Jaron Lanier writes in his recent article for the edge about the fallacy of collectivism. Starting around his own experience of being wrongly described* in wikipedia (not only his fate) he unfolds the symptoms and dangers of just accepting and displaying the results of the hive mind. The common sense he observes and describes in this article points at the tendency to hide behind the agreggator, or even the aggregator of the aggregated, of the collective as a safe place to avoid any personal comittment.
His main argument interestingly enough aims at the old problem of authoritarian credibility which through the rise of new tools and interpretation has been shifted onwards to the undefinable – and thus in this sense uncomprehensible – mass as the new authority, distinguished as objectiv impact by the use of algorythmic coding …
… 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. The question isn’t just one of authentication and accountability, though those are important, but something more subtle. 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. Even Britannica has an editorial voice, which some people have criticized as being vaguely too “Dead White Men.” ..
… 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. ..
… “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. …
… a site called “popurls” that aggregates consensus Web filtering sites…and there was a new “most Meta”. 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. ..
My quotations don’t just want to support a rant against new collective forms, but I think he raises a few really interesting points and symptoms in here, which also relate in a way to my last post about the rise of amateurism.
I think especially remarkable are his notes on individuals which always were necessary to form milestones in cultural development – may it be in more or less contemporary pop culture or as an more extreme example I can relate to – the modern writers, artists, thinkers, .. of Europe (which then led to an almost total expulsion of intellectuals through a facistic mass hysteria like in Nazi Germany).
This argument does not want to support an opinion that the individual is uniquely necessary to create a fascinating idea – it can as easily go wrong as a decision of the masses (another extreme example may be the manhatten project), but it points in Lanier’s text to the creative position an individual can take in opposing the masses and thus (re)-activating both sides for the process of defining the cultural, scientific, political and consequently social landscape we create, shape and inhabit.
…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. ..
Eventhough that last paragraph sounds a bit just like one major working mode of the wikipedia itself, it is clear that Lanier relates to the former mentioned points of belief in a selfrepair system by just having things going on as is (one could also relate here especially to problems of vandalism wikipedia has) – consequently the interesting thought which makes this article read worthy is that it rises to rethink the currently apparent belief in the masses and to follow its specific algorythm (set also as a metapher here) too blindly ….
*eventhough by having Lanier described as taking a major role for inventing the usage of the term VR the whole process holds some irony in the sense of the ‘ghosts called up, take over’. Especially when considering that the filmic (he is wrongly described as a filmmaker) can be thought of as a precursor of imaginative inventions which at least partly took over the power of the image/imagination we have of ourselves … )