Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Fuel and Engines

Posted to Dave Warlick's Flat Classroom Fuel:

Fuel and engines. Wrong analogies. Suggest static configuration, consumption, instead of what actually happens in a complex ecosystem.

This is why you would say kids have less of an experience of the world than you do. You consumed a great deal, but did not interact with it, mold it and fashion it, make it your own. You passively became the recipient of The Taming of the Shrew, like the engine passively consumes fuel.

Maybe The Taming of the Shrew is part of a child’s landscape today, maybe not; they are drawing from a much larger selection (ecosystems thrive on diversity, but engines choke on it). The input of The Taming of the Shrew, wherever it occurs, is transformed, reshaped, and becomes part of the organic culture that is dynamic, evolving, growing.

I’m really surprised you would post this, really surprised your wouldn’t get where your metaphor is leading you astray here. But the influence of a monoculture is pervasive, and we don’t always recognize the impacts in our thinking.

p.s. (not part of the post)

It's funny, isn't it, how I can post here in almost total obscurity. I like that. I think I need that.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Punishment, Self-Interest, and Cooperation

BusinessPundit writes,
The moral here is that the people don't want power. They don't want to vote. They just want to be in the know. So they read the site, but they don't participate. There is no wisdom of crowds or power of the masses or anything else. It is the same model as old media, except the editors are now self-appointed.
This article is based on the presumption that people who do not vote for an article are not participating. This presumption is, of course, false. Digg's participation rate is the number of people who look at the articles, not the number of people who think they should be 'digged'.

This article is also based on the presumption that a low participation rate in a larger group means that there is no participation, "here is no wisdom of crowds or power of the masses or anything else," and that it's no different from journalism.

This presumption is also false. First, 1,000 people voting in favour (and many more deciding not to vote) still constitutes a crowd, and their actions still constitute participation.

The difference between Digg and journalism is that anyone who wants to *can* participate. This is very different from a system in which decisions are made for you no matter what you say about it.

Of course, the purpose of the article is to carp about freeloaders and to remind readers that there is no such thing as altruism. The author may well be convinced of this, though it takes a very selective filtering of the data to support this position empirically.

What, for example, is the reward for typing this comment? I am more likely to be punished, via spam and hate mail. It doesn't matter to me whether the author believes there is such a things as altruism. And if he wants to offer business advice based on this incorrect precept, that's his problem.

The problem is, the author is confusing between 'altruism' and 'expressing oneself'. Take a site like Flickr or Deviant Art, for example. These are sites based on rampant sharing, on the wholesale giving away of artistic content for nothing. Altruism run amok! But they are also, more importantly, sites where people can express themselves, where they can be creative.

It is true that only a certain percentage of the population wants to be creative at any given time, and in any given fashion. This is perhaps just as well; we are being drowned in free content as it is. There is too much altruism in the world for us to keep up!

That's why the whole freeloaders argument is uch a crock. There is no such thing as a freeloader, really. The members of an audience are not freeloading off the artists. They are giving the artist a reason to perform. Just so, the non-voting members of Digg are not sponging off the voting members. They are, rather, giving the voting members a reason to vote.

When you view that people do, in Web 2.0 or elsewhere, as 'product', then you get skewed economics and skewed business models, as typified in this column. But if you see it more accurately as 'interaction' or 'communication', then you are closer to the heart of it.

I mean, after all, if you cannot imagine writing a letter to your grandmother for any reason other than profit, then not only do you have a cold cold heart, you have also missed the whole point of what *really* drives an economy.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Clashes Between Cultures

I do not think that violent clashes between cultures are inevitable, nor even normal. Rather, I think that the differences between cultures are exploited by people seeking to parlay the fears and uncertainties of people into political gain and personal advantage.

The things we are concerned about - the enforced adherence to a religion or world view, the violent opposition to other views - are in my view possible only in societies of the uneducated and indigent. So my view is that the range of social positions I advocate - from anti-poverty measures to education to openness - act inherently against these sorts of cultural conflicts.

Why is education important in this context? I liked what you sent by email: "education is simply society's expression of the meaningful life." People who take up nationalism or religion or any of a hundred various causes are looking for meaning in their lives, and this desire is strong enough that it is easily manipulated. Education provides a counterweight to this: a person who already has some sense of meaning is much less likely to be drawn into violent or oppressive factions.

There is always a temptation on the part of those who defend society to ensure through some legislation or fiat that people's lives are directed appropriately - just as there has always been the temptation on the part of those who defend democracy to ensure that people's votes are directed appropriately. When the people of Chile elected a communist, when the people of Algeria elected fundamentalists, when the people of Palestine elected Hamas - we look at these events and say 'democracy failed', and seek to move with force against them. And just so, we seek to move against those who would abuse their freedom of speech, using it to hurt instead of to enlighten.

But to respond by overthrowing democracy, or blocking freedom of speech, is exactly the wrong response. It is never possible to teach people how to make correct choices by taking away their right to choose. People will elect good governments, and utter good statements, when they have learned how: when they have learned what sort of governments not to elect, what sort of things not to say. And, sometimes, this can be learned only by doing the wrong thing.

My own view is that we need to teach ourselves how to use democracy, how to use freedom, and that this process takes place one person at a time, through a long and difficult process, rather than through the point of a gun. And we teach people through the use of example, by modelling and demonstrating the attitudes and actions of a person who is genuinely free and genuinely committed to democracy.

This is what Gandhi understood. People often oppose non-violence because there are cases where it does not work. But Gandhi would never deny that. What Gandhi tried to do was to model and demonstrate how political leadership is appropriately conducted, an act of civilization that eventually shamed the British into acquiescence.

True, some people will never be shamed, and thus it is true that in some cases the injustices will continue. But everyone can learn, and the act of modelling and demonstration will, inevitably, teach. And the change will ultimately be made where it is most needed - no, not in the government, but in the people.