Digital Maoism
August 15, 2006 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism. An essay by Jaron Lanier.
posted by mr_crash_davis (70 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Summary: film director Jaron Lanier annoyed at Wikipedia goblins
posted by fleetmouse at 9:14 AM on August 15, 2006


Wikipedia evil! Booga booga!
posted by blucevalo at 9:19 AM on August 15, 2006



posted by brownpau at 9:24 AM on August 15, 2006 [5 favorites]


Did you guys read past the first couple of paragraphs?
posted by everichon at 9:24 AM on August 15, 2006


I got to the point where Lanier was described as a "digital visionary" and then threw up.
posted by Sailor Martin at 9:26 AM on August 15, 2006


Yeah, I got down to

Why isn't everyone screaming about the recent epidemic of inappropriate uses of the collective?

Yes, it is THE most pressing issue of our troubled times.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:27 AM on August 15, 2006


I'm pretty sure this has been addressed before, and it bares repeating. There are two contradictory philosophies at work, from different disciplines.

1. Markets (groups of people) are smart, and 2. (individual) People are Dumb.

In Lanier's world only the "experts" are fit to determine what is important, and how it should be portrayed. The rabble can't possibly know what they know.

As we've seen over and over, groups of elitists with narrow specialization and perspectives get so bogged down by self affirmation and group think that they get blindsided by the diversity of "the crowd".

Yes, we know MySpace is crap. But is it crap to everyone, or only the elitists. Millions of people can like crap, can't they? The crowd may not be correct, but it isn't always wrong.
posted by rzklkng at 9:27 AM on August 15, 2006


Thanks brownpau. You owe me a new keyboard.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:28 AM on August 15, 2006


And he notes that "the Wikipedia is far from being the only online fetish site for foolish collectivism. There's a frantic race taking place online to become the most "Meta" site, to be the highest level aggregator, subsuming the identity of all other sites".
Did we just get insulted?
posted by boo_radley at 9:30 AM on August 15, 2006


Great stuff in that piece. I particularly like his comments concerning American Idol/John Lennon, and his distinction between what the collective mind is good at and what it isn't. Thanks for the link.
posted by dead_ at 9:32 AM on August 15, 2006


Oh, and so far collectivism has been referred to as "Amoral" via Nick Carr, and "Communism" via Andrew Keen. So what? The informations accuracy isn't the treat - it's the upending of the information social order and the threat it poses to media companies, institutions, moral leaders, and gatekeepers.
posted by rzklkng at 9:33 AM on August 15, 2006


I'm rather disappointed by the comments here so far. What he's talking about, injecting humans into the process of filtering the web for valuable information rather than relying on machines to find something useful by averaging a bunch of votes, is exactly what makes MetaFilter more interesting than, say, Digg.

In Lanier's world only the "experts" are fit to determine what is important, and how it should be portrayed. The rabble can't possibly know what they know.

I think you missed this part:

The collective isn't always stupid. In some special cases the collective can be brilliant.
posted by scottreynen at 9:37 AM on August 15, 2006


And he notes that "the Wikipedia is far from being the only online fetish site for foolish collectivism. There's a frantic race taking place online to become the most "Meta" site, to be the highest level aggregator, subsuming the identity of all other sites".

Well, that's silly. Higher-order aggregators collapse to second-order aggregators. On the HTTP virtual machine, all URI-addressable values are first-class.
posted by sonofsamiam at 9:37 AM on August 15, 2006


Ah yes, Jaron. Didn't recognize him without his virtual reality X-Ray specs.
posted by hal9k at 9:38 AM on August 15, 2006


In Lanier's world only the "experts" are fit to determine what is important, and how it should be portrayed. The rabble can't possibly know what they know.

I would tend to think he's not directly arguing this, rather that he's suggesting the collective could just use a bit of guidance, some steering. He very explicitly points out the benefits of the collective with his simple jelly bean counting example.

