DIGITAL MAOISM THE HAZARDS OF THE NEW ONLINE COLLECTIVISM PDF

By Jaron Lanier [5. Why pay attention to it? 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.

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By Jaron Lanier [5. Why pay attention to it? 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.

He cites as an example the Wikipedia, noting that "reading a Wikipedia entry is like reading the bible closely. There are faint traces of the voices of various anonymous authors and editors, though it is impossible to be sure".

And he notes that "the Wikipedia is far from being the only online fetish site for foolish collectivism. Where is this leading? The problem with that presumption is that people are all too willing to lower standards in order to make the purported newcomer appear smart.

Just as people are willing to bend over backwards and make themselves stupid in order to make an AI interface appear smart as happens when someone can interact with the notorious Microsoft paper clip, so are they willing to become uncritical and dim in order to make Meta-aggregator sites appear to be coherent.

It is true I made one experimental short film about a decade and a half ago. The concept was awful: I tried to imagine what Maya Deren would have done with morphing. It was shown once at a film festival and was never distributed and I would be most comfortable if no one ever sees it again. In the real world it is easy to not direct films. 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.

I can think of no more suitable punishment than making these determined Wikipedia goblins actually watch my one small old movie. Twice in the past several weeks, reporters have asked me about my filmmaking career.

The fantasies of the goblins have entered that portion of the world that is attempting to remain real. The errors in my Wikipedia bio have been at least prior to the publication of this article charming and even flattering. Reading a Wikipedia entry is like reading the bible closely. There are faint traces of the voices of various anonymous authors and editors, though it is impossible to be sure.

They seem to place great importance on relating my ideas to those of the psychedelic luminaries of old and in ways that I happen to find sloppy and incorrect. Edits deviating from this set of odd ideas that are important to this one particular small subculture are immediately removed. This makes sense. Who else would volunteer to pay that much attention and do all that work? The results were a toss up. While there is a lingering debate about the validity of the study.

But they are perfect for the Wikipedia. There is little controversy around these items, plus the Net provides ready access to a reasonably small number of competent specialist graduate student types possessing the manic motivation of youth. A core belief of the wiki world is that whatever problems exist in the wiki will be incrementally corrected as the process unfolds.

This is analogous to the claims of Hyper-Libertarians who put infinite faith in a free market, or the Hyper-Lefties who are somehow able to sit through consensus decision-making processes.

In all these cases, it seems to me that empirical evidence has yielded mixed results. Accuracy in a text is not enough. A desirable text is more than a collection of accurate references. It is also an expression of personality. For instance, most of the technical or scientific information that is in the Wikipedia was already on the Web before the Wikipedia was started.

You could always use Google or other search services to find information about items that are now wikified. In some cases I have noticed specific texts get cloned from original sites at universities or labs onto wiki pages.

And when that happens, each text loses part of its value. Since search engines are now more likely to point you to the wikified versions, the Web has lost some of its flavor in casual use. When you see the context in which something was written and you know who the author was beyond just a name, you learn so much more than when you find the same text placed in the anonymous, faux-authoritative, anti-contextual brew of the Wikipedia.

A voice should be sensed as a whole. You have to have a chance to sense personality in order for language to have its full meaning. Personal Web pages do that, as do journals and books. That would be an authentic piece of text. But placed out of context in the Wikipedia, it becomes drivel. Myspace is another recent experiment that has become even more influential than the Wikipedia.

Like the Wikipedia, it adds just a little to the powers already present on the Web in order to inspire a dramatic shift in use. You can always tell at least a little about the character of the person who made a Myspace page.

But it is very rare indeed that a Myspace page inspires even the slightest confidence that the author is a trustworthy authority. Hurray for Myspace on that count! Myspace is a richer, multi-layered, source of information than the Wikipedia, although the topics the two services cover barely overlap.

If you want to research a TV show in terms of what people think of it, Myspace will reveal more to you than the analogous and enormous entries in the Wikipedia. The race began innocently enough with the notion of creating directories of online destinations, such as the early incarnations of Yahoo.

Then came AltaVista, where one could search using an inverted database of the content of the whole Web. Then came Google, which added page rank algorithms. Then came the blogs, which varied greatly in terms of quality and importance. This lead to Meta-blogs such as Boing Boing, run by identified humans, which served to aggregate blogs. In all of these formulations, real people were still in charge. An individual or individuals were presenting a personality and taking responsibility. These Web-based designs assumed that value would flow from people.

It was still clear, in all such designs, that the Web was made of people, and that ultimately value always came from connecting with real humans.

One layer of page ranking is hardly a threat to authorship, but an accumulation of many layers can create a meaningless murk, and that is another matter. 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. In March, Kelly reviewed a variety of "Consensus Web filters" such as "Digg" and "Reddit" that assemble material every day from all the myriad of other aggregating sites.

Such sites intend to be more Meta than the sites they aggregate. There is no person taking responsibility for what appears on them, only an algorithm. The hope seems to be that the most Meta site will become the mother of all bottlenecks and receive infinite funding. That new magnitude of Meta-ness lasted only a month. In April, Kelly reviewed a site called "popurls" that aggregates consensus Web filtering sites We now are reading what a collectivity algorithm derives from what other collectivity algorithms derived from what collectives chose from what a population of mostly amateur writers wrote anonymously.

Is "popurls" any good? I am writing this on May 27, In the last few days an experimental approach to diabetes management has been announced that might prevent nerve damage. It is not mentioned on popurls. Popurls does clue us in to this news: "Student sets simultaneous world ice cream-eating record, worst ever ice cream headache. Popurls includes a few mentions of the event, but they are buried within the aggregation of aggregate news sites like Google News.

The reason the quake appears on popurls at all can be discovered only if you dig through all the aggregating layers to find the original sources, which are those rare entries actually created by professional writers and editors who sign their names.

But at the layer of popurls, the ice cream story and the Javanese earthquake are at best equals, without context or authorship. There is a pedagogical connection between the culture of Artificial Intelligence and the strange allure of anonymous collectivism online. George Dyson has wondered if such an entity already exists on the Net, perhaps perched within Google.

My point here is not to argue about the existence of Metaphysical entities, but just to emphasize how premature and dangerous it is to lower the expectations we hold for individual human intellects. The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people.

The value is in the other people. Newspapers, for instance, are on the whole facing a grim decline as the Internet takes over the feeding of the 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. The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time.

In this regard, blogging is not writing. 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. The artificial elevation of all things Meta is not confined to online culture. It is having a profound influence on how decisions are made in America. What we are witnessing today is the alarming rise of the fallacy of the infallible collective.

Numerous elite organizations have been swept off their feet by the idea.

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DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism

Why pay attention to it? 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. He cites as an example the Wikipedia, noting that "reading a Wikipedia entry is like reading the bible closely. There are faint traces of the voices of various anonymous authors and editors, though it is impossible to be sure". And he notes that "the Wikipedia is far from being the only online fetish site for foolish collectivism.

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