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June 7, 2006

Reactions to Digital Maoism

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Last5 week, published Jaron Lanier’s Digital Maoism piece, warning of the dangers of new collectivism, and singling out Wikipedia for criticism. Today, Edge has several reactions to Lanier’s warnings, from people who think about social software from a variety of perspectives, including Douglas Rushkoff, Quentin Hardy, Yochai Benkler, me (and I re-print my piece here), Cory Doctorow, Kevin Kelly, Esther Dyson, Larry Sanger, Fernanda Viegas & Martin Wattenberg, Jimmy Wales, and George Dyson.

I include my reaction here as well, as Edge doesn’t have comments.

Jaron Lanier is certainly right to look at the downsides of collective action. It’s not a revolution if nobody loses, and in this case, expertise and iconoclasm are both relegated by some forms of group activity. However, “Digital Maoism” mischaracterizes the present situation in two ways. The first is that the target of the piece, the hive mind, is just a catchphrase, used by people who don’t understand how things like Wikipedia really work. As a result, criticism of the hive mind becomes similarly vague. Second, the initial premise of the piece — there are downsides to collective production of intellectual work — gets spread it so widely that it comes to cover RSS aggregators, American Idol, and the editorial judgment of the NY Times. These are errors of overgeneralization; it would be good to have a conversation about Wikipedia’s methods and governance, say, but that conversation can’t happen without talking about its actual workings, nor can it happen if it is casually lumped together with other, dissimilar kinds of group action.

The bigger of those two mistakes appears early:

“The problem I am concerned with here is not the Wikipedia in itself. It’s been criticized quite a lot, especially in the last year, but the Wikipedia is just one experiment that still has room to change and grow. […] No, the problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it’s been elevated to such importance so quickly.”

Curiously, the ability of the real Wikipedia to adapt to new challenges is taken at face value. The criticism is then directed instead at people proclaiming Wikipedia as an avatar of a golden era of collective consciousness. Let us stipulate that people who use terms like hive mind to discuss Wikipedia and other social software are credulous at best, and that their pronouncements tend towards caricature. What “Digital Maoism” misses is that Wikipedia doesn’t work the way those people say it does.

Neither proponents nor detractors of hive mind rhetoric have much interesting to say about Wikipedia itself, because both groups ignore the details. As Fernanda Viegas’s work shows, Wikipedia isn’t an experiment in anonymous collectivist creation; it is a specific form of production, with its own bureaucratic logic and processes for maintaining editorial control. Indeed, though the public discussions of Wikipedia often focus on the ‘everyone can edit’ notion, the truth of the matter is that a small group of participants design and enforce editorial policy through mechanisms like the Talk pages, lock protection, article inclusion voting, mailing lists, and so on. Furthermore, proposed edits are highly dependant on individual reputation — anonymous additions or alterations are subjected to a higher degree of both scrutiny and control, while the reputation of known contributors is publicly discussed on the Talk pages.

Wikipedia is best viewed as an engaged community that uses a large and growing number of regulatory mechanisms to manage a huge set of proposed edits. “Digital Maoism” specifically rejects that point of view, setting up a false contrast with open source projects like Linux, when in fact the motivations of contributors are much the same. With both systems, there are a huge number of casual contributors and a small number of dedicated maintainers, and in both systems part of the motivation comes from appreciation of knowledgeable peers rather than the general public. Contra Lanier, individual motivations in Wikipedia are not only alive and well, it would collapse without them.

