3 thoughts on “Cognitive And Civic Surplus”

  1. Brad,

    I’m curious how this relates to the professional as compared to the amature, especially in light of your previous postings on journalism. As citizens become more participatory, and as the cost of doing many things has dropped significantly, we’ve seen the rise of the “any idiot can do it” mentality. I have reservations about the truth that anybody can do anything. So with the label of professional being watered down, who gets to decide what’s authoritative? Specifically, if we don’t have professional politicians (which might not be so bad), who is going to take the lead on the issues? Some bozo on YouTube? And do YouTube views translate into actual political action? What qualifies as participation? As you know, just because someone fans your Facebook page doesn’t mean that they’ll step out to see an event.

  2. Matthew, that’s a great question. The answers are nuanced and we can go deeper into them, but the main response I would make is: YOU decide what’s authoritative. That is, we each decide for ourselves.

    But here are further answers, depending on context. For instance, in the case of artifacts that are specifically built to aggregate crowd wisdom, I would argue that authoritativeness derives from the structure. Look at Wikipedia, which has fewer errors than Encyclopedia Britannica. This is a direct result of the massive, constant, crowd-based editing that goes on, unpaid and mostly unrecognized. Ditto ebay: The built in reputation ecology lets me surface the items from people I trust (or should trust) in a way that’s no less effective than a deadtree catalog.

    In the specific context you mention, political leadership, it varies according to scale I think. On the national level, the “bozos on YouTube” issue is a real one. People have not, on an individual level, developed their own filtering mechanisms when it comes to hot-button issues. So they are susceptible to manipulation by extremes. On the local level, yes people are still susceptible but it is mitigated by the fact that people are more likely to know one another on a local level. So the ease-of-entry into public life that new technologies provide is, I think, a net positive.

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