Thursday, June 15, 2006

Collective intelligence

"In the last year or two the trend has been to remove the scent of people, so as to come as close as possible to simulating the appearance of content emerging out of the Web as if it were speaking to us as a supernatural oracle. This is where the use of the Internet crosses the line into delusion."- Jaron Lanier, in "Digital Maoism: The Hazards Of The New Online Collectivism", published in Edge.


Surly Terrier said...

I often think that the Internet has become inordinately dangerous in many ways...the possible spread of misinformation from a supposed "oracle" among them. We have seen many examples of the sort of delusion this quote mentions. When anyone...anyone can set him or herself up as a font of information, are there any limits to the muck that can be spread?

MaLj said...

The web has become the first place where to look for "objective" facts; news; literary, sensationalist or academic texts; photos; and musical works. This can lead to strange results, as only a part (but a very impressive part) of the products of human intellectual or artistic work are available free (or pirated) in digital form. People expect to find what they need, and what they want, and so are content with: what they find.

A young couple here are going to marry. They plan everything around the wedding with the help of friends and the net. When they suddenly felt a wish to decide on the music for the ceremony, from a list of possible songs they ahd got from someone, they asked a computer guru to locate the music for them on the web (don't ask how -- I don't know, and I don't want to know). "Immediately, please."

Some years ago, such a wish to listen to possible pieces for a wedding or a funeral would have meant they had to ask a church musician to play the songs live for them. These days, it is also easy to find cheap Naxos (or other) cd's with collections of music for various occasions.

Had they asked me when we met recently, or bothered to make a new visit, I could surely have found most of the songs among the sheet music I have on my piano, and done some sort of demo event for them... But that had meant to take the risk of encountering a human being, in the real world.

MaLj said...

This is a comment MWM sent me:

I saw your Jaron Lanier quote from Digital Maoism. Speaking of "annoyance," I was so pissed off at his fatuous comments about Wikipedia on a CBC broadcast two weeks ago that I sent them this:

I listened to Jaron Lanier's criticisms of Wikipedia this morning with growing despair. These were not the problems that have plagued Wikipedia from the outset, such as incorrect facts or opinions masquerading as facts. No, Lanier's problem with Wikipedia is what he terms "digital Maoism," the triumph of a mob mentality over individual thought.

The details of Mr. Lanier's shallow and disorganized rationale for this claim needn't detain us. Mr. Lanier is apparently unaware that pitting individualism against collectivism stems from the cartoonish 'philosophy' of Ayn Rand. Ironically, he objects to the collectivist 'mob' mentality serving capitalism, where Ms. Rand believes that it serves socialism. When people can come to opposite conclusions using the same intellectual tools, the tools themselves are flawed or bankrupt. There IS no distinction between collective and individual. The very idea is a grotesque oversimplification. Two centuries of sociological thought have gone to show its absurdity. Painfully and plainly, none of this is known to Mr. Lanier. He contents himself with simplistic idea, the mob vs. 'the individual'--whoever SHE is when she's home--and a buzzword _expression, digital Maoism, because he doesn't really know what he's talking about. But he does know how to make a good impression on the radio: a little controversial, not too complicated intellectually, no more than one idea per interview--just like the rest of the mob of talking heads..