“The Digital Maoism” argument is further muddied by the other systems dragged in for collectivist criticism. There’s the inclusion of American Idol, in which a popularity contest is faulted for privileging popularity. Well, yes, it would, wouldn’t it, but the negative effects here don’t come from some new form of collectivity, they come from voting, a tool of fairly ancient provenance. Decrying Idol’s centrality is similarly misdirected. This season’s final episode was viewed by roughly a fifth of the country. By way of contrast, the final episode of M*A*S*H was watched by three fifths of the country. The centrality of TV, and indeed of any particular medium, has been in decline for three decades. If the pernicious new collectivism is relying on growing media concentration, we’re safe. is similarly and oddly added to the argument, but there is in fact no meta-collectivity algorithm at work here — Popurls just an aggregation of RSS feeds. You might as well go after if that’s the kind of thing that winds you up. And the ranking systems that are aggregated all display different content, suggesting real subtleties in the interplay of algorithm and audience, rather than a homogenizing hive mind at work. You wouldn’t know it, though, to read the broad-brush criticism of Popurls here. And that is the missed opportunity of “The Digital Maoism”: there are things wrong with RSS aggregators, ranking algorithms, group editing tools, and voting, things we should identify and try to fix. But the things wrong with voting aren’t wrong with editing tools, and the things wrong with ranking algorithms aren’t wrong with aggregators. To take the specific case of Wikipedia, the Seigenthaler/Kennedy debacle catalyzed both soul-searching and new controls to address the problems exposed, and the controls included, inter alia, a greater focus on individual responsibility, the very factor “Digital Maoism” denies is at work.

The changes we are discussing here are fundamental. The personal computer produced an incredible increase in the creative autonomy of the individual. The internet has made group forming ridiculously easy. Since social life involves a tension between individual freedom and group participation, the changes wrought by computers and networks are therefore in tension. To have a discussion about the plusses and minuses of various forms of group action, though, is going to require discussing the current tools and services as they exist, rather than discussing their caricatures or simply wishing that they would disappear.

Comments (15) + TrackBacks (0) | Category:


1. Taran on June 8, 2006 12:48 AM writes...

The phrase 'Digital Maoism' in the context used is demonstrative of a mind which has soaked in information but has not yet produced contextual knowledge. The premise is alarmist, and as the media spins, alarmist is all the rage.

Welcome to Open Content FUD. May I take your coat? :-)

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2. Frank Paynter on June 8, 2006 4:05 PM writes...

Last week I wrote a quick and dirty reflection on the Edge essay that I wish had contained your last paragraph.

You can find it here:

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3. Anonymous on June 10, 2006 5:25 PM writes...

Nick Carr on his blog page, talked about a sacrifice of authorial voice, a loss of context, for the contributions that are being made to Wikipedia. My point, is similar to that made by John Howkins, in his book called the Creative Economy. Basically, Howkins tries in his book to try to understand and analyse, how the government and the system treats the 'creative' individual and 'rates' their contribution to society and undervalues the work these people do. Basically, you need to work in a factory, or analyse numbers like an accountant, or produce vegetables like a farmer, or similar, before the you appear on the radar, as a part of the government's system. For creative individuals, you spend a lot of their time working together and bouncing ideas and working collaboratively, the system simply doesn't value their work as anything - they don't exist. The trouble is, that creative driven industries account for a larger and larger percentage of GDP, yet the system isn't equipped to take account of that segment in the economy. A similar anomoly is uncovered, in a book by Susan Conway, published by Microsoft Press, called 'Unlocking your Knowledge Assets'. In her book Susan, reveals, that if you 'buy-in' expertise, in the form of consultation etc, that goes on the accountants books, as an asset you acquired. While if an in-house worker spends time developing an idea, or doing research, which adds to the knowledge capital, that organisation owns, that work is described as an expenditure, or worse, a liability!

What is the point of my rant, in relation to Clay Shirky, or Nick Carr? Well, it is the point explored by John Howkins and Susan Conway, that in the knowledge economy, the knowledge workers contribution cannot be valued or accounted for in any way. In my wide experience, of the creative industry, there will be no sacrifice of any authorial voice, because it doesn't exist in the real world today, as we know it. All that can happen, is what Eric S. Raymond and Clay Skirky hint at here. And what Eric Castronova talks about in his book, Virtual Worlds. That creative people will be forced, by virtue of the real world way, we have for assessing a creative person,... all the creative people will be forced to use their own structures and means to value one another. If only to remain sane. It is bad enough to be a poor artist, but not to be even recognised as such, is the final insult. These online collaborations, fill a real void for many people who feel under-appreciated, or under recognised in modern contemporary society. I hand out in many art/cultural circles in Dublin, here in Ireland, and I am constantly being encouraged by poor under recognised members of a 'creative' bit-based, knowledge economy, to go online and join the Wiki movement. So there are real people out there, who aren't even visible in real live. But online, they have created their own currency and transact in different economies, different channels to what bankers, accountants and factory workers do, in the atom-based world, sometimes refered to, as the 'real' world.

