Friday, January 15, 2010

Internet hive mind - the madness of crowds

John Tierney does an interesting review of computer guru Jaron Lanier's new book "You Are Not a Gadget." which is a manifesto against “hive thinking” and “digital Maoism” - by which he means the glorification of open-source software, free information and collective work at the expense of individual creativity. Lanier (slightly edited):
...blames the Web’s tradition of “drive-by anonymity” for fostering vicious pack behavior on blogs, forums and social networks. He acknowledges the examples of generous collaboration, like Wikipedia, but argues that the mantras of “open culture” and “information wants to be free” have produced a destructive new social contract....“The basic idea of this contract,” he writes, “is that authors, journalists, musicians and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.” ...masses of “digital peasants” are forced to provide free material to a few “lords of the clouds” like Google and YouTube.

Mr. Lanier was once an advocate himself for piracy, arguing that his fellow musicians would make up for the lost revenue in other ways. Sure enough, some musicians have done well selling T-shirts and concert tickets, but it is striking how many of the top-grossing acts began in the predigital era, and how much of today’s music is a mash-up of the old....“It’s as if culture froze just before it became digitally open, and all we can do now is mine the past like salvagers picking over a garbage dump,” Mr. Lanier writes. Or, to use another of his grim metaphors: “Creative people — the new peasants — come to resemble animals converging on shrinking oases of old media in a depleted desert.”...To save those endangered species, Mr. Lanier proposes rethinking the Web’s ideology, revising its software structure and introducing innovations like a universal system of micropayments.

1 comment:

  1. Brandon4:49 PM

    It is more complex than the simple analogies that Mr. Lanier uses. I believe Umair Haque gives a much more accurate analysis of what is happening in his article The New Economics of Music. In most of these media situations the consumer is left in a what economists call a moral hazard. They can't know much about the product until they have consumed it, yet they must pay first. We don't know if the music is garbage or not. We can't get refunds if it is. We have long been expected to take all the risk. The new model has let consumers escape this but now puts the moral hazard on the producers.

    Great blog by the way.