He's not saying experts should be the ones determining what is important, just that the collective is useless unless you have someone, as he says, to put the jellybeans in the jar so that the hive can count them up and sort things out properly.

As he writes:


Here is a quick pass at where I think the boundary between effective collective thought and nonsense lies: The collective is more likely to be smart when it isn't defining its own questions, when the goodness of an answer can be evaluated by a simple result (such as a single numeric value,) and when the information system which informs the collective is filtered by a quality control mechanism that relies on individuals to a high degree. Under those circumstances, a collective can be smarter than a person. Break any one of those conditions and the collective becomes unreliable or worse.


I also tend to agree with him about Wikipedia removing flavor from the Internet, though I sure love it's convenience.
posted by dead_ at 9:39 AM on August 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


boo_radley: We're the collective to end all collectives! All hail comrade leader matthowie!
posted by matematichica at 9:40 AM on August 15, 2006


Yeah, Wikipedia is just like a top-down system where if you offend the Great Leader you get shot. I'm tempted to call Lanier an idiot, but he's clearly a smart fellow, he just has his little axe to grind and (like most navel-gazing commentators) uses reality only as a prop for his axe-grinding.

Myspace is a richer, multi-layered, source of information than the Wikipedia...


Uh, sure thing, Jason. Whatever you say.
posted by languagehat at 9:41 AM on August 15, 2006


Jaron, I mean. The famous film director.
posted by languagehat at 9:42 AM on August 15, 2006


I think he's saying that Myspace is a richer source of information because it isn't devoid of context. Maybe it can't tell you much about the periodic table, but there is plenty of information to be gleaned from it in terms of trends and behavior; it seems that he calls it rich and multi-layered because the individual is still preserved.
posted by dead_ at 9:45 AM on August 15, 2006


Steven Levy in this week's Newsweek magazine regarding Lanier's essay: Poking a Stick Into The 'Hive Mind'
posted by ericb at 9:48 AM on August 15, 2006


Reactions to Digital Maoism.
posted by ericb at 9:52 AM on August 15, 2006


"I don't like Wikipedia because my entry is wrong. This is because it's edited by the same people who have bought more Kelly Clarkson albums than David Byrne albums. Thus, nearly all collective effort that doesn't involve smart people like me sucks, and, I think, nearly all collective effort that doesn't specifically involve me sucks. Better yet if you just skip the collective effort and do what I say is right."

Visionary, my ass. Lanier is famous for writing one book about virtual reality, and it might as well have been a book about flying cars. He's irrelevant, and always has been.
posted by solid-one-love at 10:02 AM on August 15, 2006


Lanier, Jaron. (2006). DIGITAL MAOISM:
The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism. Edge: The Third Culture.
Retrieved August 15, 2006 from http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/lanier06/lanier06_index.html

ABSTRACT: The World Wide Web as currently presented is not cool.
Virtual Reality was supposed to make it way better than this.

posted by Smart Dalek at 10:03 AM on August 15, 2006


Damn you, solid-one-love!
posted by Smart Dalek at 10:06 AM on August 15, 2006


Well worth reading, even if I don't agree with him whole-heartedly.

It got off to a bad start with the 'my wikipedia article sucks' ego-stroking at the beginning, though.
posted by empath at 10:07 AM on August 15, 2006


And I wondered why, you know, he didn't just edit the thing himself.
posted by boo_radley at 10:17 AM on August 15, 2006


I'm glad to see others questioning Lanier's 'genius'...He's a smart enough guy, but 'visionary'? He doesn't live up to the billing.
posted by allelopath at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2006


boo, did you actually read the article?
posted by empath at 10:24 AM on August 15, 2006


For those too lazy to read, dead_ has summarized the article very well.

