One short decade ago, a leader was a brave one, a person elected to be the hero whose face inspired the masses and whose actions and directions paved the way for followers. The rise of the internet and mass collaboration has painted the leader invisible, tasked with empowering individual participants to communicate and pilot their own destinies. Yet what about a decade down the line? Will another fundamental medium of interaction, such as reach of connectivity or scale of social capital, change drastically? Will the generation born with a silver smartphone in its pockets see a different way of connecting users?
It’s hard to deny that mass collaboration is an important basis of communication nowadays, as argues Tapscott and Williams’ Wikinomics. Today’s businesses, research groups, news media, and other institutions alike rely on user input to extend their reach and profitability. Yet stepping back from analyzing the causation for this phenomenon and before blindly attempting to take advantage of it, there lies a fundamental question: what is the role of mass collaboration in society?
Understanding the role of mass collaboration is more than noting what benefits mass collaboration brings to it. The implications for business alone epitomize the great potential of involving the masses. Instead, we ask, why is this phenomenon so powerful and still growing, and what does this reflect about the values of users? What fundamental need does mass collaboration fulfill?
Firstly, mass collaboration is a means of generating social capital. In a world without collaboration, the internet would be simply a marketplace for ideas. The metadata used to browse these ideas would be personalized, thus it becomes difficult for users to find ideas from different perspectives. Ultimately, the procurement, analysis, and use of data would be limited to the personal scope, where no interaction or social capital would be generated; this is no more efficient than a personal library. The lack of social capital would make the internet a city whose residents refuse to leave home and build the city. Mass collaboration ensures that the internet population stays active and populated.
Mass collaboration also gives its subjects meaning and context. Companies compete incessantly to be relevant to its target audience, and involving them in collaborative projects is a means of creating relevance. Participation in a project connects the participant to all others and to the very project itself, creating a solid network of interested individuals. This increases the persistence of ideas (and advertisements) within groups and motivates them.
Mass collaboration is, lastly, a source of resources for its participants, as users are able to network with peer coaches, company representatives, and the like. This reflects the idea of a physical community where social capital exists and communicating with neighbors has meaning.
Ultimately, we haven’t escaped into a new realm by turning to our computers: we simply have collectively decided to make our online experience more similar to our physical ones but without the boundaries of physics and reality. Mass collaboration is but everyday communication on a scale comparable to that of Big Data. Instead of replacing the physical world, mass collaboration has the potential of being a virtual machine to simulate or experiment without as significant costs.
When your hot date stares deep into your eyes lovingly and whispers to you the world’s knowledge or gossip, standing gracefully in slick white sleeves, it probably takes a boss or manager to pry you away from your overheated phone and back to work. Money speaks. Yet what speaks on the web itself, where many massively collaborative projects don’t hand out cash?
To some, this is an hola, a shalom, or a salve. To others, this is a שלום, a привет, or a 你好. All these people share a mutual understanding of the uplifting connotation of a few simple words. Yet to a Computer Science major like me, the same words mean something totally different: the rage-inducing and expletive-strewn hazing ritual for the new programmer (that’s ever so hilarious to spectate). While many programmers code in English, technical jargon transforms comp sci talk into another language altogether. With so many diverse subnetworks and their varying cultures and etiquettes, understanding the role of language in the Twittersphere in the dissemination of information is critical to controlling the reach and impact of one’s posts.
Honey indisputably results from the dedication and labor of worker bees. Their instructions come from the Queen bee. But who does the Queen herself answer to? The colony’s needs? The workers’ demands? Or just her own whim?
Golding’s Lord of the Flies has hinted at we are both man and beast. O’Brien’s The Things They Carried has proved us both real and imaginary. Mrs. Teacherlady’s homework assignments have made us both dead and alive. We thought the internet would protect us from our dualities and hypocrisy. We couldn’t be more wrong.
Buyer’s regret is no myth of yore; you probably remember or have heard of people going to the carnival with a couple dollars in pocket, and spending too much on blue cotton candy before finding out that there are pink ones too. More likely, however, you’ve spent hours of your life, attention you could have focused somewhere more worthy, or energy you could have saved for fun on reading and parsing some useless post online, then realized after you’re dead tired at 5 a.m. To me, learner’s regret hurts much more than donating cash to a businessperson. Continue reading Being King of Your Own Universe: No More Learner’s Regret