Brian O' Hanlon.

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4. Greg Banville on June 12, 2006 5:13 PM writes...

The thing that most surprised me about the Edge article was that, while Mr. Lanier alluded to "The Wisdom of Crowds" the title of an actual book dealing with the situations where groups of people make better decisions than individuals and the situations where groups perform poorly, he gave little information that suggested he had actually read this book. Instead of citing anything in it, beyond the example of guessing the number of beans in a jar, which is available on the cover, he seemed to be going on his own steam trying to describe qualities of systems that would tend to cause groups to perform well or poorly.

On the whole, I thought that Mr. Lanier had some good points about the tendency for people to put too much credit in the results of collective aggregators. Though I think a missing piece of understanding them lies in the fact that the people who contribute to them have a common set of interests and values.

For example, I have been using for about a year now as a way of keeping bookmarks online. But when I surf the popular links I notice that the subjects that are most popular seem to be related to interests that I don't share, such as programming and web design, and that websites I am very interested in, such as forums and tutorials related to 3D animation are rarely ever bookmarked by anyone else.

These kinds of aggregators or popularity rankings suffer from several biases. They do not sample the entire population, only those with computers, who are also on the web, especially those who are connected all the time or highly mobile and who feel comfortable with forming a collection of information that could compromise their privacy.

On the whole I did not find your response to Mr. Lanier’s piece to be very informative. You have criticized him for including dissimilar examples, for taking catch-phrases too seriously and have not responded to many specific points of his article. Mr. Lanier seemed to be addressing noteworthy trends in people's attitudes towards individual judgement, at least in terms of how they are treated by corporations and the media. He related this to experiences that touched on his own life. He offered a brief analysis of the problems of Wikipedia and made suggestions, relating to other institutions of how it could be made to work better. He even included predictions about how wiki would need to be changed in the future. Surely some of these specific points show understanding and deserved to be addressed.

I think that one of your best point was that of the decline of the centrality of television or of any particular medium.

I would also like to voice two other criticisms of Mr. Lanier’s piece. One is that I find it rather spurious to claim that democratic elections are a good example of crowds making rational decisions. He seems to consider democracy superior to the process of editing Wikipedia yet there are serious shortcomings to it that I think need to be addressed before holding it up as an example. First, as an American, he should take into account that the "one man-one vote" system produces much poorer results than the Condorcet or other multiple vote systems. It might also bear mentioning that as Hayek has suggested, voting itself may have been an effort to structure politics in a way that was similar to the market. And given the tendency for any one voter to be insignificant when aggregated with large numbers of other voters we have the economic problem of "rational ignorance." Additionally there is the problem that the majority of democracies worldwide tend to elect people based on racial or religious affiliations and not on individual commitment to issues. These are all serious challenges to the idea that democracy is a form of organization that facilitates intelligent choices by groups of people, and since none of them were mentioned in Mr. Lanier’s piece I expect that we may be accepting it uncritically along with motherhood and apple-pie.