(In other words, its about as insightful as a slightl above average mefi comment, no more, no less.)
posted by vacapinta at 10:35 AM on August 15, 2006


This article freaking ROCKS. It's a great response to all the hive mind people who think that just because you can use the wisdom of crowds to count jellybeans in a jar, that it should be the de facto way everything is decided in future society everywhere. It's a great indictment of using market forces to determine everything. There are definitely some "tyranny of the expert" problems many places [the public library is FAMOUS for this] but it's important to be able to know when it's okay to trust your experts and when you need to look to collective wisdom.

Lanier can be a bit of a loon at times, but this article is absolutely non-loony. He is a little down on Wikipedia, but that seems pretty typical for anyone who has watched their own content or an article about them go all crazy.
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.

These are just a few ideas about how to train a potentially dangerous collective and not let it get out of the yard. When there’s a problem, you want it to bark but not bite you.

The illusion that what we already have is close to good enough, or that it is alive and will fix itself, is the most dangerous illusion of all. By avoiding that nonsense, it ought to be possible to find a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without turning ourselves into idiots. The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.
posted by jessamyn at 10:40 AM on August 15, 2006 [3 favorites]


Remember when "Wired" was cool and we were all supposed to be wearing VR goggles and having cyber sex and taking virtual vacations?
posted by 2sheets at 10:40 AM on August 15, 2006


It's a pretty awful argument. Markets aren't supposed to be 'smart' they are supposed to be efficient. This isn't about any nebulous concept of "quality" it's about money. Wikipedia, the various aggregators, open source development--they are all remarkably efficient. Why should we pay companies to do this work when they can be effectively outsourced to THE COLLECTIVE (note the all caps for maximum scare)? If Wikipedia is "good enough" why pay experts? Of course, note that it's THE COLLECTIVE that decides what's "good enough."

Of course calling it "the collective" is wrong. There's no such entity in reality. All of the examples he cites are made up of individual people. (Except maybe for the occasional dog that likes to browse the internet and contribute here and there). What distinguishes these groups is the elimination of expensive hierarchical/top-down/command-and-control structures you find in most human ventures. One way to look at something like open-source is as corporations with no management. The lack of management means nobody gets paid, sure, but it also means you don't have to waste oodles of times "strategizing." This makes sense. The only reason management exists in the first place is to lower transaction costs. If the transaction costs are low enough because of instaneous telecommunication, well then there's no reason to pay somebody to manage the process.

The appeal to quality is a classic anti-capitalist argument but it's a non-starter. Nobody cares about quality. Nobody cares about handmade, expertly-reviewed stuff. People care about what works and how much it costs.

And, on another note, this:

Without an independent press, composed of heroic voices, the collective becomes stupid and unreliable, as has been demonstrated in many historical instances.

is just dishonest. Yeah, the press keeps citizens informed except, you know, it's completely the other way around. The press aren't some Platonic Guardians, they are employees who work for companies that want to make a profit. No press is independent because it, like all other institutions in a democracy, is subject to the free market. This is the way it's always been and the way it always will be. An "independent press" is like a yellow dog--fun to think about, but still just a pipe dream. The only reason there are still newspapers at all is because there are still a lot of high transaction costs involved in actually going out and collecting news. Nobody's going to purchase a newspaper just because they're afraid democracy will fall to "digital maoism."
posted by nixerman at 10:41 AM on August 15, 2006


Huh, a visionary who is afaid of the internet. The essay seems to be little more than a catalog of simplistic complaints about prominent websites/trends, tied together with meaningless hand-wringing about a technology and social space which is changing more rapidly and dynamically than anything in history, and is yet only young.

Of course wikis aren't perfect, and popurls is pretty shit, and people like popular things, and a lot of people are stupid. In summary, "Collectives can be just as stupid as any individual, and in important cases, stupider". This is not an insight.
posted by MetaMonkey at 10:56 AM on August 15, 2006


This article freaking ROCKS. It's a great response to all the hive mind people who think that just because you can use the wisdom of crowds to count jellybeans in a jar, that it should be the de facto way everything is decided in future society everywhere. It's a great indictment of using market forces to determine everything.

