Butting Heads (and iPhones): Economists Robert Gordon and Joel Mokyr Duke it Out in the Wall Street Journal

Photo Credit: WSJ.comNorthwestern Professors of Economics Robert Gordon and Joel Mokyr just can’t seem to get along.

In this past weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, the two voice some distinctly adverse ideas about technological innovation in the twenty-first century – on the one hand, its success, and on the other, its stagnation.

Professor Mokyr, author of The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy and co-author of The Invention of Enterprise: Entrepreneurship from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern Times is an economic historian who’s altogether positive about the economic direction of the world-at-large. But this isn’t just blind optimism; in fact, it’s due in large part to the rapid rate of technological innovation. Mokyr notes that “new tools have led to economic breakthroughs,” and that since the field of technology is vast and unremitting, we’re hardly in danger of economic collapse.


“The divergent views are more than academic. For many Americans, the recession left behind the scars of lost jobs, lower wages and depressed home prices. The question is whether tough times are here for good. The answer depends on who you ask.”


But Professor Gordon, a macroeconomist and author of the forthcoming book Beyond the Rainbow: The American Standard of Living Since the Civil War (Princeton), and of the best-selling textbook, Macroeconomics, is hugely skeptical of such theories. He asks us to compare useful and revolutionary objects, like the flushing toilet, to the newest iPad; the former, already invented, is indispensable. Everything created thereafter is simply excess – the cherry on top, if you will. And, as new developments become only incrementally more advanced than their predecessors, technological progress will slowly grind to an anticlimactic halt.

The op-ed also gives some interesting background on both Gordon and Mokyr and tries to posit the origins of their respective beliefs, whether positive or negative. Despite their conflicts, the two can concede to one point: that the twenty-first century is unarguably the best time to be born, and the revelation is certainly an encouraging one.

Congratulations to Joseph Masco, author of The Nuclear Borderlands and Winner of the 2014 J.I. Staley Prize

MascoCongratulations to Dr. Joseph Masco, who has been awarded the 2014  J.I. Staley Prize from the School of Advanced Research for his book, The Nuclear Project: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico

The J.I. Staley Prize is presented to a living author for a book that “exemplifies outstanding scholarship and writing in anthropology. The award recognizes innovative works that go beyond traditional frontiers and dominant schools of thought in anthropology and add new dimensions to our understanding of the human species. It honors books that cross subdisciplinary boundaries within anthropology and reach out in new and expanded interdisciplinary directions.”

The prize, which carries a cash award of $10,000, is presented at an award ceremony hosted by the School for Advanced Research during the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association.

Dr. Masco is a Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago, teaching courses on a wide range of subjects, from national security and culture to political ecology and technology. He received a B.A. in the Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington (1986), and holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of California, San Diego (1991, 1999).

Natasha Dow Schüll Recieves Honorable Mention for “Addiction by Design”

Natasha Dow Schüll – Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas
Honorable Mention for the 2013 Gregory Bateson Prize, The Society for Cultural Anthropology

The Bateson Prize is designed to reward work that is theoretically rich, ethnographically grounded, and in the spirit of the tradition for which the SCA has become known-interdisciplinary, experimental, and innovative.

“Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (Princeton University Press) by Natasha Dow Schüll offers a simultaneously critical and empathetic account of the world of machine gambling and machine-human interface, more generally. Schüll richly documents the crafting of an interiority that is highly attractive to the gambler and very profitable for the gaming companies and offers a comprehensive analysis of this deeply disturbing effort to engineer a psychic state through expert calibration of the human senses via machines. This highly engaging and accessible book is destined to serve as a model of ethnography for science and technology studies in the years to come.”

Addiction By DesignRecent decades have seen a dramatic shift away from social forms of gambling played around roulette wheels and card tables to solitary gambling at electronic terminals. Addiction by Design takes readers into the intriguing world of machine gambling, an increasingly popular and absorbing form of play that blurs the line between human and machine, compulsion and control, risk and reward.

Drawing on fifteen years of field research in Las Vegas, anthropologist Natasha Dow Schüll shows how the mechanical rhythm of electronic gambling pulls players into a trancelike state they call the “machine zone,” in which daily worries, social demands, and even bodily awareness fade away. Once in the zone, gambling addicts play not to win but simply to keep playing, for as long as possible–even at the cost of physical and economic exhaustion. In continuous machine play, gamblers seek to lose themselves while the gambling industry seeks profit. Schüll describes the strategic calculations behind game algorithms and machine ergonomics, casino architecture and “ambience management,” player tracking and cash access systems–all designed to meet the market’s desire for maximum “time on device.” Her account moves from casino floors into gamblers’ everyday lives, from gambling industry conventions and Gamblers Anonymous meetings to regulatory debates over whether addiction to gambling machines stems from the consumer, the product, or the interplay between the two.

Addiction by Design is a compelling inquiry into the intensifying traffic between people and machines of chance, offering clues to some of the broader anxieties and predicaments of contemporary life.

Natasha Dow Schüll is associate professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

President Emeritus William G. Bowen To Speak At Princeton University

William BowenPresident Emeritus William G. Bowen will give a talk “Academia Online: Musings” at 8 p.m. Monday Oct. 14, in McCosh Hall, Room 50, as part of the Princeton University Public Lectures Series. Bowen’s most recent book, Higher Education in the Digital Age (Princeton University Press, 2013), which examines two of the most visible and important trends in higher education today: exploding costs and the expansion of online learning, will be a topic of discussion. Bowen believes that technology has the potential to help rein in costs without negatively affecting student learning.


This event is free and open to the public. For more information, click here.