Finally, I did not see anything in his description of the qualities necessary to a strong free press as the fourth branch of government that indicated anything was wrong with the blogosphere. Maybe its just what I read and the people I talk to but I think that Instapundit, The Drudge Report, The Volokh Conspiracy and some other blogs have very strong voices, authority and individuality. When people read group blogs I see no reason to suspect that they are oblivious to the bylines of the individual authors. In fact they are more likely to know more details about an individual contributor of a blog today than readers were of newspaper columnists of 100 years ago. If anything, the rise of the blogosphere has been a good antidote to a homogeneous mainstream press which too often gets away with pretending to a complete lack of bias and writing in a passive voice that suggests there is only one viewpoint to be held by right-thinking people. The mainstream press seems to suffer from the failings that Mr. Lanier attributes to Wikipedia than the blogosphere does and the blogosphere seems to have the individuality, distinguishable voices and diversity of opinion that we respect so much in the free press of old and have found lacking in most of the centralized mainstream media of the 20th century.

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5. Anonymous on June 15, 2006 3:17 PM writes...

This isn't too well written, but anyways.... hope it is of some use to anybody here. I came up with some thoughts from my own experience, which may highlight for people, what I see as a distinction between industrial economy atom manipulation and the post industrial information economy pushing of bits.

There is a very funny sketch in a Sopranos episode, where Tony is laid up in hospital, and the token 'rocket scientist' decides to explain to the group about Quantum Theory. That we impose a separation, between the two boxers fighting on the TV screen. But really, those two boxers are made of the same material. They aren't really that different. It is just our perception, intervenes, and makes us believe the two boxers are opposing forces. Yochai Benkler touchs on this point too, in his introduction to his recent book, the wealth of networks. That we have imposed a view of things on our world, which was based on our experience living in a world of atoms. Nicholas Negroponte, in one of the final chapters in his book, Being Digital speaks about going to Geneva to discuss standards for screws, that will work around the globe. You can get all sorts of things wrong when standardising atoms. Think of all the space programs and satelites that went wrong in history. Negroponte reckons that deciding on standards for bits is much, much more forgiving.

I believe him, yet the construction industry that I work in, doesn't get it yet. That bits are not like atoms. They still want to design their bits, like they were atoms. Anything from a thumb tack, right up to an industrial facility, is all just moving those atoms around, in the right way, at the right time. Another one of Negroponte's distinctions, is to delegate rather than to 'directly manipulate'. Direct manipulation, is what we have learned from our growing up in a world, and economy based on atoms. Negroponte was critical of the early Mosaic web browsers, because they arised from our need to push and pull things, us wanting to intervene as always. Neil Gershenfeld has some interesting thoughts here:

As does George Dyson here:

In a world more and more based on bits, as in the sense of the 'knowledge economy',... delegation is a much more useful tool. You are literally delegating a lot of hard tasks, out to a kind of hive intelligence, and somehow the bits all manage to converge together in exactly the right way. For young kids growing up, in the post Seymour Papert and Mitch Resnick world of LOGO, and digital LEGO bricks, I think this distinction will be easier to understand. But for those of use who have hammers - every problem is seen as a nail. Indeed, the term in geneva, was always 'hammering' out an agreement, on what standards to have internationally! A relic of our thinking in atoms, and not in bits.

Jaron Lanier is mentioned in Ray Kurzweil's latest work, The Singularity is Near. Because Lanier reckons that hardware has advanced, but software has not, to anything like the same degree. I have found extreme brittle-ness myself in the information created to help design our buildings and architecture, in the physical world. It seems as if all the years of experience in the physical world, are working against us. Project management, is one very interesting development in modern times. Guys who learn how to find and eliminate inefficiencies in projects - based on the realisation, we are more closely connected now. You can enable 'just-in-time' production of all sorts of designs, using the bandwidth and information technology cheaply available. The traditionalists like Architects and Engineers are still have trouble learning this. That is what project management is, a disipline born in the panic of a world war II environment, because people were required desperately, who could think in terms of communications and information, saving lifes, as opposed to guns and armies. Many 'calculated' decisions were made by PMs in the war. Now, their theories and ideas have spread out into civilian life.