Everything in society "should" be done in the cheapest manner possible. Markets are the most effective tool we have for achieving this goal. Lanier realizes this, but he doesn't want to admit so he hedges and the result is confusion. This isn't a moral argument. It's an economic argument.

Consider Lanier's "[b]ut John Lennon wouldn't have won American Idol" point. Now, logically, this is nonsense. The fact that Lennon died a millionaire strongly suggests that the market actually did a very good job locating, identifying and promoting musical talent. Lanier wants to suggest that the collective, for various reasons, can't identify the real musical talent hidden among us. But then he rattles off a list of highly successful and wealthy musicians who go that way because the market bought their albums.

The real problem with shows like American Idol is not the "centrality" but the high barrier to entry. If an industry has a high barrier to entry you end up with only a few producers and very limited selection. This isn't a bug, it's a feature.

There is definitely some "tyranny of the expert" problems many places [the public library is FAMOUS for this] but it's imjportant to be able to know when it's okay to trust your experts and when you need to look to collective wisdom.

Er, if there's one thing the last 100 years has taught us, it's that experts are more often wrong, than right. You're usually better off flipping a coin. People are starting to pick up on this--hence the high levels of distrust in institutions. The power granted to experts is done so on an economic basis. If experts can't earn their keep, they should be eliminated. Nobody should listen to an expert just because she's an expert.
posted by nixerman at 10:56 AM on August 15, 2006


By avoiding that nonsense, it ought to be possible to find a humanistic and practical way to maximize value of the collective on the Web without turning ourselves into idiots. The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first.

Yup, and exactly true of life in general.
posted by scheptech at 10:58 AM on August 15, 2006


The fact that Lennon died a millionaire strongly suggests that the market actually did a very good job locating, identifying and promoting musical talent.

The fact that Lennon died a millionaire strongly suggests that maybe despite his countercultural cachet, he was actually just as shrewd and savvy about husbanding his resources as the Rolling Stones were/are.
posted by blucevalo at 11:11 AM on August 15, 2006


It seems ironic that so many comments are pulling for the hive mind on this page. I read the comments to get that variety of individual perspectives that Jaron Lanier (not a film director) praises.
posted by pointilist at 11:22 AM on August 15, 2006


Lanier: "But John Lennon wouldn't have won. He wouldn't have made it to the finals. Or if he had, he would have ended up a different sort of person and artist."

Actually John Lennon did "win," in the sense that he and the rest of the Beatles followed the standard pop-idol career track of the early 1960s. The real difference between Lennon and someone like Petula Clark is that Lennon gained what he could from the starmaking machine and then got out of the system so that he could pursue the music he was really interested in. Clark was not so much a musical visionary and so she pursued a more conventional career path, as no doubt most "Idol" winners will do.
posted by La Cieca at 11:25 AM on August 15, 2006


"Well worth reading, even if I don't agree with him whole-heartedly."

I'm only halfway in, but so far it seems like a hackneyed assemblage of straw-men.

"The best guiding principle is to always cherish individuals first."

It's this sort of platitude-level discourse that bugs me about "visionaries" like J-run. It's an absolutely empty statement once you realize that societies are made up of individuals, and their rights are ALWAYS IN CONFLICT. Sometimes that means that the best thing to do is privilege the rights of the collective (say, by having consumer protection and labelling laws) over the rights of the individual.

Further, his dismissal of Digg as not having the most important news of the day ignores the fact that Digg does not have a media monopoly. If it did, then it would become dangerous. But most people who read Digg or Metafilter or Boingbong do so in addition to other media sources. We live in a information pluralistic society which makes his bugaboos about the tyranny of crowds into sensationalist chatter.

His case for personal voice in authorship is similarly inflated. In some things, it's good to have an institutional voice, and that's one of the successes of Wikipedia. While it is probably too often relied upon as a single source (I've had to be brutal with the writers I edit regarding the use of it), that is not an argument against it as a repository for information. Arguing for inefficiency is a delightfully contrarian project but one that fundamentally mistakes the idea of individualism as opposed to structures.

