Thursday, June 01, 2006

The wisdom of mobs and other fairy tales

Aldo Castaneda writes a thoughtful blog on Identity issues but is perhaps best known for his series of podcasts called "The Story of Digital Identity" in which he interviews just about everybody with any standing in the industry. He recently pointed to a quote from Jaron Lanier in DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism -

"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. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn't make it any less dangerous."

The intelligence, foresight and reasoning of any group - no matter it's size - will always seek the lowest common denominator. You can see this effect whenever you're part of a group of 3 or more people. If you're lucky, the group will be fairly sophisticated in it's reasoning behavior and so the collective wisdom will be wise. But as the group gets larger, the LCD gets lower. It's one reason why small committees are more productive (and more successful) than large ones.

Mob wisdom leads to mob rule and that way lies anarchy.

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