Individualism, Urbanism, and Our Changing Psychology

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If the books we write mirror the people we are and the societies we create, then analyzing the books we’ve written over the last two centuries should reveal some interesting insights about how we’ve changed and who we’ve become. And that’s exactly what we find in a recent article from the Atlantic: “200 Years of Books Prove That City-Living Changes Our Psychology.”

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The article looks at new research that used Google’s technology to analyze the words in books written over the last 200 years. Check out the article for some fascinating graphs on how changing vocabulary correlates to the rise of urbanism over that same time. (The title of the article, though, suggests that urbanism caused these changes in how we talk about ourselves, when it appears that the research itself demonstrates mere correlation. A common mistake.)

Among the more interesting findings:

  • We’ve seen a notable increase in the language of choice and decision, corresponding to a marked decrease in words like “duty” and “obligation.”
  • “Give” is on the decline, while “get” is much more popular.
  • Words denoting obedience, authority, and religion have declined steadily.

None of this is terribly surprising, but it’s interesting to see it demonstrated through a quantitative analysis of our own literature.

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Does Money Make People Unethical Jerks?

According to some recent studies, richer people are more likely to behave unethically and rudely than poorer people. Indeed, some of the studies suggest that arbitrarily assigning some privilege to a person causes him or her to begin acting as though they deserve to be treated better.

Check out this short video from NPR summarizing the results of the studies. As the video notes, the studies have come under some criticism, with a few arguing that they simply reflect the liberal bias of the researchers. But the results of the studies are still quite interesting, suggesting that wealth produces a certain pattern:

  1. receiving privilege
  2. leads to expecting privilege
  3. culminating in taking privilege

7 Concerns about How Technology Shapes “Modern” Life

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People often worry that modern technology has made life worse, not better. And I have to admit that every time my computer locks up in the middle of an important project or my cell phone buzzes distractingly when I’m in the middle of a good book, I wonder the same thing. But it’s worth realizing that concerns about technology and quality of life are nothing new. Here are seven surprisingly “modern” concerns about technology from over 100 years ago.

1. We’re inundated by too many short messages.

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