For me, I looked deeper and deeper in technology, to see what answers it might hold for design of physical objects like buildings. If you look at good software and networking architectures, you will see a mixture of very lightweight stuff which is more resilient and functions, when other layers might fail. They chose to separate the two layers, in TCP/IP protocol for instance. The structure of the unix operating system too, depends on an underlying layer which is lighter and simpler, easy to understand by the human brain. It must continue to funciton, even if things higher in the chain go wrong. Frederick Brooks, who was an early thinker about things atom and bit-based, was very aware about the limitations of the human brain. That is a key factor I think - build the limitations of the human brain, right into the process of how you design and make things. In that respect, the hive intelligence theory, or the highly connected world of project management, both recognise at least the limitations of a single brain. Much like Von Neumann's architecture for digital computers, recognised the limitations of computer architecture - whose memory failed every five minutes back in the day. Hive intelligence, is actually building from some sound principles, love it or hate it.

I design production facilities for industry. Some say it is a boring enough occupation, but things need to be right. Many thousands of euro could be riding on the accuracy of timeliness of your drawing documents - and how well they coordinate with one another. The whole construction industry though is still 'hooked' on top-down managerial BS. It hasn't realised how forgiveable the bits can be, if you give them a chance. Unlike atoms, which are totally un-forgiving. Have you ever done a bit of home DIY carpentry. A simple thing like putting up a shelf, can be a nightmare. You need an expert, when dealing with atoms. But with bits, the expert can very often be a bottleneck. The trouble is, the experts don't trust bits, the same way, as one couldn't trust an atom. In this respect, they are missing one of the biggest chances to benefit from the bit-based method, in ways, not available in manipulation of atoms.

I have worked under a lot of very strict engineers, who tried to control everything. But when I eventually employed a sort of hive intelligence approach myself on my own work, I found better results. Indeed, the strict single engineers version 1.0 was always brilliant. Better than I could ever do. But his 2.0, was always have broken, and subsequent releases of the drawing documents became jamb full of errors and lack of coordination. Of course, that is when people just dug in, argued a lot, and not very much could grow organically beyond the success of the original 1.0. Even though people were still working on the project, and pretending to 'improve' things, you were steadily getting less and less information as you went forward instead of more. Every new piece of info, tended to 'overwrite' a couple of older bits of perfectly good info.

So you can see, great progress is made, when you begin to recognise and appreciate the limitations of human beings and their brains. When I started the hive intelligence approach though, it horrified engineers that the 1.0 didn't 'present' as well. But now they are used to it, I find the project can grow and scale far beyond 1.0. Indeed, you are seeing what you never saw with the top-down all-mighty manager approach,... you are seeing steady improvement in the quality of information, and therefore massive construction cost savings, as the project continues, and more people add their two pennies to it. This is made possible using cheap networks and processors at the edges. The technology isn't that bad, what is hampering us though, is our own attitudes on how to get things done. You need this kind of blind faith in bits though, if you want to venture far into the information space, that are modern complex problems. It was too much to ask earlier generations, to have this faith I believe. But look it, the youth are growing up today, with playstations on their living room floors and email, mobile phones, text messaging etc. Their brains will literally develop 'around' the machine, unlike ours, which developed around the atom.

Brian O' Hanlon.

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7. Anonymous on June 20, 2006 1:09 PM writes...

There is a point I need to make here guys. What struck me about this blog post here:

I am very much reminded of something Richard Stallman said, about books, early on. Sometimes a copy of a book was made, with commentary notes interspersed in the original text. Sometimes these commentary works, became important books in themselves.

There is something about blogging as a medium, that reminds me very much of Stallman's analysis of book copies with commentaries.

Brian O' Hanlon.

Quote from RMS:

"Because of the way books were produced the ancient world didn’t have the same vacant gulf between copying and writing a book that we have become accustomed to today. They did understand the idea of what an author was. They knew, say, that this play was written by Sophocles but in addition to, in between just writing a book or on one hand copying a book, on the other extreme there are intermediate possibilities, you could copy part and then write some of your own words and then copy some more and write some of your own words, and copy some more, and so on. This was called a commentary, and such works sometimes became very popular. They were considered important contributions. And you could copy some of this book, and write some things of your own, and then copy some of this book and then write some things of your own, and then copy some of that book and so on, and these compendia were also very important. There are works that have been lost but parts of them survive because they were quoted in compendia, which were more popular and did survive. And all these different intermediate activities were all considered worthy things to do."

