Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The power of collective cognition

Taken from:
I am almost at the tail-end of Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus and I must say that this is one of the most enlightening books that I have read on the topic of the power of the social media, and what average minds can do and achieve through a social media platform. And no, it is NOT just about Facebook. In fact to my surprise the idea of social and collaborative efforts predates even Facebook, and have been traced to the 17th century, when the idea of 'the Invisible College' was put together by a few of the great minds of that era, who chose to remain independent of any particular (great) institutions in their intellectual pursuits.

Definitely a must-read for those who are serious in delving into the (recent?) phenomena of the social media and what it can (and perhaps can't) do, the book also looks at the emergence of the free and passionate lobbyist, those who are willing and are actually doing a good job, producing good quality works and dedicating themselves to it....and all this without being paid! The examples given such as the Grobanites and the Linux operating system are cases in point. The latter also made it as a special mention due to not only the foresight of the developers of making the original codes freely available, but ALSO dictating the license of how it should be used and distributed by secondary and 3rd party developers afterwards.

And who can miss the emergence of platforms such as blogs and others, that not only allows for the creation of new content from these passionate 'few', but also the game-changing idea that they CAN and did dictate public opinion. One such example was the  People's magazine 1998 online poll for the '50 Most Beautiful People' in the world, and the surprising results that was finally announced.

Indeed it was enlightening to read about the normalcy and evolution of some aspects of human behaviour, and especially so when a few case studies were mentioned.  One  case that I found interesting was the idea of how people with handphones are no longer able to remember their contacts' phone numbers, since the function of memorizing such information has been delegated to the memory-banks of their phones. Hence when such functions are no longer required, our behaviourial pattern would also change to evolve correspondingly.

Lastly, what I do find refreshing is about the possible clash of the digital natives and digital migrants on such issues as intellectual property, and of the idea of sharing. One case in point was that of Napster. Created originally as a platform for sharing music files, her growth has brought along with it a whole slew of legal quagmire, which did contributed to her demise. But is it correct for us to judge that such a platform is illegal? Clay argues that such (sharing) practices was perhaps the default behaviour of these digital natives. They are after all living in an era where the marginal cost of producing  an exact digital copy is zero or almost nothing! Could then the preponderence of these collaborative efforts in itself be a precursor to a society where things are indeed produced for free? My digital immigrant mind goes into hyperdrive mode thinking about these, but then again, that ideal was what makes the Star Trek series interesting...the idea that Man would finally live in an Utopian ideal where they are no longer working for money, but for their own self-satisfaction and self-actualisation.

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