wisdom of crowds vs. meanness of mobs

Jeffery A. Salter in The New York Times: "In the 1990s, Jaron Lanier was one of the digital pioneers hailing the wonderful possibilities that would be realized once the Internet allowed musicians, artists, scientists and engineers around the world to instantly share their work. Now, like a lot of us, he is having second thoughts...

"Mr. Lanier, a musician and avant-garde computer scientist — he popularized the term “virtual reality” — wonders if the Web’s structure and ideology are fostering nasty group dynamics and mediocre collaborations. His new book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” 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.

He 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..."

I disagree that the internet breeds "hive thinking" -- what is Democracy except a system to glean the thoughts of large groups? Ditto with capitalism. The notion that one person can be as thoughtful, knowledgeable, and circumspect as a thousand is silly. Yes, it takes one person to invent an iphone, but it takes all of us evaluating iphones individually to make it a phenomenon. I think the solution to much of what Lanier is saying is more robust authentication online. Anonymity can be corrosive, I agree -- but that doesn't mean the collaboration enabled by the internet leads inevitably to a "destructive social contract."

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