The Ideas of 2006

The New York Times magazine ran their annual Year in Ideas feature, listing 74 ideas which defined 2006. Brief blurbs describe each idea. It’s awesome — read it from head to toe. Here are some of my favorite picks:

Homophily — "Our inexorable tendency to link up with one another in ways that confirm rather than test our core beliefs."

Psychological Neoteny – "The next time you see a mother of three head-banging to death metal or a 50-year-old man sporting a faux-hawk, don’t laugh. According to Bruce Charlton, a doctor and psychology professor at Newcastle University in Britain, what looks like immaturity — or in Charlton’s kinder terms, the “retention of youthful attitudes and behaviors into later adulthood” — is actually a valuable developmental characteristic, which he calls psychological neoteny."

The Visage Problem – "Like other prosopagnosics, Sieghart finds most human faces to be about as distinguishable as stones in a driveway. The disorder was first fully described in the medical literature in the 1940s and has long been viewed as an exceedingly rare, baffling derangement." 2% afflicted with this disease.

The Social Cue Reader – For autistic people: "The Emotional-Social Intelligence Prosthesis, developed by Rana el Kaliouby and Rosalind Picard, consists of a small camera mounted on a cap or glasses that monitors a conversation partner’s facial expressions and feeds the data into a hand-held computer."

Hyperopia – "Kivetz interviewed 63 subjects and asked half of them to recall a time in the previous week when they had to choose between work or pleasure — and then to rank how they felt about their decision on a scale from “no regret at all” to “a lot of regret.” Then Kivetz asked the other half to do the same for a similar decision five years in the past. When the moment in question was a week before, those who worked industriously reported that they were glad they had. Those who partied said they regretted it. But when the subjects considered the decision from five years in the past, the propositions reversed: those who toiled regretted it; those who relaxed were happy with their choice."

Empty Stomach Intelligence – "Horvath says we can use the hormonal discoveries to our cognitive advantage. Facing the LSAT, a final exam or a half-day job interview? Go in mildly hungry, not carbo-loaded for endurance, and snack to maintain that edgy state."

The Eyes of Honesty – How do you get people to leave 50 cents on the honor system for a soda in the office? "During one week, it was a picture of flowers; during the other, it was a pair of staring eyes. Then they sat back to watch what would happen."

The Aerotropolis – "Traditionally, of course, airports have served cities, but in the past few years airports have started to become cities unto themselves, giving rise to a new urban form: the aerotropolis."

Negativity Friendships – "If you ask a random sample of friends how they became friends, they will probably tell you that they like a lot of the same things and, perhaps more important, that they like the same people. So they may. But one of the surest routes to friendship is disliking the same things about other people, according to Jennifer Bosson and three colleagues, who published “Interpersonal Chemistry Through Negativity: Bonding by Sharing Negative Attitudes About Others”

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