The New Socialism, Kevin Kelly
The global rush to connect is giving rise to a new type of socialism. Wikipedia is but one of a host of striking examples of this social form of collective action. Unlike anti-American socialisms that have come before, digital socialism is an American innovation: “old-school socialism was an arm of the state, digital socialism is socialism without the state.” Detached from a government body, existing within the space of the borderless internet, digital socialism finds itself free to function as socialism was originally intended. Kelly suggests that internet users (the masses) “own the means of production [and] work toward a common goal and share their products in common.” Kelly draws upon the 4 categories that we’ve encountered before in Clay Shirky’s book: sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism. Digital socialism, according to Kelly, embodies the promise of the collectivist ideal. Digital networks can be considered an “emerging design space in which decentralized public coordination can solve problems and create things that neither pure communism nor pure capitalism can.” We are more or less familiar with the power that digital socialism might yield in the context of Wikipedia, but Kelly points to its incredible potential. Kiva and PatientsLikeMe are the tip of the ice berg. The logic of digital socialism can be applied to problems that under current systems seem unsolvable.
Kelly points out that digital socialism is capable of surviving without the government as an authoritative figure. He is suggesting that the government can benefit from the “rising tide of sharing, cooperation, collaboration, and collectivism.” Do you consider the government willing and/or capable of implementing such practices? By doing so, could our culture shift away from capitalism and closer to a new socialism?
Digital Maoism, Jaron Lanier
Lanier is quick to assert that he is not critical of Wikipedia in and of itself, but rather of its rapid and, in his opinion, misplaced rise to social importance. The logic of the wiki is that with a sufficient number of contributors over a sufficient amount of time the problems of content or code will be incrementally worked out. Lanier argues that wikis do not consistently work out their kinks over time. He points to specific areas of expertise that are well-suited for the Wikipedia platform. They tend to be less contentious issues, or subject matters that require a great deal of specific knowledge that is not widely available. Wikipedia articles are tailor made for subjects that have a self-selective group of passionate contributors. Lanier admits that this where the accuracy of Wikipedia exceeds that of Britannica or other edited volumes. This does not hold true across the board. Lanier criticizes the erasure of personality that is essential to projects like Wikipedia. For Lanier, the Web gains its value through the connections that are maintained between actual individuals, not between the individual and “the hive.” The individual is crucial to the process because the collective cannot be trusted to resolve every kink or make every important decision. This is especially true for sites like “Meta” where these problems are worked out by way of an algorithm. Being “Meta” is a concept being applied to organizations outside the sphere of cyberspace, including government entities and large corporations, based on the assumption that less individual contribution is necessary when collective work can be implemented.
-In the case of Meta sites, how is relying on an algorithm a poor display of what’s popular on the Internet. If anything, it’s the most reliable, whereas a human observer (the individual) can make a mistake, or can allow his biases to affect his decision of what topics are worth following on the Web? Quality control aside, the purpose of the algorithm is to bring forth the most popular items on the Web, the purpose is not to decide what’s worthy of being the most popular items.
-On a personal level, do you see dangers in websites like Wikipedia and Myspace? Do you think the sites are reliable? If not, are there changes that can be made to make them safer and more stable or is this simply the nature of the internet community?
(Summaries and questions written ‘collectively’ by Marisa, Elizabeth, and Natalie.)