Briefly noted for November 29, 2022

Check out these amazing WPA-style posters created by the Department of Energy to mark the infrastructure achievements made possible under the 2009 stimulus bill. I hope this time around, the government doesn’t wait 10 years to start selling the infrastructure and climate bills that passed earlier this year.

Two takes on this year’s tech industry crash: The first, from Derek Thompson, is cultural (the crash is big tech’s “midlife crisis”). The second, from Matt Yglesias, is financial (higher interest rates are making speculation in technology relatively less attractive).

Steven Johnson on the importance of the cassette tape and the way it changed both the sound and the business of music—in many of the same ways that another low-fidelity technology, the mp3, did.

Finally, if you have been wondering what is, how it’s different from other social networks, and especially how it plans to make money, here’s a primer from Neiman Journalism Lab.

Uber and Airbnb

I’m extremely uneasy about startups like Uber and Airbnb whose business models are grounded in sidestepping regulations that were originally intended as consumer- and labor-protection measures. People—both the service providers and their customers—love Uber and Airbnb because they offer greater flexibility and efficiency than traditional taxi and hotel services. Some of that flexibility is afforded by new communications technologies that offer a more direct connection between the service provider and the consumer. But a lot of that flexibility stems from the fact that these services are unregulated. Uber and Airbnb get closer to consumers not only by using information technology to ditch the middleman of the dispatcher (in Uber’s case) or travel agent and hotel chain (in Airbnb’s), but also by ditching the middleman of the government.

We can imagine lots of markets that could be streamlined by using information technology to sidestep middlemen to place service providers in more direct communication with consumers. But the middlemen are often the people who comply with government regulations that are intended to protect us from fraud and abuse. Middlemen often create friction and inefficiencies in the system. But sometimes a little friction is good.