Frankly, all of this has the flavor of a freshman PoliSci discussion on Communism. Instead of making nuanced or intelligent points (and there IS a lot to criticize about Wikipedia and issues of authority in general), his clumsy elitism and lack of comprehension when it comes to political theory (which is, in the late 20th century through the early 21st, largely about organizing structures) makes him come across more as an inarticulate blog commentor than an essayist of note. And since his argument is that we should listen to him because he's smart, even though he fails to demonstrate that, he has failed to convince me of any danger of Digital Maoism.
posted by klangklangston at 11:36 AM on August 15, 2006


"If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we're devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots."

Not at all, and here he foolishly confuses (again) the collective's form and its function.
First off, collectivism doesn't imply that we believe the internet itself has something to say, just that it can filter out the information available so that we can get to what we want to know. That's making individuals MORE valuable, not less. The sum of information available across the globe is far more than could be absorbed by anyone during a lifetime. Using a collective to sift and cluster information makes it easier for my individual choices to be supported by others.

Think about being a music fan before the internet. Think about how hard it was to find out information on bands like The Fugs or Wolf Eyes or Husker Du or any of a million others. Now, through the efforts of others, communities have formed around those central points, but always through the individual's volition.

"Newspapers, for instance, are on the whole facing a grim decline as the Internet takes over the feeding of curious eyes that hover over morning coffee and even worse, classified ads. In the new environment, Google News is for the moment better funded and enjoys a more secure future than most of the rather small number of fine reporters around the world who ultimately create most of its content. The aggregator is richer than the aggregated."

Total misunderstanding of the newspaper business. You want to revive newspaper readership and profits? Make cheaper trees and have people commute. The readership of morning papers hasn't fallen very much in real terms since the '60s. Afternoon papers are suffering, because people don't need breaking news updates. It was television and car radios that killed the afternoon paper, not the internet. And if he wants to make a broad case against aggregators of news coverage, he'll have to prove that the wire services that have been acting since the Civil War have somehow contributed.
posted by klangklangston at 11:44 AM on August 15, 2006


"In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it's easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday's moves in a conversation."

Bullshit. Blogging is a publishing medium and while that influences content to some extent, it absolutely has no bearing on "real writing." Christ, what a pompous ass.
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 AM on August 15, 2006


Everything in society "should" be done in the cheapest manner possible. Markets are the most effective tool we have for achieving this goal.

This is apopular liberatrian argument, and conservatives trot it out as well with asome frequency, but it seems completely unjustified by fact. Governments actually seem to be best at doing things cheaply, and, consistently, when something the government does is farmed out to private business, it become more expensive and is done less effectively.

But, hey, I've still got Enron on the brain, so go ahead and prove me wrong.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:53 AM on August 15, 2006


"For instance, it has become notoriously difficult to introduce a new pop star in the music business. Even the most successful entrants have hardly ever made it past the first album in the last decade or so. The exception is American Idol. As with the Wikipedia, there's nothing wrong with it. The problem is its centrality."

What a moron. OK, you want a pop star, which requires that a lot of people buy an album. That's (gasp) the Collective's capitalistic judgment.

As for his arguments over Dylan, Lennon, etc.: We have the benefit of hindsight regarding their careers. If you look at who was actually popular then, not just counterculture popular, you see a raft of one-hit wonders and shallow Pat Boone acts. And his inclusion of Grandmaster Flash prove how out-of-touch he is with hip-hop and how hip-hop is marketted and made. Grandmaster Flash became famous for doing soundsystem parties. 50 Cent became famous by selling mixtapes out of his car. Both were grassroots successes (though it's hard to argue for Fitty as a genre-changing artist).

