And of course, if they do recognize that they are living through a historical crisis, it’s often too late-because, like it or not, the primary way that ordinary people create this distinct genre of history is by dying.

How could so many intelligent people be so grievously wrong for such an extended period of time? How could they ignore so much overwhelming evidence that contradicted their most basic theories? These questions, too, deserve their own discipline: the sociology of error.

In other words, a serious crisis of nonrenewable energy resources is likely to accelerate the urbanization trend, not derail it.

But despite the Secret Service-like behavior, and the regal nomenclature, there’s nothing hierarchical about the way an ant colony does its thinking. “Although queen is a term that reminds us of human political systems,

Like every big idea, Birdseye’s breakthrough was not a single insight, but a network of other ideas, packaged together in a new configuration. What made Birdseye’s idea so powerful was not simply his individual genius, but the diversity of places and forms of expertise that he brought together.

as the historian Tom Standage observes, they were “among the first to recognize the importance of trademarks and advertising, of slogans, logos…. Since the remedies themselves usually cost very little to make, it made sense to spend money on marketing.

Humans had proven to be unusually good at learning to recognize visual patterns; we internalize our alphabets so well we don’t even have to think about reading once we’ve learned how to do it.

If you worked for an hour at the average wage of 1800, you could buy yourself ten minutes of artificial light. With kerosene in 1880, the same hour of work would give you three hours of reading at night. Today, you can buy three hundred days of artificial light with an hour of wages. Something extraordinary obviously happened between the days of tallow candles or kerosene lamps and today’s illuminated wonderland. That something was the electric lightbulb.

Diverse, horizontal social networks, in Ruef’s analysis, were three times more innovative than uniform, vertical networks. In groups united by shared values and long-term familiarity, conformity and convention tended to dampen any potential creative sparks.

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