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.
When opening up our Facebook or Twitter feeds it isn’t hard to assume that we are only consuming what information others have produced. Yet every view, every retweet, every like contributes to a greater product – the social network itself. What original work we produce and set free on the net seldom stay home or come home the same. What a user produces collectively builds upon the last. Alexis Lothian argues that such creative destruction of ownership erodes the classical linear bounds of intellectual property. This new era of free participatory labor suggests a thin and treacherous tripwire between infringing and elaborating on ‘original’ ideas.
The social network serves as a medium for artists (of fan fiction, fan art, stories, videos, etc.) to find projects to add upon or to share their own. Collaborative projects, from games like Project-M (which builds off of Nintendo’s massively popular Super Smash Brothers Brawl) to fan fiction novels, showcase the internet’s many artists-at-heart and their desire to produce content.
These projects, especially successful ones, require leadership to steer the worker bee swarm in the right direction. Is there one dedicated leader or creator like in this Twitter Pokémon art collection project? Or does each individual’s inputs collectively steer the project with swarm intelligence? Perhaps everyone is simultaneously the leader and the follower.
While it takes a powder keg for a project to take off, how often does one stay on track? Each collaborator adds his or her own visions into the mix, whether they intend to or not. Take the game Continuous Story, for example. A single leader picks the story line, then everyone else collaboratively inputs a sentence each. Each of those sentences stray farther from the original idea, as each person’s creativity steers the project in a different direction.
But how would declaring certain ideas constant and immutable (copyrighting them) affect the idea pool? Not at all, because what’s been archived is fair game for new projects. The same ideas surface, just not with the same project titles. Twitter and other social networks generate ideas and information on a ‘big data’ scale, so there is no shortage of contributors / producers.
To keep ideas connected, it is crucial to take the lead and be creative, but also follow others’ creativity so that the baton can be smoothly passed to the next runner. The criteria produced by a good consumer will lead to an intellectual flowering as demand for user-generated products skyrocket. We assume that leaders need the world’s greatest ideas and hire intellectual slaves to carry them out, yet in this Age of Information, perhaps leading is just waving the start flag and letting everyone else think of ideas and execute them for us, all for free.