ARRRRG! He's just SO WRONG.
posted by klangklangston at 11:54 AM on August 15, 2006


"This is apopular liberatrian argument, and conservatives trot it out as well with asome frequency, but it seems completely unjustified by fact. Governments actually seem to be best at doing things cheaply, and, consistently, when something the government does is farmed out to private business, it become more expensive and is done less effectively.

But, hey, I've still got Enron on the brain, so go ahead and prove me wrong."

It totally depends on what's being handled. If it's a social priority that serves a large portion of the population, yes, collectivising it tends to get better results (though that still happens within a larger framework of a capitalist market). For something that affects only a small population, especially one with means, it's usually better to let people prioritize through a market.
Governments are great at healthcare and utilities (assuming a lack of graft) but bad at innovation and entertainment.
posted by klangklangston at 11:57 AM on August 15, 2006


I'm sorry, but I just don't trust white guys with dreadlocks.
posted by stenseng at 11:58 AM on August 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


consistently, when something the government does is farmed out to private business, it become more expensive and is done less effectively.

We should distinguish between the sort of "privatization" that involves no-bid contracts funded with guaranteed tax money (which really just remove the operation from public oversight) with the "free market dreamworld" privatization of no government involvement and the operation's being replaced with multiple competing businesses.

Competitive pressure, the only thing driving free market theories, doesn't enter into the first.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:02 PM on August 15, 2006


"Witness tulip crazes"

And here, the individual is stupid. Because if he knew what actually happened during the tulip craze (mentioned at the end of the Wikipedia article), he'd realize that the purchase of tulip options was fairly sensible, though there was a market correction. Again, Jaron's argument fails when he fails to be a reliable authority when measured against the things he rails against (say, the Wikipedia article).
posted by klangklangston at 12:04 PM on August 15, 2006


Again, Jaron's argument fails when he fails to be a reliable authority when measured against the things he rails against (say, the Wikipedia article).

Ha! Someone should start a Wiki version of this article and we can compare which becomes more authoritative.
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:07 PM on August 15, 2006


Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" was the number two single in July 1965.

John Lennon's big solo hits include "Instant Karma" (#3), "Imagine" (#3), "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night" (#1), etc.

Sure, there was tons of crap on the top of the charts then as well. But Bob Dylan and John Lennon were not starving countercultural artists hunched over in garrets. They were enormously popular.

Which is why that part of Mr. Lanier's essay is BS. Lennon was "likable by definition" in 1976. He might not be "likable by definition" in 2006 in the same way. If a phenomenon like "American Idol" had existed in 1976, Lennon would have done very well on it; he might have even been one of the judges.
posted by blucevalo at 12:17 PM on August 15, 2006



he sure has a thing or two to teach the rest of us about that "search engine optimization".
posted by jepler at 12:45 PM on August 15, 2006


someone forgot this link
posted by snofoam at 2:08 PM on August 15, 2006


What Jarod is really railing against is the network form of organization. It's a new thing & we're still experimenting with which uses of it are good & which are bad:

- Wikis are network-organized websites.
- Blogs are network-organized forums.
- Peer-to-peer services are network-organized filesystems.
- Open source software development is a network-organized project management system.
- Search engines use network-organizied algorithms to rank their results.
- The Internet itself is network-organized, with each piece of the system determining its own connections to the rest of the network.

The other forms (tribes, structured institutions & markets (warning: PDF)) have had hundreds or even thousands of years of testing & discovery of their strengths, weaknesses & limitations. What we need to do is learn about this new type of social system, the network-organized social structure, so we can know which uses it's good for & which ones it's bad for. But to throw out the whole idea of the network as an organizing concept is not just short sighted but downright ignorant.
posted by scalefree at 2:19 PM on August 15, 2006


Is a Free Market in Ideas a Good Idea?
Alan Saunders, host of the 'The Philosopher's Zone,' interviews (July 7, 2006) Jaron Lanier on ABC Radio National (Australia)< .a href="http://www.abc.net.au/rn/philosopherszone/stories/2006/1678536.htm#">
posted by ericb at 2:24 PM on August 15, 2006


I'm glad Jaron has reasoned out what library staff already know - context is important. You need to know where information comes from, and how it relates to stuff around it, in order to judge its validity. Or even its utility. And you need feedback loops of some kind, or both people and groups get all wonky.

