The week’s readings centered on the democratization of technology. Some of the arguments were true such as: 1) we have become consumers and producers of media; 2) mass collaboration allows for a more participatory culture and enhances human development and 3) technology has affected how we view our political systems, economies, cultures, etc. The democratization of the internet has created these scenarios. Although the internet is readily available to many, barriers still exist regarding access and full democratization. With this, the authors of the week’s readings look upon democratization as a positive but do not fully explore the implications of ownership, collective intelligence, participation and organizational structures.
What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine
A disturbing argument is that intellectual property or proprietary information should be shared for the common good. Corporations and organizations thrive on their expertise in a product or service. There were likely many episodes of trial and error to arrive at the precise formula of ingredients or actions that set the organization apart from its competitors. Companies invest time and money and should, rightfully, benefit from the investment. Additionally, the common good for one entity is disastrous for another. In short, to suggest a company willingly acquiesce proprietary information or intellectual property is woefully naïve. The concept of ownership is threatened when it is suggested that intellectual property be shared without regard to the impact to the company for the ambiguous “common good.” When Google publishes its search algorithms, I may change my mind.
You don’t know what you don’t know
Intellectual property would be relinquished to contribute to the collective intelligence. The authors argue for collective intelligence which is the contribution to the general body of knowledge from many; it is the Wikipedia model of sharing knowledge. If many agree on information, it is assumed that information is accurate. However, that is a dangerous assumption. Because a group agrees on a statement, it does not automatically make the statement accurate or credible. Consensus does not equate to truth or credibility. Benkler mentions the Babel objection which states “when everyone can speak, no one can be heard, and we devolve either to a cacophony or to the reemergence of money as the distinguishing factor between statements that are heard and those that wallow in obscurity.” The consensus is the voices of those who have the money, power and/or influence to be heard while truth, credibility and other viewpoints are drowned out or do not receive an adequate public hearing. The quality of the collective intelligence is only as good as the allowance of the dissenting voices to be heard.
As a side note, there is an immeasurable amount of data available via the internet. Data is simply facts and figures. When the story is told about the facts and figures, the data becomes information. The internet is certainly rich with data and some information. But how much is true knowledge? In my opinion, knowledge does not occur until the information is applied. Collective intelligence is a side effect of the internet’s capabilities but how much knowledge truly exists? Who is to say true knowledge is not in the small chorus of dissenting or other points of view?
The internet has certainly allowed many people the opportunities to participate in a community. The community can range from quilt makers to school groups to political parties. Participation can occur in the real world (off-line), via the internet (online) or both. Individuals can serve as a member on the board of directors which requires more engagement and time or the individual can simply visit the community and not engage or communicate with anyone. Everyone is invited to the virtual community which may only have 5% true engagement while 95% are on the sidelines. The deeper question is: does participation equate to influence? The community may have the numbers but only a small percentage of the community is active and, therefore, influential. The small percentage of the influential must also overcome the moneyed interests. For example, activists circulate petitions for individuals to support or oppose the Keystone pipeline. The average working American may add his name to the petition along with those of his neighbors, co-workers and friends. The activists pass this petition on to the congressman. However, the congressman may have large money donors that have the access to speak with him directly. The direct conversation from a larger money donor may have more influence on the congressman than the petition from thousands of his constituents.
No one is in charge
Jenkins mentioned the concept of adhocracy. An adhocracy is “an organization characterized by a lack of a hierarchy. Tapscott and Williams refer to it, in a sense, as peering. In short, a hierarchy does not exist. As tasks change so do the leadership roles. The idea of an adhocracy sounds intriguing but practically, I question if it can work on a large scale (e.g., organization-wide). Work groups and project-based work groups, regardless of geography, may be able to transfer leadership decisions based on group members’ core competencies. However, on a larger scale, someone must have the authority and be willing to take responsibility for longer-term, higher impact decisions. Hierarchies will continue to exist to a certain extent. The idea of an adhocracy is appealing but with limited applicability.
Briefly, one statement that Benkler made troubles me. The statement is as follows: “Different liberal polities can pursue different mixtures of respect for different liberal commitments.” In other words, governments (either local, regional or national) decide which freedoms or constraints they would like to allow or limit. The section mentioned Singapore as an example of a trade-off between freedom and welfare. I think China is a mix of communism and capitalism. The U.S. is primarily market-driven but struggles with the expansion of government regulation. Many around the world are a part of the networked information economy. We have the capability to peer into the governments and political happenings of other nations. Our ability to see their struggles and their ability to see ours exposes the challenges of mixing and matching freedoms to find an ideal balance.
In a nutshell, the democratization of technology has led to advancement in culture, economies and our viewpoints, however, the implications have yet to be fully explored.