Friday in Santa fe

02010-08-13 | Photos | 6 comments

I think people love the idea of the “wisdom of crowds” or “collective wisdom” or “smart mobs”, because it makes them feel part of something larger, and it makes them feel smart, part of the smart crowd. I totally don’t buy it. It’s an illusion peddled by many on the net, some of whom make a lot of money writing books and giving talks on the subject, mostly cobbling together contrived examples to prove their point.

Here is another TED talk about the collective brain, by Matt Ridley – TED loves this sort of talk! This emphasis on the collective devalues the individual contribution. Why pay an inventor or author or musician, when the collective can surely create something equally great. If s/he won’t create that piece of music somebody else will. No need to support the artist. Hm, take an hour to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth and then consider whether ANY crowd could ever accomplish a symphony like that. A crowd might work well up to a certain point, but only an inspired individual can scale that mountain.

I grew up thinking of large groups as mobs, and I still do. Part of that notion certainly comes from going to German schools in the Sixties and Seventies, schools which emphasized teaching their pupils about Germany’s Nazi history, but I have seen similar crowd-mentality all over the world.

Crowds shine when an individual makes them shine. That individual can make the crowd shine or turn it into a a hellish example of the worst humanity has to offer.

The other night I had a dream in which nerds in Google uniforms, which looked a lot like the uniforms of Mao’s cultural revolution army, smashed printing presses and music stores, chanting songs that denounced all prideful individual efforts at creating, and praised the scanning of all books and digitizing of all music so that henceforth books and music will simply be recombinations and mashups of ALL stories & music that ever were. They smashed violins, just like Mao’s cadres did in the Fifties, and yelled you won’t need this anymore when all music is digitized, cataloged, analyzed acording to mood and tempo!!

This sort of communism of ideas that pervades the internet is even more surprising in a country that is unable or unwilling to have social health care or a decent public education system. Oh, and isn’t it interesting that computer science it taught in public schools, while art and music has been cut out altogether or cut back to nearly nothing!!

I actually find individual versus crowd arguments to be similar to the absolute versus relative view-points of spiritual discussions. They are postures, intellectual exercises that, in their extreme forms, are silly. One side will not work without the other. Both need to exist side by side, or rather one cannot be without the other. In the end I always arrive at the truth that they are one and the same, indivisible. Two sides of one coin. No, even that is two dualistic a view.

And now a few links:

I think this is the best iPad stand.

You know, this might be a good idea, considering some of the content that claims to be journalism:

Journalism Warning Labels « Tom Scott
Journalism Warning Labels
(Via Daring Fireball)

Love the name, since I like the movie a lot.

Good advice on how to focus on the task at hand.

Voogle Wireless

What a headline: Fructose-Slurping Cancer Could Sour the Soda Business.



  1. Brenda

    Tour Time Rests
    Music continues to Bloom
    Memories of Sante Fe Lane
    Tucked forever in clays colors

  2. lindaw

    I do love the iPad stand, it really reminds me of a guitar stand. To date I have only the Apple booklet type case/stand creation that I got the day I bought the iPad.

    a creative friend of mine at Yahoo! repurposed something he had on hand for the holding of his iPad.

  3. Matt Callahan

    I’m taking what feels like forever reading Jaron Lanier’s book (You Are Not A Gadget for those who might have missed it) but the time is required. I’ll read a passage and have to stop and really think about what he’s saying. Some of the possibilities that he mentions are absolutely terrifying. A dream of Google nerds smashing fountains of creativity could become a reality.

    Even after reading the pages of Lanier’s book and seeing some of the turning points in the very recent past that may well have led us to the place we are now, where no individual’s effort seems to have any value except as food for the masses, I still wonder how we got here. I do feel that if as a society, we remained in a place where most people produced something, the value of those efforts would still be seen clearly. Your neighbor built the tub for your washing machine, your cousin assembled the logic board for your computer. They put in a days work and received a days wage. Fair and right in every sense of the word. So why would the songwriter who lives across town not be entitled to the same compensation? Why should his effort not be rewarded? Just because the product of his labor can be reduced to zeros and ones and transited from one computer to another?

  4. yumi

    The downfall of collective thinking: groupthink

    Even in a group, whether revealed immediately or not, some form of leadership is responsible, or surfaces.

    It’s a balance, isn’t it?
    Too much individuality and the, “me first” mentality needs humbling.
    Too much collective thinking and it feels like following the congestion of trying to leave a parking lot. Going an alternative route makes complete sense.

  5. steve

    What seems to go on in boardrooms in American industry is that there seems to be a single, strong personality (call it an “alpha male” or “alpha female” if you want) that seems to decide what they will do, and the board goes along. These type of stories are so common as to be a cliché.

    What makes this interesting, is that the group is ostensibly “smarter” than the individual, but simply by going along, they negate the supposed wisdom of the group. Why bother with a board at all?

  6. Brenda

    I so do appreciate you being our mentor… going to miss your mentoring especially this time next year.


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