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8. Paul B. Hartzog on June 21, 2006 9:09 PM writes...

As someone who has blogged for Many-to-Many in the past, I'm just sharing my own response to Lanier:

Is Collective Action Collectivism?

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9. Anonymous on June 24, 2006 3:30 PM writes...

One of my recent thoughts about Lanier's essay is summed up, in the following quote by Ilya Prigogine.

Brian O' Hanlon.

"If changes in one small area are too quickly communicated across a system as a whole, they would tend to be dampened out. New and dissenting ideas need time to accumulate evidence and argument."

Ilya Prigogine, winner of a nobel prize for chemistry,

His presentation speech.

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10. Anonymous on June 24, 2006 5:26 PM writes...

I haven't time to go into this properly, bear with me, I might get a chance later on, to do this properly, but here goes noth'in.

David Isenberg in an essay I read this morning, says that Telcos are scared of the advance of commodity wires. Isenberg called for the separation of wires from services. The wires should be laid by a semi-government body. Services should compete in the marketplace. People who delivery content are scared too. People involved in the delivery of music, literature, cinema etc, etc. That includes Encyclopedia Brittanica.

I would go one step further and say, that everyone with a university qualification, will be worthless in years to come. Worthless, that is, by today's definition of 'value' these professionals supposedly provide. They are threatened by cheap commodity 'knowledge workers' like myself. People who lay the cheap wires within organisations. My salary comes out of petty cash, but the value I add to an organisation is very tangible. The professionals are definitely scared of me. People like myself, who operate by moving the bits, but without the university papers.

On the one hand, they need me, because I make the information move and cost very little. But in hiring me at all, it erodes away their business model. That is the paradox, that David Isenberg is concerned by in telecommunications. But the paradox is just as real, in modern day organisations. As David Isenberg would say, the network I create is very dumb in the middle. With movement of a mouse and keyboard keys, I collect information from many sources. My system doesn't require a professional, an expert, to work.

So how have the professionals responded to me? Bear two things in mind.

(1) They pontificate a lot about the need for speed.

(2) Increasingly, they are rear-loading the design process.

I want to use Herb Simon's definition of 'design' here. Namely, all people are designers who try to change something from a state they are not happy with.

I work in the construction industry, and am available on commodity rates. I am skilled at pushing the bits around a screen, and know instinctively how to build information in a way, it remains 'dumb' in the middle. I like to make the conduits for information within the organisation, as dumb as possible. The best network is the dumb network. But there is the paradox, the dumb network is a commodity service.

Where does that leave professionals? People who have trained in their respective areas. Who depend upon the network being intelligent in the middle rather than at the edges. Speed serves to push the initial version of projects through with mistakes built into them, so that the professionals have something to do later, trying to solve the mistakes the built into the design day one. This is called 'rear-loading', because the professional then benefits in salary and bonuses from solving the problems they put there in the first place. The value added part is in working around tricky problems and inefficiencies that were built into the design, by professionals who did the early stage design, in record time!

The professionals are clever enough, to know, that if they implement a kludge at early design stages, using the guise of speed to justify pushing the design through initially, very fast,... that later on, much, much higher fees and rewards, and travel, meetings, social status etc, await them when they return to sort out their own messes. By that stage the clients will have waded so deep into a project, and sunk so much initial investment, that going back to the drawing board will not be an option.

That is what most modern professionals are proped up by, nothing more. Selling the future, to buy the present. Like in economics, you canabalise your existing resources, so that your kids pay the price for your lack of investment. Professionals today are living on borrowed time. The economics do not stack up. Technology, and the god of speed is allowing professionals to design systems much too fast, because they know there are huge consultation fees to be made, patching up the botch later. At some stage in the future, I predict, the value of professionals in society will drop to less than zero. Just like it will for the Telcos, and the content distributors.

