I like that you posted this here. I hope others will have a chance to comment on these ideas.
Lanier loses me right away when he invokes “Mao”. He does have some criticisms worth thinking about, but I don’t think that it’s accurate to automatically categorize all group-oriented behavior as being equal to communism. Of course, I realize that Lanier chose to include “Maoism” in his title to be provacative. Still, he is fundamentally wrong about the nature of the group oriented cultures that are emerging now. They are not solving their problems of existence in the same way that people who lived under communist rule and/or supported communism did.
They also could use some MediaLiteracy?, a la MarshallMcLuhan?, so that they can understand that every human technological innovation, evolution and tool will produce a potential spectrum of uses ranging from the benevolant to the malevolant, from creative to destructive. That any technology can enhance, and yet can also overextended in it’s use, and reverse into something else.
I don’t see the demon “Mao” hiding amongst the shadows of all of the tools and and “Meta” aggregators that people are developing. Nor do I see him hiding among the development of AI.
The real totalitarian danger, in my mind, is not among people voluntarily cooperating and collaborating online. Nor is it from the emergence of AI, or the attitude among web application designers of “Meta”. The real danger to indviduals comes not from below, but from above. From the people who can datamine us, and track every little thing we do, and try to coerce us into doing what they want us to do, or into believing what they want us to believe. Voluntary cooperation and sharing of knowledge is starting unmask and shed light on these manipulative uses of media and technology. One example is SourceWatch. People need a way to data mine the data miners, to watch the watchers, and to understand the possible ways that they might be manipulated and controlled. They need ways to understand how they work in BioPsychoSocial? ways. The number one candidate for lowering the barrier of entry to that knowledge for millions and possibly billions of people? Surprise! It’s open source and free software used to collectively build a knowledge commons!
I do think that Lanier makes a good point where he writes:
Every authentic example of collective intelligence that I am aware of also shows how that collective was guided or inspired by well-meaning individuals. These people focused the collective and in some cases also corrected for some of the common hive mind failure modes. The balancing of influence between people and collectives is the heart of the design of democracies, scientific communities, and many other long-standing projects. There’s a lot of experience out there to work with. A few of these old ideas provide interesting new ways to approach the question of how to best use the hive mind.
Most successful collaborations are a hybrid mix of social negotiation and stigmergic collaboration.
Also, check out Howard Rheingold’s blog post about this subject, where he discusses the difference between “collectivism” and “collective action”.
ZbigniewLukasiak, I like your focus on specific failures vs. a grand sweeping damnation of anything associated. You make a great point when you write:
This is the real nature of human created technology, as often discussed by MarshallMcLuhan?. It is a spectrum of possibilities. I think that it is possible that we might eventually find as a species, through exploration and trial and error, that many mediums are this malleable, but that we thus far lacked the ability to engage them.
For instance, all of the emerging technologies that RayKurzweil? discusses in “The Singularity Is Near” (Quantum computing, AI, genetics, etc) may all turn out to be highly malleable mediums. If buy into MarshallMcLuhan?’s LawsOfMedia?, then in certain dimensions, they are all guaranteed to be.
I always find Jaron Lanier interesting and thought-provoking, even though at times I disagree with him.
One of the things I find interesting about Wikipedia is that people are encouraged to go beyond simply stating true facts. People are also encouraged to add some sort of explanation and/or references to experts, to convince others that these facts are true.
Alas, it sometimes seems that Wikipedia articles end up with “facts” and “explanations” designed to “seem reasonable” and emotionally appealing to the majority of people who don’t have time for in-depth fact-checking. But I get the same impression even more often listening to media companies and individual politicians.
Lanier claims that A desirable text is more than a collection of accurate references. It is also an expression of personality. … In some cases I have noticed specific texts get cloned from original sites at universities or labs onto wiki pages. And when that happens, each text loses part of its value.
I agree that I prefer a text with personality (a sense of humor, etc.) over a text that has been edited to strip out all personality (no humor, too much passive voice and other serious-sounding formalisms).
But I have seen many pages on various wiki that have a wonderful sense of humor.
In the specific case of trying to understand physics, there seems to be a progression of physics textbooks, each of which is inspired by and attempts to improve on the last, creating a chain all the way back to Newton and earlier. And physics students don’t really care about individual dead white males, they want to know about the universe around them now. (Well, at least that happened with this physics student). I refuse to believe that all those “new” textbooks are a waste of time. I suppose from a historical perspective none of these textbooks are as “important” as Newton’s original work. But from my perspective of a student trying to understand physics, the “new, improved” books actually are more valuable (easier to understand, more accurate, with metaphors and literal images that are more memorable, etc.) than the original.
While I think I agree with Lanier that individual responsibility is important, I think he is over-emphasizing this “reputation” thing. Most teachers I know would be happy if all their students learned their subjects well, even if those students completely forgot about that teacher (that teacher would have no reputation with those students).
What’s more interesting to me than the article, which is more and extended rant about how Lanier feels misrepresented by Wikipedia, is the way he uses language to attract readers and the “meta” by what I’d like to call MemeHunting.
Before you criticise some idea or create a meta theory about it, you IMO should describe this specific idea in your own language, as positive and supportfull you are able. After this, you can bring any counter-arguments you can think of. Unfortunately this takes some time …
I personaly think, that Lanier is right at the core of his argument. It is very dangerous to think “I am right since I am part of the collective” and this is the core of “maoism”.
Thomas, I don’t think that your definition of Maoism is mainstream, it also would not be semantically useful because it’s not specific “Mao” and too pejorative.
Almost all people in all situation think they are right. Single individuals like you and me, organisations and other collectives too. There is really nothing special, interesting or noteworthy about this fact. Only the meme seems to justify interest and I argue that this is a bad reason.
Thomas, I hadn’t actually thought about what you suggest.
“Before you criticise some idea or create a meta theory about it, you IMO should describe this specific idea in your own language, as positive and supportfull you are able.”
I’ll take a crack at your suggestion (although it’s too late for me to do it in the order you suggest). Here’s my best supportive description of DigitalMaoism:
DigitalMaoism is a warning that people avoid allowing themselves to be swept up into a “hype” about crowd wisdom. It is a warning that the indvidual can be marginalized in a culture that values groups over individuals. It is a warning that people can lose their individual freedoms and voices by sacrificing themselves to the group “HiveMind”. I agree with the spirit of these cautions.
Sam, thank you.