It really isn't about Wikipedia at all.

I enjoyed this. Thanks, mr_crash_davis.
posted by QIbHom at 3:28 PM on August 15, 2006


YOU ARE ALL INDIVIDUALS!
/shouts
posted by Joeforking at 3:37 PM on August 15, 2006


Governments are great at healthcare and utilities (assuming a lack of graft) but bad at innovation and entertainment.

That looks like pretty much what Lanier said. Ironic after the novella written in opposition.
posted by scottreynen at 3:49 PM on August 15, 2006


What Jarod is really railing against is the network form of organization.

I think you hit the nail on the head, scalefree. There is a pervasive current of fear of the new running throughout the essay. I couldn't put my finger on it earlier, but your observation explains the incessant illogicality and use of unsupported strawman arguments - that he finds the whole model and nature of the web unsettling. Rather startling, but at least explains why the essay seems so impressively ill-conceived.
posted by MetaMonkey at 5:06 PM on August 15, 2006


Thanks. There's good ways & bad ways to harness the power of networks & I'm all for figuring out which are which so we can kill the bad ones & move on. But Jarod really seems to be against the network form itself; he seems to be saying that it's an illegitimate idea to use a network as the structure for organizing an activity. Given how many practical uses we've already found for them (see above), I think his venom is seriously misplaced.
posted by scalefree at 5:31 PM on August 15, 2006


I think the crux of this is assuming that the individual and the collective are opposites. Humans are fantastic at polarising things on a grand scale--in some cases, rightfully so, but in this case, it's unwarranted.

Instead of viewing the individual as the enemy of the collective, as Jaron seems to be doing in this essay where he makes himself out to be the rebel in some Orwellian society, it's important to realise that the individual is a part of "the collective," the collective is made up of individuals. These are not concepts which exist in parallel worlds--they coexist. Without individual input, Digg would be dead. Without group input, Digg would be dead. Confusing, isn't it? Not really, when you realise that--surprise!--things aren't as simple as black and white. He might as well be purporting the "my vote doesn't count" argument.

So often do lame essays like this get written simply because of our language, which is inherently absolutist. It's like returning to 3rd grade. Just learn your opposites, Jaron? "Black, you say?! Well I will defiantly write white!!"
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 12:49 AM on August 16, 2006


Yes, we know MySpace is crap. But is it crap to everyone, or only the elitists. Millions of people can like crap, can't they? The crowd may not be correct, but it isn't always wrong.

If you'd read the article, you'd see he actually said some good things about myspace. Not that anyone is going to read this comment.
posted by delmoi at 1:18 AM on August 16, 2006


Heh. Popurls has a metafilter feed.
posted by delmoi at 1:48 AM on August 16, 2006


Think about being a music fan before the internet. Think about how hard it was to find out information on bands like The Fugs or Wolf Eyes or Husker Du or any of a million others. Now, through the efforts of others, communities have formed around those central points, but always through the individual's volition.

That kind of thing is exactly what he says is good. Are you arguing against the actual essay, or the synopsis?
posted by delmoi at 1:53 AM on August 16, 2006


I think the crux of this is assuming that the individual and the collective are opposites. Humans are fantastic at polarising things on a grand scale--in some cases, rightfully so, but in this case, it's unwarranted.

Well, I think you're wrong and you didn't read the essay, or go very deep into it.

I think the crux of all this is that people seem to be reflexively anti-elitist, or pro-wikipedia, or something and are responding to the provocative title rather then the content of the essay itself. It's rather annoying. The rest of your post is basically attacking the straw man you set up in the first paragraph, and is a complete waste of time.

