Simple Syndication. People of a certain age and of a particular persuasion might heave a nostalgic sigh in fond memory of Google Reader, but today’s post is about its replacement: Feedly.

Feedly allows you to subscribe to a large number of blogs all at once, and it does the heavy job of visiting those blogs and checking if they have been updated. And if they have, it “fetches” either the entire post or a snippet of it (depending upon what the blog owner permits). You can then read it very quickly, and do what you will with it.

Here is what my Feedly, well, feed looks like right now:

Feedly Snip

So rather than visit each of those blogs separately (and there are 78 of them, as of right now), I simply visit one website, Feedly, and get to read all updates in one place. I’ll leave the setting up of your personalized experience of Feedly to you and the internet (but feel free to reach out if you think I can help)

I’ll freely admit to the fact that when I scroll through the list above, I will not read every single post, and I’m fairly sure this is true of everybody who uses Feedly intensively. There is simply too much stuff to read, and you’ll only end up depressing yourself if you try to read every single post.

What I do is I have a select list of blogs that I will tend to read for sure (Marginal Revolution, as an obvious example), and some authors that I will tend to read more often than not (columns by Paul Krugman, essays by Dan Wang). And for other posts, I depend on the following, in no particular order: does the headline seem interesting? Is it a topic I am interested in right now? Have quite a few other people linked to it?

That third point is worth elaborating on:I might not open all links authored by Paul Krugman, for example, but if Mark Thoma refers to a particular column, I probably will read it. If both Tyler Cowen and Mark Thoma link to a piece, I most definitely will read it.

In today’s parlance, I will wait for a link to “bubble up”, but the bubbling up has to be by people I trust. Social media bubbling up a post receives far lesser weightage in my framework.

Out of the 176 unread articles in my Feedly list right now, I’ll end up reading maybe 40. And I don’t tend to fret over the ones I didn’t read. I’ve been doing this for over 11 years now, and I’m not saying it’s a perfect system, nor am I saying it will work for everybody – but I am saying that I am more than ok with it for myself.

Finally, people who write blogs that aggregate interesting links from all over the place are people truly worth following. Ajay Shah’s blog, Mark Thoma’s blog, Barry Ritholtz’s blog and Marginal Revolution alone can keep you busy for hours. If you are looking for blogs to start off with on your own Feedly list, these would be my picks. But add more, it goes without saying.

Links for 21st August, 2018

  1. On the coordination problem in open economy macroeconomics
  2. An interview with the brilliant Avinash Dixit
  3. The Fields medal and its connection to economics (this read is not for everybody!)
  4. Via MR: renting middle aged men in Japan (its not what you think)
  5. This isn’t surprising at all: on the need to teach young folks about… keyboards.

On How I Read, Part 1

One question I get quite frequently in classes I teach is about how I read “so much”.

The sad truth of the matter is that I read nowhere near enough, by an order of magnitude. But if you’re looking for tips on how to go about reading as efficiently as possible, this series may help you out.

The idea behind this series is to tell you three things about my reading: the tools I use to read, the content that I choose to read (which is two separate blog posts) and finally, how my reading choices evolve over time. Use this series to change or adapt your own reading style, if you wish, and best of all, let me know how mine could be improved based on your experiences.

But before I get to any of these, a couple of points about reading in general. In today’s day and age, you might think that reading comes at a high opportunity cost. Would reading not eat into an extra session of Candy Crush Saga? Would reading not eat into an hour of Netflix? Would reading not eat into watching cooking videos on YouTube? And that is before the opportunity cost of stuff that can be done offline.

This, I would argue, is where a topic called hyperbolic discounting becomes useful. Without jargon, this essentially means that we tend to think more about short term rewards rather than long term payoffs. For example, eating an extra gulab jamun will give me more happiness this minutecompared to the long term, probabilistic scenario of complications to my health. Candy Crush Saga is the gulab jamun, and potentially lower income/knowledge/wisdom is the long term probabilistic scenario. Most of us would choose to play Candy Crush Saga, understandably.

To be clear, “most of us” includes me too. Who can resist a video of a baby playing with a puppy on YouTube? In other words, reading more is a function of steeling yourself against temptation – but that is easier said than done, and I struggle with it every day.

The second thing I struggle with is the fact that I can’t, anymore, read the same thing for hours at a stretch. The internet is a truly wonderful thing, but it has killed my attention span. I try and get around this problem by reading a book along with playing games on the phone/reading blogs/watching videos on YouTube, without feeling apologetic about doing so. The length of time that you are able to read without a break doesn’t matter, neither does taking a break very often. Call it High Intensity Interval Reading, if you like.

Rereading a book is something I do very rarely these days, and if I do re-read something, it is the highest compliment I can pay the book. Even so, I will come back to the book after a minimum of a week. That time gives the book some time to settle in my head.

Finally, taking long walks without listening to any music/podcast immediately after I have finished reading something important is a great way to allow the book to settle in my head. I don’t even force myself to think about the book – I just walk and let my mind wander.

In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about the tools I use to read.

Links for 20th August, 2018

  1. On Brazil’s prospects.
  2. Thinking long term is good in macro
  3. On Mark Zuckerberg’s expensive education.
  4. When urbanization is too good for its own good
  5. On how to be a good economist. (Hint: the math is overrated)

Books that almost made it, but didn’t

  1. The Economic Naturalist: A truly great read, and just go ahead and buy it anyway. Robert Frank spent years teaching undergraduates about how to think like an economist, and it shows. An engaging, thought-provoking book that manages to entertain and inform at the same time, it is a truly great read.
  2. The cartoon introduction to microeconomics: There are three books in this series, and all are worth reading. The cartoons are smart, funny and informative. Great way to start reading up on economics. If anything, not detailed enough – but it is a cartoon book, after all.
  3. Freakonomics: This book has almost become the “Summer of 69” of introductory books on economics, and the worst part is that it isn’t even meant to be an introductory book about economics. But it is a very good book to read, as is its successor.
  4. Reinventing the Bazaar: This is most assuredly not  a light read, but it is equally so a great read. I hesitate to recommend this to students new to economics because it might put people off, but if you have the perseverance, the payoffs are huge.