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?

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About David Burn

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. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.