Is Mush actually mush – or is he right?


Have you seen Jaron Lanier’s article in the Wall Street Journal on January 8th? What do you think of his viewpoint? Do you agree? I have underlined the most controversial bit…….

Here’s one problem with digital collectivism: We shouldn’t want the whole world to take on the quality of having been designed by a committee. When you have everyone collaborate on everything, you generate a dull, average outcome in all things. You don’t get innovation.

If you want to foster creativity and excellence, you have to introduce some boundaries. Teams need some privacy from one another to develop unique approaches to any kind of competition. Scientists need some time in private before publication to get their results in order. Making everything open all the time creates what I call a global mush.

There’s a dominant dogma in the online culture of the moment that collectives make the best stuff, but it hasn’t proven to be true. The most sophisticated, influential and lucrative examples of computer code—like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or Adobe’s Flash— always turn out to be the results of proprietary development. Indeed, the adored iPhone came out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth.

Actually, Silicon Valley is remarkably good at not making collectivization mistakes when our own fortunes are at stake. If you suggested that, say, Google, Apple and Microsoft should be merged so that all their engineers would be aggregated into a giant wiki-like project—well you’d be laughed out of Silicon Valley so fast you wouldn’t have time to tweet about it. Same would happen if you suggested to one of the big venture-capital firms that all the start-ups they are funding should be merged into a single collective operation.

But this is exactly the kind of mistake that’s happening with some of the most influential projects in our culture, and ultimately in our economy.

Digital collectivism might seem participatory and democratic, but it’s painting us into a corner from which we will have to concoct an awkward escape. It is strange to me that this isn’t more obvious to many of my Silicon Valley colleagues.

The U.S. made a fateful decision in the late 20th century to routinely cede manufacturing and other physical-world labors to foreign competitors so that we could focus more on lucrative, comfortable intellectual activities like design, entertainment and the creation of other types of intellectual property. That formulation still works for certain products that remain within a system of proprietary control, like Apple’s iPhone.

Unfortunately, we were also making another decision at the same time: that the very idea of intellectual property impedes information flow and sharing. Over the last decade, many of us cheered as a lot of software, music and news became free, but we were shooting ourselves in the collective feet.

On the one hand we want to avoid physical work and instead benefit from intellectual property. On the other hand, we’re undermining intellectual property so that information can roam around for nothing, or more precisely as bait for advertisements. That’s a formula that leaves no way for our nation to earn a living in the long term.

The “open” paradigm rests on the assumption that the way to get ahead is to give away your brain’s work—your music, writing, computer code and so on—and earn kudos instead of money. You are then supposedly compensated because your occasional dollop of online recognition will help you get some kind of less cerebral work that can earn money. For instance, maybe you can sell custom branded T-shirts.

We’re well over a decade into this utopia of demonetized sharing and almost everyone who does the kind of work that has been collectivized online is getting poorer. There are only a tiny handful of writers or musicians who actually make a living in the new utopia, for instance. Almost everyone else is becoming more like a peasant every day.

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Filed under Innovation, Open Innovation

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