In an inadequately brief, but crucially important review or what is sure to be an even more important and discussed book, Ellen Ullman, asks, "is the wisdom of the crowd, actually a lie?"
A self-confessed "humanistic softie," Jaron Lanier is fighting to wrest control of technology from the "ascendant tribe" of technologists who believe that wisdom emerges from vast crowds, rather than from distinct, individual human beings. According to Lanier, the Internet designs made by that "winning subculture" degrade the very definition of humanness. The saddest example comes from young people who brag of their thousands of friends on Facebook. To them, Lanier replies that this "can only be true if the idea of friendship is reduced."
Having been in information technology since the early 1980s, I have watched this "crowd wisdom" legend grow and grow, and the almost automatic assumption that the wisdom of the crowd is always right or will bear fruit not only terrifies me, but I can see the mob mentality it often encourages in the web sites and social networks empowering the Tea Party movement that is so actively gnawing at our national fabric.
I am a big fan of social networks, and some useful methods and mechanisms that come from crowd wisdom. But they all have limits. They can lower the cost of producing information and knowledge, but they cannot replace the value of a single human mind, with sufficient understanding of the coincident facts and issues, which can analyze the information and put it to good use in ways that will extend, enhance or illuminate our human condition.
This is the very reason why my own interests and career have focused on developing techniques and applications which human beings can use to more easily do what they want to do naturally and intuitively. And that is to organize information in cohesive structures which make understanding anything—and sharing that understanding—a whole lot easier. You know, kinda like a next-gen version of… of… a book?
I'd love to write more on this, but as the related article below predicts, my fragmented attention span is already diverted to Twitter, the Olympics, bitching about David Gregory's toolism, and.. wait for it… some productive work.
Rebuttal & Commentary
What to reject when you're rejecting… the wisdom of crowds — @JayRosen_NYU writes an excellent (and snarky) rebuttal to many of Lanier's concerns and premises.
Jaron Lanier says Internet has fallen short
Is Google Making Us Stupid? — by Nicholas Carr — What the Internet is doing to our brains" is a magazine article by Carr which is highly critical of the Internet's effect on cognition.