Where Have All The Humans Gone?

October 27, 2010 at 12:39 am (Class Post, EMAC 6300, Internet, Wikipedia)

I don’t know about you guys, but I totally, completely agree with Jaron Lanier’s “Digital Maoism: The Hazards of the New Online Collectivism” article. Ok… well maybe not completely, but he had some very valid points that I gave a hearty “Here, here!” to as I read them.

I agree that sometimes collective intelligence is good and helps solve problems/answer questions. The most prominent example that Lanier uses in the article is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is good for some things. For example, if I can’t recall what the population of Guadalajara is, I’m pretty sure that if I looked it up on Wikipedia, it would more than likely give me the correct answer (It’s 1,579,174.). Wikipedia is definitely more convenient and more up to date than a printed copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Having Wikipedia allows the information and knowledge to be more accessible to a greater amount of people, thereby helping more people gain more knowledge (and thereby getting one step closer to world peace?).

The drawback of Wikipedia, however, is that on some pages, there’s a greater deal of volatility in which the information provided could be partially inaccurate (or completely false) or possibly outdated as well (depending on when it was last changed). Another con is that there are only a few people that care enough about the validity of Wikipedia to actually go in and ask for references (which most times don’t get answered), edit, or update pages. And with 3,452,404 articles (just in English), that’s mighty hard to police, especially when certain members of the collective could care less or purposefully change information.

I recently read a book called Paper Towns by John Green (awesome book, highly recommend) that had a character who was a “big-time editor of this online user-created reference source called Omnictionary… [and whose] whole life [was] devoted to the maintenance and well-being of” it. To quote the character: “I’m de-vandalizing the Omnictionary article about a former prime minister of France. Last night someone deleted the entire entry and then replaced it with the sentence ‘Jacques Chirac is a gay,’ which as it happens is incorrect both factually and grammatically.” See the problems? There’s a rare few, like the character, willing to rid the world of incorrect information (and grammar).

But the main point of Lanier’s article that I loved was the following:

The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we’re devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.

Granted he might have been a bit harsh with the idiots comment, but I agree that sites like Wikipedia are devaluing the human voice and personality. In the article, Lanier makes a comment that a Wikipedia page contains “traces of the voices of various anonymous authors and editors,” which in my opinion, only makes it harder to decipher what kind of a bias the article might have despite it’s pretense of unbiased-ness. At least when you read a news article written by one reporter, you know the opinions and personality of that person to know why he would include this detail or leave out that information. With Wikipedia, you get what you get and you can never be too sure if somebody somewhere left something out.

Wikipedia aside, I feel like many people are crying out for more human contact on the internet. Think of how you react to bots on Twitter or how long you have to search through forum threads to find the answer you need. I read a CNN article today about how people are wanting to talk to an actual human when it comes to customer service on Facebook, which uses a crowd-source system of answering user questions. Occasionally these forums are helpful, but sometimes you just want to talk to another human, hear another human voice because it makes it more personal, makes us feel we have been heard, that we are unique individuals as opposed to the faceless collective.

Cause, I don’t know about you, but I do not want to be grouped in with the people that raised the cast of Jersey Shore to such a high status that “The Situation” has published a book (a printed, bound, real-life book!).


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