Note to recruiters

Note to recruiters: We are quite aware that recruiters, interviewers, VCs and other professionals generally perform a Google Search before they interview someone, take a pitch from someone, et cetera. Please keep in mind that not everything put on the Internet must align directly to one's future career and/or one's future product portfolio. Sometimes, people do put things on the Internet just because. Just because. It may be out of their personal interests, which may have nothing to do with their professional interests. Or it may be for some other reason. Recruiters seem to have this wrong-headed notion that if somebody is not signalling their interests in a certain area online, then that means that they are not interested in that area at all. It is worth pointing out that economics pretty much underlies the areas of marketing, strategy, operations and finance. And this blog is about economics. With metta, let us. by all means, be reflective about this whole business of business. Also, see our post on "The Multi-faceted Identity Problem".

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Scrooge of Internet debates

'Anand Manikutty Smackdown Watch' alert. As part of this blog's mission to provide only the best quality opinions, we have now decided to include a Blogger Smackdown Watch. The particular thread on the mailing list silklist linked to in my previous post on the Singularity on silklist turned out to be one where a bunch of people tried to do a smackdown on me. Thankfully, I was prepared. I will describe how I did it below - it is part of my short online lesson on Internet debating.

But first, as part of this blog's 'Anand Manikutty smackdown watch', I would like to alert you to a few facts : (1) the Singularitarian(s) on the list did not provide a set of hypotheses that could be taken as the basis of this theory. This was the case even after they were pressed to do so; (2) the 'innovation is not programmable'/'innovation requires humans' argument was never refuted; (3) each and every single counter-argument (*including* the procedural issue on not linking to the Wikipedia page) was demolished by me on the List that I used to maintain (linked here); (4) I am stingy (in fact, extremely stingy) in terms of the amount of intellectual capital I am willing to spend (that is, I won't spend any intellectual capital by agreeing that I am wrong in Internet debates unless I really am). As it happened, I refused to spend any intellectual capital in this particular debate, but still ended up coming out ahead.

In fact, thus far, although I have debated with a lot of people, even with Nobel laureates, not on a single occasion have they ever been able to prove me wrong. I almost always win debates. Except with the Nobel laureates and such where the debates are just a tie. So, I am just stingy, stingy, stingy all round. Also, note that despite what you might gather from just reading the thread on silklist, I was actually extremely nice to  all the people on silklist, even those who were not nice to me. The silklist is one of the few places left on the Indian blogosphere/forums where civil conversations on topics related to India can be had. You don't see any angry outbursts from me on this silklist thread and if you had read my List, you would have seen a lot of well researched and well thought out comments and, equally importantly, comments that were considerate and thoughtful.  Anyway, given that it is Christmas, I feel like calling myself the Ebenezer Scrooge of Internet debates would be appropriateSo in the spirit of Christmas, I will ask that you take everything I say in good spirit and that my comments should be taken in the spirit of 'giving' and 'shedding light'. I do intend to continue to remain the Ebenezer Scrooge of Internet debates since I believe I shed light on issues on many an occasion. Of course, I have been parsimonious in acknowledging defeat in Internet debates, and I believe that that is an excellent strategy. You should never have to apologize for any Internet comment as long as it was intended in the right spirit and as long as you are right.

The first rule of Internet debates is that there are no rules. The main problem is that in Internet debates, you just don't have that sense of organizational process that makes this sort of thing impossible in business settings. There is no phone number to call and no management hierarchy to resolve things via.   The other thing about Internet debates is that in game theoretical terms - and this is the most useful mathematical model here - they can be zero sum games. Once the debate has gone past a certain stage, one party must win and the other must lose. When a debate looks like a zero sum game, things dramatically change. You have to try really hard to either win or get your point of view across. It is almost like you have to be a sort of One Man Army. You can't rely on anyone else, you have to try hard to block everything and you have to improvise constantly based on what you subjectively see. Now, the big problem is this : if the debate is in a prominent source (also known as an Authority in technical circles) or is in a place that later becomes a prominent source, that particular debate from four years ago might start ranking very high on Internet searches. That may not seem fair, but then life isn't fair. (Just Google for my name and you will find that this particular thread that was practically inconsequential in terms of what I got out of it has only caused me a lot of pain. The benefit was zero.). Also, debaters are often not fair. Not only aren't debaters fair, time is also of essence. You can easily lose an Internet debate in a matter of minutes. Lose you might not only that debate but also your online reputation.

In fact, it is just like war in another way. Different strategies are called for in different situations. In a not-quite-fully-moderated mailing list-type forum like silklist (where there is at least some trolling and many, many of the discussions on matters of national policy go way off track notwithstanding the presence of at least one professor on the list), you are better off linking to your opinion from your own list because you can never control what other people say about you. All you can do is control your own reaction. Note that in this silklist thread, you need to read my comments in conjunction with the silklist thread. Otherwise, you are likely to make the same mistake as at least one person on the discussion did. He assumed that what I said on silklist was all there was to what I had said (but, of course, that was not true). The strategy I used was simple : realizing that there was trolling going on on silk list, I simply started linking to my own List from the first post on silk list (and it continued with every post from there onwards). This way, I prevented what could have been an utter disaster for me because moderators will sometimes moderate out your replies to a forum but not that of others. By maintaining control of what gets said about me, I got to control the outcome of the debate. And finally, one caveat : do not try this at home or at work. You might make people extremely unhappy. End of Internet debating lesson.

So anyway, Merry Christmas, people. Have a happy holiday season!

Update (Jan 3): Updated post a little to fix typos, etc.