Groupmind Less Than Or Equal To Individual Expression

Even though the Sunday Times arrives in my driveway early each Sunday morning, I don’t always make it to the juiciest parts. So I have Three Minds to thank for pointing out this recent NYT Magazine article on Digital Maoism.

Karl Marx famously predicted that industrial capitalism’s individualist ethos would engender its opposite: a new collective consciousness that would ultimately fuel the socialist revolution. But the old dialectician would probably have been shocked to see how much collectivism has flowered in the hypercapitalist Internet economy of late.

The article describes an original essay by Jaron Lanier, the man who came up with the term “Digital Maoism.” He is concerned that all things aggregated are not good. That the power of an individual voice is being sacrficied to the collective and that group think is upon us.
Here are some outakes from Lanier’s piece:

The question of new business models for content creators on the Internet is a profound and difficult topic in itself, but it must at least be pointed out that writing professionally and well takes time and that most authors need to be paid to take that time. In this regard, blogging is not writing. For example, it’s easy to be loved as a blogger. All you have to do is play to the crowd. Or you can flame the crowd to get attention. Nothing is wrong with either of those activities. What I think of as real writing, however, writing meant to last, is something else. It involves articulating a perspective that is not just reactive to yesterday’s moves in a conversation.
The artificial elevation of all things Meta is not confined to online culture. It is having a profound influence on how decisions are made in America.
What we are witnessing today is the alarming rise of the fallacy of the infallible collective. Numerous elite organizations have been swept off their feet by the idea. They are inspired by the rise of the Wikipedia, by the wealth of Google, and by the rush of entrepreneurs to be the most Meta. Government agencies, top corporate planning departments, and major universities have all gotten the bug.

Lanier mentions American Idol in his argument and says John Lennon would not have made it past the first round. The man has a point and he knows well how to make it.
What say you? Is “the collective” overstepping its bounds?

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. David
    Lanier has a valid point, when I was hammering away on the Wal-Scam drama on AdScam for a couple of weeks, my readership exploded and I was getting all kinds of information from people on the inside of both Wal-Mart and the agencies involved. It was only when I checked out all the other adblogs that I realized hardly anyone was devoting any coverage to this ongoing saga. I’m still not sure why, unless they hope at some time to work with either Wal-Mart and whoever gets the account ( although I am sure that some of my information was already coming from both those sources.) Having said that, if the definition of blogging is playing to the crowd… Has anyone taken a look at all forms of popular media these days? The great bulk of Newspapers and TV are a joke, particulary network news, where programs called “World News Tonight” actually devote less than 2 or 3% of their time to world news. The rest is devoted to medical issues, but as 98% of their advertising content is sold to dispensers of “Purple Pills” etc… That makes sense, I suppose. As for John Lennon not making it on American Idol, I doubt if Walter Cronkite would make it on CBS news either. Not “Perky” enough. That’s why we have Katie Couric.

  2. There is no agreed upon definition of blogging. It’s many things to many people. To me, AdPulp is a note taking exercise. It’s about creating a database of ideas/sources/etc. that are easy to call up and reference when it is time to create something of lasting value.