So here’s something, I’m most of the way through Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, and I’ve almost had enough. It’s an interesting book, and I agree with many of is premises and arguments because I’ve thought them myself. For instance, his assertion that you shouldn’t fret about all the stuff being written on the net. It seems that because we’re used to stuff being directed at us we tend to assume that everything we read in social media is written for us. But this simply isn’t the case.
Most social media is written for a small group of people known to the author, although this group may vary from topic to topic, and the stuff is put out into the ether as a complement to day to day conversation. Or put another, slightly more theoretical way, our embodied selves are now extended and expanded into cyberspace. The SciFi writers are already all over that one though, with independent avatars working to process or accumulate additional embodied knowledge for us a common (some would say banal) feature of contemporary novels.
What has annoyed me about Shirky and other authors boosting the “Web2.0s” is the constant carping about how social media will fundamentally transform the way our society works. So, you, Shirky, and that guy who wrote Wikinomics, we get the picture!! Move on, please. Yes, social media has allowed the masses to free up their voices, and centralised organisation no longer carries the weight it did. And, we can now harness multiple points of thought to achieve what it used to take hierarchical organisation to achieve. But where to next?
After working with and reading about social media for a bit now, I’m in agreement that it is a revolution in social organisation and creation of information. In day to day terms that means we are able to access more and better information from across the globe, if we know how. And if we don’t know how then there are more and more people stepping into the market opportunity that is; filtering signal from all the noise. But does that mean that people are better at utilising the unprecedented amounts of information they have access to?
Are we actually any wiser?
Awhile back I heard a geezer from Canterbury University speaking about IQ testing. Apparently average IQs in this day and age are much higher than the turn of the C20th. But, he argued, this is mostly because the kinds of intellect the tests are looking for is now far more prevalent, and primarily due to modern education. So rather than intelligence being higher, the kinds of thinking we’re teaching is well entrenched enough that more people score higher on the test to see if that education is entrenched. If you get what I mean.
So people aren’t actually smarter, they’re just better trained in the way the academy wants us to think.
This suggests to me that increased information won’t actually change people themselves. It will however recondition our society to know how to manage large volumes of, for want of a better word, crap. Something I toyed with a wee while back was the idea that ‘the path is wiser than the walker‘. In the context we’re talking about here, the shape of the interweb is influenced by the way that people act. Lots of people using social media leads to lots of noise of a particular sort, and there are signals for some contained therein. Social media in effect creates a series of “paths” followed by people, and which over time become “the place to get information”. Witness Wikipedia.
The revolution produced by social media really just means that we produce reliable information for each other, and don’t source this same consumable from corporations. Nothing new in that statement though.
Where this big circle of wondering leads me to is, how much are we creating the web, and how much is the web creating us? Because I’m inclined to think that our increasing dependency on the interweb to source and manage our information will begin to influence social thought itself in much the same way as education has shaped IQs. The production of noise becomes normal and expected, with the most valuable members of society becoming those who can filter for signal.