The other option now, is to bite the bullet. Balance the need for speed with the need for selective slowness. The kiddies eager to buy Porsches, with their consultation fees will not like it. But at least it will create a sustainable future for professionals. In all design processes, you need selective slowness, in order to front-load the design process. You can buy commodity services, like mine, to provide a structured design and information about that design that flows very easily into later stages. As David Isenberg described, the services need to compete in the open market. That is what professionals need to do. They have received far too much 'protection' in modern times. Like the Telco's are depending on the mess of a network they have created, and the consultation fees they charge for making it all work.

I hope you liked my rant. I want to put a spin, on recent discussions about the 'cut and paste culture'. Surely, today's modern graduates are all going to be 'copy and pasters'. The need for speed fanaticism, is about short term borrowing. Using a future as collateral, to pay for an over exuberant present. They all de-value themselves by this 'need for speed'. Today's professionals are merely empowering the un-qualified knowledge worker such as myself, in the long run. I know this now, from my experience out there in the trenches. But the modern day educational institution is unaware. They continue to churn out copy/pasters each and every year.

Brian O' Hanlon.

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11. Anonymous on June 27, 2006 2:55 PM writes...

By the way, I would include 'Web 2.0' as a prime example of this behaviour. Young professionals are just selling a future to pay for their distorted present. You can see the 'speed' with which the initial web technology was rolled out. The professionals were all 'confident' they would be called back later on, to patch things up. This is the rear-loading of the design process.

It is a dilema facing many talented people nowadays. How to avoid the temptation of going for the quick buck. How to build something more long term and sustainable. We have Google as Big Brother, we have Google storing videos of farts. It looks like a sign of desperation to me really. Rather than a sign that people want to figure out the long term plan.

Brian O' Hanlon.

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12. being sk on September 7, 2006 11:34 PM writes...

What's missing for me in Lanier's piece is a critical view on personal biases and ego-enriched information. I like the concept of ego-less information which sometimes is just what you need. E.g. edit trails on Wikipedia are completely transparent which can't really be said for much of the information provided by professional journalists or scientists. Also Lanier's belief in the "absolute truth", right and wrong, and a clear preference for intelligent scientists vs the essentially dumb collective is somewhat limiting and dated. Wikipedia and Quantum Physics are excellent examples for highlighting how seemingly conflicting "truths" can all be "correct" at the same time. Given that historically most of the consumed information has been dominated by individuals/specialists it seems appropriate that a manifestation of the collective model receives a lot of attention these days. What's wrong with that ... it'll calm down as people find out when the collective is more useful than the individual and vice versa.

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13. malcolm on December 11, 2006 5:18 AM writes...

Brian, thanks for the kind review of my article

I was aiming to get a dialogue going through commentary on the Lanier article, and have succeeded to a small extent. It is difficult, though, to maintain a dialogue acrosss blogs. I returned here only after doing a one-off search on the above URL.

Maybe this is an advantage of Wikipedia? If you wanted to talk about "hive mind" on Wikipedia you would simply congegate in the article on this concept - you would not be posting across disparate blogs.

By the way, the hive mind (I think) is a very bad metaphor. The individuals very much make their presence felt on talk pages and history. I'm even thinking of announcing my wikipedia changes in a job interview. The interviewee could see eaxctly my contributions through the history mechanism.

No drone me, we're all queens on Wikipedia :-)

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14. Malcolm on December 11, 2006 5:20 AM writes...

You can also edit on Wikipedia! I meant interviewer (not interviewee) in the second last paragraph. And please excuse typos.

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15. TheComingDarkAge on May 17, 2007 12:01 AM writes...

Wikipedia is wonderful and no one should question it. Ever. Or we the people will kill you and destroy any trace of your weak minority view!

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The Future Belongs to Those Who Take The Present For Granted: A return to Fred Wilson's "age question"