That’s the subject of a very powerful set of essays published recently in the Edge World Question Center. I haven’t read all of them yet; I was working through them sequentially when I received an e-mail from Pat Kane of ThePlayEthic, pointing me at the answer given by Kevin Kelly. [Thanks, Pat, and I look forward to meeting you on Thursday.]
I loved it. And I suggest you stop whatever you’re doing and read it, now.
Everything I knew about the structure of information convinced me that knowledge would not spontaneously emerge from data, without a lot of energy and intelligence deliberately directed to transforming it. All the attempts at headless collective writing I had been involved with in the past only generated forgettable trash. Why would anything online be any different?
How wrong I was. The success of the Wikipedia keeps surpassing my expectations. Despite the flaws of human nature, it keeps getting better. Both the weakness and virtues of individuals are transformed into common wealth, with a minimum of rules and elites. It turns out that with the right tools it is easier to restore damage text (the revert function on Wikipedia) than to create damage text (vandalism) in the first place, and so the good enough article prospers and continues. With the right tools, it turns out the collaborative community can outpace the same number of ambitious individuals competing.
It has always been clear that collectives amplify power â€” that is what cities and civilizations are â€” but what’s been the big surprise for me is how minimal the tools and oversight are needed. The bureaucracy of Wikipedia is relatively so small as to be invisible. It’s the Wiki’s embedded code-based governance, versus manager-based governance that is the real news. Yet the greatest surprise brought by the Wikipedia is that we still don’t know how far this power can go.
It is one of those things impossible in theory, but possible in practice. Once you confront the fact that it works, you have to shift your expectation of what else that is impossible in theory might work in practice.
When you grow up knowing rather than admitting that such a thing as the Wikipedia works; when it is obvious to you that open source software is better; when you are certain that sharing your photos and other data yields more than safeguarding them â€” then these assumptions will become a platform for a yet more radical embrace of the commonwealth.
Generation M is growing up knowing that Wikipedia works; to Generation M, it is obvious that open source software is better; Generation M, the Multimedia, Multitasking, Mobile Generation, is certain that sharing photos and other data yields more than safeguarding them.
Generation M understands what Kevin Kelly says here:
Both the weakness and virtues of individuals are transformed into common wealth, with a minimum of rules and elites. It turns out that with the right tools it is easier to restore damage text (the revert function on Wikipedia) than to create damage text (vandalism) in the first place, and so the good enough article prospers and continues. With the right tools, it turns out the collaborative community can outpace the same number of ambitious individuals competing.
In other words, for Generation M, or maybe the generation after that, the tragedy of the commons can be overcome, the free rider problem can be overcome, they have seen the promised land: The collaborative community can outpace the same number of ambitious individuals competing.
I have to repeat that. The collaborative community can outpace the same number of ambitious individuals competing.
Read it and weep. With joy. Because it is just possible that future generations may not have to put up with the trash that we have.
6 thoughts on “What have you changed your mind about?”
The idea of usable knowledge as an emergent property of raw data is intriguing. I think that with the launches of Wikio and Knol, we’ll soon see more implications of this form of cultural evolution.
I see the golden age.
The web creates emerging value from connections. And that’s exactly what an economy does – by differentiation, selection and amplification.
Both the web and the economy function as complex adaptive systems, it seems to me.
It doesn’t surprise me therefore that the fastest growing company in history exists in the age of the web (google).
It makes the $100 laptop project all the more important – because those who aren’t connected will be missing out on this golden age.
But I also suspect it means we’ll be able to afford to help out those who would otherwise struggle to connect.
The entire post is very informative, but the one thing that grabbed my attention was at the very end. Could you elaborate on your definition of what “trash” those of us raised before Generation M have had to deal with? I have always been a believer that knowledge is the great equalizer. Knowledge is gained (in one way) through information. When I saw “trash” on your post, it brought me to the feeling that we live in an age where no longer will we have to deal with what I call the “Intellectual Snobs”. Those that believe they are better than others only because they feel they “know” more than others. Today, the information is out there for all to have (a point made by an earlier comment, important to help “all” have the ability to obtain it) and therefore knock those “Intellectual Snobs” off of their self placed pedestals. This would be one of my definitions of the “trash” we have had to endure.
Changed my mind about something? Good question, JP – and to be honest it’s social networking:
Am I missing something…?