Whether a collective and an individual are "opposites" is an entirely pointless observation, which seems to be what you're saying. So why are you pointing it out? Lanier never said that they were.
posted by delmoi at 2:01 AM on August 16, 2006


What a blowhard. He has a crap website for someone who is supposed to be some kind of web/tech "visionary".

You'd think a "visual artist" (as he describes himself) would be able to put together a website that didn't look like it was made in 1998. The layout, colors, and well, just about everything scream self-important ameteur, with some sort of anti-design/anti-modernity elitist fetish. It's awful. And further, I would think that "tech visionary" who is also a "musician" might have some multimedia on his website. Oh wait - he does - but it's not integrated in any meaningful fashion, so you have to download whole files just to get a taste.

Also: the man has dreads and I don't trust people that don't wash their hair.
posted by jaded at 4:52 AM on August 16, 2006


Quick show of hands? Would anyone reference and cite wikipedia on...

  • A report to investors?
  • A scholarly academic research paper?
  • A piece of "serious" journalism?

  • Also, how many people would do the same thing with Britanica? That only flies for elementary school homework, nothing more.

    I got three words for Jaron - "Consider the Source". We should be doing it with everything we come in contact with.

    He's not wrong about everything though. The loss of the individual online IS a concern. But on wikipedia, go to edits or discussion, and you see what everyone has done. If you judge them through there actions, and not what they promote themselves as, you get a sense of them as a person. When you encounter the work of someone, consider the source.

    In Organizational Dynamics, there is a likelihood that a large group will take less and less ownership, risk, and accountability on projects, and as such, make more errors, take less risks, or take the easier way out. Again, when evaluating something online, consider the source.
    Jaron may not like that he's a filmmaker and the writer of a book highlighting a failed concept of virtual reality, but no matter what he promotes himself as, if the crowd doesn't buy it, then it isn't him.
    posted by rzklkng at 6:20 AM on August 16, 2006


    "That looks like pretty much what Lanier said. Ironic after the novella written in opposition."

    Except that it's not. Collectives != Government. Learn your Venn diagrams.

    "That kind of thing is exactly what he says is good. Are you arguing against the actual essay, or the synopsis?"

    I'm arguing against the essay, in that he opposes individual taste to community organization. Without the community of I Love Music, I would have never listened to Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies or Crash Course in Science or Flying Turns or Afrirampo. It was the wisdom of a specialized community, using a distributed network, that allowed me to find things that suit my individual taste.
    posted by klangklangston at 7:08 AM on August 16, 2006


    "Whether a collective and an individual are "opposites" is an entirely pointless observation, which seems to be what you're saying. So why are you pointing it out? Lanier never said that they were."

    Reread the bullshit about the collective and American Idol.
    Basically, his thinking fails to deal with the fact that communities exist in a larger sphere, and that even though American Idol is huge, it isn'tt a monopoly. We live in a pluralistic, heterogenous society and the communities that have sprung up on the internet make the society more so, not less.
    posted by klangklangston at 7:11 AM on August 16, 2006


    Jaron Lanier died from shame when Keswick said his article sucked.
    posted by nlindstrom at 2:50 PM on August 16, 2006


    His essay was very aggressive. I wonder to what extent it caused someone who edits Wikipedia to change his page. And if it did, does that affect his argument?
    posted by owhydididoit at 9:30 PM on August 16, 2006


    From the essay:

    I have attempted to retire from directing films in the alternative universe that is the Wikipedia a number of times, but somebody always overrules me. Every time my Wikipedia entry is corrected, within a day I'm turned into a film director again.

    And the closing bit after the essay:

    Jaron Lanier is a film director. He writes a monthly column for Discover Magazine.

    I lol'd. I mean, this must be some sort of deep joke, right? I mean, did the person who framed the essay just get that from his Wikipedia article? The one he decries for listing him as a director...
    posted by beth at 12:55 AM on August 17, 2006


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