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A Broadside Against Collectivism

Wow. Just read a great essay on Edge called “DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism” by computer scientist Jaron Lanier. The essay is a massive broadside against the trend towards collective editing and decision-making that is taking hold online (the Wisdom of Crowds trend). Lanier takes aim at the use of collectivism in venues as diverse as Wikipedia (and all Wikis really), American Idol, Google and news aggregator sites like Digg and PopURLs. It’s a great, thought provoking piece.

Here is my favorite quote from the piece:

“…an individual best achieves optimal stupidity on those rare occasions when one is both given substantial powers and insulated from the results of his or her actions. If the above criteria have any merit, then there is an unfortunate convergence. The setup for the most stupid collective is also the setup for the most stupid individuals.”

And Damien’s favorite:

“The hive mind should be thought of as a tool. Empowering the collective does not empower individuals — just the reverse is true. There can be useful feedback loops set up between individuals and the hive mind, but the hive mind is too chaotic to be fed back into itself.”

Anyway, read it.

On an unrelated note, I found this on a great blog called Rough Type. Worth a read too.