Joe Edelman

I'm a philosopher, social scientist, and designer. I believe the current political moment demands a change in the way human systems (social networks, political systems, organizations) are designed; and making this change means having a clearer understanding of people (and of how they live and cooperate).

I work on questions like:

  1. How people sort out what's important to them. (See my essays on values, values and emotions, values and metrics, values economic demand, and values and facts)
  2. How a person's choices are shaped by the array of social games at hand. (See my talk on empowering design featuring a redesign of the ios lock screen, the list of example framing distortions from software, a variety of dating and other games made and tested, and work in immersive, participatory theater.)

My work has provided the basis for an online school called Human Systems. This has an email list and medium blog with all of my work. You can also find me personally on twitter.

I am grateful to the philosophers, computer scientists, and improvisers who laid the groundwork I build on.

How to Design Social Systems (Without Causing Depression and War), 2018 A model of human choicemaking in terms of evolving and practicing values, and a design method to go with it.

Nothing to be Done, 2017 Intellectual history of the west, from a designers' standpoint, as a succession of approaches to human systems.

Is Anything Worth Maximizing, 2016 About how metrics affect the structure of organizations and societies, how they change the economy, how we’re doing them wrong, and how we could do them right.

Choicemaking and the Interface, 2014 Theories of choice from economics and philosophy suggest information requirements for good choices. In view of these requirements, we can see why current menus lead toward regrettable and isolating choices.

Four Ideas for Better Human Systems, 2016 A summary of some technological applications of my research.

When Wisdom Comes, 2017 On the role of emotions in knowing what’s important.

My direct philosophocal antecedents are Amartya Sen, Charles Taylor, David Velleman, and Ruth Chang.

In tech, I was lucky to learn from people like Alan Kay, Terry Winograd, and Bill Verplank at Interval Research, from Casey Fenton at CouchSurfing (where I developed the metrics which guided the company), from Howie Shrobe and Marvin Minksy at MIT. And more recently through conversations with Bret Victor and Rob Ochshorn.

And my tactic of running social experiments through games and performance emerged out of study with Christian Wolff (partipatory music) and Peter Parnell (playwriting) at Dartmouth, and then various improvisational scores with Nancy Stark Smith, Mike Vargas, Ruth Zaporah, and many others. And I had the great fortune to work alongside Albert Kong and Catherine Herdlick on the real world games festival Come Out and Play.

Finally, I continue to be challenged in passionate conversations with Tristan Harris, Nathan Vanderpool, and Anne Selke.