Boundaries of Collective Intelligence

I have a favourite story I like to tell to illustrate the difference between legacy journalism and citizen journalism through sites like Twitter. I’d been having lunch with friends and one of them had spent the entire early half of the conversation deriding new media, proudly declaring that he had no Facebook or Twitter accounts, instead getting his news from reliable old fashioned fact checked sources, like radio. I gritted my teeth through the derision and allowed the conversation to move on. Some 10 minutes later he somehow got back onto his tirade against Twitter. “Hashtags are the scourge of the Earth!” he complained (or something to that effect anyway). “That stupid dress colour thing happened on the same day as Leonard Nimoy’s death and so it’s all the radio talked about!” Being a huge Star Trek fan he was extremely upset by this injustice.

I pointed out to him that, actually, the two events happened days apart. That such a thing was perfectly visible from a position seated in the heart of Twitter. That #TheDress had died down plenty in time to see the many tributes to the sci-fi legend Twitter put forth with #RIPLeonardNimoy trending. That as it turned out, all his argument had proven was that he waits for a week to get the exact same news Twitter would have given him instantly, that it was more clumsily delivered, and that he himself didn’t do any fact checking. He’d turned quite red by this point and quietly changed the subject.

slowpoke meme
Accurate representation of legacy media.

I’ve become really interested in the concept of shared knowledge and collective intelligence, and whether or not there is a place where this ‘citizen journalism’ ends. The shift in journalistic media and news sharing towards new media sites has, among other things, made less of a distinction between what is “newsworthy” and what is not because the audience is able to decide which news they want to tune into for themselves. We can see how this works on a global scale, but I’d posit that it can work on an incredibly small, local, insular level as well.

I attended high school during the initial rise of Facebook and one of its primary uses during that time was that it became a hub of information sharing. Regularly we’d send out the call for help on homework questions or assignments, due dates, excursion info, anything we needed to know, and responses would be instant, developing this kind of hive mind we’ve talked about in the course. We could collect the data we needed from each other instantaneously, because there was always someone in the connected community who had the information on hand. It all keeps coming back to that idea that no one knows everything, but everyone knows something.

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