Hive minds are for bees by mattsteinglass
June 23, 2008, 10:46 am
Filed under: Internet

Back when I was studying at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU in the heady days of the young internet, I used to bristle at the utopian naivete of people like Jaron Lanier and John Perry Barlow who’d come in to tell us that because information wants to be free and bee hives are smarter than bees, everything is destined to become increasingly awesome and the state has become irrelevant, or something. Jaron Lanier has since famously recanted his enthusiasm for “digital Maoism,” which is great. Anyway, another guy who’s been in the net-culture analysis game since back in the day is Clay Shirky, who’s got a new book out that sounds fascinating, and he’s also decided to take up the necessary sword to remind people that humans don’t cease being humans when they go online, and that there’s a reason why humans have laws and sometimes even enforce them.

One of the things I’ve decided to dedicate some time to, now that the book is done, is debunking the kind of bottom-up, hive-mind, “people are good” nonsense being promulgated about novel forms of collaboration. Political philosophy isn’t about problems, its about dilemmas, which is to say things that can never be solved, only optimized for. The net is astonishing in the number of new optimizations it has offered us for managing social dilemmas is enormous, but it doesn’t make those dilemmas go away — it just keeps them at bay in new ways.


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